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How many mushy sentiments were beaten to pieces by that collection of words? A breath lodged in Yan Xiaohan’s throat and he choked on it for a long time, then spiritedly grinned in annoyance.
He could see it now. Fu Shen was just shooting babble out his mouth, putting on a strong front when in reality, he didn’t comprehend shit. Furthermore, he was using a set of behaviors used for skirt-chasing young women to handle him.
And he wasn’t about to open his eyes to take a look and see whether it was a meek, submissive little lamb that he had ended up pushing down, or a beast that was hiding its vicious fangs and restraining its emotions.
Fu Shen was still affectionately buttering him up right in his ear, but Yan Xiaohan had just lost the throb of himself narrowly losing control. All he felt was that it was cute seeing him like this, and he can’t resist wanting to tease him.
Thus, he adjusted his position a little so that Fu Shen could lie on him a bit more comfortably, putting on a show of himself genuinely getting held down by him. “Call me that again, okay?”
“A-Han,” Fu Shen readily conceded him.
“Not that one,” was Yan Xiaohan’s reply, however.
“Then what do you want to hear?” Fu Shen smiled with drink-clouded eyes, tender devotion all across his face that immediately brightened the room up full of light. “Precious darling… my little begonia…?”
Yan Xiaohan bust out laughing.
He raised his head, welcoming Fu Shen’s light and intimate kiss, and put his long hair that had scattered around into order with one hand. “None of those,” he yet demanded in dissatisfaction. “You’ve called me it before.”
Fu Shen had no clue. “What was it?”
There was a vast sea of water in Fu Shen’s brain. How could he have remembered what he’d said in the past? In fact, he had a small tendency to split hairs in his nature – it just typically wasn’t obvious. Once he drank, though, that characteristic would promptly be intensified. Him being stumped by this question led to him simply casting Yan Xiaohan to the side as he deliberated upon it from every angle.
Yan Xiaohan had to keep himself from smiling. “If you ask me, I’ll tell you.”
Fu Shen had some unusual tenacity. “No need. Stay out of it.”
“Not asking?” His palm slid into the edge of his robe, sticking onto his lower back and gently caressing and massaging it, which caused Fu Shen to subconsciously furrow his brows. Comfort was comfort, but there was inevitably a strange sort of heat to it.
“You really don’t want to know?” Yan Xiaohan earnestly tried to guide him. “You said it just now; who loves me a lot?”
Fu Shen had indeed gotten around the blockage with his succinct words. “Gege…” he mumbled vaguely.
If Mister Yan really did have a tail, it would have likely risen up to the sky at this point. “Say it louder, I didn’t hear clearly,” he prompted.
Fu Shen hadn’t called someone that in many years. He still felt shame even if he was drunk, so he evasively refused to voice it. Yan Xiaohan feigned being unhappy. “You were harassing me just now, yet not you’re not even willing to call out to me. Are you planning on getting my hopes up just to abandon me in the end?”
In Fu Shen’s eyes, the one beneath him currently had an emotional look, with reddened eyes, a slight wrinkle between his brows, and lightly pursed lips, obviously giving off a appearance of having been harassed. His heart immediately softened, and he thought about how he didn’t even have one method of dealing with this trollop.
None of what a man on a bed said could be believed, anyways, so Fu Shen magnanimously compromised with him. “Seriously… you keep on arguing like a two-year-old. You’re gege, alright? Gege, A-Han gege, Meng’gui gege. Which one do you like…”
Even after several years, that sound of ‘gege’ was as mighty as it had been in the past, still capable of weakening Yan Xiaohan’s heart in a split second.
“Silly thing.” Passion burned like a vicious beast coming out of its cage. He pushed at Fu Shen’s waist, then suddenly flipped him over, gaze abruptly darkening. “Be good. Gege loves you a lot.”
Early the next morning, Fu Shen sat up on the bed while subjected to a post-hangover headache, watching Yan Xiaohan with a frosty face.
Just because he hadn’t hit someone after he drank didn’t mean he wasn’t going to hit them after he sobered up.
Yan Xiaohan thought to himself that it was extremely fortunate that he hadn’t actually taken that step yesterday. Beyond that, he wanted bedroom matters to be mutually consenting, and not taking advantage of someone who was in a bad way. Last night was no more than a period of feelings in motion, merely chatting for relief.
Naturally, Fu Shen could sense that. His current murderous expression was primarily because he was mad that the other took advantage of his drunkenness to trick him into calling him gege a lot.
“Okay, okay, don’t be angry.” Yan Xiaohan avoided explanation by drawing him back into his embrace, taking advantage of the sky not yet being bright to stay in bed for a bit. “It’s bedtime fun. What are you being so serious for?” he said roguishly. “How about I call you something next time? Leaving aside gege, calling you Lord would be totally fine. Is that okay?”
Fu Shen menacingly jabbed him in the chest. “Get out.”
“Besides, didn’t you have fun last night?” Yan Xiaohan said under his breath with a smile. “I wait upon you with all my heart like this, and you’re still not grateful. You’re so cold-hearted, Marquis.”
Fu Shen’s ears turned red. “Dear heart, this Marquis hopes that you’ll lie down flat on your back next time. You don’t need to be so active.”
Yan Xiaohan ‘oh’ed. “You want to sit up and move over by yourself?” he asked curiously.
Due to his loose tongue, Mister Yan was promptly hefted off the bed by the ‘delicate beauty’ that laid in his arms, sticking close to the base of the wall as he slipped away with his tail between his legs.
Court had been halted for three days due to the Yuantai Emperor’s illness. After Yan Xiaohan’s account was sent upwards, he had received a summons this day, as expected. The attitude of the imperial eunuch that was passing the order along was more courteous towards him than before, which was indicative of the issues.
The first was that his assignment had been done well; no matter what the actual truth was, at least the Emperor was satisfied with the outcome of the two cases. The second was that the Emperor was very seriously ill, and outside of all his sons coming into the palace everyday to care for him, only a few aging officials had been called in to see him. There was a lot of wild talk in the outside world guessing as to what it all meant. That the Emperor could bring Yan Xiaohan to mind at a this juncture was enough to state that there was a line about him inscribed in the former’s heart.
The audience area was still in the Hall of Mental Cultivation.
The Emperor and Empress couldn’t be said to have been in deep married love, but she had spoken and acted prudently for many years, never having one misstep. The Yang family had also earned merits by working with the Emperor on major operations back in the day, so though he wasn’t all that fond of her, he still afforded her an proportional amount of trust; yet, she had actually silently cooked up such a huge scandal right beneath his eyes. Whether it was from his standpoint as the Emperor or just a man, her deed was equivalent to a big, resounding slap to his face.
His Majesty’s irritation was obviously not negligible – Yan Xiaohan jumped in fright the instant he caught sight of him. The aloof man looked sickly all over, his ever-disdainful eyes dulled and sunken, gray sprouting from his temples. There wasn’t a bit of the majestic, capable bearing of a monarch. These were clearly the warning signs of withering in old age.
The Emperor listened to his successive recounts of what had happened, and after first giving a few words of token encouragement, he suddenly swerved the topic around without any prior warning. “Meng’gui, after our hundred years of life, which of these sons of ours do you think would be able to take on the responsibility?”
The cold sweat on Yan Xiaohan’s back instantly began to drip down.
To a Court official, the matter most taboo was that of speaking out of turn about who should stand as an heir. Only if he was tired of being alive would he ever dare to give any sort of question or answer.
Thankfully, in addition to the ruckus he and Fu Shen made last night, a few more serious things had also been said, and among them included a ready-made solution. He steeled himself, declining what had been afforded to him beforehand. “This servant is fearful and does not dare to advance upon Your Majesty’s familial matters.”
The Emperor waved his hand apathetically. “There is no harm in speaking your mind.”
Yan Xiaohan rearranged Fu Shen’s assortment of words from yesterday evening, added in verses of pretty flattery, and recited it once through to the Yuantai Emperor. The core idea of it all was “no one can do without you, you need to take care of yourself and keep guiding your sons”.
That horseshit got the Emperor by the heart, his face visibly easing up. After mumbling for a long time, he then sighed in lament. “We didn’t misjudge you.”
Ordinary officials would be blessed to see his imperial countenance once in their entire lifetime, but Yan Xiaohan was pulled to have a heart-to-heart with the Emperor frequently. It was an opportunity countless powerful ministers didn’t receive no matter how much they requested it, and yet, he didn’t desire special treatment at all, nor was he very trepidatious; he would rather go take up his blade and cut people down.
His praise finished, the Emperor continued on. “According to the memorial sent by the department head, the auxiliary land of Jingchu has paid approximately twenty-percent less in silver taxes this year than it had last year. Research into the area revealed no drought, flood, nor human or natural disasters, but a great deal of commoners sold their farmland and became wanderers. We have already ordered the Prince of Qi to set out next month to personally investigate Jingchu for this very case. You will bring a few people with you to escort him. As the circumstances are critical, you may act as you see fit.”
Following a cartload of rubbish, he still had to assign him a job, apparently. Yan Xiaohan internally curled his lip, but surprisingly, the Emperor added something on a moment later. “When you have returned, you will use your status as Royal Inspector Envoy to enter the Hall of Exalted Glory for consultation.”
This time, Yan Xiaohan was completely shocked.
Consultations in the Hall of Exalted Glory began in the current Dynasty’s starting era. When the Forefather came across something he couldn’t decide on, he commonly called a group of officials together in the Hall to answer his questions in person. As time went on, it ended up becoming routine.
When Emperors of later generations, either due to illness or something else, did not have the strength to keep an eye on the nation’s affairs, they could open the Hall for consultation. Only Prime Ministers and Senior Secretaries were initially able to take part, but the range gradually broadened later on to include the six Ministry Heads. The Hall was considered the Central Pivot, were the Emperor unable to sort something out; after the ministers reached a general consensus on the affair and presented a memorial, the Son of Heaven would use his cinnabar strokes to approve it and send it off to Court for it to be put into effect.
Since the Great Zhou’s founding, there had never been any precedent for a military leader to enter the Hall for consultation, and that was leaving out the fact that Yan Xiaohan wasn’t any kind of proper one — he was the Court lackey that literary officials hated most, a genuine cagey, powerful official at a fraction of the cost.
The Yuantai Emperor was probably delirious from his illness. Was there any difference between placing Yan Xiaohan in the Hall and tossing a wolf into a flock of sheep?
Yan Xiaohan wasn’t aware of how he exited the palace, nor how he drifted back home like a roaming spirit, until Fu Shen pushed the servants away and spoke, voice steady and serious. “All of you get out, I can tell that he’s most likely in shock. No need to worry, I guarantee that two slaps on the face is just the cure for it.”
“……” He distractedly snatched Fu Shen’s hand, talking in a daze. “Jingyuan, His Majesty wants to re-open the Hall of Exalted Glory for consulting.”
“If he opens it, he opens it. What’s your problem?” the other asked in confusion.
Yan Xiaohan nodded.
“That’s my problem.”
“Wh…” Fu Shen was momentarily stumped, immediately after which he suddenly got what he’d meant, his heart pumping wildly. “The Emperor’s allowing you to go in there?”
Setting one foot into the Central Pivot was the rough equivalent of being directly promoted from a third-rank official to a first-rank. It signified that he could participate in politics, and officially rise to the apex of authority.
Even Fu Shen and others of transcendental positions weren’t qualified to enter the Hall; that was enough to infer how high its doorsill was. Moreover, consultations had always been monopolized by literary officials as the Great Zhou’s style of preferring the pen to the sword thus prevailed, and military officials had been directly quashed down by literary ones for years. Provided that Yan Xiaohan set a precedent, the Court’s atmosphere might undergo a transformation.
“Why so suddenly…” Fu Shen couldn’t fathom this. “The Emperor can’t be about to… cough, anything like that, right?”
“That’s not it.” Yan Xiaohan and he clasped hands as they looked at each other. Now, he slowly calmed down, and narrated what went on in the palace conference from start to finish. Making use of Fu Shen’s quick wit, he immediately understood what the other was thinking, and the two’s lines of thought happened to coincide.
—“The Emperor might not feel too comfortable towards the princes.”
—“He wants to use you to counterbalance the princes.”
As they locked eyes, Fu Shen keenly snatched onto the key detail from within a myriad of disordered thread tails. “Why is it you?”
 英华 – yinghua. The ying means ‘heroic/superb’, the hua means ‘splendid’, and both of them have flowery secondary definitions, which means the whole thing sounds kinda pompous to me.