Nan Xun hadn’t commented on her refusal to rest, but it pained him to see her work on her plans late into the night and attend to business early in the morning. She radiated exhaustion.
Before he could urge her to rest, she got to her feet and said, “I have unfinished business to take care of. Please excuse me.”
She made her way to Nan Xun’s study. Lately, she’d run into some tricky problems. She asked Nan Xun for permission to use his study, and he readily granted her access. He regretted his decision dearly when he saw the way she threw herself into work with no regard for her health.
He sighed, sitting in the garden. When he came out of his trance, his body was numb from staying seated for too long. He stood up and stretched his limbs. After some hesitation, he made his way to the study.
The setting sun covered the study in an orange glow. Jun Huang had fallen asleep sitting at the desk. Nan Xun walked up to her and sighed at the documents scattered on the desk. Gently, carefully, he picked her up and carried her to her bedroom.
The servants dared not say a word or even cast a glance. Nan Xun’s eyes were sharp enough to kill. One of the shadow guards opened the door gingerly to let Nan Xun and Jun Huang in and then closed the door behind them.
Nan Xun put her on the bed and tucked her in. Now she could finally take some rest.
His handsome face was the first thing Jun Huang saw when she woke up. She was surprised to see him at bedside, watching her quietly. She sat up and looked around, her eyebrows furrowed. “Wasn’t I in the study? How did I get here?”
Nan Xun covered her with the blanket and said, “You fell asleep. The study is a little cold. You’d get sick if you spent the night there, so I carried you here.”
She blushed when she imagined him carrying her from the study to the bedroom. It wasn’t a short walk. The study was located in the front building, while her bedroom was in the back. She didn’t want to even think about how the servants must have reacted.
She took a deep breath to suppress her mortification, schooling her expression into one of indifference. “You should just wake me up next time.”
She propped herself up. Nan Xun stopped her from getting off the bed with a hand on her shoulder.
She looked up at him questioningly.
Nan Xun sighed. “Stop working for a moment.”
“I’d like to rest as well, but at this stage, I mustn’t get distracted for even one second. I know you’re worried. I know what I’m doing. I won’t - ”
“Are you sure about that?” Nan Xun said severely, his expression hard and his eyebrows knitted. “I’m not letting you work a moment longer today. If you refuse to rest, I’ll have you stay in the manor for the next few days as well. I know you’re worried about the House of Heavenly Fiends, but don’t forget I’m in charge of half of the organization as well. I can take on the tasks you’re dealing with. You’re borrowing time from your future by overworking yourself. Do you see my point?”
Jun Huang knew he wouldn’t budge. She nodded. “I know you’re concerned. I’ve been careless with myself. I won’t do it again.”
Nan Xun’s expression relaxed a little. He stood up when he heard someone knocking and walked away to get the door. Jun Huang used the opportunity to rub at her forehead. It’d been a while since she last slept so long. She had a slight headache.
She dropped her hands when she heard Nan Xun approach and put on a smile. He handed a bowl of supplementary medicine to her. “I ordered the servants to make this in the afternoon. It can soothe your nerves. I noticed that you weren’t sleeping well. You must have been too exhausted. You’ll feel better after drinking this and having a good night sleep.”
She nodded. Without a word, she finished the medicine in one go. Supplementary medicine tasted even more bitter than other types of medicine. The taste lingered at the tip of her tongue. She didn’t let it show.
She handed the empty bowl to Nan Xun and lay down on the bed. She didn’t feel like sleeping at all. She’d slept for too long during daytime.
After about the time for a pot of tea to brew, she still didn’t feel at all tired. She opened her eyes and looked up at Nan Xun. “I slept too long earlier and now I can’t fall asleep. I’m a little bored.”
Nan Xun was thoughtful. “Do you want to chat for a while?”
That would be better than lying on the bed doing nothing. She nodded and started talking to him about anything and everything.
“What was your life in the military like in the past, Nan Xun?”
She was curious what had made Nan Xun who he was today. She could remember how stoic and untouchable he had been when they first met. Although he was now gentle with her, she knew he’d given her all the tenderness he could muster from his steely heart.
He thought for a moment. “It wasn’t particularly difficult, but it was a lonely life. I was often left to my own devices while the others were busy with their duties. The border was a far cry from the imperial city. All I could see was sand. I think I ate more sand than meat during that time.”
He chuckled. He had led a luxurious life as he grew up in the imperial city. Once he got to the border, however, no one cared about his princehood. If he hadn’t been strong-willed enough, he’d have died there.
His tone was light, but her heart ached for him. She’d been to the border with Qi Chen before. She had a good enough understanding of how life was there. Nan Xun had been so young when he first followed the army to the battlefield. She shuddered to think what may have happened to him.
They were both preoccupied with their thoughts. After a long stretch of silence, Nan Xun asked about her past.
She had a richer childhood than he did. She told him how she’d snuck out of the palace with Qi Yun to a lantern festival and saved a street performer, and how she’d learned a few tricks and played pranks on the older servants in the palace. She was quite a troublemaker.
Nan Xun laughed quietly. “I didn’t expect you to be that mischievous.”
“I wasn’t one to follow rules. Now I have more self-control.”
There were things she left unsaid. There was no point in bringing up her pain. Perhaps Nan Xun wouldn’t think too much of her words, but talking about her childhood was suffocating to her.
She took a deep breath. She couldn’t help thinking of the family she’d lost. “One time, I was punished for a prank I pulled,” she said with a hint of melancholy in her voice. “My punishment was to transcribe the Book of Odes. I didn’t have anything to drink for three hours. Afterwards, I threw a tantrum and refused to sleep even though I was exhausted. I didn’t think I deserved the punishment. Royal Mother hurried to my room when she heard. She took me into her arms and sang a lullaby to put me to sleep. For a long time since then, I couldn’t sleep without her singing voice.”
She lowered her head and chuckled, her sorrow was clear in her eyes. “That was a long time ago. How embarrassing I’ve been.”
Nan Xun looked at her without a word. There were tears in her eyes. He wanted to wipe them away for her, but she turned around and did it herself. “Maybe I just need someone to sing to me to fall asleep,” she said jokingly. “Will you do me the favor?”
Nan Xun paused. He didn’t want to say no. Her show of weakness was painful to witness. He hesitated for a moment and started singing the song soldiers sang as they marched to boost morale.
Jun Huang snorted and looked at Nan Xun exasperatedly. “It’ll be good if I can fall asleep listening to that, but it’s a little too stimulating. I’m even more awake now.”
He awkwardly scratched his head and looked at her without a word. She thought for a moment. “Why don’t you sing me a lullaby?”
“I don’t know any,” he admitted.
She didn’t insist. “Any songs you know will do. But no military songs.”
Nan Xun nodded. After some deliberation, he settled on a nursery rhyme. He wasn’t the best singer, but there was a unique charm to his cool singing voice. She was captivated.
Unexpectedly, she fell into a dreamless slumber.
The sun was out when she woke up. The servants had already risen and were busy at work. She heard their hurried footsteps despite their attempt to tread lightly. She turned around and saw Nan Xun’s side profile.
He was still asleep. His usually stoic face looked softer with his eyes closed, the lines of his features further softened by sunlight. Jun Huang was overwhelmed with a warm feeling. There was something comforting about waking up to his presence. If only he could be the first thing she saw every morning.
She was startled by her thoughts. She’d been too busy to think about their relationship lately, but she had to admit it was more and more difficult for her to live without Nan Xun. Her feelings threatened to burst out of her chest, but she stubbornly kept it bottled up.
She was so lost in her thoughts she didn’t realize Nan Xun had opened his eyes. Noticing his deep and mesmerizing eyes, she jumped and looked away.
Nan Xun pretended to not notice her reddened ears. It was enough for him to be the center of her attention. He knew he had to give her more time. He mustn’t get hasty and scare her away.Previous Chapter Next Chapter