on the road trip back, instead of properly napping off my hotel-induced insomnia, my brain was like: what if vague wuxia omega-archy harem palace drama au with empress zh and pow captured prince gj

literally The most indulgent au ever for me to have zh have a kid from each of the helenhan exes trio but all of them are like harem members on Probation by the time gj is brought to the kingdom after the war is over bc xk is a good captain, sf is a good general, and mr is a

good advisor but they all make Less Than Great consorts so they’re just like. knots on probation. but the kids r all cute !

none of them are married to zh - the way it works is they have to get him pregnant first, successfully, and the baby has to live until his or her first year, and Then zh can consider making them an actual consort. but none of them managed to Not Flop as a partner in that first

year (sf actually flopped during zh’s second trimester with their son) so Thus, zh has concubines and they’re acknowledged as the fathers of the princesses and prince but that’s that.

zh and mr did the Do for zh’s coronation and coming-of-age when zh was 18, but zh didn’t get pregnant with their daughter, the oldest princess, until zh was 19. then mr flopped. then zh took a couple of years to Be Single and do empress things and ignore his councilmen telling

him to stop wasting his precious borthing years, so he’s like Well. and xk, his captain and friend, was like. There. so that happened, zh was 24 and got pregonate right away with another princess and xk flopped too so that was That. zh Really wanted to Be Single for a while, so

he was, but war was coming up and they were taking lands and all that so the council was like YOUR HIGHNESS PLS so zh was like….k. except he actually was in Like/Crush with sf and since zh didn’t kno if sf was gonna be murked when he went off to war, they also decided to do the

do, and zh got knocked up right away again at 27 with their son (crown prince - councilmen fist bump) except when zh is 4mo along, sf asks if sf can Do some Do’s when he’s off at war but he will for sure ! keep zh in mind while doing those do’s. so that’s that.

gj is the youngest prince out of 5 from an opposing kingdom who wants to keep as much land as they can after they lost it in horrible Decisions made by gj’s oldest brother - and they tried to fight a war to mitigate those horrible decisions but that went just as horribly so gj is

their end of the deal in begging zh to let them keep at least 50% of their kingdom and have the other 50% only loosely under zh’s rule.

gj hates 3 outta 4 of his brothers, but he also already obv has a preconceived notion of what the Big Bad empress is going to be like and hates that image in his head as well.

when zh agreed to the council’s suggestion of getting the youngest prince, zh’s expectation and plan was: have the youngest prince live here in the palace as a visiting prince and foster better relations what sf reads bEtWeEn the lines of zh’s letter: he a slave now lolz

zh, literally, when sf shows up with gj in a cage:

this entire scenario is made at least 15x worse by the fact that zh came out into the main courtyard holding his and sf’s infant son, and while zh is mr. krabs-ing, sf is all “ruo ruo ! baba has returned-“ and is about to reach out when zh snatches their baby back, and stares

at sf like ????? “baba needs to explain why his abilities in reading comprehension are as lacking as they were in his academy days.”

i am here, this sweltering monday morning, to say that jz have 5 kids.

The mr Story: zh and mr were childhood friends bc mr’s dad and uncle were both royal tutors, and mr’s dad happened to be zh’s, and so mr also was allowed to just learn beside zh at the same time under his own father. mr’s family were all Very Happy about that for obv reasons.

everything was Fine and Dandy through them being puppy first loves, real fIrSt loVes, getting informally betrothed (mr’s family basically ascending by this point), mr being approved as the one to take zh’s virginity and potentially be the First Sire in the harem when zh had his

coming-of-age ceremony. everything was fine until zh took a year to get pregonate, which No One was expecting bc zh’s physicians said he was in tip top shape and his heats were Strong. so mr was under both blame And pressure and, in turn, lashed out at zh and there was

One (1) big fight where mr called him some Names, and then after that they had a round of rly horrible s*x, that very ironically, finally got zh pregonate. and bc mr was zh’s first Everything, zh tried so hard to make it work, esp since mr seemed genuinely contrite, but after

chuhua was born, and mr started making comments about how zh Needs to use a wet nurse bc it’s Insane otherwise and zh can’t get pregante again As Soon, zh was like Aight ! I m Done !

xiao hua looks exActly like zh, and mr’s mother, who zh still actually rly is fond of to this day sadly, keeps asking mr Why hasnt mr given her another grandchild with the empress and Why isn’t he a Husband yet.

The xk Story: it’s been 4yrs since the princess was born, there’s been 0 husbands, 0 consort, 0 candidates even, and worst of all - 0 babies, so the council are like Please and by Please we mean Now, like how about captain xu ? your highness’s good friend ? and zh is like What

zh is still kinda young, his parents Passed Away since before he was an adolescent even, so some of the council are kinda like his uncles, and he believes them when they say that Maybe the problem between him and the young advisor was that there was Too much passion between them

and contrary to youthful belief ! passion makes a relation Less stable ! friendship and compromise and civility is what makes a marriage ! like you and captain xu ! and zh is like …..mebbe y’all right.

xk was literally A Friend one day and the next day zh was pregonate, and it probably would’ve worked out if xk just kept doing what he did while he was zh’s friend, but since xk had had a cRuSh on zh since zh was peragnante with ch, xk started lording around like he was Already

zh’s husband, once meilien was born. and since zh didn’t have romantic feelings for xk to begin with, it was a pretty quick “this has been fun but let’s just Not”

lien’er looks just like her baba so very bug-eyed and cute and Very Tall - even though her hua-jiejie is 5yrs older than her, after toddler-hood, she’s only ever like a head shorter than chuhua.

when lien’er is just under 2 months old, and zh has just finally ended things with xk, zh sits in lien’er’s nursery, with the room barred so no servants can barge in. he sits there, in the middle of the night, just leaking milk into his robes without trying to wipe it or change,

while his new baby sleeps, and zh cries silently. bc even though it’s considered a sign of wealth and riches and being heaven’s son to be able to have all these healthy kids from diff alphas, it’s not what zh wanted.

zh’s mom had so much trouble conceiving him and in the end, zh had no siblings bc zh’s mom refused to be with anyone else after zh’s dad passed away from the illness that made it difficult to conceive zh in the first place. and even though the council and the court always had

good things to say about zh’s mom as an empress, they always spoke about zh’s lack of siblings as an Enormous Failure on her part, but all zh remembers is how much his parents loved each other - that’s what he wanted.

zh loves his daughters so much, and even though his mom had been that way, he knows his kunze grandfather had had his aunts and uncles with somewhere upwards of 10 different qianyuan - so just 2 for 2 shouldn’t feel like the end of the world (the council and court are actually

treating this like it’s Great which it technically is), but with everything floating muddled in his head right after giving birth, and xk, and mr being mr about zh having another qy’s baby, zh just feels so alone and so doomed.

another reason zh decided to end things with xk is as soon as their daughter was born, xk went from doting on chuhua to acting like she was the plague that would infect and murk xk’s own daughter and he started referring to her as “the advisor’s child”

it doesn’t help that zh caught mr starting to tell chuhua Things about how diedie wont have time for her anymore once the New Baby is here, and spinning the New Sibling Arrival in the worst way possible to a little 4yrold.

zh ended up having to threaten both xk and mr about no longer getting to see their daughters whenever they want if he ever caught wind of this type of behavior again, and zh just becomes more and more mentally exhausted having to sort out constant tiffs like this.

The sf Story: zh and sf actually have also known each other since zh was betrothed to mr - and between zh ending it with mr and being with xk for that short time, zh and sf fooled around during that time, just not ever during zh’s heat and no penetration otherwise bc zh obv

didn’t want another child yet, and didn’t want to give sf the commitment of becoming part of the harem - sf was still rising thru military ranks, and also just seemed to be in it for the fun, not the position of a harem qy.

neither of zh’s daughters was a kz, and they also weren’t sons, and sf was about to go to war after recently making general And the council didn’t want another 4yr dry spell, so they basically just told zh that nothing could go wrong with sf - zh has known him for So Long and

done the equivalent of a true courtship before committing to having a child with him aND he might d*e in war So ? zh, personally, thought a lot could still go wrong, but he actually did really like sf, and since that time with xk was just a one-time-heat and nothing more, zh

hadn’t Been Been with anyone romantically after mr other than sf sorta so Well Okay !

zh’s heat with sf lasts an Entire Week, and zh thinks it’s probably bc he actually enjoyed it the entire time, even better than it had been with xk. zh gets pergonant right away, and then sf rides off to war, but not without telling zh that, as a Heads Up, zh should expect that

sf needs to find Other Kunze to meet his needs out there, in the tents, on the frontlines, so his mind stays clear - as a general, so he can lead the men efficiently. zh, 2mo pregnant, stares and blinks for a long moment, and at last, tells sf back with a smile, “most

definitely, general. general zhang should absolutely not hesitate to have his needs met while on the battlefield, and when he returns, he can continue meeting his needs with anyone else but this empress.”

sf Story Epilogue: there’s a lull in the war bc the opposing side (the kingdom gj is from) asked for a retreat/reprieve, so sf does go back to the palace during zh’s 8th month, and his first words to zh are, “zhehan, are you certain you should be /this/ large?”

considering in that 8th month, or in the 9th one, a week before sf needs to leave again, he tries to Do some more Do’s with an alr very uncomfortable, about to pop, empress, i’d say u shoulda bet higher 🤡

sf goes before ruojian is born and comes back a month after, when the war ends and the treaties and Deal is being finalized (before he goes again - and that’s the time when he escorts gj back). sf’s Entire stay, that time, consisted of one (1) kiss to zh’s cheek, telling him

how relieved sf is that the birth went well. one (1) kiss to his son’s head while holding him for five (5) minutes total. three (3) hours gloating and then subsequently arguing with xk and mr (once again, right outside of zh’s room where he’s Literally trying to nurse a baby)

about how sf is the father of the crown prince, and should thusly be higher than xk and mr both in harem ranks.

gj’s opinion, before meeting zh, was already obviously swayed by the kingdom he’s from and his brothers, but it was probably Cemented in by all of sf Being sf since he was the one who went back and forth between the two kingdoms to seal the deal for the prince hand-over.

sf made it sound like he was zh’s First Husband who zh was passionately in love with and gj came to the natural conclusion that the empress must also be a piece of work if he went into a love marriage, and had a child, with This.

gj was actually stunned speechless, his mind wiped Blank, the first time he saw zh, bc gj judged sf as the kinda patriotic and also self-centered douchebag to lie-brag about the empress he managed to bed to be stunningly beautiful when they were probably just Okay at best.

like gj is out here with his entire body bruised up, cuts drying blood, malnourished and dehydrated from the journey back (all done by sf and his men), and his quiet rage and hatred still go on a 30-second Reprieve to give center spotlight to the Singular thought: empress pretty

second thought is: that’s a cute baby 😂 and then third thought onwards is back to hatred and quiet rage

after zh has had gj taken up to the rooms that had alr been prepared for him, told sf that he’ll be Dealt With Later, and after zh knows gj has been given a bath, clothes, seen the physician, and had some dinner sent up, zh goes alone, stands at the foot of gj’s bed like zh is

a servant, and bows at his waist to apologize to gj. gj doesn’t look at zh, keeps picking at the food on the tray in his lap, and says, “anything i want, your highness? i want to see as little of your face as i can be spared in this forsaken kingdom, is what i want.”

and since zh’s objective is just to have gj live his life peacefully and happily at court, since zh himself doesn’t need to be in the picture, zh just bows himself out after replying with a quiet, “this empress understands.”

zh has xy (zh’s other advisor, but one that he Obviously trusts more than mr) messenger back and forth little missives every few days with gj, and tells xy to explain to gj that zh needs to send reports to gj’s brothers on how he’s doing month to month. zh doesn’t have xy tell gj

it’s also a way for zh to know if anyone is mistreating gj - something zh had originally planned to know from face-to-face conversations every now and then, but if gj doesn’t want to see zh, zh is going to listen to that request.

after gj briefly mentions in a missive about reading as a pastime, zh tells xy to tell gj about the libraries and also makes xy swear to act like xy just thought of this out of the blue by himself.

which then leads to this

then to this

reminder: xiao hua looks like her diedie A Lot, and gj notices it immediately when he first meets her. their first meeting, for everyone’s information, is with gj spreading a book open on a low table hidden away in a corner window, and a pair of round eyes staring at him from

down the aisle of books leading to the table. the little girl doesn’t say anything - just plops down onto the cushion across from gj and watches him quietly while he ignores her and starts to read.

gj knows this Must be one of the princesses, and he’s honestly just biding time until she throws a tantrum for whatever reason - he’s even Hoping for it, so he can be proven right that the empress’s kids are just as horrible as everyone else is. unfortunately, all the little

princess does is sit there quietly. at some point she brings out what gj is pretty sure are dried plums from her skirts and she starts chomping down on them like she hasnt eaten for days. Then - when gj finally closes his book, she says politely, “can shushu sit somewhere else

next time? that’s my seat. i can help shushu find another seat, next time.” gj is so confused, that he just nods, out of how startled he is, and watches her flounce away with her sticky plums.

gj sits in the seat Next to that princess’s seat after that, and she comes every day, the same times he comes - early afternoon, with various dried fruit - to sit in her seat and read quietly next to him. the only children he’s been around within active memory are his nieces and

nephews, all of whom avoid him like a disease because of his brothers’ words against gj.

at first, gj thinks she’s ignoring him the way his nieces and nephews do, but some time into that second afternoon, she scoots him some sticky persimmon - right onto his hand, staining his own fingers as well. “diedie says if you eat while reading, you can read more,” she says,

with all the air of a mountain sage. gj doesn’t want anything to do with anything her /diedie/ suggests, but he also doesn’t think a bite of fruit is worth the trouble of dealing with an upset child. he nods in vague agreement for her, and eats the fruit.

on the third day, she asks him what his favorite fruit is while she plies him with candied peach slices. on the fourth day, she unloads at least thirty lychee from her skirts onto the table, clearly expecting him to start peeling right then and there. he ends up peeling them

all for her. after that, gj loses track of the days precisely. he just knows that going into those quiet, book-filled rooms, the air smelling like parchment and old ink, and sitting quietly next to xiao hua, is the only way he’s staying sane in this palace.

but, like with all things in gj’s life, neither peace nor quiet joy ever lasts long. it’s a day for dried plums, once again (gj has confirmed that those are her own personal favorite), and she’s trying to unstick two slices to give one to him when they both hear the library doors

open. “xiao hua?” a voice that gj hasn’t hear since the day he arrived - one of the dozens of voices filled with scorn and disgust as the eyes it pairs with gazed at him through the bars of a cage. “are you spoiling your dinner in here again?”

the little girl’s eyes go comically wide, the guilty pout that only a child can turn into something both adorable and forgivable. “baba’s here - i’ll hide - shushu can hide me, too,” she says conspiratorially, waving her hands almost in excitement. gj is about to suggest that

that sounds like a horrendous idea, considering who /baba/ is, but she’s already ducking down underneath the table and half-under gj’s robes. “xiao hua, if you don’t finish your dinner again, the cooks will be told not to give - “

gj finds himself staring up at the first royal advisor, while the first royal advisor only has eyes for his daughter, crouched down like a goblin beneath gj’s robes, beneath the table. “baba, i only had five plums - i promise, the rest i gave to shushu,” xiao hua says glumly.

gj has barely drawn the breath to lie for xh that he has eaten All the plums himself when he’s being grabbed, first by the front of his robes in a pair of fists, then shoved back by the shoulders until his back collides with the nearby wall. he’s momentarily startled into

speechlessness at the sight of the advisor wrenching his daughter to her feet and pushing her behind him. “i know your kinsmen engaged in barbaric practices, but not to this extent,” he says, his voice filled once again with icy disgust as he rounds on gj.

“and what,” gj says, his own voice coming out flat and empty - he feels numb and cold all at the same time, “practices are those, advisor?” xh is twisting and wrestling in her father’s grasp with admirable relentlessness, her round eyes trying to meet gj’s but he can’t look at

her right now. he won’t be numb anymore if he does - he might vibrate with rage at the unfairness of it all, he might shout, he might break down into the pieces that he’s barely held together. he might frighten her, and she might believe him the monster her father says he is.

the advisor never answers. instead, he scolds down once at his daughter, under his breath, tone harsh, “zhang chuhua, if you don’t stand still, the library will be forbidden for more than just a month from you - running away from your nurse like that.” in the next moment, the

advisor fixes gj with a gaze overflowing with burning hatred, and calls, /shouts/, crisp and clear towards the open doors of the library, “guards!”

in the chaos of his arrest, gj sees, out of the corner of his eye, xiao hua finally wrenching free from her father’s grasp, eyes wet, turning away and sprinting out of the library without even a last look at gj.

back to this as a reminder: [hand waves] so we can get to the goodt goodt stuff

two days after Everything, and after gj is in a Little less pain - after zh has been in and out, and stayed, a couple of times - gj notices the shuffling sound he’s been constantly hearing (since he’s only still been able to lie on his stomach) is the sound of xh’s slippers.

once gj gave zh permission to linger, zh has been almost entirely at gj’s bedside, only speaking what’s been necessary and keeping to the role of a physician’s assistant. gj has wondered dryly how the kingdom can even run with zh always here for two entire days. and during those

two entire days, zh hasn’t mentioned anything about his oldest daughter, so gj had assumed that even with the misunderstanding cleared, xh has still already been told to no longer come near gj.

yet, with the way the pain and guilt Still haven’t faded from the empress’s eyes every time he comes to change gj’s bandaging - regardless of how many times gj has exasperatedly repeated that he understands and believes zh this time - gj can’t imagine that the empress would

give his daughter that order. even more so, now, as he watches xh trying her apparent best to stay out of gj’s sight while keeping him in hers.

“xiao gongzhu,” gj says, trying to keep the faint amusement from his voice so the little girl doesn’t mistake it for mockery. “you can come in, you know - this is your palace.” when xh shuffles forward, into gj’s direct line of sight, he at last sees why she’s been dragging her

steps. in her arms is a large wooden box, half-wrapped in a carrying cloth. it must weigh nearly all of her own body weight. her face is also covered in highly un-princess-like snot and tears, red and puffy. several of her many flower pins are starting to slip out of her hair.

gj sighs, and as hard as he’s tried, he gives up on his efforts and lets himself smile with all the humor he feels. “put that down,” he says gently. xh snuffles, and does what he tells her to do. the box hits the floor with a thud that confirms gj’s estimate on its weight.

“come here,” gj says next, and once she’s shuffled within arms reach of him, he draws her closer as best he can with the position he’s in. he wipes her nose with one finger, and her tears with another. “why is xiao hua crying?” he asks matter-of-factly.

he manages to piece together through more snuffling and tears that seem to be reinvigorated upon seeing gj up close and him hugging her even with just one arm. “shushu almost died,” she hiccups, swiping at her own eyes again with silk sleeves that have definitely already been

ruined. “because of me. and - and diedie said if shushu never wants to see me again, i h-have to u-understand.” the last part is wailed loudly enough that gj instinctively looks towards the open door of his room to see if he’s about to be accused a second time.

gj wipes her renewed tears and renewed snot with his own sleeve, this time. then, he moves his hand down to grasp her elbow firmly. “i invited xiao hua into my room, right? does it seem like shushu never wants to see you again?” she stops crying for just long enough to point

miserably back at the box. “because i brought fruit,” she reasons, wiping at her face again. “and candy.”

gj sighs, unable to keep entirely from letting slip a puff of laughter. he tries to tuck back some of the locks of hair that have stuck onto her cheeks from the tears. “shushu doesn’t know what’s in the box, xiao hua. and who said shushu almost died?”

she’s started pulling out some of her more wayward flower pins, content with throwing them to the floor near where the box sits. “diedie told baba that he could’ve killed shushu,” she says, her face once again adopting an expression that suggests gj is already dead.

gj feels himself smiling again, feels himself exasperated and warm - oddly - again. “xiao hua’s diedie worries too much. shushu isn’t that weak.” if anything, somehow those words seem to send the little girl bristling indignantly. “that’s what ruoruo’s baba said,” she says in

a whisper, hands cupped around her frowning mouth. “then diedie told him to go try it on himself and then diedie saw me and asked me if i heard and i said no - but shushu can’t tell diedie i heard.”

“zhang chuhua,” a firm voice calls from the doorway. xh’s expression absolutely freezes on her face, her eyes flitting to gj and then the box, back to gj, and then finally peeking towards the door. zh strides in, his arms full as usual with the basket containing all of the

supplies needed to clean and change gj’s wrappings on his back. zh looks somewhere between embarrassed and weary when he sees his daughter in the room, and subsequently alsp takes in the sight of the giant box.

“did you take all of that from the kitchens without asking?” zh immediately says without prelude to his daughter. today the empress is wearing the plainest clothes yet that gj has ever seen him in. “did diedie not tell you to wait at least until shushu is out of bed to

talk with him again? did xiao hua listen at all? does xiao hua care that shushu is in pain while she’s bothering him?” xh looks close to tears all over again, as zh starts to set up the basket on the bedside table.

“highness,” gj interjects, because zh looks like he’s about to talk himself blue while interrogating his daughter - who looks like she’ll cry herself blue again. “she was waiting outside - i told her to come in. i rather would like my reading companion back at some point.”

when, at last, zh raises his head from the supplies in his hands and fully faces gj - gj realizes two things: the first is how intense the resemblance between zh and his oldest daughter truly is; the second being how few times zh must have met gj’s eyes in the three months gj has

been in this kingdom so far - surely, gj would have otherwise have been made sooner aware of how absurdly clear and dark zh’s eyes are if he’d gazed into them more than just a handful of times.

xh has somehow made her way into her father’s robes, looking around zh’s waist to watch the empress laying out the necessary pieces. she tugs at zh’s arm, and whispers, while looking at gj, hopefully, “shushu isn’t going to die?” “so xiao hua lied to diedie,” zh says without

missing a beat. “she heard.” xh lets go of her father’s robes like they’ve burned her. “diedie was talking loudly,” she accuses right back - gj has never heard her so spirited. she’s always been quiet in his presence.

“diedie had an earless, thick-skulled audience,” zh mutters, quickly and quietly enough to only reach gj’s ears - whether accidental or intentional. in a volume meant for a child, zh adds, “so that means xiao hua can lie to diedie? has xiao hua even apologized to shushu?”

popping into clarify that zh’s yelling was Extra warranted bc he was actually facing down all 3 of the exes since they all took part in operation: almost-k*ll-shushu

“apologies are only for those who’ve done wrong,” gj says swiftly, before xh can look like the world is ending again. the relief that floods her little face is both warm and expected - what gj does not expect is the odd, indecipherable gaze zh sets on him at those words.

but as soon as that expression is on zh’s face, it vanishes back into neutrality, and zh is looking away once more.

“i’m not going to die,” gj also himself adds. “xiao hua can keep all the fruit and candy for hers-“ “carry it back to the kitchens and apologize,” zh cuts gj off so abruptly that gj almost snorts with laughter on instinct - a reflex he didn’t know he still had. “and go see if

lien’er is awake for dinner. /and/, you need to ask diedie next time /before/ coming to see shushu.” xh looks halfway caught between the urge to argue her stance again and contritely doing what her father has told her to do. gj nearly literally sees the moment the fight

deflates from her body, and she picks up the large box again to begin trudging it out of the room. “shushu, i’ll bring a book for you tomorrow,” her little voice calls out as she leaves his room.

it’s silent, then, for a while, as zh softly asks first, as he always does, if he can peel down gj’s blanket and thr back of his robe - they’d kept gj’s robes untied this entire time for ease of access once his wounds were dry enough for him to be clothed again.

after hearing zh speak with such spirit and familiarity to his daughter, the hesitance and timidness of his tone when he addresses gj is almost jarring - it feels and sounds wrong. “your highness has been blessed with another daughter and a son?” gj says into the silence, as zh

works on cleaning down gj’s injuries. it no longer stings so much to have water on them, and zh’s touch has always been gentle from the first instance. if asked, gj can’t even answer for himself why he suddenly wants to hear zh speak again.

while zh is bent over gj’s back, gj’s entire view is of zh’s thin, tightly-bound waist. as he awaits a response, gj absently wonders if the infant boy he saw on his arrival day was not actually an infant - is it possible for a toddler to just be small? it surely can’t be possible

for the empress’s body to be this slender if his son truly is still only an infant. “i have been,” zh responds, haltingly, a note of confusion curiously in his voice. “they must all be as comely as xiao hua, if they are all yours,” gj says, hoping it’s a neutral enough

compliment to ease the tension in the air - an olive branch. instead, he feels zh’s hands pause over his back as the fresh wrappings are secured. the pause seems longer than usual. “gong-wang finds this empress comely?” the way zh asks, almost too softly to hear, makes it

sound like the empress is trying to ascertain whether gj is mocking him or not.

something resembling panic flares in gj for a reason he doesn’t want to investigate too deeply. “your highness has no shortage of harem members and those vying to join it,” gj says hastily, turning his face towards the wall before zh can meet his eyes again. “of course your

highness isn’t unpleasant to look at.” he hears the sounds of zh packing up before he hears zh breathe out a humorless little laugh. “gong-wang certainly has a talent for spinning words,” zh says, sounding tired and - hurt?

“forgive me,” zh hurriedly says, before gj can say anything else for himself - before gj can amend what he realizes he’s just done. “it’s been a long day.” gj hears footsteps as he turns his head back to face the door, and once he does, zh has already left the room.

aight since i can’t resist to start it rn instead of tmrw zh is feeling like Down Down after that, and a few nights later (gj can sit up and walk around by that point btw) sf is doing his once cute but now slightly annoying Thing where he Hovers Literally Uselessly around zh

while zh puts ruoruo to sleep. and zh just. doesn’t know why, though he at least knows there’s no more real affection on his end - but when sf tries, like he always does, to Start something by touching zh’s waist and handsing under his robes - tonight, zh Lets Him.

and when gj walks by - bc he hadn’t realized, upon leaving that room, that zh had had him placed in a new room literally in the midst of zh’s own children to make sure gj was safe after the whippings - what gj sees is zh being taken face down, in silence, over a table, just

paces away from where his son is sleeping in his bassinet. worse is zh doesn’t see gj - but sf is upright, and Does, and scoffs, smirking, before fucking zh harder for show.

what gj doesn’t see, after he’s stormed off, is sf pulling out to come all over zh’s back and thighs - just as ruoruo starts crying, and sf says, while robing up and kissing zh’s cheek, “my son is already hungry again after barely sleeping - should this general have put another

child in you so you can make more milk?” zh doesn’t even have the energy left in him to shove sf off the way he normally would’ve in that moment. all he feels is disgust at himself for even letting this happen - for what reason? because the visiting prince’s words made him

feel so unwanted, so undesirable, as if he was truly just a used brood mare and nothing more.

if zh cries, at the constant infighting of his harem members - all of whom are supposed to support him and raise their children together, if he cries because something like the friendship or at least civility of a prince he has to hold captive for the sake of his own kingdom

matters so unreasonably much, if he cries because he again has another child and no one worth making a husband, at least there isn’t anyone to know about it other than his son. at least zh manages to dry his tears completely before he goes to put his daughters to bed.

gj knows that when zh walks into his room the next morning to change his wrappings, what gj Should do is apologize for the slight he spoke out last time, let zh change gj’s bandaging, and then for gj to just go on to meet xh in the library to air out his mind.

a part of him nearly does just that, especially when the empress walks in with his hair unbound. gj’s initial reaction is visceral - and he tells himself that the reason he nearly smashes a tea cup on the floor is because of the shock of seeing any kunze, with children, let alone

/the empress/ with his hair falling over his shoulders, only half pinned. it certainly isn’t for any other reason, and regardless of how early in the morning it is, all gj thinks of how improper it is - and that just leads gj’s spiraling mind back to what he witnessed last night.

any spell that the sight of the empress with his hair unbound had on gj dissipates - it doesn’t matter how soft zh appears, how contrite and sincere he seems tending to gj. the truth of the matter is that zh is still getting bedded by the man who dragged gj to this kingdom in a

cage and then conspired with the advisor to have him whipped once he arrived. that, and nothing more. because were it not for how deplorable the general is, gj would have no quarrel with what he saw last night. zsf is a man the empress has already bore a son for - of course

he would return to share the empress’s bed again now that their child is nearing his first year. of course.

so. even though gj knows he Shouldn’t, even though gj knows today is a day where he’s better off not speaking at all, he lets the words threatening to burst make their way out without one glance back. “it must have been a long night for your highness,” gj remarks placidly, as

zh finishes up with rolling the extra wrappings and tucking them back into his basket. the empress levels him with a look of faint puzzlement. “my son slept well,” zh begins slowly, as if uncertain that that was what gj meant. “so well that it seems he might have a younger

sibling soon?” gj continues, meeting zh’s gaze head on. gj doesn’t know what exactly he thought the empress’s response would be nor does he know what expression is on his own face when those words slip. all he knows is that he hadn’t quite thought zh would hold himself up with

his head so high, with his back so straight, with his eyes filled with so much hurt as he picks his basket up. gj’s stomach churns. gj hadn’t quite thought zh would look so beautiful in the early morning sunlight.

“i had them punished,” zh says, his voice soft and strong all at once, even with how thick with hurt it is. “all three of them. they are still fulfilling their punishments for what they’ve done - i’ve made sure every day. i’ve come to you every day instead of sending servants. i

know it isn’t enough, and never will be. but surely, gong-wang, even you wouldn’t deny me relations for the rest of my life when it appears that i am only /not unpleasant to look at/ to some choice few qianyuan?” zh pauses for a moment, almost expectantly, perhaps for gj to

respond. and, suddenly, gj dearly wants to. he wants to apologize - the urge coming on so intensely, filled with so much regret that it chokes him rather than frees him. gj ends up unable to say anything at all, and zh walks out with an expression that most surely means

gj is only small steps above the very men he hates in this palace.

SO ! like a clown gj spends the entire day in the library with xh which doesn’t rly end up clearing his mind at all bc of how much gj knows xh resembles her diedie and how animated and happy xh seems to have her library shushu back, completely unaware of how gj basically just

eviscerated her diedie’s feelings this morning. xh also inadvertently adds insult to injury when she says, right before she leaves for dinner, “diedie said to tell shushu that i can get him any book he wants and not to tell shushu that diedie is going to get any book shushu

wants.” she does this entire charade once again with her hands cupped around her mouth, like she’s imparting a life-changing secret and not just affirming to gj that he has been a despicable human being.

gj more or less spends the rest of that evening trying to figure out what exactly to say that could possibly have even a microscopic chance in earning zh’s forgiveness. he eats in a daze the dinner that’s always been sent up to his rooms after the first night he spent in the

palace - the night he coldly rejected the empress’s request to dine together, right before he told the empress that what gj desired most in his new home was to see as little of the empress as possible, if at all.

he’s Still mulling it over, coming up with close to nothing that seems even remotely adequate when he starts hearing voices rise from outside of his rooms. he assumes, the way anyone would, that it was just servants being boisterous with the start of the night shift and gj

ignores the rises and falls of the volume until he can ignore it no longer. he’s never been one to reprimand servants for things outside of their tasks, but it’s getting to a point where he can’t hear himself think.

he reaches until the turn at the end of the long corridor - the wing that he has since realized is where the princesses’ and prince’s nurseries and rooms are. it’s there that gj realizes those voices belong to no servants. the general, the captain, and the advisor are all

gathered in that small space at the very end of the wing where, gj assumes, must be where zh sleeps - amidst all of his children’s rooms. the three qianyuan are not only gathered there outside the door, but they are cornering the empress between themselves.

from the complete other end of the wing, once gj has left the confines of his rooms, he can hear the voices and the corresponding words all too clearly - why this clearly private situation is being played out in public is utterly lost on gj.

“now,” zsf says, as the empress stands firmly between the general and the advisor. “the advisor can state when he’s having difficulty navigating the naive expectations of being part of the harem-“ “i am not /jealous/, sifan,” the advisor says flatly, one hand on zh’s shoulder,

clearly readying to push the empress to the side. “i am stating the /law/ which is that relations that reach penetration need to be officialized during a season - they cannot just be solicited without any sort of-“ at the same time that zsf snorts, “do you even hear yourself?”,

the captain, towering over zh with one hand wrapped around zh’s arm, says, “as if you’ve never tried your way into zhehan’s bed when he isn’t in his courses - you’ve just never succeeded, mi re.” the advisor looks as if he would truly have lunged for the captain, as if in a

commoner’s tavern brawl, were it not for the empress sandwiched between all of them like a human buffer. “and who of us has only ever been with zhehan in any way during his seasons, captain xu?” the advisor snaps back coolly. “mi re,” gj finally hears zh say in a quiet,

sharp voice. “it’s late.” from the distance gj stands, half-hidden in a spot where the torches don’t reach, he watches as the empress round on each qianyuan in turn. “the children are all already asleep, and these walls are not so thick. we can discuss this in the morning.”

all gj can hear in the moment is how devastatingly, absolutely, undeniably exhausted zh sounds.

(good morning i would like to say that zh came into gj’s room that morning in this get-up possibly bc ruoruo woke zh up wanting early breakfast so zh thought he should go and tend to gj First Immediately before even getting actually dressed)

this is not to validate gj losing his shit but at least we can Understand 😔 also that we can Very Very Very tiny understand the exes since this is a habit zh has had for a long time

back to regular programming ! gj stays hidden in that little corner listening to the exes Still trying to Make Sure that zh has an audience with each of Them First in the morning - he doesn’t know, honestly, how zh can still sound so patient when he clearly sounds so tired.

there must be another entryway from the other end into the main part of the palace because the voices grow farther and farther away once it seems they’ve all been given answers from the empress that satisfied them. gj has Concluded after listening to that circus to just try and

apologize tomorrow, if he even has the words by that point, because tonight zh sounds like he’ll keel over dead if he has to listen to another qianyuan who’s done him wrong.

that is, at least, what he intends for. when he moves to turn back towards his rooms, however, he experienced a solid blockage right around his knees, and finds himself peering down into round eyes that appear even larger on an even smaller face than xiao hua’s.

the child is so unmistakably xh’s sister and zh’s daughter, even if the only feature they all shared are the eyes - even if the rest of her chubby face far more resembled the man who stood over gj while he knelt tied to the whipping posts, stoic and wordless.

her hair is already in braids that look as rumpled as her white nightrobes. she has clearly already been put to bed and seems to have made an escape. gj offers his hand, and tries to look as harmless as possible, hoping that he can at least start out gaining some of zh’s good

graces back by putting the empress’s daughter back to sleep before she can tire out her already depleted father.

the second princess, however, has other ideas completely. she swats away gj’s hand and instead raises both her short arms up towards him in a gesture that cannot be mistaken to mean anything else. as soon as gj relents and scoops her up, holding her against his hip the way he’s

seen his brothers’ wives and husbands do, she fists her small hand in the collar of his robes, and demands, “baba.” gj tries not to think about how /baba/ would surely have gj back to the whipping posts if he saw this, and attempts another offering. “diedie is right there.”

she appears to consider this, her nose wrinkling, before she then announces promptly, “not sleepy.” gj stares. “all right,” he sighs. “diedie it is.” he squares his shoulders, wondering how on earth he’s going to formulate a way to explain This, when he once again nearly

collides with someone while trying to round this apparently impenetrable corner. “lien’er!” zh breathes, sounding all sorts of exasperated. gj finds himself staring all over again, for a myriad of new reasons entirely because zh is in even /less/ clothing than this morning.

gj is fairly certain the empress is standing in front of gj in just one, single robe - one layer - white, and not very thick or substantial at all. his hair is also, again, unbound, this time tied up only with twine and not even a crown at the top of his head.

even worse, the empress is standing the closest he has ever been to gj while gj is not incapacitated in a bed. gj has chosen a horrible time to realize that he towers over zh at least a head and a halfspan, that zh smells like ripe, sweet kunze still heavy with milk, that the

empress’s waist looks like it would fit in gj’s single hand. “lien’er, please,” zh sounds close to begging as he holds his arms out and his daughter squirms eagerly forward into her father’s grasp. when the empress’s eyes turn towards gj, as the princess buries her face

contentedly in her father’s shoulder, zh’s gaze is hesitant - avoidant, and timid. “was gong-wang in search for something when this empress’s daughter accosted him?” zh asks quietly, looking towards the floor.

since the empress won’t look at him, gj instead finds himself looking into the same pair of eyes on a smaller, rounder face hovering over his father’s bowed head. “this prince was searching for your highness,” gj answers slowly. he takes a breath in soundlessness.

zh still doesn’t look at gj, even as his daughter starts to fuss again, trying to drop her feet to stand back on the floor - the empress keeps a hold of her firmly in his arms, against the curve of his hip. “this prince found himself unable to sleep upon realization that he

has yet to formally dine with your highness in lieu of all the kindness his highness has shown,” gj tries, the words stilted even to his own ears. zh lets his daughter back onto the floor, keeping just a hand around her wrist instead to keep her from running. he does look

up at gj now, and there is so much caution and wariness in his eyes that gj’s chest tightens even more than it already has by just seeing zh. “gong-wang said that he wouldn’t be able to stomach even the most luxurious of fare if he ate with this empress,” zh murmurs.

“this prince knows,” gj says, holding zh’s gaze and refusing to look away no matter how much guilt fills him by looking into zh’s eyes. “and this prince is saying, /now/, that he was wrong, foolish, and cruel. if your highness never wants to associate again with this prince, i

will understand - but if your highness would extend that branch of kindness one more time, this prince will never make the same mistake twice.”

the silence, as a plethora of indecipherable emotions runs through zh’s eyes, is deafening. gj intensely considers bowing his way out and telling the empress to sleep on these thoughts when the little princess at the empress’s feet chirps up, “diedie, i’ll sleep now.”

the empress immediately bends down to pick his daughter back up with ease, showing clearly how many times he has done this - gj wonders if zh is the one who rejected any help from nursemaids because he has rarely seen any around even xiao hua.

the second princess rests her head immediately against her father’s shoulder, eyelids visibly looking heavy as she continues to gaze curiously at gj. her father also, amazingly enough, is still looking at gj - and with an expression that is no longer filled with so much hurt or

sadness. “this empress has an evening free of obligations tomorrow,” zh says tentatively. there is no smile on his face - of course not - but his eyes are a little warmer now. “if gong-wang is amenable.” “more than,” gj assures, trying not to mind how his lungs constrict.

gj stands for far too long, watching the empress walk away with his daughter - humming something that would surely put any child on the brink over the edge towards dreams. he returns to his own rooms in a stupor - shamefully unable to stop himself from coming to the conclusion

that even though the empress’s former bedmates are all scum of a level with gj’s brothers, gj can somewhat understand their obsession with the empress - seeking him out not even to produce more children and secure higher positions at court, but just for the act itself.

interlude to say what gj saw on the day he arrived

i think about This look for that first not-date dinner, that next evening after the corridor run-in because gj thinks okay ! with this ! now surely he knows i don’t think he’s ugly - i just fcked up big time it’s all on me, but from zh’s end, he’s literally had gj

insult him to his face twice, both times being when he’s just rushed in from nursing ruoruo and/or got railed and/or doing mom duty things so he thinks maybe he should Try this time and dress up, plus it’s a formal audience with a guest prince in a manner of speaking, anyway.

[stares at sun] gj stares Hard when zh enters the dining room, and zh makes a hesitant joke, as he takes his seat, about whether zh tried too hard - or if gong-wang is just so shocked that this empress does know what is proper attire - and not just milk-stained underthings

after seeing the fragile way zh smiles as he said those words - clearly trying to say it all first so he can’t be hurt again, gj decides to be a little more honest than he had planned on being. “your highness is terribly mistaken - this prince was stunned into speechlessness upon

seeing how your beautiful your highness is tonight for a meal with a mere, banished prince.” the small snort that huffs out of zh - certainly not like an empress at all - conveys that he surely doesn’t believe gj’s praise. the pink in zh’s delicate ears, however, tells gj

that zh was in more need of those words than gj could have known - otherwise, he would have been truthful much sooner.

“not a mere, banished prince,” zh says, that fragile smile starting to regain both warmth and brightness. “surely this empress would dress accordingly when dining with a friend.” gj can only assume that the thud his heart decides to give at that moment is due to the surprise

of discovering the empress is even willing to open that door again for gj - after gj slammed it in the kunze’s face so cruelly just the previous day, and all the days leading up to it. “your highness is truly too kind,” gj says, throat dry, and he means it.

zh’s smile grows wider, the tips of his ears pinker. his teeth flash in what gj is confident enough now to classify as a grin, full of good humor and charm. “none of that,” he says, hand waving so that the attendant at gj’s side can pour him more wine. “xiao hua’s reading

companion shouldn’t feel the need for formalities at this empress’s table - drink more and do let an unwitting father know what trouble his daughter truly gets up to in that library.” gj is smiling tentatively back without even realizing. “the princess has sworn me to secrecy.”

a short glimpse into the future - how gj welcomes his brothers once he’s become the official consort, probably

surprising to absolutely None of Us (and prob also xy), the dinner lasts so late, past the time it’d been scheduled to end, that xiao hua comes sprinting in with her nursemaid chasing after her, alr in her nightgown and plaits, asking 1) why isn’t diedie there for bedtime and 2)

why does diedie get to eat with shushu and didn’t even tell or invite xiao hua about it, to which zh replies that 1) diedie was about to come and 2) if xiao hua goes to sleep on time, she can eat with shushu tmrw.

zh asks, timid once again - still, as if uncertain that he shouldn’t have been so presumptuous - if that would be all right with gj. all gj can think about is how he’ll need to double his efforts to bring out the charm and warmth he saw from zh throughout the dinner permanently.

before gj can reply, xiao hua careens from her father’s end of the table to gj’s end, grasping one of his hands firmly and saying, expression solemn and wide-eyed, “if baba comes again, i’ll hit him for shushu.” “/zhang chuhua/,” the empress intones, low and stern. “are you

that kind of daughter? you’ll do /what/ to your father?” xh looks unrepentant, not looking zh in the face as she lets go of gj and runs off - once again with her nursemaid sighing and running after her - as if trying to escape facing her father.

gj wonders if the empress would think less of him for laughing, but as soon as his daughter has left the room, zh deflates slightly in his chair, a conflicted smile on his face as he meets gj’s eyes. “she’ll have plenty of time to want to hit him when she’s older,” he says almost

lightly. “for now, i thought she should at least know it’s wrong.” gj is still struggling with holding back a smile of his own when zh adds, in a softer tone - /again/, so tentative, “i would strike him myself, in any case, if he came towards you a second time.”

Follow us on Twitter

to be informed of the latest developments and updates!

You can easily use to @tivitikothread bot for create more readable thread!
Donate 💲

You can keep this app free of charge by supporting 😊

for server charges...