Chapter 12 - DetourPart 5
written by LalaLoop
edited by Kakashi
consulting by Bunny
Having recognized the familiarity of the cottage and now that there were no strangers around, the sprite zoomed away from Bai Qian and into the kitchen right away.
How much did Fengjiu know? Bai Qian wondered as she stood still for another minute at the door after Donghua had gone. She could only hope that nothing that rash, stubborn little fox knew would put her life in danger and that she would not jump in front of Donghua to protect him again as she had done at Ruoshui River.
Seventeenth, a hand was placed on Bai Qians shoulder.
Her heart leapt and as they came face to face, it became quiet again.
They were alone, Bai Qian glanced around the safehouse. Alone and not enemies. How long had she been praying for this day, where she could talk to him? Call him an unfeeling, calculating rock for letting her make an ignorant fool of herself on Kunlun Mountain, for steering them where he wanted to go all along?
But what part of that had she not known when shed made the choice to be with him? How desperate must their situation be for him to take those measures? One son of Fuxi had lost his Dragon Throne to a dark immortal in one night; the other, the God of War, had been defeated in a duel by the same immortal in less than a few minutes. Someone as formidable as the Demon Queen was being punished for using forbidden magic, this immortal had done worse and was only getting stronger. Yes, they were very, very desperate.
There was not even a step in between them, but for some reason Bai Qian could not decide what to do. Zheyan, the torn handkerchief, the Demon Queen - how could she even begin to talk to him? Who should apologize to whom? Words that should be said crumbled into chaos in her head.
What should she say? What
Moyuan prompted her away from the front door and with his other hand he pushed it close, as if wanting to shut out what was distracting her. But he didnt need to - for once, there was very little on her mind to obscure him.
Shifu, she managed to say. I know about Zheyan.
The grief in his eyes manifested almost immediately and she threw herself into his arms so she would not have to look at those eyes - they held the memory of Zhuxian Terrace too vividly and that was the last thing she needed to be reminded of. They had both been there when Zheyan burned, had both been powerless. But while she had been free to scream out Zheyans name, to cry and let the whole world see her sorrow, he had not. While shed always had the company of her friends, he had been alone.
Tears stung her throat but with a fierce determination, she swallowed them down. She mustnt cry. She had cried enough lately. Bai Qian trembled, wanting to be gentle yet could not help but clench him close, letting his warmth seep into her, hoping to give him what little consolation her own arms could offer, hoping that it was enough. Because she wouldnt know what else to do otherwise.
Placing down a warm basin of water, a cloth and a clean white robe, Bai Qian settled next to him at the bedside, reached for the strings on the side of his robe and tugged them loose. She had found a number of clean clothes on the wooden shelves near the kitchen. Someone must have put them there because she did not remember seeing them last time.
Do you think Second Senior has been here, Shifu? she pointed at the white robe. As Moyuan had told her last time, her Senior Changshan was the only person who had access to this safehouse besides Lord Donghua and Zheyan.
Its likely, Moyuan said. Changshan comes here once in a while to restock the rice and tea, and spare clothes too. Though if he has come recently, then I hope he has also gotten back to the Eastern Forest safely.
This is brutal! she winced at the long gashes the fire rope had carved into Moyuans skin as she pulled his white tunic down to his waist. There were even some red, burning marks around his neck.
How deep do these cuts go? she asked him.
Not too deep, Moyuan said. A few drops of the Healing Potion you have will do.
Why isnt Luoji targeting Lord Donghua instead? she wondered out loud. He looks much more up for a game than you are.
I have been asking that question the whole time myself, Moyuan chuckled.
Bai Qian turned to the other side, picked up the soaked cloth from the basin and slammed it against one of his scars, perhaps with a bit too much force, because he grunted and this time seemed to be more aware of his own pain than earlier.
Im sorry, she said, gently lifting her hand and swiping the cloth across to get rid of the blood.
It doesnt matter. There wasnt any other way to deal with Luoji, I understand.
Oh, no, Bai Qian said. I meant Im sorry for hurting you just now, not for the other thing -- that is of course Im sorry about that too, but I really had no choice there.
I know, he seemed unable to suppress a smile at her. But I am curious - you must still hate me a great deal to be able to put on such a believable front back there.
Thats not funny, Shifu, Bai Qian pulled a face. I dont know how you can still joke about this when you almost died on that island. Do you only do this with me?
He only responded with a light laugh. Just tell me, how did you manage to make it look so convincing?
I learned from the best, she jabbed at him. If you could have Luoji fooled all this while, I could at least tell him a few believable lies.
Luoji, Bai Qians insides were suddenly in a tight knot. She was not sure which part of the encounter was more frightening - watching Moyuan being defeated or her nearly falling into the Dark Immortals arms in every sense.
Were you there when I was with Luoji? as the words came out of Bai Qians mouth, her face heated. Did you see -- er...
Yes, I was there, Moyuan said. Seeing you so confused was why I had to act immediately.
Confused was an understatement, Bai Qian continued to tend to the rest of his scars while blushing crimson. She was quite sure that to another person, it had looked like shed been about to pledge her eternal love to the Dark Immortal. How had it happened?
Do you think he used a mind spell on me? she asked.
Hmm, Moyuan thought for a second, then, to her mortification, said, no, I would not say so. Mind spells arent Luojis way.
No mind spells? Bai Qian repeated. Then how did I How was I so -- convinced? There was a moment, well -- longer than a moment, actually, that I thought he was really she winced. Really
Attractive? he asked, so casually that Bai Qian had to slam her head into her palms.
She wanted to curl up and die. The warmth, that voice, the feel of that hand on her face - vivid and still caressing her nerves like some enchantment. Her skin scrawled just thinking about it, though not because any of it wasnt true, but because what she had felt then, she could still feel now.
It doesnt matter, Seventeenth. Moyuans chuckle burned her face even more.
Doesnt matter? Shifu, she said through her teeth. I was hugging a murderer --
You are not the first one to be taken by the Dark Immortals charms, Moyuan emphasized. How do you think he has gotten to where he is today? Luoji can be anything he needs to be to persuade another into his cause. Wiser and much older immortals than you have been fooled by him. The people at Penglai were, Shaowan was.
Chills spidered down her spine.
But I --
Did he say anything about your mortal trial?
Well -- yes.
He said something about how he was the same as you and he made you feel he could protect you?
Yes, Bai Qian rolled her eyes, feeling dumber by the second.
That is how Luoji is, Seventeenth, Moyuan swiftly pulled his white robe back on and drew closer to her. It wasnt you at all, it was him. Anyone would have been convinced the way you were.
That did not make Bai Qian feel any better. She had always thought herself to be more reasonable than most people, but there she had been - entranced by a mere voice of someone she knew to belong to the Dark Side.
Dont hate yourself, Moyuan said, chuckling again. This is why I told you what I thought you had to know about Luoji before so that you could prepare yourself in any way you could.
I was considering his offer. Bai Qian mumbled, just imagine if I really had the hairpin --
But you didnt, he reasoned and moved closer, trying to get her to look at him. But Bai Qian was quite sure she just wanted to look at the window pane at the moment.
So this is why hes won so many minds and hearts. He didnt even need to use any magic, she said bitterly.
Yes, replied Moyuan. To the tribe leaders who pledged their loyalty to him before the Nine Heavens fell, Luoji promised them a better future. And now you have seen for yourself how believable his promises sound to another. Naturally, those who were disappointed with Haodes reign had no problem switching sides.
Bai Qian shook her head. She had no interest in hearing about any tribes now. Pojings face swam before her eyes and her cheeks flared again.
Self-righteous Queen of Qingqiu thought the Dark Immortal was charming, he would likely say. And for once she wouldnt be able to shut him down.
The next time I see Luoji, she blurted out. Im going to kill him --
Dont be silly, Moyuan placed a hand under her chin and lifted her face. Did you not see what he was able to do to me?
Do not throw yourself into a fight with him like I just did under any circumstances. You see him again, just keep your wits about you and cloud-jump.
So Bai Qian thought back to the earth shaking duel she had seen from behind Luojis shield. You werent just pretending to lose to him?
Of course not.
Not even a little?
No, he repeated. If I had, he would have known. Luoji knows enough about me to thoroughly understand my abilities.
I suppose Im just not used to seeing you lose, she confessed. That doesnt happen every -- well -- ever.
Seventeenth, it amazes me how you still believe indefinitely that I am some sky pillar that is incapable of being wounded in any way.
It isnt just me, Bai Qian argued. The whole world believes that. Also, why would I not think that youre undefeatable? Youre the God of War, youre my --
She stopped short as the eyebrows above the pair of eyes that had been looking at her tenderly suddenly furrowed.
He tilted his head, as if waiting for her to finish that sentence. When Bai Qian kept her lips sealed, he looked towards the door and they both sank into a painfully uncomfortable silence.
Shifu. It was rather difficult to begin addressing something she had not thought about in much detail as to what should be said, but she simply must.
Moyuan looked back at her, great patience in his eyes.
So -- er... do you remember what I said to you on Kunlun Mountain? she frowned and averted her eyes for a second. Right -- of course you do.
He said nothing still.
Bai Qian took a long while to think about what she was going to say this time, if it was worth sugar-coating her words a little, especially after what he had been through on the sky island. But then, Moyuan knew how she was, he always did. Pretending to be soft and affectionate all of a sudden would make her sound insincere. And what was more, he would see through it.
She cleared her throat. You asked me if I meant what I said.
Did you? he asked quietly.
The truth is, I did -- a little.
A little? he repeated.
I was disappointed in you, like in a mentor. Yes, because I didnt believe someone I looked up to would do such an outrageous and terrible thing. It made me -- angry. And since Ive always been unwilling to forget what you were to me, convincing myself that I was angry at a mentor I respected was easier than admitting I actually cared for a man like that, because then what would that say about my judgement?
Moyuan looked at her for a while, as though he couldnt decide yet what to say. Then, a dry chuckle. That was more honesty than Id hoped for.
Abashed, she dropped her head, breathing out. Its not like you didnt know these things, Shifu. If I told you that I was madly in love with you before or couldnt live without you, would you have believed me?
Why would I not believe that?
You said you know me well.
Yes, and its true. You knew I didnt stay with you because I couldnt fight against some irrational feeling. You also said yourself that passion is an extremely unreliable judge because it obscures your chance to really understand the person.
He turned away briefly, for a second, Bai Qian thought he looked as though he was going to deny that he had said it, but he only remained silent.
It was never like that for you, either, Bai Qian stated.
That is an assumption, he retorted.
Not an unfounded one. You were going to let me marry Yehua once, you were going to be completely fine with it. You had doubts but you werent exactly that anxious for me to explain anything. And didnt you also say that you respected the understanding we shared more than the kind of fervour that turns people senseless and makes them forget themselves? That's an advice that I passed down to Fengjiu --
I dont believe I said it like that, Moyuan sighed. But yes, it seems I have said more than necessary.
But you knew, didnt you? she went on. You knew how it was for me. I was not a heartstruck schoolgirl or one of those women who yearn after you and desperately want to accompany you because they somehow believe you have hidden pains waiting to be healed.
He let out an unexpected laugh. Was he amused? Bai Qian frowned. He certainly did not look displeased to her so she went on.
Yes. Anyone who thinks that you crave affection and wish to escape your duty as God of War clearly doesnt know you. And obviously -- my absence in your life lately hasnt killed you yet. Even now I have every reason to assume that -- that you had a shield so thick that even if I stabbed at you with all my strength, youd still recover.
So, a muscle feathered under his eye. You did.
Bai Qian willed some softness into her voice. There was some truth in what I said -- on Kunlun Mountain. But most of it -- was just to see how youd react, if you had really betrayed us. And didnt you tell me that --
That I admired how you frequently listen to your head? Yes, I did.
Bai Qian didnt say anything this time. She had explained what shed needed to, as truthfully as always. What he made of that truth now was out of her hands. She was -- nervous, nervous for the first time in her life that he would refuse her, would tell her that his patience had run out. She was much too afraid that she would lose what she had always taken for granted - Zheyan had taught her how painful that felt.
Whatever your belief about me was, Moyuans voice said above her, you did say that you wanted to stay at Kunlun. So if it wasnt me that caught your interest, then what were you after? My library?
She turned up at him, momentarily appalled and unsure whether that was a serious question. But he met her stare with a kind smile and Bai Qians heart leapt to a gallop. She forced her expression into neutrality so that he would not see how desperately glad she was. Whether her effort was paying off though, she wasnt so sure.
Well, yes, partly, she joked back. But its the idea of being able to make changes around Kunlun that appealed to me the most.
Hmm, he looked as though he was going to laugh, but then shook his head and went on gently.
You credit me with too much intelligence, Seventeenth. I know you, but I would have believed anything you told me even if you said that you were -- what was it -- madly in love.
Liar, Bai Qian scoffed, half smiling. Even she wouldnt believe that.
I am not lying, he said. I would have known you were not telling the truth, but that doesnt mean I would not hope for it to be true.
Bai Qian stayed quiet for a while. She too had heard more truths than she had hoped for tonight. And with those truths bare she could not stop asking herself - if what she had seen on Zhuxian Terrace happened again, would she still be able to do what she had done then? Cutting all ties with him and turning away? Or would she crumble in tears without any hope of ever getting back on her feet again?
It took Bai Qian a minute to realize that none of her thoughts were being voiced and that Moyuan was waiting for a response still.
Shifu, she said, her heart in her eyes. I dont want to leave you again.
And once again she found herself enveloped within the warmth of his arms. She might change her mind and want to leave as soon as tomorrow. He might too. War could be upon them any day - every moment they spent together was a luxury even in this realm. But he held her still as though, as he had said, he believed her every word.