Translated by Vivian of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Shen Jue pursed his lips and was silent for a moment before saying, “I don’t want it. Take care of your life yourself. Don’t let it be taken away by someone and want me to come and save you again.”
The dislike in Shen Jue’s mouth was inadequate, and Xiahou Lian could hear the warmth. He lifted his head and smiled, saying, “Young Master, do you still need people in your Eastern Depot? Assign me a job. My saber skills are still passable, I won’t embarrass you.”
Shen Jue pondered for a long time. The Eastern Depot was his domain, so Xiahou Lian coming was also good. He would be at ease with him under his eyes, and it was always better than him fooling around in the pile of women in Yanzhi Alley all day long. His fluid gaze turned as he said, “You can come if you want. However, I’ve always been strict with rewards and punishments, and I treat everyone equally, so I won’t show favoritism to you because of a bit of friendship. If you make a mistake, you’ll be punished and managed as you should be, don’t come to me and plead.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll definitely act dutifully!” guaranteed Xiahou Lian.
Shen Jue nodded and took a step toward the festooned gate. Xiahou Lian stopped him again. “It’s so late, why don’t you rest here for the night?”
Shen Jue said, “You just got back, so only the mattress and bedding of the main room have been prepared, the wing room hasn’t been prepared yet.”
“Then we’ll sleep together,” said Xiahou Lian.
These words were practically like a clap of thunder, shocking him firmly. He stiffly turned around. That person was standing on the steps, and his black eyes were still heavy, without any improper thoughts. Dots of moonlight shone inside, as if it was mixed with constellations that filled the sky. One side of his lips hooked up, and his smile was a little evil. He knew that he shouldn’t overstep the boundary, but there was another voice in his heart, roaring at the top of its voice for him to stay.
Shen Jue hesitated in place, and Xiahou Lian walked over, thumping his shoulder and saying, “In our childhood…” He had forgotten that his hands were still injured, and he had just touched Shen Jue’s shoulder when it hurt so much he sucked in a breath of cold air.
Shen Jue was quite speechless, and he held his wrist to his mouth to blow on it. He asked, “Is it a little better?”
“It’s fine.” Xiahou Lian continued his words from just then, saying, “In our childhood, it’s not like we haven’t slept. What, you think I’m smelly? Same rules as before, I’ll bathe three times right now.”
Shen Jue stared at Xiahou Lian’s fingers. They had originally been a pair of hands with distinct joints, slender fingers, lean and strong, yet they had become like this now. He sighed and said gloomily, “Your hands are like this, how can you fetch water from the well? You rest, I’ll do it.”
Xiahou Lian was stunned, probably because he hadn’t expected Shen Jue could lower himself to fetch bathwater for him. He smiled and said, “The dignified governor of the Eastern Depot fetching bathwater for me, this has to be the most precious bath of my life. The injuries are worth it!”
Shen Jue glanced sideways at him, his fluid gaze rippling. Although it was rebuking, it was like the bright moon shining in autumn water, containing an exceptionally alluring charm. Xiahou LIan was stunned, and he only came back to his senses after a long while, inwardly saying that Shen Jue’s countenance was really unmatched. He had seen that old man Xie Bingfeng before, and he had merely looked mediocre. How beautiful must Shen Jue’s mother have been to give birth to such a fairy-like son.
Xiahou Lian followed Shen Jue to the back kitchen. Shen Jue got a water bucket, put it into the well, and shook the wheel to lift the water up. Xiahou Lian wasn’t idle, he squatted under the stovetop to burn firewood. He put in piece after piece of dry firewood, occasionally blowing a few times, and a large part of his face was blackened by smoke. Shen Jue carried the water over, poured it into the pot, put on the lid, warmed up a towel with hot water, and then wrung it before giving it to Xiahou Lian to wipe his face.
Xiahou Lian wiped his face clean. There was water on his face, and his black hair stuck to his face in locks, as dense as ink. The sounds of bugs started outside, noise following noise, continuous and unbroken, sounding nonstop. Shen Jue suddenly felt that a life like this was quite nice, like an ordinary family’s cozy and happy life, like a husband and wife.
Xiahou Lian handed the towel back to Shen Jue, and Shen Jue turned to soak the towel back in the basin. When he turned back around, Xiahou Lian had already taken off his shirt and was about to take off his trousers.
Shen Jue: “…”
Shen Jue’s Adam’s apple moved, and he said with difficulty, “Xiahou Lian, what are you doing?”
“Taking a bath, why?” Xiahou Lian turned his head and looked at him in confusion.
Shen Jue stared at his back dimples, licked his lips, and said, “Aren’t you going to bathe with hot water?”
“Your body is weak, you bathe with the hot water.” Xiahou Lian said, “I take cold baths all year round.”
“Okay,” Shen Jue finally steadied his turbulent mind, “continue.”
Xiahou Lian took off his trousers, undid his sweat towel, and also took off his underpants, stacking them on a low stool. His back was revealed to Shen Jue. He had a tall stature and bronze muscles that had been carved out, saber by saber. He was someone who had been trained in mountains of sabers and seas of fire, and every ravine of his fine and dense skin texture contained a defiant wildness.
Water was poured on, ladle by ladle, and crystal clear water droplets drenched the surface that rose and fell, drops wandering along the smooth and beautiful lines. Shen Jue’s gaze followed the water droplets down, moving inch by inch. It was first his back muscles, his back dimples, and then his buttocks, thighs, and finally disappearing at his ankles.
It really was… extremely pleasing to the eye.
He shifted his eyes away with great difficulty and walked to the door, leaning against the whitewashed wall. Shen Jue stroked his chest with his hand; the heart in his chest was beating wildly, thump by thump. He knew what this symptom was. He had experienced hardships in the palace for a long time, so besides fighting for power, what he knew best was love. Sad and sentimental, as fervent as fire, what hadn’t he seen before? What hadn’t he heard before? Besides men and women, he also knew mirror-grinders and cut-sleeves. But besides men and women, going a step further was a mistake, a sin.
Before long, Xiahou Lian wore silk trousers and clothes and walked out. There was still steam on his body and his linen clothes were open at the front, revealing his firm chest and abdomen.
“Go and bathe, the water was hot, so I put in a bit of cold water. See if the temperature is suitable or not.”
Shen Jue made a mn, and after he finished washing his face and rinsing his mouth, he stepped on the backs of his shoes as he went to the bedroom. Xiahou Lian was already lying on the alcove bed, and Shen Jue lifted the mosquito curtain. Xiahou Lian was sleeping inside, his two hands placed on his abdomen, an extremely proper posture. Shen Jue blew out the candle and laid inside. The night enveloped them, and in the silent night, they could hear each other breathing.
The night was deep, and the pale moonlight filtered through the gaps in the door and window, quietly spreading in the room. It soaked past the extinguished candlestick, climbed onto the carved bed, and slowly roamed about on their bodies through the plain gauze mosquito curtain. Shen Jue’s sleepiness was gone. Xiahou Lian’s breaths were very close, and he couldn’t fall asleep.
He turned his head. Xiahou Lian’s head was slightly tilted toward him, his black hair winding in front of his eyes. He had a thought, and his fingers inched over, bit by bit, but just when he was about to touch the tips of his hair, Xiahou Lian suddenly opened his eyes.
Shen Jue’s heart jumped, and he immediately stopped his movements and closed his eyes.
“Young Master, are you asleep?”
Only after a while did he say, “No.”
“Can I take off my clothes?” Xiahou Lian rolled over, and the bed boards creaked. “It’s too fucking hot.”
He opened his eyes and saw Xiahou Lian unbutton his coat. The lines that rose and fell on his waist and abdomen were partly hidden and partly visible, like the hazy outline of a mirage in mist, making one yearn for it.
In the darkness, Shen Jue’s eyes slowly became quiet and deep.
He said, “Then take it off.”
Xiahou Lian rolled over and got up, quickly taking off his coat and trousers, and there were only white underpants left on his entire body. He parted the bed curtains and carelessly threw his shirt and trousers out. The instant he threw the clothes, his bare chest neared Shen Jue, and a fiery breath quickly swept by. He went back to sleep, and the sounds of his even breathing gradually rose; he was sound asleep.
Shen Jue stared fixedly at his back, and the ardor at the bottom of his eyes emerged inch by inch. Something seemed to have been ignited in his heart, and it instantly surged like mountains. His fingers slowly neared his icy hair, which wrapped around his fingertips, circle by circle and turn by turn. He didn’t dare to pass the winding black hair and only dared to rub the ends of his hair. Shen Jue kept silent, letting the fire in his heart scorch the tip of his tongue bit by bit.
It’s you who wanted to provoke me, Xiahou Lian, do not blame me.
He inhaled deeply, and Xiahou Lian’s scent floated into his chest, pervading his entire body.
He silently recited this name, breaking apart the last “Lian.” The tip of his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, curled slightly, and then slid lightly, sticking the sound out smoothly. His lips and teeth lingered together, forgetting to return. He recited it over and over again, persistently rubbing his lips and the tip of his tongue, and finally swallowed it into his stomach.
“Godfather, I wonder if you’ve seen the new memorial to the throne? Those old fogeys in the Six Ministries are urging you to hand over the tiger tally.” Shen Wenxing was standing behind the chair, his fists clenched loosely as he pounded Shen Jue’s shoulders and back to massage them. A slew of small loose fists densely landing on the shoulder pythons of one’s yesa robes was very comfortable for the person being massaged.
For those who were eunuchs, serving people was a basic skill, so Shen Jue had also learned this set of fists. However, no one dared to have Shen Jue pound their back now.
Shen Wenxing curved his eyebrows as he smiled. “This group of scholars, did they get muddled from reading? The meat has fallen to the dog’s mouth, how is there a reason to ask for it back?” Right after he spoke, his expression changed. Didn’t this covertly scold Shen Jue as a dog? He hastily knelt down on the ground and slapped his own mouth, saying repeatedly, “My foul mouth, what am I saying! I deserve to be hit! I deserve to be hit!”
Shen Jue glanced sideways at him and didn’t make a sound. He had always had a neutral expression, making people unable to clearly know his thoughts. Shen Wenxing cried out his grievances in his heart and could only desperately slap his mouth. A secretary eunuch came up with a memorial to the throne. He placed it on the desk and said quietly, “The proposals in the Grand Secretariat have already been drawn up. His Majesty is young, so every time, he doesn’t want to read any more after reading a few. Can these revisions still be sent to the emperor?”
“Choose a few that have obscure words and are lengthy and difficult to understand, and send them over. The left censor-in-chief, Xu Kaixian, relies on his bit of family schooling. When it comes to anything bigger than a sesame seed, he has to quote from classics. I think it’s just right.” Shen Jue stood up from his chair and turned in front of the bird cage. He glanced at Shen Wenxing and said, “All right, stop slapping. You’ve followed me for so many years, yet you still don’t understand the principle of speaking and acting cautiously, you really are a pile of mud that can’t stick to the wall!”
Seeing Shen Jue get angry, the secretary and brush-holding eunuchs below shrunk their heads. Shen Wenxing grimaced. “Your lesson is right.”
“That group of old fogeys are afraid that I’ll become the second Qiu Shilang 1.” Shen Jue humphed. “Forget it, I don’t have such a big head to wear this hat. At the time when the Three Great Battalions listened to my commands, it was borrowing the late emperor’s light. The tiger tally let them know that I was a personal attendant of the emperor passing verbal instructions from him. In a time of crisis, they naturally obeyed. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a proper reputation, and without a name and without qualifications, how could I have commanded the Three Battalions? Unless His Majesty issued an imperial edict now, making me the senior general, keeping this tiger tally in my hands would be a disaster.”
The brush-holding eunuch below bowed his waist and said, “Then according to your meaning, we still have to hand over this tiger tally no matter what?”
Shen Jue made a “mn” and said, “The most important thing for us is to take good care of the revisions. His Majesty is playful, so let him play. The day before yesterday, I saw him dismantle his chair and mess with it. Go and look for some precious wood and send it into the palace. The toys the civilians have, like nine linked rings and storybooks, can be collected.” Shen Jue squinted his eyes and clasped his hands behind his back. “Just don’t let him study. If he doesn’t study, he won’t be sensible, and only then will there be positions for us.”
“The governor is wise!” Everyone’s expressions lit up in joy, and they all went away to do so.
Shen Jue instructed people to summon Situ Jin. While waiting, he flipped through a few memorials and looked. After looking at the characters that were the size of ants, they actually seemed to be able to move, slowly climbing out into Xiahou Lian’s silhouette. He held the vermillion brush in his hand for a long time, yet he didn’t write half a character of comment. No matter how shrewd someone was, they still couldn’t escape after encountering love. Shen Jue threw the brush and rubbed his temples.
Situ Jin came in and bowed his waist, saying “Governor.”
Shen Jue responded in a tired demeanor and said, “Xiahou Lian will come to the Eastern Depot for morning roll call in a few days, put him in the fifth division. Those people that Wei De left behind still haven’t been cleaned. The current Eastern Depot has good and bad people mixed together, and there are also a lot of good-for-nothings who entered after giving silver.” Shen Jue frowned in disgust. “All of the underlings in the fifth division are my trusted aides and can be depended on. It’s also only them who know Xiahou Lian’s identity. Let Xu Ruoyu take good care of him. Don’t let him do dangerous work, and cut him some slack during assessments. Tell this secretly and don’t let people know.”
“Yes, I understand.”