The two men finished the food in silence. This time, Yu Huang Rong didn’t mind it though. He had already said what he had wanted to say and even though he had had to prompt him, Zhang Shi Lan had also said what he wanted to hear. There was no reason to force a conversation. No, right now he was content just sitting here with him and enjoying the moment. Words were unnecessary.
Finally, Zhang Shi Lan put down his chopsticks and turned to him, giving a light smile. “Yu Huang Rong, you said I shouldn’t worry but … Just what do we do now? Is there anything I can help with?”
Yu Huang Rong reached over and took his hand again. “Nothing that I would know off at the moment. I only talked with Madam Yan about the first few steps. Making you admit that you had feelings for me was the most important one.”
Zhang Shi Lan couldn’t help but blush. “You … You knew? And Madam Yan …”
Yu Huang Rong chuckled. “I’m not sure what I should think about that woman but I guess she’s a good matchmaker. She is able to see that kind of thing. She also didn’t need more than a glance to find out what was up with me. Well, at least that’s what I think. She didn’t say so outright but from the way she behaved and the questions she asked, it’s likely that she knew already.”
Zhang Shi Lan thought back to his own conversations with Madam Yan and felt that there was indeed a likelihood of her knowing. “Then from the very beginning, what should have been kept secret wasn’t that private anymore.”
Yu Huang Rong squeezed his hand. “Don’t worry about that. She’s on our side. She’ll help us get this sorted out somehow.” He sighed and pushed the dishes out of the way, leaning closer to Zhang Shi Lan. “I don’t know what she has planned at the next event but I’m sure that there’ll be one. We’ll likely get information about that soon. I’d say we should just wait for that. At the most, it should take two or maybe three days if she’s slow. And I guess she noticed that I’m bad at waiting.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “I guess we don’t have another choice then. So … We won’t see each other until then?”
Yu Huang Rong shook his head. “I don’t know if this is alright with her but I don’t think I can do that. Let’s meet again in the meantime. She also wanted me to spend time with you I guess. Otherwise, there is no way for me to win you over, is there?”
“Then how should we go about that? I doubt we can meet openly, can we? Wouldn’t people start talking if we did?”
Yu Huang Rong lifted the scholar’s hand and pressed his lips on it. “What are you talking about? Who would think of a clandestine love affair just because we meet? Isn’t this just a friendship among gentlemen? Come to think of it …” He narrowed his eyes and tapped the ground with his foot. “That Qian Mu Qing should have figured it out, shouldn’t he?”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “He did. He … warned me about you. I guess he somehow saw at the first event. I couldn’t help but tell him my true feelings. So he knows. I hope this won’t be a problem?”
Yu Huang Rong hummed. “I don’t know him. Do you think he is trustworthy?”
Zhang Shi Lan pondered and nodded. “I think so. I didn’t know him before either but he took the time to warn me and made sure that nobody heard. That is very honorable of him. If our feelings weren’t mutual and you really had something bad planned then I would need to thank him. Well, I guess I do need to thank him anyway. If not for him pointing it out, I might not have understood even today.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “Then I guess I’ll have to ask you to invite him out. People know that you met up before, don’t they? So … Since I don’t know anybody here and dragged you out today, it wouldn’t be unexpected if I asked you to be the link between me and Qian Mu Qing, would it?”
“Your meaning is … for us three to go out together?”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “More or less. The idea is for us three to go out together and for us to dump him somewhere along the way.” He pulled Zhang Shi Lan’s hand and inched closer. “I wouldn’t want to have him interfere too much. But I guess he’s a good excuse. If it’s not just us meeting up, then that is me socializing. I guess I will also make some curtsy calls to other people to cover up our traces.” He smirked. Honestly, this sounded more and more as if they were having an affair.
Zhang Shi Lan didn’t notice and just nodded. “That might work. At the very least, it should work until we know what Madam Yan has planned so far.”
“True. Finding other people will be troublesome though. Qian Mu Qing knows so there isn’t a problem. As for anybody else … We can’t make it too obvious.”
“Most people that I know would be scholars anyway. I guess it would get boring for you sooner or later.”
Yu Huang Rong chuckled, brushing Zhang Shi Lan’s hand with his thumb. “How could it get boring with you around? I’d just pretend to be listening and instead just watch you all the time.”
“If you do, wouldn’t people notice even more? You should try to hold back.”
Yu Huang Rong got up and took the last step separating them, grabbing Zhang Shi Lan by the waist and pulling him up onto his feet. “I held back for so long already. Can’t you at least let me look at you?”
Before Zhang Shi Lan could answer, Yu Huang Rong had sat down in his chair and pulled him onto his lap, carefully holding him in his arm, looking at him just as he had said. Zhang Shi Lan looked away but Yu Huang Rong grabbed his chin and made him face back.
“What are you running away from? Didn’t we already establish that we love each other? There’s no need to be like this anymore.”
Zhang Shi Lan reached out and touched Yu Huang Rong’s chest. “How can you say it like that? I’ve been yearning for you for ten years. I always thought it was impossible. Suddenly having my dreams become reality … You can’t expect that I’ll be able to come to terms with it immediately. I’ll need some days at least.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded. “I know, I know. It’s completely my fault. I wasn’t fast enough.”
Zhang Shi Lan shook his head. “That’s not it. I think that it might be good that you waited this long. If you look at this logically, then our families won’t be happy about our relationship but if they feel that there is no way for us to marry a woman anyway, then it might be easier to convince them to accept us. Not that I could imagine just how we are supposed to convince them.”
Yu Huang Rong brushed the scholar’s hair back, continuing to look at him. Ah, if he could, he would look at him the whole day. “Don’t worry about that right now. Let’s just get through the next few days. Let’s wait for what Madam Yan has to say. Then, we can still worry about our families. But I think you might be right. Also, I’m kind of happy that we weren’t a couple before. With me being on the battlefield all the time … You would’ve had to worry way too much.”
“I did worry a lot even though we weren’t a couple yet. How could I not worry about the man that I love? Thinking that you might never return … Never mind that I wouldn’t have been able to confess my feelings to you, just the idea that you might not be there anymore, never returning to the capital, never allowing me to take even a last glance at you … I didn’t know what to do when I imagined that.”
Yu Huang Rong leaned down and cupped his cheeks, gently brushing his lips. “Nothing of the like happened. Don’t think about it any longer.”
Zhang Shi Lan nodded. “I’ll try. It’s not that easy though. You’ll have to return there. I know that. I also know it’s impossible to change. I’ll be able to come to terms with it.”
Yu Huang Rong sighed but unfortunately, he knew that Zhang Shi Lan was right. There was no way that he wouldn’t have to return to the border someday. Even if Luan Xin took their friendship into consideration and let him stay in the capital a while longer because he had married, things would still have to return to the way they had been before. Then Zhang Shi Lan would indeed be the one left behind in the capital, having to spend his days alone. It was … unfair. It really was unfair to him. Unfortunately, he couldn’t change it.
Zhang Shi Lan reached up and caressed Yu Huang Rong’s cheeks with a smile. “What’s this? You shouldn’t brood. That is but a natural thing. After all, you’re a soldier. You already were when I fell in love with you. So I always knew what this kind of life would bring. I never expected anything else. So don’t feel bad about it.”
Yu Huang Rong nodded and once again leaned down, their lips meeting halfway. This time, they lingered a while longer before they pulled back.
“Well, we’ll see about that in the future too. For now, let’s just enjoy what we have.”