Fu Nian calmly accepted the process of being searched and changing his clothes.
When the clothes were put on him, Fu Nian realized they were the regular attire of the Shadow Guards by the Emperor’s side.
It seemed that Little Royal Uncle had bet on Chu Zhaoyi’s heart condition based on him from the previous life…
Fu Nian sneered inwardly and thought, “He made the wrong bet.”
“Young Master Lian, as Ze Wang mentioned, you should drink this before entering the hall.” The eunuch began explaining, but Fu Nian didn’t wait for him to finish. He picked up the jade bowl and downed its contents without hesitation.
The mute-inducing potion had a familiar taste – not bitter at all. It even gave the illusion of drinking sweetened water. After drinking it, he felt no different except for the temporary inability to speak.
After consuming the potion, Fu Nian allowed the eunuch to cover his face before he was escorted into the main hall.
The place where Chu Zhaoyi was recuperating was in the rear of the hall where he would usually meet with his courtiers during morning audiences. It was an inconspicuous low bed.
Although the bedding was a bit plain, the surroundings were indeed spacious to allow the physicians easy access.
Fu Nian noticed that Li Gonggong was also present and nodded in a slightly respectful manner to acknowledge him.
Fu Nian was led to the side of the bed and indicated to sit on a cushion.
Before he could fully sit down, Fu Nian’s attention was drawn to the restless figure on the bed.
Previously, Chu Zhaoyi’s imposing aura had been enough to command attention wherever he stood. But now, he was lying weakly on the bed. Even though a cold compress was placed on his forehead, beads of sweat continued to trickle down. Despite the chilly weather outside, his clothes were unbuttoned, and his skin appeared an abnormally faint shade of red.
Although unconscious, he clenched his teeth tightly and occasionally gasped for air, breathing heavily. He would also cough a few times, as if trapped by a nightmare. His nerves were taut, showing no signs of relaxation.
“Place your right arm on His Majesty’s shoulder, but be gentle.”
Fu Nian hadn’t even fully settled down when Li Gonggong whispered the instruction.
Did they really want him to touch Chu Zhaoyi with his severed limb?
Fu Nian remembered that even after the ceremony and even sharing a bed, Chu Zhaoyi had never instructed him to remove his prosthetic limb. After ascending the throne, Chu Zhaoyi had made sure to keep his severed limb concealed beneath his robe whenever they were in public.
Although it was done to remain vigilant during sleep and to hide the appearance of the Shadow Guard from outsiders, Fu Nian always felt that Chu Zhaoyi didn’t want to see his missing limb. At best, he could tolerate it, but definitely not embrace it.
“Right arm,” Li Gonggong repeated the command, seeing Fu Nian’s hesitation.
Only then did Fu Nian snap back to reality.
Reluctantly, he brought his bandaged limb closer to Chu Zhaoyi’s neck.
Because his right arm was shorter, Fu Nian could only half-lie on the bed, one leg kneeling on the cushion, in order to barely reach.
Thankfully, the bedding was soft, making this half-lie down position not only comfortable but even more so than lying flat.
If it weren’t for his determination to seize the opportunity to infiltrate the palace and uncover the empress’s true identity, he might have found this position and environment quite soporific.
Fu Nian remained in this position, calmly waiting. He glanced around and noticed Li Gonggong standing by the bed, along with guards stationed at various entrances.
Not to mention the palace maids who came and went, assisting Chu Zhaoyi by administering medicine and wiping away sweat.
With so many pairs of eyes watching him, escape seemed almost impossible.
However, Fu Nian was always patient. He believed that when the effects of the potion wore off and Li Gonggong instructed him to leave, there might be a chance to slip past the crowd’s attention.
Until then, Fu Nian would lie still and quiet.
He remained like this for an unknown amount of time, watching people come and go around him. He noticed that the man in front of him seemed to breathe slightly more evenly than when he first arrived. His breath was not as labored, and his coughing had gradually subsided. Fu Nian wasn’t sure if it was the effect of the medicine or some other reason.
However, the sweat on his body and the faint shade of red persisted, and his skin remained hot.
Finally having a chance for a close observation, Fu Nian became a bit bolder. He raised his head and leaned closer to Chu Zhaoyi’s ear.
The man’s features had become even more sharp since he had last seen him. While his facial features were naturally attractive, the fierce expression combined with a flush of red brought a sharpness that was both alluring and somewhat broken.
Setting aside their past, Fu Nian admitted that the man before him was exceedingly beautiful.
The problem was, he couldn’t set aside their past. After staring at this face for so long, Fu Nian couldn’t help but feel an inexplicable anger, making him feel restless. Even the soft bedding seemed to scorch him, and he couldn’t wait to get up.
As darkness fell outside, Fu Nian finally heard the entrance of the royal physician.
“Li Gonggong, has His Majesty awakened yet?”
“No, he hasn’t. The temperature has lowered a bit, and his breathing has become steadier.”
He watched as the royal physician knelt down and checked Chu Zhaoyi’s pulse, followed by examining a few other pulse points.
“His condition has slightly improved. The medicine should be administered every hour. Since His Majesty’s breathing has stabilized, add half a coin’s worth of calming incense to the medicine, to ensure he gets proper rest.”
“I will prepare it right away.” Li Gonggong finished speaking and turned to a young eunuch nearby, saying, “Bring Chu Yao over and have him prepare the antidote before coming in.”
Hearing the familiar name, Fu Nian paused.
When the Emperor needed to be induced into a deep sleep using calming medicine, besides the guards and Gonggong, the Shadow Guard closest to him had to be present.
In the past, that person had always been Fu Nian. No other Shadow Guard had ever been given this responsibility.
Fu Nian remembered Chu Yao. He had been a member of the mansion back when Chu Zhaoyi was still a Wangye.
He recalled that Chu Yao was quite skilled, although not on par with him. He was already an exceptional member of the Shadow Guard, loyal, physically intact, and with a pleasant appearance. He had always been favored by the Emperor, especially after Chu Zhaoyi ascended the throne. The task that used to be Fu Nian’s was gradually handed over to Chu Yao.
As expected, after his departure, this task had now fallen to Chu Yao.
In less than a moment, Fu Nian heard faint footsteps on the beams above. Although they only took a step or two before stopping, he still managed to catch the sound.
Their movements were so heavy that if they were attempting an assassination, they would have been detected immediately. Although Fu Nian didn’t turn around, he couldn’t help but feel a bit contemptuous of the fellow operative’s skills.
But little did Fu Nian expect that, after mocking others, he would end up inhaling the fragrance of the calming incense mixed in the calming potion.
To avoid being affected by the calming incense, he would need to ingest the antidote beforehand.
In less than a moment, Fu Nian felt his head growing heavy. He quickly tried to sit up and motioned to Li Gonggong for the antidote.
Just as he was raising his upper body, he heard a low reprimand.
Fu Nian wanted to speak, but when he opened his mouth, no sound came out.
He couldn’t remove the face cover, nor could he remove it with his hands for now.
Other than growing increasingly anxious, there was nothing Fu Nian could do.
The feeling of drowsiness began to take over his body. Fu Nian attempted to use his left hand to write, but when he saw Li Gonggong’s lack of reaction, he remembered that Li Gonggong had very limited literacy. In the past, Fu Nian had even helped Li Gonggong with his letters. Now, writing anything would likely be incomprehensible to Li Gonggong.
… Fu Nian felt a sense of urgency but could only let the sleepiness slowly consume his consciousness.
In the end, if these officials saw him sleeping, they would probably attribute it to the fragrance and carry him out of the hall. Even if it was embarrassing, at least he wouldn’t embarrass himself in front of the Emperor.
With that thought, Fu Nian felt somewhat relieved.
As the drowsiness completely enveloped him, Fu Nian still maintained his disgusted expression toward the man in front of him.
—However, with his eyes closed, Fu Nian didn’t see the unconscious and familiar nuzzle he gave against the man’s familiar neck, curling his body like an obedient dog, silently nestling beside his master and falling into a deep sleep.
Fu Nian had a strong resistance to drugs and poisons. While he couldn’t resist the effects of the calming incense, it would at most make him sleep for half an hour.
When the time was up, Fu Nian gradually regained consciousness.
The guards around him had changed, and Li Gonggong was still standing silently by the bedside. The new bowl of medicine was left haphazardly on the table, yet to be tidied up.
Fu Nian thought to himself that he must have slept like the dead this time. He hadn’t even noticed the commotion of the palace maids coming to administer medicine to Chu Zhaoyi.
Indeed, his professionalism had taken a nosedive since leaving the palace.
Sighing inwardly, Fu Nian tried to raise himself slightly, only to realize something unusual.
He remembered that when he fell asleep, he was maintaining the posture of his right arm lightly resting against Chu Zhaoyi’s shoulder.
But upon waking up, Fu Nian realized that his face was nearly pressed against Chu Zhaoyi’s waistline. Plus, Chu Zhaoyi’s clothes were already open…
The excessively hot environment made Fu Nian’s scalp tingle.
He wanted to lift his head, but realized that there was an arm wrapped around his neck, conveniently trapping his head.
Struggling to lift his gaze from within the arm’s curve, Fu Nian found that the man before him showed no signs of waking up, and suddenly realized.
… Right, in the past, when their relationship was good enough to share a bed, it seemed like he had developed a muscle memory of nuzzling into Chu Zhaoyi’s arm.
Even if they had argued the previous night, as long as they slept on the same bed, Fu Nian would wake up the next morning to find himself curled up against Chu Zhaoyi.
So, after that, if there was a disagreement the night before, Fu Nian would consciously sleep on the floor, wait outside the room, or perch on the rafters.
But he never expected this habit from his previous life to continue into the present. Fu Nian sighed and tried to move himself, but had to be cautious, afraid of disturbing the Gonggong beside him.
A mere commoner, failing to cure His Majesty’s ailment, and now getting himself stuck in His Majesty’s embrace – one could imagine getting ten heads chopped off for that blunder.
As Fu Nian pondered, he attempted to subtly shift his head. He didn’t want to die such a miserable death.
However, this time Fu Nian had no idea how he managed to nuzzle in, fitting just right into Chu Zhaoyi’s arm. He couldn’t tilt his head enough to free himself from the arm pressing against his neck.
If he moved Chu Zhaoyi, it would definitely alert him.
Caught in a dilemma, Fu Nian cleared his throat softly, hearing a faint hoarse sound.
Although the effects of the medicine hadn’t completely worn off, he should be able to speak.
And he needed to seek help from the person nearby…
He couldn’t just tell the Gonggong, “Excuse me, could you help? I seem to be stuck in His Majesty’s embrace.”