Disclaimer: Bu Bu Jing Xin not mine.
Summary: Loss is like this. 4th/Ruo Xi. Spoiler for ending.
He remembers the very first time he knew. She is absurdly gleeful after her equally absurd prank; laughing so hard her hair slides loose. There is salt in his very astonished mouth and his mind is blank. The thought, when it comes, comes so naturally it blinds him. No one will ever mean this much to me.
They are lying in bed, an ocean and a decade of suffering after, and she's curled up at his side. Her sharp little chin digs painfully into his arm, but he continues silently stroking her hair.
"What are you thinking?" Ruo Xi asks softly, infinitely tender.
He is thinking about the hard, resentful eyes of his brothers in court. He is thinking about the vicious rumours he must stem; and how much more vicious he must learn to be. He is thinking about the last time anyone has spoken to him in the tone she just did.
He raises his hand and studies the fall of black silk that is his lover's hair. Now he imagines silver threading through the black and replies simply, "I want to grow old with you."
And her kisses are sweet, as sweet as the truth after a lifetime of lies.
"She was my sister." She claws and rips his sleeves. His own reaching hands are flung away once again. Dimly, he feels the fear-mingled shock of the servants and a corner of him is still rational enough to deduce what they must be thinking. How dare she treat the emperor this way?
He knows it, but nothing registers, because the rest of him is hurting. And despite their terrified audience, he wants to tell her what he's known for years. What he promised himself that night out in the rain, when they were the only two people in the world.
I will clear the path between us.
Withstanding the flailing fists, he presses his wet face into the curve of her neck and wills her to understand. You are my only.
He will not veer down his father's path. He owes his wives and all the years they've devoted to him that much. His children will not hate as he has hated; scheme as he has schemed. And still, as he fits his hand to Ruo Xi's gently rounded belly, he embraces his hypocrisy.
Even if the throne passes elsewhere, this child, alone of all his children, will never learn fear.
On the rare nights he collapses into fitful sleep, it's the memories that come. How cold her hand was when he knocked it aside. How she had reached for him as he turned his back, the very last time.
The darkness listens as he recites the old poems on fortitude and the nature of transience. As his fingers dig into his burning palms, he steadily repeats all the mantras that have carried him through the early years – the mother whose last regret was not hurting him more; the brother who hurts him without needing to try. The deeper the wound, the greater the control. I will not break. You will not break me.
And night after night, he quietly loses his mind. I should have turned a little slower, the taste of hot iron and ashes fills his mouth, I should have looked a little longer.
Loss is like this. It is white flakes drifting; red petals falling. It is a single woman, the promise of forever, dancing in the snow.