When he heard her say this, he felt as though he’d gone back to that year, to that unconcealable bashfulness when facing her.
Rong Heng saw Meng Jingyan and Song Yuan, so naturally, they also saw him.
Meng Jingyan had only seen Song Yuan by chance, and it was only natural that he would have the urge to speak his mind with her. Long before, once he surmised that she had a boyfriend, he had completely stopped having any thoughts he shouldn’t have. He was upright and honest, and he disdained doing things that touched the bottom line of morality; he wouldn’t do such a thing as coveting someone else’s girlfriend. At this moment, when he saw Song Yuan’s boyfriend, he felt flustered and guilty. After all, before this, he had once asked her out. He didn’t want to be misunderstood, so he quickly stood up and said to Song Yuan, “Miss Song, I’m sorry for taking up your time.”
Although Song Yuan wasn’t completely clear on the inner thoughts in Meng Jingyan’s heart, when she saw his bewildered look, as though he had been caught doing something wrong, she could make a guess.
In fact, Song Yuan was generally too lazy to explain such matters–after all, she had nothing to do with Dr. Meng–but seeing this upright and refined doctor looking as though he’d done something heinous and unforgivable, she gave some thought and, withstanding Rong Heng’s intense gaze, reassured softly, “Doctor Meng, don’t misunderstand. He really is just my friend.” She paused. Remembering his wholeheartedly dedicated care towards her grandfather, she relaxed and lowered her tone. “Also, I think you’ve already fulfilled your duties as a doctor. And that person might not have regretted it. Just like you said, every person has a strong desire to survive. Even if you had kept your guard up every day, he still would have found a chance.”
Meng Jingyan’s expression grew dazed, and he asked, “Really?”
“Although it might be inappropriate for me to say this, the family members who bought the drugs and gave the injection are all adults. They weren’t necessarily unaware of the consequences. Are they making trouble right now?”
“No.” Dr. Meng shook his head. “His daughter has been thanking me.”
“I think his family has accepted this result. Maybe they thought of this possibility from the beginning.”
Dr. Meng lowered his head, then lifted it again and managed to give a smile. “My colleagues and superiors said the same thing, but it seems I overthink things1 very easily. I feel a lot better after hearing you say this. Thank you.
“I still have something to do in the inpatient unit.” Dr. Meng paused. “Miss Song, I’ll be heading up first. Do you need me to explain to your friend?”
Song Yuan shook her head. From the corner of her eye, she glanced at a certain someone standing not far away, his posture stiff.
Meng Jingyan offered Rong Heng a smile in greeting before walking to the elevator.
Rong Heng waited until Meng Jingyan left before slowly heading over to her. Seeing her sit down, he followed her actions, but he did not sit in the same spot Meng Jingyan was sitting in.
Neither one spoke at first. Rong Heng turned his head sideways and saw that she was staring at the floor.
“Rong Ting said you would be uncomfortable if you didn’t take off your makeup at night. He let me bring over some daily necessities.” Rong Heng handed her the paper bag.
Song Yuan accepted the bag, thanking him in a low voice.
He used to hate this appearance of hers the most–always having nothing to say to him, always silent, not at all like her initial cheerful self.
He had always thought that it was her silently revolting against him.
But in the years following her disappearance, he had missed her greatly. He had always thought, as long as she was here, even if she never spoke a word to him again, he would be happy.
“Rong Ting said you have a habit of drinking milk at night.” He offered her the thermos cup. “The temperature should be just right.”
Although he used Rong Ting as an excuse, Song Yuan knew this was also a result of his own efforts. If he didn’t want to do it, then nobody could force him. She felt a bit helpless. He had always been standing high above, and there were some words that she was unwilling to say too directly because she knew that he was someone who cherished his face. Or perhaps she should say that he was the kind of person who did not accept rejection. She also knew that with his cleverness, even if she didn’t say anything, he would definitely know of her resolution.
After so many years, he was still the same as before.
“You don’t need to do this.” Song Yuan said softly. People couldn’t help but speak gently in such a quiet time at night. “It’s been so many years. You know me, and I know you. What I’m thinking in my heart, you must be clear on it.”
They had once had the most intimate of relationships. The times he frowned, the times the corners of his lips had raised slightly–she had seen it all.
“I once told you that I most abhorred greedy and corrupt officials. After rising to the throne, I’ve punished no small number of officials who plundered the wealth of the people and didn’t do a single good thing for the nation’s citizens.”
“What my Emperor Father threw me into was a disaster. The national treasury was empty, and we were facing an endless war. Not long after you left, the war ended. Stability was ensured for the next several decades, and the people could finally have the opportunity to rest and recover.”
“Along the way, I encountered many obstacles, passed through wind and rain. But fortunately, everything was slowly improving.”
Song Yuan smiled as she listened to Rong Heng say these things. “That’s great ah.”
“You don’t have anything you want to ask me?” Rong Heng looked at her. “You don’t want to ask about those people you care about, what happened to them later?”
Song Yuan lowered her head, both hands cupping the thermos cup. After a long time, she slowly asked, “How are my mother and father?”
“The General said that, since the day the Madam married him, she had never had a single good day, that he was always very concerned2, and that he had once promised her to take her to see what the vast expanse3 of mountains and rivers guarded by the Meng family looked like. I sent a guard to secretly protect them. Don’t misunderstand; it isn’t with the intention of surveillance. It’s only to protect them.”
Song Yuan’s eyes quietly reddened.
She knew she shouldn’t cry any more tears, but listening to these words, she felt both happy and uncomfortable.
Happy because her mother and father must be in good health, uncomfortable because her parents had lost their son, then lost their daughter. The most painful thing was for the old to send off the young4.
She didn’t dare to ask how sad her parents were after she disappeared.
“What about Pei Lan?”
“Pei Lan has always been taking care of Rong Ting.” Rong Heng explained, “Once, I wanted to let her leave the palace, but she was unwilling. She said she couldn’t rest assured leaving Rong Ting’s daily life to others.”
Song Yuan choked up and nodded. “It’s been hard on her. She has suffered.”
“Rong Ting was at his naughtiest when he was two. The Grand Tutor once complained in private, saying that the crown prince is innately gifted. It is just that he is naughtier than ordinary children. He would often ask him questions he could not answer and even laugh at the Grand Tutor’s lacking knowledge. It was hard on the Grand Tutor; in order to answer his questions, he would often study late into the night. But the two of them have an excellent relationship. One year, when the Grand Tutor fell ill, Rong Ting made a fuss about leaving the palace to see him, and I agreed to it.
“Rong Ting always inquired about you in secret. No one in the palace dared to tell him. Only Pei Lan would be pestered by him and have no choice but to tell him a few things.”
Rong Heng slowly spoke of interesting tidbits from Rong Ting’s childhood. Song Yuan was amused from time to time.
What was clearly five years seemed to only be these few things. She had, after all, been absent during those few years.
Finally, when Rong Heng spoke of himself, he smiled self-deprecatingly. “There was one year when I became quite ridiculous, and just like an emperor from the previous dynasty, I also pursued the secret to immortality. That year, the prime minister and chancellor were secretly concerned, fearing that I would indulge in harmful medicines and ruin my body. When I was young, I had read texts on the previous dynasty and various records written by the previous dynasty’s historians, and I couldn’t understand. I only thought that the emperor was laughable. How could such a thing as immortality exist in the world? And even if there is, what meaning was there in never dying and never aging? Later, I understood. Maybe it was because he was afraid he would not live to see the person in his heart again.”
Song Yuan also smiled. She laughed and felt somewhat sad.
She stared at her hand, her ears filled with his words. The smile on her face gradually faded. “Congratulations ah, you became a good emperor. It is the people’s blessing.”
Rong Heng had heard many similar things. When he heard her say this, he felt as though he’d gone back to that year, to that unconcealable bashfulness when facing her.
“In the past, I’ve blamed you and misunderstood you.” Song Yuan lowered her head. “I figured it out later. I finally understand you. You have your ideals and ambitions. Just like you said, sitting on that throne, you have too many things where you can’t move as you’d like. You can’t sleep soundly at night, afraid that the decisions you’ve made will have a devastating impact. I also understand my brother.” When she spoke of her elder brother, she was no longer as sad as she had been before. “Dage was right–there is nobody who can truly remain uninvolved in the situation. To have talent but be unable to put it to use would be his regret. As a descendant of the Meng family, he was born to take on the mission of guarding the family and protecting the nation. Without a nation, there is no family.”
Song Yuan laughed. “Actually, I think the person who understands you best is my big brother, and the person who understands him best is you. You two appreciate each other’s talents. I don’t think dage regretted it. He would have been perfectly willing to shed blood for the country he loves.”
The two of them fell silent.
Rong Heng’s heart was sour with grief. Hearing her say that she understood him, he didn’t know what to say.
Song Yuan stood up and turned to give him a glance. “Alright, you should go back soon ba. Don’t leave Rong Ting alone for too long. The hotel room is unfamiliar to him; I’m worried he’ll be scared.”
Rong Heng also got up.
When they parted, he clearly saw that the corners of Song Yuan’s eyes were red.
She went to the elevator, and he walked towards the exit–two different directions.
Rong Ting was not too picky about where he slept5, but the hotel bed was a bit soft for his taste, and the smell on the pillow was also unfamiliar. He woke up once in the middle of the night, only to find that he was alone. He didn’t know where Emperor Father had gone.
It was a suite with a large bed inside. The outer area was equivalent to a study.
Rong Ting slipped out of bed. Because the room was covered with a thick carpet, he didn’t put on slippers. He came to the door of the bedroom and peeked out into the study, where he happened to see Emperor Father sitting in front of the desk, his expression dazed.
It was three-thirty in the morning.
Had Emperor Father been awake the entire time? What was Emperor Father thinking about?
 钻牛角尖: lit. to penetrate into a bull’s horn; to waste time on an insignificant or insoluble problem
 提心吊胆: to be very scared and on edge
 万里山河: ten thousand li (~500 m) of mountains and rivers
 白发人送黑发人: lit. white-haired people sending off the black-haired people
 认床: to have difficulties sleeping in a bed that’s not your own
Cheese: long paragraphs are the bane of my existence