Fanfiction3: A-Li's Three Lives, Three Worlds - Chapter 50 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)

Chapter 50

written by LigayaCroft, with inserts by kakashi
edited by Panda

A steaming bowl of radish lamb soup made nary a sound as it was gently placed in front of Mei Lin, out of reach of Qian Ling’s chubby hands. Mei Lin followed the strong, elegant fingers wrapped around the soup bowl to the arms covered in simple long-sleeved black tunic which in turn made perfect contrast to its owner’s silvery hair.

His brows furrowed as he transferred a ladle-full of soup into a smaller serving bowl. “Here, blow on it before letting Ling’er taste it,” he said in that smooth and deep voice of his, calm and soothing like little waves melting on a peaceful beach, as he pushed the bowl beside the chicken and ginger congee Mei Lin had been feeding the baby. She nodded and carefully picked up some of the liquid using Qian Ling’s tiny spoon.

“Zūzu, look at the ceiling,” he said.

On instinct, she did as told without question and he surprised her by brushing his lips across hers. Warm and wet. Just a caress, but also a reminder. A reminder of what else these lips could do. She blinked as she stared at his smiling face — so close that she could see that he had slightly dark shadows under his eyes which she hadn’t noticed earlier.

His voice was husky when he said: “You look very pretty today.”

Mei Lin watched Gun Gun stride back to the stoves after this statement, his long, unbound hair swaying slightly with each step he took. Pretty? How could he think she was pretty when between attending to her patients at night and him waiting for her when she got back to her bedroom, she barely had time to sleep? Well, at least I am not the only one who lacks sleep, she soothed herself, considering those shadows under his eyes.

But then she remembered: she had heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. It had been during Demon Realm escapade number 3,098,990. Gun Gun, inebriated, had complemented one of the women across from them on her looks, using many exceedingly poetic words. “She isn’t that beautiful,” Mei Lin had said when the giggly lady had walked away, slightly puzzled and even a bit pissed off by brother Gun Gun’s odd taste.

“She isn’t?” Gun Gun had laughed. “I haven’t paid much attention.” He had pinched her nose: “A valuable piece of advice, Zūzu, because you know nothing: Men compliment women when they want to get under their skirts. It’s quite simple. The more you praise them, the more willing they are. If ever a man praises you exceedingly, be careful.”

And with that, he had gotten up, using her shoulders to steady himself and had lurched after the woman who had already disappeared upstairs.

Qian Ling started fidgeting in her lap and made demanding noises. Mei Lin tested the temperature of the liquid on the spoon she was holding with her lips before giving it to the toddler to sip, followed by a spoonful of pleasantly-warm congee. It was a bit strange Gun Gun would compliment her even though he already had frequent access to what was underneath her skirts. Or... could he be planning to do something she would normally say no to?

“Zūzu, Gun Gun —” Huo Mao’s voice preceded her, and they were both looking at the direction of the doorway by the time she entered. Her cane made heavy thuds on the floor as she walked, and her weather-ridden face held a look of annoyance. She momentarily paused to sniff the air, then looked at Gun Gun, her mouth breaking into a wide grin. “Ah, you’re cooking. I cannot wait to eat.”

Gun Gun alertly jumped to serve his soup to Huo Mao who now walked toward Mei Lin, cooed as she ruffled Qian Ling’s hair then leaned her cane against the table and sat down with a soft thud and a sigh.

“Gun Gun,” Huo Mao gasped as she took in the steaming vegetables and meat that was laid out in front of her, “if there’s one advantage from you living here, this is it.“

Mei Lin’s pulse raced. “Nǎinai, he doesn’t live here. He just came by to help out with Ling’er’s breakfast and the—”

“By here, I meant our wonderful valley village, dear,” Huo Mao interrupted, her rheumy eyes flashing.

“He and A-Li can cook. Never in my life have I eaten so well before! Gun Gun,” she sighed endearingly as Gun Gun put down a rice bowl in front of her next, “do you have any dashing older relatives from your kingdom who would be delighted to spend the last of their days with me?”

Mei Lin watched Gun Gun bite his lower lip to prevent laughter from forming, and only then realized she was doing the same.

“Nǎinai,” Gun Gun patted the back of Huo Mao’s hand, his eyes sparkling with sincerity. “I’d gladly serve you for the rest of your days.”

Air escaped Huo Mao’s nostrils. “You pretty boys with your sweet words! Zūzu, you better not believe everything that this boy says. These quiet ones, I tell you!”

“Ah, Nǎinai, why are you blushing so?”

Huo Mao swatted Gun Gun’s hand away from her cheek but gave a sly wink to Mei Lin as soon as his back was turned.

“What are you still doing by the stove, Gun Gun?” Huo Mao called out with a smirk as she spooned some broth into her mouth. “Come and grace my table with your face. I love to be surrounded by beautiful things, you know that.”

“Coming, Nǎinai,” he called back as he scooped the last of Qian Ling’s boiled diapers from the earthenware pot and transferred them to the basin by the sink where fresh spring water freely flowed from an unsealed pipe made of bamboo trunk.

Steam rose to Gun Gun’s face as cold water met hot diapers, and Mei Lin’s heart leaped. He almost looked heavenly, like when he jumped on the air and clouds whipped at his face. She had known he was beautiful by any clan standard since forever, but knowing something was one thing and feeling it was something entirely different. How much more beautiful would Gun Gun become once their powers and with it their godly veneer returned?

“Anyway, it’s well and good that you are both here,” Huo Mao declared, all signs of teasing now gone from her face. “It’s been over a month since my Xiaohu and A-Li have left.”

Mei Lin had been worried for her cousin and her mentor but Huo Mao's steady calm throughout their month-long absence had remained her source of comfort. The old woman had the Sight, so she would know if they were in trouble, she told herself. Besides, Li-Ge should have had access to his full powers outside of Huicūn -- truly, the worst that could happen was for Lian Song Shifu to find them and cut their mortal vacation short. Thankfully, her cousin had thousands of immortal years of practice on evading detection. He would be fine.

It was quite remarkable, Mei Lin thought, how Huicūn had become her comfortable bubble. Surprisingly, going without her powers was easy once she had gotten used to it… more than that, it was liberating. Having lived the past 37,500 years of her life fearing the volatility of her power and hating what it had done to her relationship with her Father Lord, she had allowed herself to hide behind its mask and pushed most everyone away. But in Huicūn, she was able to find and listen to her breath, find that she had it in her to heal and not to destroy, had learned how to be still, and how to appreciate the value of a productive rest and hard work.

She had sometimes wondered whether this could be a mortal trial ordained by the Heavens, but everything she had gone through so far had been all blessings, even if they came at the cost of her hardily-built pride. But the man who had just taken his seat across from her, the man who had just reached over to pinch Qian Ling's cheek, the man who looked at her with that knowing twinkle in his eyes -- that man was a complication.

She almost wished he would grow tired of her already because she knew that day would come anyway as soon as he had access to the type of women he liked again. Life in Huicūn must be very boring for someone like him who was so used to escapades and endless entertainment. When she had first joined Li-Ge and Gun Gun on one of their outings, they had tried to hide the extent of their debauchery, probably thinking she was too delicate for the truth. Well, she had been shocked alright even before knowing what truly went on in those Demon taverns, but she would rather have bitten off her tongue than admitted this to either of them.

Mei Lin had been so deep in thought she had not even been aware of a conversation happening until Gun Gun exclaimed rather loudly, "Mei Lin is leaving Huicūn?"

What? Mei Lin’s heart picked up so fast it felt like it was about to go up her throat. Leave? Huicūn? Nǎinai? Xiao Hu? Ling’er? Bo’er? What about her patients? What would happen to them in her absence?

“M-my patients,” she stammered. “I cannot leave.”

“Hush, child, were you even listening to me?” Nǎinai reprimanded with a tap of her spoon on the edge of her soup bowl. “It will just be for a couple of days, you silly girl. Every year, during the last full moon of winter, sellers attend a trade fair in Nanking to introduce their wares to potential new buyers. We send Xiaohu, for obvious reasons,” Huo Mao said as she swept a hand over her face. “But now that she’s not around, I guess we can make do with Zūzu here. With that beautiful face and figure of yours, you should be able to charm those male—”

“I’ll do it,” Gun Gun interrupted, his soup bowl landing on the table with a force hard enough to make the liquid slosh on the sides but still so it did not make a loud sound and frighten the child. "Charm men? What do you take Mei Lin for? She’s not a..."

“Gun Gun, calm yourself,” the old woman interrupted him. And: “I didn't know you and her—” Huo Mao trailed off with a glint in her eye.

Mei Lin clenched her fingers around Huo Mao’s right forearm that currently rested on the table. “Nǎinai, it is not what you think it is! Gun Gun and I--“ She took a hard swallow after that, unable to continue. What were they exactly? Classmates? Comrades? Friends? Brothers?

But of course, Gun Gun knew no shame. “You know everything that goes on around here, Nǎinai. Don’t act coy with me now,” Gun Gun challenged, his eyes steadfast on the older woman.

“Pah!” Huo Mao broke eye contact first. “If you don’t want Zūzu selling our wares, then do it yourself. But you have to work extra hard to bring in new customers from both genders, you hear? You have a week.”

“But Nǎinai,” Gun Gun complained, “will you be okay without a leader for a week? It is quite a long time. Shouldn’t...”

“Ah,” Huo Mao turned her own forearm and slid it down the table until her wrinkled hand wrapped around Mei Lin’s, “Zūzu, you better go along. A pretty boy like this won’t stay lonesome in Nanking for long and who knows, he might forget entirely we exist. Men are simple creatures and it is our duty to keep them in line.“

“Don't pretend I am not here to hear you, Nǎinai.”

“Oh, shush, Gun Gun. I know you’ve been aiming for this all along. You two go together! Everyone in town knows this one here got you wrapped up around her fingers. A week! Too long!" Huo Mao chuckled.

"Every…one?" Mei Lin choked out.

"Focus, Zūzu," Huo Mao reprimanded along with giving a forceful tug on Mei Lin's hand. "I need you to keep Gun Gun focused on the task at hand.”

Mei Lin’s gaze flew toward Gun Gun. Her eyes widened a bit when she discovered he was looking at her with that fathomless expression that he always wore when he had been staring at her for too long.

"I- I can't leave my patients--" she repeated meekly.

"I'll take care of your patients, Zūzu. What simpleton do you take me for?"

"I thought we weren't supposed to leave Huicūn for two more years?"

At this, Huo Mao broke out laughing, except it sounded like a toad croaking. "Look at you, Zūzu. A year ago you didn't want to stay here even for a second."

"Huicūn is my home. I--" She clutched Qian Ling even tighter around the child’s tiny waist. "I can't imagine leaving here. Besides, how do you ensure we will come back?"

Huo Mao’s blind eye blinked, once, twice. “Simple. I’ll tie the curse on to Ling’er. If you fail to return before the moon becomes a mere shadow in the sky, she dies.”

“Nǎinai, you are transferring our curse on your great-grandchild?” Gun Gun sounded as shocked as she herself felt.

Huo Mao shrugged at Gun Gun. “It is a risk I have to take. That's why you need to do your job well, Gun Gun. The village depends on merchants and buyers for livelihood. This is not just some honeymoon, do you understand?”

“Wait,” Mei Lin tugged at Huo Mao’s sleeve to regain the old woman’s attention. “To whom did you tether my cousin to?”

“To Xiaohu, of course. He knows if he leaves her, she dies.”

“Putting your granddaughter and great grandchild at risk— Huo Mao, you're brutal,” said Gun Gun, but there was quite a bit of awe in his voice.

“You're crazy!” gasped Mei Lin.

“Well, you're both stupid if you think all I am is an old ball of fluff.”

The table remained quiet as the three of them tried to measure each other up until Qian Ling started banging her plate with her spoon. Huo Mao reached over to stop the baby’s motions and took the spoon from her hand.

“If you are to get to Nanking before the sun drops from the sky, you have to leave before the hour is up,” Huo Mao’s voice was flat and authoritative, and it made the hairs on Mei Lin’s arms stand on an end. “I have asked the men to prepare the oxen and the wagon full of jars and sacks of teas, as well as fabric for the tent and the table you have to set up for our wares. I suggest you get moving if you want to have sufficient rest before the fair starts tomorrow.”

This was how an hour later, Mei Lin found herself walking side by side with Gun Gun, who held the reins to the a pair of oxen drawing up the overfilled wagon, with her back turned to the gates and the waving townspeople who shouted their prayers and well-wishes for a successful trip.

Huicūn was a small town. Everyone knew she had been sharing a bed with Gun Gun.

Outside of wedlock.

Mei Lin was so lost in her mortification that time ran away from her until running directly into Gun Gun’s broad back brought her back to the present.

“Mei Lin,” Gun Gun whipped around, his eyes shining, “did you feel that?”

Mei Lin looked around to the verdant valley behind, the snowy peaks of Kunlun in front and the bare trees around them. The air smelled clean and so crisp it stung her nostrils.

“Feel what?”

But even as she asked, the answer came to her at a terrifying speed.

Her fire.

It was back.


As they trudged along on the muddy trail, Gun Gun tried to be patient, but all he could think of was getting to Nanking sooner so that he could make fervent love to Mei Lin. His loins throbbed and his trousers chafed, at least dampening some of the growing yet rather inconvenient enthusiasm in his pants.

They finally reached the heart of the town an hour before sundown. The journey had been arduous. It was almost spring, that time of the year when the weather couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be warm or cold and made it rain instead at odd times. Everything was brown and ugly and the wagon had gotten stuck more than once in some mud pit. He would have cloud jumped gladly, but that would have meant leaving the wagon and the oxen, plus Mei Lin was once again terrified of her freshly-returned powers and the possibility that she could combust and incinerate the teas that meant so much to the people that had become like family.

With her goddess form back, Mei Lin radiated, her renowned beauty magnified before his very eyes. A demoness and a royal one at that, they only had to arrive in the outskirts of Nanking before she had mortal men stumbling and fawning over her. It was fascinating to him that she never seemed to notice the dazzling effect she had on men, mortals and immortals alike. No, this reaction of the male species to Mei Lin was not new, but his own reaction to how they were reacting was. If before, he had found it amusing, today, despite knowing they were as fragile as ants under a boot, it took Gun Gun a lot of self-control not to command the ground open to swallow the cretins whole or the sun to eternally blind them so they could not look at her at all.

They found the way to the market square quickly and a man with a ledger assigned them to a slot after they had paid the necessary fee. Many stalls had already been halfway set up so that not much work was left for the merchants in the early morning hours.

“This is not a good spot,” Mei Lin said and looked quite disappointed. And so adorable.

It was true, they were at the very end of the last of the lanes, but the one they had gotten was one of the last slots available at all. “Don’t worry,” he assured her, and stroked her hair soothingly, “I will make sure we attract enough buyers. You just sit back and relax. Are you hungry? I will fetch you something.”

Huo Mao had given them very clear instructions not to leave the valuable ware unattended under any circumstances. Trade fairs attracted thieves, she had said, and she would beat them senseless if even one tea leaf went missing.

“I am fine,” Mei Lin said, but he knew her well. She looked tired, most likely because she was clamping down on her powers way too hard and he felt a great desire to do something good for her.

And an even greater desire to do many bad things to her.

She was so inexperienced and shy that almost everything he suggested in bed shocked her, even if she tried to hide it. But he was not done. Far from it.

“I will go to that inn Huo Mao told us to stay to claim our room,” she said, “while you unload the wagon and start sorting the jars. Oh, and I will take the oxen for feed and shelter.”

“No,” he said. “Let’s…”

He didn’t have any better ideas, but he knew he really did not want to part from her, even if only for a few incense sticks. And the thought of her walking along the crowded streets, with men rubbing themselves against her… the inn where Huo Mao had told them to stay was quite a distance away. The owner was a former colleague in the Jiaofang [school for courtesans] she had joined when she was young, and always had a room available for anybody from Huicūn, particularly helpful during this time of the year when Nanking was busy with tourists and tradesmen who could afford to pay for their lodging.

Stupid teas.

No, he thought and smiled a little, I should be grateful. It’s the tea I have to thank that I got to see Mei Lin in a different light.

She looked at him strangely with her head tilted slightly to the side. His pulse picked up speed. He made a few steps in her direction until he stood right in front of her and watched for her reaction. There it was. Her eyes slightly dilated and she held her breath.

“Beautiful,” he whispered and smiled at the way her eyes flashed but her cheeks blushed. He touched the palm of his hand to the warm, smooth skin of her left cheek, and swallowed as he felt his throat go dry.

Mei Lin with her hair unbound, naked and wanting, summed up what all the beauty in all the immortal and certainly all the mortal worlds meant to Gun Gun. It was a strange sensation, this unquenchable desire he held for her all of a sudden, but it didn't feel threatening. If anything, he was… curious… as to why she affected him this way.

Was it Huicūn that had changed him? Even if yes, he did not understand why and how.

In her goddess form, Mei Lin just looked… fuller in his eyes. She had always been a beautiful flower, but now, she was in full bloom. More beautiful, more luscious, more fragrant. It had crossed his mind that maybe, being stuck as a mortal in a small town with no women to his taste had bored his body so much it had turned its attention towards the only one who was up to his standards (after Li-Ge had won the race for the other). Yes, he had maybe even hoped that resuming his god form could make him immune to Mei Lin’s charms, but oh had he been wrong about that. He found his thirst for her multiplied since he had gotten his powers back.

He had to have her.


“We can sleep underneath the wagon,” he suggested.

“So we’re both going to be uncomfortable?” she challenged him. “It’s not warm enough to sleep outside. No, we should take turns at the inn and...”

“No, we’re both going to be very comfortable,” he said, feeling how mounting lust was making him lose his sanity quickly. “Let’s tether the oxen right here, they ate enough before we came into town. They will be fine for a while.”

“But what about our foo…”

“Now, Mei Lin,” he took her by the hand and pulled her towards the wagon, “I really need to lie down with you right now.”

Chapter 51