Edited and Proofread by KitKat
An Chang Qing’s head was filled with questions as he stood in place, wondering what Xiao Zhige could be busy with at this hour. In his daze, he heard someone calling him from behind.
“Cousin Chang Qing…”
Li Hai Yun’s eyes lit up looking at An Chang Qing. Under the influence of alcohol, he wanted to grab his hand as he stepped closer, “I…”
“Why are you here?” Seeing his red face and the strong smell of alcohol, An Chang Qing took a step back. He looked around and said, “Cousin didn’t bring anyone with you? Let me call someone to send you back.”
Li Hai Yun looked at him with sadness, “I came here to look for you… Are, are you still mad at me?”
He stuttered as he began to explain, “I didn’t know… I didn’t know that you were betrothed to the Northern Warlord. They all hid this from me… I turned down the marriage as soon as I returned home. I had planned to bring it up with my family after I’d made my achievements in the imperial exams, I didn’t expect it would be too late…”
An Chang Qing was becoming increasingly confused thinking that there was something wrong with this person today. As his relationship with Li Hai Yun was not intimate, he was getting a little impatient, “My betrothal has nothing to do with you. You’re drunk, I’ll go get someone to take you back.”
Li Hai Yun took the chance and pulled at his sleeve, speaking determinedly, “I’m not leaving! If I were to leave, you have to come with me!”
Not far away, An Chang Yu was watching this scene. When he looked back and saw Xiao Zhige approaching the two, a smile finally spread across his face.
His effort wasn’t in vain after all.
He gave one last look at Li Hai Yun who was still holding on to An Chang Qing’s sleeve before turning his back to leave.
Li Hai Yun, An Chang Qing, neither of them were worth anything in his eyes. But one was a high-achieving scholar who his father had used as an example to berate him and the other had dared to rub his power in his face and bullied his mother.
Now, it was quite gratifying that these two were tangled together. That way, he could cleanly kill two birds with one stone.
After tonight, these two who had brought utter disgust to his eyes would no longer have the chance to annoy him.
Holding tightly onto the lantern which had taken him a lot of effort to retrieve, Xiao Zhige took large strides to get back to An Chang Qing while desperately trying to suppress the smile on his face.
Although he was not good with words and a little dimwitted when it came to emotions, he was not an idiot. He could feel An Chang Qing’s changes towards him but his preconceived assumptions had made it difficult for him to disregard his insecurities.
He was afraid that no matter how much he hoped, it would all be for nothing.
That was until he saw the wish in the lantern.
On a small scroll stuffed into the lantern were the beautifully written words in black and white: to grow old with my husband.
When he had managed to secure the lantern, he had hesitated. A thousand possibilities had crossed his mind but he would never have guessed that An Chang Qing’s wish was to be with him until after their hair turned white.
He thought that deep down, there would always be a shred of aversion towards this marriage in An Chang Qing’s heart. But the truth was that he had been too negative from the beginning. His Wangfei did, in fact, have feelings for him and was even willing to spend this life with him.
At this moment, Xiao Zhige’s chest was burning with a heat hotter than the strongest wine could induce. Without caring about his appearance, he hurried back to An Chang Qing only to witness Li Hai Yun pulling at An Chang Qing’s sleeve.
There were too many people creating a lot of noise around him. And under the dimly lit sky, he couldn’t read their expressions nor hear their words but it seemed like they were arguing.
The intense fire from before was instantly doused by a splash of cold water. Xiao Zhige took a step back. He wanted to run away and pretend that he had never been here but it was as though his feet had turned into lead and rooted in place and he couldn’t move…
An Chang Qing frowned as he pulled his sleeve back. He could no longer stay polite and tolerate Li Hai Yun’s drunken behavior. With a cold face and harsh tone, he said, “If you continue to act this way, I’m going to leave you alone! After all, we are not even that familiar with each other.”
Li Hai Yun was stunned, “Not familiar? You do hate me…”
An Chang Qing was irritated and confused, “For what reason would I hate you?”
Li Hai Yun said with guilt, “You hate me for being heartless. I went back to Chang Yang for the pre-arranged marriage and left you behind in the An Manor… hating me for not being able to save you from this hellish situation…”
“???” An Chang Qing finally realized what was wrong and grimaced, “Wait a minute, is there a misunderstanding somewhere? I’ve only met you a few times, what does your pre-arranged marriage have to do with me?”
“It is right of you to hate me but don’t say that we’re not familiar with each other, it’ll break my heart…” Li Hai Yun said dejectedly, “When we first met, I fell for you at first sight. To show you my love, I’d made love poems and presented them to you. At the time, you were really happy…”
An Chang Qing felt that there were some discrepancies between Li Hai Yun’s memories and his. He scoured through his brain but just could not remember having received any love poems, “Whenever did I accept your love poems? Don’t make slanderous claims!”
“Yun zhong shuang bai shou
mu wo yi xian sheng
chang ri wu yu shi
qing jia you gu ren1”
Li Hai Yun blushed and said with grievance, “Back then, I was worried that if I came on too strong, you would back away so I made you an acrostic poem. And then, and then, when I asked if you liked the poem, you said yes… even if, even if you’re mad at me, you shouldn’t deny its existence.”
T/N: Since it’s an acrostic poem (series of lines or verses in which the first, last, or other particular letters when taken in order spell out a word, phrase), please forgive me for not translating it. So, when combined, the first four words of each sentence form the phrase ‘Yun Mu Chang Qing’. Simply put, it means Yun likes Chang Qing. Here’s the original poem for you to decipher: 云中双白首，慕我一闲身。长日无馀事，卿家有故人。
An Chang Qing felt like his brain was hit by thunder as memories from the past emerged. Afterwards, he was at a loss for words and felt a little awkward.
He took a step back and said, “This is truly a misunderstanding. I’m not good at poetry. The poems you made, I could not understand or even guess the hidden message. I only said I like it out of courtesy. If I have caused you to misunderstand, then I take back what I had said.”
Li Hai Yun’s eyes widened, “But, but when we were at the lakeside, you seemed really happy.”
“That was because if I didn’t treat you well, Madame Li would have a bone to pick with me.” With how things had turned out, An Chang Qing completely stopped being polite with him, “Back then, my situation at home wasn’t good and as Madame Li’s nephew, you were an esteemed guest. Whatever your requests were, I dared not refuse. And frankly, I only read trivial books, I’m not good at studying or poetry. Whenever you asked, I could only pretend to smile and try to flatter you.”
Li Hai Yun’s mouth gaped in disbelief.
An Chang Qing continued, “One more thing- I was willing to marry the Northern Warlord. I’m now doing great and we have a harmonious marriage. If you continue this nonsense here, Wangye is going to be angry when he comes back.”
Li Hai Yun kneeled on the ground and cried, “Then, then those…”
An Chang Qing quickly cut him off before he could finish his words, “Those were just your one-sided imagination.” Don’t drag me into it.
Li Hai Yun’s nose and eyes turned red. He sobbed grievously, “I understand. Say no more. It was all my wishful thinking wu wu…”
Although he was drunk, a grown man crying on the street was quite embarrassing. An Chang Qing was tempted to just slip away but was concerned that Xiao Zhige would get worried were he not be able to find him when he returned. Thinking of this, An Chang Qing was fuming. What is that person doing that he still hasn’t come back yet?!
People walking by were starting to point fingers and An Chang Qing was getting desperate to sever ties with this cousin of his. He looked around to see if Xiao Zhige was coming back and as it turned out, a familiar figure was standing in the crowd, motionless like a statue. How long had he been standing there?
When Xiao Zhige saw An Chang Qing walking over with a pouting face, he wanted to hide but it was too late. He subconsciously hid the lantern behind his back and turned to look at him.
“What have you been doing?” An Chang Qing grabbed his hand and found that it was cold. He muttered in frustration, “You’ve left me here to be a laughing stock.”
While speaking, he pulled Xiao Zhige in front of the weeping Li Hai Yun and said, “All those misunderstandings, you should just forget about it. And don’t you dare spread any nonsense. Wangye and I are doing great, understand?”
Towards the end, his tone was becoming stern, almost sounding like a threat. Being hit by the shocking revelation, Li Hai Yun could only respond with an ‘um’ and said, “You don’t have to worry, I, I won’t say anything.”
Only then was An Chang Qing satisfied and dragged Xiao Zhige away.
Alone and dejected, Li Hai Yun used his sleeve to wipe his tears. He stood up, wanting to find An Chang Yu to accompany him for a few more drinks, but An Chang Yu was nowhere to be found.
Li Hai Yun stood in the cold wind under the dark sky. He recalled the murderous stare of the Northern Warlord and his muddled brain instantly woke.
Cold sweat filled his back as he thought of An Chang Yu’s words of encouragement and what he said before leaving- ‘I’ll help you keep a lookout’.
He was not an idiot and could quickly figure out An Chang Yu’s entire motive. If it weren’t for the fact that it was all a misunderstanding and that there was nothing between An Chang Qing and himself, the both of them would have had a very bad ending.
A cold chill overshadowed his heartbreak. He flung his sleeves and strode back to Wang Xian Lou.
An Chang Qing walked with Xiao Zhige towards a deserted alley before turning back to look at him. The whole way there, there was clearly something wrong with Xiao Zhige. Then, An Chang Qing saw that his shoes and the hem of his clothes were wet, there were even traces of water on the ground. He frowned and noticed Xiao Zhige’s hand behind his back, “What are you hiding behind your back?”
Xiao Zhige kept quiet but An Chang Qing went over and found that in his hand was a familiar lantern.
An Chang Qing was dumbfounded. He said angrily, “Why did you pick it up? It won’t be effective anymore!”
Xiao Zhige continued to keep quiet. He was clueless as to what to say or what he should be asking.
When he thought that An Chang Qing was willing to be with him, he accidentally saw him and Li Hai Yun mingling. When he thought that An Chang Qing could not forget about this old flame, An Chang Qing had brought him in front of Li Hai Yun to say some inexplicable things and even claimed that they were doing great together.
Xiao Zhige’s mood had been rising and falling successively. Being caught by surprise, he could only maintain a cold face and stay silent.
Unfortunately, An Chang Qing was no longer the little, timid, unfavored son who used to fear him. He narrowed his eyes and asked fiercely, “ You said there was something you had to do, that was to go and retrieve this lantern?”
“Did you peek at the wish inside?”
Xiao Zhige: “…”
After a long silence, Xiao Zhige nodded, “I…”
He was tongue tied and could only spit out the words, “I wanted to see.”
An Chang Qing: “…”
He racked his brains but couldn’t figure out why Xiao Zhige would do this. He said grumpily, “You couldn’t have asked me?”
Xiao Zhige looked at the person in front of him and saw that he was truly upset for picking up the lantern that would render the wish ineffective. Xiao Zhige was starting to feel a tinge of regret.
Thinking of what had been written in the lantern, what if it couldn’t come true…
Shaking his head, Xiao Zhige cleared his pessimistic thoughts and asked, “You will tell me if I had asked?”
“Of course, it’s nothing unspeakable.” An Chang Qing eyed him suspiciously, “In contrast, Wangye sneaking around and peeking at someone else’s wish is shady and despicable.”
Xiao Zhige’s expression was frozen and his ears turned red. He then thought of the scene he had just witnessed and couldn’t help asking, “You and Li Hai Yun… It’s already impossible, right?”
“Ha?” An Chang Qing was immediately baffled by his question. He retorted irritably, “When was it ever possible between us? Li Hai Yun was delusional, why are you joining him?”
Only then did Xiao Zhige realize that something was off. He hesitated before asking, “Weren’t the two of you…”
An Chang Qing’s face turned black as he cut him off, “There is nothing between me and Li Hai Yun. Stop lumping us together. I have never liked anyone else before!”
Xiao Zhige still could not believe it and tried to confirm, “But you always carry the jade pendant he gave you…”
“What jade pendant?”
“The twin fish pendant you gave to me.”
An Chang Qing’s face could not turn any darker. He gritted each word through his teeth, “That was my mother’s gift to me on my birthday. What has it got to do with Li Hai Yun?”
Xiao Zhige finally realized that it had all been a big misunderstanding. His face stiffened and he could not find the words to say.
An Chang Qing stared at his waist and sure enough, there was nothing there. “No wonder I haven’t seen you put it on even once. You thought that the pendant was from Li Hai Yun?”
“Where is it? Did you throw it away? Give it back to me!” An Chang Qing was furious.
“No,” Xiao Zhige saw that he was enraged and quickly explained, “I didn’t throw it away. It’s in my study.”
Hearing that he had not thrown away the pendant, An Chang Qing’s anger slightly waned. He stared at him and interrogated, “Tell me, what exactly is going on? Where did you hear the groundless rumors of me and Li Hai Yun?”
Xiao Zhige was frozen by his stare. He decided to drag the sinner who had created this mess and use him as a landing cushion, “I heard it from Chang Zai Chang.”
General Chang Zai Chang was one of the twelve Generals and together with Xiao Zhige, marched under the flag of the Great General Xia Hou Shang. As Liangzhou and Yanzhou had always been on friendly terms, Chang Zai Chang and Xiao Zhige had a fairly good relationship. When Chang Zai Chang was still stationed in Yejing, Xiao Zhige had requested his help in keeping watch over An Chang Qing. If the mother and son were to meet with mishap, he was to secretly give them a hand. And for some reason, Chang Zai Chang had managed to see that Xiao Zhige was in love with An Chang Qing and had consistently urged him to make a move.
Regarding the matter between An Chang Qing and Li Hai Yun, needless to say, it was spread by Chang Zai Chang.
Now that he thought about it, Chang Zai Chang must’ve made those up to stimulate him into taking action but unfortunately, Xiao Zhige was not someone who could be easily swayed. These distorted tales had instead become a hidden landmine that had taken him by surprise.
Xiao Zhige gritted his teeth and noted down this grudge. He then cast aside everything else to focus on how to appease An Chang Qing.
An Chang Qing heard his words and looked at him sharply, “So you’ve always thought that the one I like is Li Hai Yun and that I’m just pretending to be happy with you?”
“…yes.” Xiao Zhige nodded but feeling that that was not entirely true, he added, “Only in the beginning.”
Looking straight at him, An Chang Qing was speechless. This person clearly thought that he was in love with another man but had kept it to himself. Not only that, he had even treated him with gentleness and care irrespectively. He was still angry but thinking of this point, An Chang Qing felt his heart ache.
In his previous life, after his death, this person had held on to his twin fish pendant. At that time, what were his thoughts? Was it that even until his last moments, he still thought that An Chang Qing had been in love with Li Hai Yun? And that was why in all those years, An Chang Qing had been cold and distant toward him?
An Chang Qing’s heart was sore. He clenched his teeth and gave Xiao Zhige a kick, “Why are you so foolish?”
This kick caused Xiao Zhige no pain but seeing An Chang Qing’s swollen eyes, he was a little helpless. He gently held his face and said, “It’s my fault. It won’t happen again.”
Thinking that An Chang Qing was still angry, he took out the piece of paper written by him from the lantern and placed it in his hand, “You can read mine. We’ll release the lantern again, it’ll be fine.”
An Chang Qing unfolded the paper and read the small neatly written words: Protect Nuo Nuo for a lifetime.
He had seen Xiao Zhige’s handwriting before; it was just like the man himself, bold and aggressive. But this was the first time he had seen his brush strokes being this precise and uncluttered. Although the sentence was straightforward, each line and stroke was honorable and sincere.
An Chang Qing rolled the paper up with care and placed it back in the lantern. He shot him a look and whined, “I won’t be appeased just like that.”
Xiao Zhige grimaced, “Whatever else Nuo Nuo wants, I will comply.”
An Chang Qing tilted his head and looked into Xiao Zhige’s nervous eyes, “Then my punishment to you… You have to make a wish lantern for me every year.”
Xiao Zhige’s heart fluttered and he clenched his fists. With a smile on his lips, he said, “Ok, I’ll make a wish for you every year.”
An Chang Qing looked back at him and urged, “Quickly release the lantern. Your clothes are all wet, be careful not to catch a cold.”
Xiao Zhige brazenly held his hand and pulled him forward to walk with him, “Let’s release it together.”