"Jingyan, please tell me this isn't what I think it is."
When he was still just little Shu back in those halcyon days of youth, the pride of his family, he would always insist on riding or walking with Jingyan; sweet, earnest Jingyan-gege. Jingyan, who always gave him the best treats from Gran-Gran. Jingyan, who was patient, who always held his chubby little hand in his slightly bigger ones and said, "Xiao Shu, Xiao Shu, don't run so fast. Let me keep up, mhmm?" and he would listen to that fond tone and comply, even when bursting at the seams to go see the fireworks. His royal mother would cry out in mock despair that Jingyan was even more loved than she, and his father would guffaw but also be visibly affronted. "My little fireball! My son, why don't you ride on baba's shoulders?"
But Xiao Shu had clung to Jingyan even tighter, making him laugh, so handsome even then, and that was enough to keep him there.
Let that be known, at least to the ever watching Heavens, that he, Lin Shu, would have been always content as a mere commander of the Chiyan Army, as long as he could have stayed by Jingyan.
But then the Will of the Heavens decided to rip him away, and so Lin Shu tore apart the world below.
Let the world be bathed in fire, he had thought, looking up at the Emperor. Let it burn as you have burned my Princes.
And so after...
After, there was sudden peace that worried all his newly established ministers, delicately built as flake of snow.
After, the kingdom learned not the worry overmuch about the how and why, but to celebrate the fact that one of the tragic princes was alive. That, and this was only whispered in the sacred halls of drinking places, that it was rueful Heaven itself that made sure it was the seventh that came back, the beloved one, to appease its new Heavenly Son.
Therefore it is with completely valid consternation that His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Lin Shu, first of his line, enters the Eastern Courtyard to find - as Zhen Ping had dutifully reported - Jingyan playing with a litter of wolf pups in the fucking snow.
"I'm hardly cold with this many layers on," Jingyan says serenely, pushing a wayward pup towards its mother, Foya. She seems unconcerned with what her wayward pups are doing to increase Lin Shu’s blood pressure. “Besides, the pups are quite adept at keeping me warm?” His smile is a slow sunrise aimed right at Lin Shu's weak points.
Ah, there it is, the distinctive feeling of a headache encroaching on the ever present fondness he feels at seeing Jingyan happy. "Did you forget that you have only just healed from the latest bout of fever? If you will not heed your doctor's orders, will you at least listen to your Emperor's?"
Jingyan, of course, merely hums tunelessly. Another wolf pup yips in raptures as Jingyan scratches it gently behind the ear, delicate fingers stark against fur. Lin Shu understands on a fundamental level.
Later, the Emperor manages to coerce His Highness (because rules be damned if he ever takes away anything from Jingyan ever again, including his damn birthright) inside where it's warm and not likely to cause you to cough out a lung, Jingyan. Lin Shu settles down contentedly with a hefty pile of documents for perusal, Jingyan safely wrapped in a cloak and sat close to the brazier. They talk deeply into the waning moonlight, two men sharing a single cup from the tea tray, fingers brushing as they gesture and laugh.
There are stories of them of course. The young commanders, golden-boys of war. The Chiyan General, grieving for a father who died suspiciously soon (that shouldn’t have killed him, they say). The righteous son; wronged for crimes he didn't commit, the genius strategist; the man, the legend, the beast who tore the old corrupt Emperor from his lofty throne, forced out the unworthy princes, who bled the court of bad humors.
For filial vengeance, they said; for love, they whispered.
During the spring, his ministers begin anew in earnest; reforms, reassignments. There is a clear taste of hope, of vitality in creating a government with ambition beyond self service. He must be an Emperor for the ages to make all the sins and bloodletting worth it. He will heed Marquis Yan's words - failure means more than meeting a disappointed father in the afterlife, it means letting down Jingyan. He will be a just ruler, a sovereign worthy to carry the weight of Heaven.
In saying that, he can't possibly be blamed if some people are dimwitted idiots. Far be it for Lin Shu to deny his own quick temper but surely, surely becoming a minister means you have at least met the requirement for a brain?
"So, you are telling me, you just so happened to have misplaced the old records?" here Lin Shu feels a twinge at his temple, "Honestly? Didn't we refer to those two weeks ago? Were they misplaced then or did you make the information up? Was that why it was an anomaly?" the ministers wince collectively, and the idiot in question visibly whites under his hat, "Could you have tried at least to lie more convincingly? Better yet, don't lie at all to someone smarter than you?!"
Off to his side Jingyan shifts and coughs gently, and Lin Shu almost against his will finds himself reigning in his tone and temper. Taking another annoyed breath, he says slightly more evenly, "Those numbers should have been copied for the tax bureau as well, ask Minister Zhang about it to see if you can replicate what you need." The surrounding ministers seem to take a mutual sigh of relief with the exception of Minister Cai, who is coughing gleefully into his cup while being elbowed by another Minister - Shin? Shen? Something to that effect, Lin Shu is sure he can subtly find out if he has to.
A little while later finds his patience again wearing thin. He glances at Lie Zhanying, whose artform in the impassive gaze was carefully trained on the opposite wall despite giving off an aura of vague judgement. Is he also taking lessons from the honorable Lady Jing? Probably, through sheer osmosis if nothing else.
He doesn't look at Jingyan. (Lies, he looks at him all the time)
Later again, there will be a break in the proceedings for food and refreshments. Jingyan will sit with carefully cultivated grace, mindful of his health under Lin Shu's eagle-eyed watch, and converse with the assembled ministers not unlike holding court; a Phoenix among clucking chickens. Soothing ruffled feathers, Jingyan will occasionally glance at his Emperor, private smile tucked away in a corner as he pours another cup of herbal tea.
Lin Shu will at least have the grace to feel abashed at any harsh words he may have said in this particular meeting, and help Jingyan in his endeavors.
Life will be good.
"Jingyan, beloved, why are the wolves in our bed?!"