Beidou wasn’t dumb, she was oblivious—two very different things.
Dumb, lacking in intelligence or sense. Stupid. Brainless. Mindless.
Oblivious, unaware or wholly unconcerned by what is happening in one’s general vicinity. Head in the clouds, not paying attention to what’s so plain to see and right in front of your eyes.
And in her dealings with Ningguang, Beidou wasn’t dumb.
Beidou held the Tianquan at arm’s length, knowing full well that Ningguang played her cards only in a manner that suited her and no one else. Beidou was her business partner and nothing else. Intel was shared; the prosperity of Liyue was the only thing that mattered. Ningguang had conveyed that explicitly every time she had summoned Beidou to the Jade Chamber.
…However, Beidou was oblivious when it came to Ningguang.
Very oblivious indeed.
There is a part of Beidou that few people will ever know.
One who shies away from compliments or flirtatious advances of any kind. Strange, for her admirers reach far and wide, competing for her attention as much as those who seek Ningguang’s insight in regards to business matters.
The people of Liyue love her as much as their beloved Tianquan, yet Beidou can only see herself as a person of the people and for the people. There was no way she could get involved with someone romantically when her chosen path in life was constantly throwing her into enough peril that she barely fathomed seeing the light of day. How could someone choose her? Why would they choose her?
Perhaps it was the thrill of a life at sea that allured them? Or was it the mystery of Beidou herself? So forthright and yet, a cunning smile belied more than she let on. Every woman had her secrets after all. Secrets… women with secrets.
And here she was, oblivious to the one secret that was so glaringly obvious—about the Tianquan and what she felt about that pirate captain—to everyone in Liyue, but her.
The Traveler leaves Beidou flustered as they stand with a sly smile on their face and the Kamera in hand—How about something a little flirtatious? Flirtatious? Flirtatious? Just what did this kid think they were doing?
The tiny machine goes off with a flash before Beidou can stop them, spitting out her shame to be forever immortalized on film. She lunges for the picture, seeking to grab it and file it away into some place that no one will ever find it. Yet, it eludes Beidou and the Traveler, flying higher into the sky and being whisked away by the tempest of the winds that blow toward Liyue.
Beidou’s hidden shame blows higher and higher, up into the heavens, up to a little star with a singular wish that burns brighter than most.
Ningguang sits alone, basking in the dusk that falls over Yujing Terrace. She tilts her parasol back as she looks up to the sky, her eyes narrowing slightly in confusion as something tumbles softly into her lap.
Where did this come from? And why does she look so angry?
She discreetly tucks it into the sleeve of her dress and rises to her feet to return to the Jade Chamber.
Please come by when you are free for a game of chess, Beidou.
They’re sitting in Ningguang’s office again playing the same old games that they always do.
Beidou rubs at her chin and leans over, her eyes scrutinizing the board and looking to see where her next move lies. Ningguang needs her help in testing out some new rules or something that she’s created for the next edition of Liyue Millennial and Beidou finds herself with some free time on her hands.
She’s not really looking at Ningguang; she’s more focused on the battle occurring on the polished wooden table in front of her. But, if she had looked at Ningguang, maybe she would have noticed a few things.
Like how Ningguang was using the tea set that Beidou had brought her. Or the way in which Ningguang kept biting her bottom lip and running her tongue over her teeth as she stared at Beidou with an unwavering gaze. The quickening of her breath, the way in which in didn’t appear as though she was blinking at all. A woman possessed.
Ningguang reaches for her pipe after setting her cup of tea down on the table and clears her throat. She would sit here staring at Beidou all day if she could… but that would arise suspicion of some kind, wouldn’t it?
No, not at all. She’s oblivious, Ningguang. Completely and utterly, oblivious.
A week later, Beidou arrives at the Jade Chamber, unannounced in the dead of night.
The woman that never sleeps scrawls her name across her desk.
Ningguang is caught off guard as Beidou calls to her. She slaps a hand into a bottle of ink on her desk in surprise. Black spirals across the rolls of parchment laid out before her and Ningguang’s face burns bright red in embarrassment, the possibility of getting caught.
The picture remains obscured—Beidou smiling as Ningguang kisses her on the cheek—yet she yells at Beidou to get out.
On mornings when the sky resembles the same hue of Ningguang’s eyes—or perhaps Beidou’s, more reminiscent of the rising colors of dawn—and the Crux prepares for the beginning of another voyage, Beidou swears she can see Ningguang standing on the edge of the Jade Chamber to watch her leave.
Or maybe, when reason stands to make her mind right again, she realizes she isn’t.
Beidou amuses herself and reaches into the sky as Ningguang brings snow to the harbor once more. She catches a singular piece of paper between her fingers and twists it to observe what’s written on the parchment.
The first character of her name—北.
The other—斗—floats by, landing in the waters flowing back out into the ocean.
Beidou starts to feel as if someone’s following her … or watching her in some way.
A girl down by the harbor is chatting her up, flirting in a way that Beidou understands and downplays. She can’t get involved—you understand that don’t you?
She turns her attention away as the conversation lapses into a momentary lull and Beidou catches sight of a familiar figure across the harbor. A mere nod of acknowledgment, Beidou doesn’t need the unnecessary attention that people give to her relationship with the Tianquan.
Those red eyes narrow in jealousy, glaring daggers from afar. The girl stammers out that she has something to do and she immediately leaves as quickly as she came.
Beidou is perplexed.
Beidou comes back to the Alcor after a day of running errands out in Liyue and Juza shoves a bottle of fine spirits her way. A gift, he tells her. A gift from whom?
He hands her a note in response. She catches a light floral fragrance on the paper as she unfolds it and proceeds to see just what in the world this is all about.
Now that the world has settled once more, I was wondering if you would you care to join me on a vacation someday?
Beidou realizes that her idea of a vacation is not quite what Ningguang signed up for.
The Tianquan doesn’t want to run about in the forest and bask in the sun all day. She hides herself underneath a parasol and dabs lightly at the sweat that gathers at her temples with a silken handkerchief. She doesn’t complain as Beidou drags her through the countryside, but Beidou can read those eyes better than most and she knows that Ningguang isn’t quite pleased with their little adventure.
They return to town and decide to take a breather. Ningguang suggests a tavern and Beidou is alit with unbridled fervor. What she misses is the satisfied smile that comes to Ningguang’s face in return.
However, as with Liyue, Beidou changes whenever the two of them are out in public. Ningguang doesn’t understand why this always seems to happen. Was Beidou ashamed of their relationship? Or was she harboring similar feelings as well and she was unsure of what they meant?
She catches the anger in Ningguang’s eyes and the subtle pout of her lips—Shit.
Beidou looks into those eyes again and she finally understands.
At night, as the moon shines and all is quiet again, Beidou takes Ningguang on another walk within these strange and foreign lands.
She tells herself to be easy, be gentler than she usually is. The change in their relationship had been so subtle that she had failed to realize it at all up until this point.
Ningguang’s lingering looks, the care that she had taken in considering Beidou’s feelings. The realization makes her feel as if she’s buzzing, like tiny little honeybees are flying around in her heart and coating it with the sweetest nectar they can find. She reaches for Ningguang’s hand and squeezes gently as she pulls them forward.
At the peak, she offers Ningguang a flower. Her smile brightens as Ningguang accepts the small gift and runs her fingers over the petals in idle contemplation.
One tiny gesture, a symbol of something more to come.
…She wore the flower in her hair the next day.
As they sail back to Liyue at night, she passes by Ningguang’s quarters in the midst of her nightcap.
She hears …giggling. Undignified, unrestrained giggling coming from Ningguang of all people. Beidou lingers outside the door for a minute, knowing exactly what the source of that happiness might be.
Beidou closes her eyes, smirking and laughing gently to herself, as she continues on her way.