Zhang Shi Lan looked at Yu Huang Rong, his heart speeding up, and took a trembling breath. He wasn’t sure if he understood right. No, that wasn’t right. He had understood. He had seen it before the dance these words just now … It wasn’t that he didn’t understand. He just couldn’t believe it. Maybe all of this was a dream?
He looked at Yu Huang Rong, gazing deep into those eyes and finally had to admit to himself that this was indeed the reality. He was indeed here, sitting in this garden with General Yu, his hand held in the bigger hand of the man he loved, a love confession still ringing in his ears.
Yu Huang Rong couldn’t help but get anxious when the other person didn’t answer. He had been sure that Zhang Shi Lan loved him but just in case that he and Madam Yan were both wrong, he’d rather hear it from himself. He squeezed Zhang Shi Lan’s hand and leaned closer. “Scholar Zhang, is it that you don’t have feelings for me? Was I surmising too much? If that was the case, then …”
“No!” Zhang Shi Lan reached out with his other hand, holding onto Yu Huang Rong’s before he knew what he was doing. His expression blanked when he understood what had happened. He looked at the General, taking another shaky breath while his gaze flitted about.
He wanted to turn away and take his hand away but Yu Huang Rong caught it and pulled it back, securing it between his.
“No? What do you mean with that? No, I wasn’t surmising too much? Or no, you don’t have feelings for me? Be honest with me, Zhang Shi Lan. I won’t be able to take if you just stay silent. So you’ll have to say it. Either you say, yes, I love you, or you say no, I don’t love you. You have to decide.”
Zhang Shi Lan looked back up into Yu Huang Rong’s eyes. How often had he imagined this moment? How often had he confessed in those dreams? So shouldn’t this be a dream come true? Then why was it so hard? He gave half a smile and gathered his courage to brush the back of Yu Huang Rong’s hand with his fingers. “I do. But my family —”
Before he could say another word, Yu Huang Rong leaned forward, one of his hands reaching over and a finger pressing against Zhang Shi Lan’s lips. “Sh.” He took the scholar’s smaller hands into his other and rubbed them with his thumb. “Don’t say any more of that. Just ‘I do’ is enough.”
Zhang Shi Lan furrowed his brows. “But —”
Yu Huang Rong chuckled and leaned over, his lips sealing the rest of the words.
Zhang Shi Lan stopped thinking. All protest was blown away and his body grew limp. Thankfully, Yu Huang Rong had already moved closer and caught him in his arms.
“You don’t have to worry about any of that. I love you and you love me. That’s the most important. Everything else can be taken care of. Right?”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded even though he had no idea just how this ‘taking care of’ should look. To him, it had never been a question of whether this was possible not. He had always known that it could just be a dream. Hearing something else from Yu Huang Rong now … He didn’t know what to make of that.
Yu Huang Rong smiled, his fingers brushing through Zhang Shi Lan’s hair. “I’ve talked to the matchmaker. She said that if I’m able to win you over, then she will help us. She already has an idea on how to deal with our families.”
Zhang Shi Lan looked up, his eyes widening. “You talked to the matchmaker? Madam Yan?”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “I guess she knew from the very beginning that something was up. I only asked her about it after the first event. I told her that there was no way I’d want to marry anyone but you.” He pulled Zhang Shi Lan’s hands over and held them in his lap, caressing the skin. “I was very unhappy when I saw you there. Just the thought of you getting married to somebody else …” He shook his head. “Zhang Shi Lan, I’m afraid I won’t be able to let you go. You have to stick with me now.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. If what he said was true and Madam Yan had a way, then naturally, he would follow. He couldn’t imagine how but if it enabled him to be with the man he loved, then of course, he wouldn’t say no. “I don’t understand any of this but … just tell me what to do. I’ll do my part.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded and leaned over, kissing his cheek. “Then I’ll go and ask her about the next step as soon as possible. Unfortunately, she’s a little secretive. Even I myself don’t know what will happen next. Let’s let her surprise us, shall we?”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded and closed his eyes. He still couldn’t believe that all of this was real. When he opened his eyes again, Yu Huang Rong was still sitting next to him, looking at him with a gentle smile. His hands were still being held in those of the General, feeling warm and secure. “I really don’t understand how all of this happened.”
Yu Huang Rong chuckled. “Somebody was careless one day and almost fell into the river. That’s where it started. Then somebody was careless and lost his heart. Somebody else was careless as well, not noticing that that heart was with him. Then it took some years and then that latter careless somebody saw an elegant young man very politely scolding some juniors.”
Zhang Shi Lan’s cheeks flushed red. He looked at Yu Huang Rong and wanted to say something but no words came out.
Yu Huang Rong laughed. “Back then, you had so many words to say. How come you don’t even get a single one out when in front of me? I would’ve understood if this was still a secret crush. But now, am I not the man you’re going to marry?”
His question made Zhang Shi Lan even more unable to say anything. He could only lower his head, his cheeks flushed crimson. “Please, do not tease me.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded and raised one of Zhang Shi Lan’s hands, lowering his head and pressing a kiss onto the knuckles. “Whatever it is you want. I’d certainly do it.”
He looked up and their gazes met.
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but smile. Up until now, he had only ever heard the official news about Yu Huang Rong and seen him every now and then. He had never had the chance to get to know him any better though. Seeing this side of him, that also wasn’t bad. “Then what should I do now?”
Yu Huang Rong nodded to the side. “Well, I’ve ordered a lot of dishes. You could take whatever you want. Let’s start with that?”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded and tried to take his hands back. A certain someone held on securely though. “General Yu —”
“That sounds so distant. How about calling me Yu Huang Rong? Or Huang Rong? Or Ah Rong?”
Zhang Shi Lan gave a careful smile. “If I do, then will we eat?”
Yu Huang Rong looked at that smile and his heart thumped heavily. “Call me husband and I’ll even feed you.”
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but laugh. “Well, you can do so in the future if all of this works out. For now, I think Huang Rong would be alright if we’re alone. When we’re outside …” He pondered. They had only met twice as far as anyone knew. It would be strange if they would suddenly seem too familiar with each other. “I do not know what Madam Yan said but I don’t think it would be good to seem too close just yet. Let’s just keep calling each other as we did before. After a while, we can use our given names.”
Yu Huang Rong clicked his tongue. “You’re too sensible. I feared as much. But well, I guess it’s true. Let’s do it that way then.”
He let go of Zhang Shi Lan’s hands even though he didn’t want to and picked up the chopsticks, starting to pick out some of the vegetarian dishes and placing them in Zhang Shi Lan’s bowl.
The scholar couldn’t help but smile. “Did you already think of this when you asked before?”
Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “I only thought of it at that exact moment. I saw you eating and felt that I wanted to know more. And also … You were being so quiet. You made me feel a little … afraid.” He stopped with the chopsticks in his hand and gave Zhang Shi Lan a serious look. “Before, when I said that I was thinking about you, that was true. Back on the battlefield, I thought a lot of you. It’s just that … I wasn’t too sure before if you would understand it the right way and I was afraid I had said too much so I tried to explain it in some other way. I’m sorry. I just blurted it out without thinking. Despite all those years on the battlefield I still lose control much too easily when it concerns you. I guess I’m still just a man out of flesh and blood.”
Zhang Shi Lan smiled. “That’s also good. I wouldn’t have you any other way.” He took his chopsticks and picked up a piece of meat, placing it in Yu Huang Rong’s bowl. “I didn’t ask before but I guess General Yu would like eating meat.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “I do. Although … I guess I would like eating anything that you gave me.” He looked at Zhang Shi Lan and his gaze deepened. “Shi Lan, I’m really happy today.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “I’m also very happy today. Yu Huang Rong.”
The two of them took their bowls and started to eat, falling silent again. At this moment, they were only happy that they were together and that despite what they had thought before, a future between them might not be impossible.