Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 12, Part 7 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 12 - Detour

Part 7

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny

“ZHEYAN!”

The blue fire was burning the whole world. Her world.

Ten more steps, just ten more steps…

She reached forward and ran. Ran.

Five more steps.

“Zheyan… please... ”

But he kept burning.

“Don’t leave, Zheyan!” she cried out. But it was hopeless. It had always been hopeless. No matter how fast she ran, no matter how loud she screamed, she could never reach him in time.

“Zheyan…”

Maybe this time she would. Maybe he would hear her, would stop the fire and stay with her, after all. Maybe…

One more step.

Into the terrifying darkness he fell the moment her hand was an inch away from seizing him.

In the distance, someone was roaring in laughter.



***


“Seventeenth --” Strong, gripping hands were upon her shoulders, “Seventeenth?”

Bai Qian thrashed and tried to shake them away.

“Seventeenth, wake up!”

Mortal realm, the cottage, Moyuan - she registered recent events as she opened her eyes wide and sprang up, taking several short breaths. Her body calmed at the realization of Moyuan’s presence and she briefly yielded to the dominance of his arm around her back.

A dream, she told herself. But not really...

“Shifu?” Bai Qian shook her head and groaned when a sharp and sudden pain shot across her skull. “Why… why are you here?”

“You were calling Zheyan,” he said, his voice bearing no less agony than her heart. “Did you have a nightmare?”

She breathed in, feeling a horrible tightness in her lungs. “Can you call it a nightmare if it actually happened?”

He was silent.

“I… I woke you up, Shifu?”

“I wasn’t sleeping.”

Bai Qian glanced around. From where her bed was positioned and with the curtains pulled up, she could see most of the safehouse. It was still dark; a small candle flickered next to a Weiqi board on the kitchen table, illuminating that small corner of the place.

“Why are you clutching your wrist?” Moyuan’s hand travelled up to her clenched fingers. “Let go, you’re hurting yourself.”

Bai Qian loosened her grip. It was not her wrist she was holding on to, but the bracelet. Her hand had recently formed the habit of unconsciously reaching to this item during sleep, in dreams, where she could not control what she saw nor overpower her grief and fear. Indeed, she had been clenching it so hard this time that the wooden pendant had left a small oval mark in the middle of her palm.

“What’s this?” asked Moyuan with a confused look as he straightened the quilts around her that had been badly twisted - no doubt by herself during that dream.

“It’s a sort of charm, it’s supposed to keep away bad dreams.”

“Is that a cat?” he smiled and motioned with his head at the four-legged animal carved on the pendant.

Bai Qian nodded. “Pojing gave it to me.”

“Does it work?” his voice was utterly gentle, as though he believed she would shatter at any sound louder than a whisper.

“I think so.” It was the truth. Perhaps it was all about belief but she found herself dreaming about Luoji less and whenever she would be separated from Moyuan in those dreams, she would always find him again in the end. But even this charm could not rid her of the dreams about Zheyan’s blue fire. This was why Luoji had been able to persuade her so easily, had nearly successfully fooled her.

Zheyan. Gone.

The world was less bright. The dreams reminded her of it - that no matter how she put up a brave front and how well she dealt with what she considered priority, something in her had ruptured completely the moment that blue fire had flared in front of her eyes. And she feared it would always remain so. Ruptured. How desperately she had yearned to see Moyuan, to be with him again, but now when he was right next to her, even he could not fill that gaping hole in her chest.

“Seventeenth.” The sigh that came out of him - it sounded utterly helpless.

He understood. Those dark piercing eyes had never failed to see through her at times like this. But as always, he hesitated to come closer to her. Bai Qian did not blame him - how many times had she pulled away from him and not given a reason?

“Why weren’t you sleeping?” she made an effort to take his attention away from herself.

Moyuan sighed again and shook his head. “It’s a bit hard to sleep not knowing how much time we have left to prepare for what is ahead.”

“You -- you have managed to string Luoji along all this time.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t constantly ask myself what would happen to all of you if I fail.”

Those last words of his were breathless. Had she heard it wrong? Bai Qian’s heart almost stopped. He was admitting to her that he too was uncertain and fearful for the future? Strangely this did not make her anymore frightened and worried than she already was. It only made the man sitting in front of her… hers. Hers to hold, to be honest with, to cry to about the dreams that had been tormenting her.

“Nothing will ever be the same again, will it, Shifu?”

Bai Qian realized that she sounded like a stranger even to herself. The fall of the Nine Heavens, the empty Peach Blossom Garden, the white petals that used to blush pink in morning light. Of course nothing was the same anymore.

“What can I do for you?” It was that apparent to him - she wasn’t all right.

“For me?” her eyes burned as she breathed out the word.

The eight realms were in chaos yet their God of War was asking what he could do for her?

“Shifu, what can I do for you?”

“You can not shut me out of your mind,” he drew close. “Tell me what you need.”

“I don’t know --” she swallowed hard --“Maybe I just need -- time.”

He nodded, gently placing a hand behind the nape of her neck and eased her towards him. Warmth radiated from him. More than warmth - a desire, a need to be with her. At this, both joy and agony fumed in her throat. The happier she felt, the more quickly fear spread inside her. Maybe she was afraid that Moyuan too would be taken away from her, just like Zheyan, afraid that if she allowed herself to take whatever good things she could get, she would be punished by Fate somehow. Foolish, illogical - Bai Qian knew. But it was a feeling she could not chase away.

“There’s nothing you can do for me at the moment. I have to… I have to try and deal with it on my own. I want to.”

“Why?”

“Because --”

Because she had depended on him before, had known the pain and disappointment of losing that support; and now that he was here, she didn’t dare believe it, didn’t dare accept what was offered. But she couldn’t tell him that, not after what they had just been through together.

“Well, don’t you do it too? Being by yourself in order to -- to master your fear?” Bai Qian reasoned with a shrug and tried to laugh, but she could hear herself - denying what she was craving for, what could chase her sorrow away in an instant - she was far from reasonable.

And it was no surprise that Moyuan could see right through her feeble lie.

“I’m sorry,” his hand tensed on her back. “There was nothing I could do that night.”

“I know.”

“But I am here now if your forgiveness is something I can still ask for.”

Forgiveness? The word sounded almost like a cruel joke. Forgive him for what? For leaving her, his brother, and a defenseless A-li to the wolves, for betting that they would be able to escape, for making the choice that would buy them time to arm against Luoji - the choice that reflected who he was?

She would not have loved him had he chosen differently, would not have wanted him if he was anything other than the man she had come to understand to the bones.

“I need you more than I let on.”

His arms trembled as he clasped her closer. “Not more than I need you. It isn’t possible.”

For a moment, Bai Qian found herself muddled. What had he told her just now? But there was no time for her to catch any of the thoughts that were tearing in and out of her mind. Moyuan took her in his arms, so entirely that the world around her vanished, her head pressing against his chest; and a darkness enveloped her. But it was a darkness that was wiping her head clear of fear and doubts, leaving nothing but an assurance of his usually so well concealed heart. What he had just said, she felt it now. Believed it now. And holding him was the only way she could respond.

With a slight press against her shoulders, he prompted her to look up, then lifted her chin with a gentleness that contradicted the mad hammering of his heart. There was not an inch distance between their faces.

She didn’t want to think, because if she started thinking… if she started thinking, she would do the opposite of what she wanted. There would be another time for that, but certainly not now.

So she surrendered to that part of her that craved not only his mind, but everything about him that was within her reach, surrendered to lips that were tender yet insistent, seeking to calm her soul, to make her see his. The darkness enclosed them both, drowning the looming dread of war, tempting them to stay inside it for longer. Forever.

At some point, she closed her eyes, his now steady heartbeat against her ears and the strength of his arms firm around her body.

The nightmare did not come back.


***


It was barely dawn when Bai Qian woke, but the little sprite’s twittering told her the sun was only minutes from bathing them all in its warmth. She quietly sat up on her bed and glanced to the empty spot beside her - where he had sat last night - then to the small bed near the window. Moyuan looked to be still deep in sleep. Of course he was, he must have stayed up nearly all night thinking about their plan, the plan they were all part of that she would have to speak with him about soon.

Last night… Bai Qian’s face suddenly heated.

She and Moyuan had talked to each other many times before. In fact, talking was what they did most of the time. She had claimed to know him well and he had stated the same thing. But each of them had also taken care not to step over the line, not to say anything that might put themselves at a disadvantage.

Not last night.

It had been so strange that it felt almost like a distant dream. A good dream - but a dream in which she had laid bare her weaknesses, had perhaps let Moyuan know too many of the thoughts she normally would keep to herself.

But he had too, Bai Qian reminded herself as she pulled open the front door a fraction and slipped outside. Underneath her surging affection for Moyuan was a pleasant feeling of triumph.

From the distance, the little sprite fluttered towards her, its body weighed down by a large bunch of grapes it was heaving with both hands. It landed on her lap the second she sat down at the front steps. Then, maybe as a ‘good morning’ gesture, it plucked out one grape and waved it in front of her face.

It tasted surprisingly sweet, not that she cared that much for food at the moment.

“He said he needs me,” Bai Qian blurted out to the sprite.

Chirp.” The creature dropped his head to one side and grinned impishly. Bai Qian knew he didn’t understand much of what she was saying, but his expression seemed to say ‘I’m happy as long as you’re happy’.

“I wonder what else he would say if I continued to tell him how wretched I felt when I thought he’d left me for the Demon Queen.”

At those two words left her mouth, Bai Qian felt an odd twist in her gut. Where was that woman now? It had been many years in the mortal realm, was she still living alone in that cottage?

The sprite shoved another grape into Bai Qian’s palm.

“We have a lot to talk about with High God Moyuan,” she said to it. “That is, if he is willing to tell me everything.”

Chirp.” It sounded like an agreement.

“Yes, you think so too, don’t you? His secrecy drives all of us crazy. Well -- I guess that was the whole point, but now I need to know as much as possible. We have…” she sighed. “We have a war to fight.”

And after this war was over - and it would be, she affirmed herself - they would no longer have to be apart. She could resume her responsibilities at Qingqiu, could begin to apply what she had learned at Xunzhua to build stronger defenses for her people, to better the magical abilities of Qingqiu’s children, perhaps establish more fields of occupation among her kingdom so that they would have trained spies, advisors, and weapon scholars when necessary, and… a million other things.

Hmm… Bai Qian’s mind clicked - that would mean she’d have to spend a lot, if not all, of her time at Qingqiu for a while.

“Do you think he’ll mind if I continue my work at Qingqiu?” she asked the clueless sprite, who was still chomping on its fruits. “Well, I guess I’ll have to ask him. Sometimes I think I know something about him but turn out to be completely wrong. I hope he doesn’t expect me to start learning about weaponry and help him with his work.”

She lowered her voice. “I like reading, but weapons and battle formation can be really dull.”

The sprite nodded in clear oblivion, but Bai Qian didn’t care. She went on to vent about all the things she hadn’t thought to ask Moyuan about before.

“Also, I wonder if he can play other kinds of musical instruments too. I’m sure he can, but I haven’t seen him play anything but the zither, which I enjoy listening to immensely. But it would be nice if he plays something else once in a while. Listening to the same kind of sound for too long can be problematic, especially when they’re played at that speed.”

Chirp. The sprite pointed a hand upward then went back to its grapes.

“People say the songs played on a seven-stringed zither accommodate the player’s sentiments at the time, does it mean he only plays his zither whenever he’s sad or angry? Because all I’ve heard is crushingly sad melodies and battle songs.”

The sprite didn’t respond this time but instead zoomed out of sight with a now fruitless grape stem.

Shaking her head, Bai Qian sprang up and turned around in the front door’s direction, deciding to go in and check this safehouse’s food storage to see if there was anything to make breakfast out of. But just then her face slammed into something hard. A hand seized her shoulder to keep her from falling as her head shot up.

“Hmm,” Moyuan’s narrowed eyes gazed down at her

“Shifu? I thought you were still -- sleeping.”

“Clearly.”

She bit down on her lip - how much had he heard?

“Now,” he surveyed her. “My work is dull, and my music is problematic?”

“It’s -- er -- it could be faster is all I’m saying.”

“Is there any other comments you’d like to make about me?”

Bai Qian cleared her throat. “No, that’s it.”

He stared down at her for another measure of time.

It’s fine, she told herself, he loves honesty.

After another minute of bluntly examining her expression, Moyuan began.

“No, I will not try to make you help me with my work. But I would be more than happy to tell you what you wish to know about weapons.”

“Well --”

“I can play two other instruments besides the seven-stringed zither - the twenty five-stringed and the flute. But the seven-stringed is my favorite due to its unsurpassed ability to create the bond between the player and his audience, therefore making it my weapon should I ever need to delve into the mind of an enemy. It is true that songs played on the zither reflect the player’s heart, but how they are interpreted also depends on the listener’s sentiment. Two people can perceive very different things from the exact same melody. You hear a tune and believe it gives away my state of mind, but if you listen, you will also come to understand yours.” He gently tapped her forehead. “So, the more well-versed someone is in music, the easier it is for me to communicate with them, let them see what they want to see, strip them off their defenses. The pauses between the notes are as important as the notes themselves.”

Bai Qian nodded in satisfied silence. It was remarkable how, during her time of studying at Kunlun, she had looked at him and only seen a powerful, but lonely God who was burdened with responsibilities with no way out. Over the years and especially now, she had understood that the power she’d seen on the outside was backed by his deep fondness towards his work, and a fully organized and prepared mind.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

She took another second. “I’m thinking -- Luoji had better watch his back with you.”

His answering chuckle was laced with a clear hint of dread.

Chapter 12, Part 8