Chapter 15 - ReflectionPart 3
written by LalaLoop
edited by kakashi
consulting by Bunny
Bai Qian hadn’t realized how much she had missed Kunlun until she stepped foot back into its Grand Hall. While the memory of what had taken place the last time she’d been here was clear in her mind, it felt as though it had been ages. The pulse of the mountain beat through her, the night breeze embracing her, as gentle as the hand that had held hers all the way back.
“Is something the matter?” Moyuan said.
“No,” she shook her head. “I just didn’t think I’d be back here so soon.”
“Seventeenth,” he reached for her loose hair strand. “I…”
“SEVENTEENTH!” A voice boomed from the other side of the hall. “Is that you, Seventeenth!”
Bai Qian quipped in that direction. Her hands flew to her mouth and she almost jumped.
She ran toward him and they met with a bone-crushing hug that lasted almost a minute. Breaking apart, Zilan grasped her shoulders with both hands, his eyes wide with bewilderment.
“By the gods, Seventeenth… What are you doing here? I’ve been so worried about you. I went to Xunzhua and they told me you were on a trip with the Crown Prince Yehua. And…”
He grimaced, scanning her again. “You look like you haven’t eaten well, what happened?”
Bai Qian sniffled and also gave him a thorough look. “So do you, Sixteenth Senior. You dress like a spy. What are you… I didn’t know you were here. Have you been here all this time?”
“Well, yes,” he said reluctantly. “I’ve been helping Shifu. I just couldn’t tell you because… Oh, it doesn’t matter, you’re here now!”
Bai Qian shook her head, hitting him on the arm. “I knew you must have some reason for disappearing! Well, at least you’re not dead.”
“Sorry, I couldn’t tell you.”
“Save it for Yanzhi,” she warned.
“XIAOWU!” her name was roared once again and Bai Qian turned to the entrance, unable to believe her eyes.
“Bifang...” How could this day turn out to be so happy? Was she dreaming?
Her Phoenix friend raced over, seizing her arms. “Xiaowu, how have you been? Why are you so thin and pale? Are they not treating you well at Xunzhua?”
“No,” Bai Qian said, trying hard to keep her voice from breaking. “No, my friends are good to me, they are the best people in the world. I was just ill, that’s all. I… I can’t believe both of you are here --”
“Me neither,” said Zilan, grinning from ear to ear.
All three of them placed their arms around each other’s shoulders, laughing and taking turns asking questions, catching up on each other’s lives. Of course, none of their lives consisted of much except war lately.
“How is Fengjiu, does anyone know?” Bai Qian asked.
“Your niece is getting fiercer everyday, Xiaowu,” Bifang grinned. “And more stubborn too. I dare anyone to separate her from Lord Donghua now including that cursed stone with all the names.”
“Well,” Bai Qian chortled. “I can’t say I ever cared a lot about that stone.”
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Bifang suddenly said, moving away from them to greet Moyuan. “High God Moyuan, I am prepared to go meet Si-ming. Is there any message you would like to send Lord Donghua besides the time when you will finish your meditation?”
“No, Bifang,” answered Moyuan’s voice behind them. “Please be careful on the way.”
Silently, they walked alongside each other towards the meditation room. Bai Qian’s heart sped up with every step -- she had questions, comments, reminders, things that had bottled up inside her for the last several days.
The little sprite fluttered into view, tongue sticking out, indicating it was either hungry or not enjoying being at a place where food was not as diverse as at Xunzhua.
“I’m sure the kitchen has lots of fruits,” Bai Qian suggested and pointed to the stairs. “That way.”
Without any protest, the sprite zoomed out of sight.
Still in silence, Moyuan unsealed the meditation room. Bai Qian didn’t know why they had to walk all the way up here just for a conversation, any room in the mountain could be sealed with a spell.
Sighing, she strode inside. The candles were lit instantly. Now, it was only the two of them. He would have to return to the Void and she to Xunzhua -- now was her chance to say it all.
Bai Qian took a deep breath, turning around. “With all due respect, Shifu, I think you need to be…”
Not knowing that Moyuan was right behind her, she crashed into him and the next second, she found herself in his arms. Taken aback and afraid she might forget what needed to be said, Bai Qian resisted, but all in vain. Embracing her was his response, and it might be his only response to anything she had to say. She yielded and savored the feel of him, not letting another unnecessary thought come between them, not letting him pull away; although, she could tell that was hardly his intention. At one point there was no distinction between his pulse and hers. He smelled of the Void, of ice and fire and strange enchantments.
“I hate having to wonder about you all the time,” she said, tears swelling in her eyes.
“Do your injuries still bother you?” was his reply.
“I hate not knowing whether you’re alive or dead.”
He chuckled. Chuckled.
What an insensitive, heartless, brutal rock… No, Lord Donghua was a rock, and even Lord Donghua wasn’t this hateful. Him, he was worse than an unfeeling rock.
He pressed her head deeper into his chest. “How is that infection on your arm?”
“It isn’t your responsibility.”
“Whose is it then, if not mine?”
His hands were on her shoulders and he made a sudden move forward. Bai Qian felt the stone wall against her back as his fingers came beneath her jaw and he lifted her chin. But as his face neared, she inched back, feeling uncertain. He held her gaze, some emotion lighting those dark eyes.
“Are you rej…” he breathed in. “What does this mean?”
Bai Qian slid her hands up and clutched the front of his robe. “Why are you angry?”
“I am not angry.”
“No,” he tilted his head and held her closer, as close as was possible with her arms between them, cold rage flickering across his face. “A dark immortal tortured you while I had to sit and pretended you didn’t matter. I was reminded that I would lose as much as I hoped to make him lose. Then, at Xunzhua, I was reminded again of how I had failed in front of the eight realms that day. Why would I be angry, indeed?”
“I can take care of myself, you know...” she replied with complete honesty. “You are mine but you also belong to every single being in the eight realms you swore to protect. If you have to fail at something, I’d rather you failed at being mine.”
A sob escaped from the back of her throat. She held him with all the strength in her arms, letting his presence settle inside her, trying hard not to remember that they didn’t have much time. He would have to go back to the Void, Luoji would launch his fury on them eventually, people were bound to get hurt, him included.
What would she do if he was taken away from her again?
“What are you afraid of?” he suddenly asked, as though reading her every thought.
“It isn’t fear,” she said. “Just a question I can’t stop asking myself.”
He asked no more and continued to offer her that comfort and gentleness she could only find in him.
Will I still be as strong -- if you are not here?
She didn’t want to think about it. Without him?
She had walked into the library of Kunlun countless times during the dark days of his absence after the Ghost War -- a library full of books, yet to her, the shelves had been empty and the room devoid of light. When he had gone last time, he had taken that part of her away -- the will to look to the future.
“I’m sorry -- about the Demon Queen,” Bai Qian said, resting her head on his shoulder as they both sat on the dais in the center, the flickering candles casting a comfortable warmth around them.
“I had hoped she would have a real chance this time,” an ancient sadness rumbled in Moyuan's answer. An echo of a loss beyond her comprehension.
“She did,” Bai Qian said. “She just gave that chance to us.”
“Of course, I knew better than to hope Shaowan would stay on the side while the immortal worlds are in chaos, despite what she said. But I’d truly — hoped.”
The image kept flashing across Bai Qian’s head despite her effort to not think of it -- the Demon Queen flying into fire, like a phoenix spreading its wings to freedom. She was gone, just like Zheyan was gone. The rest... it was up to them.
“There’s something that keeps bothering me,” Bai Qian said.
“What is it?” Moyuan’s voice sounded above her like a caress.
She sat up straight and looked at him.
“Would you do something for me?”
A ghost of a smile appeared on his lips. “Can I hear it first?”
“You’re very practical,” Bai Qian huffed a laugh. “Well, three things, actually.”
The first one -- it was the hardest for her to address. “I know you are resourceful and have a lot of helping hands by your side, but…,” she frowned, contemplating the words. “I also know that a part of you… is engaged in this game as much as Luoji.”
Moyuan remained silent and attentive, but in his expression, Bai Qian found enough admission.
“You appreciate the challenge, you want more of it. The thrill makes it possible for you to be so good at it.”
“Do not worry --”
“But please,” she sighed. “Don’t endanger yourself just to try out a new theory or to solve a puzzle that Luoji throws out. If you die out there --”
“I won’t,” he murmured, gliding his hand down her arm. “Not out there. If I die, I will at least have incapacitated him...”
“Yes, this is what I mean,” Bai Qian stressed. “All this eagerness to be the winner of the game. I’m afraid you will get hurt as much as he will.”
“If I hadn’t been eager, I might not have found the solution,” he confessed, then hurt manifested in his eyes. “But do not think that I find joy in watching my friends sacrifice for the plan, Seventeenth.”
“I didn’t mean that.”
“What I am eager to see most is for Luoji paying for what the plan has cost Zheyan.”
“You are impressed by his abilities,” Bai Qian stated. “The same way he is impressed by yours. You believe Luoji hasn’t killed you yet because he wants to see how much more you can do, this mistake has led him into the trap. Don’t fall into the same trap by getting carried away. I’m only asking you to be careful.”
This time, he nodded. “I will be.” Placing his hand over hers, he repeated. “I will be.”
Bai Qian didn’t know how much that promise could do to keep him safe, but she had to take his word for it.
“What is the next thing?” he asked, brushing her hair back behind her shoulder.
Bai Qian cleared her throat, feeling an unbidden surge of awkwardness. “Please understand that Pojing meant well. If any of us wants to leave the shield’s protection, he will ask the same questions he asked me.”
Truth be told, Bai Qian wasn’t even sure if she was right. But she didn’t have long to dwell on that thought because Pojing’s name seemed to evoke a strong dislike from Moyuan, no matter how well he was veiling it.
His brows convulsed and he sat back, taking his hands off of her, fingers interlocked atop his knee, as though contemplating her request with utmost seriousness. But then he blinked and said with emphasis.
“I will understand no such thing. What is the third?”
“What?” Bai Qian couldn’t believe her ear. “Was that a joke?”
“I am normally rational.”
She scoffed as Moyuan continued.
“But I will not spare my effort where it is unappreciated. It seems that your friend doesn’t want to waste a chance to infuriate me, therefore, there is no need for me to consider his intention with rationality.”
“What has Pojing done to infuriate you that’s not part of the plan? The plan you came up with.”
“I believe you know,” he said. “You yourself are an expert in infuriating me. And allow me to correct you: what followed your escape from the maze was not my plan.”
“Well…” Bai Qian pressured her lips together and thought for a while. “Your brother’s plan then, which was meant to aid your plan.”
Moyuan lifted a brow. The look he was giving her suddenly became that of a distant god, and he said slowly. “Then you will be pleased to know that Luoji, who has uncovered most of the details about my plan, has been fooled by your excellent performance.”
Bai Qian felt herself blushing intensely. She hadn’t expected to hear this, she’d assumed Luoji had figured out the little deception she and Pojing had put up too. Although, that was hardly deception. She was desperate that day, was ready to do anything that might be asked of her to protect her friend. Someone had risked his life to save hers, so she was prepared to do the same, because even dying would have been better than letting more harm come to him, it was a rush of impulse that drove her. Perhaps it was also because his powers were flowing inside her at the time, and with his powers came a little of him that overwhelmed her own weakened senses -- the urge to act, to take risks, that protective instinct Pojing always showed around those who were close to him. She hadn’t thought about it much in the Nine Heavens and afterwards, and she most certainly had not considered how that had looked to Moyuan.
But however that had looked, Bai Qian thought defiantly, her friend shouldn’t be the one to get blamed.
“Hmph,” she looked away, brushing her palm across her face, hoping to make the color on her cheeks disappear. “Two great minds that decide the fate of the realms over chess games -- but now one is fooled and one is confused. This is bewildering.”
Moyuan said nothing, only a sound of displeasure he seemed unable to suppress.
“So…” Bai Qian’s forehead scrunched. “You’re saying that you dislike Pojing’s rightfully placed concern for me -- on purpose?”
“Yes,” he nodded. “And whether it is rightful is a matter of perspective.”
Once again, she was flabbergasted. “You… Shifu, Pojing saved my life more than once, I owe him more than I can ever repay!”
“Tell me how you would like to repay him, I will do it in your stead and we can end this story of mutual debt.”
Bai Qian shook her head, speechless. What kind of High God was this petty? She was beginning to think Moyuan hadn’t taken that many proper trials to earn his title.
“How did you even become a God of War, Shifu?” she asked spitefully.
With a faint smile, Moyuan replied, “Rationality.”
“Fine,” she shrugged. “If you are so ungenerous, I feel no guilt in telling you what I want next.”
He turned a little more to face her, looking slightly curious. She originally had only wanted to remind him about her parents and their expectations, but if he insisted on being so ungodly...
“When you speak to my parents, offer to double the number of betrothal gifts you are supposed to send to Qingqiu.”
Confusion flickered across Moyuan’s face and he looked half amused. “I beg your pardon?”
“My parents will ask you to promise to protect me well,” she said matter-of-factly. “When you do, they still won’t believe you, your history is hard proof of the contrary. And I’m not counting on your charm to persuade them.”
With a sound of disbelief, he sat closer to her and attempted to speak, but ended up unable to.
“I need some convincing too,” Bai Qian continued. “And by far, your library and other assets are the most appealing things…”
“Bai Qian,” he grasped her shoulders, looking torn between amusement and helplessness.
She looked back at him, daring him to contradict her request.
“You are getting bolder by the minute,” was his whisper of a response.
The words rolled through her like a breath of icy wind. How could someone be so warm yet so cold at the same time? Bai Qian felt she would soon lose her nerves. “I should leave you to meditate.”
But his hands swiftly caught her arms. “Stay.”
“Don’t give me orders,” she murmured.
He smiled, the unfathomable smile she had grown to love. Bai Qian wasn’t sure which of them had moved but they were sitting much closer than before. She had hesitated, and now it was impossible to leave this room.
Maybe not now, her hands kept about his lapels.
Not this minute.