Actions

Work Header

Drawn to you

Work Text:

I.

Beidou wishes she could join Xiangling and Yun Jin in their birthday surprise for her dear friend Xinyan, but she’s received a letter that she just can’t refuse. It’s tucked neatly into her pocket — a lovely fine parchment covered with an elegant scrawl of her name and stamped with the Lady Tianquan’s wax seal. 

Dearest Captain,

Come to the Jade Chamber at your earliest convenience. We have business to discuss. 

— Ningguang

In Ningguang's dictionary, "at your earliest convenience" really means "as soon as you read this". So Beidou wraps up the rest of her business (slowly), drops off her gifts for Xinyan with Xiangling (casually), and drags her feet up Feiyun Slope. She can't make it seem like she's too excited, right? Ningguang has a reputation Beidou needs to protect. Even if the woman in question doesn't seem to give a flying Mora about it.

"Lady Ningguang will see you now." Baiwen — or is it Baixiao? Beidou can never tell — bows. 

The captain grins, needing no further incentive to burst into the Tianquan's resplendent office. It looks the same as ever: calligraphy scrolls neatly stacked in a corner; that famous wall of intelligence chock-full of ugly scribbles; that grand jade mural behind her chair, meant to intimidate the poor businessmen who are (un)fortunate enough to meet her here, in the Jade Chamber. "Your humble servant has received your request, Tianquan Ningguang," Beidou sings, completing the act with a dramatic bow.

The white-haired woman seated at her office desk, papers still in hand, raises a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow. "Do you enjoy being this dramatic at noon, Captain?"

"Do you not enjoy my reverence, my dear Tianquan?"

The slight flush on the lovely lady's cheeks doesn't escape Beidou's attention. She loves it, alright.

Ningguang clears her throat. “I must say, it’s rather irreverent of you to be late, hmm?”

“Ah. Umm, yeah.” Beidou scratches her head awkwardly. “Had some loose ends to tie up on the way here.” She approaches the grand desk, pressing her hands onto the fine lacquered wood and leaning forward until Ningguang is forced to tear her eyes away from the document she's still reading. “So. Business, you said?”

The Tianquan elegantly sets down her documents, smiling innocently at the captain. “Would you like to play a game of chess?”

Beidou’s brain short-circuits. “Huh?”

“It has been a while since we’ve sat down for a game.”

“That’s your idea of business?”

The Tianquan hums. There’s a knowing look in her gaze that Beidou doesn’t like. “Do you have someplace to be?”

Well, it's Xinyan’s birthday— ”Nah.” Beidou flops onto a chair, drumming her fingers on the guest table as Ningguang rises from her seat, gracefully pulling out a chessboard from her drawers. “The usual bet?”

A smirk tugs at the corners of her lips. “How confident.”

They begin the game without a single word, Ningguang choosing the white side and Beidou picking the black. The first few turns pass without event, with both parties simply moving their pawns, attempting to gain the upper hand. Beidou’s brow furrows as she tries to guess what tactic Ningguang will use this time. 

“You’re taking this very seriously,” the Tianquan breathes, taking a drag of tobacco from her pipe. 

“Of course I am. I’ve won twice; I can win another time,” Beidou replies, her gaze fixated on the chessboard. 

Her chess partner lets out a low chuckle. “Your persistence is what I like about you.”

A hot flush creeps up Beidou’s neck. “You— don’t distract me, Ningguang.”

The white-haired lady beams, taking a sip of tea from a porcelain cup. Beidou notices — with pride — that it's a piece of the porcelain set she had gifted Ningguang long ago, when she'd first visited the Jade Chamber. Beidou watches as she reaches out a hand, delicately clasping her bishop and moving it two squares diagonally forward to eat her rook. "Damn," the captain mutters.

Ningguang inhales more tobacco, the very epitome of confidence. She watches Beidou like a hawk, those sharp amber eyes observing her every movement, every frown and every twitch of her fingers. Analysing and predicting the moves of her prey.

Beidou thinks it's the most amazing thing in the world. Ningguang's undivided attention, that is.

She moves her Queen piece with confidence, having found a loophole. In their numerous games of chess, Beidou has come to recognise several patterns that Ningguang often relies on. Her first two victories might have been by chance (according to the Tianquan, at least), but her third win will be by wit.

"Check," the captain announces.

Ningguang raises an eyebrow, a ghost of a smile on her lips. "A check this early into the game. Colour me impressed."

Beidou grins. "A compliment from the almighty Tianquan? That's a treasure, alright."

Her chess partner's cheeks turn pink. "It's too early for a celebration, isn't it?" she asks, moving her king piece out of the danger zone.

Beidou immediately frowns.

The game goes on, chess pieces moving back and forth in silence, until Ningguang confidently moves her rook forward. "Checkmate."

"Ugh," Beidou scowls. "I was so close!"

Ningguang takes a sip of her hot tea, savouring the victory. "Indeed, you were. A good game overall, my dear Captain."

"I'll win next time," Beidou vows, reluctantly handing her a pouch of Mora. 

The Tianquan merely smiles, delicately setting the teacup down and accepting her prize. Only Ningguang can make such basic movements look so otherworldly. Beidou's gaze travels up her gloved hands as she jingles the pouch happily, to her creamy arms and soft, rosy lips. How would they taste? Heavenly, no doubt. And her hair? It would probably put silk to shame. And, Archons, those beautiful, intelligent amber eyes staring at the shine of Mora in her hands, slowly lifting to look at— 

"You are ogling."

Huh?! "Absolutely not," Beidou immediately responds, taking a renewed interest in their chessboard. "Simply thinking about how to outsmart you the next time."

Ningguang laughs. "Shall we up the stakes for our future game then, my Captain?"

"What are you scheming this time, Lady Tianquan?"

"A little incentive." Ningguang breathes out together with a puff of smoke. "Whoever wins can ask a request of the other, no refusals."

Huh. I could get behind that. Beidou nods. "Deal."


II.

“Checkmate.”

Ningguang’s brows knit together. Beidou confidently watches as she observes the chessboard, searching for a way to outsmart her opponent, but finally the Tianquan pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs.  It's only been a few weeks since their last game, but Beidou has been studiously reading up on chess when she gets a moment at sea, practicing moves in her quarters with a chessboard she'd bought solely to beat her chess rival. All that hard work has paid off now, and Beidou is graced with the slightly sour look of defeat on Ningguang's face.

“You have won this round.” The lovely lady shakes her head. “A good game, I must say.”

“Hah! So I get to request something from you, right?”

“Of course. A contract is a contract.”

The captain leans forward, elbows on the table. “Kiss me.”

Ningguang goes slack-jawed. It’s a very unrefined look for her. “What?” the white-haired woman mutters, cheeks turning a lovely shade of pink. 

“Yeah. That’s my request. No refusals, right?”

“Of all the things you could have asked—”

“A kiss, yeah. That’s what I want,” Beidou replies firmly, her ruby eye fixed on Ningguang’s amber ones. The Tianquan is blushing hard now. Red looks good on her cheeks. She rises elegantly from her chair, walking over to Beidou and placing a gloved hand on her shoulder, pushing her back against the wall. Locks of silver hair fall over them both. The scent of glaze lilies fills her nose.

The captain’s ruby eye widens.

Ningguang leans close, her hot breath on Beidou’s lips. And then she presses in. Ningguang tastes of the fragrant white tea she loves to drink and a hint of sweet flowers. Beidou catches her around the waist, pulling her closer, hungering for more. 

A treasure. She is a true treasure.

Their lips part, but Beidou’s muscular arms don’t let her go. Ningguang looks away, completely flustered. 

There’s a fire pooling in Beidou’s lower belly.

The Tianquan clears her throat. “I–I believe… that’s fulfilled.”

Beidou (reluctantly) lets her go, and Ningguang straightens, still not meeting her gaze. The captain herself chooses to study the chessboard, feeling her cheeks burn hot enough to match the colour of Ningguang's deep red lips — Archons, she could kiss the Tianquan all day.

She tears her gaze away from the chessboard, stealing a peek at the woman still standing right in front of her, frozen to the spot. Ningguang notices, and her flush deepens.

A knock on the door startles them both. “Lady Ningguang?” Baiwen inquires.

“Y–yes, dear Baiwen?”

If the secretary notices her employer stumbling over her words, Baiwen doesn’t mention it. “The commerce guild heads have arrived for the Q&A.”

The Tianquan closes her eyes, opens them; Beidou marvels at the way she can so quickly calm herself down, now looking poised and every bit as powerful as the Tianquan of the Liyue Qixing is known to be. “Very well.” She gazes down at Beidou, who is still slack-jawed. “Our time is up, I’m afraid.”

The Captain nervously gets to her feet, finally finding her voice. “There will be a next time, right?”

A ghost of a smile flits across Ningguang’s lips in response.


III.

“No!” Beidou whines, dramatically covering her face with her hands. “I was so close!”

She is in the Tianquan’s office once again, having made it a point to challenge Ningguang every time she docks at Liyue Harbour. Chess pieces are scattered all over the table and board, and Ningguang has her king piece locked in a checkmate. Beidou refuses to admit it, but she looks forward to these games as much as the Tianquan seems to.

A smirk tugs at the corners of Ningguang’s lovely, rosy lips. The deep red lipstick she wears looks so good against her porcelain skin.“That you were, Captain, that you were.”

Beidou huffs, folding her arms. “Fine. A contract is a contract, like you said. What would the almighty Tianquan ask of her humble pirate servant this time?”

Ningguang rises, striding over to her wardrobe. She takes out a small box, returning to their guest table. Sweeping the pieces aside, she sets it down. 

The Captain eyes it suspiciously. “What’s that?”

Without a word, the Tianquan opens the red-and-gold box. Sitting inside it is a jelly-like blue ball that reminds Beidou of a mochi from Inazuma, topped with what looks like frosted sugar and garnished with a mint leaf and sweet flower petal. 

“Lumine and her adorable floating companion gifted this to me when they accepted my invite to speak at the Jade Chamber,” Ningguang explains. “Paimon called it a… I believe it was a… sugar-frosted slime.”

Beidou raises an eyebrow. That sounds toxic.

Ninguang pokes the box with a finger, inching it closer to the Captain. “Try it.”

That’s your request?” Beidou blurts out, looking up at her. 

Her lips are curved in an insufferable smirk, amber eyes twinkling in amusement. “Yes.”

“You could’ve asked me to dance in Yuehai Pavilion in just my undergarments. Or, or—forced me to be your secretary for a day.”

Ningguang wrinkles her nose in distaste. “Firstly, I have no intention of ruining your reputation. Secondly, you would make a terrible secretary. I’d have to work overtime to make up for your fumbling, and I’m not too fond of working late nights.”

Beidou recoils in mock horror. “That hurts, Ning.”

The Tianquan raises a perfectly-sculpted eyebrow. “The truth sometimes does.”

“Ugh.” The Captain shakes her head, poking the wobbly jelly suspiciously with a finger. Well, Lumine and Paimon made it, and from what she hears, they're good people, which means… it shouldn’t be poisonous, right? They wouldn’t try to kill the Tianquan of the Liyue Qixing. 

Plus, Ningguang wouldn’t try to poison her after all the games they’ve had. Beidou is pretty good at reading people, and she’s pretty sure the Tianquan enjoys their time together, though this slime jelly is really causing doubt to creep in. 

Ningguang is watching her intently, twirling her pipe.

OK, Beidou. Chill. It’s just some slime jelly that Lumine made. It can’t be the worst thing she’s eaten in her life. So the Captain picks up the impossibly slippery and wobbly thing, putting it into her mouth and biting off a great chunk. 

At first, it’s heavenly — the frosted sugar explodes in her mouth and the slime jelly is refreshingly cold. Then Beidou swallows, and the aftertaste — dear Archons — it’s like she’s picked up a frost slime’s coagulate right off its corpse and stuffed it into her mouth. The bitter taste of goopy dead slime and foul-smelling frost fills her nose and mouth. 

Ningguang watches her expression shift from pure bliss to utter disgust, and opens her fan to hide her amusement, the corners of her eyes crinkling in silent laughter. 

“Pfwah!” Beidou spits out whatever she can of the sugar-frosted slime, though some slimy remnants stick to her tongue. “Ningguang — if I didn’t know any better, I’d think they’re trying to kill you!”

The Tianquan lets out a low, melodious laugh. “Ah, Captain… I suspected as much. It was too novel of a gift, though I appreciate their gesture—”  She stops as Beidou gets to her feet, rounding the table to corner her. The Captain grabs her shoulders roughly, pushing her against the wall. 

Is that a brief glimpse of insecurity that Beidou spots in her amber eyes?

“Beidou,” Ningguang warns, shoulders tensing sharply.

Beidou tilts her chin up and sticks her tongue into the Tianquan's mouth, forcing her to taste the foul bitterness of the jelly. Ningguang’s eyes widen.

When the globs on her tongue have been successfully transferred to their hapless victim, the Captain pulls back. 

“Beidou!” The Tianquan almost shrieks, her voice uncharacteristically high-pitched and furious. “You, you—” She coughs and sputters, all elegance and decorum lost for a few seconds. 

The pirate guffaws, handing her a cup of hot tea. “I’m sorry, Ning, I just… I had to!”

Ningguang gulps it down, eyes tearing at the heat of the tea, before shooting the Captain a death stare that could kill a Whopperflower where it stood. Were Beidou any simple merchant, she’d have fallen on her knees and begged for mercy from Liyue's highest authority in the eyes of the law. But the pirate has known the Tianquan long enough to see beyond her haughty huffs, disapproving glares and snide remarks.

“Did it taste nice?” Beidou teases.

“Your lips, or the slime?”

The Captain’s jaw drops, and Ningguang gives her a victorious smirk.


 IV.

The Jade Chamber is gone. 

When Beidou saw the storm brewing just outside Liyue, she’d screamed at her crew to hurry up. But the winds were powerful and simply kept driving them back, until she saw the great beastly head of the serpent god Osial rise from the raging seas. 

She saw the Jade Chamber and the flashes of Geo, knowing Ningguang was waging an impossible war against a god. 

She helplessly watched the Jade Chamber fall.

When the seas finally calm and it is safe enough to dock, Beidou has her stunned, silent crew sail into Liyue Harbour. 

The harbour is abuzz with the news. A god attacked us. Tianquan Ningguang gave up her palace to save us all. The Jade Chamber slayed a god. There is nothing but reverence and pity for the powerful woman everywhere Beidou turns. 

How little they know. 

Ningguang’s secretaries try to turn Beidou away at Yuehai Pavilion. “Lady Ningguang is tied up in administrative tedium,” Baixiao pleads. “She is not seeing any visitors.”

“I am not a visitor,” Beidou growls, storming past the stunned secretary and kicking open the door. She stalks past the Qixing offices, ruby eye searching for one woman. 

She finds her in a room at the end of the Pavilion, pipe in hand, staring listlessly out the window at sea. 

“I did not ask for you. Leave,” Ningguang commands, and her coldness of her tone falls on Beidou like a slap across the cheek.

Ignoring her order, the Captain shuts the door on the Tianquan’s secretaries, locking it for good measure. Then she settles on a chair, laying her bag beside her, looking around Ningguang's temporary accommodation. The room is plain and simple, unlike what she remembers of the Jade Chamber. There is a single bed, a dresser, and a screen. Beidou is seated on one of four round stools surrounding a circular table. Near the door is a rectangular table with official documents strewn about its surface and a lamp. Nothing about this room screams Ningguang to her. She traded everything she ever loved for Liyue Harbour.

Everything but her.

She waits. The afternoon sun gives way to night. When the moonlight streams into the darkening room, Beidou quietly lights the lamps around the room, bathing them both in soft yellow light. The silence hangs heavy between them now, but she knows better than to speak. Empty words are the last thing the lady by the window wants to hear now.

Finally, Ningguang turns to face Beidou. Her amber eyes are forlorn, grieving, empty. 

It breaks Beidou’s heart.

“I told you to leave,” Ningguang speaks, her voice uncharacteristically soft and quiet. 

“I decided not to,” Beidou replies gently.

The Tianquan sighs, dismissing the pipe. She hugs herself as she approaches the Captain, looking so very exhausted and timid. “Thank you,” Ningguang says at last. For staying. 

Beidou doesn’t offer any consolation, doesn’t try and claim to understand. Ningguang would have heard countless phrases like this: I’m sorry and my condolences, and felt the pitying looks on her as she walked back to Yuehai Pavilion with her clipped wings and broken heart. All of that is meaningless. 

Now, she needs someone to stand with her. Someone to remind her that not everything she loved was lost with the fall of her old friend.

So Beidou reaches into her bag, taking out a chessboard. It’s made of a coal-coloured stone, gleaming in the light like marble. The chess pieces are translucent, one set pearlescent white and one set glittering dark. She’d gotten it in Natlan, wanting to gift it to her precious star. “Up for a game, Ning?”

The Tianquan looks surprised, but she settles on the opposite chair in agreement. 

They play in silence, chess pieces softly tapping against the board. Beidou watches her tense shoulders relax as she falls into a familiar rhythm with her. In this moment, when their focus is solely on the game, she glimpses the Tianquan she has come to know—and love.

Ningguang makes her final move. “Checkmate.”

“You win,” Beidou says softly. “And a contract is a contract.” 

What is your request?

Ningguang stares, her amber eyes full of unspoken grief and unshed tears. “I only wish I could bring it back... Beidou.”

Her walls shatter.


V.

It takes a few months, but plans for the new Jade Chamber are finally underway. 

Beidou has been busy, tasked with the difficult job of gathering some of the rarest materials for its reconstruction from all over Teyvat. The voyage is long and arduous, taking the Crux Fleet far from their home and over raging seas. But finally, that familiar harbour comes into view, though it’s sorely missing the one guiding star Beidou has always followed home. 

The docks are packed today and they are a day early, so the Alcor drops anchor at Guyun Stone Forest for a break. 

Beidou walks aimlessly along the shores of Guyun, vaguely recalling that the Jade Chamber had crashed into the sea not far from here. Instead of watching the ocean as she normally does, she finds herself studying the sand, ruby eye searching for… something. Anything.

She has not forgotten Ningguang’s request. They haven’t played a game of chess since then. The Tianquan has buried herself in work, and Beidou lets her be. A woman as proud as Ningguang would never allow herself more than a moment of weakness. The Captain trusts that she will call for her when things get too much.

A glint in the afternoon sun catches Beidou’s attention. She jogs over, squatting down to see something awfully familiar, half-buried in the sand. "There you are," she whispers softly to the land.

Beidou shows up unannounced at Yuehai Pavilion that evening as Ningguang is wrapping up her work. The brunette leans against the door frame of the Tianquan’s makeshift office, patiently waiting. It is the same room where they had played their last game of chess, and nothing has changed. 

“What is it, Beidou?” Ningguang sighs. She sounds utterly exhausted. 

She has been since that day, though no one would dare to look her in the eyes long enough to notice the haunting emptiness inside.

“Remember what you asked for the last time?” Beidou asks, soft and firm all at once. 

The Tianquan’s brow furrows and she nods, though she clearly doesn’t understand. 

Beidou reaches into her bag, pulling out a large piece of weathered plaustrite. 

Ningguang’s eyes widen in recognition. Her old friend.

“I’ll keep looking. Even after you rebuild, I’ll bring back everything I can,” Beidou promises. “Every last piece.” Whoever wins can ask a request of the other. No refusals. 

“I…” The white-haired woman steps forward, shakily taking the plaustrite from Beidou’s hands. The rock hums softly at her touch, almost as if it recognises her, the one who gave it life. And then she looks at Beidou, the one who returned it to her.

Ningguang’s heart is shattering all over again, its pieces spilling out of her amber eyes, running down her cheeks. Beidou didn’t mean to break down her walls one more time, to tear open a still-healing wound. She reaches out, wrapping her strong arms around the fragile woman, trying to speak without saying a word. 

I’m here, Ning. I'll always be here.

And when Ningguang finally looks up, still cradling the rock close to her chest, Beidou sees a small, genuine smile on her rosy lips and a faint spark of life in her puffy eyes. “Thank you… Beidou.”

Her own heart lifts, arms tightening around the light of her life. “Anything for you,” she whispers softly. “My star.”