Special thanks to my beta, diluain!

Chapter 68

Lingyun withdrew his jian, his arm dropping to hang limp at his side. "…Thank you for everything, Fengbo," he said as he slowly backed away. "The time we spent together…will always be the happiest time of my life…but..."

"I can't accept this," Fengbo interrupted. His heart was pounding so hard that it hurt to breathe. "How can you expect me to accept this? How can you expect me to find happiness when you'll never be happy?" He stabbed his blade through the wooden floor, falling on his knees, unable to stop his tears from falling. "Why are you thanking me, when I'm the one who ruined your life?"

"That's not true; you didn't ruin my life, Fengbo. You don't have to blame yourself for bringing me back." Lingyun's voice was…just too gentle to be real, which only made Fengbo feel worse. "I think…I forgave you a long time ago…so, it's time for you to forgive yourself. Please…for me?"

"…I can't, Lingyun," Fengbo choked. "I can't, especially not because I..." He couldn't continue anymore, it was too painful to talk.

Lingyun's grip on his weapon tightened, but then he dropped it, and its clatter rang hollowly in the spacious room. He moved closer to Fengbo, kneeled and paused a bit before he wrapped his arms around Fengbo, planting a soft kiss on Fengbo's lips. "I never knew what it was like to be happy until I met you, Fengbo," he whispered. "Even if you hadn't betrayed me, I'd have probably looked for you and ended up here anyway."

"Not as the Emperor, not without freedom," Fengbo croaked, circling an arm around Lingyun and locking him closer. Closer, closer, if only he could keep Lingyun beside him forever with this arm… "We could have had a future if I hadn't betrayed you."

"…Zhitian would have found a way to kill me anyway. You would have been killed by him sooner or later. If not, the Ning would have destroyed us all during a civil war. Is there any point in speculating in what could have been?" Lingyun buried his head into Fengbo's shoulder, shivering. "Just knowing how you felt about me…was enough. But fantasy will never defeat reality…That's why…That's why, at the very least, I want you to find happiness again…for my sake."

"You're not being fair, Lingyun. You're not being fair at all. Why can't we find another way to work this out? Why do you have to shoulder everything yourself?"

"Because I'm your Emperor," Lingyun said. "A proper Emperor has to take care of his own responsibilities and protect his loyal subjects."

"Don't bring this in as an excuse!" Fengbo protested angrily. "I'm perfectly capable of helping you out!"

Lingyun sighed. "I know the Xuan don't trust me anymore, so any cooperation is impossible. You can still help me by calming them down as I take measures to calm the other nobles down."

"…Why can't I wait for you?" Fengbo asked in a small voice.

The arms around him tightened. "…Because waiting hurts. Because I don't want you to miss any opportunities to find happiness while you're waiting. Even if you waited, the chance of us having a future is still slim at best."

"But I want to wait for you, Lingyun," Fengbo insisted, "I don't care how many years it will take—ten, twenty, thirty—I'll take that chance, however tiny it is!"

Lingyun let go of Fengbo and stood up straight again. "You can't, because I won." His voice was now authoritative and cold. "Time will change your opinion, and I'm sure you'll be able to find new love. I..." His voice cracked, which made him pause. He took a few steps away before he continued, "I won't forgive you if you go against our deal."

"…If that's how it is," Fengbo said, finally pulling himself together, "then I'll never love again, even if I don't wait for you."

"Don't threaten me, Fengbo," Lingyun warned darkly.

"I'm not. I'm just telling you beforehand that it will be impossible for me to completely comply with the terms of my defeat," Fengbo calmly replied. "I don't think I'll ever come across someone I'll love as much as I—"

"Stop!" Lingyun screamed loudly, covering his ears with his hands. "Stop talking about this! Please, just…stop talking to me!" He squatted as though trying to protect himself from harm. "It's over! It's over between us! Please, please move on, Fengbo...Don't make this any more painful for me…! Please…I can't stand seeing you like this! Just leave this place, leave this place right now!"

Fengbo's fingers curled into fists. He proceeded toward the exit, but stopped by Lingyun's side. "…And you think I'll be able to stand seeing you suffer loneliness for the rest of your life?" he asked quietly. "Even if I move on, I'll always be here for you, Lingyun, no matter what you say, no matter what you do. As long as I live, I am yours." With that said, Fengbo left. He felt like the world would end if he stepped through those doors, but even so, no matter how excruciating it was, he forced himself to walk out of the room.

Lingyun didn't know how long he drowned in his own tears and despair, curled up alone on the cold floor of the empty wuguan, hiccuping and trying to overcome the pain that was tearing him apart. Even though he had prepared himself for this, even though he had already made his decision no matter whether or not he won, it hurt. It hurt so much.

It was over.

It was over…!

He kept telling himself that, again and again. He had ended it with his own hands, winning a joyless victory. He had defiled the martial arts he loved so much by using it to sever everything he had.

"…Fengbo…" he whispered softly. Come back…Come back!

He kept repeating Fengbo's name, as though he could bring Fengbo back simply by doing so. He didn't want Fengbo to leave. In truth, he didn't want Fengbo to leave at all, but he knew he had to make Fengbo leave.

He had to make Fengbo leave, before he changed his mind. Before he threw himself at Fengbo and never let go again.

"I'll miss you…I'll miss you so very much, Fengbo."

The first and last person he'd ever love.

Lingyun didn't know how long he had holed himself up in the wuguan, not letting anyone in, not eating anything, not attending any morning conferences, not looking over any papers. His days went by blankly, aimlessly. During that time, he would sometimes be consumed by black hate. He hated the power-hungry nobles, hated the jealous officials who wouldn't let him be. Hated the society, hated power, hated being the center of everyone's world; hated everything.

Most of the time, however, he would reminisce about all the moments he had spent together with Fengbo: When they first met, when Fengbo pestered him, when Fengbo touched him, when Fengbo betrayed him, the look in Fengbo's eyes afterwards, the gentle way Fengbo always treated him even though they were supposed to have severed their ties, when they finally got together, when they had sex—everything, Lingyun just kept remembering the times they had spent together. And, even though he tried not to, he would still occasionally break down into a sobbing mess, falling asleep before his tears dried.

How long had it been? Six, seven days? More?

Then, one day, he woke with dried tears and a cold heart. What was left of him was empty, hollow numbness. The only things in his mind were the goal to set things right for political stability, and the dull determination to rule his Empire well.

After getting up and changing out of his clothes, Lingyun walked out of the wuguan as the Emperor of Yue, leaving the human Lingyun behind forever. The room was sealed, kept the way it was with Fengbo's weapon stuck through the wooden tiles, and his own blade lying abandoned on the floor. No one was allowed to enter the room, and Lingyun never practiced martial arts after that day. Everything Fengbo had given Lingyun as a gift was locked away, never to see the light again.

Even so, Fengbo's last words to him always stayed in his heart, becoming the only thing that gave Lingyun strength to continue on.

I will always be here for you, too, Fengbo.

~Deceiving Clouds, Cunning Waves~



End Notes:

Thanks to all readers for reading this story till the very end! Initially, I intended to write a scenario where Ruixiang walks in on Lingyun and Fengbo...after all, Ruixiang does have the qualities that would significantly worsened the situation. I even planned to throw in some chaos for the Xuan and the Imperial Court. However, I spent literally weeks trying to figure out how to make it happen...to no avail. Lingyun is still the Emperor and most powerful person in the empire, after all-there was no logical way for that scenario to play out. Thus, I ended this story somewhat prematurely-had this ending in mind for a quite a while now.

Special thanks to you, tmelange, for reviewing almost every chapter! Sorry I couldn't give you the ending you wanted...but I might write an AU-esque story featuring these two characters to feel better, lol. This is by far the hardest not-so-happy end I've written. I wanted to give them a happy end, too