When Duchess Wang Qixing and Li Xueyue returned home, the remainder of their time was spent in the gardens.
Duchess Wang Qixing did not reveal the fact that she had read the contents of the diary, but Xueyue knew she had. Their conversation was filled with the Duchess's teasing and small talks about how much she regretted taking Wen Jinkai's side in the past. Being the patient woman that she was, Li Xueyue listened to all of the Duchess's complaints with an understanding smile.
Soon, the sun began to set and one by one, the men of the family returned home.
First came Li Chenyang who always finished his workload days in advance, so much so that he could take days off, but didn't wish to. He was saving it for when he truly needed a break.
Next was Duke Li Shenyang who was always exhausted from his duties that were never-ending. When he was finished addressing one issue, two more would spring up. He could never catch a break, but that was the price he paid for being born into the Li Family that has always served the Wangs.
"Mom, Xiao Yue, I'm home!" Li Wenmin loudly announced the second he stepped through the doors of his house. He usually had the longest day out of everyone, but no amount of training would tire out the energetic puppy.
"Listen, listen," he excitedly said over the dinner table once everyone was gathered. "I think I finally found someone to match my speed!"
"In what?" Li Xueyue curiously asked, happy that someone else was trying to break the heavy tension in the dining room. For the past few days, it had always been her trying to dispel the awkward atmosphere, and she was beginning to run out of things to randomly comment on.
Li Xueyue was grateful for her brother's help. Or maybe, it was intentional. She did not know.
"What?" Li Xueyue blinked in confusion, bewildered that it was even something to compete in.
Li Chenyang chuckled. "What our idiotic brother meant was, there is something to rival his position as a glutton."
Li Wenmin decided to ignore his irritable brother's comment. "And guess what?"
"His identity is completely unknown!" Li Wenmin exclaimed, his eyes wide with excitement.
"What do you mean?" Li Xueyue mused. She realized he loved to animatedly move his hands when he spoke, and it provided her the perfect time to sneak another braised egg into her rice bowl.
The chefs had finally begun making braised eggs again, per the request of the Duchess. It wasn't hard to make the eggs, but it did take a while for the eggs to soak in the flavorful broth overnight.
"Well, this masked soldier is from Wen Jinkai's squadron, and despite being one of the reputable shadow guards, he has such a small build that I felt bad for him. So, obviously being the well-raised kid I am," he paused and grinned in his mother's direction, "I offered him some snacks!"
"And he finished them so quickly!" Li Wenmin exasperated. "I thought he was starved or something, but it turns out, he's the fastest eater in his squadron and—"
"Is that even a thing? Fastest eater?" Li Chenyang spoke up, "The military's food budget will surely suffer because of you two."
"Well, that's not the point, you dimwit! Don't interrupt my grand story," Li Wenmin huffed, "As I was saying—"
"Did you just call me a dimwit?"
"Is that the only thing you heard?"
"It's the only thing that matters," Li Chenyang retorted, rolling his eyes when his brother groaned in irritation.
"Shut up, I'm trying to finish my interesting story!"
"I'm doing everyone a favor. Your story is boring." Li Chenyang chuckled, enjoying the sight of Li Wenmin's face turning red with irritation.
"Have you seen yourself?" Li Wenmin retorted.
Duchess Wang Qixing let out a loud, dramatic sigh. "How I wish for a peaceful dinner."
Li Wenmin pointed an accusing finger towards Li Chenyang. "You'd get one if he wasn't so grouchy all the time."
"Being blunt does not mean I am grouchy."
"You're right," Li Wenmin suddenly said.
"It means you're boring," Li Wenmin deadpanned.
"That doesn't even make sense." Li Chenyang scowled. Despite that, he still felt a prick of irritation. "I am not boring."
"There they go again." Li Xueyue chuckled as the twins engaged in another endless bickering match that would not stop until one of them finally grew tired of being petty.
Duke Li Shenyang snorted in response. "Sometimes I wonder if my sons are in their early twenties or the early years of their lives."
"I wonder where they got that from." Duchess Wang Qixing lightly sniped, "Must've been another bad trait they inherited from their father. Just like the traits of keeping secrets from their mother."
The twins finally settled down. They exchanged quiet stares with each other, nervous at her words.
"Mom," Li Chenyang began, "We never meant to keep it a secret from you."
Li Wenmin rapidly nodded his head. "We only wanted to keep you safe from any worries. We didn't want you to be distressed by the contents of the diary."
"I don't like how everyone babies me in this family." Duchess Wang Qixing scowled. "I am not a sand castle that will crumble at the smallest poke."
Li Chenyang let out a quiet sigh. "We know, it's just…me and Wenmin thought it was for the better if you didn't fret over these things."
Duchess Wang Qixing let out a quiet sigh. "That is very silly of you guys. As your mother, I should be sheltering you from bad news, not the other way around."
Duke Li Shenyang decided it was time to speak up. "Well, I requested that they kept the secret from you."
"Why?" she asked, her lips tug downwards. She was suddenly fired up to start another argument.
"Because, your role as my wife is to live a blissful life."
Li Chenyang gagged in the background and Li Wenmin suddenly lost his appetite. Oh gross, now their parents were exchanging googly eyes with each other.
"H-how can you just—this is such stupid reasoning, I—" Duchess Wang Qixing stuttered, unsure of what she should say to his adoring confession. It was one of the rare moments that her husband spoiled her with words, despite claiming romance wasn't his expertise.
"So please, my lovely wife, you must understand why I keep things from you. I don't want you to ever be burdened by the world around you." Duke Li Shenyang gently reached for his wife's hands. "The only thing you should be burdened by is the color you should wear each day and if rubies suit your appearance more than sapphires."
Duchess Wang Qixing shook her head. "We're husband and wife, you foolish fox. Don't shoulder the burden by yourself. In my wedding vow to you, I had sworn to bear your problems as if they were mine, and together, we'd deal with it as one."
"Indeed, my darling wife, but I'm simply too weak-hearted to see you in pain," Duke Li Shenyang murmured, his usually aloof eyes softening just for her.
Li Chenyang resisted the urge to throw up. Li Wenmin, for once, settled his chopsticks onto the table. This lovey-dovey moment was too much for them.
They turned to Li Xueyue, expecting her to share the same disgusted expression as them, but she didn't. She had a tender hand on her heart, a mesmerized expression on her face. She was at awe with the love they had for each other.
The twins exchanged glances with each other before simultaneously shuddering in disgust. They would never understand what was so endearing with this cringeworthy moment… no matter how adoring it was.
"Next time, do not keep secrets from me. I want to be informed of what goes down in this house. Like, Wen Jinkai sneaking into Xueyue's room."
Duke Li Shenyang's eyes widened. "How did you know of this?"
"That doesn't matter."
"Right, right." Duke Li Shenyang nodded. "If you promise to voice your feelings to me, especially when you're distressed, then I will not keep things from you."
"Good." Duke Li Shenyang finally smiled a bit.
"I've always known you kept secrets from me," Duchess Wang Qixing suddenly said, a faraway expression on her face. "You've started doing it more frequently after what happened to our dear Minghua…"
Duke Li Shenyang shifted his gaze elsewhere. "I was simply worried the smallest poke would trigger you."
"I suppose we all have our reasons," Duchess Wang Qixing murmured.
Duke Li Shenyang didn't comment.
"From now on, you will tell me everything," Duchess Wang Qixing firmly said. "Even if it hurts me, you will tell me."
"Darling, I can't bear to hear you—"
"I understand. My pain hurts you more than it'll hurt me." Duchess Wang Qixing clasped her hands over his. "But do not fear, you old fox, I am stronger than you actually think."
"I know, I know," Duke Li Shenyang reluctantly said, sighing to himself. "I only want you to remain the carefree Princess you grew up being."
"I was never a carefree Princess, but I was good at pretending to be one."
Duke Li Shenyang's gaze softened. He knew her naive smiles in her youth were a mere illusion, but somehow, he wished it was the truth, but no matter how much he prayed for it, such a thing would never come true.
In the end, he could only nod. The small action was more than enough for the Duchess. From now on, they would embrace their problems as a family.
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