Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 39 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 39

written by LigayaCroft
edited by kakashi and Panda


Māma [1], I am home!”

She came flying into the hall followed closely by her steed, which not too long ago during their travels had finally been able to assume its human form, albeit he was just a young child at this point. It was something she was extremely proud of since her Brother didn’t have one of his own, mostly because the loser kept to his books and to himself, and was a standard leech just living off riding her Mother’s many steeds for transportation.

Nobody answered her call so she impatiently ran toward the kilns. Sure enough, her Mother was there amid all the boiling pots and pans, herbs and roots.

Her nose crinkled at the familiar yet much-disliked smell of oils being steam distilled, or herbs and roots being boiled. As she made a beeline for her Mother, she made a hasty bow to her Uncle — “Jiùjiu [2], Wǎnbèi [3] greets you,” — before fully throwing herself into her Mother’s arms.

Oh, how she loved the way Mother smelled. There was no other fragrance like hers in any of the worlds.

Floral yet grounding.

Liberating yet homey.

Dǎodàn [4], how long have you been gone?” Her Uncle asked, patting her steed on the head. “I see you’ve done well with this one. He’s not bad-looking either.”

She was being patted on the head, too. “Dǎodàn, you’re as tall as me now,” Mother said before running her hands across the tangles of her hair. “But you still have to learn how to use a comb, it seems. Unless you did this on purpose so I will comb it for you?”

“Ah, the prodigal Daughter returns.”

She turned to face the new arrival. “Gŏu Pì [5]! I see we still have to fix that ugly face of yours!”

“Nobody is allowed to fight while inside my kitchen,” Mother sternly warned and while she bristled under the frustrating smirk on her Brother’s face, she turned away with a huff and sidled close to Mother to help out. “Māma, where do you want me to place all the ginger?”

“Māma, I have harvested the angelica root you have asked for,” Brother announced as he rashly shoved all the ginger roots aside and off the table so that he could dump the contents of his woven sack bag on the space on the table between her and Mother.

It had been hundreds of years since they had last seen each other but suddenly, they were children all over again — bodily pushing at each other, pulling at one another’s hair, making many attempts to bite, sidestepping the other’s attempts to step on their feet while attempting to step on the other’s feet in turn — and since they were bigger now, it had to take both their Mother and Uncle to separate them.

“I will kill you!” she threatened back, struggling against Uncle’s arms around her waist. To add insult to the injury, Brother just scoffed and smirked at her. “Wait until I get my hands on you!”

“Both of you, stop it!” Mother shouted and though she wanted to stop, it took several more moments before she found the calmness to do as Mother commanded. “You,” their Mother said, pointing to her stupid Brother. “Go outside and harvest string beans for lunch. And you, Dǎodàn, follow me. I need to talk to you.”

Without further ado, Mother released her hold on Brother’s arm and walked outside without glancing back if she followed.

“Better follow your Mother, child,” Uncle encouraged with a gentle shove toward her Mother’s direction. “I’ll take care of your steed. I think we have meat around here somewhere to feed him with.”

“Oh, you’re going to get it,” Brother taunted, waving a flowering peach stalk toward her that he must have conjured from somewhere. He always did this to her at every opportunity for as long as she could remember.

She grabbed one end, pulled, and released it, causing Brother to lose his balance. Satisfied with the minor damage she had caused, she walked out and retraced Mother’s steps.

She found Mother standing by a cliff right beside where the water from their pools fell into a beautiful waterfall by the cliff side. Mother was whispering something to the ear of Chīlóng [6], Mother’s only hornless dragon.

The dragon’s eyes lit up upon seeing her and — after a gentle nod at Mother — flew off toward her.

“Chīlóng,” She giggled as the side of the gigantic dragon’s scaly face rubbed against her palms. “Look at you, you’ve grown as big as Jiāolóng.” The dragon rumbled low as it made another pass at encircling her. “I missed you, yes, I did.”

“Dǎodàn.”

“Let us play racing over mountaintops later,” She promised the hornless dragon who haughtily snorted which drew a laugh from her. “Later, after I find out what Mother wants.”

With one last turn, Chīlòng spiraled upwards before flying away to join its siblings who circled over the mountain range in the distance.

She rushed to Mother’s side. “Mother, I am here. What was it that you wanted to talk about?”

Mother had that quality that caused all who stared at her to let their gazes linger. Even as her Daughter, she was not immune, as she openly stared, simply enchanted at how her Mother embodied all the beauty of the First Creation.

“Dǎodàn, did you enjoy your travels?”

“I did, Mother. Thank you for giving me the opportunity.”

“I apologize for cutting your trip short but I am afraid there has been trouble brewing and I need your help. I am no longer seeing eye to eye with him, and he has run roughshod all over my rights as co-ruler again by bullying the demon clans’ heads and appointing Qing Jiang as King of the Demons.”

“First, the mortals and now, the demons,” She gasped, shocked to find out about this new development. She had been away to the mortal realms for far too long. “And he did this without your consent? Since when?”

“Just recently, and Qing Jiang is about to be formally crowned in a fortnight. I need you to stop it. It is time to take over your rightful post. The demons belong to me, and by my rights, I can appoint you as their rightful ruler which I have built you up to become all these years.”

“But if all the demon clan heads have already bowed down to Qing Jiang as King, how could I step in?”

“I think the dragons and this,” Mother took her hand and pressed something into her palm. It tickled and glowed — and she recognized it right away as her most important possession which Mother had stored away for safekeeping. It vibrated, sending a shudder through her. Everywhere around them darkened as all light was momentarily sucked into her hand while the ground beneath her trembled as inestimable power directly linked to Hùndùn now coursed through her — linking with her, renewing her. At the sight, Mother took a deep breath then exhaled with a deep, satisfied smile. “These should suffice, yes?”

She looked at Mother, whose eyes brimmed with righteous anger and fire, and nodded.

“Yes.”

***

Huo Zheng slept like a kitten afterwards, breathing softly and slumbering deeply even as he picked her up in his arms and brought her to the bed, even as he cleaned her up and tucked her under the covers, even as he laid down beside her and pulled her close. She murmured something about taking a boiling pot away from the stove and snuggled for warmth, throwing an arm and a leg across his body, her breasts pressed like two soft pillows against his side.

He was tired too, but A-Li took his time tracing circles on her back. It was tanned, albeit lighter than the color of her face and hands; a testament of the work under the sun that she had subjected herself to in her hard life. Her hair he had noticed just now was still damp at the roots but like everything about her, smelled clean.

From outside, he could hear the deep hoot, hoot, hooting of an owl. The sound carried well it seemed to fill the room, and with a contented sigh, A-Li raised the covers a little bit higher until only her eyes and the tip of her nose showed.

Then he fell asleep.

The next thing he knew, he was caught in what could only be a dream.

Of him coming home from a day in the farm to find a glowing Huo Zheng waiting for him with a smile, a more pronounced belly under her hand which he also reached out to stroke.

Of him looking at his Father Lord from across a gathering with the knowledge that they were both heading for Lingxiao Palace.

And of him, waking up in his bed at Ziqing Palace to find Huo Zheng sleeping right beside him.

Hoot… hoot… hoot…

A-Li’s eyes flew open. The lamp had already burned all the way down, which threw the entire room in total darkness, but it didn’t take his immortal eyes long to adjust.

His heart raced furiously, pounding a heavy rhythm in his chest as he tried to gather his wits about him.

Dared he hope it was true?

It had to be.

A-Li had been blessed by the heavens with a wonderful family — to have parents, siblings, his Shūshu and Cheng Yu, Gun Gun and Mei Lin — but just the thought of extending his scope of family to a life with Xiăohŭ, little Ling’er, and a child of their own made it feel like his life would finally be complete.

“Are you alright?” A-Li was brought back to the present by the feel of Huo Zheng’s hand sliding to rest over his heart. “Your heart is beating so fast.”

“You woke up from that?” He asked, placing his hand over hers.

And then he remembered his dream of doing the same but this time their hands were blessing their baby.

“No,” she shook her head, dropped a kiss on his arm before she turned to face the other side, yawning against his outstretched forearm. “I had a beautiful dream.”

A-Li turned and scooted after her, fitting his body along the contours of her back, and wrapped his arm around her belly. His nose snuggled against her fragrant nape, her clean scent reminding him of how white lillies bloomed on a cloudless, summer day.

“Tell me about your dream,” he whispered.

“Mmm, I’m too sleepy. Besides it was only a dream.”

“How come?”

She didn't respond right away so he gently shook her shoulder.

“Xiăohŭ, did you fall asleep on me again?”

“Go away,” she commanded albeit her sleepy tone made the order sound less threatening. “And stop poking at me.”

A-Li snickered and gave Huo Zheng’s shoulder a playful bite. “Who’s timid now, Xiăohŭ?” He asked, rubbing himself against the seam of her bare backside. “Certainly not me.”

“You're never going to let me live this down, aren’t you?”

His hand went up from her belly to fondle her breasts — one nipple then the other then caressing both at the same time. This made her gasp and squirm against his arousal, much to his delight.

“Putting aphrodisiacs in my drink,” he teased softly as he nipped and licked butterfly touches against her ear. “How shameless.”

She had kicked off the covers to their hips by now, letting the cold draft from the closed windows dance over their exposed bodies. It didn't matter much because the bed was warm through central heating but even more so because Huo Zheng’s skin felt aflamed.

“How dare you pin that all on me when you've been acting like a virginal miss,” she panted. “I was just trying to help things move along.”

“Speaking of moving things along—” His hand reached over her hip to cup her and what he found made him hiss. “Damn it, Xiăohŭ, you're so wet.”

“Mmm,” She hummed, her thighs opening to give him better access. “You're actually pretty good at this.”

A-Li snaked his left hand “I aim to please.” He was also so hard it hurt, not that she needed to be told considering the evidence was already forcefully pressed against one buttock cheek. He worked hard through gritted teeth to give her the orgasm that she sought, wishing, wondering if she could finish soon.

Her right hand flew to cover his, while the other tightly clung on to the hand of his arm where her head currently lay. He alternated between fast and slow, light and hard pressure, and circles and strokes using the sounds she made in the dark, the pressure of her fingers on top of his, and the way she moved against his body as his guide.

“Come to me, A-Li,” she moaned and it was all the encouragement that A-Li needed, fixing her position so he could enter her from behind as they lay on their sides.

He growled at his first thrust, still finding it hard to believe how tight and wet she actually was. Her hand reached up to cup the side of his face, her lips seeking his as they moved to the beat of their primal dance in the dark.

“Oh, god—” she squealed after her body curved, forming an angle that brought him in deeper.

“Which god?”

“I can't believe you're joking right now,” she laughed in-between pants, her hips moving faster against his thrusts.

“I was not joking,” He groaned, wondering how much longer he needed to wait given the aggressive pace she had set. His nerve-endings tingled with the delicious need for release, just like how the smell of ether harken the arrival of a thunderstorm.

“I don't believe in gods but if there’s going to be any praying done,” she said, her fingers clutching at the roots of his hair as she moved in quicker, shorter counter thrusts. “You’ll be the one doing it, Bai Li. To me. You'll pray to me.”

Her command slammed at A-Li with the weight of words uttered by the woman he had loved 5’000 years ago.

Yet, the present was greater. As he raced toward fulfillment, he found himself nodding, pledging words that made no sense, words that would cost him, knowing the heavens would demand its due.

But now he had a mission, and it was encompassed by a single word.

Mine.

He had a husband to find, a wife to free, and a family to claim as his own.

***

Much, much later, thunder rumbled in the distance while they both came down from their upward fall. They lay on their sides facing each other in the darkness but even A-Li knew Huo Zheng’s eyesight had already fully adjusted because he could see them roam all over his face.

“Is it raining?” Huo Zheng asked as she tucked a thick strand of A-Li’s hair behind his ear. It was such a tender move which only his own mother had ever done to him before that A-Li was not able to stop himself from catching her hand to press a kiss on her palm.

“Does it matter?” He asked, his hand reaching out to trace the peaks and valleys of her body, committing them to eternal memory. “Xiăohŭ, we need to talk about —”

Her fingers landed on his lips. “How about we don't? When we're together, I just want to feel, not talk… about that. Am I asking too much?”

A-Li nodded and masked the tightening of his throat by letting the full weight of his back fall on top of the mattress.

So this was how it felt to be on the receiving end of words that used to come from him in the past. He now understood the injured look in those women’s faces. In a relationship where one aspired for more than what the other could offer, the gap between expectation and reality hurt.

“I could stare at you all day. That’s how beautiful you are.”

A-Li turned his head to the side so he could look at Huo Zheng once again as she had raised herself by her arm to better observe him.

“I don’t remember you were staring at all,” he recalled, as he tried to dispel the hollow ache in his chest.

“Oh, I was. When I knew you weren’t looking. I was.”

A-Li tried to quell the disappointment at the knowledge that if she was staring, it was because of lust and not love. Oh, how far he had fallen from who he was before now that the tables had been turned on him. Clearly, she had the upper hand.

“I saw you mix something into your water a while ago before you came back to bed. An aphrodisiac perhaps?” he asked playfully to help change his mood.

“Aphrodisiac? Please,” she scoffed, and fell back on the bed. “Hè Shī Fēng [7]. The seeds are a very effective contraceptive if taken orally after coitus. That way we can continue as we are and not worry about undesirable consequences.”

“Undesirable?”

“Pregnancy. Marriage.”

Huo Zheng was a learned herbalist. If she wanted to not take any chances, she wouldn’t.

Suddenly, the dream A-Li had dreamt a while ago seemed improbable.

She surprised him even more by falling on her back and scooting to the other end of the bed as she yawned, dragging the blanket with her.

“I hope you don’t mind that I take this blanket. I’m just too sleepy. There’s an extra blanket in that chest over there that you can use so you won’t get cold.”

A-Li’s arms suddenly felt too empty. “You do not cuddle?”

“No. I’ve read about a great woman who found herself having tender feelings for a man she was not supposed to love and I believe it was because they often cuddled.”

“What’s so bad about falling in love with me?” He asked defensively.

“I’m sure there is nothing wrong but it is not you who is at fault here, but me. I have other priorities and tangled relationships only get in the way.“ She mumbled and yawned again, more lustily this time, as her head sank even deeper into the pillow. “But I had fun tonight. Maybe we could do it again tomorrow?” Another yawn. “Good night, A-Li.”

What did they say again about taking words away from one’s own mouth?

Fun. He had experienced something earth-shattering and she had labeled it as fun.

She could very well have slapped him. At least the stinging pain on his cheek would be nothing to as compared to the dull pain in his chest.

And because despite her cold rejection, he still couldn’t stop himself, A-Li reached out and gently rocked her by her shoulder.

“Xiăohŭ? Xiăohŭ, are you asleep already?”

He didn’t need immortal powers to deduce that she already was. A-Li tensed his body to stop it from shaking. Even the cold breeze that flowed over his naked skin did nothing to soothe his shock, his pain.

How many women had he hurt like this?

And was this the price?

To be this close physically to the woman he had chosen he could forsake heaven and earth for, and feel the distance between them grow even wider.

Was this the justice the Heavens had meted out to punish him for all those hearts he had broken in his youth?

If so, it was fair.

But damn if it didn’t hurt.

* * *

Endnotes

1. (媽媽) Mother
2. (舅舅) Maternal Uncle / Mother’s Brother
3. (晚辈) This later-born one. Literally "[belonging to a] later generation"
4. (捣蛋) to cause trouble; to stir up trouble
5. (狗屁) Dog fart, Insult level: 4/5
6. (螭龍) Hornless Dragon
7. (鹤虱风) Wild Carrot