Yu Zhen roughly yanked his arm away from her. "Don't touch me," he snapped.
He heard her heart break before he witnessed it. He left her there, without a single glance in her direction.
Li Xueyue dropped to her knees. She would not cry. She told herself that tears were for the weak; that she no longer had it in her to cry anymore. So why was it that tears trickled down from her eyes? Why was it that her entire chest swelled and her throat clogged?
The heartbreak was too much to explain. She cried and cried for the man she had lost and the pride she had tossed away. But it was not loud wails and pleas. That was unlike her.
She cried in silence, because that's what she was trained to do. She cried silent tears that no one witnessed, but one person knew.
"Li Xueyue, you damn fool…"
- - - - -
Lu Tianbi stood by the edge of the forest that Yu Zhen had wandered off into. She let out a sigh, staring up at the sky, wondering why he was doing all of this just to see the Princess.
"I don't get it," Hu Dengxiao mumbled, kicking a pebble. "He's doing so much for her, but he doesn't even tell her anything."
"Poor thing," Lu Tianbu said and shook her head. "She shouldn't have gotten on his bad side."
"I don't think she's on his bad side," Hu Dengxiao said. "If she was, we'd know."
"Trust me, the Commander despises her," Lu Tianbi said. "If he didn't, why would he leave the tent? I saw she was on the verge of tears. I bet he didn't even comfort her."
"If he hated that Princess, he wouldn't have punished the Lieutenant and told us to leave. He could've embarrassed her in front of all of us, but he didn't," Hu Dengxiao pointed out.
"What do you think happened between them?" Lu Tianbi asked. "I wonder what she did to piss him off like that?"
Hu Dengxiao shrugged. "I wish I knew."
Lu Tianbi shook her head again. "You know, when he rounded up all of the soldiers, I thought he was going to take us back to Hanjian. Didn't you hear about the letter that the Eunuch urgently sent out?"
"Of course I know about the letter. The Second Prince was at her house that day when we sent a Eunuch to hurry and fetch him home. It's been almost two weeks and a half since that incident."
Lu Tianbi scowled. "Don't give me attitude."
"I'm not." Hu Dengxiao pouted.
Lu Tianbi rolled her eyes at this man-child. "We should be hurrying back to Hanjian instead of lurking here in the forest of Wuyi. The Second Prince's presence is urgently needed in Hanjian. It's his best opportunity to snatch the throne."
"What if our Prince doesn't want to become the Emperor? Have you ever thought about that?" Hu Dengxiao mumbled. "Maybe he'd like a peaceful life outside of the Palace and live blissfully with his Wangfei ."
"Our Second Prince will never be able to live blissfully," Lu Tianbi deadpanned.
Hu Dengxiao swallowed. "I know. I just wish he could."
Lu Tianbi opened her mouth but closed it when she saw her Commander. She straightened up and handed him the towel.
"Thanks," he muttered, taking it and wiping the sweat off of his features.
"Where were you?" Hu Dengxiao huffed. "The prisoners woke up."
"Did you secure the area?" Yu Zhen asked.
"Of course," Lu Tianbi said. "No one should be able to hear us for miles anyways. No one lives around here, we're too deep in the forest for their screams to be heard."
"Good," Yu Zhen said. "Let's have some fun."
- - - - -
Li Xueyue didn't realize she had cried herself asleep until she found herself back on the bed. Where had she fallen asleep in the first place? By the entrance of the tent? That was embarrassing.
She sat up in the bed, realizing her headache was no longer there. When she touched her head, she felt the familiar cloth of a bandage.
She saw something move out of the corner of her eyes.
Li Xueyue shifted in her position to look in that direction. His back was faced to her and he seemed thoroughly engrossed in something. Or he was simply ignoring her?
Li Xueyue realized the soft thing she had woken up to initially was a fur blanket. Thick and luscious, she ran her hand upon it.
Li Xueyue wondered if he knew she was awake. He must have. Her clothes had rustled. She looked down and noticed she was dirtying his bed. Her robes were brown from its contact with the soil when she was yanked off of her horse.
Nervously, she pulled her hand back from the fur blanket. Did he not care that she was staining his bed? Why had he placed it over her? She must've looked like a mess.
"You can continue patting it."
Li Xueyue jumped, startled by his voice.
Despite speaking to her, his back was still facing her. She wondered what he was doing.
Li Xueyue tilted her body, angling herself for a better view. She finally caught a whiff of it—the heavy stench of blood. Her face paled and goosebumps rose.
Yu Zhen pretended his stained knives were more important than her. He continued wiping them even though he knew he was smearing the blood, and that it was better to just wash them off with water.
Yu Zhen wanted to be around her. He needed to. He couldn't help but guard her while she slept.
Yu Zhen cursed himself to hell and back for not leaving her on the ground when she fell asleep there. He should've just let her sleep there. When the curtains blew, everyone could catch a sight of her stupid, unconscious body.
Yu Zhen could've made a fool of her, but didn't. He could never do that to her.
Despite what she had done to him, Yu Zhen could not find it in himself to hurt her.
Yu Zhen stiffened when she grabbed his arm. Before he could speak, she opened her mouth and asked, "Are you injured?"
What? He couldn't even register her question.
Li Xueyue's eyes landed on the bloody daggers before her gaze snapped up to him. She gasped at the sight of him; blood splattered on his face, but he didn't seem to care.
Li Xueyue didn't know she was trembling until she reached her hand towards his face. Where was the blood coming from? Was it his? She cupped his face, turning it to examine for any signs of wounds.
Yu Zhen's body went tense. He should've pushed her away. Instead, he found himself bending down so that she did not have to tip-toe for so long. He let her touch him, something that was prohibited in Hanjian.
All of the rules he set were broken by her. Every single one of them.
"Does it hurt anywhere?" Li Xueyue shakily asked, reaching into her pocket for a handkerchief.
Yu Zhen stilled. Why wasn't she frightened by the blood? He knew there was blood on his face. He deliberately wanted her to see him in this state. He hoped it would frighten her. He hoped she would be so terrified of him, she would run out of this tent and demand to go home.
Yu Zhen couldn't send her back on his own accord. He needed her to tell him she wanted to go home. He needed her to yell at him, call him a monster, and all sorts of names. He needed her to chase him away, for he could not part from her.
"Is this your blood?"
Yu Zhen was too stunned to answer her. He stared at her, dumbfounded at himself and her.
"I don't see any injuries…" she added on.
Li Xueyue wanted to know what the hell she was doing. She should be staying away from him, not touching him! But she couldn't help it. The first sight of blood was enough for her heart to skip a beat. She was terrified at the thought that he was injured. The fear had propelled her to scramble off of the bed and grab him.
What was she thinking?
She obviously wasn't thinking!
Noticing his bleak stare, she dropped her hands and took a step back. "I didn't mean to grab you."
Li Xueyue didn't know what to do with her fingers. It was now covered with blood. She could only awkwardly stand there as he continued to gawk at her. She nervously forced a smile on her face, wondering if it would encourage him to say something, anything.
And he did, but it was not what she expected.
"Li Xueyue, I loathe you."
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