She comes tumbling into Ningguang’s life in more ways than one, and the very first time she ruins the only qipao to Ningguang’s name.
It’s dirty, rough and used, but it was whole. The qipao was practically everything Ningguang had and she always handled it with as much care as she could.
Now, a tear traverses the front of the dress, around the knee area, and Ningguang can only gape at it—not even caring that her wares have been scattered on the sands of Yaoguang shoal. It certainly did not help that she was mostly growing out of the dress, and that she hadn’t had time nor the funds to buy a new one.
“Aww, shucks,” the offender says, and Ningguang looks up to see a smaller girl with dark, wild hair, around the same age as she. Her knees are bruised, very much like Ningguang’s, and they meet the floor to help Ningguang pick up the shells that sink back into the sand. “Real sorry about that, I should have watched where I was going.”
Ningguang brushes herself off, but inspects the tear as the girl places the box of shells by her feet. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not! You tore your dress,” the girl fumbles for something in her backpack, brandishing a set of needles and thread. “Stay still.”
Ningguang can only nod, watching as the girl worked, her small, dirty hands steady as they sew the tear on her dress better than Ningguang ever can. “A sailor always comes prepared,” the girl tells her, a grin on her face. She’s missing a tooth, where her canine should be, and her eyes are a striking red, not so different from Ningguang’s own. “There.”
“Thank you,” is all Ningguang can say, inspecting the work on her dress. A little imperfect, but Ningguang doesn’t mind. It holds the dress together. “What’s your name? So I can thank you properly.”
“It’s Beidou,” the girl smiles again. She never seems to run out of smiles. When they stand, Ningguang notices she’s a couple of inches shorter.
“The constellation,” Ningguang murmurs, and the brilliance of Beidou’s grin wavers at the mention of it makes Ningguang feel as if she’d said something wrong. She wonders what could have happened for the girl to react the way she did, wants to ask, but decides against it. “It’s a beautiful name.”
“Yeah, you think so?” Beidou looks away, scratching the back of her hand. Ningguang nods, then picks up the box the other girl set at her feet. “What’s yours?”
Ningguang laughs, as much as she can without disturbing the hunger rattling her stomach and making her bones weak. “Thank you.”
From behind Beidou, a few grown-ups call her attention, wearing practically the same uniform as she. “Your family?”
Beidou looks back at them, waving, then turns to Ningguang, her eyes shining. “Something like that,” she says, her voice fond. “Hey, why don’t you join us for dinner while we’re docked? The Crux would be happy to meet a friend I made.”
Ningguang can’t resist the offer; she can’t remember the last time she ate something nice, can’t remember the last time she shared a meal with someone. “Do you always ask strange girls to eat with you?”
Beidou laughs, already leading the way for Ningguang to follow. Their bare feet make dents on the sand of Yaoguang shoal. “Just the ones I want to keep around.”
She is welcomed like an esteemed guest for the first time that night, and it’s easy to forget she was a nobody that roamed the shores of Liyue collecting shells to sell.
Beidou introduces her like they’ve been friends for years, and the crew shares their food with her; an older woman gifts her three dresses when Beidou shares what had happened.
Ningguang leaves the Alcor—the name of the ship, she finds out—with a full stomach, a bag of mora for the shells crew members bought from her, three sets of qipao, and one friend in the form of Beidou.
“I thought you would be a bit more articulate in telling me how I look,” quips Ningguang, though she flushes in satisfaction at the way Beidou gapes at her from her seat in front of Ningguang’s tenement, eyes following Ningguang’s form as she descends the staircase to stand in front of Beidou.
Beidou rises to her feet and Ningguang is reminded of Beidou’s growth spurt, giving her an unfair advantage of a couple of inches. It didn’t help that Beidou is broader than ever, her work at the Alcor honing the strong muscles of her shoulders, back, and arms.
Embracing her entire body gets harder every time Beidou comes back from an expedition, but the warmth of it never changes. Ningguang buries her face in Beidou’s loose cotton shirt tucked into trousers, smelling of sweat, the sun, and the perfume Ningguang gifted her on her eighteenth birthday two years ago.
“You know that already,” Beidou says, rubbing Ningguang’s exposed back, and Ningguang suppresses a shiver at the warm and rough touch that blazes over her skin. She pulls away to tap Ningguang’s chin, a boyish grin on her face. “You’re the most beautiful girl in all the rooms you enter, birthday girl.”
Beidou looks away, her crimson gaze finding the cor lapis gems that dangle from Ningguang’s ears, held together by silver. “It matches your dress,” she comments idly, touching the jewelry and pulling even further away to give Ningguang’s new dress a one-over. She nods in satisfaction, and Ningguang can’t help but flush under her careful and adoring attention. “This the one you bought a couple of weeks ago?”
Ningguang nods, giving Beidou a small spin, raising their joined hands above her head. It’s a relatively simple one, black and red with intricate sewn patterns. Pretty enough and bought on a bargain. Ningguang spent half her salary on it, unwilling to let Beidou buy it for her.
“Your first event,” Beidou says, awestruck. Ningguang wishes she could have Beidou on her arm—it would be easier to deal with unmoving and unpleasant personalities at the commerce guild. They would pick at the food and giggle like children they no longer were, about uptight businessmen.
But she knows Beidou wouldn’t ever allow it. The commerce guild too, but Ningguang cared less about them.
Sometimes she dreams of attending these events, of having made a name for herself and wearing a gorgeous dress, and Beidou would be with her, wearing a fine suit fit for a dashing sailor.
“You’ll do great. That’s your world waiting for you.” Beidou says, fiddling with the earring and pulling away; Ningguang misses her already. Under the dim light of the front steps’ lamp, she looks so handsome, scars marking her cheek and her eyebrow.
The little affirmation of Ningguang’s hopes and dreams never fails to make her heart squeeze in her chest, warmth blooming in its wake.
Ningguang reaches over to Beidou’s arm, a silent wish for Beidou to accompany her to the terrace, and Beidou—without fail—hears it, bows with a laugh, and walks with her as she always does.
At the arch entering the terrace, they linger, taking their time. Beidou doesn’t step foot beyond it unless she absolutely needs to, and Ningguang doesn’t force her to.
“Just wanted to see you, in case we couldn’t catch up while I’m here,” Beidou says, shoving her hands in the back pockets of her trousers. Ningguang wishes she held them instead.
Her heart drops at the admission. “What? Leaving already? You’ve been here for three days.”
Beidou looks apologetic, her lips downturned. “Yeah. The captain has another expedition and he’ll need us out in the seas tomorrow soonest.”
Ningguang doesn’t pout, she’s too old for that, but she does look at the ground, trying not to mope in front of Beidou of all people. She wouldn’t let her live it down.
“Don’t look so sad,” Beidou says, chuckling. She tucks a finger under Ningguang’s chin so they’d meet eyes. “I’ll be back before you know it, and if this thing ends early, come meet me out on the pier.”
“Fine,” Ningguang concedes, looking away from Beidou’s adoring eyes. It’s been getting harder to look at them without feeling like her insides are about to give out, made worse by the fact that she misses Beidou already.
Beidou, who is right in front of her.
“That’s the spirit,” she nudges Ningguang towards the terrace, leading to the event held by the guild, one that Ningguang was invited to upon her eighteenth birthday—which happened to be today. “Now go and tell them who’s gonna be boss someday.”
Ningguang pushes at Beidou’s shoulder, laughing, before walking away.
Beidou, as always, watches from the arched entrance. Ningguang feels her gaze heavy on her back, and wonders if this is what it feels like whenever Beidou leaves, leaving Ninggguang and the rest of Liyue behind in search of new adventures.
Beidou always comes back, though.
So Ningguang does, as well.
After the important people exit the party, Ningguang does too—unnoticed by everyone else. Exhausted, she massages her calves before heading to the docks.
Somehow being called beautiful by everyone else didn’t matter, didn’t affect her the way it does when Beidou says it. She tries not to dwell on the reason why.
Beidou, as she promised, is sitting on the pier, legs dangling above the calm tides of Liyue’s seas. Her short hair blows in the wind, and Ningguang admires the sight of Beidou against the horizon where the moon is mirrored by the water.
The floorboards creak under her heels, but Beidou is still surprised to see her, as if she doesn’t know that Ningguang wants to be with her too.
“Hey, you made it,” Beidou says, then her grin turns lopsided. “Aww. Birthday girl’s gonna miss me.”
“And if I did?” Ningguang counters, setting her purse on a barrel. She adjusts her dress to kneel, and to sit the same way Beidou does. Beidou holds her hand to steady her the entire time.
“Then I’ll miss you too. I brought your favorite just in case you came, and it’s still warm,” Beidou places a bag between them. She can see the soup and the grilled fish from Wanmin’s peeking out of it. “Ah, and before I forget.”
Beidou turns away to search for something, then turns back brandishing what Ningguang thinks is a golden, silk dress.
“Happy birthday,” Beidou says gently, her voice soothing as the waves crashing against each other under their feet. “Thought you might like another thing for your fancy events. I know they’ll be inviting you to more.”
“Beidou…” Ningguang says, solemnly taking the gift from Beidou, who nudges it into her hands. “You didn’t have to.”
“But I wanted to,” she smiles, the same one that makes Ningguang weak in the knees. Ningguang is glad she’s sitting down.
She sets aside the food to scoot closer to Beidou, leaning her head against her shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Happy birthday, Ning.” Beidou’s gloved one finds her own, squeezing gently. “Just let me know if there’s anything else you want, yeah?”
“Come back soon,” is all Ningguang says, is all Ningguang wants. She can’t ever ask Beidou to stay, but she can ask her to make the time between her visits shorter.
Beidou laughs, but she presses snugly against Ningguang. Despite the years changing the shapes of their bodies, they fit perfectly against each other.
“Anything you want.”
“Captain,” Ningguang tastes the word on her tongue, and then tries again. “Captain Beidou.”
Beidou rests against the rails of the small balcony outside of her quarters. The rest of the crew had gallivanted off to the local pubs of Liyue, and Ningguang had wanted to see the ship before joining the rest of them.
She’s handsome, even more so today, dressed in a proper captain’s outfit: a red button down coat, a belt with a dragon emblem, and the Crux’s insignia on her hat. The cape across her shoulders makes Beidou look like something straight out of Ningguang’s dreams.
So Ningguang decided to complement her colors, wearing the dress Beidou gave her on her eighteenth birthday. It still fits, surprisingly, with a little help from her secretaries. Beidou almost trips over herself seeing her for the first time that night, and Ningguang will never tire of the way Beidou says she’s beautiful.
Even after years, it only ever mattered when Beidou said it.
“I like the way it sounds when you say it,” she says, her voice a little slurred from the alcohol. Beidou knew how to control her liquor, though everyone had shoved bottles in her direction celebrating her long-awaited promotion as the Crux’s captain.
“I’ll keep saying it, then, captain ,” Ningguang moves closer, her body pressing into Beidou’s side. Her hands find purchase on Beidou’s shoulders, gripping them slightly. “The people who said you were a curse… they’ll regret everything. Look at you.”
Beidou gives her a small, wistful smile at any mention of her past, but then it’s gone as fast as it appeared, as she reaches over to place a gloved hand on Ningguang’s cheek.
“I like to think my luck improved considerably after some time.”
“You put in a lot of hard work too, don’t forget that.”
Beidou swipes her thumb across Ningguang’s cheek delicately, as if she were the greatest treasure in all of Teyvat. “I wasn’t talking about that.”
They stay there, almost unmoving, save for the rising and falling of Ningguang’s chest—which moved to each swipe of Beidou’s thumb.
It will be Beidou, even after thousands of expeditions led by her, even after Ningguang becomes the wealthiest and most powerful woman in Liyue the way they always talked about in their childhood, even after the construction of a thousand Jade Chambers.
“Ningguang,” Beidou says, her voice low. Something in her eyes makes something ache inside Ningguang. “I—”
A knock on the door breaks the spell, the air rushing back into Ningguang’s lungs as if she’d been underwater when they both pull away at the same time.
Juza’s head peeks from the door, looking confused and apologetic already. “Captain, the crew’s looking for you.”
“I’ll be there in a minute,” Beidou calls out, and with a click of Beidou’s door, they’re alone again. “Duty calls.”
“They’re just going to funnel more alcohol into your system.”
“Like I said, duty calls,” she grins, and it’s a pretty sight, seeing the great Captain Beidou blush. She holds out her hand for Ningguang to take, and they step onto the deck to find everyone back on the ship.
They don’t talk about that moment again, but Ningguang dreams about it that night, and the night after that, and several times more.
“Tianquan,” A voice calls from behind her, and Ningguang doesn’t have to look away from the view below her to know who dares intrude her rare times of solitude on the Jade Chamber.
“Captain,” she says, and only Beidou would be able to tell her neutrality from excitement. “How did you get in here?”
( Always let Beidou in , she tells her new set of secretaries and the Millelith guarding the chamber. She has access whenever she pleases. )
She doesn’t need to see Beidou to know she shrugs. “Because I’m handsome and charming.”
Ningguang laughs, turns, welcomes a sun-warm Beidou into her arms. She still smells like the perfume Ningguang bought for her more than a decade ago.
It’s still taking some getting used to, seeing Beidou’s eyepatch. It doesn’t make her any less dashing. “I missed you.”
Beidou tangles her fingers in Ningguang’s hair, and it’s enough to lessen the weight on her shoulders. “I missed you too,” she pulls away to hold Ningguang at an arm’s length, as she always does whenever she comes back. “This qipao…”
It’s new. Something Beidou hasn’t seen before. Gold and black and white, with ruffles and a high collar. Ningguang had it made before her ascension as Tianquan, and hasn’t had the chance to show her since Beidou was out at sea.
“What do you think?”
Beidou presses a kiss to her forehead. It feels so different from their touches but just as reverent, just as solemn, on the verge of something Ningguang has wanted for as long as she could remember.
“The most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen, and the most powerful woman in Liyue,” Beidou tells her, and Ningguang is tired of this, tired of this chase. She tilts her chin up to kiss Beidou for the first time, and the press of their lips taste like all their dreams coming true together, that their paths have led to this—still to each other.
The dress does as it was intended, it seems, and while Ningguang felt beautiful in it, all she wanted was for it to come off after the festivities.
It’s blue, flower-like; Ningguang wears it to the inauguration of the new Jade Chamber, and Beidou is there through it all.
Beidou had watched her the entire night with a fire in her eyes that burned bright like an uncreated flame. The entire night she feels Beidou’s gaze, and Ningguang basks in the attention as a cat does under a ray of sunlight.
In their bedchambers, they are pressed so close together except for their clothes separating the skin Ningguang wants to feel, to taste.
“Everyone was looking at you,” Beidou murmurs, her hand low on Ningguang’s back, playing with one of the beads of the chain that traverses the line of her spine. Possessive, and the thought that Beidou wants her the way she does makes Ningguang want to push her against the bed.
“What matters is that you’re the one looking at me,” Ningguang whispers, leaning her head back against Beidou’s shoulder. She feels the captain flushes a bright red. “I did have this dress made, just for you.”
Beidou groans into Ningguang’s neck from behind her, taking off the dress with an agonizing pace that Ningguang feels insane the more time it takes to peel it off. “Beidou.”
The captain doesn’t need to be told twice. “Yes, ma’am,” she murmurs into Ningguang’s shoulder, and the material pools at her ankles. Not much talking happens after that.
That night, Ningguang shows Beidou the ceremonial dress she’ll be wearing to their wedding, and Beidou kisses her in a way that promises forever.