Qin Min sat in the branches of the dead tree, staring blankly at the moon in the sky. But it wasn't long before she jumped off and went inside.
"Madam, should we leave a gate open just in case?" Shaoyao asked. Suppose the master came back?
Once he left, the servants did too, leaving just the two of them in this courtyard.
"He means what he says, so he won't come back. No need to leave any open," Qin Min replied simply.
"Madam…" Shaoyao chased after her, but Qin Min ignored the girl. In the end, Shaoyao couldn't help but exclaim, "Madam, you're miserable aren't you? Very miserable?"
"Go to bed," Qin Min said simply.
"Madam, just tell this servant if you're miserable. Don't hold it in, you'll make yourself sick. It's impossible to cure heartsickness. Just say whatever's on your chest, don't hide it and feel sad."
Qin Min's steps grew quicker as Shaoyao sped up her chase and kept talking. "Madam, say something! I'm begging you, just one sentence. I understand your pain. You haven't spoken a word all night, just moped…it's not normal!"
Finally, Qin Min stopped and snapped, "You're the one who's abnormal!"
She was only feeling a little down, but Shaoyao's words made her feel like she should be downright miserable. But she'd thought things through ages ago! That was the kind of man Gu Beiyue was. When he wedded her, it was because she was crippled in both legs and being pushed out as a random bride by the Qin Clan. Both of them had been consensual to the union, but once her legs recovered, he regretted it. He was an excellent man who was afraid he'd damaged her marriage prospects. The words he spoke today were all of one meaning! She wasn't as sad as Shaoyao claimed! She had only been quiet all night because she was puzzling over something she didn't understand.
Why did Gu Beiyue need a fake marriage to get a child? He was different from her; he could have his share of marriage candidates running to Medical City for a chance to wed him. He could even chase after his heart's desire and have children with her, but why use such a convoluted method to gain a child? A fake heir to the Shadow Clan's legacy? She was certain there was a huge secret afoot!
Shaoyao finally caught up with her, still insistent on her views. "But Madam, you clearly like him. I could tell ages ago!"
Qin Min gave a start but quickly recovered to glare at her. "I like him, but does that mean he likes me? What kind of logic is that?"
Unable to retort, Shaoyao could only let her wander off.
That night, Gu Beiyue did not return. But he wasn't far away. He was sitting on the rooftop of that very same teahouse, filled with worries for the first time in his life. It seemed…it seemed like he always had the best solutions to the empress's woes to assuage them. But when it came to Qin Min, he had no idea how to deal with her or fix her problems. He had never regretted any of his actions, but he did regret this marriage. She was a lady in the prime of her youth, good in all aspects—even her personality—but why did she fall into his pit?
Her own marriage prospects had been delayed, but she had only furrowed her brows and said, "Thank goodness, thank goodness. You gave me a fright!" It made him realize that he had not only sabotaged her happiness, but her heart.
Smiling helplessly, Gu Beiyue muttered, "Silly girl…"
He was back by morning the next day. Qin Min hadn't given him an answer to yesterday's words, but he didn't need one from her. The two of them went on politely with their interactions as if nothing had happened. They waited all morning, but neither Long Feiye nor Han Yunxi ever showed up. It wasn't until dusk that Gu Beiyue received Long Feiye's messenger hawk message saying that he was running to Changning's salt fields to investigate a commotion and would be back next time. Han Yunxi also personally penned a message with the message: If you keep the hills green, you don't need to fret for firewood. Make sure you don't tire her out during this time.
Gu Beiyue was quite surprised by the letters. "Changning's the neighboring county, isn't it?"
Shaoyao waited for the madam to reply. When she didn't, she said, "Yes," without enthusiasm.
Gu Beiyue laughed. "So they came south to inspect the salt fields."
Qin Min and Shaoyao were rather lost, so the former asked, "Neither the emperor nor empress are coming?"
Gu Beiyue was going to give her the letters instead, but suddenly recalled Han Yunxi's words and slipped them into his sleeve instead. "Mm, they left on urgent matters and won't be coming," he said, "Esteemed Empress told you to rest well."
Qin Min hastiled replied. "You must thank Esteemed Empress in my place!"
Gu Beiyue nodded and went outside. With a single shout, he summoned a guard from his hiding place. "Go call over Xi Yubo and the others. Have them bring along the child too."
Both Qin Min and Shaoyao were stunned as they exchanged looks. There were guards hidden here? Since when?
Qin Min desperately muttered, "Did they overhear everything we said?"
Shaoyao only chuckled back, "Madam, don't worry. It's not like we said any lies, we only spoke honestly."
Qin Min narrowed her eyes at her before Shaoyao realized she was too happy about this all and shut up.
Soon enough, Xi Yubo arrived with the nursemaid and child. He was only one years old and was an exceptionally pretty boy despite having unknown parents. Like a porcelain doll, his features were exquisite, with large innocent eyes and jade-like skin. The nursemaid had brought him up with Xi Yubo looking after him, so he'd never met any strangers. Besides walking a bit earlier than other children, he wasn't extraordinary in any way. Compared to children of other families, he seemed more tender and timid, especially against children like Tang Tang and Rui'er. His nursemaid had led him along at first, but when he saw Gu Beiyue, Qin Min, and the rest, he lost all nerve and clung to her thigh while hiding behind her.
"What's his name?" Qin Min asked with an aching heart and growing affection. After all, this was supposed to be her and Gu Beiyue's son in the original plan. She hadn't thought about him much since she'd never seen him before, but now she realized the magnitude of yesterday's mistakes. Not only did she ruin Gu Beiyue's plans, but this child's ultimate fate. He should have grown up as the son of the Academy Head and Grand Tutor, the future heir to the Shadow Clan. Such a glorious, honorable title had all but disappeared from his hands. She didn't know how Gu Beiyue would deal with him now.
"He doesn't have a name yet," Gu Beiyue said simply, before the nursemaid chimed in quickly, "His nickname is Shadow." (影子, Yingzi)
"Who told you to talk?" Xi Yubo chided.
The nursemaid shrank back while Shadow clutched her even more fearfully. Gu Beiyue knit his brows, but he didn't get to speak before Qin Min grew impatiently. "I was asking the big sis a question. Who's the one cutting in? Who are you, anyways?" It was obvious that the nursemaid doted on Shadow, or else she wouldn't have spoken up.
Xi Yubo glanced at his master and saw no reaction. Despite feeling resentful, he didn't dare say anymore. Qin Min dearly wanted to hold Shadow, but was afraid of spooking him. She faced the nursemaid and said, "Big sis, go on and hold him. He's probably afraid of strangers, let's not scare him."
The nursemaid hastily picked up Shadow, who wrapped his arms around her neck and held on for dear life. Qin Min's heart ached at the sigh and looked towards Gu Beiyue. "Academy Head, I'll claim this child. I'll raise him as my own flesh and blood!"
She knew that Gu Beiyue had fostered a son, but she wasn't sure what made this boy stand out in his eyes. Gu Beiyue only teased, "Are you trying to fight with me over the child?"
Qin Min wasn't sure what he meant until she realized that he wanted to take in the boy as a foster son.
"Have the child raised here. With the nursemaid and Doctor Xi looking after him, it'll be his fortune if you're idle enough to look after him too," Gu Beiyue said politely.
Wasn't his foster son hers too? Why was he being so formal about it all?
"I'm already a mother in nearly every sense of the word, so it makes no difference," Qin Min grinned.
"Then Eldest Miss Qin should give him a name," Gu Beiyue said.
Qin Min refused. "Academy Head, it should be the father who names the child."
Gu Beiyue smiled helplessly. "Then let me think it over carefully before I do."
Just like that, they settled the matter of the child and had him move in with Xi Yubo and the nursemaid. Gu Beiyue had people arrange the courtyard accordingly and gave rooms to the doctor while the nursemaid and Shadow lived with Qin Min under one roof. As usual, Gu Beiyue's own rooms were left unoccupied. Somehow, Qin Min even managed to acquaint herself with the boy within a day. From then on, Shadow followed her wherever she went. The big and small figures would send Gu Beiyue into distraction whenever he saw them. He never stalked Shadow on purpose, but whenever the boy looked his way, he would smile back. Gradually, Shadow stopped fearing him and even approached him while giggling happily.
Qin Min knew Gu Beiyue wouldn't stay long, but never expected his stay to be even shorter than her imagination. The man left for Medical City as soon as construction was finished in the back courtyard.
The beginning of the month heralded a new moon. Qin Min refused all followers as she walked with Gu Beiyue to the exit of the alley. He stopped at the entrance and said, "Please still your steps, Eldest Miss Qin."
Qin Min nodded. "Safe journeys, Academy Head."
Gu Beiyue nodded with a faint smile before turning to leave, not a sentiment out of place. Still, Qin Min exclaimed after him, "Gu Beiyue!"
Not expecting this, he turned back immediately. This was the first time this woman had shouted at him. What…is going on?
He looked at Qin Min and once again felt that she was quite different from the woman in his imagination.
"Gu Beiyue, if you wanted a child, why not have one yourself? If you ever want your own flesh and blood someday, give me a word. I'll…" Qin Min stopped.
Gu Beiyue subconsciously knitted his brow even as his heart fluttered in panic.
Qin Min suddenly grinned instead. "Give me a word, and I'll divorce you."
these two are so... *cries* ugh i really like them as a couple okay, what a breath of fresh air after all these chapters of DRAMA
ahem in OTHER NEWS volare is hosting a special HOLIDAY GIVEAWAY featuring a month of Discord nitro! Check out the link for entry details and good luck---the deadline's Christmas Eve!