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TW: Alluded-to past sexual assault. Death.
Looking at him deeply, Wu Xi shook his head. “No need. I’ll leave.”
Jing Qi’s brows lightly scrunched, which Wu Xi noticed. “Don’t frown,” he said softly. “If you don’t want me to, I won’t show up before you much. I—“
Jing Qi sighed, grabbing his wrist. “Come with me.”
First, Wu Xi startled, after which a virtually over-the-moon expression showed on his face. Jing Qi glimpsed so out of the corner of his eyes, and his heart couldn’t help but warm, but he merely turned away and acted like he didn’t see.
Thinking of how an unfeeling person like Zhou Zishu seemed to still be able to scrape his heart for goodness towards his dimwit little sect-brother, his heart had the same feeling. It appeared that whenever an even more dangerous road was pried open from within this dangerous world, one wouldn’t be allowed a moment of rest; for that reason, catching sight of these honest-eyed kids felt unusually emotional, and unusually precious.
They entered the study on their front step, and Ping An was ordered to get someone to come bring two bowls of ginger soup on their back step. Once they were set down, everyone tactfully and quietly withdrew.
Jing Qi threw a dainty handwarmer pot into Wu Xi’s arms, sitting down silently and drinking the soup absently. Between the two of them, Jing Qi would speak frankly, while Wu Xi would listen obediently more in comparison. In consequence, since he wasn’t talking right now, there was a current of awkward, painful, deathly silence spreading out.
He didn’t say anything, and Wu Xi didn’t move. After finishing the brew in a couple of mouthfuls, the latter faintly exhaled a warm breath, watching him intently as he sat there. He recalled how, when he had last seen him, fall wind had just begun to sweep past leaves, yet this time, a blizzard had coated buildings.
Not seeing him one day was akin to being separated for three autumns; this month, for Wu Xi, was akin to gut-wretching agony. Upon seeing him now at last, he felt like every missed look would be a waste, as if he wanted to install him right into his eyes.
Jing Qi’s mind wandered. As soon as he raised his head, he came into contact with that pair of pitch-dark, lonesome eyes. He put the bowl to the side, leaned back, and leisurely crossed one leg over the other, thinking for a time with both hands folded in his lap. “You’re not small anymore,” he said, slowing down his words. “Don’t act willfully.”
Wu Xi shook his head. “I never act willfully. If I did, I wouldn’t wait for you here for a month. If I did, I wouldn’t wait for you for most of last year.”
Jing Qi smiled stiffly. “How old are you now? What do you know? You’ve just got a mouth full of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’… it would be perfectly logical were you to say that a girl from a good family would be going back to Nanjiang to be your Great Witch. What would it look like, if you to get stirred up with a man?”
Wu Xi looked at him placidly. “I’m not a child. I know that I should forget about you and like someone else, but I can’t forget you, and I won’t marry someone else. You want to leave this place later on anyway. Why can’t you leave with me?”
Shocked, Jing Qi shot him a hesitant look. “How do you know I want to leave?”
The other smiled gently. “You said you feared the Crown Prince, and yet you do things on his behalf, knowing his very many secrets. If he assumes being the Emperor in the future, wouldn’t that make you even more afraid? You also told His Majesty that you weren’t going to take a wife. If you hadn’t made plans to leave later, how could you say that so firmly?”
Jing Qi couldn’t answer him for a long time, thinking that this tiny toxin was neither simple nor dull, to be able to still be quite astute after making such a scene for half the day. He had detected even his thoughts that had been pushed to the bottom of the box, making him wonder — was he acting too obvious? If even Wu Xi could see it, what would others think? If there actually came a day that he needed to disengage, wouldn’t there be a massive hassle…? Out of habit, his thoughts floated off to other matters.
Some people were born to live a life like this of back and forth calculation. Outsiders would feel his past-and-present deliberation tiresome, yet could scarcely imagine that his deliberation defect had already grown deep-rooted, and that he was as used to doing it as others were used to eating and drinking.
As his attention was wandering, by the time he reacted, Wu Xi had since come to stand straight before him. The youth was looking at him with some captivation. “Beiyuan…”
Jing Qi blinked.
“I really missed you,” Wu Xi said, voice low. “It felt in my heart… like I haven’t seen you for a lifetime. Can I hug you?”
Jing Qi widened his eyes slightly, watching him in silence.
Wu Xi waited for a bit. Seeing that he wasn’t responding, the hopefulness on his face cooled down piece by piece. A long while after, his hands were hanging down, and though he had no particularly visible heartbroken expression, his eyes were looking at the ground. The corners of his mouth tried to curve up, but the arc wasn’t great, and it turned into a fairly lopsided, failed grin. He pursed his lips, wanting to try again, then squeezed a smile out.
Jing Qi, in all his several lifetimes, had never been treated this carefully before. A bit of a peculiar emotion arose in his heart all of a sudden, slightly bizarre, and slightly uncomfortable; back in the time he was together with Helian Yi, their relationship was mostly equal in private. At the start, feeling that he, a several-centuries-old elder man, was getting coveted after like a lady by a young man, he was indeed a bit angered on the inside — yet this kid always had the ability to make him soften his heart over and over again.
That initial, meager resentment gradually quelled, and now, he was more along the lines of dearly touched.
He mentally mocked himself for being so old. If he was this softhearted a couple hundred years ago, he would have long been dead with nothing left behind. That in mind, he stood up, drew Wu Xi’s shoulders in, and hugged the teen that was apparently a bit taller than him, gently patting his back like he was comforting a child.
Wu Xi, however, seemed to have a full-body shudder. Once he snapped out of it, he buried his whole face into Jing Qi’s shoulder, and said kind of incoherent things into his ear. “I… I actually wanted to hold you in my arms as soon as I saw you, but the northwestern wind had been blowing for so long, that I was too cold, and I was afraid of freezing you, heh-heh. Now I’m warm…”
Jing Qi slightly suspected that he was doing this on purpose. How else could each and every word he said specially incite warmth within him?
After a good long time, Wu Xi reluctantly let go of him. “I’ll come find you later. You won’t refuse to see me?” he whispered.
Jing Qi smiled, nodding.
“Then… I said I wanted to bring you back to Nanjiang. Do you agree?” he asked probingly again.
Brow raised, Jing Qi hit him on the shoulder in both annoyance and amusement, then sat down anew, shaking his head. “Don’t ask for a li when you’re giving a cun, brat.”
…Whether he’d be able to live to that point was still an issue, eh.
“Mn,” Wu Xi answered, not especially surprised by that answer. “Explain a book for me this afternoon, then?”
Jing Qi sighed, waving his hand and not bothering to fight anymore. “What do you want to hear?”
Wu Xi gave a big grin.
The fast began. Drinking, singing, and dancing were completely banned. The entire capital looked to be seated inside a depressing atmosphere. After a few days passed with such a dark cloud overhead, a lightning bolt finally struck when it was close to the year’s end, and turmoil came knocking.
Helian Qi had just acquired an untamed, wild beauty; though he was focusing attention on him, due to it being in the middle of a fast, he exercised thorough caution. The three bros were all looking forward to their old man’s premature demise, but they couldn’t express so out in the open; the accusation of being unfilial was one no one could endure, after all.
For that reason, either by human effort or ‘Heaven’s Will’, the ‘beauty’ he was hiding in a little decorated house north of the city, Zhang Tingyu, took advantage of a day the guards were slacking off, and fled.
With the Zhang’s Young Lord gone missing, his family had long been searching like mad, narrowly overturning the whole capital. The perfectly good Young Lord had entered the city for imperial exams, and after going out for a stroll, he had simply vanished, with no one assuming responsibility to return him. Right when all hope was about to be lost, he found his own way back.
He was already no longer human-looking. His legs were almost entirely crippled, and he had crawled all the way there, falling down unconscious beside the entrance. He froze for most of the night before someone found him, and by the time he was lifted inside in a furor, his breaths were coming in, yet not going out. The Zhang family, hopping like ants on a hot pan, called for doctors from all directions, then took great effort in peeling his bloodied clothes off.
At a glance, even a fool would know what had happened to him.
Shortly following, there was blackness before the eyes of Zhang Tingyu’s old steward, and he nearly passed away right then. Only after a long period of pinching acupoints and whatnot did he let out a sluggish breath, throw himself onto Zhang Tingyu, and burst into wails.
Whether out of illness or suffering from hysteria, Zhang Tingyu’s consciousness was already clouded. His black bean-like eyes were open, empty and soulless, and he didn’t react to anyone’s calls; once two shichens passed, they were peering into his oncoming death.
The old Zhang steward had watched him grow up and loved him like his own half-son. After crying until he fainted several times, he would shout one phrase as soon as he opened his mouth: “This is the capital, this is right under the Son of Heaven’s feet — what beast dared to do such a thing?!”
Those words were said no less than three hundred times upside-down and backwards, and the Emperor of Heaven ultimately didn’t turn his back on resolute folks. Young Lord Zhang Tingyu seemed to have reacted a bit, and, as if in a dying flash, grabbed onto the steward’s deadwood-like arm. His mouth opened wide, but no sound came out, and he only mouthed something equivalent to ‘Helian’.
All the others were frightened into silence, leaving the steward by himself to not return to his senses from excessive grief. He held him ardently, old tears winding down his face as he harped on, “Young Lord, if you can’t talk— if you can’t talk, write! Write it!”
Zhang Tingyu reached out a finger, used the extremes of his effort to draw the word ‘two’ onto his palm, and strongly grasped his hand soon after. Eyes wide open, his lips trembled for a long time, then his head listed to the side — he breathed his last, not shutting his eyes even in death.
While Helian Qi was over there hurriedly combing the whole city with beads of sweat on his forehead due to having lost such a person during fasting, Zhou Zishu, who was in the middle of drinking tea at Jing Qi’s place with the Crown Prince and crew, had already received the message. Hearing it, he lightly smiled, and spoke to Helian Yi as he chatted with Lu Shen. “Your Highness, the matter is settled. Wait and see how loyal slave Zhang Jin bites his owner back.”
The news hadn’t yet spread, which was because Helian Qi had no idea that the little toy he had fucked for so long was Zhang Jin’s son; not one member of the Zhang household would be able to get away, otherwise. Zhang Jin had taken ten different concubines, but still hadn’t had even half an heir for so many years. It was with extreme difficultly that he got a son in his old fifties, and that handsome, intelligent individual was as precious to him as life itself.
Lu Shen glanced at Helian Yi, not knowing what was going on, since Zhou Zishu generally didn’t share unpresentable stuff like this with him. Thankfully, despite Lu Shen being an upright person, he wasn’t inflexible. He knew the score when it came to things he wasn’t made to know, and didn’t ask much of them.
The benevolent, honorable Crown Prince Helian Yi was silent for a long time, noiselessly nodding in the end.
Jing Qi was seriously daydreaming, however. Everyone was used to him talking a mental walk from time to time and typically didn’t bother him, but this time, he slightly furrowed his brow, as if he suddenly remembered something. “All of a sudden… I feel like there’s something unresolved.”
Zhou Zishu smiled. “What about this isn’t resolved? Helian Qi is now fearful because he thinks he smells fishy during the fast. There hasn’t been any movement from the Zhang family’s end yet. If there comes a time that Zhang Jin realizes the betrayal, how could he not risk his old life to incriminate the Second Highness on all his actions in the Northwest these many years?”
Jing Qi still thought that this had progressed too quickly. Zhou Zishu and he had originally been the same type of character, being both reliable and ruthless when they set to task, leaving no margin for error; however, he had, in the end, experienced many things, being prone to indecisiveness at times despite being even more dependable. Hearing this, he lowered his head, pondering the matter carefully from its start to its finish.
Helian Yi landed a piece, suddenly opening his mouth. “Zishu, outsiders cannot separate kin. This isn’t so simple. Don’t be lax.”
Zhou Zishu was startled, not at all as clear on the workings of a regent as these two were. “…Cannot separate?”
Jing Qi lifted his head to speak to Helian Yi then. “I still expect that you and Sir Jiang will strike up a hello, Your Highness.”
Helian Yi dropped a playing piece and looked at him.
“The Northwest is a tumor, but if we want to cut it off effectively, it needs to be plotted for slowly. Especially when… implicating people in the capital.”
Once he heard that, Helian Yi understood him implicitly.
They thought about and talked about it here, but, sometimes, human calculations were forever inferior to celestial calculations.
The translator says: Sentencing a boy to a horrible death for the crime of ‘being related to a bad guy’ will probably end up being an overall bad idea. Surprise, surprise.