Li Xueyue woke up with puffy eyes and parched lips. When her eyes peeled open, Yu Zhen was still on high-alert, as he had been the entire night.
"Sunshine?" Yu Zhen gently murmured as he softly caressed the side of her face. Had the storm passed? Was the sun peeking out of the horizon now? But she terrified him by breaking down, yet again. She slapped his hand away and curled into a tiny ball.
"Yu Zhen, I-I tried, I tried so hard I—"
"Shhh, it's alright." Yu Zhen slipped under the blankets. In an instant, she flinched away, recoiling in fear.
"No, I was violated I—"
"The guards made it in time before you were. The same for your little maidservant." Yu Zhen remained seated on the bed. He reached down and pulled her into his arms. She was shaking. Her fingers trembled as they dug into his shoulders.
"You're safe and sound, Sunshine," Yu Zhen whispered against her hair. He embraced her tightly, pressing her head onto his shoulder, as she hid her tears from him. Her knees were pressed together, her entire body quivering.
"N-no, I know I was violated. I felt their hands touching me everywhere. They held me down on a bed, I could feel the material... My wrists and my ankles, they—"
"It was the maidservants."
"They were trying to drown me."
"I did it."
His Wangfei stiffened in his arms. But Yu Zhen held her tighter. He kissed the side of her head, his lips remaining there.
"I had to, Sunshine," Yu Zhen said. "It was the only way to quell the heat. Your entire body was burning, worse than a fever. The ice bath was the only way to force you awake from your high."
Yu Zhen stroked the back of her head, his fingers caressing her long hair. "Each time, I made sure to pull you out in time so that your body would not be hurt."
Li Xueyue faintly nodded. She said nothing, for guilt nipped at her. Instead of saying something, her actions would speak for her.
Li Xueyue hugged him back. She hugged him with as much strength as she could muster. Her limbs were still heavy, but it was a lot more manageable than the terrors of yesterday.
"My maidservant," she whispered. "My Head Maidservant, Xiao Hua, is she alright?"
His hand froze. Li Xueyue prepared herself for the worst. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the bad news.
"Even at a time like this," he coldly said. "You're worried about others?"
Li Xueyue's heart quivered at his words. He sounded furious. She pulled back, but he pushed her head back onto his shoulders. Her eyes softened.
"Xiao Hua is my servant," she slowly said. "I should care for my people."
Yu Zhen's jaw clenched. "And what about you? When will you care for yourself?"
Li Xueyue nudged her head into the crook of his neck. He was warm. His heat was nothing like the flames that licked her skin yesterday.
"And when will you care for your wellbeing?" she softly said.
"When you start caring for yours."
Li Xueyue pressed a kiss on the side of his neck. His body tensed, and she smiled. "We've already had this discussion, my beloved husband."
"Then you should already know what I am going to say, my stubborn wife," he snapped.
Li Xueyue leaned back, and this time, he finally allowed her to do so. His hand slid down to her upper back, cupping it. His arm was wrapped around her lower body, holding her in place.
Li Xueyue's smile dipped into a frown. His dark circles had worsened, but he seemed the least bothered by it. Had he stayed up the entire night, worrying over her again?
She hesitantly touched his face, where a ghastly shadow lingered. "You're not angry with me," she pointed out.
Li Xueyue already knew the truth. "You're angry at yourself."
Yu Zhen's gaze darkened. Instead of responding, he yanked her back to him, this time, bringing her down onto the bed.
"I failed to protect you."
Li Xueyue's head was pressed against his chest—firm and strong. He bore the world on his shoulders, yet, he never uttered a single complaint.
Instead of lying there, where she sought the most comfort, Li Xueyue rose to sit up. She peered down at him with a slight frown.
"You said it yourself, your guards made it in time." Li Xueyue's breath was swept away by him. She rarely gazed down at him, for she always craned her neck to look up at him. He was so heartbreakingly beautiful.
Li Xueyue touched his face, ghastly and intimidating, but so handsome. She could see the pain behind the anger. It must've hurt him as much as it hurt her to go through such an experience.
"I was foolish," Li Xueyue sighed.
Yu Zhen scoffed.
"I thought the least that the guards could do to protect a woman's chastity was to not search Lady Ge Beining's bedroom. I believed that as long as the guards were outside, with their ears perked, I would be safe."
Yu Zhen narrowed his eyes. Perhaps it was not the best of time to tell her they were in the prison cells, awaiting their final judgment for failure to obey his orders.
"So, please don't be mad at them, be mad at me—"
"I'm already furious with you."
Li Xueyue lowered her head and fiddled with the edges of his collar. "I know."
Yu Zhen glanced at her fingers, flushed pink with life, but thin and weak. It always fascinated him that these very hands had gripped a sword like a warrior, and fired arrows like a soldier. If she were to join the military, she would be on the frontline as a dashing Commander.
"You already know who did it," Li Xueyue muttered, knowing what was to come. "But you should know, there are people who will defend Lady Ge Beining."
Yu Zhen grasped her fingers, and slowly entwined it with his. His lips curled into a smirk. "So?"
When he saw her uncertainty, he chuckled. "Anyone that hurts you will leave without their head intact."
Li Xueyue leaned down and pressed her lips together. "And what are you going to do to them?"
Yu Zhen chuckled. His chest rumbled with the small action, sending jolts down her body. He reached out and took strands of her long hair in between his fingers before bringing it to his lips.
"You don't have to worry about it." Yu Zhen admired her long hair that cascaded down. She peered at him, like a curious little fairy studying a human being.
"Do we have evidence?" Li Xueyue whispered, knowing it would not be an easy fight. "The teapot and teacup should still have remnants of whatever she fed me."
Li Xueyue tried to think of what was said in the room. But her head throbbed in pain and she winced. The more she tried to think about their conversation, the more jumbled up it was in her mind. She remembered snippets of what happened yesterday, but they were the worst bits.
Li Xueyue remembered nothing of the conversation. But her body remembered the terrors it felt, the fear as hands wandered all over her. Whether they were figments of her imagination or the cruel reality, she did not know. And she didn't want to know either.
Yu Zhen curled his fingers under her chin, forcing her to look at him again. "Instead of worrying about her, let's focus on you. How are you feeling, Sunshine?"
Yu Zhen pulled back the sleeves of her dress and noticed there were slight bruises on her wrists.
Li Xueyue shivered at the drop in temperature. It was suddenly chilly, and she couldn't pinpoint it. She pulled her hands back, and pushed the sleeves back down.
"Aside from visible bruises, I'm just shaken up," Li Xueyue explained. "I-it's not like…"
Li Xueyue glanced away. "It's not like something like this has never happened to me before."
She touched the edges of his collar, her thumbs skimming the silk as a means of distracting herself.
"I just need time to heal," Li Xueyue admitted. "Just like before."
Yu Zhen slowly nodded. He wanted to help in her healing process, but did not know how.
"Don't worry too much, Yu Zhen," Li Xueyue said. She softly smiled down at him, as her fingers skimmed his jawline.
"I am a lot stronger than I look. I'll get through this, even if it takes a while." Li Xueyue slowly lowered herself until she was lying on his chest again.
This time, her ears were resting where his heart laid. She heard his heartbeat, loud and wild.
"If there is anything I can do to help, anything at all, tell me," Yu Zhen strictly said. He adjusted his arm so that she would not slide off of him.
"Do you swear, Sunshine?"
"Of course, Yu Zhen."
Yu Zhen kissed the top of her head. "Good."
"It's still early in the morning," she suddenly said whilst tilting her head up at him. She touched his cheek, her thumb skimming under his eyes.
"These have gotten worse," Li Xueyue commented. "At this point, pandas won't be a match for you."
Yu Zhen laughed at her words. He gripped her tighter and turned them on their side. Her back was pressed against his chest, as she laid on his arm.
"Then, let's sleep a little bit longer," Yu Zhen said. He kissed the top of her head and rested his chin there. "Will that make you happy?"
"Very much so, it would make me happy."
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