"You don't look convinced." Ji Zhen Tian said, breaking me out of my thoughts.
"When did you... why am I your 'first love'? I didn't do anything." I couldn't help but ask.
Ji Zhen Tian smiled helplessly.
"I think it was when you first made me soup."
"Not before that?"
"...To be honest, before that... I didn't find you anything special from the rest of the women in the imperial harem, aside from the fact that you have always butted heads with Li Zhen Zhen."
...Oh so that's why Ye Ling had the greatest affection amongst everyone, but still not that far ahead of others.
Then I thought of the question I've been thinking about for quite some time now but had always put in the back of my mind.
"Then, why haven't you come to love Li Zhen Zhen?" I whispered. "Though her family may have had other plans and that's why they cooperated in making you Emperor, but didn't Li Zhen Zhen do her best to make you so because she wanted what's best for you? And, weren't you and Li Zhen Zhen childhood friends? So how come you didn't..." …fall for her?
This has been bugging me since the beginning. Why not fall for Li Zhen Zhen who did her best for her love?
Moreover, if it was the Li family that pushed Ji Zhen Tian to the throne in the first place, why is he that wary of them, especially of Li Zhen Zhen? Though Li Zhen Zhen did kill Ming Yi Ren, but... is that enough of a reason to be that cautious and untrusting? Li Zhen Zhen did that to eliminate her rivals to him, after all. She didn't harm Ji Zhen Tian in any way physical, and most probably didn't mean to mentally. She did all those to get him. She may have done it wrong, but still...
Ji Zhen Tian smiled wryly as he heard my question and went silent for awhile. Overtime, his wry smile eventually became sad, perhaps remembering some memories.
"I... How could I possibly come to love her, Ling-er? She... she's a murderer..."
"Because she killed Ming Yi Ren?"
"...There's also that, but there's way more to it."
I knitted my brows, really not knowing the story.
"So you haven't heard even the old rumors, huh. You're the precious caged daughter of the Ye family, so no wonder the issue wasn't known to you." Then it was Ji Zhen Tian who asked me a question now. "Over the years, haven't you wondered why I have no rival relatives?"
Come to think of it, there's not much issues on who gets or keeps the throne in Ji Zhen Tian's reign. ...Why?
"It's because they're dead. ...They're all dead, Ling-er." He whispered.
I looked at him, eyes questioning, inciting him to continue further.
"Li Zhen Zhen... Li Zhen Zhen is such a conniving and scheming woman. She pushed herself to be my wife, moreover, she pushed me to be Emperor." Ji Zhen Tian paused.
"Did you not want to be Emperor?"
Ji Zhen Tian nodded his head to my question.
"Yes, I didn't want to. But that woman... that woman!" Ji Zhen Tian started to boil in anger. "She killed off all my brothers, not sparing even my sisters still who were still unmarried and living inside the imperial palace! She poisoned everyone slowly, an epidemic was thought to have been spread inside the palace because of that. But in truth, what happened was an intentional, slow and excruciating murder. Just to make me rise to the throne I didn't even want!" He paused again, seemingly trying to calm down.
"I was just a leisurely prince before, not caring about who inherits the throne. Me and my brothers are actually unusually peaceful, with no fighting to death just to gain the throne. Though we came from different mothers, we all indeed do get along as siblings. However, she poisoned them, and Li Zhen Zhen even sent people to kill all previous Imperial Consorts and mothers of all the previous Emperor's offsprings, including my own. I could especially never forgive her for that."
Why would she have his mother killed? If it were me, I would suck up to the mother to try to get wedded to the son.
Then Ji Zhen Tian continued, answering the question I asked in my head.
"Li Zhen Zhen probably killed my mother because my mother only wanted me to be happy. Mother didn't exactly support anyone to be my wife, and she didn't mind which path I want to choose. But to Li Zhen Zhen, not supporting her seemed to be a threat for her, so she had my mother killed!"
It seemed to be just a speculation, but if perceived from that lunatic's mind, that reason may just be suitable, reasonable, enough to kill.
"Zhen Tian... were you also that hung up on being called by your name..." I didn't finish my sentence, but I know Ji Zhen Tian knew what I wanted to ask.
"Nobody called me by my name anymore when my mother, my siblings, and others who were also close to me, died. I... wanted to be called by my name again. And I... didn't want to be Emperor in front of you. I just want to be... Zhen Tian. Me. Just, me." He said.
"I see." I said softly.
Then Ji Zhen Tian told the rest of his story.
After his mother and siblings died, he came to never trust anyone that easily. He especially did not trust Li Zhen Zhen because he felt something... something told him that she could not be trusted. That is exactly why he sent someone to investigate her. He didn't know before how people around him got sick and died.
How he came to know is due to his childhood friend and most trusted aide's investigation, and that person is Ming Yi Fei's beloved, Qing Jing Tian. It seems he came from a powerful family that specialized in assassination and spying. He was truly excellent, said Ji Zhen Tian, finding the head culprit for all those palace issues. He did gather evidence and testimonies from other people involved, but those were still not enough to convict Li Zhen Zhen and the very powerful Li family.
Why not have Li Zhen Zhen assassinated instead?
When I asked Ji Zhen Tian that, he replied, "I want her to experience the same fate as me. Having important people taken away, having loved ones killed." He said grudgingly.
"I made Li Zhen Zhen Empress to keep her in place and not have her lash out always. Also, to not make the Li family move that early, or move at all for that matter. I... definitely didn't love her. Really, how could I? There's no way I could. Her crimes, her deeds? She may have thought she did them for love, but her love was shown in such a twisted way that I didn't want it, didn't need it."