A long silence settled over them. It was occasionally broken by the chirp of a bird or the flutter of butterflies. The air was sweet and floral. The sun rose high in the sky. It was a shame they had spent their time doing nothing under the shade within the palace grounds instead of horseback riding or something.
"You might not have a family now," Li Xueyue slowly began. "But you can start one of your own."
"What are you even—"
"Minghua still loves you," Li Xueyue deadpanned. She cursed her heart for feeling sympathetic towards him. But he had lost everything in life. There was nothing wrong with throwing the man a bone.
Wen Jinkai's head snapped to her so fast, he ignored the possibility of whiplash. "Don't try to lie to me. I know that heart of hers will never beat for me again."
"I thought the same. If I was in her shoes, two and a half years ago, I would've left a long time ago. I wouldn't have stayed in the Palace and endure the psychological torture inflicted by the Empress," Li Xueyue bluntly said.
She let out a sigh and leaned against the bench. "But she clearly didn't do that. Even now, she still loves you. You've hurt her, but she's willing to forgive if you apologize with everything you have."
Wen Jinkai wasn't sure if Li Xueyue was feeding him with false hope or not. He was willing to try. Not for his sake, but for Li Minghua's. He had given her nothing but empty promises, but now, he was willing to give her his everything.
"So go," Li Xueyue said.
"What?" Wen Jinkai asked with a dumbfounded expression.
"What are you waiting for?" Li Xueyue bit out. "Find her. Chase her. And make sure, this time, you don't lose her."
Wen Jinkai didn't need to be told twice. "Thank you."
And with that said, he was gone.
- - - - -
"You are too kind," Li Chenyang said the minute he walked into Xueyue's waiting room.
Li Chenyang could effortlessly walk into her bedroom when they resided within the Li Manor, but now, there were too many watchful eyes. For her reputation's sake, regardless of their status as siblings, Chenyang would only enter her drawing room.
"You'd think with so much hardships, I would finally get a grip on myself," Li Xueyue muttered. "But no, I just had to sympathize with the enemy."
"It's called being the bigger person, even though you're the youngest," Li Chenyang explained. He leaned against the chair and took a leisure sip of tea whilst crossing his legs. What a tiring day he had in the Palace.
Li Chenyang always knew the Crown Prince was swamped with responsibilities, but he didn't think he'd have to take lessons on how to rule a country. Letting out a loud and heavy sigh, he rubbed his forehead.
"Tired?" Li Xueyue asked. She was concerned about his current state. When he was just a simple Minister, he was already overloaded with work. And now, he seemed to be buried under even more responsibilities.
"I'm fine," Li Chenyang lied. Nonetheless, he was slumped in the chair, forgetting all sorts of etiquette rules.
Li Chenyang didn't want the topic to dwell on his health. He didn't want to be nagged by her. "I don't think any of the remaining Princes will try to usurp the throne."
Li Xueyue's lips curved downwards into a frown. This wasn't a topic she wanted to talk about. She preferred to know nothing.
"The Fourth Prince hasn't awakened from his coma. The doctor also said he suffered multiple blows to the head… I wouldn't be surprised if he woke up with memory loss."
Li Xueyue never got to question it, but how exactly did the Fourth Prince manage to make it out alive? Wasn't every eligible heir to the throne massacred until the next in line was the Li Family? She understood the Second Prince had his safety passage, but what about the neglected Fourth Prince? And his mother, Consort Gu Feiying?
Li Chenyang saw the confusion on her face. "You may not know this, but the Fourth Prince has always trained in sword fighting. He's a remarkable fighter. He didn't go down without a fight."
Li Chenyang shook his head. He didn't think that bastard would be so strong. "He took down twenty of our men, before finally losing. In all honesty," he said and sipped his tea, "I hope he never wakes up."
Li Xueyue didn't respond. She silently picked up a pastry and nibbled on it.
The food was flavorful, but she didn't have the stomach to eat.
She pulled down her sleeves, hoping to hide her thin wrist. She had lost so much weight that bracelets would occasionally slip off of her.
"Of course, it's nothing that you should be concerned about," Li Chenyang said.
He turned to face her and chuckled upon seeing the crumbs that landed upon her lap. He swiped it off of her and with a handkerchief, he wiped at her face like a mother would to their child.
"Don't eat something so crumbly if you plan to take small bites. Here, try the chestnut buns instead," Li Chenyang said whilst picking up the platter of delicacies.
Li Xueyue picked up a single pastry, and he frowned.
"No, you need to eat more—" he paused when she offered it to him. He took the pastry. She took the plate. He blinked in surprise before letting out a warm laugh.
"As expected of a Little Piglet," he joked whilst biting into the small snack. She glared at him before picking up a bite-sized cake from the plate.
"Will you miss me in Hanjian?" Li Chenyang abruptly asked out of pure curiosity.
Li Xueyue scoffed. "No, I won't."
"Someone once told me stupid questions only elicited stupid answers."
Li Chenyang wondered who said that to her. He lowered his flexed fingers. It seemed there was no need to flick her… But he curled his fingers, just in case she needed a scolding.
"Of course I will miss you," Li Xueyue said. "I will miss all of you, Mother, Father, Wenmin, and even the servants who never speak to me."
Li Chenyang ignored the fact that she didn't mention Minghua. "You promise to write to me?"
"I don't make promises anymore," Li Xueyue mused. "But yes, I swear I'll write to you. Even if I have to use my blood as ink."
Li Chenyang rolled his eyes at her dramatic words. "As if Yu Zhen will deny you parchment and ink."
Li Xueyue let out a small laugh. "You never know. Maybe I'll reach Hanjian and Yu Zhen will grow bored of me. Then I will be cast aside whilst he entertains a younger, prettier, version of me."
Li Chenyang's brows creased together. "Xueyue, if he ever does that, I want you to notify us immediately. Don't keep it all bottled up. Don't be like Minghua."
Li Xueyue knew it was a silly fear of hers, but she couldn't help it.
Yu Zhen was the Crown Prince of Hanjian. His accomplishments as a Commander must have garnered him many suitors. And his new position would've reeled in even more women. It would be a bloodbath just to gain his attention.
"Don't worry, Chen-ge," Li Xueyue said. "If Yu Zhen does mistreat me, you will be the first to know."
"And it'll be the last time you tell me," Li Chenyang muttered under his breath.
"Hm? Did you say something, Chen-ge?" Li Xueyue asked in confusion. She thought she had heard something… Was it a figment of her imagination?
Li Chenyang's lips curled into a large smile. He reached over and fondly patted her cheeks. "It's nothing that you should worry about, Yueyue."
"Gosh, not that awful nickname again."
"Hmph, you just don't know how to appreciate creativity," Li Chenyang remarked.
"What's there to appreciate anyway…" Li Xueyue mumbled, even though a tiny smile rested on her face.
Li Chenyang mischievously cupped his eras. "What was that, Yueyue? You'd like a good flick on the forehead?"
"I-I said it's a wonderful nickname!" Li Xueyue exclaimed. "The best of the best!"
Li Chenyang loudly laughed at her blatant dissing. He rubbed his nose and grinned. "I know, right? Your older brother is very artistic, isn't he?"
For the sake of his ego, she swallowed back a remark and nodded her head. "Sure!"
"You're supposed to say yes," Li Chenyang said. "Not 'sure'—"
"It's getting late," Li Xueyue pointed out. "Little kids shouldn't stay up so late."
Li Chenyang narrowed his eyes. "And who are you calling a little kid?"
Li Xueyue pointed at herself. "Me, myself, and I!"
Li Chenyang chuckled. He supposed she wouldn't be flicked on the forehead today… Reaching out, he patted her on the cheek one final time before smiling.
"Wise of you to say that," Li Chenyang retorted. He stood up and offered her a hand. She took it without hesitation.
"Have a good night's rest, Yueyue."
"Sweet dreams, Chen-ge."
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