Yu Huang Rong went at a slower pace but still didn’t dare to tarry with bringing Zhang Shi Lan over to his hideout. When they reached the small courtyard, he leaped from the horse and then pulled Zhang Shi Lan into his arms, carrying him inside.
Zhang Shi Lan didn’t refuse. He felt a bit better than before but still weak. In this condition, he might make trouble for Yu Huang Rong so he wouldn’t fuss and just let him handle everything. With that thought, he leaned against his chest and closed his eyes, slowly relaxing. The most difficult part of their plan should have passed. Now, they only needed to wait and put on an act and then things should work out.
Yu Huang Rong saw Zhang Shi Lan’s eyes fall shut and the same panic as before gripped his heart. He rushed inside and gently put Zhang Shi Lan down on the bed, not hesitating at all when he opened his belt and pulled his outer robe from his shoulders.
Zhang Shi Lan’s eyes flew open and he stared at him in a daze. “Huang Rong, what …” Seeing Yu Huang Rong’s anxious expression, he fell silent. In the end, he reached up and cupped his cheek, rubbing his skin with his thumb. “Don’t worry. I’m alright.” He turned over to prove his point and let Yu Huang Rong look at his back.
The General didn’t need to be told twice. He checked but couldn’t find any injury whatsoever. Zhang Shi Lan’s back didn’t even have a scratch.
Yu Huang Rong heaved a sigh of relief. Not hurt. He wasn’t hurt at all.
He pulled Zhang Shi Lan into his arms and took a deep breath, finally calming his frantic heartbeat.
Zhang Shi Lan also sighed and clung to his lover. “It’s alright. Don’t worry anymore.” He brushed through his hair and then looked around. “This place …”
Yu Huang Rong raised his head and gave him a smile. “It’s a place I stay at when I want to get away from everything for a while. I’ll just train my martial arts for a few days and take a rest for the remaining time. I’ve never brought anybody here before.” His smile deepened and he leaned forward, pecking Zhang Shi Lan’s lips. “You’re the first.”
Zhang Shi Lan requited his smile and continued to look around. To be honest, he did feel a bit special being brought to this place. “So … What will we do now? We can’t stay here for the whole time or the plan won’t work out, right?”
“Mn.” Yu Huang Rong nodded and let go of him, getting off the bed and walking over to a trunk at the foot of the bed. “Let’s stay here for a few days though. If you really were injured, then making you journey here and back to the capital afterward would worsen your condition. So it is expected to let you rest for a while. Furthermore, you won’t have to pretend too much then. It’ll be enough if you stay in bed for a week or two and rest your body.” Yu Huang Rong rummaged through the chest and finally took out a dark robe. “Change into this. It might be a bit big but it’s better than that.” He motioned at Zhang Shi Lan’s blood-soaked clothes and then awkwardly stood in front of him. Should he leave or stay?
Zhang Shi Lan got up as well and threw the outer robe onto the ground. Looking at his inner robe, he pondered. He couldn’t see the back but it should also be full of blood. He finally took it off as well and turned it over, nodding to himself. Sure enough, the fabric was ripped where the weapon had hit him and blood had dyed most of it red. This couldn’t be worn any longer.
He sighed and threw it on the ground as well before turning around. Looking at his lover, he blinked his eyes. Yu Huang Rong’s face had turned beet-red and his eyes were darting around as if he didn’t dare to look at him.
Zhang Shi Lan raised his brows and then looked down at himself, his own cheeks flushing as well. Ah, this was … He took the dark robe from Yu Huang Rong’s hands and put it over, turning away. His heart jumped and his breath had quickened, showing his agitated mood.
Behind him, Yu Huang Rong gulped and then turned to the side. Two people in love staying together in the same hut for a few days … maybe that wasn’t too good after all. Before this, he hadn’t thought it would be any problem but just now … he really started to doubt. Would his self-restraint be strong enough to resist?
The fabric rustled when Zhang Shi Lan finished wearing the robe and then turned around. Seeing Yu Huang Rong’s expression, his embarrassment lightened. Well, they both felt a little awkward right now. In that case, it wasn’t that bad, was it?
He inched closer and leaned against Yu Huang Rong’s body, startling him out of his thoughts. “Huang Rong …” He gently wrapped his arms around his middle and closed his eyes. “I’m glad everything went so well. What do you think how long it’ll take until we can get married?”
Yu Huang Rong took a deep breath and pushed his previous thoughts away although it wasn’t easy. He also hugged Zhang Shi Lan and leaned their heads together. “I don’t know. But I guess it should only be a few weeks. It’ll depend on how the rumor spreads. Only if the story becomes huge enough to attract the attention of all the people in high positions will Luan Xin be able to act. So I guess we can only wait.” He furrowed his brows at that, wondering if it would really be enough.
At that moment, he hadn’t been able to pay too much attention to his acting. After all, he had really believed for a moment that Zhang Shi Lan might be grievously hurt. How could he have the time to put on a show? But in this case, were people really assuming the right relationship between them? If they didn’t … then how were they supposed to go forward from here on out? It couldn’t be that this whole ordeal had been for naught, could it?
He tightened his grasp around Zhang Shi Lan, taking a deep breath to calm down. He couldn’t change it right now so he could only wait and hope. If things really went in a different direction, he would just go to Madam Yan and ask her for help again. She would certainly be able to come up with a plan to get things back on track.
While the two of them worried about the future, the emperor was also not in the best state of mind. He was still sitting in his tent, hands covering his face while his thoughts ran a mile a minute.
“Could something have gone wrong?” He lowered his hands and then stared at She Ning, trying to figure out just what the meaning of Yu Huang Rong’s gaze from before was.
She Ning watched him but didn’t know what to say. He glanced at the flap of the tent. It seemed that Yu Huang Rong and Zhang Shi Lan had already returned? What had Luan Xin seen? “I can go and inquire.”
Luan Xin continued to look at him, not indicating whether or not he wanted him to. She Ning couldn’t help but feel confused. Seriously, what had happened? He pondered and then went over, kneeling down beside Luan Xin.
“What is it?”
Luan Xin leaned forward and wrapped his arms around his lover’s neck. He leaned his forehead against his shoulder and sighed. “I don’t know. When I came out, Yu Huang Rong was just returning. He was holding that Zhang Shi Lan in his arms and … there was blood everywhere. It looked gruesome. And Yu Huang Rong stared at me as if … As if this was my fault.” He took a shaky breath. “Do you think he was really hurt? His face looked pale.”
She Ning shook his head. “No. My men were instructed to make sure he isn’t hurt. He wouldn’t even have a scratch.”
“Then why …”
“I guess they hit some acupoints to make it look more convincing. Zhang Shi Lan told me he wasn’t sure he would be able to act well. Since we can’t injure him there were only so many options on how to achieve a convincing look. We didn’t go to warn General Yu again though. He might have thought we went back on our word.”
Luan Xin raised his head and glanced at She Ning. “You mean my best friend thought I’d pretend to help only to kill off his lover? Why? Because he thinks I’m still in love with him?”
Luan Xin stared at him, feeling another pang in his heart when he saw She Ning’s expression. So it turned out that not only his best friend was doubting him, his lover was doing the same. “That’s not it.”
“But you were jealous of Zhang Shi Lan when you saw him yesterday.”
Luan Xin nodded. “I was. But … it’s not what you think. I just … Ah Rong was my first love. That kind of thing isn’t easily forgotten, is it? Especially not if that person is so close to you. Thinking that this ordinary scholar achieved what I couldn’t do even with my status or … that he could achieve what was impossible for me because of my status makes me hurt a little. I can’t help but wonder if things would have been different if I had been just like that Zhang Shi Lan: Just an ordinary person instead of a prince. Would Yu Huang Rong have given me some more thought?”
She Ning glanced at him, his lips tightening before he finally spoke up. “Do you want my honest opinion?”
“He wouldn’t. Yu Huang Rong obviously doesn’t care about customs. If he did, he wouldn’t be trying to marry Zhang Shi Lan. Since that is the case he also wouldn’t have held back if it was about you. The reason he never considered you that way was because he only ever saw you as a friend. You’re likely … just not his type.”
Luan Xin looked at his lover in a daze but finally nodded. “You’re right. I’m not his type. I guess he was mine though. The two of you … You’re actually quite similar.”
She Ning raised his brows, quietly asking him to elaborate.
Luan Xin sighed and straightened up, holding onto She Ning’s shoulders while he examined him. “It’s not your looks or even your personality but … both he and you have always given me a sense of security. When I’m with you, I feel like … I don’t have as many worries. As if I could trust you to hold up the sky for me.”
She Ning nodded. “If it comes crashing down, I’ll do that.”
Luan Xin nodded and gave a smile. Then he leaned forward and lightly kissed him. “Don’t think too much. I do have lots of fond memories of Yu Huang Rong but for the most part, my jealousy just comes from my ego being badly bruised. I’m not used to not getting my way so it really stings. But that’ll fade over time. In fact, after seeing Zhang Shi Lan and seeing how different he is from me, I already feel a bit better.”
She Ning nodded.
“It’s alright.” Luan Xin leaned closer again, their lips brushing against each other once more. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” She Ning took a deep breath and reached out, for once showing the initiative to be affectionate. Maybe it was his own fault too for not giving Luan Xin enough peace of mind. Naturally, he would wonder if it would be different with Yu Huang Rong who had been praising his lover into the heavens whenever they met. He was probably … missing that kind of proof of his partner’s love.