Yu Lingluo instantly raised her head at his response. Did she hear him correctly? Had he just agreed to her request?
"You can have Hu Dengxiao," Yu Zhen coldly told her. "But are you ready to face the consequences of your actions?"
Yu Lingluo's lips parted in response, ready to foolishly agree to it, but he interrupted her.
"Are you ready to kneel before Father and beg for mercy when he captures Hu Dengxiao? Are you ready to watch Hu Dengxiao get whipped to death until his face is disfigured, and he is a bloody mess?"
Yu Zhen cocked his head. "Do you have the guts to go against Lu Tianbi, both mentally and physically? Are you willing to abandon your pride and dignity for a man who will never love you the same way you do?"
Yu Lingluo pushed him away as she took staggering steps backward. She stared up at him as if he was a monster. Hatred and anger dripped from her eyes, more than her tears.
"Zhen-gege, you're being cruel!" she cried out.
Yu Lingluo gasped when she nearly tripped over something that could've injured her foot, but narrowly dodged it.
"Cruel?" he repeated with a scowl. "If I am cruel, then what are you? You're making an audacious request that will split the relationship between my closest friends."
Yu Zhen stalked towards her with a disapproving look on his face. "You can force Hu Dengxiao to physically be by your side, but his heart and attention will never belong to you."
Yu Lingluo shook her head at him, refusing to listen as she cupped her ears and continued walking backward.
Yu Zhen cared too much about her for her to stupidly injure herself. He angrily gripped her wrists, just before she would step onto a shard of porcelain.
"Xiao Ling, don't be a fool," he gently coaxed. "You have a bright future ahead of you. Don't throw it away for a man who will never look your way. Don't make the same mistake as the Empress."
At this, Yu Lingluo was forced to pause. She shakily looked up at him, astonished that he would say such a horrible thing. "Mother never made a mistake with Father, she—"
"She is in a loveless marriage."
Yu Lingluo's lips trembled. The air was frigid, but his gaze was colder. He glared down at her with disappointment in his eyes. Violent tantrums like this was a normal occurrence. She had destroyed many things in her youth whenever she threw a tantrum, and he had always indulged her when it happened, only to scold her a day or a week later.
"You've seen how much it tore her apart, Xiao Ling." Yu Zhen released her wrists and guided her towards the door, which seemed to be the only spot free from sharp objects that could hurt her feet.
"Do you really want to make that same mistake, just because you foolishly listened to your heart, instead of your brain?" Yu Zhen asked in a hardened voice. He forced her to stand by the door whilst glancing around the room for a pair of slippers or shoes.
"C-can't you be nicer to me, Zhen-gege…" she hiccuped out whilst looking at him as if he had wronged her. She was in tears and heartbroken, but he still spoke to her as if she was his worst enemy.
Yu Lingluo could not understand why he was so mean to her tonight. He should be comforting her, offering sweet words, promising the world, and giving her everything that she wanted. It was what everyone else would've done for her…but he never did that.
"If you only listen to sweet nothingness, you will get spoiled rotten," Yu Zhen spat out. He noticed a pair of slippers by the door. Pointing down at it, he urged her to put it on. She reluctantly did so whilst holding onto his arm for support.
"Besides," Yu Zhen said and turned to her with a slight frown. "It's unlike me to do that. You should've asked for the First Prince."
Yu Lingluo pouted at the ground. Her tears had dried up, but her cheeks were still wet.
Yu Zhen patted the top of her head, as if caressing a lovely pet. "Don't throw your entire future away like this."
Yu Lingluo sulked beside him. She sullenly grabbed onto his belt, her frown deepening. "What are you talking about, Zhen-gege?"
"Don't you realize how lucky and blessed you are?"
Yu Lingluo shook her head, despite knowing what he meant. Everyone loved her. From the palace servants to her cold-hearted parents.
Everyone in this palace would smile warmly at her. Even Hu Dengxiao loved her…but she knew it was not the same type of love that she had for him.
"You're the last Princess in our family who still resides in this palace, the pearl of Father's eyes. You won't be married off to a foreign Prince for the sake of forming alliances, and you won't be forced to marry for the benefit of the family. You have more freedom than anyone in this palace."
Yu Lingluo hung her head lower. It felt too heavy to lift it up, especially when she was practically drowning in guilt. Her head hurt at how much she was forced to contemplate.
More freedom than anyone in this palace...she knew that by heart. All of her sisters were married off, even her younger sister. They were dragged away by force, with tears in their eyes, and a forced smile on their lips.
The title of a Princess sounded lovely in theory until they were pawned off like an object, sold to the highest bidder, just to bring benefit to their kingdom.
Yu Lingluo was different. She was too beloved by everyone to go through such a treacherous thing.
Yu Shishing would never allow her to be dragged off, Yu Zhen would kill the suitor, the Empress would demand the gates to be shut, and the Emperor would never dream of sending her away.
Everything was in her favor, but she wanted something that could ruin her for the rest of her life.
"If you choose Hu Dengxiao, the most merciful thing the Emperor would do is to send you out of this palace. The worst? Having Hu Dengxiao tortured before your very eyes, and afterward, the Emperor will force you into a loveless marriage, Xiao Ling."
"Any marriage I have without Hu Dengxiao will be a loveless one," Yu Lingluo whispered. She tightened her grip on him, refusing to lift her head even when his fingers clamped down on her skull.
"Your first heartbreak will hurt the most, but you will move on," Yu Zhen emphasized. He forced her to look up at him, by pushing her head up.
"No matter what, you have to move on. Not only for your sake, but for Hu Dengxiao's."
Yu Lingluo's eyes watered again. Her lips quivered and her face became scrunched up, as she held back her tears.
"Okay?" he gently asked, finally softening his tone. She didn't move her head, so he did it for her, forcing her to nod.
"O-okay…" she reluctantly said.
Only then did he show her a ghost of a smile. It wasn't wide and welcoming, but it was warm. His eyes were gentle and kind, which made her tear up even more. She could do nothing but hold onto his sleeves and cry into it a little longer.
Yu Zhen allowed her to do so. He knew she was the type to cry her heart out, but never over the same thing again.
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