Mammia, I’m finally done. Happy Birthday @r1su. Gonna go back to dying
Chapter 63: The King Consort Returns to the Palace
“Because Your Majesty doesn’t trust Ling Xiao.” Ling Xiao’s penetrating eyes were looking right into the Emperor’s double pupils.
He gathered his courage and stated, “Your Majesty, must you always beat around the bush to probe Ling Xiao, can’t you just directly ask Ling Xiao?”
The Emperor raised an eyebrow at what he heard, his double pupil eyes serene and deep as he watched him. Ling Xiao looked straight at it, calmness in his eyes and did not evade it.
A ripple appeared in the Emperor’s heart when he saw that, that little eunuch who would always speak so carefully in front of him finally turned into someone who dare to questioned him.
This is most likely this person’s inherent character, blunt and direct, making him really refreshing.
The Emperor got up and walked in front of Ling Xiao, staring fixedly at Ling Xiao for a long time, his gaze penetrating. It was like he was trying to see Ling Xiao inside and out.
This gave Ling Xiao a feeling of being defiled by sight and a feeling a shame spread from his heart, his face couldn’t help but heat up a little.
He quietly and weakly called out to him, “Your… Your Majesty…”
This voice called out to the depths of the Emperor’s heart, softening his heart he was in a total mess.
The Emperor couldn’t help but want to know the true self of the man before and so he asked, “Then tell me, what do you think?”
Ling Xiao thought to himself for a while, then ratherly slyly said, “The things in Ling Xiao’s thoughts are not what Your Majesty thinks.”
The slyness in Ling Xiao’s eyes naturally did not escape the Emperor’s notice, and that reply wasn’t really a reply did not please him.
The Emperor reached out to hold Ling Xiao’s chin so he could look at him straight in the eyes and his thoughts could not be hidden from him. He then asked once more, “What are We thinking of?”
“……” Ling Xiao stared blankly, the Emperor was obviously unhappy with his previous reply.
Ling Xiao pursed his lips under the Emperor’s attentive gaze. He didn’t dare to randomly make remarks, so how was he supposed to speak the truth?
Being cornered for the moment, Ling Xiao didn’t know what he should say and turned panicky in front of the Emperor.
He raised and placed down his hand several times, at loss at where he should put it. His mouth closed and opened but no words came out.
His brows wrinkled in worry, he wanted to express something, but he didn’t express anything out, all he showed was a simple and honest appearance.
The Emperor took in this scene and felt it was a bit funny, causing his lips to quirk up a bit.
This quirk was seen by Ling Xiao and he felt like he was being teased. Embarrassed, steam rushed from his head and his face turned completely red.
His heart gradually sped up, jumping so much it gave Ling Xiao the feeling it was going to jump out.
And the Emperor who made him like this narrowed his eyes in what appeared to be satisfaction, wearing an attitude of appreciating something.
Ashamed into anger, Ling Xiao glared at him and blurted out resentfully, “Shouldn’t Your Majesty be clear on what kind of thoughts you hold?”
The moment he finished speaking it, Ling Xiao regretted it. If he said that to a common person, then it would be fine, but the person he was confronting was the Emperor.
Ling Xiao timidly snuck a look at the Emperor, only to find that there was no anger on his face, rather, he looked a bit baffled.
What Ling Xiao didn’t know.
His resentment and soft voice, combined with his red cheeks did not express his annoyance like he wanted. Instead, it gave the feeling of tickling one’s heart like a tantrum throwing child.
This was like a kitten extending it’s pink claws to lightly paw at the Emperor’s heart, it gave an unbearable itchy feeling to him.
The Emperor couldn’t help but go closer to him and before Ling Xiao could react, pressed his forehead against his.
Ling Xiao shook, in such close range, the Emperor’s gaze was even deeper. That double pupil eye was dark like ink, one glance showed his might and the hidden depth within caused one to feel fearful. It was like his gaze was being attracted by a magnet as he faced him and was unable to move his gaze away.
“Thump, thump, thump”
He didn’t know whose heartbeat it was, echoing in the quest room, thump after thump in Ling Xiao’s ear, making him feel a little dizzy.
The Emperor’s appearance was not very clear under the flickering candle light and reflected in Ling Xiao’s eyes. But it made him think, the Emperor was really handsome, so handsome it made one’s mouth dry…
Like he was bewitched, Ling Xiao slower moved closer to him.
He softly licked the Emperor’s lips once.
Touching the Emperor’s thin lips, Ling Xiao suddenly came to his senses and he was astounded at his own action, almost jumping up. But the Emperor tugged him and kept him in his embrace.
Following that was the Emperor’s overbearing and lingering kiss.
“Hn…” Ling Xiao stared blankly, his sight meeting the Emperor’s teasing ones. What was expressed in those eyes was a bit of teasing against Ling Xiao’s movement before.
Ling Xiao was unhappy, but his body was weak and powerless by that kiss, it was impossible to push away the Emperor.
The Emperor’s tongue gradually deepen, arousing Ling Xiao through their entanglement, carrying an undertone of guiding him, like he was telling him– this was a real kiss.
Ling Xiao was kissed until he was completely muddle-headed, his resisting hand had turned into an indulging one without his notice.
Under the hazy candlelight, the two intertwining figures reflected on the window, causing an ambiguous feeling to raise within.
The atmosphere was just right, and Ling Xiao’s expression was beginning to slacken under the pleasure.
With his strong desire, the two men’s body gradually heated up.
The Emperor restrained himself, but Ling Xiao had already lost his senses and started to unconsciously pull at his own clothing.
He wanted to get rid of the heat within his body by taking off his clothes.
But at this moment, the Emperor suddenly stopped and pushed him a little farther away.
With his clothes a bit disorganized and standing helplessly in front of the Emperor, his absent-minded expression had a soul-devouring bewitching effect, trying to seduce one closer and eat him cleanly. The Emperor silently endured and frowned, difficulty turning his eyes away.
“We have felt your feelings.”
The Emperor’s voice carried a husky sex appeal that made Ling Xiao feel limp all over from just hearing.
Ling Xiao vacantly blinked and moved toward him.
The Emperor pursed his lips and turned around to walk toward the entrance.
“We still have to go back to the country tomorrow, you should rest earlier. We will go out to enjoy the wind for a while.”
With that said, the Emperor opened the door and walked out. His footsteps were a bit quicker than before.
Once the door was open, the wind outside blew in and scattered the heat in the room, it also brought Ling Xiao back to his senses.
Only now did Ling Xiao rouse from his desire, his eyes following the Emperor’s departure. When he thought back to the scene just then, his cheeks redden.
He once again lost his senses from the Emperor’s kiss.
And even did actions like he was tempting the Emperor.
Ling Xiao hated how he could not get a tofu and kill himself with it.
Furthermore, the Emperor was now misunderstanding his feelings.
When Ling Xiao thought of that word, a complicated look appeared in his eyes. Was the Emperor really misunderstanding him?
Or was it something he felt from the beginning?
Ling Xiao thought a bit and suddenly swung his head, preventing himself from thinking anymore of that.
On the second day, when Ling Xiao woke up, only a single person stood watch by his side.
This person was dressed completely in black while a long sword was on his back, a black cloth covered the person’s appearance, completing the appearance of a martial artist.
Ling Xiao had seen him before, it was that person who had stood in front of the Emperor back at the battlefield.
When he saw that Ling Xiao had woken up, he knelt in front of him.
“This subordinate is An Ya. The Master ordered to bring King Consort back to the country.”
Ling Xiao stared blankly then looked outside at the sky color, it was already very bright. He asked a bit confused, “What about the Emperor?”
“Master had already left ahead on a fast horse.” An Ya succinctly replied.
Ling Xiao raised an eyebrow, the Emperor left already?
Did something happen in Mu Country?
Ling Xiao wanted to ask An Ya, but his face was expressionless. Under the respectful expression was restraint, giving a person a feeling of distance and stepping back.
Ling Xiao understood that he would not be able to get anything out from asking this person, so he didn’t bother asking anymore.
So he just commanded him, “Then you can go prepare. Besides you, who else would there be?”
“An Xiang An Fen, An Liu, An Yong.”
TL Note: All the An means dark, secret, hidden, etc
Ling Xiao stared blankly, they were all surnamed An?
He turned his questioning gaze to An Ya, but An Ya acted as if he did not see it and quietly knelt in front of him, waiting for Ling Xiao’s orders.
Ling Xiao sighed and told him, “Alright, you can go. Call in An Xiang would you?”
Ling Xiao randomly picked a person for him to call in.
Soon after, a woman dressed in all black walked in.
What was very coincidental was that this was the maid that had accompanied him to the prison yesterday.
While Ling Xiao was slightly surprised, An Xiang knelt in front of him.
Ling Xiao sat back down on the bed and said, “You can stand. Did the Emperor return so urgently because something happened back in the country?”
An Xiang shook her head, “This subordinate does not know, but the country cannot not have a missing monarch for so long. The Master had already been away for a long time.”
The implication behind it was that the Emperor had to return and handle the government affairs…
Ling Xiao was still somewhat satisfied by this reply and asked another question, “Then Lan Wei… Great General Lan Wei, did he follow him back?”
An Xiang lowered her head and replied, “Yes, Master left us five subordinates behind to escort Young Master back to the palace.”
Speaking to that point, An Xiang added some more to the reply in fear of Ling Xiao feeling that was too few people. “Please do not worry Young Master. Us five subordinates are all Master’s capable subordinates. Our martial arts are only second to General Lan, we will not allow you any harm.”
Ling Xiao slightly paused at what he heard and knew that An Xiang misunderstood his meaning and felt it was a bit funny, “I’m not worrying about that.”
With that said, Ling Xiao sighed, “I was just confused.”
“Wasn’t Lan Wei expelled out of the capital by the Emperor? How did he became a great general nowadays?”
An Xiang paused for a moment, then saluted and answered, “This… subordinate doesn’t know. However, Master always had his own views.”
An Xiang said she did not know, but said that the Emperor had his own views. This did not sound like she did not know.
She likely stopped because she could not say anymore.
Ling Xiao also did not make things hard for her, he switched topics, “Fu Yujun… Shao Country’s Second Prince, how did the Emperor deal with him?”
An Xiang respectfully replied to his question, “He agreed to Master’s condition and became Shao Country’s Sovereign King and allowed Shao Country to become Mu Country’s vassal state.”
Ling Xiao raised an eyebrow, it looks like Lan Wei was quite resourceful.
With one matter answered, Ling Xiao stood up, “Let’s go.”
An Xiang was surprised and was visibly confused, she couldn’t help but call out to Ling Xiao.”
Ling Xiao turned back to look at An Xiang questioningly.
An Xiang asked, “Are you going to go see him?”
Ling Xiao only understood that An Xiang was talking about Fu Yujun after staring blankly at her for a while. Ling Xiao couldn’t help but laugh and lightly shook his head, “No, I was saying we should hurry up and leave, if we are fast enough, perhaps we can catch up to the Emperor.”
An Xiang looked at Ling Xiao in surprise.
Ling Xiao looked away, “Since I have already decided to return to Mu Country, then it’s best I don’t see people from other country, especially their sovereign king, as much.”
An Xiang slightly smiled at what she heard, “It looks like General Lan had made things clearer for you, Young Master.”
This was the first time Ling Xiao saw An Xiang smile and he was rather amazed. He couldn’t help but say, “So all of you wearing all black aren’t all facially paralyzed.”
An Xiang went stiff and the smile on her face went away.
Ling Xiao felt it was a pity, but his attention focused on what she said.
An Xiang knew it was Lan Wei that cleared things up for him?
The confusion on his face was clear for An Xiang to see and she plainly explained, “Young Master did not go see Shao Country’s Second Prince after seeing General Lan.”
“So you concluded that I listened to Lan Wei?” Ling Xiao ranted, sounding like he was blaming An Xiang for being too arbitrary.
An Xiang hurriedly explained, “It was not only that, this subordinate had heard your exchange with General Lan… very clearly.”
“……” Ling Xiao pursed his lips, his face black.
An Xiang quickly knelt on the ground, “Please calm down Young Master, this subordinate didn’t mean to do so. It was just this subordinate’s skill was too strong…”
Speaking of that, An Xiang felt a bit embarrassed as she stood up, shifting a bit, “General Lan also knows that this subordinate can hear it.”
Ling Xiao stared blankly at what he heard, “Lan Wei knew.”
An Xiang said, “General Lan’s martial arts are above us subordinates, it’s impossible for him to not know how much this subordinate can hear at a certain distance. He likely wanted this one to her him persuade you.”
“Wait.” Ling Xiao interrupted her, “Do you mean you intentionally allowed Lan Wei to persuade me?”
An Xiang quickly lowered her head, knowing that she had leaked too much. Her lowered head clearly showed that she was not willing to speak anymore.
But Ling Xiao was not letting her go, he approached her, “An Xiang, tell me the truth. Did you… already meet me before?”
An Xiang quickly shook her head after being stunned for a moment, trying to hide.
Ling Xiao said, “All of the Emperor’s chamberlain calls me King Consort when they see me, only you call me ‘Young Master’. The other people would always be silent in front of me, it’s clear that they were warned off by the Emperor and could not speak much in front of me. But you’re not like that, instead, you sometimes talk too much. Were we very familiar before?”
An Xiang shook, her gaze evading his, not daring to face him.
Ling Xiao saw how see acted and it became clear, this girl really…
Ling Xiao raised an eyebrow and with both hands behind his back, he pursed his lips and coldly asked, “Who are you? Tell me, it’s an order, An Xiang.”
“Young…Young Master.” An Xiang frowned, her face complicated.
Ling Xiao continued to pressure her, “If you don’t tell me, then I will go ask the Emperor. I’ll also add in how close we are.”
An Xiang’s face went white.
Ling Xiao continue to add, “The Emperor allows me to be wanton, if you don’t listen to his order, I don’t know if he could tolerate you.”
“Young Master!” An Xiang was rather resentful, “This subordinate does not have any intent to harm Young Master, why would you make things so hard for this subordinate?”
Ling Xiao softly sighed, he squatted down and knelt in front of her to face her, “Then why do you have to make things hard for me? Do you know how bad it feels to not know anything?”
“Things that everyone knows, yet only I don’t know. Have you experienced this kind of feeling?”
“……” An Xiang went silent, her face at loss for a while before she gave up struggling and calmly stated, “Young Master, this subordinate knows you, but you did not know that was An Xiang.”
“What do you mean?” Ling Xiao pursed his lips.
An Xiang said, “The Emperor once conferred two maids to you, Ji Xiang and Fu Kang, do you remember?”
Ling Xiao was at loss, he didn’t know what those maids had to do with An Xiang.
Could it be…
A thought flashed through his mind and he looked at her, stunned.
An Xiang nodded and answered, “Ji Xiang is An Xiang.”
Looking at his face full of shock, An Xiang kept her head low.
Ling Xiao rubbed his forehead and got up. This Emperor, he had long already place his people by his side.
“Then the other one?” Ling Xiao asked.
An Xiang answered, “The other one is An Yong, you have not met her yet Young Master.”
“So it was like that.” Ling Xiao pursed his lips, “No wonder you always call me Young Master. After I stopped being the Steward, I did tell you two to call me ‘Young Master’ in Shao Country Prince’s house.”
An Xiang nodded.
Ling Xiao rubbed his temple, “If it’s like this, then shouldn’t the Emperor had knew about my secret before?”
His secret was naturally about him still being a male.
An Xiang’s face slightly redden, “This subordinate… didn’t manage to report back to the Master yet when you were exposed.”
So, before he was exposed, the Emperor didn’t know.
Ling Xiao was also clear about that. The Emperor had personally said before that this was the only thing he had successfully hidden from him.
Ling Xiao tiredly rubbed the area between his eyebrows, “Just how many people did the Emperor send out undercover?”
An Xiang was silent for a while before answering, “Young Master, you should not try to know Master’s strength. It is not something you can assess, Master had started to nurture his secret guards and secret agents since he was ten years old. The number cannot be calculated”
Ling Xiao trembled from the chill at what he heard. Only now did he know just what kind of powerful person did he try to lie to and exploit.
But luckily, he didn’t really have anything to lie to him now.
In the end, Ling Xiao did not manage to catch up to the Emperor.
The Emperor had his horse go as fast as possible and reached Mu Country three days earlier than Ling Xiao.
The day he returned to Mu Country, the Emperor brought people with him and waited for Ling Xiao far away from the palace.
Behind the Emperor were his chamberlains, a majestic group of people.
When Ling Xiao got off the carriage, that group of people loudly shouted, “We hope King Consort is well.”
He clearly had not been conferred the title yet, but everyone already look upon him as the King Consort.
Ling Xiao was a bit at loss while the Emperor personally got off his carriage and pulled over Ling Xiao to get onto his carriage. The whole way back to the palace, he was stared at.
In the palace, the Emperor directly took him to the Imperial Study’s courtyard that was near. There were numerous maids and eunuch waiting there already.
“This will be the place you live in from hereafter. Take a look and see if you like it.”
The Emperor told him.
Ling Xiao observed the courtyard in front of him.
The veranda was large with pavilions and
. All sorts of pruned flowers and plants grew around, there was also a small pond with some ornamental fish.
The moment one walks closer, they would be able to see them breaking the water surface in a rush to outdo each other.
This place also had an independent small kitchen. The small kitchen had a small door in the back and leads directly to the stocking place. This place goes to the stocking area directly, so a person could go there and get some things to be delivered over.
This courtyard was like an independent small world.
He could see that the Emperor truly used a lot of effort to prepare this place.
Ling Xiao’s heart was a bit moved.
He lied to the Emperor, but not only was he not blamed, but he had even prepared such a good courtyard for him. The Emperor was sincerely thinking for him.
If only he was a woman, Ling Xiao couldn’t help but think.
His mind naturally made a female version of the Emperor appear, tall with a biting cold grandeur, while his chest has…
Suddenly chilled by his own imagination, Ling Xiao quivered and didn’t dare to continue that train of thought.
The Emperor is the Emperor, he’s fine as he is now.
The Emperor who was paying attention to Ling Xiao the whole time saw his face suddenly change and asked him, “What’s wrong?”
Ling Xiao quickly shook his head to express that nothing was wrong. Seeing that the Emperor was still curious, Ling Xiao quickly shifted the topic, “Your Majesty, Ling Xiao really likes this place.”
The Emperor stared at him for another moment but did not make it hard for him anymore. He lightly patted Ling Xiao’s hand, “As long as you like it, if you need anything just tell Us.”
“Alright.” Ling Xiao replied.
Although he felt slightly ashamed for being provided for, this kind of love where he could get something just by asking, this kind of bright life, was something Ling Xiao experienced for the first time.
And this kind of experience, he did not hate it.
On the contrary, he was somewhat falling in love with this kind of feeling.
The Emperor did not stay too long. He had accumulated too many things to deal with, it was not easy for him to squeeze out time to pick up Ling Xiao.
Now, he had already returned to the Imperial Study to deal with official business.
Before he left, the Emperor sent Xiao Lizi to accompany Ling Xiao.
Xiao Lizi had ascended to being the Eunuch Steward now, the clothing he wore were no longer the blue simple eunuch clothes, but the embroidered red gown in clouds.
The red gown increased Xiao Lizi’s youthful looks. Ling Xiao saw his smile and felt that he was flushed with success.
Ling Xiao did not hold back and called out sarcastically, “Oh, Steward Li.”
Xiao Lizi stared blankly, his face white and he bowed, “Ste… no, King Consort, you’ve scared this servant.”
“Scared?” Ling Xiao sneered.
If this Xiao Lizi still stood on his side, he would likely had already been dealt with by the Emperor a long time ago. The Emperor was able to put up with him (Ling Xiao) because one, he was fond of him, but also because he did not have any power. So he was no threat to the Emperor.
Back when he was the Steward Ling, the Emperor worked hard in making him just a mere figurehead. And the Xiao Lizi he found, from the looks of his current position, had long been on the Emperor’s side.
Although he knew that what Xiao Lizi done was pardonable, but Ling Xiao was still a bit unhappy about it.
He gave Xiao Lizi a harsh glance, causing Xiao Lizi to go stiff. He knew in his heart that he made this important person unhappy, so he licked his lips and tried to think of a way to curry favor with Ling Xiao. he first put on an act and had the other servants leave.
He approached Ling Xiao and said, “King Consort, Xiao Lizi also had no choice in order to live. You see, the Emperor had already had the old ‘Steward Ling’ commit suicide on his orders.”
Seeing how Ling Xiao had no reactions, Xiao Lizi continued, “When the Emperor ordered ‘Steward Ling’s’ death, the people in the palace were all alarmed, everyone was afraid of being implicated for having any relations with you.”
“Xiao Lizi is just a lowly person with no say, I really had no choice. But luckily King Consort is a good man and heaven helps the good. The Emperor also sincerely loves you, that death sentence from before was just a pretense.”
While speaking, Xiao Lizi fawningly got closer to Ling Xiao, “Your Majesty really loves you, that cannot be denied. King Consort, you don’t know, but first thing His Majesty did when he came back two days early was to see if this courtyard was finished. He had personally checked it one last time and didn’t miss anything before waiting for your return and bringing you over.”
“Think about it, who else could be as privileged as you.” Xiao Lizi’s gave was very bright as he spoke, like the one that was favored was himself.
Ling Xiao rolled his eyes.
Being snubbed, Xiao Lizi rubbed his nose, his eyes that were looking down suddenly lit up like he had thought of something and he spoke again, “King Consort, you don’t know, there are people worried about your return.”
“Worried?” Ling Xiao raised an eyelid.
Seeing that Ling Xiao was interested, he hurriedly continued, “It is only natural.”
“The Emperor wants to confer a King Consort and prepared such a place for your return. In this palace, the Emperor’s Concubine Xian, Concubine Li, and Concubine Ran had probably long turned green with envy.”
“Concubine Xian has always been warm and virtuous, she will not bother you. Concubine Li does not have a backer in Mu Country, so she also does not dare to do anything. But Concubine Ran is different, her father is the Ministry of Appointment’s High Official. After Lord Prime MInister had fallen from prestige, his power has been expanding. The Emperor is usually better to her than the other two concubines, helping her father gain more power. So before you had come, in this harem, it could be said that she alone had all his favor.”
Speaking so much, Xiao Lizi swallowed his saliva and cleared his dry throat to continue speaking, “Now that you have come, the one that is affected by you is her, how could she not be infuriated?”
Ling Xiao knew that what Xiao Lizi said was reasonable, he had followed Mo Qi and mingled among the harem people before, so he naturally knew the terribleness of it.
It’s just that he always felt that those words shouldn’t be heard, they were unpleasant to hear.
Furthermore, what does these concubines fighting each other for favor has to do with him?
Could it be that he still had to fight a group of woman for a man?
Justing about it was scary, Ling Xiao shook his head.
Xiao Lizi thought Ling Xiao was denying what he said when he saw how he acted and anxiously added, “King Consort, please trust this one, what this servant said is all true.”
“There’s also Concubine Xian, please be careful.”
Xiao Lizi went nearer to Ling Xiao, “Although she does not have a powerful backer, she had stayed in the palace for so long so she’s bound to have something strong about her. I’ve heard that recently, a red-dressed maid appeared by her side, this maid’s appearance is very good, Concubine Xian had brought her with her very often when she wanders around the Emperor. She could had some evil scheme.”
“That woman dressed in red, this servant had only seen once before. She had shyly and timidly called to the Emperor before, casting flirtatious glances. This servant saw it and knew she was trouble.”
“This servant had also obtained information, that red-dressed woman, her name is Hong Ye.”
Ling Xiao was astounded.
“King Consort, let this servant tell you…”
“Alright!” This Xiao Lizi just kept talking without end, so Ling Xiao interrupted him, feeling jittery.
The nature of the harem’s concubines, how could he not be more clear on it them him?
In his past lifetime, just how many times had he dealt with them while helping Mo Qi?
The only useful thing he heard was about Hong Ye, she was actually over at Concubine Xian’s side.
What kind of relationship is there between Hong Ye and Concubine Xian?
The Emperor forgave Hong Ye?
It was not really possible, according to what Ling Xiao knows, the Emperor was not someone who easily forgave his subordinates.
Then, why was Hong Ye fine and still in the imperial palace?
Ling Xiao was a bit perplexed.
Speaking of which, Concubine Xian was also very suspicious.
Someone without a background could not stay in the imperial palace for so long. But if the Emperor really favored then, then it would make sense.
But the Emperor and her had mutual respect as husband and wife, although he doted on her as well, it was more as a consideration for her behavior. He had already given her the harem to manage for many years now.
But even after so many years, the Emperor’s concubines have come and gone, following Concubine Li, Concubine Ran and so on who had obtained the Emperor’s love, but her position had never swayed the entire time.
Even if it was in his past lifetime when Ling Xiao had made it so that Mo Qi sat in the Empress position, Concubine Xian still did not fall from her position of prestige.
The one that manages the harem is still Concubine Xian.
This truly left Ling Xiao confused.