No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
(Alternative Title/Very-Nearly-Real-Title: Murphy's Law)
Er Kang's prison break plan didn't work as well as they'd hoped. Things change when Yong Qi became trapped in the palace and never joined them on the escape after setting Han Xiang free.
Chapter 1: Love is not love...
It turned out, Er Kang's plan didn't work as well as he and Yong Qi both hoped.
It wasn't Hu Tai yi's fault. The physician had been cooperative enough, playing along with the charade and declaring Yong Qi to be too ill to remain in the cold prison cell. Thus he had been taken out and returned to Jing Yang Gong, where Hu Tai yi further helped by providing all sorts of instruction for rest and quiet and a list of medicine that Yong Qi had no intention of drinking.
It would have been fine, if Huang Shang hadn't called Hu Tai yi in and asked what was wrong with Yong Qi.
Neither Hu Tai yi nor Yong Qi should really have been surprised he did, as after all, his son supposed to be deathly sick. (In retrospect, Yong Qi thought maybe he had overacted a bit which was the fatal flaw in the plan.) The Emperor's intention had been a sincere worry for Yong Qi's health, it was only until Hu Tai yi failed to provide specific answers that he grew suspicious.
"Is he really sick?" he demanded finally of the physician kneeling in front of him, who trembled at the threat of the consequences of lying to a monarch hidden behind the question.
Then, Hu Tai yi had no choice but to speak the truth.
When Ling Fei and Qing Er came in to rescue Er Kang from prison, she merely said quickly that it was currently impossible for Yong Qi to leave the palace, and pressed a letter into his hands, assuring him that Yong Qi was unharmed and that there was no time to speak, but the letter would explain.
Er Kang was too agitated while waiting for Zi Wei and Xiao Yan Zi to be rescued that he didn't think he could focus on whatever news the letter held yet, so he kept it for later. It was only until Xiao Deng Zi approached his carriage and told him that the mission to rescue Zi Wei and Xiao Yan Zi had failed as well that he allowed the despair of being sure of the fates of none of them crash around him.
He alone was out of captivity, and somehow he alone would have to save them all.
He didn't think he was even capable of this.
When his carriage took him to his hidding place, he was both relieved and grateful to find Liu Qing and Liu Hong waiting for him. They had shown up at his house and his father had sent them here to meet him.
At least, now he wouldn't be all alone.
It was only then that he finally opened the letter Ling Fei gave him and shared it with them.
It wasn't a letter from Yong Qi as he'd hoped, but from Ling Fei herself. She wrote that Huang Shang had found out that Yong Qi was faking being sick and had therefore held him in practically house arrest in Jing Yang Gong, with assigned guards at the gates so that he couldn't escape as planned. As it was, he was allowed no contact with anyone outside of Jing Yang Gong at all and even Ling Fei and Qing Er couldn't find a way to get a message in or out of Jing Yang Gong.
It seemed as if Er Kang, Liu Qing and Liu Hong would have to rescue Zi Wei and Xiao Yan Zi on their own, and if in a few days, Yong Qi still could not join them, whatever escape they had to make would have to be without Yong Qi.
Er Kang wondered how he was supposed to break this news to Xiao Yan Zi.
He wondered how Yong Qi must be feeling now, alive, and surely no physical harm would befall him, but trapped. Even if Er Kang managed to save Xiao Yan Zi, would Ling Fei be able to tell Yong Qi the news at all, or would he have to live with the fear that Xiao Yan Zi might be dead?
He definitely wouldn't be able to endure it in Yong Qi's place.
A gasp from Zi Wei made Xiao Yan Zi follow her line of sight and saw that hidden in the crowd were Er Kang, Liu Qing and Liu Hong. For a moment, she breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, her friends would rescue her, she would not die.
Then almost as fast as this realisation came, the sickening question dropped down on her.
Where was Yong Qi?
Didn't Er Kang say the day they met with Zi Wei's aunt and uncle that Yong Qi had gotten out of prison? Why wasn't he with Er Kang and the others?
She met Zi Wei's eyes and knew that she was wondering the same thing. She let the cold dread spread throughout her body, ominous and malicious, and thought death right now felt nicer than the possibility that something might have happened to Yong Qi. There was no other reason for why he wouldn't be there with them.
She was free and she was alive, but Xiao Yan Zi would not allow herself the feeling of relief yet.
"Where's Yong Qi?" she demanded as soon as the carriage started moving, all seven of them – Xiao Yan Zi, Zi Wei, Er Kang, Liu Qing, Liu Hong, Meng Dan and Xiao Jian – crammed inside.
Slowly Er Kang explained the situation, how Yong Qi couldn't make it out and that as soon as Huang Shang found out from Hu Tai yi that Yong Qi was faking illness, the guard on Jing Yang Gong had been impenetrable. There was very little hope that he could join them and they would have to face the possibility of going on without him.
This possibility became a certainly a couple of days later, after they had rescued Jin Suo, and Er Kang's parents visited them at the farm house where they were staying, waiting for the coast to clear, for any more news.
"Huang Shang is very angry, understandably so," Fu Lun told Er Kang. "After you rescued Zi Wei and Xiao Yan Zi, he increased the guards at Jing Yang Gong even more and even Xiao Shun Zi and Xiao Gui Zi, who Ling Fei was hoping could help with communicating with Yong Qi, had been temporarily assigned so all the people in Jing Yang Gong right now is Huang Shang's people. Ling Fei hasn't even managed to get the news in to him yet that Xiao Yan Zi has been rescued."
"He must be dying in there," Er Kang exclaimed in frustration.
"Yes, but at least Huang Shang would not do anything to him. He is still Huang Shang's son, after all, and even if Huang Shang was angry enough, Lao Fo Ye would not allow it."
"You must leave, go far away, don't be caught," his father urged.
"No!" Er Kang nearly shouted. "How could we leave without Yong Qi?"
"How could you not? Wu Ah Ge has no chance of getting out anytime soon. If you stay here, you might be hidden for one, two days, or even a couple of months, but eventually you will be found! Go, leave! If Heaven is willing, you will all meet again one day!"
"Would you help me persuade Xiao Yan Zi of that?" Er Kang retorted.
Xiao Yan Zi had been walking around in a constant haze of gloom for the past couple of days, and it was most unlike her, but none of them could cheer her up (none of them really tried, knowing it was hopeless; only Xiao Jian didn't seem to think anything was horribly wrong).
Fu Lun did speak to Xiao Yan Zi after that, and assured her that Yong Qi was fine.
"How do you know that? If no one could get in to see him or he can get out, how do you know?"
"He is Huang Shang' son," Fu Lun insisted, "he will be fine. It's not his life you need to worry about now. You must all go. Just tell me of your general direction and destination, I will make sure that he knows how to find you as soon as possible."
Meng Dan and Han Xiang's wedding was a quiet affair, especially when Xiao Yan Zi, who would have been the one to liven it up despite the circumstances, was rather subdued, even if it was her idea.
After that they came up with a plan to leave and the route they would take. Well, the more correct thing to say would be Xiao Jian came up with a plan, and Er Kang would have contributed, if he wasn't so occupied with trying to think of a way to break Yong Qi out of his gilded prison.
His original prison break plan definitely wasn't as clever as he thought. Enduring the cold prison was a better option after all. It was one thing to get Han Xiang out when they were all inside to help her. Now that they were all out here and their allies on the inside had no way to communicating with Yong Qi, the idea of getting him out was nigh impossible. No doubt all the guards at the palace gates have been instructed to double and triple check exits and entries as well.
Xiao Yan Zi was most reluctant to leave. After a few days, Er Kang also had to most reluctantly conclude that his father was right, and Yong Qi would not get out any time soon. It was only the combined efforts from him and Zi Wei that got Xiao Yan Zi persuaded to move and not camp here and wait for Yong Qi indefinitely.
"I'm worried about Xiao Yan Zi," Zi Wei confessed to him the day before they were due to leave. "Let's not delude ourselves, leaving now like this does mean that we might never see Yong Qi again and I think Xiao Yan Zi knows that."
Er Kang didn't want to answer, because he didn't want to admit what Zi Wei said was true. They were leaving as fugitives and with no plan of coming back to Beijing. There was no guarantee of how long it will be before Huang Shang released Yong Qi, and who knew what might happen even then? Even if Yong Qi would be free to go after them, there was no guarantee that they would find each other either, even if they did keep his father informed of their destination. Constant communication with home while on the run was too dangerous and counter-productive. Yong Qi would have only the barest hints to work off of when he was finally free and who knew where they'd be then?
He never thought Xiao Yan Zi's moods could affect him like this, but her misery over the past few days had taken a toll on him. It was a constant reminder of where Yong Qi was and how separate they all were from him. He always knew that Xiao Yan Zi did love Yong Qi, but he didn't think the loss of him would reduce her normal bubbly self to this. It was painful to see and he hated it.
"We can't stay here either," Er Kang said after a long silence. "It's too dangerous."
Zi Wei was quiet for a while, before speaking again.
"I think Xiao Jian is trying to cheer Xiao Yan Zi up."
"How's that working out?"
"Pretty badly. But do you think that he – "
"Do you think that he might like Xiao Yan Zi?"
"Well, it's just that he pays a lot of attention to Xiao Yan Zi and doesn't seem too upset that Yong Qi isn't here."
"You think he's trying to exploit the situation with Xiao Yan Zi?"
"I don't know, maybe? I mean, he's being very attentive to her and making no secret of it. She's just too miserable to notice what's really under the attention."
"Do you think she – "
"No! She's still upset over Yong Qi after all. But I just wonder about the future."
"The future of maybe not seeing Yong Qi again for a very long time?"
Er Kang thought a moment, then said, "I think that as long as there's hope of Yong Qi joining us, Xiao Yan Zi would still hold onto that hope."
"I hope you are right."
They all walked back to the house after saying goodbye to Han Xiang and Meng Dan, who would go their own way.
Xiao Yan Zi didn't feel like going back right away, simply because they were only returning to pack their own belongings and it was only a painful reminder of who she would be leaving without. So she ran off into an orchard ahead, leaving the others behind.
She could hear Xiao Jian's voice behind her and knew he had gone after her, but she didn't want him there. She ran off to be alone, not for him to follow her. If there was to be anyone to follow her, she wished it wasn't Xiao Jian.
The absence made her feel hollow inside and no one could make her feel better, so she wished Xiao Jian wouldn't try. The fact that he tried so hard only reminded her of the pain she wanted to forget.
She knew he meant well, but she just wished he would stop. He seemed to think he was capable of fixing everything that went wrong in her life, whether she wanted it or not. No, there was only one person capable of curing her every hurt and pain and that person was definitely not Xiao Jian.
She wished she could just tell him that. But even she wasn't insensitive enough to wait for the disappointment that would surely break on his face if she ever did.
She wished, therefore, that he would take a hint.
But apparently she wasn't very good at hinting because he still followed her.
She ran until she was exhausted and collapsed at the base of a persimmon tree. She sat and stared up at the leaves and fruits above her and didn't even turn when Xiao Jian sat down beside her.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"No," she said bluntly.
What a pointless question.
Did he think she would really be all right when the next morning they would be leaving Beijing, the only home she'd ever known, forever and with it, the only person who'd ever loved her so unconditionally?
She drew her knees up to her chest and laid her head down, closing her eyes, wanting the world to dissolve and then be put right again.
Before they left, Han Xiang had apologised to her that it was because of her that Xiao Yan Zi was now separated from Yong Qi. She didn't want to hear the apology, which was entirely absurd. None of this was in any way Han Xiang's fault, it was that human plans could never surpass plans made in Heaven. They could never have foreseen this and even if they did, Xiao Yan Zi wasn't sure she would do anything different.
"You know, it might not be so bad," Xiao Jian spoke, just when Xiao Yan Zi could almost forget he was there. The reminder wasn't entirely pleasant. "It will be an adventure."
Well, she had to credit Xiao Jian with understanding some part of her. Yes, in any other circumstance, she would be looking forward to this adventure. But now, she almost wished she was back in the palace if it meant being with Yong Qi again.
Imagine that. She would rather be in a cage than flying free.
Sometimes she hated Yong Qi for doing this to her, for making her feel such things.
Xiao Jian seemed determined to make her talk because when she didn't answer, he spoke again.
"Look at all those ripe persimmons! Do you want any? Let's pick some."
Xiao Yan Zi raised her eyes to look up at the branches unenthusiastically.
They did look good but she wondered whether the fruits would taste sweet in her mouth now, when nothing managed to taste good these pass few days.
"Doesn't this orchard belong to someone?" she finally said, only to appease her persistent companion.
"Sure, but what's a few more or less? They wouldn't miss it."
For some inexplicable reason, Xiao Yan Zi thought of Yong Qi, of what he would think about the idea of picking fruits that did not belong to you, even if the owners would indeed not miss them. If it was her idea (which such an idea most of times was hers) he would scowl and half-heartedly try to lecture her while knowing it was hopeless and would end up being her accomplice anyway. How was it that before she never managed to really appreciate the way he'd always supported her in everything and only now did she miss it? What was the use of missing it now when…
She didn't want to cry in front of Xiao Jian so she looked quickly away and only said, "No, I don't want any. Let's just go back."
She didn't really want to go back, of course, but it was the only sure way of escaping him. It wasn't that she really found Xiao Jian annoying or that she was ungrateful for his concern. He cared about her, that was obvious and some part of her was grateful. But the larger part of her just wanted to be left to her own misery and Xiao Jian's constant presence didn't help her feel any better.
Did he really think he could take Yong Qi's place?
Sometimes, Xiao Yan Zi wondered whether this was her comeuppance, for the times she had said she was reconsidering marrying Yong Qi or that the palace was too stiffling and she couldn't take it anymore and wanted out.
Well now she didn't have to take it anymore, and she was out, without him or any of the requirements for proper behaviour that came with his position.
Apparently this was what it meant to be careful what you wished for.
Yong Qi was dying a slow, painful death.
Beheading surely would have been quicker and neater.
And less painful.
It had been twelve days since he returned to Jing Yang Gong and ten days since the day that Xiao Yan Zi was supposed to be executed.
Except that he had no idea whether she was dead. Just after he arrived at Jing Yang Gong, he had managed to speak briefly to Ling Fei before the guards arrived and trapped him in, and she had outlined the plan of rescuing Er Kang and the girls for him. Did she succeed? Was Xiao Yan Zi safe?
Yong Qi felt like his entire being was on fire with the unknowning. He had been cut off from the rest of the world, and not a wisp of news had reached him for twelve days and he was slowly going insane.
If she no longer lived…then what was the point of him being here, slowly wasting away?
If she was alive, was she safe? How could he bear staying here, not knowing, not being able to protect her, not doing anything?
What was the point of being alive if he was to be reduced to such helplessness?
And the truth, the agonising truth, was that dead or alive, it was unlikely he would ever get to see Xiao Yan Zi again. If his father would ever release him, would he be free enough to look for her, or would freedom only be relative and one way or another, he would still be trapped nonetheless? And even if he was really free, there was no guarantee that he would ever find her, the earth as vast as it was. He would look for eternity but still, so much of it was up to Heaven. If truthfully, he could never see her again, he wasn't sure how he was supposed to deal with this pain, and how long it would take for it to really kill him.
Perhaps this was what they had put Huang Ah Ma through with Han Xiang's disappearance and he was simply getting a taste of it.
He wished his father would punish him in any other way but this. He could take physical pain, he could bear being raged at and hearing hurtful words which would eventually fade, but he couldn't bear this cold nothingness, of being ignored, as if he didn't exist.
Then again, perhaps that was the point. Punishment was meant to make you suffer. They had made Huang Ah Ma suffer unendurable pain and now Yong Qi would have to understand what it was like.
This is why I should never be allowed to write anything multi-chaptered. Whenever I start to work on a chapter, a new idea pops into my head and then I start writing that instead. You have no idea how many times this had happened.
So this will be a short-ish piece, about 5 chapters (maybe 6), and I've written 4.5 of those chapters, so updates will be quick and it will be over quick. This is deliberately written in a briefer style that I usually do, so you'll find that time and events pass really fast. But I wanted to 1) get the whole thing down before I lose interest and 2) give just flashes of what could have been if something like this happened.
Still, already it's about twice the length I thought it would be when I started writing it. =.=