She senses what happens miles out to sea. It’s an almost imperceptible tremor, but Beidou feels it more in her bones than anything else. She turns back to look towards Liyue, frowning for a moment at the unnaturally blue storm clouds gathered on the horizon.
“We need to go back, back to Liyue,” she snaps, her crew staring at her for a moment, frozen, “what are you waiting for? We’re turning back, now.”
They snap into action again quickly, there’s no joking in her tone of voice. Something thrums under her skin as they turn the Alcor around, it’s not fast enough, they won’t get there fast enough. For what she’s not sure yet, but she brushes off the worried looks of her crew as she throws herself back into work, just something. Ningguang. Her name echoes around Beidou’s head no matter how she tries to push it away.
They’re not fast enough. The waves are unnaturally wild, far rougher than they should be even after the storm has already dissipated and especially this close to the harbour. The worry that has pooled in her stomach boils over the moment one of her crew taps her on the shoulder and murmurs, “I think you need to see this, Captain.”
For just a moment the morning fog obscures their view of Liyue, but then the sunlight hits and the unmistakable peaks of the Jade Chamber are revealed, not floating above the city where they belong but slowly sinking below the sea. There’s a high-pitched ringing noise in Beidou’s ears, one that drowns out the sound of the waves, the flapping of the sails, the low horrified murmurs of her crew. Ningguang, the only thing she can think of is Ningguang.
It’s not possible, the Jade Chamber should never have failed. Something must have happened to Ningguang for this to have happened. The thoughts broil around Beidou’s mind as she stands at the bow of the ship, steady even as the ship bucks beneath her, wood groaning.
She leaps off before they can even dock properly, she trusts her crew can handle everything else, she needs to find out what happened right now. She grabs the nearest dockworker, demanding, “what happened? The Jade Chamber, how could it fail?”
“The ancient god, Osial. The Qixing and the Adepti fought him,” he chokes out, gaping at her and she almost drops him in shock. Clearly there’s been larger issues at play since she left Liyue only a few weeks ago, but she doesn’t have the time to investigate further right now.
“Where is Lady Ningguang?” she shouts at the stunned crowd.
No one replies and she pushes through them, the ringing in her ears only getting louder and louder. There’s a thrumming under her skin like electricity, threatening to crackle out of her body. She’ll tear this entire city apart if she has to, if only it could lead her to Ningguang she would do it without hesitation.
She runs towards one of Ningguang’s many houses in Liyue, it would take all day to check them all, but she knows this one is her favourite. It’s quiet, discrete, tucked away in centre of the city like a dagger buried into a heart.
It’s her favourite residence, apart from the Jade Chamber of course, and just thinking about it makes lightning crackle across Beidou’s skin. She accidentally knocks into a market stall, scattering precious rocks across the street, but she doesn’t have time to do more than apologise, barely even has time to think about anything other than Ningguang. Every time she blinks she sees the golden rooftop of the Jade Chamber slowly being lapped up by the sea, Ningguang, where is Ningguang, why does no one know where–
“Beidou, what do you think you’re doing?” and just like that her voice cuts through the haze.
Beidou skids to a halt, suddenly aware of how her heart is pounding. She spins around and there she is, standing in the middle of the street seemingly untouched, twirling her pipe idly around her fingers. There’s relief in her chest, of course Ningguang couldn’t fall – no, unlike even the mightiest of buildings there was nothing that could bring Ningguang crashing into the ocean.
But then Beidou looks, really looks and the anxious thrumming comes back full force. To anyone else Ningguang would look unbothered, slightly irritated even, but Beidou can see the way her fingers tremble. She looks at Beidou like she’s on the brink of collapse, a ship that has been battered by storms only barely making it back to the harbour.
“I was looking for you,” Beidou says quietly. She won’t make a scene, not here, not where they can be seen by the whole city. Ningguang has done such a good job at keeping herself strong for the sake of everyone else, Beidou knows enough not to ruin that for her even though everything inside her is screaming for her to run into Ningguang’s arms.
“Well, you’ve found me now,” she snips back, trying to look unamused, but there’s a small smile that slips out unbidden. She looks relieved.
“Where do you want to go?” Beidou asks, reaching out a hand, a trembling invitation, “I’ll take you anywhere you need.”
Ningguang just looks at her, wide eyed and confused for a moment before she presses her lips together and says so quietly Beidou nearly doesn’t catch it, “home.”
And for weeks afterwards the stories swirl around Liyue about how the Captain of the Crux, the unnamed Lord of the Ocean, Beidou herself, kidnapped the Tianquan in the middle of the day right off the street. She had scooped her up and ran all the way down to the harbour, leaping back onto the Alcor and sailing away before anyone else could say a word. Some of the rumours say that Lady Ningguang was laughing the whole way, but people dismiss those as crazy. Why would she want to be kidnapped by a pirate? After the collapse of the Jade Chamber at that?
“We got away,” Beidou says, peeking into her bedroom where she’s stashed Ningguang away from the curious eyes of her crew. She seems to have made herself at home, her gloves are off and her hair pin thrown onto the table, lounging back on Beidou’s bed. She’s wondered for years what Ningguang would have looked like here, in her bedroom, in her bed, but she wishes it didn’t have to be like this.
“Come here,” she reaches out a hand and Beidou takes it, pressing it against her cheek and settling herself onto her knees in-front of her, pressing her face into Ningguang’s lap.
“I was so worried,” she murmurs, “I saw the Jade Chamber and I – the only thing I could think of is if you were alright.”
Ningguang strokes a hand through her hair, taking out her hairpin and letting the rest of her hair cascade down. “I thought you were out at sea, that you’d take longer to come back so I could have everything sorted by the time I saw you again. I was trying to have the Millelith clean up the wreckage and I – maybe I could’ve had myself under control if you’d given me a few more days.”
“Good thing I came back when I did then,” Beidou smiles up at her, Ningguang looks away.
She stands back up, stretching out the cricks in her back with a quiet groan before she tilts Ningguang’s face back towards her, bending over so their faces are barely a few centimetres apart. She enjoys how Ningguang flushes under such a simple touch, she’s so pretty, so delicate. Like a glaze lily, she looks like she could wilt under a simple touch and yet through the millennia they remain, far longer than the castles and even the gods.
“Are you going to kiss me or not?” she demands, starting to get impatient and Beidou has never been able to deny her any request, particularly not one so sweet. They don’t speak again for a long time afterwards.
“It’s selfish but I wish you had come back earlier, the whole time during the battle I couldn’t stop thinking about you,” Ningguang says when they’re curled together, Beidou is moments away from sleep but she flickers her eyes open and squints up at her.
“You had all the adepti by your side, you really think I could’ve done anything?” she huffs out a laugh and Ningguang pinches her, right on the bruise she had bitten into Beidou’s shoulder.
“No, I meant – just that it would have been easier with you by my side, everything always is,” she murmurs too quickly and Beidou can see the flush on her cheeks even as she tries to bury her head in Beidou’s chest to hide it.
“Well, I’m here now,” she finally pries Ningguang’s head up so they can look each other in the eyes. She’s so pretty when she’s embarrassed it almost distracts Beidou from what she was going to say, but she manages to forge on, “and I’ll be here for as long you need me, in whatever capacity you want, we are partners after all.”
“Thank you,” Ningguang says quietly, smiles again. And she realises quietly that wherever Beidou would have taken her that would have been home, as long as they’re together she doesn’t really care.