Fanfiction: Moyuan and Bai Qian, Book 2 - Chapter 12, Part 11 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 12 - Detour

Part 11

written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny

“Qianqian, what are you doing?” asked Yehua as he stepped out from the front door, eyeing the bags with vegetables sticking out on top in Bai Qian’s arms.

“I’m not going to cook,” Bai Qian said with a grin, to extinguish his worry. “I bought these so you can cook, there’s not enough food in the house. Unless you prefer eating out.”

“No,” Yehua quickly rolled up one of his sleeves, then the other. “I’ll cook for you. For… all of us,” his head whipped in the direction of his brother, who was also emerging from the door.

“I will get you some firewood then,” Moyuan said and started towards the gate.

For a minute, Bai Qian debated what she should do, accompany Moyuan or go back into the safehouse with Yehua. Moyuan wouldn’t actually need her to help him gather firewood, and Yehua would sooner let A-Li eat loquats for dinner than let her meddle with his cooking. So it was down to what was the proper thing to do in this situation. Maybe she should direct her attention to the ‘guest’...

“Let’s get those inside,” Yehua took the bags off her hands. And that decided it for her. “He has an answer to everything, doesn’t he.”

“What… Oh -- yes. Don’t ask me how he does it,” said Bai Qian. “Does anyone know you’re here, Yehua?”

“No. I told them I was going to Qingqiu to have a talk with your Fourth Brother. But we should go back as soon as possible.”

“Of course. We’ll leave first thing tomorrow. I know this is the mortal realm but I can’t help feeling I’m wasting time.”

“Good, the King of Xunzhua --” Yehua stopped short, looking for a second as if he had stepped over some line.

“What about him?” Bai Qian asked curiously.

“He is -- eager to see you safe, like we all have been.”

“Oh.” She’d been quite irresponsible indeed, to stay here without getting in touch with them sooner.

Setting the bags down, Yehua reached inside them and picked out what he seemed to find suitable for the dishes he had in mind.

“What do you think about it?” Bai Qian asked. “About everything you were told?”

A deep sigh. “I think -- it sounds like Luoji can do just about anything to any tribe in the eight realms whenever he wants to. The Demon Realm is under his control. He can’t be killed, his massive army is supposedly savage - the kinds of creatures he is said to have among his troops - no shield except Xunzhua’s can keep them out for long once they attack. I hope those devices will have been destroyed by the time we have to face this battle. I hope he doesn’t decide to attack tomorrow.”

“He thinks he owns the eight realms,” Bai Qian said. “And it’s true, he does now. The only way we can do him any damage is take him by surprise, so we’ll have to do what we can to maintain his beliefs about the God of War and the Demon Queen. About the war we’ll have to face sooner or later…” she sighed.

“The eight realms are now divided between those who have seen Luoji’s power and are too scared to resist,” said Yehua, “and those who see him as the change they wanted. Princess Yanzhi’s tribe and Prince Diefeng are the only ones who we know for certain are on our side.”

Before Bai Qian could say anything about Qingqiu, he went on with uncompromising will.

“But I am not saying there isn’t hope. There’s plenty. We will speak with the King of Xunzhua once we are back and build our own plans to deal with Luoji’s army with the information I will soon be getting from Jiayun.”

Bai Qian nodded with the same determination. “We know what to expect and we know what the worst can be.”

“Yes, we’re already better off than last time,” Yehua shifted his attention back to the dinner they were going to make.

To have a few worriless hours in the mortal realms, to be able to do something as simple as having a meal in an ordinary house - Bai Qian knew it was as much a fortune to Yehua as it was to her.

“What can I do to help?” she asked enthusiastically. Yehua looked up and threw a suspicious smile in her direction.

“Not with the actual cooking!” she sighed. “But I can help you prepare the vegetables or something.”

“Well, then --” he laid out a bundle of beans. “I need these washed. Then, slice these mushrooms if you can. Crack the eggs into a bowl and mix some pepper and onions in.”

Bai Qian hoarded the items she was to work with toward her. “What are you making?”

“Just a few simple dishes,” Yehua said, then suddenly gave her a quick scan from head to toe. “Are you injured? High God Moyuan told me you ran into Luoji while wandering on a sky island.”

“No. I actually hurt him.” She counted the eggs, embarrassment warmed her cheeks and neck as she mentally relived that night on the sky island.

“How?” Yehua didn’t look too amused. “You fought him?”

“Well, he let me -- it’s a long -- confusing story,” she grabbed a bowl to start on the eggs. “But I’m fine, Shifu was the one with all the injuries when we cloud-jumped out of there.”

“Was it anything too serious, High God Moyuan’s injuries?”

“Yes, very, you won’t believe the kind of things Luoji’s capable of. But your brother’s healed now and --” Bai Qian’s brows pulled together. “Yehua, why are you still calling him High God Moyuan?”

“Well --” he slightly shook his head, looking terribly conflicted. But then, instead of an explanation, he said, “Why… why are you still calling him Shifu?”

What --” Shocked yet unexpectedly amused, Bai Qian strode forward, reached to the back of his head and trapped a fistful of his hair between her fingers. “Are you talking back to me, Yehua?”

Laughter broke between them.

“I’m older than you,” he pointed out.

“I was already running a kingdom with my brothers when you were still playing with your rattle drum.”

“I was born at the same time as the God of War, just because I lived in a lotus doesn’t mean I didn’t exist.”

“Whatever you say…” she rolled her eyes and let go of him, sweeping back to pick up her unfinished work.

Bai Qian sneaked a glance at the Crown Prince she hadn’t known for too long but had gone through a lot with. To joke and laugh and not wear a mask of calm at all...

“You’re kind of different today.”

“How?” asked Yehua quietly.

“I don’t know. Just different. But I guess we’re all a little different now, after… what happened.”

The sudden silence in the house made her stirring of the eggs sound a bit awkward.

“When was the last time I cooked for you?” he asked.

“For me?” Bai Qian pointed at herself, laughing. “A long time ago, I think, right after you criticized Qingqiu’s cuisine.”

He nodded and went back to sprinkling spices into the multiple bowls he had laid out, with something like guilt on his face. Deep guilt.

“What do you look like that for? It isn’t your job to cook for me, Yehua.”

“No. I was just thinking --” he shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Bai Qian pressed on, chortling. “Have you done something behind my back?”

“Of course not. I just meant that -- you -- it was very thoughtful of you to let me know High God Moyuan is here. Thank you.”

“Goodness!” Bai Qian exclaimed, bursting out in relieved laughter. “You had me think all sorts of things for a second. When has that kind of gratitude talk ever been necessary between us?”

“Right,” Yehua’s lips curved upward with his brows still deeply furrowed.

When was he going to forget about her trial and be free of whatever he thought he owed her?

“We’re friends now,” said Bai Qian. “I’ll always look out for you, you know that.”

He nodded, the smile spreading to his eyes this time. “And I for you.”

Bai Qian responded to that smile with one equally bright. Different - he was definitely different, and in a good, curious sort of way.

“Don’t -- er --” Yehua gestured at her bowl. “Don’t let any eggshells get in there.”

It didn’t took Moyuan long to come back with the firewood they needed. As quickly as his brother was preparing the food, he lit the stove.

As Moyuan stood up and began to place the right pots and pans into their slots, Bai Qian’s stomach suddenly gave a jolt. At first, she chalked it up to her being hungry and eager to taste Yehua’s excellent cooking, but as another minute passed by, she quickly realized that hunger had nothing to do with it, it was because she was standing in the same room with the twins.

Was she the only one who felt this was the oddest thing that could happen to anyone? Her eyes darted from one man to the other as she moved on to work with the mushrooms. How queer it was that they were the exact same height, the exact same width, wearing identical expressions as they concentrated.

And to make it worse, Yehua just had to wear his hair up today. Would she be able to tell which one was which from the back?


***


After dinner, either because Yehua decided that this might be the only time he could train with the God of War, or because Moyuan was missing his job as a teacher, they went on to practice sword fighting.

And the second they started to duel, Bai Qian realized it was not that hard to tell them apart from a distance at all.

One was the ultimate image of gentleness and strength, no movements of him were ever more or less than necessary; and the other, a young, fierce dragon waiting for the right moment to soar to the highest cloud, to be seen as what he was.

If only Luoji had not been so absorbed in his own victory and had understood more than power, he would have realized that the man who had dueled him with aggression and recklessness on the sky island was not the real God of War at all.

Sooner than Bai Qian wanted, it was night again - not that many hours left until they would have to leave the safehouse.

The conversation Yehua had needed to have with his brother was over; the questions she’d had for the God of War, she’d asked them all. All that was left to do now was wishing each other as much luck as they could possibly get.

“You should get some rest,” Yehua told her as he sat down with a book he’d picked out from the shelf.

“I will,” Bai Qian said dully. She knew none of them would sleep a wink tonight, not when there were so many things to think about. Yehua was not going to read that book he had in his hands without thinking about their plan once every minute, Moyuan would not return from his walk along the lake nearby until it was dawn, and she… she wouldn’t be able to absorb anything from the pages of her own book, either.

Bai Qian opened the front door and was instantly greeted by the little sprite’s energetic chirping - it must be expecting to come along with her.

“You stay here,” she ordered gently. “I need to talk to him for a minute.”

It obeyed after what sounded like some heavy complaining in sprite language.

Yehua didn’t stop her from leaving the shield’s dome. Bai Qian closed the gate behind her and headed for the small lake where she and Moyuan had met him his morning.

The moon was almost full above her head. Beyond the hill, many dwellings were still lit from the inside. The sounds of family calling out to each other for supper, of children running away from their parents' grasp to escape sleep - a painting of peace, in this realm and many others. It was a painting they needed to protect.

She found Moyuan without difficulty. He stood as still as the moon with his arms tightly clasped behind his back, eyes directed at the night sky, perhaps seeing more from the stars than any of them ever would. That too was a painting she wouldn’t want to forget.

With deliberate silence, she walked up to him, until they were side by side. He acknowledged her presence with a long, appreciative look. Neither of them said anything for a while, both aware of the brief hours they had to spend with each other before tomorrow. At least this time, they would part on better terms than the last. At least now she had understood everything.

Bai Qian cleared her throat. “If you prefer to be alone, I can go back.”

A smile tugged at his lips. “Am I expected to pretend to agree with that?”

“That would be the proper thing to do - asking me to go back to get some rest before the journey tomorrow.”

“I normally would like to be proper. But since it will be months before we can meet again this time, I will say that I’d appreciate your company tonight.”

Giggling, Bai Wian shook her head at that much too courteous tone.

“As a matter of fact,” he went on. “I was going to go back and ask you to go for a walk.”

“You should have,” Bai Qian agreed. “Why is it that I always have to go find you?”

“Because I spend too much time pondering over the unnecessary?”

“Like what?”

“Like if you want to discuss military plans with Yehua as soon as possible, then I should respect that, especially when I am the one who urges all of you to keep in mind your priorities.”

“I agree,” Bai Qian said. “You do spend too much time pondering over the unnecessary.”

Moyuan laughed as she went on.

“What noble plan were you thinking of before I came?”

“Noble,” his smile faded a bit as he turned to face her. “Is that what you still think I am, Seventeenth?”

“Are you not?”

“The results of my work fortunately reflect that, yes. But I’m afraid I am the furthest thing from noble.”

“Really?” Bai Qian challenged. “So how are you not noble?’

“You asked me why Luoji is so obsessed with breaking me and destroying the world’s image of me.”

“Yes?”

“He sees through me in a way no one else does. He knows ‘the greater good’ isn’t what drives me. At least not the only thing that drives me.”

“You don’t hate the responsibilities you’re charged with, what’s wrong with that? Does every God of War have to feel burdened and tortured and look like his misery is above the rest of the world all day to be appreciated?”

“You are right. But at times, I wonder if I have gone too far.”

“Gone too far?”

“It takes a manipulator to understand another. To be ahead of Luoji and ensure his defeat, I willingly risk exploiting the same darkness in me. But sometimes I struggle to keep the lines from blurring.”

That he admitted this much… Her heart constricted.

“Darkness,” Bai Qian uttered in an attempt to say something comforting. “Depends on how you look at it.”

“Luoji finds joy in laying out these puzzles, in unleashing chaos,” Moyuan went on. “While I am aware of the danger it poses, aware that I’m struggling to keep myself from becoming him, I still find the same joy in solving his puzzles. We both would do what it takes to achieve our ends. Does that make me any different from him?”

“You know where to stop, he doesn’t care to.”

“Zheyan destroyed himself to keep to the plan that day. But if it hadn’t been the time for him to die, if I’d had to take his life, do you think I would have?”

“I don’t know,” Bai Qian swallowed, shaking her head. That was a terrifying notion. “And I don’t want to know. That’s like asking myself whether I would kill Zheyan at that moment to ensure the safety of many others. I don’t know. Maybe I would’ve disappeared to somewhere far away so I wouldn’t have to face that choice.”

The torture behind his dark eyes was vivid. It took an effort not to reach out and embrace him. They had been closer than this before, yet a lot of times hesitation was still her natural response to Moyuan. A lot of times he was still as distant as the god she’d usually seen playing his zither alone near the lotus pond. Now, for instance, she could not tell for certain if he would want her any nearer than she already was.

A few seconds passed.

Then another few.

She still couldn’t bring herself to do anything more than stare at him.

“Thank you,” Moyuan said.

“For -- what?”

“For your generous understanding.”

“Understanding, or just insanity,” she joked. “I’m still not sure.”

“I am sorry,” Moyuan held her gaze. “I truly am.”

“Come to think of it, you’ve said this to me a lot of times before the Nine Heavens fell. Is this what you were sorry for?”

“Yes, this, and for all the assumptions I have made. You were right, I’ve been too busy looking after the world I love that at times I forget the worry my dangerous plans can cause others.”

“I know you tend to forget those things,” she said jestingly. “Maybe -- you should lower your standards a bit and try to understand that ordinary immortals like us worry our hearts out when someone we care about keeps throwing himself in danger.”

“It has nothing to do with my standards, Seventeenth, at least not this time,” he gave her a half smile.

“Yehua said sometimes you can be the most insensitive person anyone could meet,” she laughed. “And I have to agree with that.”

“Maybe,” his head tilted in agreement. “Don’t worry, I am well aware of how insensitive I can be, and have been towards you for the sake of a plan. I’m always fully prepared to meet with the same harshness from the world.”

Bai Qian said nothing in response, feeling that there was one or two more points he would like to make. And indeed, there was.

“I was rather puzzled that you thought it was necessary for Yehua to hear an explanation from me, because I had never expected to be of such importance to him. Or to you. Especially after everything I have done.”

Such a calm voice. Such easiness in the delivery of those words. As if he was only stating a fact. But they hit Bai Qian as hard as brick.

The confidence he carried at all times, the fearlessness when he faced his enemies, the composure he never failed to display whenever discussing a plan. None of those things were a mask. But all of them had perhaps distanced him from the rest of them, had led him to choices that ensured his solitude.

Someone who would gladly destroy himself, wreck his reputation for those who needed his protection, yet didn’t think he was good enough for anyone. And maybe that was true, any woman who attached herself to him would have to understand that he was not hers alone, but this world’s protector. A pillar of power and glory that everyone admired, yet wasn’t right for anyone.

No one would worry about such a strong pillar being broken. A pillar stood and watched as people came and went. A pillar shouldn’t expect to be seen as anything more than its cold, adamant, perfectly crafted surface.

Bai Qian finally took the step she’d been debating and clasped her arms around him. It was not out of sympathy, but a need to make something understood. For a second, perhaps out of surprise, he did not react to her more than a pillar would to a bystander. But Bai Qian didn’t care.

Maybe Moyuan had held those beliefs for all his life as a War God, maybe he had never been bothered or burdened by them, had embraced them as a part of his existence, his purpose.

But with her he had allowed himself to hope. Yet she had said to his face that he was as expendable to her as a tainted painting. She had done exactly what he feared would happen if he started hoping - walking away, stating that she’d rather not deal with the sort of mess that was the real him, that he was only worth something to her if he was perfect.

But wasn’t that incident his choice as well? The ever so critical side of her argued. His assumptions had led him to make that plan. Her words to him were only a reaction. So whose fault was it, really? Bai Qian wasn’t so sure anymore. All she knew was that his warmth was starting to encase her and that she would have to be without it tomorrow, and many days after.

Even now, under all that calmness, maybe he still believed her to be too good to stand here with someone who had lied and manipulated and would continue to do so in the future, someone who wasn’t that much different from Luoji - as he had put it.

A mess, maybe… But she knew what that ultimate mission of his was. He was fighting for all of them, and would never stop fighting.

So perhaps she should fight to make him see that he was far from unworthy of her.

“I trust you,” Bai Qian said after a while. “But promise me that you won’t…”

“What?” he whispered, his fingers threading through her hair, pressing her to him. “Die and leave this game to someone else? I don’t think so.”

Bai Qian laughed with her face still buried in his chest. Now -- this was the God of War she knew.

Neither of them let go. Neither of them wanted to.

Chapter 13, Part 1