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I really didn’t know how to express the shocking I was feeling.
I only came to deliver some clothes…
It’s absolutely true that I had no intentions of peeping.
Still, I was dragged along until I ended up behind the screen. Because the other had used a lot of strength, I didn’t even have time to find my bearings before I was leaning over the edge of the wooden tub, a hair’s breadth from falling inside.
I wiped my face. Whoa, this bath water was really fragrant. A puff of air rose up to my forehead, turning my neck and the roots of my ears red. Now this was heat.
My hands danced about as I tried to straighten up. But my sleeves were inside the tub, the light material soaking up the water until they were thoroughly wet. Those heavy, waterlogged sleeves carried the sound of gurgling water as I touched something warm within the tub. It was slippery like a loach, but the tactile sensation was very pleasing. Before I could figure out what it was, he caught me until I was facing him head-on. My face looked red and flustered, but I had turned cold all over.
“Shao’er, what are you doing here so late?” his voice was gentle, refined, and pleasant to hear. There was no sign of anger in the tone.
I blinked a few times before looking away, my gaze resting on the hand around my wrist. His five fingers were long and slender, his speech light and soft, but every move he made was filled with strength and it didn’t seem like he was going to let me go.
My silence lasted for a while before I managed to give him a smile.
Could I say I came here to steal pills?
Gulp, honesty wasn’t the best policy here.
Well, I couldn’t exactly say I came to peep on him bathing…
If I said a lie like that, I might as well tell the truth instead. My eyes spun in their sockets as I tried to think of an excuse to get by, but my mind was blank upon gazing at the beautiful scene before me.
All the excellent sights and sounds of spring…in my head there was a sudden bang, as if I had been mindblown. I guess this was what happened when one’s blood ‘boiled with righteous indignation.’ All we were missing was a catcall whistle.
His expression was one of lazy indolence, one hand resting by the side of his head, measuring me up with half-closed eyes. The Adam’s apple by his fingers moved slightly. I started. It wasn’t very comfortable to be stooping over the tub like this, especially when the wood pressing against my chest made the pains worse.
I vaguely remembered that during my beggar days…boys going through puberty would grow Adam’s apples, and they’d give people strange looks…
Wait a minute.
I had a sudden, abrupt shock.
When Fang Hua picked me up from the temple, my body looked around seven or eight years old. Only five years had passed since then…I couldn’t be starting puberty this early, right?
“Why aren’t you saying anything, hn?”
His single ‘hn’ hung in the air, soft and unbroken as if overwhelmed with sorrow…
I was starting to suspect that he’d drank some alcohol again.
With my heart set, I gritted my teeth and said shamelessly, “I couldn’t fall asleep, so I decided to wander around. When I heard yifu calling for me I conveniently came inside.”
“Nonsense. Next time you try stealing something, remember not to bring a candle. Did you think I was blind to a large circle of light like that?”
Like I’d try to steal again.
He smiled a bit as if pleased with my obedient expression, and spoke again. “Come, help me scrub my back.”
Tears. You still can’t tell the different between girls and boys…
He didn’t seem aware of my inner struggle, but turned around with his back to me, his arms resting over the sides of the tub. The cloth that was originally draped over its edge was now floating freely in the water.
At this moment, he wasn’t wearing a thing while soaking in the tub. Strands of black hair floated on the water, while gentle ripples beat against his white skin, forming a striking vision… He leaned comfortably against the edge of the tub with his eyes closed.
I sadly shifted my steps to get closer and gave a quick glance, eyes drifting until they came to rest in the water…
Who knew if a Fang Hua Beast had the same anatomy as a human…
Perhaps he’d put medicinal herbs in the water, because the surface was too turbid to see the facts.
“Hurry up…” he urged a little impatiently.
I immediately averted my gaze and sucked in a deep breath, before getting to work.
Scrubscrubscrub… I’ll scrub you to death.
He hummed once.
I jerked and then relented, scrubbing him more gently. The sensations felt pretty nice, so I changed up my way of scrubbing.
“Yifu, you have really nice skin.” Not like mine, all dark and ugly like a black-boned chicken.
“Well, you weren’t born with skin like this. I think someone fed you drugs to make you this way.” he said offhandedly in a light tone.
“Can we fix it?”
“Of course, just soak yourself daily in some herbs and you’ll fully recover.”
“Seriously?! Why didn’t you tell me earlier?”
“You never asked. I thought you liked looking the way you are.”
Now I wanted to destroy him. He actually looked after me for five years… …before telling me I’d once been drugged. But I had looked like this ever since my beggar days. Whether I was poisoned then or earlier, who’d waste their time on a brat like me?
It really was strange.
My thoughts kept spinning while my hands kept scrubbing, mindful of my sleeves draping on the edge of the tub as I cleaned the skin by his collarbones. If I went a little lower…I’d reach his chest…
Here was another weird thing. Over the past few years, the chances of such a thing happening was pitifully low. Typically, I had little to no contact with his body, even less in such an intimate manner. Raising my eyes, I caught him looking down at me, his gaze gentle and mild and his eyes very pretty to see.
My heart skipped a beat, and I started to scrub with all my strength.
“Hnn…” he said once, and didn’t say anything else.
I stopped and looked at him. “Yifu, what’s wrong?” As soon as I spoke, I regret it.
The water splashed as he reached out a hand, gently brushing aside the outermost layer of my robes to open it up. Shocked, I immediately covered my chest with my hands.
He paused for a moment, gazing at my hands, before asking me in a concerned tone, “Shao’er, has your body been feeling unwell recently?”
His eyes were extremely sharp. But it’s not like I could say my…chest…was swollen, right? I knitted my eyebrows, before replying stiffly. “Not at all, you’re being paranoid.”
“Let me see your hand so I can take your pulse.” Though he was soaking in the water before, now he suddenly stood up, splattering water everywhere. I was as frightened as a bird.
“Yifu, what are you doing?!” I turned my head away, refusing to look at him. But then I thought it’d be a shame if I missed this chance, so I changed my mind and looked back–only to see that he’d already changed into his clothes.
“I’m just changing into my clothes, you don’t have to hide.” He lowered his head to tighten his sash, speaking in an easy tone. “In this house, we’re father and son, so there’s no need to act like an outsider.”
Yifu, you’re just too naïve.
In the future, if you ever figure out that the world has both men and women, or that the foster son you raised for five years was a foster daughter, you would never let me watch you change your clothes.
I’m going to cry again…
I gave off an air of sullen depression.
He’d already taken my hand in my moment of stupefaction to check my pulse. After some serious thought, he mused, “There’s nothing obstructing your internal channels.” Afterwards, he went back to staring at my chest.
The atmosphere was extremely awkward as the candle flames flickered around us. I think my face must have been as red as shrimp roe by now.
He studied me for a while with eyebrows raised before exhaling and grasping my hand, speaking in a heavy, focused tone. “Shao’er, even though I’m not a very rich, I’ve never held back a thing when I fed you. I’ve never stolen anything from you either, so…”
He hesitated, shooting a looking my way, as if it was difficult to continue. I pricked my ears to listen, and in the end, he spoke anyways.
“So, it’s not worth it to hide rancid mantou in your chest. If you keep it there for too long, they’ll spoil.”
I was filled with sudden anger.
He tugged me again, with more strength this time, until I toppled into his embrace.
My face grimaced in pain.
He was startled but didn’t hesitate, using the moment to undo all my robes…
A lamp light on the side flickered back and forth.
That expression was gentle and soft as he spoke. “So this was the reason.”
My whole body had gone stiff as I stood there, unmoving. The only thing that stirred were my clothes. The fragrant scent emanating from Fang Hua floated out again to surround me, making me almost dizzy.
He spoke lightly again. “Looks like it’s swollen. But it won’t be a problem. In a bit, I’ll use some acupuncture needles to prick it and you’ll be all right.”
Ignoring everything else, he carefully replaced my clothes and helped me tie the sash around my waist. My anger rose from my heart and I shoved him aside with one push. He smiled softly at me, lifting a hand behind my forehead to draw me closer to him again.
“Shao’er, it’s almost your fifteenth birthday. What kind of present do you want?”
I didn’t even know what day my birthday was, so how did know?
And, when did I turn fifteen years old?
He smiled in a flash of time that became eternity, and said, “I will give you…the very best.”
black-boned chicken (??) ?wu ji, literally “crow chicken”, a species of chickenwith black skin, also known as the Silkie fowl. In my experience, their meat tastes a little ‘smokier’ than ye old regular white-breast chicken.
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