In the dead of the night, a quiet figure treaded down the eerie hallway where a path of pale, white moonlight guided his way.
The soft, glow of the lanterns had long died down, but he didn't mind. He sought tranquility from the silence as crickets hummed, and blades of grass swayed in the background.
The moon was high in the sky, and he stopped to observe it. The stars had dimmed in the background, letting the moon shine its brightest. Not a second later, he tore his gaze away from the sky and continued sauntering down the hallway. His footsteps were light and quiet, like the whispers of ghosts lingering in the corridor.
"Your Highness," the guards greeted with bent bodies. They were wide-awake and on high-alert, after switching shifts with the previous batch of guards.
Yu Zhen pushed the doors open, and stepped inside the room. In the far end of the room, he saw the double doors leading to his shared bedroom. Through the paper windows, he saw the flickering flame of a candlelight.
His cold, frigid eyes narrowed. It was deep into the midnight, and she was still awake? Even if she was waiting for him, he would not allow it.
Without looking back, he closed the doors behind him. Then, Yu Zhen approached the bedroom and pushed the doors. His gaze instantly searched for her, and he saw where the light came from. There was a thin and tall candle holder beside his nightstand.
"Well, this isn't a sight I see everyday," Yu Zhen murmured. He closed the distance between them and peered down at her with both of his hands tucked behind his back.
Li Xueyue laid upon her side, her hair sprawled out beside her. She had a palm resting under the pillow, and another on the top of an open-book. From her soft, quiet snores, and the evening breath, he concluded she was deep asleep.
"Let's see…" Yu Zhen trailed off as he picked up the book, slowly and softly, careful not to disturb her wonderful sleep.
"The Art of War." Yu Zhen raised a brow and glanced down at her. He didn't think she was interested in such topic. With one hand, he clamped the book shut and placed it on the nightstand.
"You're sleeping so well." Yu Zhen let out a small sigh of relief. "Good riddance, and here I was, thinking of punishing you for staying up so late."
Silently, he took a seat on the edge of the bed. Yu Zhen reached a hand out and fondly stroked the side of her face with the back of his curled fingers. Her lashes fluttered, but didn't open.
"The Imperial Physician said you're as healthy as can be." Yu Zhen brushed away the strands of hair covering her face. "He better be correct, or else I'll have his head."
A dark, cruel smile spread upon his lips. But then she sneezed, and he panicked like never before.
Yu Zhen looked upon her sleeping body, curled into a small ball. She was under the blankets but was still cold? He surveyed the room, and noticed the window was open by the tiniest crack.
The bed dipped when he stood up. With his back turned, Yu Zhen firmly closed the window behind him. In a quiet click, he locked the windows. Just then, the sound of shuffling clothes could be heard.
Yu Zhen turned his upper body and noticed his Wangfei was awake now. Tiredly and sullenly, she rubbed her eyes, moist with sleep. They twinkled like topaz under sunlight, his heart clenched when she lifted her tired gaze at him. Ever so slowly, a tiny smile spread on her lips.
"You're back," she whispered.
"Did I startle you, Sunshine?" he asked.
Yu Zhen walked towards the edge of the bed and finally realized she was occupying the left side, where he usually slept since it was closest to the door.
It would provide him an advantage if any intruder was foolish enough to trespass here. Speaking of which…the servant who trespassed here was suddenly pardoned by the First Prince. It was all too suspicious.
"No, I was just waiting for you to return," Li Xueyue said with a loud yawn. A second later, she stretched her arms out for him, like a child wanting a hug.
Yu Zhen chuckled at this. He never enjoyed physical contact as a child, mainly because he was envious of the children that received them.
But now that he had grown older, he came to love the ones that came from her. Whether it was the curl of her fingers around his upper arm—out of fear and hesitation—or her warm embrace, he welcomed them all.
"Waiting for my return?" Yu Zhen asked. "How do you wait for someone in your sleep?"
"By dreaming of them."
Yu Zhen laughed at her words as he took off the decorative layer of his clothes. His sleeves were still moist from Yu Lingluo's tears.
It had taken a while to convince her to sleep, even if it was for a short duration. But because of the mess she made in her room, Yu Lingluo had to sleep in another room.
"Are you sure you weren't dreaming about food?" Yu Zhen teased whilst climbing into bed, and allowed her to slip into his embrace.
Yu Zhen laid upon his side with one arm serving as her pillow, and the other loosely nestled on the curve of her waist. Compared to his large frame, she was so tiny, that he was reminded of a fable where a tiny mouse trapped the magnificent lion.
It was precisely what happened to him. She must've trapped him with magic. What other explanation could there be to explain how bewitched he was? Whenever she was around, his heart would swell, and when she was hurt, his chest would burn.
"Maybe that too…" she sheepishly responded whilst snuggling into his arms. A tiny, relaxed sigh escaped her lips. She slipped a hand under his arm and rested it under his upper back.
Yu Zhen was wrapped in her heavenly scent, sweet like the breeze of spring, and light like summer rain. He loved her scent, but loved it even more when mingled with his. It often happened the morning after he made love to her.
"I always love how warm you are." She buried her head into his chest, only to hear the quickened pace of his heart.
"Only you would say I'm warm," Yu Zhen scoffed. Instead of responding, she pressed a small kiss upon the exposed skin of his collars. His jaw tightened, as a small fire burned from within.
"That's because not many people have the privilege of your embrace," she responded in a drowsy voice.
Yu Zhen debated whether or not he should keep her up all night long. She had enough rest whilst waiting for him…
"Why did you take so long to come?" she mumbled. Her lips tickled his skin, and he tensed, as his body began to hum with warmth.
"Why do you leave me every morning?"
Yu Zhen's gaze softened. "I didn't want to disturb you." He caressed the back of her head, his fingers combing through her hair, watching in awe as it stretched as long as his arm.
"I don't like waking up cold, and without you. Especially after you tired me the night before."
Yu Zhen tilted his head and gently kissed the top of her head. His lips lingered there, affectionate and gentle.
"Rest, my love," he whispered upon her hair.
"Will you be here when I wake up?" she sullenly asked.
Yu Zhen was puzzled by her abrupt somberness. Nonetheless, his lips curled into a smirk. When she was so vulnerable like this, he was torn at a crossroad. To tease her or to love her? He decided to do both.
"Do you want me to be here?" Yu Zhen slipped his fingers under her head, and pressed her closer to him. He was unaware of the heat that rolled off of him until she let a sigh of content.
"Of course," she retorted. "Where else would I want you to be? The couch?"
Yu Zhen's eyes crinkled when his smirk became a smile. She had turned his own opinions against him. Stupid questions were answered with stupid responses.
"Then sleep, Sunshine." Yu Zhen kissed her on the forehead. "And I shall be here when you're awake."
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