Jun Huang and Nan Xun understood each other. Most of the time, an exchange of glances was enough for them to know what the other was thinking. Although they hadn’t known each other for that long, they’d been through hell and back together. Words weren’t necessary for their relationship.
Jun Huang rarely lost her composure, and she almost never talked about her feelings openly. They didn’t even discuss their future that often. Nan Xun’s uncharacteristic declaration in public made the usually calm Jun Huang flush red. She pursed her lips and gazed at Nan Xun. He seemed worried that she didn’t believe him and opened his mouth to state his feelings again.
Jun Huang cleared her throat to stop him. “You don’t have to say that out loud. I’m going to walk away if you don’t stop with that.” She lowered her eyes, her ears red. The rare reaction made Nan Xun melt. He pulled Jun Huang into his arms.
The sky dimmed as thick patches of clouds obscured the sun. The weather had been unpredictable lately. It was going to rain soon. The three of them made their way to the side palace together. Nan Jihan didn’t want to see the two of them being so intimate, but thinking that Nan Xun might do even more without him around, he followed after them.
Once inside the building, a crack of thunder pierced through the silence. It started pouring. Jun Huang didn’t feel like resting yet, so she sat in the hallway listening to the rain.
“People from the ancient times often listened to the rain to relax. We’re getting a taste of the life before.” She chuckled. She was tired, but it was clear she was in a good mood.
Nan Xun took her hand and whispered, “I wasn’t finished. You should focus on getting better. Then we can get your revenge and get married.”
Jun Huang’s breath hitched. She wasn’t an emotional person, but she was weak against Nan Xun’s tenderness. She’d always been forcing herself to be strong, but now, this man told her she was allowed to be vulnerable. He would shield her from any harm.
She had to be heartless to not be moved. Her eyes went misty and she squeezed Nan Xun’s hand with a serious nod.
Nan Jihan felt as if he’d fallen into a freezing pit. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop the cold from burrowing into his bones. The pain was unbearable.
He averted his gaze. Anyone else would have considered Nan Xun and Jun Huang the perfect couple, but for him, their intimacy was the most offensive sight in the world. He steadied himself and turned to them. “I have business to attend to. Please excuse me.”
He walked right into the heavy rain. The eunuch hurriedly caught up with him with an umbrella. Jun Huang and Nan Xun were suddenly left alone.
“Business, he said. Tsk, he’s just mad.” Nan Xun didn’t notice how irritated he sounded. “He’s crossed a line. He knew full well that you and I are together, and yet he insisted on getting between us. I didn’t want to bring up his kidnapping attempts, but he obviously forgot what he’d done.”
“No need to dwell on that. You know you’re the one I’ve fallen for. Why should we care about other people? There’s no reason for you to be insecure.” She chuckled, smiling with her entire face. Nan Xun put aside his resentment for Nan Jihan and nodded, holding Jun Huang closer.
Even through the platter of rain, Nan Jihan had heard them. He silently tightened his fists to calm himself and left in a hurry, followed by an army of servants.
Once Nan Jihan was gone, Nan Xun went off to retrieve a robe and draped it over Jun Huang’s lap. He then tightened the cloak around her shoulders. The rain had caused the temperature to drop. He didn’t want her to catch another cold.
He ordered the maid to prepare a pot of hot tea. When he turned back to Jun Huang, she was staring at him. He quickly figured out what she was silently telling him and approached her with a chuckle. “I just worry Nan Jihan would trick or coerce you,” he took her cool fingers and murmured. “He isn’t a man of integrity, and he isn’t the right person for you. I - ”
Jun Huang snorted, warmed by his explanation. She didn’t blame him. She knew what Nan Jihan was doing. “Don’t worry, I know who I truly care about. I’ll keep my guard up around him.”
Nan Xun didn’t intend to make her do anything. He just disliked the way Nan Jihan chased after Jun Huang. He didn’t think of himself as a petty man, but no one could be truly unfazed when their lover was being pursued by other people.
He cleared his throat awkwardly, embarrassed by her serious explanation. She smiled and noted his reddened earlobes. She barely stopped herself from teasing him.
They stayed there watching the rain for a long time. Only when it started to get cold did they return to Jun Huang’s bedroom.
Nan Xun immediately retrieved the portable censer to keep her warm, which the servants had prepared under Nan Jihan’s order since Jun Huang often felt cold lately.
“I’m getting so weak already. Maybe I won’t be able to even move in Northern Qi’s winter.” Jun Huang covered a wry smile and lowered her eyes.
Oleg Cragfiend entered with the usual equipment, which told Nan Xun it was that time of the day again. Although he’d already watched the poison master draw blood from Jun Huang a few times, it still made him nervous.
He was a general who’d fought with tens of thousands of soldiers under his command to deter invaders. He’d seen human blood trickling into rivers and an entire land littered with corpses. He’d bled and gotten wounded without so much as a frown. Seeing Jun Huang in pain, however, was unbearable. He wanted nothing but to suffer in her stead.
Her arm was covered in cuts on top of cuts on top of old scars. Nan Xun’s expression clouded and turned frosty.
Jun Huang sighed. “If you don’t like seeing the scars, you should go outside and get some fresh air. I’ll call out for you once we’re finished.”
“I’m not going to leave you now.” Nan Xun frowned and sat down on the bed to put an arm around her, blatantly disregarding anyone’s opinions as he shared his warmth with her.
Oleg Cragfiend shook his head and sighed. “I hear that the general of Northern Qi is unstoppable on battlefields. Your enemies are going to drop their jaws if they see you like this.”
Nan Xun didn’t deem that a response.
Oleg Cragfiend made a cut and filled up the ceramic bottle. When he looked up again, Nan Xun’s eyes were red like they were brimming with tears. The poison master swallowed his teasing words and quickly patched Jun Huang up before taking his leave.
Before Jun Huang could rolled down her sleeve, Nan Xun carefully caught her wrist. Jun Huang looked at him questioningly. He gazed at the numerous scars on her arm without a word, his heart heavy and his temples throbbing.
He took a deep breath and knelt down on one knee. Jun Huang looked at the pink, jagged scars. Her skin had always been fair. Although her master had made the cuts with great precision and treated the wounds with premium medicine, they still scarred. The daily blood drawing process meant getting a new cut before the previous one healed.
“How ugly the scars are. Don’t look. It’s just going to make both of us feel bad.”
Jun Huang reached out to cover her arm, but Nan Xun didn’t let her. He leaned down to drop a dry kiss on the scars. His tears dropped on her skin, hot enough to burn. Jun Huang’s breath hitched. She gently caressed his hair, overwhelmed by feelings she couldn’t put into words.
“I’ll stay with you always, Jun Huang. I’ll love you till the end of time and never give up on you.” His voice was hoarse and committed. When he looked up at her, his eyes were still red.
Jun Huang never doubted anything he said. She smiled softly and nodded. No words were needed at times like this.
The sun was out the second day. The weather seemed even nicer after the rain. Nan Xun looked outside. It wouldn’t do Jun Huang good to get stuck in a dim room. They might as well seize the opportunity to get some sunlight in the royal garden.
Nan Xun told Jun Huang what he thought. Jun Huang nodded. She was getting tired of staying in her room. Nan Xun called out for the maid to take Jun Huang there. He had something to take care of first.
Jun Huang left with the maid. It didn’t take long for them to reach the garden. After the rain, the flowers looked even more beautiful. She walked slowly with the maid’s help, the silver dress she wore waved slightly as she moved. Her waist-length hair danced in the breeze. Her expression was calm, even aloof. Every once in a while, she would cover a cough. She looked not unlike the sickly beauty Xi Shi from the old tale.
From a distance, a few of Nan Jihan’s consorts were chatting in a pavilion. Jun Huang glanced at them with a frown and turned to leave, unwilling to get involved, but someone had spotted her already. An aggressive looking woman walked up to her.
Jun Huang wasn’t one to back down. She looked at the woman with a faint smile and bowed slightly, which was more than the amount of respect Nan Jihan’s consorts deserved.