Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 12, Part 9 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 12 - Detour

Part 9

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

Bai Qian put her copper mirror away and went back to gazing down the bridge that connected the two parts of this small city as she waited for Moyuan to return from the tea shop he’d gone into a brief while ago. She’d never thought the mirror would work but it surprisingly had. Now she’d at last let Yehua know she was safe and was feeling less guilty about spending precious time here instead of at Xunzhua, training like everyone else.


Knowing that her mother, an extremely reliable and a skilled goddess, was dealing with one of those devices, eased Bai Qian’s mind a bit. Then, her father could help destroy it, if everything went as planned.

What they each had to do had never been more clear, but with those goals in mind came constant mental reminders that she would have to leave this realm. Moyuan had not said when he would like to return to his search for Luoji’s sinister -- stupid -- devices, she picked up a pebble and threw it into the canal; and neither had she mentioned anything about going back to Xunzhua for the last two days. Soon. As soon as possible, that was the answer for both of them. But maybe neither of them wanted to think about that yet.

They had spent all day yesterday walking in this town, taking in this peaceful oblivious mortal air.

The city had become a bit bigger, more crowded. More tea shops had opened, more sweet stalls were occupying the two sides of the main street, and the women’s fashion seemed to have changed a bit.

Maybe the immortals were the ones too slow to change.


***


The sun went down much sooner than she’d wanted that day. And when the little sprite had fallen asleep on the window pane, Bai Qian found herself wondering whether she should keep quiet for another day and only talk about returning to the immortal realm tomorrow night.

No, she decided with a heavy heart, then grabbed her book, the bag of biscuits she’d gotten from town, and headed over to Moyuan’s bed by the window. They had to go back, and she’d rather be the one to ask him about it than hear him say it first.

Moyuan looked up from his own book as she sat down next to him and set the biscuits down.

“Did you see Xiaocheng in the local apothecary today?” she tried to sound as casual as she could. “I recognized him right away.”

The young waiter who’d only been about to take the Imperial Examination when they were last here - she had seen him this morning with silver white hair and a slightly hunched back. Time had left its marks on him like it had with the rest of the city.

“I hope he did not see us,” Moyuan said.

“He wouldn’t have remembered us, anyway. It’s been too long here.”

And it had been two days since they’d arrived here, not being able to decide when to take the step and cloud-jump back to where they each should be was even more distressing than the prospect of actually doing so.

“When do you plan to leave?” she asked quietly.

“Are you that eager to escape me?”

“No,” she chorted.

He let out a breath and glued his eyes to the floor for a second. “One more day.”

It sounded almost like a question, but a question she couldn’t say no to even if she was wanting to make it ten, twenty more days.

Making a disgruntled sound of agreement, Bai Qian took a good look around the safehouse. Just then, something else came to her.

“Is she still there?”

When Moyuan narrowed his eyes in confusion, she didn’t repeat the question but only looked back at him.

“In that same cottage in the woods?”

He nodded this time. “That is where I left her. A long time has passed in the mortal realm, I don’t know if she still lives in the same place.”

“You don’t… visit her?”

“I want to.” Honesty. “But that would only do Shaowan harm, the rules of trial forbid any interference. Our brief stay in her place was already a risk. Staying away altogether is the best I can do to help her.”

“So…” something flashed in Bai Qian’s mind. “When you told me that you only -- helped her…”

“Yes, that is what I meant,” he said with a glint in his eyes that made her blood boil. “Staying out of it is helping.”

“What a…”

“Sometimes you don’t need to think too deeply about what I say, the answer could just be the most obvious one.”

“Right,” Bai Qian growled.

Moyuan put down his book and gave her an apologizing smile. “I had to --”

“Slow me down? You’d better save the world this time, Shifu, if this is the kind of thing I have to put up with.”

“Didn’t you say you would do the same thing to me?”

“I might do worse,” she said through her teeth. “Don’t blame me then if you feel like you’re going through hell.”

Moyuan’s jaw clenched and his expression was no longer teasing. “Is that how you…”

“No,” Bai Qian blurted out.

But then, she remembered…

“Actually, yes,” she adjusted her voice and scooted an inch closer to him. “It was -- terrible. When I came back to Kunlun after taking the hairpin and saw that cut on your arm, I debated between helping you and letting you bleed. That’s how terribly conflicted and lost I was because I thought you’d left me. I couldn’t even make such a simple decision.”

He looked at her in silence.

Say something back.

“You shouldn’t have helped me,” he said simply.

“I shouldn’t have?”

“Heavens know I wanted you to hurt me. Because that would have been better than your disappointment.”

“What… er… what else?”

“Losing your trust is something I can never face, no matter how well I prepare for it.”

Bai Qian schooled her face into solemness, though she was near exploding with satisfaction inside.

“Was that enough?” he tilted his head, voice suddenly even.

“What?”

He knew.

“Was that what you wanted to hear?”

“I’m glad my disappointment was so torturous to you that you had to let me hit and shove you into a tree to end that agony,” she dropped the mask, giggling.

“Nine-tailed fox,” Moyuan commented and picked his book back up. But Bai Qian could have sworn she saw a smile.

Next time, she told herself, next time she would make him say even more.

It took her another good few minutes to remember they were still talking about the Demon Queen.

Bai Qian stayed quiet for a while. Sometimes she still wondered at herself - why she’d felt it was all right to stay and accept the help of a queen from that tribe, with Pojing injured and unconscious. Was she so gullible that any person only needed to show some kindness for a few days to gain her trust? Was she right to want to think of this woman as a friend? The kindness, the jokes they’d thrown back and forth, that air of protectiveness she’d felt from the Demon Queen were the things that stuck in her mind, not what was written in the history books.

But… Bai Qian glanced down at the bracelet - lying to Pojing about that woman’s identity was something that had been tugging on her conscience.

“Shifu,” she said. “When I’m back at Xunzhua, I’ll have to tell Pojing what you told me. Not just about Luoji’s devices but about -- about Zhuxian Terrace too. He’s trusted and helped us more than anyone; and he’s never asked me any questions about you. He has to know these things now.”

“Yes,” said Moyuan. “The King of Xunzhua will need to know everything sooner or later.”

“He needs to hear it from me is what I meant.”

“Of course he does.”

“You said you went to the Eastern Forest?” Bai Qian recalled and changed the topic before she could ask Moyuan why he had sounded a bit strange.

“Lord Donghua and I did,” he nodded.

“Did my mother tell you to stay away from me?”

He hesitated. “Not with words.”

Good, thought Bai Qian in unexpected satisfaction as she bit down on her lip to keep herself from laughing out loud.

“You seem happy,” Moyuan remarked with a raise of his brow.

“I don’t like it when my mother scolds me, but I have no problem watching her stare down other people, I rather enjoy it.”

As Moyuan shook his head hopelessly, she burst into laughter.

“I’m glad you are having a good time,” he said, now unable to hold back his own smile.

“But then -- I take it they didn’t let you say anything about me?”

“No.” His voice became more serious as he faced her. “As a matter of fact, I got the impression that both the Fox Emperor and Empress believe you need more time because you are uncertain and might just change your mind next month.”

“Oh,” Bai Qian stumbled.

“So, do you? Need more time?”

Of course her parents believed that. Even Yanzhi thought that. She wanted to be with Moyuan, there was no doubt about it. But what she needed to do - wanted to do - for Qingqiu would likely keep them apart for a while. This was something she’d wanted to talk to him about but didn’t know how to begin. And maybe these thoughts, these plans she’d mentally drawn out were written so plainly on her face all the time, in ways that caused her friends and family to misunderstand.

Calling him Shifu, not that eager to discuss a wedding, not planning… not planning their lives together.

But there was a reason for that - her own life had been without a purpose… until recently.

“I do need more time,” she told him. “But not because I’m afraid I’ll change my mind.”

“Then what is it?” his hand came to brush something off her shoulder.

For a moment, there was only silence.

“When I first came to Kunlun,” Bai Qian said. “I wanted to become someone like you - a protector of the realms. You know this, don’t you.”

Moyuan said nothing in response. Kind and patient silence.

“It was the only thing I wanted. But then… you were gone.”

Something twisted in Bai Qian’s guts and she had to pause for a second.

“Gone for a long time. I lost a mentor, lost sight of what I wanted. I thought that…” she heaved a sigh. “I just didn’t know it then because all my energy was poured into studying the manuscript you left behind. But when I came back alive from sealing Qingcang, I was stuck in a place too well governed, too peaceful to require my attention at all. I was stuck wondering what I should do next.”

The candlelight that illuminated the room was straight and unmoving as Bai Qian stared at it, memories of the endless days of hopelessness in Yanhua Cave seized her.

“I still read a lot; I went back to Kunlun’s library frequently and even reread what I’d already memorized, actually. Just so I could feel like your disciple again,” she laughed under her breath. “And I knew my duty was to be a queen - but besides maintaining what’s been done by my parents and brothers, I didn’t know what else to do. My people looked at me and saw a queen who brought them peace, but the truth was -- I had nothing to do with Qingqiu’s safety and prosperity. I’d lost touch with them. I accepted their bows and happy waves with a graceful smile but inside, I was secretly praying that something would happen. Good or bad, I didn’t care, I just needed something.

“And I wanted you back so desperately -- so you could tell me what I should do again, so that I’d know… where to start. I’d cry my head off next to you everyday because no one listened to me like you would.”

His eyes were soft, gentle, and his arm made a sudden movement at his side, as if he was wanting to hold her. But he stayed still as she went on.

“But then my engagement to Yehua forced me to get out more. And even though I resented having to deal with the snobbish Celestials in the Nine Heavens, I met many kind ones too. Yehua took me along to his gatherings. The first time I came back from one, I ran to Yanhua Cave to tell you about it.”

“What did you tell me?” Moyuan smiled.

Tucking her hair back behind her ear, Bai Qian looked down at her lap for a second, chuckling.

“That it was an endless and infuriating debate with stubborn tribe leaders who didn’t know what they were arguing about. But I also told you that meeting Yehua -- being in his company, working with him filled that horribly… empty space in me. He made me feel useful again, made me feel there were things to be done. And I realized that insufferable tribe leaders or not, just going out there and getting myself acquainted with them was actually good for me. I needed the change to find what I wanted.”

“And what do you want?”

At that question, a fire began to spread in her, rapid and fierce.

“Qingqiu has been relying on ancient magic, the shields my parents and our ancestors put up. But the world is moving forward, and we won’t be able to keep up if we don’t start improving our own magic. Even if we don’t wish to take part in disputes of the realms, we can’t hope to always prosper by staying the same.”

Moyuan nodded - understanding and even curious.

“You never told me any of this after I came back,” he said.

“Because I wasn’t as sure as I am now.”

“What changed?”

“Xunzhua,” she said simply. “It hit me like thunder when I saw Xunzhua - what they’ve been able to do in such a short time. A kingdom I thought was only good for manufacturing weapons for the Nine Heavens. Goodness -- the Nine Heavens wouldn’t catch up with them even in another hundred years. Now,” she pressed her lips together. “Now I know exactly what to do and where to start.”

A look flashed across Moyuan’s face. He knew what she was going to say next, knew it and waited to hear her say it.

“I know that you’ve been everywhere,” Bai Qian said in earnest. She needed him to understand none of what she was about to say was meant to put the blame on him. “You’ve seen everything. But I haven’t. You stand on the highest mountain and look down at the world you protect. But I… before I can be content doing the same thing as you, I want to be a part of the world first. There is -- so much of the eight realms I have to learn about, but not from my books. I want to do what I can for Qingqiu. I want to help Yehua make things better for mortals who get caught in the Celestial Court. I want to try -- and maybe fail, and establish something like all of my friends have.”

He looked at her for a long minute with an expression she found too hard to read.

“I don’t need more time to figure out who you are to me,” she answered him finally and sat even closer, looking him intensely in the eye. “But I do need time to be the queen my people deserve, do you understand? If I couldn’t be at Kunlun as much for a while, would you understand?”

“Are you asking me to wait?” he said casually. “Is this revenge for all the time you had to wait for me?”

“Well --”

But then a chuckle vibrated in his chest. He sighed, as though telling her she hadn’t needed to ask that question at all.

“My understanding, you’ve always had. I will never stand between you and what you want. Not when I’ve already gambled with your life once and made you deal with Qingcang.” Guilt darkened his face. “I was given a choice when I was young. I am grateful to be my father’s son and I know how important it is to have a direction you draw for yourself. Yehua hasn’t been as fortunate; it pains me to admit I’ll never be able to undo the consequences of Haode’s ruthless reign on him when he was a child.”

Yehua as a child, Bai Qian’s heart became leaden. She had heard those stories from Siming, and had wished so badly that she could have been there if only to put some bugs in the breakfast of those people who had locked Yehua in a room to read.

Moyuan went on with a passion in his voice that matched hers. “So, you decide what you have to do and you decide how long it takes. You decide every day of your life. You are not obligated to share my work, my title, or anything of Kunlun, until -- unless you want to.”

If there was any part of her that hadn’t been sure what she felt toward him, it no longer existed at this moment, when he was looking at her not like something to protect, to keep close - even if his instincts would always make him a protector - not as a disciple in need of his teaching, but his equal, one whose determination was motivating him to do more, do better. And even when the wall of their former relationship had blurred, he had never stopped being a source of inspiration to her.

“As long as you don’t mean to stay away somewhere for seventy-thousand years,” he added with a tug of his lips.

Bai Qian’s eyes widened for a bit, then she burst out laughing. “Of course not. I’ll come to Kunlun and start making changes there very soon.”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

“Also, even though I don’t like weapon making as much as you do, I can always appreciate your work from a distance.”

“Why from a distance?”

“Being too close to a weapon you made once was enough for a lifetime.”

He let out a gentle laugh - a laugh of real joy that knocked the breath out of her.

“But Seventeenth,” something flickered in Moyuan’s eyes as his lips tugged into a half smile. “Don’t you think you sometimes take it too far with your honesty?”

“I do?” What was he saying?

“Brutally so.”

“I guess it happens when you spend too much time with Pojing.”

Moyuan looked away with a sigh, as if he was debating between laughing and giving her a lecture.

“So,” he turned back at her. “Yehua filled that empty space in you when I couldn’t and now you’ve spent too much time with the King of Xunzhua?”

“Er -- yes,” Bai Qian replied suspiciously. “Because you weren’t there when I met Yehua and because I’m staying at Xunzhua now.”

“I am aware of the facts.”

Some part of her started to have an inkling of what he was indicating, though as a whole, she found herself unable to register the idea.

“You -- er -- you always seem to like what I say, though,” she said. “The more I hurt you with the truth, the more thrilling it is for you, isn’t that right?”

“Hmm,” he looked at her for a long minute, eyes completely unreadable. “Not all the time,” he enunciated.


***

The sun was already high - Bai Qian craned out from the window. Today was already her third day in the mortal realm, she couldn’t stop reminding herself that. As though her mind purposely brushed aside the fact that time passed more slowly in their world.

She’d insisted on making tea this morning, just so she could have something to do while letting Moyuan know what she had in mind.

When she was about to, though, he broke the silence from across the kitchen.

“Explain everything to Yehua for me when you are back at Xunzhua. Tell him I am sorry about his grandfather. There was nothing I could do that night.”

“Actually,” Bai Qian cleared her throat. He’d said it for her. “I was thinking you should talk to him yourself.”
“You know I can’t,” he approached the counter. “When we leave here, I will have to resume my search for the devices right away.”

Thought so.

“Well, that won’t be a problem, because Yehua’s coming here.”

His steps halted and the next second was so quiet that Bai Qian thought she could hear the sound of the tiny dust specks moving in the air.

Moyuan’s eyes narrowed at her, his voice soft, but as cold as stone. “What?”

“He’s coming here,” she repeated, bracing herself, though she wasn’t sure what for. She hadn’t done anything wrong.

“Here? To this safehouse?”

Bai Qian nodded as she poured some tea out for tasting. “He should arrive in about… two incense sticks’ time.”

“When were you going to tell me this?” he didn’t bother masking the shock in his voice.

“I was just about to. The copper mirror suddenly worked yesterday. I know it’s going to be really hard to get in touch with you in the future so I asked Yehua to come here. Now you can talk to him.”

Staring at her still, Moyuan seemed to be at a loss for words. The God of War, not knowing what to say. Bai Qian couldn’t help feeling a bit proud of herself.

“How could you do this without telling me?”

“I knew you’d find some reason to convince me it wasn’t necessary. Then -- who knows when we can see you again.”

“So you knew I wouldn’t like it, but you did it anyway?”

“Because I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to see Yehua. Furthermore, he was already furious last time when I told him I met you in the mortal realm. If I kept this from him again, he’d stop talking to me.”

“Is the King of Xunzhua coming here too?” asked Moyuan with his arms folded.

“Of course not,” Bai Qian squinted. “What would Pojing come here for?”

“Seventeenth, how dare you --” he paused and exhaled slowly.

Bai Qian blinked. “... do what you do all the time?”

His glare intensified.

“Shifu,” she breathed in deeply and took a more serious tone. “Yehua trusted you and defended you even when I didn’t want to. Now -- we know there’s going to be a war, everything is happening exactly as you planned. You are going to be in the Void most of the time and Yehua will have to be the one to take up the mantle. My friends and I will do what we can too but it’s going to take Yehua to unite the people of the eight realms against Luoji. So if you’re going to thrust this responsibility on him, then you have to talk to him!”

“Yehua is no stranger to my work, I am sure he will understand without me having to explain every single thing.”

Bai Qian stared ahead hopelessly. Cold. Insensitive beyond acceptable.

“Yes, he’ll understand,” she pressed out. “He’s always tried to. But understanding the plan isn’t the same as having a conversation with you, his own brother, after everything he’s been through.”

Another cold glare from him.

“I know exactly why you don’t think Yehua deserves to hear these things from you,” Bai Qian went on grudgingly.

“Do tell me.” He made a gesture with his hand.

“You are just too good at letting go and rationalizing everything that you hold us all to the same standard without knowing it. You thought we dealt with it just fine when we lost you; so now that we have you back, it shouldn’t be that much of a fuss, either - that’s what you think.”

No response.

“You’re too busy loving the world you swore to protect that you don’t care whether we can love as much as you do.”

“Whether your theory is right, Seventeenth, we will discuss it another time. But I can tell you that I never assume that when it comes to Yehua.”

‘When it comes to Yehua’? Bai Qian blinked and thought twice about what she’d just heard. Oh, I see. Her eyes rolled to the back of her head. This was another story. It was about him not knowing how to start explaining things to his precious Little Golden Lotus.

“Shifu, you didn’t plan to meet me on that sky island. You were going to have to talk to us eventually and explain your plan, what difference does it make if you see Yehua now?”

“Because then I would have been prepared.”

“Prepared? But you talked to me just fine. It’s not like you’ve done anything worse with Yehua than you have with me. All he needs is to hear these things from you so he won’t feel like a chess piece being moved around. Why do you worry more about talking to him than to me? He’s your brother.”

“It is because he is my brother that I need more time before speaking to him.”

“More… more time?” Bai Qian stuttered. “But this isn’t a war debate, it’s just to assure Yehua he can still trust you.”

Moyuan said slowly, “There are a few things you don’t know.”

“Yes, Shifu, clearly there’s a lot of things I still don’t know. First, you made everyone believe that you’d turned into a Demon Lover; then, you acted like I committed a crime by playing chess with Lord Donghua; and I’m just learning now that you’re afraid of Yehua?”

“I am not afraid of Yehua,” he said flatly.

“I don’t remember you struggling this much to get anything through to me, it’s always just been about the plan, when and how much to say,” she huffed. “But now that His Highness is about to show up --”

Moyuan gave her a look of disbelief and slightly shook his head, as though still unable to decide whether he should be angry at her or thank her.

“So what is it that I don’t know?” Bai Qian asked with a shrug.

“Nothing, Seventeenth,” he replied disgruntledly.

“Did you -- purposely tell Yehua things that made him believe you couldn’t live without the Demon Queen?”

His silence was the answer Bai Qian needed.

“And… you’re worried he hasn’t dealt with your ‘betrayal’ that day as well as I have, that he might be more angry with you than I was?”

Still not responding, Moyuan suddenly began to move toward her and in a few seconds they were standing only a hand’s length apart. Bai Qian looked up at the stern yet somewhat intrigued face and she knew she’d gotten away with it.

“Because it’s you who did this,” he said. “I am -- going to allow it this one time.”

Allow.” She huffed a laugh.

His hand quickly came to grip her chin. “What exactly have I done to deserve you?”

“Shifu --”

“Don’t call me Shifu.”

“Fine,” she drawled. “High God Moyuan, is it really that terrible that I just want you to talk to your brother?”

“It isn’t about what you did, it is that you planned this while I was genuinely believing you just wanted a few more peaceful days in the mortal realm.”

With me, his eyes didn’t bother veiling those unspoken words.

“Oh --” Bai Qian rolled her eyes, her hands slipped around his waist and she dared pull him a little closer. Her heart sped up but she managed to keep up an unruffled front. “What were you planning when you were sitting with me in your meditation room that time?”

Moyuan opened his mouth to retort but for the first time, it seemed like he didn’t have a defense.

After another few seconds of savoring his defeated look, Bai Qian swiftly slid out of the spot and peered around the house.
“Little Sprite,” she clapped her hands to summon the creature.

“Where are you going now?” asked Moyuan, crossing his arms.

“To meet Yehua,” she beamed at him. “I told him about the location but he doesn’t know how to get in here.”

Chapter 12, Part 10