Lan Fan was furious.
Her body ached all over, her hands were torn and the kunai were being thrown less and less precisely as her vision blurred from both exhaustion and unshed tears of frustration.
She had failed to protect Ling.
Or the king of all Xing now. She had failed to do her duty, as a bodyguard, as a friend, as a lover.
Lan Fan had never been so disappointed in herself in her entire life.
When the last of her weapons finally hit the tree, way off the target, Lan Fan let herself sink to her knees. As she struggled to catch her breath the previous events flashed in her mind repeatedly. The peaceful stroll through the village that had turned to a brutal attack, the enemy outnumbering her but that wasn’t even an excuse. She should have been able to fight them, defeat them in a matter of minutes! But instead she let her guard down, and was caught from behind like an amateur. It was Ling who took the hit, jumped in front of the blade, putting his own valuable life on the line to save her unimportant one. Luckily the enemy had been just as shocked as she was and the wound had only been a shallow cut across the chest. But to Lan Fan, he could have been stabbed and she would have felt the same as she did now.
She was worthless.
Completely and utterly worthless. If she couldn’t protect Ling from a couple of weak opponents, what could she do against real, serious threats? The ones that were after Ling’s power as ruler of Xing? The ones who were after his life? The simple thought made Lan Fan storm back to the tree, grab all the scattered kunai lodged in the soft bark and repeat the harsh training until her hands bled and her knees buckled underneath her, preventing her from doing anything more than lie motionless and panting on the long grass until the sun completely disappeared behind the horizon.
When Lan Fan finally returned to the palace, she was greeted by a familiar but unnerving silence. It was understandable that everybody would be sleeping at this late hour but Lan Fan still hadn’t gotten used to nights without the city noises or even the howling of an howl that seemed constant back in Central. She made her way towards the king’s bedroom, making little to no noise on her way there. She gave silent nods of acknowledgment to the guards scattered around the building as she made her way through the memorized hall, hoping she would be unnoticed by the king and be able to stand guard for the night without disturbing him.
Unfortunately, all her hopes were shattered when she opened the door slightly and soundlessly to see that Ling was still awake, sitting on the railing of the balcony and twirling his thumbs, a habit of his when he was nervous or worried. By having spent most of her life with him, Lan Fan already knew that he had been waiting all this time for her, but that simple knowledge didn’t stop the frown from appearing on her face as she made her presence known.
“You should be sleeping my Lord.” the raven-haired girl said, softly as to not startle the king that still hadn’t noticed her entrance. At the sound of her voice he jumped a bit and his head snapped around, eyes brightening as they caught sight of his lover. “Lan Fan!” he half-whispered, half-exclaimed as he hopped off the railing and quickly made his way to the shorter girl, hugging her lovingly. “I was worried! Where were you?” he asked in a hushed tone, not noticing the girl tense as his bandages touched her bare arms that lay limp at her sides. He may have looked fine, but Lan Fan knew that he was feeling pain, no matter how little or dull it may be at this point. And it’s all my fault, she reminded herself. After a short moment Ling pulled back, glancing down at his bodyguard in worry. She hadn’t moved an inch and her head was bowed low, her bangs shadowing her beautiful eyes from his view. “What’s wrong?” he asked, placing two fingers under her chin and gently forcing her to look up at him. Her eyes remained closed but he could see her biting her lip, hard. “Lan Fan look at me” Ling ordered, his voice sounding harder than he intended it to be. Her dark eyes hesitantly opened, meeting a pair of worried ones. Lan Fan avoided his caring gaze. How could he still care about her? “I’m sorry to have bothered you my Lord. Please get some rest. I will stand guard for the night” Lan Fan murmured, trying not to let her guilt seep into her voice. At the words, Ling’s grip tighten. “Why are you being so formal Lan Fan?? I told you never to address me like that!! Call me Ling, like you used to!” His voice soften then. “And I couldn’t sleep without you. That’s why I waited for you” he stated, hands lowering towards her clenched ones. “Now get some clean clothes on and we’ll go to bed!” Ling said, a goofy smile settling on his lips once again. A smile that disappeared as quickly as it came when Ling’s hands wrapped around Lan Fan’s cold ones.
When Ling froze, Lan Fan realized her mishap and yanked her hand away, an eternity too late. Ling’s eyes were wide as he glanced down at his hand that was now coated with a thin layer of fresh blood. Lan Fan clenched her teeth. “Please do not touch my hands my Lord… they are filthy.” she mumbled, glancing away. He must have moved closer because in a flash, her wrists were caught in a firm hold and her hands were in front of Ling’s disbelieving face. Although they were covered by thin black gloves, the damage done was clearly visible. Lan Fan looked down in shame. Why couldn’t she do anything right? “Come with me” Ling said, and Lan Fan’s head lifted up in surprise at the frustration in his voice. His brows were knitted together and his smile was reduced to a tight line as the king dragged her to the bathroom. Forcing her to sit, Ling then pulled out some rubbing alcohol and bandages. Taking a small cotton ball in between in his finger and soaking it in the disinfectant, he took hold of Lan Fan’s wrist once again, but this time, the girl did nothing but stare as he gently cleaned the open wounds on her palms and fingers. It stung, a sharp pain coming with each small dab but the bodyguard kept her face blank. After the dirt and blood were gone from the torn skin, Ling gingerly wrapped her hands in white bandages. When his work was finished he put the materials away and knelt in front of her, looking at her with piercing dark eyes. “Why?” Lan Fan bit her lip once more. He knew how she had gotten the wounds. He also knew she was the reason he was injured. Why did he still love her? Why couldn’t he leave her behind, like he should have?! “Because I…” Lan Fan started, feeling hot tears of anger against herself welling up in her eyes. She swallowed down any sounds that tried to escape her, keeping her head bowed in hope Ling wouldn’t see her this weakened. “I’m useless to you! I couldn’t protect you, I couldn’t even keep you from worrying about me! I am nothing but a burden, dragging you down! You can’t continue to care for me like this… because next time…” She lifted her head up then, locking eyes with her lover as a silent tear rolled down her cheek. “…Next time I’ll get you killed for sure…” she whispered, unable to tear her eyes away from the widening ones yet it still hurt to watch his expression turn to one of anger and sadness. Lan Fan couldn’t think of anything more to say so she simply gazed downwards, not expecting to feel Ling’s warm hands cup her face and stop the movement. He pulled her towards him and suddenly Lan Fan’s lips crashed into Ling’s soft ones.
At first her body froze, not expecting this reaction from him at all. When he pressed their lips together more forcefully however, she let her eyes close and kissed him back. The kiss was deep and demanding but filled Lan Fan with happiness nonetheless. When they parted for breath, Ling’s eyes met hers once more. “I don’t ever, ever, want to hear you say that you’re useless or a burden. You are so important to me, and you are the only one I will ever love” he started, his face completely serious. “What happened was not your fault and I would do it a thousand times over if it meant I could keep you safe.” When Lan Fan opened her mouth to protest, Ling placed a silencing finger over her lips. “I will care and love you every day, until the I day I die. And if there’s life after that… I’ll continue to love you then” Ling wrapped his arms around Lan Fan’s smaller frame, pulling her into his embrace as he finished in a whisper. “I love you Lan Fan. No matter what, I’ll always love you.”
Ling was relieved when he felt Lan Fan’s arms encircle him tightly as she returned the hug and sobbed into his shoulder. His cheeks were bright red from the unplanned confession but he was glad that he had made his love understand how much he truly cared for her. They hugged until Lan Fan’s sobs died down and Ling gave her time to clean up and change before she went to bed.
He was relieved when he finally felt the barely noticeable shift of the bed as a new weight was added to it. It took a while for him to convince Lan Fan to sleep in the same bed as him, especially after his ascent to power over the country. Even if they were secretly lovers, she had refused to sleep with him, not by fear of being caught but because she assumed it was her duty to stay up all night, protecting him.
Needless to say Ling hadn’t been pleased at that.
After many months of begging, Lan Fan finally gave in. She had said it was only one time, since it had been his birthday after all, but it soon became a habit for her to crawl in next to him on cold nights when he would curl up on himself or on nights when he woke up in tears after another vicious nightmare.
Lan Fan was always there for him, quietly lying down next to him and wrapping her arms around him, immediately chasing away the cold, the nightmares and the fears. After that Ling always made sure to stay awake until Lan Fan was next to him, sometimes even staying up to late hours until she was done training or meeting with other royal guards. Her soothing presence and comforting warmth was worth the wait every time.
Now, as Lan Fan settled under the sheets, he moved closer and wrapped his arms around her waist, pressing her small body against his. For a moment she was still and Ling believed she might have already been asleep. But a minute later her bandaged hand settled on his chest, above his heart and the cut that adorned his normally smooth skin. Ling didn’t have to see her face to see the tenseness of her features. So he tightened his grip ever so slightly and pressed a chaste kiss to her forehead, hoping that it would be enough to make her understand the unspoken words he was trying to send her. He felt her sigh in relief and rest her head on his shoulder, her hot breath tickling his neck with every slowing exhale, sending a message of her own before the two fell asleep in each other’s arms.
“Thank you. I love you.”