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234 The Artist Deals With Consequences

    Yang Yujia thought that she had the upper hand. She thought that she had a good plan in mind- win a game of five-by-five tic-tac-toe with Yu Zixu.

    She intended to carry out the exact same trick as last time, where she fooled Bo Zhizhong and got the chance to draw cat whiskers on him. After all, she thought, Yu Zixu didn't know the same strategies as her. Even if he was super smart, when it came to tic-tac-toe, she would still have the upper hand and prior experience, right?

    Clearly, she thought wrong.

    The first game, with a simple three-in-a-row, ended in a tie. This should've been a fair warning for Yujia that things were not going to turn out right.

    In the game of five-by-five that they played, Yujia thought she was winning at first. Yet unlike Bo Zhizhong, who made bold moves without much careful thought, every move that Zixu made was with plenty of careful analysis. Whenever it came to his turn to play, he seemed hesitant to draw on the grid. And so, just like that, with Zixu's careful moves, what Yujia thought was a clear win for her slowly transformed into a loss.

    By the end, it was clear that she had lost.

    She ended up staring at the messy grid drawn on the paper, wondering what mistakes she exactly made to get to this point.

    Meanwhile, Zixu smiled his usual close-lipped smile, leaning back. He set the brush in his hand down, casting his eyes across the grid before dragging his gaze back to her.

    "What did you say that the prize was again, for the winner?" he asked, though Yujia was sure that he knew already, and was just purposefully messing with her.

    "The winner gets to do one thing to the loser," she mumbled with a scowl.

    "What were you planning on doing? I'm curious," Zixu asked again.

    At this, Yujia looked up, quick to defend herself, "I wasn't planning on doing anything too serious! I was just going to... draw some cat whiskers on your face." One of her hands went up to cover her face, her cheeks reddening. Still, she couldn't hold back a bit of laughter. "I know it sounds ridiculous. But that's why I thought it would be funny. So- you better not do anything serious either!"

    "Hm."

    Zixu didn't say much, his fingers twirling the brush that he picked up again. He observed the grid and paper in front of him again, as if he was thinking about the different moves that he could've played.

    Yujia waited, in dread. She realized that possibly, by not saying anything, Zixu was just building up more of the suspense.

    God, this man was a bit of a sadist sometimes.

    Then, breaking her anticipation, Chef Hong called out from the front of the kitchens, "Girlie! Come here."

    Yujia, more than glad to run away from her current situation, jumped up, going to Chef Hong.

    "I need to go to the market real quick," the chef explained, "The servants are absolute idiots. I always tell them to not buy these kinds of cabbage-" she furiously pointed at the cabbage on the table, which Yujia could honestly not see anything wrong with, "but they keep doing it. They never learn! And now I have to pick the cabbage myself. Absolute idiots, I'm dealing with, I tell you."

    Chef Hong paused, glancing over at the stove. "So, watch my soup for me, alright?" she asked, "It should still have a while before it's ready, but just... make sure the entire kitchen doesn't catch on fire or anything. I would ask Lili to do these things, but that girl is off to who-knows-where. If you see her come back, tell her I'm looking for her. For now, though, just watch the soup."

    "Ah, okay. I can do that," Yujia agreed.

    With the explanation spoken, Chef Hong then left the kitchen, leaving Yujia alone with Zixu.

    Yujia stood by the stove, intently watching it as if there was nothing else in the world which could possibly interest her more. When Zixu called out to her with a "Junior Sister", she responded rather simply.

    "Sorry, I'm busy... watching soup boil."

    She prayed that he wasn't about to ask anything too ridiculous of her. He couldn't. He shouldn't.

    As she stared at the soup, Yujia heard the shuffling of fabric, like the sounds of someone getting up. Zixu made his way over to her, holding a brush in one hand and an inkstone in the other.

    "I decided what I want to do," he stated, head tilted.

    "Really?" Yujia winced, bracing herself. "What, then?"

    Zixu kept his smile. "Since you were planning to paint some cat whiskers on my face, I might as well do the same to you. Come, step a little closer, and let me draw on your face."

    Yujia narrowed her eyes and laughed. "You're for real?"

    "I got the ink and all." He set the inkstone he was carrying down on the counter that stood between them.

    Zixu then leaned against the counter and picked up his brush. He gestured with his left hand for her to come a little closer. "You don't plan on eating your own words, do you?"

    "No, no, of course not," she immediately disagreed, "That would... not be fair."

    Yujia could finally see how Zhizhong was so adamant against the idea of her painting on his face now. Though it didn't really seem like a bad thing, the idea was still fairly embarrassing. And if Zixu didn't let her wash it off, it would be pretty humiliating to go around Lingxin like this.

    Still, however, she couldn't be a sore loser. Dropping her excuse of watching soup, she moved herself directly across to Zixu, propping her two elbows on the countertop and setting her chin on her hands.

    "Paint whatever," Yujia grumbled with a sigh.

    "Alright."

    Zixu's voice was a bit quieter, now that the two were in such close proximity. She noticed that he generally spoke with a softer tone like this, the volume of his voice always appropriate for the situation, and calming to others around him.

    He dipped the tip of the brush in the ink, beginning by delicately drawing a single line across the left side of her face. At the cold touch of the ink, Yujia's face unintentionally recoiled back a little, making Zixu reach out with his left hand. He cupped the side of her face, keeping her from moving, his touch gentle and warm.

    She expected his skin to be icy to touch, but it was surprisingly much warmer. And with their faces so close to each other, it was just like last night, when she accidentally fell on top of Zixu. She could see all the details of his features perfectly, and she couldn't help those memories- the ones of moonlight cast over Zixu's expressionless face- from rising up.

    Yujia imagined that her face was burning up, but if it was, Zixu didn't say anything. Perhaps he was too focused on drawing the lines to realize, except then again, it was Yu Zixu who was drawing right now. Yu Zixu, the one who never failed to notice anything.

    No words were exchanged through this process, Yujia keeping herself as still as possible. She tried to focus on the sensation of ink against her skin more, and less on Zixu's face, so close to hers.

    Was this what Bo Zhizhong felt like when she was drawing on his face? Surely not. When she did it back then, to him, it felt like a brother and sister moment. There was nothing that felt quite as off, or just a little bit awkward, like it did right now.

    Though, Yujia had to admit that despite the fact that she was generally one who hated awkwardness, she didn't mind the scenario right now. This time, the awkwardness wasn't too uncomfortable, really. It was more describable by a fluriness in her stomach and the thudding of her heart, making her question if what she was feeling right now could necessarily be called "awkwardness".

    But in the next moment, Zixu leaned away. With him less close now, a decent space put between the two of them, Yujia didn't feel anything anymore, making her push the reason for that awkwardness from before to just the inevitable embarrassment whenever any two people were so close together.

    Zixu, getting a stepped-back view of her face, actually allowed a single chuckle of amusement to escape from him.

    Yujia flinched back from the counter, a hand raising up to touch her face before she stopped herself, realizing that it was probably not a good idea to smear her fingers against wet ink.

    "You look wonderful. Don't worry," he hummed.

    She realized, after his words, that she had not been able to focus completely on the brush and the ink. She had no idea what he painted on her face.

    "Did you... paint whiskers?" she questioned.

    Zixu took a seat. "Maybe. Maybe not."

    Upon hearing this, Yujia immediately scanned the kitchen, looking for any traces of a mirror. She didn't find one, but she saw her next best option- a large bowl of water.

    Yujia rushed over to the bowl, leaning over and taking a look at her reflection.

    Looking back at her was a girl with what she predicted- three cat whiskers drawn on both sides of the face, and a bit of ink underlining the nose. However, at a closer look, Yujia realized that this wasn't a cat, based on the stripes Zixu drew on her forehead.

    "You made me into a... tiger?" she exclaimed.

    "I figured a cat would be too simple, for someone like you." he replied.
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