Fanfiction: The Moon Mirror (Pojing & Bai Qian Alternative Ending) - Chapter 3 (Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms 三生三世十里桃花)


Chapter 3

written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi   
consulting by Bunny


*This chapter takes place after the events of Chapter 13 part 3 of Moyuan and Bai Qian, after Shaowan has come to Xunzhua.

Bai Qian realized that even here, at the edge of an enormous waterfall that was blocking out most noises around, she was still not getting anything done.

“A satisfying location to read at,” Zhuowei had said when Bai Qian had asked her where she could go for some true peace and quiet.

This was more than satisfying, Bai Qian admitted. It was like a painting in a storybook. Clear sky, freshwater, ancient tree trunks as big as ships, squirrels popping out of random corners, mid-autumn trees turning red and brown.

Still, Bai Qian was far from peaceful or able to concentrate. She had been trying to write a letter to Kunlun, thinking that perhaps in writing she could explain herself more effectively than whenever she stood in front of Moyuan.

It was a mistake. She was more miserable now than ever because after having spent four pieces of charcoal and a whole notebook’s worth of paper, she still hadn’t gotten a decent sentence down.

What was she trying to explain? That was the point.

Perhaps she could be completely honest and speak her mind? Bai Qian tightened her grip on the charcoal and began scribbling again:


Shifu,

I hope this letter finds you in one piece.

No, I did not mean what I said on Kunlun. If you had not gone off for a walk once every few hours when we were in the mortal realm, I would have told you so. Or maybe not. Due to the fact that I’m not sure what I want to say, I believe I would just start babbling about Luoji and hope that you would give me the answer instead. Part of what I said that night was true and part of it was not. And frankly, I find it outrageous that a mind as brilliant as yours hasn’t figured out which part to believe. The next time you decide to make an appearance, I hope I will throw myself into your arms after I have given you a coherent explanation, and not before like always.

Bai Qian,

The idiot who drank Oblivion Potion and failed her High Goddess Trial.



Stupid, Bai Qian looked at her writing, which meant she had gotten the ‘honest’ part right. She crumpled the piece of paper and shoved it into her book with a sigh.

She slammed the book down on the boulder she had planted herself on since her arrival here and stood, yanking open her waterskin and gulping down part of its content.

Why?

Why was it so difficult for her to tell him something so simple? Whatever we are to each other. It seemed neither of them had the answer to this.

But she loved him. It was the truth. Bai Qian shook her head vigorously, racking her brain to search for the girl before the fall of the Nine Heavens. The girl who was so certain and ready.

Now… she had seen more, had been through much more with him. Yet, she was unsure.

Was Moyuan unsure? She could never tell. But the distance he’d kept, that was no mistake.

“Queen of Qingqiu.”

Bai Qian turned around. Pojing was only a few yards away, securing his horse’s rein onto a branch protruding from a tree trunk on the ground.

“Avoiding your kingly duties?” she quipped.

“I’m allowed breaks.” With leisurely steps, he walked over to join her.

“Were you looking for me?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Why? Is something wrong back at the palace?”

“No,” his eyes gleamed. “I just wanted to make sure you found this place before sundown.”

Bai Qian huffed a laugh. “I’d be offended, but my poor sense of direction is already a widely known fact.” She gestured at the waterfall. “I did find it, though. Zhuowei gave me a map.”

“Seems my concern is misplaced.” He too broke into laughter. Bai Qian was about to ask again what he was here for when he spoke. “Zhuowei told you how to get here?”

“Yes.”

“She and I also come here often. Don’t venture further than this oasis without taking someone with you, however. Where the green ends, the desert begins; and that is not somewhere you’d want to lose yourself in.”

“Of course not,” Bai Qian stressed. “I’m not that careless.”

“You and my sister have the same habit of carrying a book wherever you go.” Pojing’s face hardened. “And the last time Zhuowei wandered beyond the grass with her books and without her guard, she was taken by demons.”

“Oh…”

“But you’re right,” he shrugged. “Maybe I shouldn’t worry too much about you in particular, you did wreck the gate of the Arctic Prison, after all. How do you like this view?”

“It’s spectacular,“ Bai Qian grinned. “I bet it’s even better in spring.”

“It is.” The pride in his voice was unmistakable. “Our winters are ruthless and the summers can drain the deepest lakes, but we have the best springs here.”

“I can imagine.”

“What is it like in Qingqiu?”

“Nothing extreme. We have hot days and cold days, but most of the time the meadows are green and the mushrooms are never scarce.”

“Mushrooms?”

“Most of us don’t eat meat. We put mushrooms in everything.”

“I see,” he chuckled. “Qingqiu sounds comfortable.”

“Yes. Sometimes, though, it’s too comfortable that you yearn for a little… extreme, I suppose.”

“Isn’t Qingqiu also the home of the famous peach blossom wine?”

“No,” Bai Qian replied with eagerness, but her heart sank almost immediately. “That’s from High God Zheyan’s forest, only he could brew this kind of wine. Properly, that is.”

“I see.” He dragged a hand up his hair. “Well, we don’t have peach blossom wine here, but perhaps our diverse collection can compensate for the lack of your favorite brew.”

“You’re modest all of a sudden,” Bai Qian smiled curiously. “‘Perhaps’? I think you’re more than confident that Xunzhua’s winemaking is as good as anywhere else’s.”

“Maybe. But I’d like to earn your good opinion today, not win it with an argument.”

“Why?”

“It’s important that you approve of Xunzhua.”

Approve? Why?” she repeated, taking another gulp of drink before setting the waterskin down.

“When this is all over, provided that neither of us dies, I will ask you to marry me.”

Bai Qian choked on the bit of water she had yet to swallow. She held a hand over her mouth, coughing and glaring at him. What sick joke is this?

“All right,” she cleared her throat and took a deep breath. “I know you like to shock me and watch me squirm as much as possible, but this is too much! Jokes stop being funny if you go too far, do you hear?”

Pojing’s eyes narrowed, the corner of his lips slightly lifted. “Do you do this on purpose?”

“What?”

“Deducing my words are jokes if I say something you don’t want to hear.”

Bai Qian dropped her hand and fell quiet for a long minute.

“In fact,” he went on slowly. “I mean what I say more often than you think.”

Oh, great gods… Bai Qian stared at his face indefinitely. Her jaw gradually dropped as the realization struck her. Great Buddhas and deities of the eight realms and four seas — he is serious.

What was she supposed to do? How in the world had they gone from the weather to this?

Say something.

She straightened her shoulders a bit more. “So… You said…”

“I will ask you to be my wife.”

The word knocked the air out of her lung then bounced back and forth inside her head.

“Why?”

“I believe we can have a future together.”

“I assume you are not talking about eternal love or destiny carved on the Reincarnation Stone?”

“You assume correctly.” A little of the usual smugness returned to his face. “And that Celestial stone, we might need to have a separate discussion about its legitimacy.”

At least they could still agree on something.

“Then in what way can we have a future together?”

Pojing took his eyes off of her and gazed beyond the waterfall. For a second, it looked as if he was wanting to spread his arms and embrace everything that stood in front of them.

“I have great admiration for your abilities and your ambitions. You think as I do, and you know the world is changing, more rapidly now that the Celestial Court will never be the same again. I want what is best for my kingdom, I assume you want what’s best for yours. So I’m proposing an alliance.”

“We already have an alliance.”

“A stronger alliance. One that will make a difference more impactful than just surviving this war.”

Bai Qian’s brows finally relaxed. At least now she could make sense of what he was suggesting: a political move that would warrant both of their kingdoms a new kind of respect from the eight realms. Xunzhua was successfully expanding its influence across borders, Qingqiu was a strong fortress that had produced more powerful immortals than anywhere else. Bai Qian knew she wasn’t one of those immortals yet, but she appreciated the reputation that surrounded their tribe.

But good gods of the thirty-six heavens – married to Pojing? Not even in her wildest dreams could she have imagined this.

“I thought your sister said you didn’t like to be pressured into a loveless marriage.”

“I would like to choose my own bride, that is true. But I never said my personal interests were a priority. The position I hold comes with unavoidable obligations.”

“Then, by choosing Qingqiu, you are fulfilling your duty as king?”

“And offering you what you might be interested in, of course.”

“Hmm,” Bai Qian lifted her face. “Xunzhua’s resources to diversify my people’s education and for the construction of new systems that don’t rely on the Fox tribe’s established magic?”

“I told you we think alike.”

Not completely. Bai Qian could not believe that he still hadn’t seen why this was an impossible idea.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” she asked.

“What is that?”

“You’re proposing a marriage alliance. We would have to live in the same place.”

“I think that is the point of being married.”

“But that’s not all, is it.” Bai Qian’s eyes narrowed, her patience growing thin. “As king, it’s also your duty to secure an heir to your throne. Suppose we marry. Eventually, your council will demand more than just an alliance between you and your queen, what do we do then?”

“We secure an heir to the throne.”

Bai Qian whipped out her fan and summoned magic so fast that it sent a jolt of vibration down her arm.

“All right, all right,” Pojing caught her wrist in a blink and slowly pushed her arm down. “And they say I need to manage my anger.”

She yanked her hand away. “Well?”

“Well, you’re thinking too far ahead again, Queen of Qingqiu. Immortals’ lives are long, we wouldn’t have to worry about that for centuries, maybe millennia.”

But someday,” she emphasized.

“Someday, yes.”

“‘Yes’? Xunzhua monarchs have no harem. Just hypothetically -- if we can’t stand each other, we won’t be able to resolve the problem by getting you more wives.”

Pojing gave her a thorough scan from head to toe. “May I say that you are surprisingly blunt where I never expect you to be? Was that what you were going to do if you married the Celestial Crown Prince – building a harem for him so he’d leave you alone?”

Bai Qian felt heat in her cheeks. “It was a good idea at the time. Also, I respect him greatly, I was going to present a united front with him no matter what.”

“So,” Pojing contemplated. “You are worried that we might never get past this – this lovely phase of bickering and you wanting to smash a plate over my head every other day – and that when we do, it might be for the worse.”

So he was not so oblivious, after all.

“Most marriages in the eight realms are arranged one way or another,” Pojing went on in a much more serious tone. “And few result in mutual affection. But I’m optimistic. Perhaps, with time, we will have that.”

Bai Qian’s frown deepened. They were friends, there was no doubt about it, at least when he could keep his habitual sarcasm in check. But sharing a life was an entirely different thing.

“What makes you optimistic?” she asked.

“We already have what most people don’t when they enter a marriage – agreement. And I won’t deny that I am rather fond of you.“

Once again, she was staring at him with her head suddenly empty. They had been on the same side since the Nine Heavens was compromised, had even gone through all sorts of life-threatening experiences together, but responding to this kind of comment from Pojing was something she’d never thought she would have to do.

But he was honest -- she could see that -- honest and with every intention of restating the compliment should she ask for it.

“Well…,” words came to Bai Qian’s lips at last. “Er… I’m flattered.” I think?

Pojing broke into a somewhat gentle laugh and slightly shook his head. “What an appropriate reply.”

Bai Qian said nothing else. It was a surprise that she could even manage appropriateness. Pojing cast another look at the view beyond the waterfall and turned back to her. “Shall I take you back?”

She glanced at the horse behind them and wondered why he bothered riding it here when he could easily outrun any land creature. But she nodded, collected her book and climbed on the horse’s back, only coming to term with the fact that there was solely one horse when Pojing mounted and settled behind her.

His arms came around her as he took the reins. With a gentle kick from him, the horse trotted on.


***


Hugging her book close to her chest, Bai Qian started to sort out the jumble of thoughts in her head. Perhaps she had looked at Pojing as a jesting, generous, yet hot-headed and impatient young king for so long that she’d completely overlooked this side of him.

He was a leader who would always put his kingdom first. That was the reason Xunzhua was thriving. Any decision he made would be for power and he was unapologetic for it. As someone who held a similar position, Bai Qian couldn’t deny she shared these ambitions of his. A part of her also truly believed that whoever became the Queen of Xunzhua would be treated with the devotion she deserved.

But that person was not going to be her.

“Anything on your mind?” Pojing asked when she was starting to spot the figures of Xunzhua men patrolling back and forth at the palace’s back gate.

“I have a list,” she said. “But it’s not very organized.”

His chest rumbled with laughter. “Surely there are one or two things that stand out?”

She thought for a while then said. “Why tell me this now?”

“I figured you’d need a lot of time to think about it.”

It didn’t matter. Now or after the war, she knew where she wanted to be.

Do I?

The horse came to a gradual stop when they reached the large fountain in the center of the yard. When Pojing had gotten off, Bai Qian half-heartedly swung her leg around to unmount herself with her book which contained the silly letter still clutched tightly in one arm. His hands were suddenly on her waist and the next second she was standing on the ground, her face a few inches from his collar.

“Thank you,” Bai Qian said, clasping her book tighter.

“So will you?” he let go. “Think about it?”

It was a reasonable proposition, a tempting idea. Several people she knew would welcome it.

“Well,” Bai Qian inched back. With a deep breath, she began skeptically. “Provided that you have been serious about this and not trying to make a fool of me…”

Pojing laughed. “Even I know better than to try that.”

“I appreciate your offer, but I can’t accept it.”

“Goodness,” a hint of surprise flickered across his face but he continued swiftly. “Is it my cloud-jumping speed?”

Despite herself, Bai Qian laughed. “No. It has nothing to do with you or Xunzhua. In fact, I love it here.”

“But you don’t want to remain here?”

“No. I mean… in terms of an alliance, I don’t think this is a good idea.”

“It isn’t?”

She steeled her voice. “You are wrong about me. I might read a lot and I might have gotten myself out of some troubles. But your responsibilities here are no child’s play, and I’m afraid I am just not that reliable a person to take them on with you.”

Confusion spread over Pojing’s face, but he was silent this time.

“It doesn’t matter if you ask me now or after everything is over,” she added. “My answer won’t change.”

Bai Qian wanted so much to say that her heart had always found its home somewhere else. With someone else. But it was exhausting – having to will herself to believe something she wasn’t sure of. Reciting it out loud would very well make her start sobbing into her book.

After a long minute. Pojing began cautiously, “but do you object to being asked again?”

“Well, no,” her throat was suddenly dry. “Though… I’d hate to disappoint you twice.”

“Regardless,” he clasped his hands behind his back. “When we have settled the matter of Luoji, I’d like to hear your answer. Whatever it is.”

Then, with a small step toward her, his voice was quite resolute.

“Consider what a union of Xunzhua and Qingqiu means for the future, what it can do for both of our people.”

Chapter 4