When the turmoils of the night finally died down, sunlight seeped through the clouds, illuminating all of Hanjian. Even the darkest of shadows were dispersed, but never in the frigid hearts of the cruelest.
Li Xueyue sat by her vanity with a faraway look in her eyes as she stared at her reflection.
The woman before her had lean shoulders which shouldn't have been able to withstand the weight of a mountain, but had hands that wielded weapons. She wondered how much time had passed since she last sat inside a dusty room, infested with mice, with walls that seemed to close in on her, amplifying her quiet sobs.
"Yu Zhen," she suddenly called out, seeing his reflection in the mirror.
His people had just finished dressing him. Yet, he was already aggravated. Yu Zhen tugged his collars loose and cast her a mischievous smirk.
Li Xueyue tilted her head as she continued to stare at her reflection in the vanity mirror. Her eyes had changed. They were stern and cold. She used to be so naive and ignorant. So much had changed.
Now, even before death, she would not flinch. She would not even bat an eye when blood is spilled. Whether it was a change for the best or the worst, she did not care.
"I want poison."
Yu Zhen slowly quirked a brow. His smirk widened in amusement. Her voice was steady and composed, like the rest of her features.
Quietly, he strolled towards her. Li Xueyue's eyes watched him through the vanity mirror. A large, calloused hand caressed her shoulder blades, down towards her trimmed fingers.
Li Xueyue's heart skipped a beat when he lifted her hand to his lips. Gently, he kissed her fingertips whilst staring deep into her eyes.
"Has my little club grown out her claws?"
Li Xueyue curled her fingers around his hand. She softly laughed. "I've always had them."
- - - - -
After breakfast, Yu Zhen brought her out of the estate, deciding to take her to the spot where he kept his poison.
Li Xueyue curiously glanced around her surroundings. It was still early in the morning and the air was cool and crisp.
Li Xueyue glanced down at their interlocked fingers, as he guided her down the corridors. Soft, slippery silk brushed against her neck. There was silver embroidery of storm clouds and a soaring dragon that shimmered like stars.
"You're so slow," Yu Zhen teased as he pulled her along. He turned to look at her, a slight smile on his face.
Li Xueyue was heartbreakingly beautiful. She was so tiny in his large, black cloak, dark as the night sky that hid her white nightgown. He was excited to bring her there and didn't even wait for the maidservants to dress her up as usual.
"Only because you have long legs," Li Xueyue retorted with a slight laugh. To him, it sounded like the twinkle of bells, soft and sharp.
Yu Zhen hoped one day she would take responsibility for bewitching him and stealing his heart and soul. Her fingers would curl over her lips when she laughed, almost as if she was concealing her smile from the world.
He wanted that expression of hers to be painted. He needed his future great-grandchildren to know where their beauty came from.
"Quit looking at me like that," Li Xueyue mused. She was bewildered by his intense gaze. It was almost as if he was etching her inside his memory and heart, to be remembered for the rest of his life.
"I am just making sure your little legs do not trip over the flat wooden floorboards."
Li Xueyue gaped at him. She narrowed her eyes and yanked him towards her. He chuckled at her actions and slowed his legs down.
"I am not that clumsy," she corrected him.
"But you don't deny it."
"Everyone is clumsy once in a while. No one can be as perfect as you," Li Xueyue argued.
"You think I'm perfect?" Yu Zhen responded.
Finally, he paused for her. She enjoyed being pulled along by him, but needed to catch her breath. Besides, where was he pulling her towards?
Li Xueyue glanced around and tilted her head out of curiosity. She was greeted by a familiar scenery. A corridor wrapped around a square garden of white sand, grey pebbles, and a large tree blooming in the center. Small bamboo stalks lined a tiny bridge that led to a man-made pond.
This was where Yu Zhen's private study was located.
"You pulled me out of my room, underdressed, only to show me your private study?" Li Xueyue teased.
"Don't ignore my question," Yu Zhen deadpanned.
Li Xueyue halted at his words. She blinked, wondering if she had heard correctly. Not a second later, she laughed again, highly entertained by his brooding stare. He was sulking.
"You already know my response to your question," she replied.
Li Xueyue tugged at his hand, a large smile on her face. "Is this where you wanted to take me to, your private study?"
Yu Zhen narrowed his eyes. He wished he had heard her correctly the first time. But he had been too busy admiring her beauty. Was this her way of keeping him on his toes?
She rarely complimented him, but he always knew she admired him. He could sense her loving gaze early in the morning whenever she would wake up before him.
There were times he felt her forefinger tracing his features, her thumb skimming his jawline while he laid on the bed with his eyes still closed.
Li Xueyue probably thought he was asleep. It was the only time she would be so bold with her actions. She would lean on her elbows and watch him sleep. And when she'd get tired of leaning on her elbows, she would lie back onto the bed, only to turn on her side and hug his chest.
When that happened, Yu Zhen would fall for her all over again. He didn't think he would ever grow tired of loving her.
People often say love in marriage would die down after a decade, but he was certain that would never happen to them. Especially when they still bantered like friends.
"Well?" she asked.
Yu Zhen nodded once. "Yes, there is something I'd like to show you."
Li Xueyue tilted her head out of curiosity. What was it? Was there something in his private study that she had never seen?
Li Xueyue always wondered if this word had a hidden meaning. Every time he said it, there was a devious glint in his eyes. As if he knew something she did not.
Li Xueyue followed him into his private study. The guards deeply bowed when they walked past. She locked the doors behind them.
He walked in front of her, his large frame guiding her into the familiar private study. His shoulders were large and strong. To her, it was the most reliable thing in the world.
Li Xueyue quickly grabbed onto the edge of his sleeves, pulling at it. He was dressed in black, yet again. It was the color of mourning and death, but he wore it far too elegantly.
"Wait for me," she grumbled.
"I was already walking at a snail pace, Little Hamster."
"Well, walk at the pace of a tortoise then, Little Panda."
Yu Zhen stilled at her nickname. He pressed his lips together, suppressing a smile. Little Panda? What part of him was fluffy?
"Hehe, do you like the nickname?" Li Xueyue asked him. She stood upon her tippy-toes and cupped his face, her thumbs brushing under his eyes.
"This part inspired me," she said with a teasing tone. "That, and the fact that you always wear black."
"Big Bear would be better," Yu Zhen bit out.
Li Xueyue laughed at this. Indeed, he had the temperament of a ferocious bear. He was as fluffy as one, too. But she would never give him that satisfaction.
"Little Panda is a lot more accurate," she teased.
Yu Zhen scoffed at her words. "You are blind and daft, my pitiful Wangfei."
Li Xueyue snorted at his remark. "Meanwhile, you are intolerable and ill-tempered, my unruly husband."
Yu Zhen's lips twitched. She glared up at him expectantly, her eyes flashing with a warning. He could already picture it. There was another snarky remark resting on the tip of her tongue. She was waiting for him to insult her again. This time, she would be more prepared with her comeback.
But he liked keeping her on her toes. Yu Zhen turned his back to her and hid a smile, knowing her pretty little eyes had widened in surprise. He could hear the faintest of scoffs whilst she grumbled about his height.
"Don't just stand there," he humored her. "Come along, Little Hamster."
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