"You came here unexpectedly, as always," Li Xueyue finally said after their comfortable silence.
"I just wanted to see you." Yu Zhen hummed, nuzzling his head into the crook of her neck, his breath lightly fanning the exposed skin. She shuddered in response, her fingers reaching to clutch onto one of his arms.
"Don't you find it bizarre, Commander?"
"Hmm, what is?"
"That we barely know each other," Li Xueyue murmured. "I don't know anything about your background, and neither do you know mine."
"Well, is there something you'd like to know about me?"
Li Xueyue shifted in their position, twisting her head to get a better look at him. He had raised his head that their faces were just inches apart. Her eyes grew large at their proximity, but he didn't mind. What he did mind was the naïve look on her face. She had lowered her guard in front of him, again.
Yu Zhen wondered if she was like this with everyone or just him. The thought of the latter lifted his mood, whether it was real or not.
All he had to do was shift his face a bit closer and he would've easily captured her lips, but she would never respond to these types of kisses. Thus, he settled with a small peck on her forehead, lingering there for a split second before pulling away.
"Well, Sunshine?" he mused.
Li Xueyue snapped out of her daze, averting her gaze. Her fingers itched to touch the spot his lips had touched, the spot warm with his affection. He stood up, and she instantly missed the heat rolling off of his large frame. She thought he'd offer her a helping hand, but instead, he grabbed both of her hands and easily hoisted her to her feet, as if she weighed nothing, despite her heavy breakfast.
Li Xueyue was so comfortable around him that she didn't notice their proximity nor was she aware of how easily he could easily take advantage of her. She was comfortably tucked in his arms, her hands pressed against his chest, yet he was never the type to breach her boundary more than necessary.
"I'd like to know about your childhood," she found herself saying, her eyes darting from his dark eyes, dripping with mischief, to his lips. His tongue darted out to lick his bottom lip, as he slowly bit upon it.
"Which part of it?" he asked in a low whisper.
"Any part that you're willing to share," she said, her eyes concentrating on his lips more than ever. When his lips curled into that fond little smile he always wore around her, her heart missed a beat again.
"In the most cliche words possible, my childhood was black and white. I lived in the shadow of my older brother whilst my younger siblings lived in mine."
Li Xueyue blinked, realizing they had the same pitiful childhood. It was a miracle how easily he smiled around her despite their similar backgrounds. If only she was as cheerful as him… And little did she know, he only behaved like this around her.
"I was never my father's favorite. With his treatment, you'd think I was an illegitimate child from a servant, but he was never a kind man towards his sons. To him, sons should be disciplined, and daughters should be loved."
She saw the flash of indignation in his eyes before it left as fast as it came. Was he frustrated at his father? Or was he angered by his father's treatment?
"That is all I can share," Yu Zhen concluded, slowly raising a hand to cup the side of her face. His thumb stroked her face, his face softening. She wasn't staring up at him with pity or sympathy, it was empathy, as if she once stood in his shoes.
Li Xueyue opened her mouth, wanting to share her childhood, but hesitated. If she would tell him about her childhood, then she'd have to tell him she wasn't raised by the Li Family. It was likely he'd ask her more questions, sensitive and personal, ones that she was terrified of answering. But it was unfair if she didn't share the truth with him. He had done his part. It was her turn to do the same.
���Will you tell me about your childhood?" Yu Zhen asked, his voice a tad bit more hopeful than he had anticipated. He was eager to learn more about her.
What type of child was she growing up? Was she as snarky as she was today? Or perhaps she was the troublemaker who blamed the broken vase on her siblings?
Li Xueyue nervously licked her lips. Maybe it wasn't the best idea to have asked about his childhood.
He must've seen the panic in her eyes. Thus, added on, "Of course, you don't have to tell me if you're not comfortable. You can always share something else."
Li Xueyue didn't need to look at him to know he was slightly disappointed by her actions. She felt guilt claw at her chest, but fear weighed her down more. What if he looked at her as if she was lesser than him after finding out she was an illegitimate child?
Originally, Xueyue thought the Viscount was her birth father. It wasn't until she had gotten into a nasty argument with Bai Tianai in their youth did she learn the truth. "Your disgusting father raped our mother, and that's how you were born! You're not daddy's daughter, you're an illegitimate child!" Bai Tianai had hollered at Xueyue during the argument.
The abused Xueyue didn't need to second-guess Bai Tianai's words. Of course, it would be the truth. Why else would Viscount Bai Sheng treat her so horribly? No one was inherently evil by nature.
"You mentioned your father treated you as if you're an illegitimate child. What… do you think of them?"
"Illegitimate children. What is your stance on them?"
Yu Zhen didn't answer her. He didn't need to. He already knew where this was going.
"Did the Duke have you out of wedlock?"
Li Xueyue blinked. She immediately shook her head. "No, he'd never betray the Duchess's trust like that."
"In that case, why do you call her Duchess? Shouldn't it be Mother?"
A heavy silence fell over Li Xueyue. He had stopped stroking his thumb on her face now. He wore a puzzled expression, his brows creased together, forming three lines.
"Is there something wrong?" he finally asked, dropping the hand around her face. She felt her heart plummet to her stomach at his loss of touch. She jumped when he curled a finger and lifted her chin, forcing her to look up at him.
Li Xueyue had expected confusion to be written all over his face, but she didn't expect the worry tucked between the folds of his eyes. He stared at her as if he was worried she'd shatter any moment.
"No… there's nothing wrong."
"Are you sure?"
She didn't answer him.
Yu Zhen would give anything just to have a glimpse of what went on inside of her mind. He didn't understand the fear in her eyes or the panic that stole her small smile.
"Is… the Duchess your mother?"
She was, but not by blood.
Li Xueyue tried to shy away from him, but his firm grip didn't let her leave. She panicked, thinking he wouldn't release her until she gave him an answer. But she had underestimated the type of man he was.
Yu Zhen dropped his hands, giving her the space she needed. He felt his heart clench at the frightful expression on her face as if she was scared by something. What was she so petrified by? The truth?
"You're going to think less of me," she murmured, her voice barely above a whisper. Hugging her elbows, she stared towards the ground.
"You will!" she exasperated, taking steps back when he took one forward.
Yu Zhen became more serious. He stormed towards her and didn't give her an opportunity to back away. He grabbed her arms, forcing her to look up at him.
"'I'd never," he firmly said, leaving no room for arguments.
"That's only because you don't know the truth!" she cried out, her eyes trembling.
Li Xueyue didn't want to lose him. Not like this. But she couldn't force herself to reveal her deepest secrets. It would wreck both of them and his respect for her. Even if it was an unchangeable fact, people would still degrade her for it.
"Then tell me the truth."
"Yu Zhen I—"
"I can't judge what I don't know."
Li Xueyue swallowed, her eyes darting to the door, praying and hoping someone would walk in on them. A long silence passed through them, long enough to frustrate a regular person into walking out. But he didn't. His grip on her upper arms remained the same, steady, but vice.
He didn't plan to walk out of here until he heard the truth.
Finally, Li Xueyue couldn't hold it in anymore. Not with his pressing eyes and abdomen stare.
"Neither the Duke or Duchess are my birth parents."
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