One and a half years ago.
"Well, I can't say this is a pleasant surprise." Li Chenyang sighed, welcoming Wen Jinkai into the foyer room. Strong tea was served as the two men settled in opposite couches.
"At the least, you can pretend to be just a little bit more joyous to see me," Wen Jinkai muttered, taking a gulp of his tea. Black oolong, bitter and strong, one of his favorites—at least Chenyang hadn't forgotten his tea preference, even if it was a force of habit.
"You know I can never be happy to see you."
Wen Jinkai's rigid expression softened. "You knew, didn't you?"
"Depends on what you're talking about."
"I've always wondered, if it wasn't for that young lady's persistence, would you have saved me? Or would you have left me there to rot to my death?"
Li Chenyang didn't respond. He merely glanced past Wen Jinkai's shoulders, focusing on anything but his close friend.
Wen Jinkai took his silence as the answer. "Why wouldn't you save me?"
"What did you do to Minghua in the Palace?"
Wen Jinkai's face toughened. "I'd never hurt her, you know that."
Li Chenyang sipped his tea, peeking at his peer through the rim of the cup. "I wouldn't have saved you. I would've left you to die and become fertilizer for grass."
Wen Jinkai let out a humorless chuckle. "That hurts, my friend."
Li Chenyang's jaw tightened, his eyes darkened in disgust. "After what happened to Minghua, are we even considered friends?"
Wen Jinkai let out a loud and heavy sigh. "How many times must I say it? I would never hurt her."
"Why do you have to continue repeating that? Unless, you feel guilty or you did hurt her, just not physically."
"Since when did you care about her? You despised her. Called her a spoilt brat who was too naive and ignorant."
Li Chenyang hurled the teacup at Wen Jinkai, his eyes set ablaze.
Wen Jinkai easily tilted his head to one side, the teacup whirling past his neck. "You missed."
"Shut up," Li Chenyang snarled, his lips curled. "Get out of my house."
"Since you obviously can't hold a proper conversation with me, bring me your father."
"As if he'd want to see the likes of you," Li Chenyang spat out, his blood boiling. He curled his fingers together.
"We were such good friends," Wen Jinkai murmured, "It's a pity you allowed a woman to get in the way."
"She was my sister!"
"She was my lover," Wen Jinkai seethed, shooting out of his chair. "I did what I could to keep her safe in that Palace!"
"YOU KEPT HER SAFE?!" Li Chenyang roared.
"Yes, she was fed and taken care of—"
"Then explain her heartbreak! Explain why she came back thin and ghastly as if the entire world had wronged her! Explain why her eyes were reddened by tears! Whatever the hell you think you did to keep her safe obviously failed."
Wen Jinkai squeezed his eyes shut, forcing the image out of his mind. Her bright smiles, her innocent laughter, the twinkle in her eyes when she looked up at him. He wanted to forget it all. The memories they shared, the trust she had for him, the hope for their future. He didn't want to remember it.
"I didn't come here to argue."
"Then what the hell did you even come here for?" Li Chenyang snapped
"I want to see the girl who saved my life."
Li Chenyang let out a scoff of disbelief. "Do you hear yourself? After what you did to my sister, you think I'd let you corrupt another one?"
"I only want to thank her. That's all."
"Stay away from Xueyue."
"Is that her name?"
"You bastard—" Li Chenyang didn't finish his sentence before he charged for Wen Jinkai just as the door abruptly opened.
"What is going on?!" Duke Li Shenyang exclaimed, stepping into the room only to see his son toppled over Commander Wen Jinkai, his hands gripping the man by the collar.
"You stay the hell away from her, do you hear me?" Li Chenyang seethed through gritted teeth, his hands shook with fury. "This is a warning."
However, Wen Jinkai was unfazed. "Get off of me. You're lucky we were friends. Just for touching me, I could've sliced your hand off—"
Li Chenyang punched him.
Wen Jinkai could've easily dodged, but he didn't. Wen Jinkai took the punch because he knew it was the least he could do after what happened to Li Minghua.
"Chenyang!" Duke Li Shenyang scowled, storming to his son and yanking the boy off. "What is the meaning of this? You always negotiate with words, not your fist."
Li Chenyang ignored his father, reaching over the Duke's sturdy frame to grab Wen Jinkai only to be pulled back. "You stay away from her, you hear me?!"
Wen Jinkai stood back up, unfazed that his lips were split and bleeding from the punch. He straightened his collars and his clothes without blinking. "I do as I please."
"Li Chenyang, that is enough!" Duke Li Shenyang roared, pushing his son back onto the couch. "I did not raise you to let your emotions get the best of you." He sighed, pinching the spot in between his brows.
Turning to Wen Jinkai, he frowned. "I believe it is time for you to leave, Wen Jinkai."
Wen Jinkai shot Li Chenyang a dirty look and stormed out of the room. Despite his irritation, he had enough respect to not slam the door behind him.
"How disappointing," Wen Jinkai muttered to himself, roughly wiping away the blood off of his lips. He breathed in deeply in an attempt to calm his irritation, but to no avail. He wanted to run back to the room and beat the living daylights out of Li Chenyang.
Wen Jinkai blew out a sigh. "Fuck's sake," he grumbled, heading down the hallway.
Suddenly, his ears perked. A bell-like laughter chimed in the air, filled with life and joy, so carefree and sweet. Unknowingly, he began to walk farther away from the entrance of the Li Manor and towards the unsuspecting sound. Mesmerized by the angelic sound, he could do nothing but continue walking until he found himself near the stables. Keeping himself hidden behind a tree, he watched as a young lady interacted with a horse.
"You're so spoiled." She giggled when the horse snorted, nudging her for more treats.
Wen Jinkai sucked in a breath. He hadn't heard something so reassuring, so lovely, in a long time. Her laughter was sweet like honey, reminding him of Li Minghua who loved to laugh at the stupidest things.
"Okay okay, one more and that's it." She tried to be stern, sticking up one finger to show the horse.
Wen Jinkai watched from afar, his eyes narrowing onto her face, her smile, and everything there was to take in. She was beautiful. In ways that words couldn't describe and eyes couldn't tear away from. From the curl of her rosy lips to the crinkle of her cheery eyes, she was a vision to behold.
"There, no more." She revealed her empty palms to the horse, unable to wipe the smile off of her face when it snorted in response, angrily stomping the ground.
"Tomorrow, if you behave, I will bring you some more." She gave her horse a pat on the head and turned around.
Wen Jinkai instantly hid himself behind the tree, turning to the opposite side when she walked past it, completely unaware that maybe, just maybe… she was the reason he was finally moving on from Li Minghua.
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free