When Qi Yan returned home, Xia Xun was already awake, disturbed by Shaobo’s movements.
By his side, Shaobo had never done any kind of manual work and was quite clumsy. When she changed Xia Xun’s bandages, although she tried her best to be careful, her touches were still not gentle enough.
Besides, she was too afraid to see Xia Xun’s injuries, so she didn’t dare to look at his hand the whole time and changed the medicine with her head turned sideways and her eyes half-squinted.
After all the torment, she was so nervous that she was dripping with sweat, and Xia Xun was also woken up by her.
Seeing him open his eyes, Shaobo was overjoyed; before he could say a word, her tears flowed down.
Xia Xun’s mouth was parched, and when he tried to speak, he did not have the strength to move his tongue.
Shaobo saw that he was thirsty and ran to the table to bring a large bowl of water to Xia Xun’s mouth.
Xia Xun drank a large bowl in one gulp, and he did not even notice the taste until the bowl was almost empty.
“How come the water you gave me to drink… is so bitter…?” He asked finally.
“Little master, it’s not water, it is the medicine prescribed by the doctor… Little master has drunk the medicine, tomorrow his injury will be healed!”
Xia Xun snorted and said weakly.
“Do you think I am a demon… hey, is Qi Yan home? Was you the one who called for him?”
Shaobo’s tears flowed more and more fiercely; she cried so hard she could not say anything.
Xia Xun comforted her: “You did a good job, don’t… cry again.”
Qi Yan was outside the door of the room when he heard Xia Xun’s voice and immediately pushed the door open.
On the way back from the prison of the Judicial Review Court, it suddenly rained.
Qi Yan did not go back home immediately but rode his horse in the pouring rain, rushing to a small alley in the centre of the city.
There was a store there, the only place in the capital where you could buy acacia leaf cold cakes.
The store was already closed, and the owner was putting the wooden boards outside the store, preparing to cover the door and the windows.
The fire under his stove had been extinguished for a long time.
Qi Yan took out a gold ingot and asked the owner to start the stove again and make him a box of cold cakes.
The money given by Qi Yan was more than what the store earned in three months.
The owner gladly accepted the money and called up his little assistant who was dozing in the back room. The two of them moved quickly, and in a short while they steamed a basket of brand new cakes.
Qi Yan took off his raincoat and wrapped the box with the pastries tightly.
Qi Hui wanted to take off his own raincoat and give it to his master, but Qi Yan didn’t say a word, raised his whip sharply and hurried home in the rain.
His clothes were drenched almost at once and his horse’s hooves stepped in the pools on the stone road frequently, splashing water over his shoes and quickly soaking them as well.
When he got back to the house, not a single inch of his body was dry, but the food box that he held tightly in his arms was still steaming hot and untouched by the rain.
Before entering the house, he asked Qi Hui:
“How do I look?”
A few strands of his hair, wet from the rain, clung to his face; he was very pale and the corners of his mouth were pursed.
The rain did not make him look less imposing, and the trickles of rain on his face made the mole at the corner of his eye look even more attractive. He was the same Qi Yan who was always incredibly appealing to the eye.
But Qi Hui knew that Qi Yan was not asking about that.
He was asking if there was still a murderous aura around him.
Could Xia Xun see that he was the man who had just killed his brother with his own hands?
Qi Hui shook his head.
“My lord looks as usual, there is no difference.”
Qi Yan wiped off the water from his eyes, carried the food box, and walked up to Xia Xun.
Shaobo saw him coming, wiped her tears and left the room quickly. Qi Hui glanced at Qi Yan’s back and closed the door.
After Shaobo walked out, Xia Xun was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief; in front of her, he had to hold back, not revealing what a bad state he was in. The change of medicine was a very painful procedure, and Shaobo’s hands were not light at all, tossing and turning him heavily.
In order not to make her worry, he deliberately pretended to look as if it did not hurt.
When Qi Yan came in, he was lying on the bed gasping for breath, trying to calm down the pain. His eyes were closed, his lips were pale, his right hand was tightly clenched into a fist, hidden under the quilt.
When he heard footsteps, he slowly opened his eyes.
At the sight of Qi Yan, a little faint smile appeared on his sweaty face.
Qi Yan slowly walked over, sat in front of the bed, and placed the food box on the small round table next to the bed.
Xia Xun smelled the unique smell of acacia leaf cold cake, blinked, and asked:
“It is… for me?”
Qi Yan said softly: “Yes, I’ve bought the last box.”
He opened the lid, took out a piece of pastry, broke off a bit and fed it to Xia Xun.
Xia Xun felt so tired that he chewed with his eyes closed.
Qi Yan put the back of his hand on Xia Xun’s forehead, gently rubbing away the beads of sweat on his hairline. His movements were extremely careful as he feared to add extra pain to Xia Xun.
Xia Xun, with his eyes closed, laughed a little and said: “It’s not like my head is hurt…”
Qi Yan’s hand was still wet from the rain and quite cold. He softly touched Xia Xun between the eyebrows, petting him and whispering praise to him.
“Our Xia Xun is really great. With such a serious injury, he did not even make a sound when the medicine was changed. Really a brave man.”
Xia Xun let out a low “hmm”.
Qi Yan broke off another small piece of cold cake and fed it to him.
Xia Xun chewed carefully without opening his eyes.
Qi Yan stroked his hair and asked in a small voice, “Does it still hurt?”
Xia Xun said “hmm” again, but Qi Yan was keenly aware that his voice had a tearful note.
He immediately looked closer at Xia Xun’s face.
Xia Xun’s eyes were tightly closed, his mouth was bulging with the pastry, and large tears were flowing out from the corners of his eyes and rolling into his hair.
Qi Yan’s heart ached fiercely.
He knelt down on the footrest, avoiding Xia Xun’s injured left hand, and gathered him in his arms.
Xia Xun frowned; his mouth was full of cold cake, so he could not say a word, and his face was wet with tears.
He was so aggrieved but he did not know how to pour out his grievances. He pressed his face to Qi Yan’s chest and cried uncontrollably.
Qi Yan’s clothes were soaked with his tears. He was still drenched with rainwater, but Xia Xun’s tears were hot, and the hot area spread little by little, burning Qi Yan’s chest.
He wrapped his arms around Xia Xun. Xia Xun’s tears were scorching him, and Xia Xun’s pain seemed to be his pain.
For the first time since the death of his parents and elder brother, Qi Yan felt such piercing pain. Agonising bitterness engulfed him. His voice choked as he said: “I know, I know it all.”
Qi Yan stroked the back of Xia Xun’s head with one hand and gently patted his back with the other, the only way he knew how to comfort him.
He didn’t tell Xia Xun not to cry, didn’t say it was okay, it would be fine soon.
He just kept murmuring in his ear:
“I understand, I understand it all, what you’ve been through, I know it better than anyone, you don’t have to say it out loud, I can feel the same pain as you.”
Xia Xun swallowed the pastry in his mouth, his tears still dripping from his face, looked up and asked: “Why… don’t my parents like me? Why even my brother… had to do this to me?”
His head and face were wet, both with sweat and tears, his eyes were red and swollen and his face was puffy with crying.
His expression was not resentful, only full of intense disbelief, as if no matter how he asked himself, he could not understand why he was treated this way.
“Did I do something wrong? I obviously… didn’t do anything.”
Qi Yan pressed Xia Xun’s face to his shoulder; otherwise, Xia Xun was going to see his tears.
Qi Yan was crying.
While Xia Xun could not see it, Qi Yan’s throat kept bulging, the pain in his chest making him unable to speak. He had to swallow hard to resist the dull pain that radiated through his entire chest.
He thought indignantly, how could he let Xia Xing die so easily just now?
What convulsions, what a full body spasm, what suffocating to death with his head and feet pushed together? It was not enough!
He shouldn’t have killed him so quickly; he should have informed His Majesty and let Xia Xing die by lingchi.
After a while, he managed to adjust his expression; he rubbed the tears off his face with his shoulder and once again took Xia Xun in his arms.
He suppressed the insane hatred for Xia Xing in his heart and made the most ruthless vow in the gentlest tone:
“You have not done anything wrong, you are the most well behaved child in the world, everyone around you should love you. I will protect you, as long as I live, no one will dare to hurt you again. You will never see Xia Xing again, he can never do anything to you again. All those who have hurt you, I will make them disappear in a smoke.”
Xia Xun seemed to understand something, sniffed and asked:
“What happened to Xia Xing…?”
As soon as he blinked, new trickles of tears ran down his face.
Qi Yan caught his tears in his palms.
“You do not need to care about anything, just get well, sleep, sleep and wake up, and your injury will be healed.”
Xia Xun did not lie down as instructed, and with tears in his eyes he said pitifully:
“But my hand hurts… I can’t sleep.”
Qi Yan asked in distress:
“How can it stop hurting?”
Xia Xun thought about it and said:
“If you blow on it, I think it will be fine.”
Qi Yan hurriedly blew several times on his left hand.
Xia Xun flattened his mouth and muttered in dissatisfaction: “The gauze is too thick, I can’t even feel it…”
Qi Yan looked around and suddenly thought of something. He carefully put Xia Xun down on the bed, temporarily left his side, walked to the cabinet, rummaged around and found a paper fan.
He returned to the bed, knelt beside Xia Xun, raised the fan and gently fanned his hand.
He didn’t dare to use too much force, afraid that if the movement of the air was too strong, it would hurt Xia Xun again.
The subtle cool breeze blew through the gauze and reached Xia Xun’s injury, easing the burning pain.
Xia Xun was finally satisfied.
Qi Yan fanned him and used his sleeve to wipe away the sweat and tears on his face, but his sleeve was also wet, the rain had not yet dried and his actions only made Xia Xun’s face wetter.
Xia Xun lifted the corner of the quilt, rubbed his face and buried his whole body into the quilt.
He was sore and tired and sleepy.
Before falling asleep, he asked vaguely with his eyes half-closed.
“…will you always be here?”
Qi Yan kissed his forehead.
That night, Qi Yan knelt on the footrest next to the bed and fanned Xia Xun till the morning.
After dawn, when Qi Hui came in, Xia Xun was still sleeping and Qi Yan was still in the same position. Both of his hands were covered in blisters from the fan handle and his muscles were so stiff that he could only keep his wrists straight and could not bend them.
He had been kneeling on the cold footrest all night; at first his knees felt hot, but by now they were already numb with pain.
When Qi Hui helped him up, he couldn’t take a step but was still saying to Qi Hui:
“Don’t help me, I promised Xia Xun that I would always stay with him.”
Qi Hui told him:
“The doctor said Young Master Xia’s medicine had sleeping herbs in it and he increased the dosage. Young Master Xia won’t be able to wake up for three days, you can’t stay up for three days like this, right? Even if you want to, the news of Xia Xing’s death will spread this morning. Whether it’s the palace or the Xia family, there are still many things you need to take care of.”
Qi Yan stood in place for a moment and finally acquiesced.
“…fine, after I freshen up, I will go into the palace. But there is something that I must tell you.”
He hadn’t slept all night, his face was haggard with tiredness, but his eyes were still sharp, his tone unprecedentedly firm: “I can’t let Xia Xun die. I can’t let him be implicated by Xia Hongxi. I want him to watch all those who harmed him die in front of him and I want him to live well.”
Seven years later, outside Qingzhou City, in Tongchang teahouse.
A crow suddenly flew across the boundless empty sky, croaking wretchedly as it flapped its wings.
A group of archers appeared from nowhere, surrounding the private room.
Qi Yan didn’t glance towards the window; his gaze was on Xia Xun’s face.
“I once said that I would always protect you, but then, I broke my promise.” He stretched out his hand and covered Xia Xun’s left hand that lay on the table, “So, if you want my life, then take it, it always was… yours.”