Chapter 5 – A So-Called Loophole
When Zhuo Fan woke up, it had stopped snowing.
He opened his eyes and saw a man sitting beside the bed reading quietly. At the sound of his movement, the man looked at him and gave a faint smile. “You’re awake?”
“… Prince Wen?” Zhuo Fan recognised him. Shocked, he tried to get up and pay his respects, but was pressed down again by the other man.
“You’re still sick, so there’s no need for formalities.” Wen Muyan placed his warm palm against Zhuo Fan’s forehead. “I’ve asked an imperial physician to come and take a look. He said that you’re down with a cold. Fortunately, your fever has already subsided. Drink up your medicine in a while and get more rest.”
Staring with widened eyes, Zhuo Fan thanked him in a daze.
He knew of Prince Wen. Around the time he began to fall from the emperor’s favour, Wen Muyan came to the capital for a royal audience as the heir-apparent to his father’s title. After formally bestowing the princehood on Wen Muyan, Emperor Qing invited him for a short stay in the palace. Zhuo Fan had met him several times at the imperial court, and for reasons he did not understand, Wen Muyan seemed rather well-disposed towards him.
At that time, still fully devoted to Emperor Qing, he ignored Shao Ze and Prince Wen’s overtures alike. However, now that he had seen through the emperor’s Emperor Qing’s heartlessness, Zhuo Fan began to find the prince’s timely kindness rather precious.
Returning to his chair and picking up his book again, We Muyan remarked as if without much thought, “Xianfu came to see you just now.”
Zhuo Fan smiled bitterly. “I didn’t expect to have startled Eunuch Xian…”
Although Wen Muyan’s light gaze fell on the pages of his book, his mind was somewhere else. After a long time, he added, “His Majesty sent him specially to visit you.”
Hearing this, Zhuo Fan stiffened. Sitting on the bed with his head bowed, he jeered in an especially sarcastic tone, “To think that His Majesty still cared if I lived or died despite having found a new favourite! Should this lowly subject thank him for such a grand imperial honour?”
Prince Wen put down his book and shook his head gently. “If anyone were to hear what you just said, they might create trouble for you.”
Zhuo Fan drew his legs to his chest and hugged his knees. He said stubbornly, “Let them hear what they will! Let them laugh at me! I’m the silly one anyway!”
He buried his head in his arms and did not pay attention to Prince Wen’s expression. After a while, he felt a warm palm begin to pat him on his back. The other man spoke up above him with his pleasant and magnetic voice: “Lift your head up, and you will find that there are others in this world who are worthy of your love.”
This sentence was said very, very slowly; Prince Wen probably had to muster all his courage in order to say it aloud. Zhuofan raised his head. Seeing the other man’s handsome face, he suddenly felt awkward. “Your… Your Highness, I…”
“Don’t say anything now.” Wen Muyan quickly withdrew his hand. “If you have any difficulties, just come and look for me.”
“Please forgive me, Your Highness! Your humble subject will be taking his leave now!” Zhuo Fan breathed a sigh of relief and fled to the door, ignoring the fact that his body was still weak and recovering from his fever.
Somehow, burning heat had begun to spread everywhere on his body that had been touched by Prince Wen, and his heart pounded helplessly.
When he made his way back to the Zhuo residence, still muddled, Zhuo Fan almost ran into his friend and classmate, Shao Ze, who had been waiting for him for a very long time.
Shao Ze was a man of ordinary appearance. He was slightly fat and not too tall; at most he could be considered sturdy. Despite the stern expressions he always wore on his square face, he had treated Zhuo Fan with heartfelt sincerity through the years and was truly good to him.
“What happened yesterday? I heard you stayed overnight at Prince Wen’s residence?” Shao Ze grabbed Zhuo Fan’s arm as a look of rebuke flashed across his face .
Although the other man’s tone was harsh, Zhuo Fan heard the hidden concern in his voice and nodded to him with a bitter smile. “Last night, I was caught in the rain and snow. I must have caught a cold then and fainted as a result. Prince Wen passed by and saved me. When I woke up today, I found myself at his place.”
“What? Are you still feeling unwell now?”
As he spoke, Shao Ze moved to touch Zhuo Fan’s forehead. Zhuo Fan hurriedly avoided him. “I feel much better now. A few more days of rest and I’ll be fully recovered.”
Shao Ze did not seem annoyed in the least as he pulled back his hand in silence. His customary frown returned to his face, and he resumed his usual preachy air. After thinking for a moment, he said, “This morning at court, Prince Wen asked for leave on your behalf. His Majesty’s response hard to fathom. It was said that Eunuch Xian was despatched as soon as court was over to visit you at Prince Wen’s residence. As for the news of your overnight stay at the prince’s place… it isn’t well spoken of in the palace. If you hear anything offensive, don’t take it to heart. You know that the Empress has long regarded you as a thorn in her side. Who knows, there might well be someone who’s out to get you by fanning the flames behind all this gossip.” was rather hard to fathom fully. It was said that Eunuch Xian was despatched as soon as court was over to visit you at Prince Wen’s residence. As for the news of your overnight stay… it’s not spoken well of in the palace.
Noting the absence of any response from Zhuo Fan, Shao Ze continued to reason with him. “There is never a shortage of pretty faces around His Majesty. You’ve seen it for yourself. I’ve always told you not to continue your entanglement with him. You’re the Top Scholar. Why do you have to behave like those in the inner palace ——”
At this, Shao Ze held his tongue all of a sudden. Zhuo Fan, on the other hand, began laughing miserably. His smile looked far more bitter and wretched than actual tears. “You’re right, I’m the Top Scholar. I have my pride and dignity too! Why should I rush to have him ruin me? All my heartfelt affections are lost on him; he’s blind to all my sincerity towards him. I will never break my heart for such a heartless and fickle man again!”
“That’s it! You’ve finally figured it out. All my rebukes were not in vain. It’s good that you’ve seen the light! ” Shao Ze was so excited that he grasped Zhuo Fan’s hands. When he saw that the latter merely blushed without any of his usual evasion, Shao Ze became even happier. Lowering his voice in excitement, he added, “Zhuo Fan, we’ve been classmates for many years. You should understand that my feelings for you are stronger than anyone else’s. I ——”
At the rare sight of a joyful expression on that square face, Zhuo Fan was shocked. Without understanding why, images of Prince Wen’s poised and charming demeanour flashed across his mind. He quickly pulled back his hand. Flustered and apologetic, he replied, “Shao Ze, I know you are very good to me, and I am grateful to you. But I’ve regarded you only as a good friend all this time. I have no other feelings for you, and neither will I feel differently in the future!”
Shao Ze was stunned. Somewhat unnaturally, he responded with a wry smile. Dropping his hands as if he did not mind the reaction, he said, “It was just a passing remark anyway. I didn’t mean anything by it, heh. You don’t have to worry about it either. Just forget what I said.”
Zhuo Fan was relieved. “Well, we’ll still be friends like before, won’t we?” he asked tentatively.
Although he was very depressed after such a blatant rejection, Shao Ze tried his best to nod in agreement. “Naturally. That’s a matter of course.”
Inwardly, he recalled how they had grown up together, and how he had loved Zhuo Fan in secret for almost 10 years. Unfortunately, Zhuo Fan never liked him. Sigh. This was hardly Zhuo Fan’s fault. After all, no matter how much he loved him, Shao Ze could not force the other man to return his feelings. As long as he could watch over Zhuo Fan, and see him live a happy life, he would be satisfied.
Yet, unexpectedly, Zhuo Fan fell in love at first sight with the ruthless Emperor Qing! Far worse than that, Emperor Qing even turned a blind eye to Zhuo Fan’s deepest affections, throwing him aside after playing with his feelings!
Precious Zhuo Fan, the man whom he cherished the most! To be treated so poorly, after giving his body and soul completely to that unfaithful man?!
Emperor Qing was a true scumbag, no better than human trash!
His Zhuo Fan should have been noble and aloof, a precious flower on the highest mountain ridge. So kind, so devoted, so beautiful was Zhuo Fan. How lucky would it be for someone be loved by such a perfect being? That unfaithful man was a fool who lived in ignorance of his blessings. Now that Zhuo Fan’s feelings for Emperor Qing had died completely, it was time for the ingrate to learn what he had lost, and live in regret for the rest of his life!
With these thoughts churning in his mind, Shao Ze concealed the infatuation in his eyes and watched as Zhuo Fan walked away. Only after the other man disappeared into the doorway did Shao Ze turn and leave.
Meanwhile, Zhuo Fan was lost in thoughts of his own. He had not expected things to turn out the way they did after a single feverish night. One after the other, images of Emperor Qing and Prince Wen flashed through his heart. He shook his head, pale-faced, completely ignoring Shao Ze’s thoughts and feelings. As soon as he made it back to his room, he crashed onto his bed and fell asleep.
In a dream-like trance, Zhuo Fan found himself transported to a white room. A white bed stood before him, and a cold man lay atop the bed. He looked just like Emperor Qing.
The man was already dead.
Zhuo Fan seemed to hear himself shouting at the dead man: What happened to that promised reversal, where you “try to win me back after I’ve lost all feelings for you”? What about “kneeling for me, crying over me, and shielding me with your own body”? Where did all that “tyrannical, possessive love” go?!
Wake up! Although I don’t love you anymore, you can’t stop loving me! Even though I kicked you away, you should regret it immediately and always think of me!
Even if you are scum, even if I put up a show of rejecting you, I’d still forgive you in the end — beneficently, acquiescently, and only a little reluctantly!
I would have given in for sure because of your desperate clinginess and your emotional blackmail. Never because you’re a devoted loyal dog that’s also tall, handsome and rich, mind you!
How could you die like this?! Now that you’re dead, who’s going to make me secretly pleased by getting into jealous fights with side dudes 1, 2 and 3?
This isn’t how the script is supposed to be!
Zhuo Fan felt himself getting very angry, extremely so. And then he died rom anger.
Although the scene and the shouting in his dream were very vivid, Zhuo Fan remembered nothing when he woke up. He felt nothing but a splitting headache, and a painful throbbing in his temples.
His manservant, who had been waiting outside, entered now with quickened steps. Nodding and bowing, he said, “You’re finally awake, Master. Someone from the palace is here to summon your presence!”
“… Someone from the palace?” Zhuo Fan murmured in repetition, his face looking ashen, before breaking into a sneer. “Was the person sent by His Majesty, by any chance?”
The manservant nodded quickly: “Yes, yes. Eunuch Xian came in person, in fact! What a great honor ——”
“I’m not going!” Zhuo Fan fell back into bed, turned his back to his servant, and declared sternly: “I am not a dog at his beck and call. Go report to Eunuch Xianfu that I can’t get out of bed because of my cold, and that I’ll need him to kindly relay my deepest apologies to His Majesty.”
“Ah? Master, you…. Oh, my good master, please take pity on us all! What if the emperor gets furious?” Flustered, the manservant fell on his knees and kowtowed repeatedly, hoping that the assistant minister would change his mind.
But no response came from the man on the bed. It seemed clear that he was determined to play hard to get.
While the manservant was at a loss for what to do, a sudden commotion broke out in the courtyard. He rushed to the door, and was shocked at the sight: “L-long live Your Majesty! Long live Prince Wen!”
Two men walked through the main entrance, surrounded by several robust guards, and came towards him slowly, one after the other. Indeed, they were none other than Emperor Qing and Prince Wen.
In his entire lifetime, the manservant had never been so close to the emperor. He almost peed his pants in fright, and stuttered as he spoke.
Xiao Han held a hand before his waist, allowing the long drape of his bright yellow sleeve to fall neatly. He walked along with an air of indifference, without looking askance. Stopping at the bedroom door, he slowly said, “It came to our attention that dear official Zhuo had fallen ill, and could not even come to the palace despite being summoned. Afraid that it was a serious illness, we have come to visit him in person. Why do these doors remain closed to us?
The manservant knelt on the ground and stared at him, stunned. When Prince Wen motioned for him to get up, he realised at last that the question was directed at him. He hurried to explain, “Your Majesty, my master is so ill that his head isn’t quite straight at the moment. That’s why he can’t enter the palace to pay his respects. He’s definitely not doing this on purpose to slight you and play hard to get, Your Majesty!”
Are you a brainless fan of your master? Or a professional anti-fan of his?
Xiao Han wondered, rendered speechless for a while by the manservant’s reply, before pointing lazily at the door. “Dismantle it.”
“Uh — huh, what?”
Before the people of the assistant minister’s residence could regain their wits, Emperor Qing’s guards got to work straight away and started disassembling the door.
Besides the dumbfounded manservant, even Prince Wen felt a little awkward. However, he was wise enough to not express any objection to the wilful, tyrannical emperor.
Although the script showed that Emperor Qing should reflect on his own mistakes after being rejected by Zhuo Fan’s closed doors, it did not specify how long the reflection should last. Since this was the case, Xiao Han took the initiative to help set a timing of one second. As for whether he was inwardly beating up himself or thinking about eating chicken wings for dinner — who cares? He just could not be bothered. If the script was really so powerful, it could jump out and bite him if it wanted. Like that would make any difference to him!
After playing the scum top for all this time, Xiao Han had begun to figure out the script’s quirks bit by bit. For example, as long as the script did not clearly state what he had to say, or what he had to do, the script would not punish him for doing things his way. Besides, it could not do anything about his thoughts, and they were safe from punishment. After all, no matter how godly the script was, it still could not control his mind.
In other words, if the script wanted him to stand and wait, it would not do for him to sit down. However, if the script did not state that he had to stand for an hour, he could choose to stand for just one second.
Moreover, after the last painful lesson, he learned that there were consequences for not adhering to the script’s demands: he would die a horrible death and be forced to continue transmigrating. However, he could do anything he wanted as long as it was not written in the script. Choosing a beauty for the night, for example, or sneaking out to eat chicken drumsticks in the imperial kitchen, were all things that he could do as he pleased.
During this time as an emperor, Xiao Han gradually mastered the number one skill in dealing with the script — finding loopholes. Apart from having to see Zhuo Fan drifting around now and then, and put up with his annoying presence, Xian Han’s life had been pretty comfortable.
Too bad, it was impossible for his cushy days to go on forever. The time had arrived for everyone’s favourite part in the plot: ‘suddenly licking the heart loyally’.
What? What is ‘suddenly licking the heart loyally’, you ask? It’s just the shorthand for ‘scum top suddenly repents after bottom’s heart turns to ashes, transforming into a loyal dog who kneels at the bottom’s feet and licks them in devotion’!
Although Xiao Han had some more means to fight against the script this time, he still wanted to live. If he died again this time, god only knew where the script would send him next. There was no telling in which dimension or god forsaken corner he would be reborn and forced to continue repeating the plot without end.
Besides, being hit by a car was very painful. Xiao Han was most afraid of pain. He just wanted to live in peace and stability. Having tasted death once, it was so soul-stirring that he could never bear it again.
While Xiao Han was thus occupied with his thoughts, the door was torn down in the blink of an eye. Of course, the commotion made it was impossible for Zhuo Fan to continue playing dead. Now that his room was exposed, he sat up in bed. His clothing was very thin, his face was pale, and his eyes were dulled by weariness. If Shao Ze were here, he would have shouted in his heart: Ah, my lovely idol! God of my dreams!
Unfortunately, it was not Shao Ze who stood before Zhuo Fan, but Xiao Han and Wen Muyan.
Under Zhuo Fan’s sorrowful, vacant gaze, Xiao Han sauntered into the room and shot a sideways glance at Xianfu out of the corner of his eye. The latter, waiting and bowing beside Xiao Han, immediately fetched a chair over for the emperor and helped him into the seat.
“I did not know of Your Majesty’s arrival. This humble subject is ill. May Your Majesty forgive my inability to greet your arrival with due civilities.” Zhuo Fan got up with difficulty, stumbled out of bed and tried to bow to the emperor.
“Since our dear subject is in poor health, let’s dispense with the formalities.” Xiao Han was very glad that the script did not make him go over and help the other man up. Next to him, the omnipotent Xianfu brought out some tea and snacks from goodness knew where, and served them. Xiao Han immediately threw Xianfu a thumbs up in his heart. This was how true love should be! It was such a pity that he was a eunuch.
“Please forgive this humble subject’s incivility. Colds are contagious, and the air in this lowly abode is stale. For the sake of Your Majesty’s health, it would be best for Your Majesty to return to the palace as soon as possible.” Zhuo Fan refused to stand up, kneeling stubbornly, and stared at the ground with quiet eyes. His tone was flat and chilled with indifference. There was clear rejection in his voice. He seemed to have his heart set on never getting up unless the emperor left.
Emperor Qing took a sip of tea and ate a piece of cake.
Zhuo Fan felt his legs starting to ache.
The emperor took another sip of tea and ate another piece of cake.
Zhuo Fan began to regret not taking the opportunity to get back to bed.
Emperor Qing —— Why was this fellow still drinking tea?!
After finishing up the entire pot of tea, as if he had gone for days without anything to drink in a desert, Xiao Han finally remembered the lines he had to say. While chewing on a piece of osmanthus cake — a must-have snack in a palace drama — he mumbled with his mouth full, “Having heard that our dear official fell ill only because he was picking plum branches for us, we felt very…” Emperor Qing choked a little. He seemed to have taken too large a bite. After swallowing the food in his mouth, he completed his sentence with the last remaining word: “Touched.”
Zhuo Fan: “…”
Prince Wen, who had been standing silently by the side, his existence barely noticeable, suddenly cleared his throat. Emperor Qing looked at him with an arched eyebrow. For some reason, perhaps his eyes were playing tricks on him, he seemed to find Wen Muyan’s expression somewhat… twisted? Constipated?
Xiao Han stroked his chin. Given how he had been bullying the little bottom, was it not time for the long-term devoted cannon fodder top to blow up for his crush’s sake? Should there not be some sort of reaction by now?
Would this man scold him the way he did in their previous life? Or would the man treat him with snide disdain? Or perhaps he would rush over and beat him to a pulp?
The script showed nothing about this, how frustrating!
But Xiao Han did not have to wait too long. Prince Wen finally spoke his first line for this major event in the plot… except that it was neither a frosty comment to Xiao Han, nor a tender remark to the trash bottom.
It was directed at Xianfu, actually.
This was what Wen Muyan said: “Eunuch Xian, bring me a chair.”