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The angle of Yan Xiaohan’s question was quite crafty. No matter how Fu Shen responded, it would be tantamount to admitting that he was the ‘gege‘. If he didn’t respond, Yan Xiaohan would take it as his silent approval, and as such, he was taking the utmost cheap advantage of him. His mouth saying ‘punish’ was, ultimately, most likely still a multifaceted affront to public decency.
Because of his diversion, however, the feeling of leaden guilt in Fu Shen’s mind lightened a bit, no longer burning so heavily. Yan Xiaohan really had a knack at explaining things to him; likely due to hearing his words, a considerable sense of security was also gradually planted in Fu Shen’s heart. Though he was yet unable to achieve the degree of being ‘dependent’, he would be willing to discuss things he came across with him, rather than indiscriminately hiding away and stubbornly preferring his solitariness.
“You should be punished.” Fu Shen caressed the side of his face with the back of his hand. “I’ll just penalize you with being a beast of burden, then, and have you carry this Marquis to town on your back. How’s that?”
“Okay,” Yan Xiaohan readily agreed. Yet, after he said that, he urged the other on in hopes of something else. “Opportunities can’t be missed. Do you not have any other punishments?”
Fu Shen merely hooked his finger on the other’s chin, mocking him. “Ah, Madam, those things you want aren’t called punishments. They’re called a sneaky predator giving its prey a New Year’s greeting.”
“A depraved person sees only depravity,” Yan Xiaohan pointed out, not pulling punches. “The frontlines are an important location. I wasn’t thinking the same as you were just now – I’m not an animal.”
General Fu, who mysteriously became an ‘animal’: “……”
Yan Xiaohan pulled him over by the shoulder, bringing him to the front of himself. Fu Shen had originally been leaning on him, and now, he was directly pillowing his head on the man’s lap. Yan Xiaohan leaned over and kissed him between the brows. “Don’t be hasty, it won’t take long. There’ll definitely be a chance to satisfy you.”
Fu Shen was already too lazy to prove his own innocence again, responding to him unhurriedly. “I advise you not to get too comfortable in your speech. Don’t tell me you’re not going to go back to Court once Chang’an’s struck? Or have you planned some other scheme to come out to the Iron Cavalry and play the part of a Military Supervisor?”
“Is sitting on the Marquis’s lap playing the part of a Military Supervisor?” Yan Xiaohan countered in a low voice.
Fu Shen imagined up that scene for a moment and couldn’t stop laughing, nearly rolling off of Yan Xiaohan’s lap, who reached out and stopped him from doing that. “I’m not planning on going back.”
Fu Shen looked straight up. “Why?”
“Jiangnan is too cold, I’m not used to living there.”
“What crap. It’s already May right now,” Fu Shen jeered.
“Marquis, do you understand what it is to wake with cold sheets and a lonesome pillow, your dreams projecting you somewhere a thousand li away?” Yan Xiaohan sighed woefully. “Going with you is fine, or continuing to follow the army is also fine. So long as I stay in the North and not too far apart from you, I can do anything. I barely managed to find you; having me go back to the feeling of sleepless nights would be cold, yes?”
Those words accurately jabbed Fu Shen in his mute acupoint, and he had nothing to say for a moment. “Did you secretly go to a private tutor behind my back? Why are you still reciting poetry?” he said with difficulty.
“……” Yan Xiaohan resisted grinning. “Speaking of that, I remembered something. Did you know that I once met a hunting family in Jinling, and they had come to sell a wild goose they had…”
He relayed the story of the swan goose passing on a letter to Fu Shen, having a smile at the end of it and flushing with some shame as he spoke. “I’d gone mad at that time, too. I grabbed onto that little something from the North and didn’t let it go, always feeling that just in case it was you–“
“Cough, what is this?” Fu Shen interrupted, voice uncomfortable. “No need for a ‘just in case’. It was me.”
Yan Xiaohan was struck dumb on the spot, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down for a round. “You… say that one more time?” he asked, voice rough.
“There was a piece of white silk on the goose’s leg, and ‘how does mine wife fare’ was written on it, right?” Fu Shen asked candidly, gripping his hand. “When I was in Gan Prefecture, I really thought that you wouldn’t be able to handle it, so I came up with this method.”
Who would’ve though that there was still sweetness to be extracted from those difficult days? It was as if Yan Xiaohan had fallen into a dream, his chest heaving. He only only spoke up, dazed, after a long time had passed. “The distance going from the North to the South is more than ten thousand li. That we could happen across such a coincidence at all…”
Fu Shen haha-ed with embarrassment. “Yep, it’s a real coincidence.”
Yan Xiaohan heard his off-tone, and he lowered his head to look at him with suspicion. Fu Shen recalled the stupid stuff he had done, then had a rare moment where he couldn’t keep being thick-skinned, on top of an urgent need to squeeze himself into a crack in the ground. “I didn’t do anything else, I just thought about how there was only one goose. How great were the chances that it would fly over Jinling City? That’s why I had the soldiers in city help, uh… send out more than ten or so birds. I figured one of them might’ve been able to fall into your hands like that.”
“‘Ten or so birds’?” Yan Xiaohan repeated.
“Probably?” Fu Shen thought about it for a second, sounding unsure. “We’d always send one or two out every day during drills, I think? I can’t remember exactly.”
“You…” Yan Xiaohan simply didn’t know what he should say to him. “You’re really…”
“I almost forced Du Leng to turn into a veterinarian,” Fu Shen answered tranquilly. “I missed you, too. Do you think Jiangnan is cold, but Gan isn’t?”
While he fantasized about flying past thousands of mountains and infinite waters, how could the man across them all then cast him off?
Following their reunion of intermingled sorrow and delight, they both discovered that the other had gone identically crazy, and identically lonely.
They were mutually speechless, muted for a minute. Only with a deep kiss and deep embrace could they slightly pacify their sour hearts.
In this interval, the heavens and earth were quiet, endless sounds silenced. The world seemed to have sunk into stasis, only the river’s water rushing on without end, going all the way ahead to flow towards the horizon.
The sky was not bright the next day. Fu Shen awoke from Yan Xiaohan’s arms, slowly sitting up with lethargy brought about by not sleeping enough. The hand placed on his waist slid down, and Yan Xiaohan grasped air, immediately waking up thereafter. “You’re getting up?” he asked, voice hoarse.
“You didn’t sleep well from the disturbance last night, right?” Fu Shen went and lightly patted him on the back. Likely due to having only just woken up, his actions and tone were outrageously gentle. “There’s nothing going on today, you can go back to resting for a bit.”
He never slept deeply, and with the emotional highs and lows of yesterday, he woke up and went to sleep off and on during the night. When he had shifted, Yan Xiaohan would dazedly draw him up into his arms, give him some soothing words, and hold him back into slumber.
“It’s fine.” Yan Xiaohan struggled hard to get out of the warm, inviting blanket, then flung himself forwards, his entire person draped upon Fu Shen’s back. “Don’t put on those boots today,” he said, bleary-eyed. “Take the wheelchair. I’ll help you wash up.”
Although the boots made by the Munitions Department made it possible for him to walk as usual, they weren’t real legs. The way they exerted force was different, and long-term wear put especially large strain on the waist. For that reason, Fu Shen also had to take a wheelchair along while out on march, and would use it for transportation when not too busy.
Yan Xiaohan had discovered it when he came in the door yesterday, he just hadn’t said anything about it, and it was only now that he casually brought it up. Fu Shen mentally accepted his wordless consideration, nodding in allowance. “Alright.”
When Yan Xiaohan came back in from drawing water, he forgot to shut the door. Yu Qiaoting had gotten up really early, and, unfortunately, was passing by the room. Not holding back his flourishing curiosity, he stole a glance through the half-shut door, then nearly dropped his frycake out of fright.
The Marquis of Jing Ning, who could kill people without blinking and made the barbarians terrified when they heard of him, was sitting obediently on the edge of a kang. Yan Xiaohan held a handtowel and was wiping his face and hands down for him, as practiced and attentive as an old maidservant. When he had finished getting everything on properly for Fu Shen, the latter languidly outstretched his arms and said a few words of something; Yan Xiaohan thus stooped over to pick him up, placing him upright onto the wheelchair.
This spectacle… was unlike him having broken legs, but a shattered mind instead.
General Yu, living life as a bachelor to this very day, couldn’t understand this at all. The Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Yan, able to calm the realm with his writing and determine the world with his fighting… what drug did he end up mistakenly taking to turn him into someone who exclusively acknowledged his wife when on the kang, and only acknowledged business when off it?
Very soon, this confusion became the joint question amongst all the Northern Yan officers stationed at Callery Pear.
They hadn’t witnessed Fu Shen’s life as he recuperated in the Yan Estate, where clothes came when he held out his arms and food came when he opened his mouth. Yan Xiaohan just hated being unable to do what he wanted to do in this backwoods place right now; even if he had the mind to look after him, he could only express that in limited areas.
In truth, things that overstepped boundaries were all done behind closed doors. To the faces of outsiders, particularly those of the subordinates, Yan Xiaohan had to put on an affectation of propriety in order to avoid attracting people’s castigation, despite Fu Shen not paying close attention to his prestige as Head Commander. However, the more it was so, the more even these little actions – like pouring water for tea, or whispering into his ear – appeared to be controlled and affectionate.
It didn’t take long for an entire crowd of people to noisily run away from their lovey-doveyness.
Fu Shen lifted the tea he held and took a sip. “What’s going on today to make all of them act like little lovelorn ladies?” he wondered.
Yan Xiaohan slightly smiled, though he kept it deeply hidden. “Who knows.”
Quickly after, his personal soldiers came to report that General Zhao Xicheng had crossed Ziyang River and was currently outside the encampment seeking an audience. The Yan-Fu couple gave each other a simultaneous look. “Invite him in,” Fu Shen ordered, then took advantage of the gap in time to turn and smile towards Yan Xiaohan. “General Zhao wasn’t able to sit still for long. It’s clear that this Military Supervisor has a bit of weight.”
“Just a trifling few catties and taels, nothing worth mentioning,” Yan Xiaohan replied tastefully. “If the Marquis wants him, he’ll be given to you.”
Fu Shen grinned. “What’d be the point of me wanting him over? Preserving him to eat in a New Year’s stew?”
Yan Xiaohan feigned obedience and meekness. “In truth, you can also keep him to relieve boredom, or huddling up in his arms to sleep.”
Fu Shen really liked what he saw. He hadn’t been this unabashedly happy since he left the Southwest last year; by the time Zhao Xicheng came in, his smile hadn’t completely left his eyes. General Zhao was a bit startled seeing this, thinking to himself: since the Marquis of Jing Ning is beaming with joy, could it be that Chang’an City is already a done deal?
Zhao Xicheng had formerly been a high officer of Fen Prefecture’s Army. When the Tartars invaded, their Head Commander was killed in battle. After the Yuantai Emperor escaped West, Zhao Xicheng was unwilling to defect, so he led the Fen’s remnants to flee to Jingchu. Upon the new Dynasty’s founding, he once again commanded his group to realign to Jinling.
He was one of the scant North-born officers Yan Xiaohan could utilize. Fu Shen had previously fought the Tartars alongside the Fen Army and had a small impression of the man, only remembering that he had an honest disposition, was a bit stubborn-hearted, and got continuously suppressed by the Fen’s Head Commander, unable to stand out. Against expectations, he was actually the one to step forth and support the Fen Army’s banner after the Head Commander’s death, going through endless tribulations to eventually kill his way back into the Central Plains.
General Zhao was in his middle ages, but he still had the utmost of respect towards Fu Shen. The two courteously discussed how to attack Chang’an, with Zhao Xicheng noticing that his mood was good. “I dare ask the Marquis… how confident are you in this war at Chang’an?” he probed.
“Hm?” Fu Shen smiled a bit. “Thirty or forty percent. Chang’an is easy to defend and difficult to attack, it’ll be a hard battle.”
Then why are you smiling?!
Yan Xiaohan sat wordlessly to the side and listened to their loud barking, pretending to be a nice-looking decoration. Every once in a while, he would sneak a peek at Fu Shen, as if he couldn’t get enough.
As their discussion pertaining to the war came to an end, Zhao Xicheng finally stammered out the other purpose of this trip. “Marquis, since the fighting will begin in a few days’ time, it would be better for Sir Yan to go back with this humble one beforehand and handle things in the army–“
“Why?” Fu Shen interrupted, not waiting for him to finish. “Are you all incapable of going to battle if you’re missing a Military Supervisor?”
“That…” General Zhao was stumped for a second, brow knitted. “Sir Yan is the Emperor’s specially-appointed Military Supervisor Envoy. Staying in the Northern Yan Army… would not conform to the rules, I’m afraid.”
“How does the world work now?” Fu Shen’s smile diluted some. “General Zhao goes onto the Northern Yan Army’s domain and describes to this Marquis the rules of your new Dynasty?”
The two sides were currently not one family. Fu Shen held a number of lands in the Northwest; he was practically able to sit on par with the new Dynasty. Sweat appeared on Zhao Xicheng’s forehead, and he quickly got up to apologize for his offense, including his faux-pas.
“The Retired Emperor decreed a marriage sanction for this Marquis back in the day. His word was law, and everyone in the land knew of it.” Fu Shen set his teacup to the side, voice cold. “Sir Yan serving the new Dynasty is not a falsehood, but he is my person. His Majesty of the new Dynasty must also abide by order of arrival. If I have him remain here, then not even a single strand of his hair would be able to leave this gate. Do you understand what I mean, General Zhao?”
The author says stuff about the kang quote that I detailed below. “This is not an ancient proverb, I’m not rigorous in my usage, everyone just take a look at it and be good.”
 油饼 – youbing. This is most well-known in its form as the scallion pancake/cong you bing. Oddly, I can’t find any English sites for this non-scallion version…
 This is an interesting bit. The “calm the realm, determine the world” portion is from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (文能提笔安天下，武能上马定乾坤), obviously referring to a highly influential person. The kang part (上炕认识娘们，下炕认识鞋, where ‘wife’ is replaced by plural ‘women’) goes with it sardonically, contrasting how such an influential man is unsociable because of how big his ego is. The “problem” here is that this last part was coined by Guo Degang, who is a modern crosstalk comic and is still very much alive. Talk about an anachronism!