“Why do we need this many Qingxin flowers? What are they even used for?”
“Medicine, and the guild ran out of stock.” Xingqiu’s voice is muffled, face in his book. They sit together on the mat in his room, books and pillows strewn about around them.
“How come they need you to go secure the deal?”
“Because the supplier has a reputation for getting greedy at times, and a little intimidation is necessary to persuade them to be the fair and just merchants they should be.” He turns to the next page. “Ooh, fascinating...”
“Makes sense.” The girl says. “When do we leave?”
“You can go now, if you want. Ask Xu for the mora and the manifest.”
She frowns, pink lips turning into an expression of annoyance. “I said I’d go with you, not do it for you.”
Brown eyes peak up from over the top of the book, lowered just enough so that he can look at both her and it at the same time. “But I just got to the good part... I can’t stop now. And father asked me to have it taken care of before tomorrow.”
The girl turns away from him and her voice is quiet when she speaks. “If you didn’t want to spend time with me, there’s easier ways to give me the message.” She stands abruptly. “Fine. I’m going.”
The book goes down faster than stone as Xingqiu processes the hurt in her tone. “Wait! You’ve misunderstood me, my liege. Don’t go!”
Gaze angled away and at the ground, her brown bangs hide the expression in her verdant eyes from him. “You’ll set the books down when Chongyun comes to visit, but when I’m around you won’t even look me in the eye half the time.”
“Forgive me, [??????]. I didn’t mean to make you feel sad.” Xingqiu anxiously waits for her to face him again, and when she doesn’t, he hesitantly takes hold of her hand. “The reason I struggle to meet your gaze is because... well...”
“-Youmakemenervous. You’re so pretty and we’re alone in my room...” The admission is rushed and he is afraid of her response. Reading gives him an excuse to hide when he is feeling shy.
She turns to face him, finally, and he is relieved to see that she no longer looks upset. “I get it.” Her hand clutches his and boldly brings it up to press a kiss to the elegant curve of his palm. “But if that’s how you feel... I wish you’d do something about it.”
The door is closed. He can hear no servant out in the halls. Father and older brother are out doing business. Oh my, this is very risky. Especially given what he was reading... oh it’s so tempting, but no, he shouldn’t.
“I’ll go with you to get the delivery.” He sighs audibly. “... In an hour. Don’t leave without me.”
Hastily, he returns to his previous position with the book. Hiding.
She can’t believe a book just won out over her tantamount confession. “Just what exactly are you reading that is so important?” She snatches it from his outstretched hands.
“Wh- no - hey!! Don’t read that!” He panics, trying to take it back from her, but she scoots backward out of reach.
As soon as her eyes hit the page she blushes crimson.
“Xingqiu?!?” Even her bare shoulders are red and he wants a hole to open up underfoot and swallow him.
“His sword is hard and unrelenting, and their battle is sweet and exhilarating.” She reads incredulously. “Her flower is like silk, and their love entertwines as they together ascend to the heavens, whispering and sighing in symphony.....???”
“... I warned you not to read it.” He complains in a small voice.
“I didn’t expect you to be reading something like this! I thought it was a martial arts novel!”
“It is.” He insists. “Martial arts and romance. That part is just... a pure expression of their love.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s totally lewd!”
“It’s not lewd, it’s poetic!”
“You’re such a guy.” She says, abandoning the scandalizing book. Xingqiu snatches it up protectively.
“I am a guy. And I’m not ashamed of this book, the love story between the main character and his beautiful warrior companion is phenomenal. ... But I would appreciate it if you kept this a secret between us.”
“Well... alright.” She fidgets. An image of him stroking himself while reading the book sends a spear of heat through her stomach. She springs to her feet. “I’ve gotta go. I’ll see you in an hour. Bye.”
Xingqiu watches her hasty retreat and thinks about how the main lead’s warrior lady companion reminds him a lot of her.