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214 The Fracturing Memory Fragments of the Pas

    In the sixth memory, four years later, the two were dressed in red.

    Her family said \"no\". His father said \"no\".

    So the two ran away.

    They found a place not far from the capital, where neither families could find them, and were married with the heavens and earth as their witness. When they returned, things were scandalous enough, the reputation of both families broken enough. The two households had no choice but to acknowledge this marriage, and to hold an actual ceremony for them, just to piece their reputation back together.

    Yunjing had been reluctant to cause this rift in the relationships between her and the father and mother she loved dearly. But in the end, since things worked out and relationships were patched up again, she was okay.

    Yue Ze, on the other hand, didn't have as many ties with his family. His father had been disappointed with him enough in the past. A little more disappointment wouldn't do anything.

    Everything in the end worked out, and both were happy.

    ...

    In the seventh memory, another year later, Yunjing used her wealth from her successful inventions to build the two of them a villa. Neither of the two were flamboyant types, so the villa was kept in a simple and elegant style. It was built at the spot where Yue Ze planted that white plum tree, the spot where he formally met with Yunjing for the first time, and the spot where he confessed to Yunjing for the first time.

    In particular, around the plum tree, she created the Plum Courtyard. This was the courtyard she lived in. She said that she liked the scenery of white plum against white snow, so she wanted to live around it. She wanted to be able to capture the scene of every year's white plum in her memory.

    Now that she had her own place, Yunjing also worked on inventions more. She built her bathtub and plumbing system that she worked a little bit on in the Wei Villa. She built fans, desks, and all sorts of modern furniture. She tried out other inventions as well, in the art field. In particular, she worked on making paint.

    Yue Ze watched her do all of this. He helped her out, at times.

    He wanted to support her in the same way that she supported him. Together, they were happy.

    ...

    In the eighth memory, yet another year later, the construction of a Lingxin Art Academy began.

    This was all made possible by Yunjing. Yue Ze couldn't even properly describe his gratitude to her.

    She only smiled, gave him a light laugh, and waved it off, describing that she did it because she wanted to. He didn't owe her anything. They were husband and wife.

    ...

    In the ninth memory, Lingxin finished its construction. Because of the sheer grandness of the project, it took two years to complete the look that Yunjing and Yue Ze had a vision to create. They built a stunning front gate, planted lovely gardens, created artificial ponds, built pavilions on top of those, built residences within the school, built libraries, and built more classrooms.

    They invited their master to come to the school to teach, but he rejected. He simply said that he was old, and he wasn't interested in any of these official things. At this point, he just wanted to sit back and relax the rest of his years away.

    The school opened up with much popularity and fame. And for the first time, Yue Ze experienced what it was like for his father to be proud of him.

    This emotion rose up when he visited his father, for the first time in months. His father told him that he heard about the things he did, and that he wanted to know more about Lingxin Academy.

    Yue Ze explained, desperate to prove himself. Even though he thought that he was over the stage where he wanted to receive the support of his father, he realized how much he actually wanted to receive this recognition. After all of these years, this was just a feeling that he suppressed deep down. Now, he finally had a chance. He felt as if he was back to the person he was ten years ago, when he was only a sixteen year old boy.

    At the end, his father only asked him one other question, \"And you did this all by yourself?\"

    Yue Ze paused. He knew that Yunjing contributed much as well. The work they did was half and half. Both contributed an equal amount.

    Except... how could he possibly word it? How could he possibly say that he allowed a woman to be the main reason for his success?

    He knew that Yunjing came from a time where there was equality, from a time where there would be no shame in admitting.

    Yet he couldn't say it.

    All that talk about equality, all that talk about expressing his gratitude, all that talk about giving Yunjing credit for her accomplishments- at this time, it all boiled down to one idea.

    He wanted to receive recognition. All of it.

    His father would be disappointed in him in any other way.

    So, Yue Ze said, after this moment of hesitation, \"Yes, Father. All of it.\"

    He figured that it wouldn't mean much. This was just a private discussion he had with his aging father. Yunjing would never have to know.

    He just wanted this selfish moment, where he finally heard the words he had always wanted to hear from his father.

    \"You did well, son,\" his father admitted.

    And right then, Yue Ze could only grin, throwing these emotions of guilt to the back of his head.

    When he returned back home that evening, he found Yunjing in her courtyard. She was sitting on her bed, reading a book by candlelight.

    \"How did things go?\" she asked, turning a page carelessly.

    \"It went... well,\" he answered. He could feel the guilt building up within him again, for that one lie he told. Suddenly, as he was pouring himself a cup of tea, he stopped. He turned, blurting out, \"Yunjing, I did something bad.\"

    \"What did you do?\" She paused, looking up.

    He told her about the things he said to his father, about how he took all the credit.

    At the end, contrary to his expectations, she didn't get angry. She only closed the book she was reading, saying, \"It's alright. I don't blame you. I would've done the same in your situation.\"

    \"You're... not upset with me?\" he asked, eyes wide.

    She replied in a simple manner, \"No.\"

    He walked to sit down by her, pulling her into a hug. \"Yunjing, even if you're not upset, I'm sorry. It was wrong for me to do so, and I won't do it again. Tomorrow, I'll go tell Father. I'll explain to him the truth.\"

    \"You don't have to,\" she pulled back, shaking her head with a small smile. \"I don't care so much about what one person thinks. We live far enough from your father, and we barely come in contact with him. What he thinks can't hurt me.\"

    \"Well then... I'll... set up a stone monument in front of Lingxin. I'll hire people to carve your name on it, along with mine. We're co-founders, after all. Then, the world will know that I am proud to have such a strong, capable person by my side like you.\"

    This brought a wider smile onto Yunjing's face. \"You'd really do that? You wouldn't care what the world thinks about us?\" she asked, her voice as low as a whisper.

    \"Of course. Why does it matter? Like you said, it doesn't matter what my father thinks. So why should it matter how the rest of the world feels?\" Yue Ze grinned in return.  \"I'll put up the monument by the end of this month.\"

    \"Alright.\" She leaned her head into his shoulder, a smile still tracing her lips. \"I believe you.\"

    ...

    The stone monument never came to occur. The countless promises he gave her fell apart.

    And the one who was at fault for all of this was none other than Yue Ze himself.

    A few days following the time where he told his father that he was the sole founder of Lingxin Academy, his father, during a meeting with the Emperor, decided to report this fact. Perhaps he didn't like the idea that his two older sons had not amounted to much prestige in court, or that his youngest son was a bit of a spoiled fool. Perhaps he didn't like the idea that his competitors in the government had sons with way too many achievements in comparison- getting first place in examinations, winning a battle as the general, becoming the crown prince's favorite study partner- and he felt lacking.

    Regardless of what the reason was, the only thing that mattered was that Chancellor Yue told the Emperor about Yue Ze's grand art academy, emphasizing on the fact that his son started it all by himself, and how capable his son was.

    The Emperor appreciated talent, though he was not the most appreciative of art. He put out an imperial decree to honor the school, and to give Lingxin some extra funds.

    This would've been a great honor. It would've been something that made Yue Ze exhilarated, if it weren't for the fact that because of all of this, because of the fact that the Emperor knew Yue Ze as the sole founder of Lingxin, because of the consequences of telling the Emperor otherwise, and because of the fact that now the whole world thought this way, the stone monument could never exist now.

    Wei Yunjing would never be acknowledged as a co-founder of the academy.

    When Yue Ze told her the news, it was the first time that Yue Ze had seen Yunjing genuinely upset with him.

    He could recall her betrayed expression as he explained to her. He could recall the way that she stepped back, the way that she drew her hands away from his, wrapping them around herself.

    He could remember how she asked, back then, \"Why does that matter? I thought you told me that what the world thought didn't matter. Why- just why- why does it matter now?\"

    \"It's not that, Yunjing,\" Yue Ze muttered, placing his hand at the side of his head. \"I meant what I said back then. It's what the Emperor thinks.\"

    \"The Emperor?\" she echoed.

    \"Yes.\" He looked straight at her. \"Did you know that if I went through with announcing you as a co-founder, my father would get charged with lying to the Emperor?\"

    \"We could say that it was a misunderstanding. That there was miscommunication,\" she hastily added.

    Yue Ze couldn't stop his voice from rising. \"Misunderstanding? A miscommunication? That, in the Emperor's ears, is the equivalent of lying. Do you... even know what the consequences are?\"

    She backed away a step.

    \"My father could get beheaded, Yunjing. He could die- or no, not even that he 'could'. He will die.\" His voice was trembling now, by just a fraction, perhaps from anger, or frustration that she just did not understand. \"For your honor, for your fame, and for all of that, you would be willing to sacrifice the life of my father?\"

    Yunjing replied, her voice softer now, the slightest bit of a tremble caught within it too, \"You know I don't mean that. I... I would never want that.\"

    She hugged herself a little tighter now. He noticed this.

    After a brief pause, she continued, \"But you know that the one thing I ever only wanted was this. And you promised me it. But... I'm sorry for being so selfish about things. I'm sorry for not thinking of the whole picture. It's my fault.\"

    Yue Ze's gaze softened. He couldn't bear to see her like this, quickly realizing his own mistakes. \"No, it's my fault too. I got too heated in the argument too quickly. I shouldn't have yelled at you. And I understand how you feel. After all, I promised that to you. I... I let you down.\"

    Yunjing stepped back forward, wrapping her arms back around Yue Ze, burying her face into his chest. \"It's alright,\" she murmured, \"I understand that you are in a forced situation. You can't do anything about it. There's no need to feel sorry.\"

    \"But I promised you before. I promised you all those things. I promised that I would never let you down,\" he spoke, lips brushing against her hair.

    \"You also swore that if you let me down, then thunder would strike you to the ground,\" she added, \"But did that happen? No. The skies are perfectly clear right now,  so you haven't let me down yet. We've just... compromised.\"

    \"You remember that?\" He was actually taken aback by this fact, head tilting.

    Yunjing affirmed, \"Yes. It was only eight years ago. You were such a cute, silly boy back then.\"

    \"You know,\" Yue Ze brought up, \"I hated it when you called me a boy back then. I was so desperate to have recognition.\"

    \"And you are different now. I can't call you a boy anymore, can I?\" Yunjing looked up.

    \"No. Definitely not. Time... changes people,\" Yue Ze paused, then continued, \"But are you sure that you are fine?\"

    \"Me? Fine?\" Yunjing repeated, leaning back with a smile tracing her lip, \"Yes, I'm fine. Don't worry about it.\"

    He smiled, pulling her back into a hug. \"Alright. I'm glad we talked things out.\"

    ...

    Years later, Yue Ze realized that he had been wrong back then. He had been wrong in so many ways, but perhaps most in the phrase that \"time changed people\".

    He was still the same fool as he was eight years ago. Time had not changed a thing about that.

    Back then, how had he not noticed the words hidden behind her eyes, the words hidden behind her smile, when she said that she was fine?

    And because of that one moment of ignorance, because of that one fight he put to the back of his mind, and because of the things that would occur next, he was fated to be a fool for the rest of his life.
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