456 What Is The Purpose of My Existence?
The next morning approached too quickly. Li Xueyue had woken up earlier than Yu Zhen. She squinted at the sunlight that poured over the floor and glanced towards the window, where a bird was perched upon a branch. Not a second later, the sparrow spread its wings and took flight.
"Ever so violent," she muttered upon seeing the light bruises on her wrists. They had tried out something new and exciting yesterday, but as always, they got carried away.
Li Xueyue turned on her side so that she could look at him. She was relieved that his arm around her was no longer an iron grip. When she saw his face, stern even in his sleep, her lips twitched.
She slowly inched her way into a seated position, his arm sliding down to her lap.
Li Xueyue quietly lifted a finger and poked his cheek, smooth and beautiful. His skin was always glowing a lovely sun-kissed color.
"Heh, it seems your stamina is finally decreasing," she whispered and snickered to herself.
Li Xueyue trailed a finger up his face, tracing over his perfect features. His brows were taunt and dark, with a few strands of hair falling over his head. Her lips twitched. It was unfair that he slept while looking like a picturesque portrait, whereas she felt like a bird was nesting on her messy hair.
"We drink the same water, eat the same food, yet you're always glowing," she mused.
Li Xueyue observed his face a little bit longer. Her thumb skimmed his jaw, sharp and prominent, as if it could cut through stone. For once, he seemed more relaxed in his sleep, as if content with everything he had.
"If only I can stay here a little longer…" she sighed.
Li Xueyue retracted her hands and slowly slipped out of bed. When her foot grazed the ground, an arm roughly pulled her back by the waist. Her eyes widened when she was yanked backward, landing directly on a sturdy chest.
"Y-you were awake the whole time?" she asked with astonishment in her voice.
Li Xueyue tilted her head back, only for it to rest near his shoulder. He was seated on the bed, his palm resting on her stomach, his legs were on either side of her.
"No, I just woke up," he said.
Li Xueyue snorted at his words. "No one can have such fast reflexes just after waking up."
Yu Zhen's eyes crinkled as he smiled down at her. There was a tired, yet lazy smirk resting on his lips. "Why are you up so early?" he asked.
Li Xueyue averted her gaze. She stared down at her fingers, suddenly finding it even more interesting. But then she saw his other hand, resting on her lap, and she found it to be intriguing. With her forefinger, she poked at his hand. Not a second later, he wrapped his fingers around hers.
"I couldn't sleep," she lied.
"You're a horrible liar, Sunshine," Yu Zhen muttered in a low, disappointed voice.
Li Xueyue's heart clenched at his words. He dropped his head and rested it on her shoulder, nuzzling his face into the crook of her neck. He breathed in her scent and she felt the flutter of his lashes when his eyes closed shut.
"Why don't you tell me what's really going on, Li Xueyue."
She gulped. He rarely used her full name, especially with an edge to his voice. Her heart raced, worried that he had caught onto everything.
"You're mad at me," she pointed out.
"It doesn't take a prodigy to figure that out," he whispered against her neck.
Li Xueyue shivered when his hot breath blew against her sensitive skin. She jumped when he tightened his hold on her. There was no escape from this. He was simply too strong for her to overpower.
"Why is your rage always so silent?" Li Xueyue asked. "It'd be less scary if you were violent and crashed things to the ground."
Yu Zhen responded by playing with the silk ribbon that held her thin clothes together. His retreat made her even more anxious.
Li Xueyue nervously licked her bottom lip, suddenly parched. She didn't realize he had slipped clothes onto her naked body after she had passed out from their passionate night.
"Can't I keep this secret a little bit longer?" she shamelessly asked.
A cold, dark laugh rang in her ears. She trembled at the sound, his chest shaking.
"You've kept it long enough, Li Xueyue."
Li Xueyue couldn't recall a time he had used such a cold, detached voice towards her. Sure, there were times that he had been infuriated by her, to the point of where he pretended not to love her. But this time, she had crossed the lines, didn't she? Lines that she had drawn and instructed him to never cross.
"I'm sorry, Yu Zhen," she whispered. She truly meant it, from the bottom of her heart, but knew he would not view it through the same lens as her.
Li Xueyue turned around, knowing it was better to have this conversation face to face. But she immediately regretted the decision.
He lifted his face from her shoulders, revealing a desolate, indifferent stare. His eyes resembled a deep pool of ink. The longer she peered at it, the more she was lost within it, and soon, she was drowning within it.
"I only kept it a secret because you always acted of your own accord," she explained.
When he remained silent, Li Xueyue awkwardly looked around them, but her stare would always return to him. Her attention never lingered too far, for he was the center of her world.
"From the bottom of my heart, I will always appreciate your help, Yu Zhen. You're selfless in that aspect, and I love that part about you," Li Xueyue said. She rested her palms on his chest, sliding it up to his nape, intertwining her fingers together.
"However there are times when I must take my own revenge. You don't want to stain my hands with more blood, but I do not mind. I can never wash the blood off, so why not dip it in some more?"
Yu Zhen's glare hardened. His jaw clenched and he attempted to push her away, infuriated by her words.
Li Xueyue had already anticipated that. She held on and slipped onto his lap, resting her face on his shoulders. A part of her knew he had looked at the scroll. It was placed in the same exact position as before, but it was simply too conspicuous to ignore.
"He tormented me even in his absence," she muttered. "He haunts my dreams every single night."
Li Xueyue felt his arms slowly come around her, yet again. Eventually, her legs straddled either side of him, and her body was flushed against his chest. Their bodies were so close together, that not even a piece of parchment could be wedged between them.
"It's only right that I make his waking life a living nightmare. It is my duty, my responsibility, and mine alone. No one else's."
Absolute determination lingered in her voice. She left little to no room for discussions or compromises. This time, she would not allow him to intervene. This time, she would be the one to deliver the final blow.
"What happened to compromises?" he seethed.
"Not this time."
"No is a no."
Li Xueyue pulled away from him, revealing the frown on her face. "You care about me, so you're worried I will get injured in the process of harming others, but have you ever fathomed what it's like to sit back and let someone else do the dirty work?"
Yu Zhen's glare deepened. "You make me sound like an antagonist when I only want to help you. How is that fair to me?"
"That's not what I meant, and you know it," she calmly said.
"No, I don't," he spat out.
Li Xueyue raised a brow. "Something is bothering you. What is it?"
When he remained silent, she pressed on, "Is it because I kept this secret from you? Because if so, I'm sorry, I really am—"
"Why can't you rely on me more?" he demanded, grabbing her shoulders tightly. "I offer you a life of peace, but you want to run head-first into demise."
Li Xueyue's brows came together out of frustration.
"An Empress's role is to manage the harem," he growled out. "Is the lack of concubines boring you? Do you feel as if there is nothing for you to do in this palace, so you must cause trouble upon yourself?"
Li Xueyue could feel an argument simmering. And if she allowed him to talk, it would boil, much like their blood.
"You're being unfair," she coldly said.
"Unfair?" he demanded. "Unfair is keeping secrets from your husband after swearing to always be truthful. Unfair is lying to my face and hiding your emotions. If I am unfair, then you must be the very embodiment of prejudice."
Li Xueyue calmly looked up at him. His words were offensive, but it came from a dark place. He was upset, and rightfully so. Li Xueyue wasn't hurt by his insulting words.
Yu Zhen wanted the best for her, and she understood that wholeheartedly, even if she could not feel that way for herself.
She stood upon her tippy-toes and cupped his face, gently and gingerly, as if holding a treasure in her palms.
"I finally understand," she patiently said.
"Understand what?" he growled out in disbelief. How had the tables turned so quickly? Now, he was the one huffing and puffing, whilst she was as tranquil as the trees on a mellow day.
"You're unfamiliar with this feeling," she uttered.
Yu Zhen was bewildered by her bizarre words. It must've reflected on his face, for she smiled up at him. Her expression was filled with understanding, like that of a teacher who believed in her troubled students.
"In your childhood, there wasn't anyone who relied on you, and no one believed in your capabilities. As a result, you developed a compulsion to be helpful to others. And ever since you rose to power in the military, everyone has been relying on you. The soldiers looked up to you, the trainees needed you, and the Generals required your guidance.."
His eyes widened and before he could speak, she continued onwards.
"That happened in your late-youth, but now that you're an adult, there are even more people relying on you. This time, they are the servants who weigh on your every word, the people of your country, the palace ministers, your siblings, your friends, and almost everyone that has crossed your path."
Li Xueyue rested her forehead against his. "You have grown too familiar with the feeling of people needing your guidance, that when someone rejects your help it worries you even more, especially when it's from someone that you desperately want to extend a helping hand to."
Li Xueyue saw the gears turning in his head, the realization in his eyes as everything clicked into place. The truth was hard to acknowledge, but he had done it flawlessly. With her thumb, she gently caressed the side of his face. If time could stop, she wish it would do so now.
"I can stand on my own two feet, Yu Zhen. I know it doesn't burden you to help me, but it burdens my conscience. What is the purpose of living when everything is already laid out for me? What is the purpose of my existence if I sit back and do nothing all the time?"
Li Xueyue's smile became warmer. She gently kissed his lips. "But isn't it tiring? Your shoulders can only handle so much, before it gives out."
She pulled back, but he surprised her by tightly embracing her. She slid her hand up his upper back, knowing he was never the type to speak of his feelings through words. And she had come to accept that. Thus, she hugged him with equal ferocity and adoration.