Yu Lingluo wanted to bother her brother for a little while longer. She was bored and he seemed lonely. She opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by the sound of rapid clicking. She didn't recognize the sound but noticed it came from the window.
Yu Zhen sharply turned towards the source of the noise. He walked towards his window without hesitation and heard a familiar coo.
Taken by surprise, he pulled the window open, and sure enough, there was a dirty white pigeon perched in front of him.
"You obviously don't belong to me," Yu Zhen muttered as he curled a finger outwards for the bird. There wasn't a message attached to the bird's legs.
"How pretty!" Yu Lingluo exclaimed with a clap of her hands. She was intrigued by the bird that had interrupted their conversation.
"It's not mine."
"Oh, whose is it then?" Yu Lingluo asked as her brother closed the window and allowed the bird inside.
To their surprise, the little pigeon was quite obedient and remained perched upon Yu Zhen's fingers.
Yu Zhen shrugged in response. He had a suspicion about who this bird belonged to. Especially with its sullied feathers.
"Why is it so dirty?" Yu Lingluo commented, scrunching her brows.
She approached her brother's desk. The white coat of feathers was stained with dust which resulted in an ashen color.
"Why don't you ask the bird?" Yu Zhen retorted.
He headed towards the empty cage on the other side of the room. Usually, it was reserved for his messenger pigeon, but the little thing was outside delivering a note.
"She or he seems well-trained," Yu Lingluo said. The bird had hopped into the cage without much trouble.
Yu Zhen nodded in response. He closed the door of the golden cage before grabbing it by the top handles.
"Where are you going?" Yu Lingluo asked when he brushed past her and headed for the door. She trailed after him like a lost puppy even when he didn't tell her anything.
"Well?" she asked, continuing to walk by his side. It was a privilege that not many had.
When he came to an abrupt halt, so did she.
Yu Zhen pressed his lips together and turned his attention to Yu Lingluo. She was eagerly staring up at him with wide, curious eyes. He couldn't help but sigh. She needed more friends.
"I have an important meeting to attend."
Yu Lingluo wore her emotions on her sleeves. Disappointment was evident on her face. Her lips trembled and she sullenly nodded.
"Okay, I'll go bother Xiao Juzi then…" she trailed off, knowing the animal was the only one who'd keep her company.
Xiao Juzi was kind to her, but he loved to nip at her dress thinking it was food.
Yu Zhen didn't want to leave her all alone. She was young and mischievous. He was certain she'd go around and cause trouble again. He had already lost count of how many times she ran wild in this palace, pulling pranks on unsuspecting people.
"I'm certain Hu Dengxiao has returned," he stated.
Yu Lingluo instantly perked up at his words.
"Really?" she whispered, excited to seek her friend out.
"Yes. Go find him." Yu Zhen closed his fingers and waved his hand, much like a person would shoo away a pet.
Yu Lingluo didn't need to be told twice. She abruptly hugged her brother before skipping off to find Hu Dengxiao.
Yu Zhen watched as she giddily hopped down the hallway. He shook his head in amusement. It must've been nice to live such a carefree life. He was relieved by the fact that she wasn't a candidate for Wuyi.
Yu Lingluo was simply too young. On top of that, she was also everyone's favorite. The Empress doted on her, and the Emperor adored her.
If there was one thing Yu Zhen had hoped for, it was for Yu Lingluo to remain as naive as she was now. Everyone had always tried their best to shield her from the cruelty of the palace. At the least, shouldn't one flower bloom peacefully?
- - - - -
Yanxi couldn't help but sigh in relief when she noticed the Princess had fallen asleep. The Princess was resting her cheek upon a propped up arm. Her other hand rested upon the unturned pages of her book.
"I'm glad you're taking a nap," Yanxi whispered to the Crown Princess, even though no one was here to listen to her.
She quietly approached the sleeping Princess and draped a blanket over her shoulders. Amusement spread on her face as the Princess's head began to drop lower and lower until her head was upon the table.
Yanxi had never seen the Princess take a nap. She must've been beyond tired today. It was already late in the afternoon… Perhaps this extra few hours of sleep would help the Princess replenish her energy.
"Should I wake her up?" Yanxi asked herself, suddenly hesitant of the decision.
If the Princess slept now, will she be able to fall asleep later?
Unfortunately, Yanxi couldn't explore her options. There was an abrupt knock that echoed in the room. But before she could respond, the doors opened. She was greeted by a formidable presence.
Yanxi wasn't surprised to see the Crown Prince. Only he would be gutsy enough to trespass without warning.
She bowed her upper body.
"Your Highness," she addressed right as he stepped past the screen separating the entrance from the living room.
"You're excused," he stated.
Yu Zhen brushed past the Head Maidservant who bowed at his words and began heading for the door. It didn't take long for the middle-aged maidservant to leave.
Yu Zhen was briefly surprised by the sight before him. Li Xueyue was fast asleep on the table, an open book beside her arms.
"You've been slacking off," Yu Zhen mused as he peered over her shoulders.
The book was only on the third page. He held back a small laugh.
He placed the cage upon the table. The bird instantly shifted positions on the branch, almost as if it recognized someone.
"I knew this would be your owner," Yu Zhen stated in a quiet voice. He was careful to not disturb her.
Yu Zhen gently stroked Li Xueyue's cheeks with the back of his fingers. He didn't want to awaken her. But he couldn't help it. As always, her flesh was soft and smooth.
"You'll catch a cold," he scolded. "And wake up sore."
Yu Zhen reached down and took off her shoes, abandoning it at the foot of the table. With a hand resting upon her upper back and the other hooked under her knees, he lifted her with ease.
In an instant, Li Xueyue stirred in his arms. "Hmm… who?"
"Go back to sleep, Sunshine," he whispered.
Yu Zhen tightened his grip of her until her head was resting upon his chest. He watched as her eyes opened and closed, lazily, slowly, until her body slumped.
An abrupt warmth spread through his chest. He couldn't pinpoint the exact emotions. That is until she shifted in his arms, nuzzling her face against him. His heart was abnormally squeezed.
"Sleep well, Sunshine," he said whilst settling her onto the bed. He shifted the blanket until she was thoroughly covered by it.
Yu Zhen could've left right then and there. But he couldn't. It was strange. He sat by the edge of her bed, rhythmically patting her chest through the blanket.
He had to make sure she was sleeping soundly and comfortably. And only when he deemed she was fine did he finally exit the room.
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