Si Tian Guan Chapter 180

Chapter 180 – Thorns

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The sound of approaching footsteps came from the opposite direction. Someone shouted sternly, “Who’s there? Running around in the palace!”

Liu Zhongming sensed the person beneath him tense up. He crouched down, whispering softly, “Is it the Jinwu Guards? Don’t worry, I have a plan.”

The person turned their head slightly, as if they were warmed by his breath.

“This is a military officer of Jinxiu Ying,” someone immediately responded. Based on the voice, it was likely someone from the route Liu Zhongming had taken, undoubtedly from Jinxiu Ying. “With His Majesty’s permission, I am accompanying the Shizi into the palace to await the safe birth of the esteemed concubine.”

Perhaps it was rare for them to encounter someone from Jinxiu Ying who was so courteous, especially given that the Shizi was leading people into the palace. Commander Bo had likely given them instructions.

The officer of the Jinwu Guards came down, speaking kindly. “What happened? Since you’re accompanying the Shizi into the palace, why aren’t you in the concubine’s palace? Unauthorized movement within the palace is prohibited!”

“Yes, yes. It’s just that someone appeared to have attempted to poison the concubine earlier. The Shizi ordered us to remain vigilant and search everywhere. He’s gone to pursue that thief.”

Now the Jinwu Guards faced a dilemma. Even though it was the Shizi, he shouldn’t be running around in the palace.

A team quickly deliberated. Several people went to report to Commander Bo, while others inquired about the thief’s route. They began searching the surroundings, leaving some to escort the members of Jinxiu Ying back to Li Jing Palace.

Liu Zhongming slightly lifted his head and peered through the gaps in the shrubbery, watching the scattered figures moving away. He bent over to pick up the person beneath him, avoiding the gaze of the palace guards. He kept close to the fake rockery and turned around.

There was a narrow gap on the back of the rockery. He squeezed the person’s waist with his hand and pushed them into the crevice. Then, he faced the person, squeezing himself in and blocking the entrance to the rockery with his back.

Once inside the cave, the person in his arms understood the situation. They made no attempt to struggle. After entering the cave, they shifted their body slightly, seemingly uncomfortable and trying to push him away.

However, the space was too small. They were almost pressed together without any gaps. He could even feel the warm and moist breath brushing against his neck.

Although the surroundings were pitch black, Liu Zhongming felt as if he could see Qu Chenzhou, his head turned in annoyance, his long-missed scent insistently tickling his nose.

“Chenzhou,” he bent down slightly, his lips touching the warm and feverish tip of the ear. He whispered, “Coming out so late, I was really worried.”

Several Jinwu Guards still wandered around, and they didn’t dare to make much noise. No one responded to his words, but no one avoided them either. This gave him the courage he needed.

It had been so long since he had been this close to someone. Even though the person in front of him was so familiar, Liu Zhongming was elated, feeling like an infatuated young man with newly awakened feelings.

“I’ve been so worried, but also… so happy to see you tonight…”

In the confined space, the heavy breathing before his chest gradually intensified, echoing in his ears like burning flames. He couldn’t resist it and felt that the space between them was becoming even smaller.

A slender wrist turned over, gripping him harshly.

“Stop…” he moaned in pain, having to plead softly, “It wasn’t intentional. I was just so happy to see you.”

Perhaps due to the familiarity of this dark place, he was keenly aware that he wasn’t the same person from his previous life. Yet, the rubbing of their cheeks and ears in this concealed space felt as if he had experienced it countless times in his dreams.

Listening to his increasingly rapid heartbeat, Liu Zhongming suddenly murmured, “Chenzhou, I missed you so much.”

These past few months had been torturous for him, more than just mere longing.

But the past hurts he inflicted were too severe. He just hoped that the little fox would be well. He pondered whether to advance or retreat, as finding the most suitable position for himself was crucial.

Unexpectedly, these words, carefully restrained, caused Qu Chenzhou’s body to tremble uncontrollably.

His breathing beside his ear grew heavy, and he murmured as if in a trance, his voice choked with a low sob.

“You miss me? Why would you miss me? Aren’t you supposed to hate me? You should hate me!”

“Do you not remember what I’ve done? I killed so many people! So many people… their blood flowed to my feet, and they looked at me before they died!”

“I… I have no shame! I fear death! General Bai died! Sister Liu also died! But I’ve survived for so long!”

“I know you hate me, but I still want…”

Qu Chenzhou seemed to forget their current situation, suddenly bursting into sobs.

“I still want to ask you—over these years, have you ever thought of me…”

“But I can’t ask, I can’t… Do you miss me? Do you miss me…”

The footsteps on the stone path halted for a moment, and someone wondered, “Did you hear any sound just now?”

The Jinwu Guard being questioned was walking while glancing around. Upon hearing the question, he stopped and listened carefully for a moment.

“No, is it the sound of insects in the grass?”

Liu Zhongming heard the footsteps of the guards moving away from the fake rockery. The sword at the guard’s side tapped against the stone, and he discreetly tightened his arm while sealing the sobbing sounds that couldn’t be controlled with tightly closed lips.

The person in his arms shivered from his kisses, their legs trembling, barely standing with his support.

Being so close to each other, the tears streaming from their eyes moistened Liu Zhongming’s cheeks. The all-encompassing pain turned into bitterness, flowing into his mouth and entangling their tongues in the dampness.

Qu Chenzhou’s loss of composure exposed to him those thorns.

The blood debts from his past life had formed an encirclement, and the guilt and self-reproach had become thorns. The little fox had imprisoned himself within, fearful of touching those thorns, unable to break free.

And that cup of wine, refusing to accept any explanation, had shattered the little fox’s courage entirely.

Liu Zhongming was torn apart by this suppressed crying, wishing he could tear his heart open and let others see his self, steeped in pain and regret, on the brink of decay.

The tapping on the rock ceased, and the two Jinwu Guards outside didn’t want to step into the dense bushes, finding it uncomfortable to go further.

Impatiently, one of them urged their companion to quicken their pace. “Stop searching. The thief won’t be staying around here. Let’s hurry to Lijing Palace. Commander Bo will be here soon. If he doesn’t see us, he might think we’re slacking off.”

The footsteps on the stone pavement hastened and faded away, and only then did Liu Zhongming raise his head, relieved. The person’s legs in his arms were trembling, too weak to stand. Finally, they reached out and grabbed his clothes.

Within the cave, there was only the sound of hurried breaths, following the suffocating kiss.

Liu Zhongming hadn’t caught his breath when a pair of hands encircled his neck. His head was suddenly pushed down, and he felt biting as if a storm had unleashed itself. He tasted the metallic tang of blood at his lips before being released.

“Liu Zhongming!” Qu Chenzhou choked, suddenly calling out to him.

“Chen…” He barely had time to respond with a word when a slap landed on his cheek. Due to the cramped space, the slap was gentle, neither painful nor itchy, but rather warm and soft. He allowed Qu Chenzhou to press his hand against his face.

“Liu Zhongming! I want you to live! I want you to live well!” Qu Chenzhou’s grip didn’t loosen. He sobbed softly, “Why did you seek a dead end? I’m not worth it… I’m not worthy of you…”

Liu Zhongming was taken aback for a moment but quickly understood.

In this current life, he hadn’t experienced the devastation of losing his home and loved ones. The nightmares of those bloody memories almost drove him to the brink of collapse. At first, he could even see Qu Chenzhou’s lifeless body hanging in the air with just a blink of his eyes.

Even when asleep, he would wake up crying from those nightmares.

Those experiences were a profound pain for his previous self, and if it were him now, he might have gone mad as well.

With just these few words, he suddenly began to connect the dots of those unclear causes and consequences—why Qu Chenzhou had been reborn back to the age of fourteen.

“Why did Qu Chenzhou offend Pan He twice in a row at first, even deliberately trying to provoke me, seeking death with all his heart?

Because the little fox never imagined that he would have a chance to live again. He didn’t choose to come back to life, it must have been something the previous him did.

“Chenzhou, don’t cry.” Regardless of what he had done for Qu Chenzhou in the past, Liu Zhongming felt relieved and realized he might have misunderstood something.

All the little fox’s obsessions arose from him, yet he repeatedly avoided facing them due to guilt. Would Qu Chenzhou really lead a good life like this?

He had finally found the path he needed to take and couldn’t turn back.

If he didn’t clear away those thorns, Qu Chenzhou might end up walking the same path as before—the only way the little fox could think of, to escape the pain was to sacrifice himself.

In the darkness, Liu Zhongming grasped one of Qu Chenzhou’s hands and pressed it to his chest.

“I missed you so much. I think of you every day.”

Since the little fox couldn’t ask back then, he was willing to share all his yearning.

“I thought of you day and night. I know you saved my life when you sent me to Nianhua Shop, but later… I let you down.”

“You managed to come back to life and meet me again. I’m truly happy about that. I arrived too late, and you suffered because of it.”

“And… ” He fumbled to press the other hand over too. “I missed you too. I thought of the days you spent in the other courtyard. I always felt you were still there.”

“It’s my fault for not trusting you.”

“I hope you hate me, blame me. You can do whatever you want, as long as you’re okay.”

One from a previous life, the other from this life. He knew very well who he was, but the debts of two lifetimes were knots that Qu Chenzhou couldn’t untangle in his heart.

His hand followed the smooth black hair and gently pressed it to his chest.

“Chenzhou, don’t cry. Whether it’s in the past or now, I’m willing to do anything for you, even die.”

The front of his clothes had been soaked. The sobbing in his arms trembled for a while before gradually subsiding. He was pushed out from the fake rockery.

After a while, the person inside slowly crawled out.

Qu Chenzhou, who reappeared in front of him, had wiped away his fragile appearance, regaining calm breathing. Only a trace of unease remained in his voice.

“Follow me.”

Liu Zhongming followed him from the rockery back to the stone path and then entered the opposite path. In the mottled moonlight, Qu Chenzhou suddenly caught his sleeve.

“Slow down, I can’t keep up.”

Qu Chenzhou was tugged to a halt, glanced at him from the side, and didn’t pull his sleeve away. Instead, he slowed his steps and after a while, he asked, “Did you hurt your leg?”

“It’s just superficial injuries, no harm to the tendons or bones. I’m just pretending, it’s getting better. Don’t worry,” Liu Zhongming patiently explained, and unsurprisingly heard himself being spat at. He couldn’t help but curl his lips.

They still had the best understanding. Even without prior communication, he guessed that Qu Chenzhou would come tonight. Even if he didn’t say it, Qu Chenzhou understood that he needed a place to go now.

—He chased after the “thief” out of Lijing Palace. Running around the palace aimlessly wouldn’t be proper, so he had to let people know where he went.

If he sneaked back into Lijing Palace without a sound, it would leave room for manipulation.

On this journey, Qu Chenzhou moved smoothly, as if there was an eye overlooking from the sky, guiding him around bends and obstacles.

Liu Zhongming leaned against the wall, watching the night patrol soldiers pass by about ten feet away. Suddenly, he leaned forward and whispered, “Thank you.”

—Thank you for sending away my sister’s child.

It was as if Qu Chenzhou immediately understood what he was saying. His shoulders trembled slightly, but he didn’t turn around. “You… aren’t him.”

“I understand.” Liu Zhongming replied frankly, then bent down to kiss the soft tip of his ear. “I also thank you for coming tonight.”

Qu Chenzhou covered his ear, turned the corner without a word, and then asked, “How did you know I would come?”

“I guessed. You worry so much, you must be concerned about suspicious individuals coming and going. You were afraid I didn’t discover it in time, so you stayed outside the wall, right?”

Liu Zhongming still held onto his sleeve, feeling that his hand was filled with fragrance. “Don’t do things like this in the future. If you’re discovered, it’s too dangerous.”

“When that person entered, you didn’t notice anything unusual. Later, you heard my aunt call for help, and couldn’t react in time, so you followed. Is that right?”

Qu Chenzhou pursed his lips and asked, “Is that woman yours?”

He had sensed that something was wrong as soon as that woman addressed him as “Shizi.” Seeing Liu Zhongming calm and composed now, how could he not see through the whole scheme?

“Did you deliberately reveal a flaw to them?”

Liu Zhongming chuckled. “Yes, I made it strict at the entrance, so anyone attempting to tamper wouldn’t be able to enter. But they put so much effort into it, how could I disappoint them? So, I came out myself.”

They had now circled around to the outside of the wall of the Star Gazing Pavillion. After avoiding a patrol, Liu Zhongming hugged him at the waist, stepped on the rocks, and leapt onto the eaves, then entered through a window.

Qu Chenzhou turned to change his clothes behind a folding screen. After a while, he asked, “You had the woman lead you out, so their people would likely take advantage of the situation and sneak in. The ambush from Lijing Palace would catch them in the act.”

“Not only that, you intentionally alarmed the Jinwu Guards, and even led Bo Yan along, giving the credit to him.”

“Since Bo Yan was the one who caught them, no matter who they confess to, the Emperor won’t think you’re targeting and framing any Wangye.”

His voice returned to its usual calmness, and there was even a trace of the casual, captivating laughter from before.

“Shizi truly deserves admiration.”

“Don’t exaggerate.” Liu Zhongming looked at the blurred figure behind the folding screen. This situation seemed to be a restart of everything they had been through.

Standing in the Star Gazing Pavillion once again, the overlap of past and present felt like a deeply etched pain. Yet, Qu Chenzhou would continue to live here day after day.

“Chenzhou,” he whispered, “If you find a way to leave, I’ll do everything I can to support you.”

Qu Chenzhou seemed to not hear this whisper, only saying slowly, “In this way, the Shizi will truly become enemies with that person.”

“He provoked me first, and whether we become enemies or not isn’t up to me. Always acting like a sneaky vermin in the gutter, biting people behind their backs. Who else could it be but Mu Jingyan?”

When this name was mentioned, the rustling sound of clothes behind the folding screen paused.

Liu Zhongming walked around, seeing Qu Chenzhou’s silk robe draped over him, his long hair flowing down, spread out like a supernatural being about to disappear at dawn.

“Chenzhou, it’s my fault for what happened,” he lightly touched Qu Chenzhou’s shoulders and slowly embraced him. “Don’t hold on by yourself anymore, don’t do dangerous things on your own. Can you… let me protect you?”

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