After a brief second of comfortable silence, Yu Zhen finally spoke up again. "I'm going to ask your parents for their blessings."
Li Xueyue rapidly blinked in shock, pulling back to reveal her bewildered expression. "Blessings? As in, for marriage?"
"Yes." He nodded.
"What? Why not?" Yu Zhen asked, his brows furrowing together in disbelief. He peered down at her, suddenly bothered by the irritation that flooded her eyes.
"I think we're going too fast."
"You think?" he scoffed. "I know we are."
"If you knew we're going too fast, then why are you rushing?"
"Because I refuse to part from you."
"Screw this test of time," Yu Zhen bit out, dropping his hands to grab her face, pulling it closer to him. "I want you, Li Xueyue, all of you."
"I'll give you all of me, and in return, will you do the same?"
"I…" she nervously trailed off, licking her bottom lip.
Yu Zhen's gaze instantly snapped towards her irresistible lips. He forced himself to look away a second later.
"I just think we're rushing things."
"It's fine if we are."
"It's not fine," she deadpanned. "You didn't even establish what we were, and now you're dropping your plans onto me. It's unfair and p-perhaps I'm also to blame for giving in to you so quickly."
Yu Zhen's thoughts flashed to their first kiss in the hallway this morning. He grinded his teeth, his jaw tightening. No, she wasn't to blame. He was. He took advantage of her. He had allowed his control to snap, all because he was too fearful of losing her.
"But marriage? I-I don't think we're ready for it yet."
"You're not ready?" Yu Zhen breathed out, his tone harsher than anticipated.
Li Xueyue flinched as if she was struck by him. She didn't expect his voice to get so rough and his gaze to become so frigid. He glowered down at her as if she was a stranger.
Without warning, he dropped his hands and took a step backward. She shivered, suddenly missing his warmth. Right at this moment, a large gust of wind blew past them, reminding her that this was her fault. She was the one drawing a fine line between them.
Li Xueyue hugged her stomach, her shoulders shrinking as she looked away. "I-I don't think I can go with you to Hanjian. Not now. I have things to finish in Wuyi, accomplishments to achieve, a-and I don't want to part from my family."
She swallowed hard. "I'm selfish, Yu Zhen. I know that. From wanting you to wait, to not wanting you to have a harem, my requests are tough."
She recoiled at his words. Although she said the truth, she wasn't ready to hear it. Biting her trembling bottom lip, she was hoping to regain her confidence to continue on. His crude tone and brutal eyes weren't making things easier for her.
There was so much she wanted to say, but couldn't, in fear of hurting him. And he too wanted to voice his thoughts, but couldn't in fear of overwhelming her.
The progress they had suddenly felt like it went to waste. It was as if they took five steps forward, only to fall ten steps back.
"Make your intentions clear with me, Li Xueyue," Yu Zhen snarled. He clenched and unclenched his fist, suddenly feeling the urge to grab her. He was on the brink of losing his patience. His blood boiled at the thought of being played by her.
"What do you want from me? First, you lowered your guard around me, then, you turned my heart and head into a mess."
"I'm sorry, I—"
"Take some responsibility," he seethed, taking a step forward. When she took two steps back, his patience snapped. It was as if she was literally showing him that all of his attempts were meaningless, that this was just a push-and-pull game for her.
"For crashing into my life like a damn tornado and now you want to be gone, and leave it a mess!" he snarled.
Li Xueyue jolted in response, her eyes wide. "I just need time, Yu Zhen—"
"Look at me when you talk to me," he snapped, his voice cold and sharp.
Li Xueyue couldn't. She felt like a coward for reacting like this. It was difficult as it was to keep her emotions in control. Her heart pricked with pain that spread through her chest. She knew if she looked into his onyx eyes filled with infinite depths, like the complicated layers of the Underworld, she would break down right then and there.
She would give in to him, whilst forgetting about herself.
A startled gasp escaped her mouth when he grabbed her chin and forced her to look up at him. Her eyes enlarged itself, glistening with unsaid emotions.
Yu Zhen was stunned silent. She was on the verge of tears.
Unable to look at him any longer, Li Xueyue immediately averted her gaze. She chewed at her bottom lip, her shoulders quivering as she struggled to keep her emotions at bay.
"Do you despise me that much that you can't even look at me?" he whispered. Despite his frigid voice and sharp tone, she could still hear the hurt in it.
Li Xueyue rapidly shook her head but kept her attention trained to the floor. 'Don't look at him. Don't look at him,' she chanted inside of her head, knowing the second she did, her world would not revolve around herself anymore. Her heart, her mind, her soul, all of it would become his. And the only thing she had to do was get lost inside his infinite eyes, so dark, so terrifying, yet, brimmed with nothing but adoration for her.
How could she love this man when she couldn't even love herself?
"It's okay to leave me," she suddenly said, her voice quivering more than her freezing form.
Yu Zhen's softened expression instantly hardened.
She didn't have to look to know his guards were raised. There was now an impenetrable wall in front of them, and he would never let her break it. She tried to breathe, but couldn't. Everything felt so suffocating, and suddenly, her face felt hot.
"I'll be fine if you leave." Her voice cracked, and she hated herself for that. This was the lie she comforted herself with, a smile on her face, and lost hope in her eyes.
Finally, she looked at him, her eyes moistened with tears that she refused to release. "So please, go." She wished it didn't hurt this much, as if her heart was shattering to pieces, her soul ripped apart. Her entire body hummed with pain, her fingertips turning cold.
"You will meet a great woman, Yu Zhen. Someone who will properly understand you, a girl who will not make you wait like this. She'll love herself as much as she loves you. And to her, loving you would be nothing about hating herself. Her ambition will be you, and nothing else."
Yu Zhen let out a scoff. He shook his head in utter disbelief, dropping his hand. "Loving me was all about hating yourself. Was that it?"
"No, I didn't mean it like that—"
"I'm sure you did," he harshly bit out.
"Yu Zhen, I—"
"Enough of this beating around the bush discussion." He scowled.
Li Xueyue supposed she was so used to his warm tone and gentle murmurs that his sudden anger completely caught her off guard. He had never spoken to her like this. He was never this aloof, detached, and almost… disgusted by her. He had every right to feel that way.
"Look me in the eyes, Li Xueyue, and tell me you want me out of your life."
"Yu Zhen, please, I can't—"
"Do it," he demanded.
She shook her head.
"God damn it, Xueyue!" he roared, taking steps back in disbelief. "You can't do this to me, fuck, you really can't."
"How can you be so cruel?" he harshly whispered. "How can you play me like a fool and I…" he trailed off, shaking his head in disbelief. "...how can I still let you do this to me?"
"I didn't play you like a fool!" She exasperated, "I like you, Yu Zhen, I really do—"
"No you don't," he said, his eyes snapped towards her.
She coiled back, unable to deal with the reality of this situation. His eyes, they were so dead and bleak. He looked at her like she was a stranger. And that part shattered her in more ways than one.
"If you liked me, you wouldn't be doing this." He gestured to the distance between them. "Fucking hell, if you liked me, you wouldn't have told me to leave and walk out of your life, as if I meant nothing to you!"
"That's not what I meant!" she shouted, "I wanted you to leave because it would bring peace for both of us! We're not suitable for each other, Yu Zhen. My life is tied to Wuyi, and yours is tied to a throne in Hanjian. We can't be together."
Yu Zhen shook his head in disgust. "You're right. Li Xueyue, you are selfish." His tone was bitter, and he spat it out like his words were poison on his tongue.
"Save it. I've had enough," Yu Zhen snapped, turning his back to her. In a flick of a wrist, he flung his coat over his shoulders and stormed off.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her quiet voice carried by the wind that sent his coat fluttering majestically in the distance. It reminded her of the greatest loss of her lifetime: a man who would love her unconditionally.
But this chapter of her life did not need love. It needed improvements. It needed achievements and accomplishments that would build the steps of success for her. Steps that would spiral high into the sky until she was untouchable. Until she was finally on the same level as him. Until she would be proud enough to bravely stare up at him and declare themselves as equal.
Li Xueyue wanted to rise. She wanted to become the phoenix that soared the skies. But how could she become that without getting rid of the chains that held her back? How could she dream of touching the sun when the ghost of her past still haunted her?
If Yu Zhen was the sun that burned in the sky, then she was the pitiful flower blooming on the ground. The flower that daydreamed of the day her petals could ever touch the clouds.
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