Once again, Gu Beiyue murmured to little Shadow, "Mm."
Curious, Shadow glanced back and forth between his parents before growing more confused and uneasy. He never understood why he was staying with mother in Ningzhou while his father had never visited them in the past three years. Even at New Year's, father didn't come back. Only mother accompanied him to set off fireworks in the snow. Mother said father was busy with very, very important things. He would come back when he was finished, but Shadow still didn't understand. The emperor was much busier than father, but he heard Auntie Shaoyao say that His Majesty still took Esteemed Empress, the crown princess, and the little princess south to Plum Blossom Sea to spend the winter.
He suspected that his father and mother had an argument in the past. Looking at them now, he was even more convinced. Shadow thought it over before quickly leaning in towards his father's ear again.
"Father," he said earnestly, "Stop fighting with mother dearest already. Mother dearest is a woman, you should yield to her."
Gu Beiyue suddenly realized that Shadow had noticed things were off between him and Qin Min. He quickly replied, "Madam, I've parted with you for three years. I've made you and the child suffer."
Qin Min recovered and replied, "Husband is working hard for the sake of the nation while this wife cannot help. How dare I blame husband for not being able to take his burden?"
The two of them finished and fell silent again. Shadow felt it was even stranger and was sure they had a spat. He looked between them and thought hard before whispering to Gu Beiyue again. "Father, you should hug mother dearest. It'll be fine after you hug."
When he threw the occasional temper tantrum, his mother would hug them. Then all of his anger, frustration, and sadness would disappear. He was sure mother dearest was the same.
Gu Beiyue was about to speak when Qin Min suddenly stepped forward, spread open her arms, and hugged him and Shadow both. She said, "I couldn't help husband, so I could just…think, of you day and night, and hope that you were well."
Gu Beiyue markedly stiffened. This had to be the second time in his life that he'd been hugged by a woman. The first time was in Ningzhou and also by Qin Min.
Did Shadow sense it? Like his first hug, Qin Min felt him freeze up this time too. Her eyes flickered with brief anger before fiercely pinching his back.
Who told you to be stiff!
Who told you to space out!
We agreed to trick little Shadow for a lifetime, but you've almost dropped the act in the first meeting. If you scare my little Shadow, I'll have no end of it with you!
Qin Min was truly fierce. The pain brought Gu Beiyue's awareness back and made him realize her intentions. He finally reached out to wrap an arm around her and squeezed. "Husband has also missed you and the child."
Qin Min buried her head in Shadow's shoulder while Gu Beiyue hung his head, chin resting on the boy's hair. Stuck in between, Shadow was tightly hugged and so his heart bloomed like a flower. He always knew he was adopted. Although mother doted on him, father hadn't come back in three years. That left him uneasy and insecure. Now that he was firmly ensconced between them both, his heart finally settled in his chest. At last he felt happy and lucky.
He said, "Father, can you stop being busy anymore? Won't you live here with us instead?"
Gu Beiyue didn't reply immediately, so Qin Min pinched him again. She felt sorry enough for him to not pinch the same spot twice, but somewhere else.
"Mm, I'll stay for a month, and then take you two to the imperial capital The Grand Tutor's residence has already been built," Gu Beiyue spoke the truth.
Half a year ago, the palace had been finished. Last month, the outer wall of the capital was done as well. The emperor rewarded him with the previous Gu Estate and he hired men to rebuild it. Now it was all done.
Little Shadow was thrilled. "Mom, we'll never be separated from father again!"
"Mhm, not separating!" Qin Min's voice carried a trace of a smile, but her gaze remained complicated. She released Gu Beiyue and took Shadow into her arms. "Shadow, father's had a long trip. He needs to clean up and rest early now."
"Father, mother dearest discovered a spring behind the courtyard," Shadow said immediately. "They dug a pool there. Shadow can take a bath with you, it's really comfy!"
Qin Min said hastily, "Shadow, look at the time. You need to sleep! Come, go to bed with mother."
Gu Beiyue rubbed Shadow's head and said gently, "Be good, tomorrow father will personally teach you martial arts. Your footwork is still a little off."
Hearing about his problems made Shadow nervous. "Where is it off?"
"Go sleep first. Otherwise, father won't tell you," Gu Beiyue threatened.
Only then did Shadow reluctantly lower his head. "All right."
Qin Min silently exhaled. She was afraid that the child would drag Gu Beiyue off to soak in the springs and make her wait on them. After all, this little guy was shy. From the time he turned three, he refused to let the nanny or Shaoyao help him bathe and only had her help. Now he was five and washed by himself while refusing her help, but still liked to have her by the shore when he soaked in baths.
When Qin Min carried Shadow off, Gu Beiyue also exhaled in relief. At this moment, Xi Yubo emerged from the side to step forward. "Master, why didn't you inform us that you were coming?"
Xi Yubo was puzzled. His Master had clearly delivered a letter just today, so why did he show up that very night? It took around two days for a letter by flying hawk post to reach Ningzhou from Yunning. But it was impossible for his master to travel the same distance in one day.
Gu Beiyue pinched his brow, said nothing, and headed for the house. By now Shaoyao appeared with a set of clean clothes and a smile. "Master, you're finally back. Young Miss had me send you some clean clothes. This is what you changed into last time."
"Last time" was more than three years ago.
But that set of robes looked practically new and spotless and was meticulously folded with no wrinkles.
"Help me pass on my thanks," Gu Beiyue intoned.
"Master, there's no need to be so polite with Young Miss. She also wanted me to ask what you wanted for breakfast?" Shaoyao added.
"Anything is fine," Gu Beiyue replied.
"Then Master, rest early," Shaoyao left cheerfully.
Xi Yubo followed him inside and saw his exhaustion. He couldn't help urging, "Master, the spring in the rear courtyard is excellent. Madam regularly puts medicinal herbs in it and often takes a bath. You might as well try it too."
Hearing this, Gu Beiyue creased his brows and glanced over. Xi Yubo didn't react until he recognized the glare and realized he'd misspoke. He quickly explained, "Master, this subordinate would never dare to peek. This is all what Shaoyao said. Madam personally tested the medicine to make that pool a medicinal spring, so she takes soaks often."
Gu Beiyue didn't say much, but gave a long exhale and gestured for Xi Yubo to leave him. Xi Yubo was quite scared by the glare. In his memory, his Master had only looked at him like that last time in Medical City. At that time, Master even wanted to kill him.
He left in a rush, but Gu Beiyue called out to him at the door with a cold tone. "Spread orders that all guards are to keep at least 100 paces away from this courtyard!"
"Yes, yes!" Xi Yubo took the order and left, silently lamenting in his heart.
The guards were protecting the compound in secret. If they had to keep 100 paces away yet still ensure its safety, then they'd have to clear out the surrounding neighborhood. Moreover, Madam couldn't find out. It was truly difficult.
Gu Beiyue sat along while supporting his head, growing extremely still as he thought. A long time later, there was a knock on the door and a familiar voice. "Grand Tutor Gu, have you gone to bed yet?"
Who else called him that in this courtyard but one?
He furrowed his brows without a word.
"Grand Tutor Gu, little Shadow is asleep. I didn't want to disturb you, but there's one thing I don't understand and need your clarification. If it's convenient, please reply," Qin Min said again.
"Come in," Gu Beiyue said.
Qin Min entered and deliberately bolted the door before sitting next to him. She took a deep breath and smiled. "Long time no see."
He looked back and didn't know why, but found it hard to smile back. "Long time no see," he replied lightly.
"I was rude back then. It hurt a lot, right?" Qin Min asked helplessly.
"Many thanks for your reminder. Little Shadow is a smart child," Gu Beiyue replied.
"Not just smart, but also extremely talented in martial arts. I suspect you chose him out of a thousand when you took him in, right?" Qin Min grew serious.
"Yes," Gu Beiyue admitted openly, but didn't elaborate.
"You long steeled your heart not to marry or have a child. Wedding me was just to give little Shadow the right to inherit, right?" Qin Min asked next.
That was the revelation she'd come to from little Shadow in the past three years. She had long wanted to ask him in person.
Gu Beiyue didn't answer.
Qin Min purposely rose to her feet and walked in front of him to stare into his eyes. "Gu Beiyue, you have someone you like, correct?"
Gu Beiyue avoided her gaze, but Qin Min stubbornly chased after his eyes. He lowered his head and she knelt in front of him. He shut his eyes and Qin Min stood up. She remained there quietly for awhile before sitting back down.
No words were needed. Gu Beiyue had tacitly acquiesed.
Qin Min said lightly, "Sorry, I've offended. These are your own matters, I shouldn't have asked."
He told her back then that they'd be husband and wife in name only before they married. Both sides were willing and he'd never forced or cheated her. So what if he already liked someone else? There was nothing wrong with that. What did it have to do with her?
But…but why did her heart ache? So much that she lost all reason??
The two remained sitting as they withered away. Some time later, Gu Beiyue finally spoke.
"Eldest Miss Qin, have you figured out the things you couldn't before?"
Qin Min finally remembered her original motive and said, "Not yet. Grand Tutor Gu, may I ask what's the matter with the letter and medicinal dregs I received from Yunning today? Has your lightness techniques improved so much in the past three years that you can travel a thousand li a day?"
The letter from Yunning was sent out yesterday and he arrived today? Almost at the same time as his message! Leaving the letter aside, what about his medicinal dregs?
How was that possible?
Gu Beiyue had been sitting in the room all this time precisely because he was considering the exact same problem. Actually, he had been in Ningzhou for a month already. After the Department of Medicine was done, the emperor and empress gave him three months of vacation time. Rather than leaving himself, it was more like he'd been chased away. Esteemed Empress even joked that men who only worked without accompanying their wives could never be the crown prince's teacher, much less stay long by the emperor's side. Otherwise, the emperor and crown prince might be affected by him.
He stayed in Ningzhou for a month only three streets away. Even Xi Yubo had no idea that he'd come back.
He had no idea why he'd arrived here tonight without noticing, either.
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shadow is a smart kiddo! yeah, even the emperor makes time for his family, so why don't you make time for yours, cough, loving father GBY, cough?i
GBY: i don't know why i went home
Me: it's because your body is subconsciously following your heart, fool!