109 Who“s the Father
Yu Zhen peered down at her, examining her features from the way her eyes were lit up from the smile to the little dimple on one side of her cheek. She was on her tippy-toes for him again, her legs shaking and swaying. He grabbed both of her hands that were now resting on his shoulders in a feeble attempt to see him eye to eye.
"Pft, you're so short," he taunted her, wishing to see the irritation fill her eyes like it always does.
She loved to dish out insults but found it hard to swallow some herself. This sassy and foolish side of her, he relished in it. He liked her unrestrained wit and with each passing time he saw her, he wished he could see all of the faces she was capable of making.
"At least I'm not annoying."
"Are you running out of insults now, Sunshine?" Yu Zhen laughed, using the hands he had grabbed to steady her back onto her feet, worrying for her balance.
Li Xueyue couldn't find a snappy reply to his question and glowered at the floor. She had lost track of how many victories and losses he had.
He bit his bottom lip upon seeing the moping expression on her face, a tiny pout admitting her defeat.
"Now, now, don't go glum on me." He placed a finger on either side of her lips, tilting it upwards but she responded by attempting to bite him.
"Wow, I can already imagine what type of kid you'd raise." Yu Zhen hummed, pulling his hand back in time for her to stick her tongue at him.
"I can probably raise them better than you ever could."
"Oh yeah? And who's their father?" he asked.
"Anyone but you."
"Uh-huh." He nodded, "We'll see about that."
"What?" he mimicked her expression, pinching her on the nose when her eyes widened.
"As if anyone wants to have your kids!"
"Tell that to your future self."
"Where did you learn to be this shameless?" she exasperated.
"I picked it up after meeting you," he deadpanned and before she could retort, he reminded her, "I can bicker with you all day, Sunshine."
"Hmph, good luck getting to the Capital without your horse." Li Xueyue attempted to steal his horse's loyalty but was yanked into his arms, her back colliding against his chest.
"What are you doing?" He scowled, his flawless features morphing into a man refusing to accept defeat.
Yu Zhen noticed she didn't even protest, whether it was out of tiredness, or she was daft enough to not realize it. He doubted it was the latter.
Her words rang in his head, 'All of my moves are calculated.' What wasn't calculated? Were her lowered guard and invisible walls a mere ploy to capture him in? His thoughts spiraled to all of the questions he wanted to ask but couldn't.
"Well? Are we going to the town?" Li Xueyue asked, snapping her fingers in front of his dazed expression.
Suddenly, an abrupt and crazy question came to mind. He couldn't help himself when he uttered out, "Do you know who's behind the curtain?"
"What curtain?" Li Xueyue responded, tilting her head.
"The Emperor bullies you too much, don't you think?" he suddenly said, noting the skepticism shrouding her features.
Li Xueyue didn't expect his questions. She pushed her hands at his arms but he held her in. She rapidly blinked upon realizing something. His loose arms were a mere illusion and that he was seemingly giving her the option to run, but there wasn't an escape. It was a trap that would notify him to embrace her more tightly.
"Does it look like bullying to you?" she asked.
She was smart, he'll give her that. Yu Zhen noticed she always knew how to deflect things away from her, asking for another person's opinion—waiting for the other person to slip up.
"It seems that way," he told her.
"Who else thinks like this?" she fired back, her cheerful expression becoming too serious for their liking. Their lively atmosphere was becoming more tense by the second.
Yu Zhen didn't mean for it to become a political discussion, but couldn't help but say, "Who doesn't?"
He eased the tension by flicking her on the forehead. She jumped, her hand flying to the spot.
Li Xueyue didn't realize her shoulders were taut and her eyes were filled with accusations. She was too affected by his words.
"You don't have to tolerate this, you know," he murmured, his warmth and reassurance draped over her like a heavy and stubborn blanket.
"What are you talking about?" Li Xueyue asked, even though she was hesitant about his response.
"I can bring you to safety." Yu Zhen touched the side of her face, his thumb tracing shapes upon her cheekbones.
"Safety?" she repeated, her voice dripping with bewilderment. She was safe here in the Li Manor. What was he talking about?
"No one will dare to harm you in my territory. No one will meddle with your wellbeing and happiness."
"I'm safer in Wuyi, with my family—"
"Your family can only keep you safe for so long."
His words could've offended her if it wasn't for the sincerity tucked in his voice. He was worried about her. He cared for her.
Li Xueyue didn't want his sympathy or pity. She didn't need someone to care for her. She didn't want to rely on him, someone she barely knew about.
"What did you hear in the Palace?" Li Xueyue shot back, finally understanding where this was coming from.
"They're demanding your audience almost every day. It makes me wonder about the time on their hands," Yu Zhen admitted.
Li Xueyue refused to insult the Imperial Family in such an open place. If she was going to criticize them, she preferred to do it in the confines of the house. Thus, she kept her mouth shut and allowed him to continue.
"Come with me to Hanjian." Yu Zhen cradled both sides of her face now, a loving expression on his face.
She didn't expect this treatment.
Li Xueyue wished he wouldn't hold her so dear to him, she was beginning to get the wrong idea that maybe… just maybe, his feelings for her were actually genuine.
"You'll want nothing there."
Another materialistic invitation. Her face hardened with irritation. Was he just another Wen Jinkai in disguise?
"Why does everyone tell me that? As if I can be brought with—"
"I will not buy you with materialism. I will bribe you with undivided love and affection, so long as you become mine."
Li Xueyue felt the flutters in her stomach before she felt the tremor of her heart. His words were so sweet and promising, she was growing terrified of the possibilities he'd turn his back to her. He was asking for the unimaginable—to abandon her life in Wuyi and go with him.
"What do you want from me?" Li Xueyue's voice quivered, her eyes growing larger with an uncertainty that he might break her heart. "...In return?" she added on.
"Everything. Your soul, your body, your heart, but above all, I want you. Come to me, and you will be sheltered from every storm and hurricane that might come our way."
It was with this declaration that Li Xueyue knew she was going to place her fragile heart in his hands and expect him to not break it. She wasn't sure if she was ready to trust him, and his devotion. She wasn't sure if it was real, or if his affection was a daydream. She was terrified at the idea that to her, he would be the one, but to him, she would be just one out of the many women he married. Afterall, he was the Second Prince of Hanjian and second in line for the throne.