A familiar icon made its untimely appearance on her screen, bouncing in place, tempting her with the choice of answer. Ningguang’s brow furrowed, already halfway through her work. Lifting her eyes to the notification, Ningguang’s heart skipped a beat at fully registering the person calling. Papers now discarded, she tapped open the program they shared for personal business.
Both greetings eagerly exchanged at the same time, lending a flush to Ningguang’s cheeks. Oh but who else could it be? Beidou, in all her grainy glory, grinned wide at her from her monitor. Her brown hair whipped in the wind – she must be on deck – Ningguang offhandedly noted. Her sun-toned muscles sported no injuries as far as Ningguang could see. The video quality was honestly horrendous, each movement taking a good few seconds to register, either freezing in complete stasis or snapping to something previously unseen. Ningguang had to wonder how she appeared to her captain now. Was she stuck in a freeze frame? Did Beidou see the dark circles under her eyes? Was Ningguang presentable after being half-buried in work? That wine-red eye glowed all the same.
“My guiding light, my star, my xingchen. How are you?”
“You flatter me, Captain,” Ningguang’s heart soared at every pet name she used, “It has only been two weeks since your last call.”
“Long enough!” Beidou pouted.
With Beidou’s line of work, there was no guarantee of seeing each other regularly. Their communications were at mercy of the sea and whatever work Beidou undertook at the moment. Many a time, Beidou left on a trip, only to appear on her doorstep months later. Those occurrences were fewer now, with Ningguang setting up a specialised line of correspondence between them. Wealth well spent, in Ningguang’s private opinion.
Ningguang’s heart fluttered.
“I will concur, my captain.”
It always, always was too long. Few were their reunions, mores the time they spent apart. Ningguang’s home was crushingly empty, despite Beidou’s gifts filling every available space, their last game of chess set up, Ningguang one-sidedly continuing their game – her being perfectly fine with it years before. To have Beidou admit to missing her. Well. Ningguang teared up, just a bit.
For the first time, Ningguang was thankful for the poor connection. Ningguang busied herself with fruitlessly rearranging her papers, hoping Beidou didn’t notice the sudden wet glint in her eyes. Beidou would worry. She always did. Ningguang reclined further in her chair, in a half-hearted attempt to shy away from that piercing red eye.
Beidou squinted at her, “Ning, you busy over there?”
Ningguang shook her head.
“Don’t worry, my captain. Let’s continue.”
And Beidou talked, of her newest job, of her progress, of the ocean she loved so. Not in the way she loved Ningguang. Just like Ningguang had the tendency to stay rooted, Beidou had the urge to roam. Beidou even turned her screen to the calm sea, her loud boisterous voice above the waves somehow a soothing lull. Ningguang held her tongue, from begging Beidou to turn the screen back to herself, so Ningguang could drink in the view once more.
A knock came at her door.
Baiwen popped her head in, “Lady Ningguang, a Sumeruan researcher is asking for your audience.”
Beidou paused, her voice quiet now, “Ning, you busy?”
Ningguang shook her head again, shooting Baiwen a look. Her secretary scurried off, presumably to push the meeting to a later date. For the second she faced away, Beidou came onscreen once more. Ningguang’s breath caught in her throat.
“No, my captain. Feel free to continue.”
Beidou’s disapproval, her quiet worry fuelled a sudden desperation within Ningguang.
“Beidou please,” Don’t question it, stay with me just a little longer, I need you –
Beidou’s eye softened, “Alright princess, I won’t hang up on you. Don’t worry now.”
Just like that, Ningguang teared up again. Ningguang scoffed at herself, overcome with the urge to hide away from her monitor again. She just got Beidou back, why should she hide? Ningguang forced her gaze back to meet Beidou’s. Her lone red eye glittered. By some good grace, Beidou didn’t mention how Ningguang was on the verge of crying.
“Say, tell me how you’ve been doing?”
And so Ningguang talked, swallowing the wobble in her voice, of merchants that slipped through her system of laws, of her own dealings, of some – never all – of her worries for Liyue. Beidou grinned, nodding along, with such warmth in her eye. Ningguang craved it, nestled it to her chest, next to her beating heart. Ningguang was wanted. If there was one thing the Tianquan were to unethically monopolize, that would be Beidou’s unending affection. Too bad Ningguang, for all her business-oriented mind, didn’t know where to begin.
Ningguang felt herself burning up, a welcome heat eating at her insides, the longer she spoke with Beidou. Some time ago, her lips curled up in a smile and stayed that way. Ningguang couldn’t fight it back.
“Ning, I gotta go. Connection’s getting so bad I can’t even see your pretty face.”
Ningguang snorted. That captain. But her stomach did sink as she realized their time was up again. She stole a glance at the tiny display in the corner. Only an hour and a half.
“Oh and Ning, I’m coming home in a couple days, ok? Don’t miss me too much!”
Ningguang scoffed, “I will not, my captain.”
She really, really would.
Trust Beidou to distract Ningguang, even if she wasn’t present. Her infuriating captain just had to mention her return, without a concrete time or date. She had to rely on her informants at the docks. Ningguang was even tempted to wait there for Beidou herself but dismissed the notion when she knew how much work she had. Did Beidou know how Ningguang hoped, with every knock at her door, that her captain had returned?
Ningguang rubbed her temples, eyeing the clock hanging on the wall. It was six. Most of her workers were probably home. Another day Beidou had not yet returned. Her heart sunk a little.
Baishi reminded her, “My lady, you should rest. Your car is parked and ready at the entrance.”
“Thank you Baishi. I will be going then.”
Ningguang offered her a polite smile as she packed her things. Perhaps tomorrow then, Ningguang comforted herself. Beidou never broke a promise to her, a written contract or otherwise. Soon she would be able to see her dear captain again.
It was with those thoughts that Ningguang stepped into open air.
Ningguang whipped her head in the direction of the call, mouth dropping open in surprise. Beidou waved cheerily at her, her well-defined silhouette unmistakable even in the faint light of a streetlamp.
Ningguang didn’t even know how she made her way to Beidou. The next thing she registered were strong arms crushing her sides in a hug, the salty sea breeze that clung to Beidou even with months on land, the wild salt-crusted mop of dark hair that surely needed a wash tickling her cheeks.
“My captain,” Ningguang breathed into the nape of her neck, nuzzling into the woman she so, so loved.
A chuckle rumbled in Beidou’s chest, her throat. Ningguang savoured the tiny vibrations she felt with their bodies pressed against each other.
“I’m home, my star.”
The dark panel separating her chauffeur and the passenger end of the vehicle was drawn tight. Ningguang rested her head on Beidou’s shoulder, latching onto her arm, indulging in Beidou’s warmth. Rough, calloused fingers ran through her silky, silver strands. Ningguang almost purred. Ningguang said nothing, quietly cuddling with her. Although Beidou protested that she was able to drive Ningguang home herself, Ningguang had been insistent on her coming as a passenger. This was probably what that woman wanted. Beidou shook her head with an affectionate sigh. Ningguang really could just be honest with her, hm? Beidou sunk into the plush cushioning, with the most delicate thing she ever held in her arms.
“My xingchen,” Beidou’s voice was a low rumble as she cooed.
Ningguang shivered, even as she near drifted off to sleep.
“Rest easy, my star.”
Words she thought but never quite said. How strange was it, for the Uncrowned Dragon Lord of the Ocean to admit her love for something else, so other? Falling for her Eclipsing Star, with such vibrant glory even the moon paled and shied away in comparison. How pathetic she must seem.
Beidou’s red eye was cracked open a sliver, down at a sleeping, peaceful Ningguang. It was only then they stopped arguing. The city nightlife splayed its multitude of colours over her, Ningguang’s ashy white hair taking on a gorgeous sheen. Beidou gently, gently pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, careful not to wake her.
A tiny frown creased Ningguang’s brow, both ridiculously cute and worrying to her. Beidou sang a sea shanty under her breath, yet didn’t move, knowing how sensitive and fleeting sleep was for Ningguang. That was…one of the reasons Beidou didn’t spirit Ningguang away on a cruise. If a rough roll of the waves could wake Beidou, what about Ningguang then? Ningguang gripped Beidou’s arm a bit tighter, relaxing.
The chauffeur really was worth his pay, smoothly pulling up at Ningguang’s mansion. Beidou thanked him as he opened the door, gathering Ningguang in her arms. Ningguang didn’t fidget. What a pirate she was, pillaging the most revered person in all of Liyue.
Beidou no longer fumbled for the keys to Ningguang’s home, no longer struggled to find her bedroom, no longer felt that anxiety tucking her in. She called Wanmin restaurant, ordering takeout from none other than Xiangling herself. The younger girl practically shrieked in her ear when Beidou was put forward to her, promising her that at least half the order was on the house, that giving her feedback would be enough.
When that was done, Beidou showered, now familiar with the array of bottles Ningguang used. She emerged, with the sight of a bleary-eyed Ningguang robed in blankets staring at her.
Ningguang yawned, “I thought you left.”
That sounded forlorn, vulnerable with the lull of sleep.
“Of course not Ning.”
Beidou led her back to bed, herself getting in this time. Ningguang’s silken covers were cool to the touch; residual warmth coming from the blanket they now shared. Ningguang burrowed into her with a happy sigh.
“I got takeout, with that flavourless limp cabbage you like so much. You have to eat, you know? Your stomach…”
Ningguang huffed, “I can take care of myself, captain.”
Ningguang was terrible at that. When Ningguang was younger, she was no stranger to skipping a meal or two if she hadn’t made enough mora. That issue persisted until adulthood, festering into a sensitive stomach and picky appetites. Often, Ningguang had to be reminded to eat. That was actually half the reason why Baishi was employed. Beidou really had to ask Baishi if Ningguang had been taking good care of herself at all.
With a ring at the door, Beidou gathered her wallet anyway. Ningguang shuffled out after her, disappearing into the kitchen to set out bowls and chopsticks. Beidou left a generous tip, hurrying to Ningguang’s side again with the food.
Ningguang couldn’t help a small, genuine smile at Beidou’s enthusiasm, conjuring up the image of a big, friendly dog.
“My captain, are you this eager to dine with me?”
“No, I just miss the food,” Beidou rolled her eyes, gently nudging Ningguang’s shoulder.
Ningguang laughed, a soft, light sound that had Beidou more drunk than any booze could.
Ningguang swirled her spoon in her expensive broth with limp cabbage while Beidou scarfed down her Jueyun Chili packed Stir-fried Fillet. With these simple pleasures in life, and a brand-new foreign bottle of wine opened, Beidou was honestly satisfied.
Ningguang’s eyes twinkled in amusement, “Would you like some Qiankun Mora Meat to go with that, my captain?”
“I’m not troubling your pretty little hands tonight, princess,” Beidou said, “First night back, we both get to rest.”
“I would like that.”
“Would you like a taste, Ning?” Beidou asked, raising her flask, knowing full well Ningguang never denied her anything.
Ningguang took the flask from her, a long-practiced ritual for the both of them. Ningguang wrinkled her nose at the acrid taste but took a sip, promptly gagging in exaggeration. Beidou laughed at the frankly cute expression.
Ningguang’s pomegranate red eyes were alight with playful distain.
“I really do not understand you, Beidou.”
“Aw, better luck next time then Ning.”
Then Beidou presented Ningguang with her actual gift – the sweet treats she brought back this time. Ningguang’s eyes lit up, picking a small morsel and letting it settle on her tongue. Ningguang hummed in delight.
“I suppose you do have some taste, my captain.”
Beidou omitted the fact that she nearly visited and tasted every patisserie in Fontaine for something new.
“This lil ol’ captain did manage to land Liyue’s Tianquan.”
Ningguang smiled, “That she did. The Captain of the Crux Fleet must have an eye for treasure.”
“Definitely,” Beidou agreed, nuzzling into Ningguang’s neck, “So, my treasure, let the big bad pirate have you all to herself.”
Despite Beidou being on break, she woke earlier than Ningguang the next morning. Beidou felt a slight twinge of guilt for exhausting Ningguang, when the woman still had work. Beidou stole a glance at Ningguang’s bedside clock. She had roughly thirty more minutes.
Beidou drew slow circles around Ningguang’s back, her fingers drifting where the morning light passed, down her sides, arms winding around her stomach. Ningguang let out a languid sigh, her hands caressing Beidou’s muscles.
“Did I wake you, Ning?”
Ningguang’s voice was soft, more a whine than anything, the type of fuzzy feeling Beidou got as a kid when she squished her teddy bear. Beidou drew Ningguang closer to herself. She trailed a kiss on the crown of her head.
A slow kiss.
Her lips touched her silken hair, grazing the shell of her ear.
“I love you.”