"You don't have to if you don't want to, Sunshine," Yu Zhen murmured. It was a sensitive topic. He didn't want to pressure her or force her to explain. It would make the situation uncomfortable for her.
She silently played with his hair. It was a soothing action. His shoulders relaxed with her touch. There was something about the way she touched him that soothed his soul. He continued hugging her, knowing it would bring her comfort.
"Just remember," he said. "They will never hurt you again. Not if I can help it."
She let out a small laugh, her heart swelling with his words. She believed him. He vowed to slay her monsters. When had he violated this vow? But she was afraid.
What if Yu Zhen was caught? What if all of his hard work came tumbling down all because of her?
"I'm worried," she said. "What if you're dragged down because of me?"
"Then we'll live a humble life, far, far away from the palace."
Li Xueyue smiled at his words. She could picture it: a small hut in the forest. Their life would be simple, but well-lived. There would be moments they'd struggle, but at least, they'd be happy.
"It happened when I was a child," she suddenly said.
Li Xueyue felt her anxiety rise. She continued running her fingers through his hair, hoping it'd distract her trembling heart. It worked, only by a bit.
"A-and I was hungry," she mumbled. "He was always at my parents' house. I didn't know why. It might've been because he was a big investor in the business, or a close family friend."
Li Xueyue tugged the ends of his hair as her breathing became shaky, much like her trembling fingers.
"He touched me."
Li Xueyue felt him stiffen under her fingertips. His muscles went rigid, hardening with each passing second, but he urged her to continue.
"I-I don't know his full name—"
"That's fine," he instantly said.
"The Viscount would call him Earl Qin."
Yu Zhen had never heard of an Earl Qin. But then again, aristocrats never interested him. They had their own faction in court, but the ruling members of the court were higher ranked people, such as Dukes and Duchesses.
"Was he from Wuyi?" he asked.
Li Xueyue hesitated. It was so long ago. She couldn't even remember his voice and face. But she would forever remember the crimes that man committed against her. Everything was ingrained into her heart. It would be a memory she'd carry for the rest of her life.
Li Xueyue was surprised that she had even allowed Yu Zhen to touch her naked body. There was no other explanation for it, except the fact that he made her feel safe and comfortable.
"I don't know…" she sullenly said.
"That's alright," Yu Zhen muttered. His voice felt like a warm blanket during a bitter winter.
He was her sanctuary—one that she wanted to keep for herself.
"Are your nightmares always about him?" he calmly asked.
Li Xueyue was always amazed by his manner of speech. He always knew how to compose himself despite the fury that burned within him. Even now, his body was tense. His arms were flexed, ready for a fight.
"Yes… the Viscount a-allowed the Earl to touch me whenever he came over. And he was always in the house."
Li Xueyue's lips trembled. "I was hungry. I wanted to hide in my room, but the Viscount lured me out with food."
"It's not your fault," he instantly said, knowing she was the type to blame herself.
"You were a hungry child. They lured you with food," he deadpanned. "You didn't ask to be hungry."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. It would take more than one conversation to convince her that she was blameless in this. She had faith he would work with her despite the difficulties of it.
"I will find him," he abruptly said. "And once I do, you can do as you please."
Li Xueyue weakly smiled. She wasn't sure what she'd do. But would it give her closure knowing he would never do the same thing to another child? From the bottom of her heart, she'd hope so.
- - - - -
Similar to yesterday, Li Xueyue woke up next to his body. That night, they had talked about anything and everything, as a way of distracting herself. Eventually they talked and talked until sleep finally took over.
This morning, she woke up to his sleeping form. Somehow, their position had changed and she was lying upon his chest again.
Li Xueyue rested her face upon her hands and just watched him. He was angry even in his sleep. His brows were scrunched today, his nostrils flared.
Yu Zhen looked like he was ready for a fight. She suppressed a laugh and reached a hand out towards him. She traced her fingers over his features, mesmerized by the beauty of him. No matter how many times she looked at him, it felt like love at first sight all over again.
"Why are you so handsome?" she mumbled.
Li Xueyue ran her fingers over his eyebrows before trailing to his angular nose. She leaned over and kissed the spot, wondering how it felt. A warm, fuzzy feeling began to pool in her stomach. But when she pulled back, it was replaced with horror.
Yu Zhen was awake now. Or perhaps, he was up this entire time and pretended to be asleep. Nonetheless, he was aware of the kiss. His lips curled in satisfaction.
Before she could run off, his arms came around her stomach. He yanked her down, until her breasts were flushed against his chest.
"Good morning, my wife," he whispered. He pushed hair away from her eyes, enjoying the glimmer of it.
Li Xueyue smiled at the title. "Did you sleep well… my husband?"
Her heart jumped when his eyes flashed. She could practically feel him brimming with joy.
"Very well," he reassured, bringing her closer to him. He pressed an endearing kiss upon her forehead.
Li Xueyue wished they could stay in this moment for the rest of their lives. Waking up beside him felt so surreal…
"I hope yesterday night didn't trouble you," Li Xueyue said. She gingerly touched the side of his face, vividly remembered smacking him.
He leaned into her touch, his dark eyes peering deeply into hers. Her heart raced from the contact. He turned his head and kissed her palms.
"It never did, and never will."
"Why are you so good with your words?" she grumbled.
Li Xueyue lowered herself onto him, as her ears rested upon his chest. She was worried he would be burdened by the baggage of her nightmares.
"Like you're one to talk," he scoffed. "You have my parents smitten with your wits."
Li Xueyue didn't respond. Were they smitten? She didn't think so. But then again, the Emperor and Empress of Hanjian had never treated her wrongly.
"When is the Round Table Discussion?" she curiously asked.
"In a few days from now," he stated.
Li Xueyue nodded in response. She wanted to prepare for it by writing a list of the things that must be addressed.
"What is your pretty little head thinking about?"
Li Xueyue laughed. Her head wasn't little. She thought it was too large for her body. "I was thinking of what to write in my list of changes."
"Yes, for the betterment of this country."
A ghost of a smile rested upon his lips. "What are your plans? I'd love to hear it. We can discuss it."
Li Xueyue pondered the idea before shaking her head. "Let me gather all of my thoughts onto parchment first and then I can read it out to you."
Yu Zhen nodded. "In that case…"
He flipped their position until she was underneath him. The corner of his lips lifted into a mischievous smile.
"Let's have some fun," he whispered in a low, husky voice.
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