The mistress was the only other person left in the room. She took Jun Huang’s hand and frowned. “You should’ve stayed indoors. What are you going to do if your illness has lasting effects? We’ve done all we could to help you recover, but all our work has been undone. You don’t want to be riddled with illness in the future, do you?”
Her forehead creased in concern, her tone reprimanding. Nan Xun balled his hands into fists and scowled. It was hypocritical of the woman to say such things.
Jun Huang lowered her eyes and made a sound of assent. She didn’t want to risk exposing her fake illness.
“I just want the best for you,” the mistress said, letting out a sigh at Jun Huang’s meek look. She stroked her hair and looked at her with sympathetic eyes. “If you don’t recover, I’m going to be worried.”
Jun Huang looked up at her and smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind. It’s my fault for getting careless with myself. As your daughter I should’ve shouldered your burden rather than making you worry. I...”
She choked out a heartbreaking sob.
Nan Xun clenched his fists and took a deep breath, closing his eyes as he recalled the way Jun Huang used to snuggle close to him in a moment of weakness. The destruction of Western Que had always been her biggest regret. It turned a carefree princess into a woman driven by revenge, her naturally caring heart hardened by hatred.
He knew better than anyone how tired Jun Huang had been. Too many things were weighing her down, keeping her on edge.
Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad thing for her to lose her memory. However, family remained her biggest weakness. Even though she didn’t remember, she ached for the loved ones she’d lost.
The mistress looked at her pityingly and wiped her tears with an embroidered handkerchief. “Don’t say such things.” She sighed. “The only thing I want is for you to be well. Remember that, and take care of yourself.”
Although the mistress wasn’t her real mother, Jun Huang couldn’t help feeling touched. She took a deep breath and rested her head on the mistress’s shoulder. It took some time for her to recover her composure.
The mistress sighed in relief and patted her back reassuringly.
“I’m fine now, mother.” Jun Huang sat up. “It’s getting late. You haven’t eaten yet because of me. You should have something and rest well.”
The mistress nodded and sighed again. She gently touched Jun Huang’s sharp cheekbone. After saying a few more comforting words, she left.
Jun Huang quickly masked the emotions in her eyes. The tears on her face were in stark contrast with her cold expression.
She closed her eyes and breathed out slowly, as if to push out all her painful feelings. When she opened her eyes, Yin Yun and Nan Xun had come back to her room.
Nan Xun retrieved a handkerchief and wiped away her tears for her. He took her cold fingers.
Jun Huang looked at him and spoke up, “You should go. I worry that Jun Hao may not be safe on his own. I’ll feel better with you by his side.”
Nan Xun gave her a hurt look and said with something like envy, “You used to worry about me as well, but now you’re driving me away for someone you don’t remember. It breaks my heart.”
He averted his gaze and looked at Yin Yun. “Besides, isn’t Yin Yun your brother’s personal guard? He has more of a personal investment in Jun Hao, and Jun Hao will be happier seeing him.”
Yin Yun’s eyes lit up. “You’ve found the prince?”
Nan Xun’s smile deepened. He nodded. “We have. He’s kept in a safe place, but the ones guarding him are all strangers to him. He was still unconscious when we left. He’s going to be scared when he wakes up to a strange environment. He doesn’t know me, and Jun Huang hasn’t regained her memory. He might not react well to that since he’s still young. That leaves you the best candidate. Will you go and keep him safe?”
Yin Yun nodded, silently commending Nan Xun for his consideration. In a fit of excitement, he shot to his feet and jumped out of the window without consulting Jun Huang.
Jun Huang stared at the window, caught off guard by his sudden departure. When she turned back, Nan Xun was watching her without blinking.
His eyes had always been dark like a bottomless pond, hiding a wealth of histories, unreadable, but captivating. She felt as if she was going to fall into them with no chance of getting out.
Their gazes met and locked. Jun Huang’s eyes were almost terrifyingly beautiful, reflecting a vibrant and vast world, untouchable, but gentle. The two traits shouldn’t be able to coexist, but they did.
Nan Xun caressed her slightly hollowed cheek, his gaze tender and adoring. Jun Huang blushed, her heart skipping a beat. Gone was the pale shade her face had turned because of the pill. Red spread from her cheeks down to her neck. Her eyes went misty and alluring.
Nan Xun’s fingers danced lightly along her face, tickling. It mortified Jun Huang. She knew about her relationship with Nan Xun, but she didn’t remember their past. This was way too intimate a gesture for her to take.
“You - You’re acting like a lewd man! You - your desires are - ” Jun Huang stammered and struggled to form a complete sentence. She lowered her head bashfully, her face covered by her dark hair. Nan Xun bit down a laugh.
“We’ve known each other for a while. We’re practically an old married couple. I don’t know what to do with you when you’re like this. What’s wrong about me wanting to get close to my wife?” Nan Xun teased, his eyes crinkling.
Jun Huang looked up at him. Something unreadable in her eyes made Nan Xun nervous. He dropped his smile and straightened his back.
Finally, Jun Huang said, “You always talk about our past, but I don’t remember anything. I don’t know how you feel… Do you love the Jun Huang you remember, or me, who have lost all my memory?”
Nan Xun stared at her in surprise. He didn’t expect such words to come out of Jun Huang’s mouth. She’d been a dignified and proud woman with a smile that could captivate a city, but made untouchable by her inherent steely presence. After losing her memory, she became more human, personable.
Jun Huang laughed bitterly. “Is it so difficult to answer? Or would the Jun Huang you know never ask such a question?”
She was right, which made Nan Xun even more nervous. He struggled to find the right answer, troubled by her insistence.
After a long pause, he said, “You are the same person, Jun Huang. You’re the woman I fell in love with.”
“No, that’s not true.” She smiled ruefully. “Both you and Yin Yun told me the Jun Huang you knew were brave and clever. She was a strong woman who could hold her own. I, however, can’t do anything. I’m nothing but a burden to both of you.”
Nan Xun was stunned, troubled by her criticism for herself. He sighed and pulled her into his arms. “Such nonsense, you silly girl,” he said, his voice soft like a sigh. “I love you. No matter what you’ve become, that’s never going to change. No one can ever replace you. Don’t think too much. Just stay by my side.”
Nan Xun knew where her pessimism came from. Too many people had hurled insults since her loss of memory. Her pride was bruised, which led to her doubting herself.
He couldn’t bear seeing her so dejected. Remembering that Jun Huang was ticklish, he started tickling her.
She bit down her laugh and tried to pull away. Nan Xun kept his arms tight around her torso and stopped her from dodging him. She ended up with flushed cheeks and tears in her eyes. Nan Xun swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry.
“Alright, knock it off,” Jun Huang said without heat, panting tiredly in his arms. “We’ll be in trouble if someone hears us. How am I going to explain you?”
Nan Xun let go of her and carefully wiped away the tears in her eyes. He’d accomplished his goal of distracting Jun Huang.