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Just the Start of Everything and Anything

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***
Li's Glorious Pavilion
***

     Literally their first day in the capital, and he'd already managed to get Jinzi and Yinzi into a fight with two boring servant-types. Han Shiyi cheered on his two faithful servants as Jinzi wrapped her whip around one man's arm, while Yinzi struck with her sheathed sword. Munching happily on a banana, Han Shiyi looked around and noticed an elegant man in silver robes standing behind his seat, someone who looked rather boring by comparison when there was such entertainment in front of them.

     “What do you think, my beautiful servants really know how to fight, yeah?” Han Shiyi asked the stranger, gesturing to the fight he had manipulated into being.

     The boring man remained silent, and Han Shiyi drew back to refocus on the entertainment. The blue robed servants were actually holding their own against Jinzi and Yinzi, so Han Shiyi tossed his empty banana peel onto the floor underfoot, causing one of the servants to slip.

     “That's what you get when you mess with my servants!” Han Shiyi muttered to himself.

     Then surprisingly, with one word from the stranger behind him the fighting stopped, all four fighters freezing mid motion and looking around at the command. Han Shiyi lept to his feet and turned to the man, indignant, as the servants all approached.

     “So they're yours? What a turn of events!” Han Shiyi said with wide eyes. “Well, we lost, what more do you want?” He asked of the other man's silence.

     As he made to step away, Han Shiyi found his arm grabbed by the man, a hold he could have broken out of if he wasn't pretending to be a useless pleasure seeker. Before he knew it he had been spun into the man's hold, his back to the man's front and an arm wrapped around his waist. For a moment he was afraid that the man would feel the bindings under his clothing and realize that Han Shiyi was actually a woman, but common sense won out and he struggled uselessly to break the hold.

     “Let go! If you don't want anything then just say so!” Han Shiyi insisted. “I'm the son of Duke Han, Han Shiyi! You can't treat me like this!”

     Finding himself released from the other's hold, he watched in surprise as the silent man strode from the room, easily avoiding stepping on the banana peel still discarded on the floor. In their entire interaction the man hadn't said a single word to Han Shiyi! How absurd.

     “Aiya, let's just go then.” Han Shiyi pouted, leading his servants out of Li's Glorious Pavilion.

***
Prince Qi's Mansion
***

     Sitting at his table, alone in his room for now, Chen Yanyi sighed and ignored his tea as he thought back over his disastrous first meeting with the heir of Duke Han. He was supposed to find a way to gain the other young man as an ally, to bring the Han Army further under control, but Han Shiyi's manner of behavior made an auspicious first meeting impossible. It was almost as though he was trying to be as difficult as possible to get along with. Of course, it was entirely possible that it was an act, just for that very purpose.

     Earlier, the report he had been brought of Han Shiyi's entrance to the capital and the argument he'd been involved in had certainly sounded too flamboyant to be anything but staged. After all, how could the Han family have such a useless descendant? He'd decided to get closer to the man to find out for himself, only to be completely shocked when Han Shiyi first spoke to him.

     For whatever reason, Han Shiyi's two female servants had tried to drag the performers from the stage of Li's Glorious Pavilion, and matters had devolved into a fight between the women and his own two servants. When he had approached Han Shiyi, the words he heard had left him mute with shock, though his years of training had kept his emotions from showing.

     “What do you think, my beautiful servants really know how to fight, yeah?”

     Those words had been emblazoned on his right shin since he was a child, a soulmark, the first words that his true other half and most faithful companion in this life would speak to him. Though, in the royal family as with other high-born families, not as much stock was put into the tales of peasants and even when the soulmate pair were a man and woman marriage was rarely arranged.

     Even so, the connection was there, he just needed to speak the right words to Han Shiyi as well. It was a bond that he wasn't sure he should take advantage of now. How much simpler would it be to earn the allegiance of the Han family and therefor control their army if their heir was his soulmate? Wasn't that simply too easy? Demanding so much of his soulmate simply on that connection seemed wrong, but how would he know if he had really earned Han Shiyi's loyalty if the other man knew that they were soulmates?

     It was something he would need to think over very carefully, but he kept getting distracted by Han Shiyi's supposed foppish behavior. Chen Yanyi simply found it too hard to believe that his soulmate was less competent than he should reasonably be expected to be and more frivolous than a princess.

***
The Imperial College
***

     Chen Yanyi's impression was in no way improved by Han Shiyi's appearance in the College, and Chen Yanyi found himself sighing just slightly as the other took a seat at one of the desks behind him. His only consolation seemed to be that Han Shiyi was apparently determined to avoid Wang Zhongyu as well, at least his competition for the Han Army was no better off than he was, but it only proved to him that Han Shiyi was playing a game. Avoiding committing to one prince or another, and keeping the Han Army independent of the State of Chen, that must then explain Han Shiyi's act.

     Really, he had no choice but to remain silent once again, he couldn't cause a scene in class or call upon their as yet unspoken connection to dispel Han Shiyi's act. Even with Wang Zhongyu's group of sycophants bullying Han Shiyi, there was only so much he could do without speaking to the other student.

     He wanted to say something, after all, having saved Han Shiyi from Wang Zhongyu's out of control attempts to embarrass Han Shiyi would be the perfect opportunity to request repayment for saving him. If he did though, then his very first words to his soulmate would be a demand for recompense, as if he was truly owed for this charity. What a phrase to wear on one's skin all their life that would be... “I've just saved you, how will you repay me?” He simply couldn't bring himself to say those words.

     “Ah... Your Highness, still so quiet? I didn't ask you to save me, but you are truly noble to do so without requesting anything in return! It is good to see a prince who isn't so petty!” Han Shiyi bowed sarcastically to him before launching into offers of repayment anyway, offering rubies and horses which were neither things that he needed nor wanted.

     Chen Yanyi remained staring silently after him, while Han Shiyi turned to continue limping away, while still speaking. Continuing the conversation even without his own apparent interest, simply to play up his frivolous act.

     “Aiya! Well what do you want? Do you want me? Is that it?” Han Shiyi asked, framing the ultimate question as simply a part of their false bargaining over his repayment of this small favor.

     Sensing an opportunity, and perhaps trying to give them both an escape, Chen Yanyi backed Han Shiyi up against the nearest pillar to stare him down.

     “Sounds good.” Was all he said before he turned and walked away.

     Two simple words, surely there were plenty of other opportunities for Han Shiyi to have heard those two words from someone newly met. It was ambiguous enough to free them both from expectations from the other. Now, no matter that they were soulmates, the game could continue honestly with no obligation on either side.

     “This doesn't change anything.” Han Shiyi muttered to himself, just barely overheard as Chen Yanyi walked away.

     So good, he was convincing himself that the words weren't spoken by his soulmate, and they were the extent of the mark somewhere on Han Shiyi's body. Han Shiyi skipped after him quickly, catching up to him as he walked away.

     “But aiya, Fifth Prince, do you really like me so much? You can't really be accepting such a poor offer!” Han Shiyi protested of Chen Yanyi's agreement with his eyes wide and his facial expression showing false disbelief as he held himself tightly removed from Chen Yanyi while they walked side by side.

     “Reading partners.” Chen Yanyi clarified. “Starting tomorrow.” It was a simple enough request for the unnecessary repayment of the favor, and would give him a chance to win Han Shiyi's favor the way he should have been doing from the start, without the impetus of being soulmates between them to get in the way.

     As Han Shiyi followed along beside him and enumerated on all of the reasons why he would be a terrible reading partner and why he would only damage Chen Yanyi's reputation, Chen Yanyi hid his feelings and lost himself in thought.

     Chen Yanyi was honestly relieved, soulmate or not he preferred using his own skill over calling on connections to get what he wanted, it wouldn't have been honest or fair to demand his soulmate's loyalty or the allegiance of his family's army. Now he could honestly look forward to earning both himself.