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228 The Artist, the Wine, the Poetry

    "What?"

    She blinked a few times, shrinking back, a flush creeping up her cheeks.

    Zixu blinked too, his expression not changing. Eyebrows rising, he repeated, "I'm a man and a son. It is my job to be filial to my father. You suggested for me to just go through things without a care for my father's approval. To do so would be a largely irresponsible act, to both my father and my family. I can't just do whatever I want because I feel like it. That's simply ridiculous," he laughed, then leaned back to where he was originally.

    Yujia's eyes widened and she nodded slowly, calming her heartbeat which she swore jumped up into a rate in the thousands the moment she heard Zixu say "don't you remember that I'm a man?"

    She interpreted it wrong. She was just plain stupid and interpreted an innocent phrase like this in a completely different manner.

    Heavens, why was she overthinking things like that? Bless the fact that it was becoming so dark outside that Zixu probably- hopefully- couldn't see the red that was dying down on her cheeks.

    "Why did you act so surprised about that, anyways?" Zixu questioned, looking at her.

    "Sorry," she replied, waving her hands in front of her, "I just, totally interpreted that wrong. It's nothing- you're fine."

    Zixu held out his jug of wine to her, exhaling then saying, "Cheers, I suppose."

    "Cheers to what?" There seemed to be nothing that Zixu could celebrate- just plain depression and failure.

    He laughed, clearly understanding where Yujia's confusion was coming from. In a humming voice, he drawled, "Cheers to drinking away all of your worries, to letting go of all of the mortal struggles. This evening, with such a beautiful full moon casting light down from the clear skies, a light breeze threading through the air, and all of this paired with sweet wine and empty words, we will drink like immortals- without worry."

    Yujia relented, raising her jug at him too, then taking a long sip. When she finished with her drink, she looked back up at Zixu, saying, "How do you know that the immortals have no worries?"

    Zixu shrugged. "I don't imagine that immortals exist. But if they did, I'd imagine that they will not be tied down to the things that mortals like us are so tethered to. And without ties, there are no connections, and when there are no connections- nothing left to fear- there is no worry."

    His eyes caught a glimmer of the moonlight. Yujia looked up at the moon, imagining the immortals that lived there.

    Surely, immortals didn't exist. Her modern self would've thought the same as Zixu. But after transmigrating, she wasn't so sure about the supernatural things anymore.

    Yujia gently said, her voice low, "Perhaps immortals do exist, with their only worry being the lack of worries they have."

    "If that could be my only worry," Zixu replied, "I would be content."

    "So, you are one with many worries?" Yujia prodded on with a question.

    "Of course. I tend to think of every way that something can go wrong- optimism has failed me too many times for me to believe in it again. Just today, I had the slightest bit of optimism, but look where that ended me up at. Though," he paused, letting out a short breath that sounded perhaps like a laugh, but more of a sigh, "I suppose drinking with you is not too bad either."

    Zixu seemed to be getting drunker and drunker as each moment passed. She could tell from the way that he spoke, his words all drawn out, eyes looking blurrily in the distance at nothing in particular.

    From this observation of Zixu's drunken state, Yujia leaned to the side, as if she was getting a better look at the moon, but in reality, she was glancing at Zixu's left hand, which still held her hairpin.

    She wanted to get that back, along with the jade pendant.

    Should she ask now, before Zixu became any drunker?

    Thinking about the last time she visited the Yu Villa, where Zixu had fainted on her, Yujia didn't particularly want to deal with dragging Zixu's unconscious body around again. Since it was getting dark, Yujia wasn't sure where she would find a servant to help her. Thus, it wouldn't be good for him to drink so much that he blacked out or fell asleep.

    Yujia moved herself to sit right in front of Zixu, catching his attention. She looked him straight in the eye, then said, "You should stop drinking now, before things get out of control."

    Zixu waved his hand and shook his head. "No, no, I know how much more I can drink. I can still drink quite a while. Let me do so. And you, if you don't want that wine, I'll take it."

    Yujia immediately pulled her jug of wine a little closer to her. "No, that's my wine."

    "The wine that I gave you," Zixu chuckled.

    She noticed that he laughed more when he was drunk. It was rare to hear a genuine laugh from a sober Zixu, and though his drunken laugh surely sounded different, it was still a nice sound: soft but deep, with his face lighting up and his eyes crinkling with his smile.

    "Drinking good wine always makes me feel like a poet," Zixu went off on a complete tangent.

    His fingers tapped through the air, as if he was playing an invisible melody, or threading words that only he could see together.

    "A cup of wine under silver moonlight,

    it is only I who drinks alone.

    A friend beside me who shares my woes,

    yet still, the light-"

    Zixu's words cut off abruptly, and he shook his head, dismissing the lines he just thought of with a wave of his hand.

    "It's not good enough. My lines are horrible," he lamented.

    Yujia disagreed, "I thought they were fine."

    "No, no. You don't understand." He took his jug of wine, arching his head back to drink the last few drops. When Zixu didn't find any in there, he carelessly tossed the jug to the side in the grass.

    "I'm out- give me some of yours-"

    Zixu reached forward for her wine, which Yujia protectively held closer to herself. For some reason, she was feeling possessive of this wine, or maybe it was the fact that she didn't want to deal with a Zixu at a risk for blacking out.

    "It's my wine! You can't have it-" Yujia protested again, leaning back as Zixu pressed forward.

    Zixu stopped for a second, eyebrows raising. "You're not even drinking it, why put it to waste?"

    Without waiting for her to say any other words, he grabbed it from her, then took a long sip. When he was done, he looked up. "Tastes the same, like I expected." And then, he just sighed again, falling back into the grass, eyes looking up to the moon.

    Yujia stared at her poor jug of wine- now stolen by Yu Zixu- but then her eyes glanced back to the hairpin he held in his hand.

    Now- it was the perfect opportunity.

    She suddenly stopped leaning back, sitting forward as she grabbed at the hairpin in Zixu's left hand. Zixu, instead of dodging by sitting up or moving over, only flinched his arm with the hairpin over.

    And that was how, a fraction of a second later, Yujia found herself one hand cupped over Zixu's hand with the hairpin, her other hand pressed into the grass next to his head, and her face hanging over Zixu's face. Her hair, all loose, tumbled over her shoulder, draping over the two of them.

    Stunned, she could only fix her eyes on Zixu's expression. It was a fleeting moment that only lasted a couple of seconds, yet this same moment felt unnaturally long when she thought back to it in the future.

    Yujia could only take in Zixu's half-smile etched onto his thin lips, his dark brows above his drowsy gaze, the perfect slope of his nose and all the sharp angles of his face, with the cold and delicate moonlight highlighting every little detail.

    Yujia blinked- that was how long the moment lasted, a single blink- then Zixu's lips parted. He whispered, "Your hands are freezing."

    She flinched back, the moment that just occured pressing into her memories, repeating over and over again in her thoughts.

    Yujia's eyes frantically glanced around, at Zixu, who was now sitting up, his hand which still held the hairpin, and then at her own hands.

    What was this? The third time that Yujia fell over on Zixu, counting the time in the carriage and the time where she almost fell on him only about an hour ago?

    She wanted to cover her face and shrivel up in embarrassment.

    "Sorry," Yujia quickly blurted out, not even daring to look over at Zixu while standing up and dusting herself off, "And anyways, I think it's about time that I should go. It's getting late."

    Zixu stood up as well, his movements making her glance over at him. He allowed one word to fall from his lips.

    "Alright."

    Then, he reached forward, taking her hand and returning the hairpin he kept from her all along. He uncurled her fingers, pressing the pin into her palm. The movements of his hand were delicate, as if Yujia's hands were made of easily shattered glass. And when his skin brushed against hers, his hand was warm- much warmer than hers. Yujia hadn't noticed before, but maybe Zixu was right. Maybe her hands were freezing.

    "I suppose it's time that you become a Junior Brother again, and I become a Senior Brother," he murmured.

    "Yes." Yujia forced a smile, taking the hairpin and clumsily tying her hair back with it. When she was finished, she politely bowed. "Farewell, Senior Brother. You should rest early."

    He nodded. "Should I send you home?"

    "No, I can go by myself. It's only a short distance away, and I don't want to trouble you."

    "Alright then. Get home safe."

    ...

    On the way back to Lingxin, Yujia blankly stared at the path in front of her.

    Shoot. She realized that one of the main reasons for why she went to visit Zixu today- to get her pendant back- was never fulfilled.

    But still, it felt like today was a good day. Despite what happened to Zixu, she felt a bit closer to him, perhaps?

    She reached up to cup her hands around her burning cheeks, recalling how Zixu took her hand with his gentle movements, placing the hairpin in her palm.

    This was just... normal behavior with a senior brother and junior sister, right? She was just overthinking any potential meaning about it, right? It was all normal. Normal, normal, normal...?

    Yujia's face scrunched up.

    Her face was probably flushed, all heated up, but that had to be because of the alcohol, and nothing else. And even though Yujia knew that she was in denial, she couldn't bring herself to admit to the truth.
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