Actions

Work Header

a willow cabin at your gate

Work Text:

Beidou loves driving at night.

Really, Beidou loves riding her motorcycle at night, the wind whipping past her skin and the glowing signs and headlights of passing cars shining through her visor like Christmas lights.

That’s the real reason that she took this job, apart from how she would do Anything with a capital A for Xiangling and the steadily growing horror of having to renew her lease clinging to the corners of her mind. It’s not like being a delivery girl is her ideal career path, even when it’s the only job she can keep while still taking classes on the side. But Beidou has worked at a lot of odd-end places in her life, and if she’s learned one thing it’s that you have to find some kind of joy in what you do to survive.

So. Motorcycles. She first got the Crux a couple of years ago, after she realized that her beat-up old Suzuki from 2003 just wasn’t going to do the job for her anymore. She ended up trading it in for a shiny new Kawasaki Vulcan in a beautiful jet black, and although it cost a pretty penny, it’s been her best friend and most invaluable asset since. Working somewhere where half the job is just riding around has been kind of incredible so far, even when she has to do nearly every delivery herself. There’s no way she can blame Chef Mao for that, as busy as he is.

Beidou pulls into the parking lot of the Wanmin restaurant, the Crux’s wheels screeching as the bike protests to turning so sharply. Really, that’s dramatic. She only could have been going a few miles or so over the speed limit. Only a few. Probably.

As she dismounts from the motorcycle and pulls her helmet off, shaking out her hair, she’s faced with a perfect view of the restaurant. She can see the low glow of the dining area through the window, the silhouettes of the customers illuminated by the hanging lamps set above each table. The scene is lit by the bright shine of the streetlights and the pinks and purples of the nearby neon billboards, giving it an unnatural halo of light. Beidou finds it strangely fitting, like a man-made heaven.

Beidou tromps up to the front of the building and pokes her head in, before entering fully. She’s instantly hit by a blast of warm air, followed by the sound of the bells on the door jingling behind her. The idle chatter of happy customers and the scent of ginger and garlic and frying food slowly washes over her as she makes her way to the front desk, the tables still full even though it’s well past dinner time. Wanmin restaurant isn’t her home—that’s something that only Xiangling and her father can claim—but whenever she walks in, it always feels like a warm hug from a friend.

“You done?” Hu Tao asks. She’s at her usual post behind the counter, framed by a potted orchid that matches the flowers on her hat and three separate bags of food. Which means, of course, that there’s still more work to do.

“Yup,” Beidou affirms. “Who’s next?”

Hu Tao grins wickedly. “You’re going to like this one,” she says, which means that Beidou is going to be on the receiving end of something terrible.

“Don’t tell me,” Beidou almost groans.

“I will tell you, because this order is extremely high priority,” Hu Tao says, waving her tablet. Another clue that there’s going to be some tremendous teasing in the near future.

“Is it Ningguang?” Beidou asks, right as Hu Tao says, “It’s your Ningguang.” They lock eyes, and Beidou has to hold back a whine. Leave it to Hu Tao to be the one person to never stop pestering her about something as petty as her love life.

“Listen, she’s not my Ningguang,” she replies, crossing her arms. “She’s just….sampling the local cuisine. Expanding her tastes!” It sounds weak, even to her, and it’s clear that neither of them believe that excuse.

Hu Tao rolls her eyes, blows out a condescending little puff of air. “Honestly, at this point if Ningguang isn’t yours, you’re hers. This is more than your garden-variety horniness, Beidou!”

Because it’s Hu Tao, and she’s really just a kid, Beidou is generous and doesn’t try to kill her right then and there. She just shrugs, as magnanimous as possible, and thinks happy thoughts. “If she’s horny, that isn’t my problem. As long as she stays a paying customer, she’s doing me a favor.”

“I bet you would like her to do more than just favors,” Hu Tao says, because she’s a demon.

“I bet you’d like to stay quiet about matters that don’t concern you,” Beidou says, just a bit mockingly. Knowing that there’s no winning in an argument with that girl, she just snatches what she thinks is the right bag and storms out of the building and into the warm humidity of the parking lot.

Forget anything she said that was nice about Wanmin restaurant! If she has to hear one more dirty joke about a famed prosecutor who probably has no interest in her apart from casual sex, she’s going to quit and never come back.

Ningguang wouldn’t call herself a proud person, and she wouldn’t call herself humble either. She’s a realist at heart, and strives to be as honest with herself as possible, whether it’s with her own failings as a prosecutor or knowing when she’s being unjustly underestimated—and that’s something that she has done successfully for the past decade, as she struggled to climb up the ranks of a system that is both ruthless in its efficiency and biased against anyone who isn’t born in the lap of luxury. Ningguang is collected. She carefully weighs every decision and never does anything impractical.

Except, of course, for that one glaring exception.

The delivery situation.

It really started with Chongyun, who first ordered from Wanmin restaurant when she was tasked to look after Xingqiu while his parents were away for diplomatic reasons. This was not an arrangement that either of them were thrilled about, mostly because Xingqiu is nearly a legal adult and Ningguang is an incredibly busy woman. And where Xingqiu goes, Chongyun follows, often with a stack of cash and an incredible appetite thanks to his parents’ strict diet plan.

Despite the fact that Ningguang was slightly offended that Chongyun didn’t trust her to make a “real meal,” whatever that meant, she was too distracted by the natural, radiant beauty of the delivery woman to really care. She had stuttered her way through the exchange, completely unbecoming of her eight years of college experience, and somehow managed to bring the boxes in without slipping on her suddenly shaky legs. The boys had eaten on the floor like animals. Ningguang had started to consider supporting small businesses.

And as Ningguang slowly sinks into the plush fabric of her sofa, listening to Ganyu discuss a recent case and her thoughts on the evidence they’ve gathered so far, she realizes that she can’t feasibly ignore her little problem any longer without feeling like she’s somehow betraying herself.

She takes a long drag of her pipe, waits for Ganyu to finish her summary, and exhales a cloud of smoke, windows cracked half-open to allow the air to clear. When Ganyu looks at her questioningly, she places her hands primly on her lap and says, “I ordered takeout earlier, would you like to share?”

A variety of emotions flit across Ganyu’s face. The first is confusion, then uncertainty, which morphs into incredulity, and finally smooths out into something like concern. She places a comforting hand on Ningguang’s thigh. “Is something wrong with Dongsheng? Is he ill?”

“What?” Ningguang asks, both touched by Ganyu’s kindness and concerned that she apparently sends out requests to Second Life so often that it’s considered unnatural for her to do anything else. “No, Dongsheng is fine. I’m simply branching out a little more.”

“Well, the food there must be amazing if you’re ordering it,” Ganyu says, disbelieving. “I’ve never seen you do that before.”

“You know, when I was younger, I had takeout for nearly every meal,” Ningguang replies, feeling like she has to defend herself. “I suppose I’ve been nostalgic as of late. And Wanmin restaurant is said to be the best of the best.” The customer service certainly isn’t lacking, she doesn’t say.

Ganyu visibly lights up at her mention of the establishment, and she leans forward in interest. “Wanmin restaurant, really? In Chihu rock?”

Ningguang ever so slightly rears back. “Yes?”

“Then I would love to share! I’ve only eaten there once before, but it was absolutely wonderful,” Ganyu says, clapping her hands together in delight.

Ningguang is pleasantly surprised by her enthusiasm, and can’t help but agree. The food there is relatively cheap, but incredibly high quality in its ability to blend both Li and Yue cuisine cohesively.

They certainly deserve the consistent high ratings that they get by critics and customers alike, and she’s even had the great fortune to speak with Chef Mao once before. Their only issue is the long wait for the food to arrive, but seeing as they tend to be stretched a little thin, she can cut them some slack.

And then there is the problem-blessing-obsession that is Beidou, with her wild hair and charcoal black uniform. Ningguang wouldn’t be lying if she said that she wasn’t at least attracted to the other woman, though their interactions are often far too short for her to make any other conclusions about her feelings.

She can only hope to sort that issue out when Ganyu isn’t around, when she isn’t forced to act like Beidou’s presence alone doesn’t send tiny jolts of electricity running under her skin. That’s perfectly fine. She can do that.

The sheer size of Ningguang’s house is kind of astonishing. It’s not out of place in Yujing Terrace, where all of the buildings are opulent mansions standing on stone pillars and lavish, carefully tended gardens, but it’s still sort of baffling to see.

Ningguang’s estate must be at least twice the size of the rest of them, too. It’s more than fitting for one of the richest people in Liyue Harbor, but to someone like Beidou, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment, it feels criminal to even look at. This place probably has four bedrooms and a dining room, a kitchen, at least two bathrooms, a giant chandelier or two….she could go on, but it almost hurts to think about.

It’s a good thing that Beidou likes taking risks, because there’s hardly another person in the city that would willingly step into her estate.

When Beidou raps her knuckles on the door, she can immediately hear the rustling of fabric and the sound of voices—two voices, interestingly, seeing as Ningguang is usually alone. She was kind of under the impression that the other woman was too embarrassed to share the meal with any of her high society friends. It’s weirdly warming to find out that she….probably isn’t that judgemental.

The door opens and suddenly Ningguang, glorious and expectant, is standing there in an elegant, high-necked qipao and a furred wrap that hangs tantalizingly over her shoulders. Her long white hair is done up in its usual style, a strangely cute bow with a jingly little ornament keeping it in place, framing her round cheeks and the little dimple on the left side of her mouth. This close, she smells like jasmine and fancy perfume. She kind of drives Beidou crazy.

“Beidou, you’re here,” She greets. She’s holding a long, thin tobacco pipe in her partially gloved hands. As she leans on the entrance to the house, smoke billows out from behind her.

“Ningguang,” Beidou says, feeling suddenly off-kilter in the way that she often does when faced with the other woman’s full attention. “You have friends over?”

“I do. The fresh taste of Wanmin restaurant is something to be shared with others, isn’t it?” Ningguang says smoothly, echoing the catchphrase of the restaurant as she idly twirls the pipe between her fingers. That can’t be safe.

Beidou whistles, long and thin, resists the urge to smile before the joke begins. “So the famed prosecutor is feeding our humble food to her esteemed guests,” she says approvingly. “Is there anyone I know in there? Can I get an autograph?”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Ningguang replies with a little uptick of her lips, taking the boxes off her hands and retreating back into the house.

Beidou surreptitiously tilts her head to the side, trying to get a little peek into the famed prosecutor’s living room. Sometimes, if she’s lucky, she can catch a glimpse of the framed paintings hung on her walls, the elaborate wooden furniture, the silver plated mirror that she keeps on the left side of the hall, all of which she commits to memory.

Ningguang’s house slippers hush against the floor as she returns, pulling out a small pouch of Mora and starting to count out its contents. It’s fat and plump with coins, because apparently the city’s elite are too good for credit, the monsters. Beidou would hardly call herself destitute, but she can’t help but stare hungrily. It’s a lot of money.

“That’ll be nine hundred Mora,” Beidou says, tearing her eyes away from Ningguang’s face. She looks down at her hands instead, watching as she forks over the clean, polished coins. Her nails are long claws, painted jet black with gold filigree. They probably cost more than her rent.

“What a hefty tip,” Beidou huffs appreciatively, taking the Mora. “Do you throw this kind of money around to every delivery girl you get?”

“I never ‘throw money around,’” Ningguang replies, with finger quotes for emphasis. The gesture looks a little bit funny on her, but Beidou likes it when she acts like a real person. She spoke far too politely when they first met. Almost strangled. “And it’s not as if I order out from anywhere else.”

Then, in what might be her wildest move yet, Ningguang gently places her hands on top of Beidou’s hands and pushes them together, so that she’s gripping the small pouch firmly. Her hands are cold and dainty, and much smaller than Beidou’s.

“Uh,” She almost stammers, because suddenly they are so, so close together.

“I’ll see you next week,” Ningguang says. She speaks faintly, like she’s making a promise.

“Yeah, totally,” Beidou responds, reeling. “Um. Enjoy your meal.”

As Beidou walks back to the Crux, stuffing the pouch into her pocket, she notices that at least one of the coins in there is worth a whopping five-hundred extra Mora. Actually, throwing was the perfect term to describe how Ningguang handles her money if these are the kind of tips that she gives out.

Ningguang turns away from her front door and cracks open one of the styrofoam cups packed tightly in the takeout bag. It smells absolutely divine, and she can see that the broth is both thick and warm, slowly cooking the beef to perfection and sending little wafts of steam into the air. That’s another thing about Wanmin restaurant that she appreciates—consistency.

When she looks back up from her boxes, sighing contentedly, Ganyu is staring at her with a mixture of sympathy and pity carving unhappy lines into her face. Ningguang frowns, placing the boxes on her ornate glass coffee table, before pulling her expression back into something closer to politely neutral. “What is it?”

“Ningguang,” Ganyu says, sounding disappointed.

“Yes?” Ningguang says as she makes her way across the living room to the other side of the kitchen island, pulling her cabinets open in a search for clean bowls and utensils. She finds her usual set, a bright white porcelain bowl from an antique shop near Qingce Village, and picks out a light lavender one for Ganyu. That one was part of a birthday gift from Keqing, and has little white sheep painted in glaze around the rim, so her assistant will surely appreciate it.

“You—Oh, thank you,” Ganyu starts, accepting the bowl and a pair of paper-wrapped wooden chopsticks from Ningguang’s hands as she returns, “You like her, don’t you?”

Ningguang almost trips over her own feet on her way to the couch. “Where did you get that impression?”

Ningguang,” Ganyu repeats, admonishing. It’s the second time she’s said her name in the last five minutes. It feels like she’s being scolded by her grandmother. “Come, now. You stared at her like she hung the moon in the sky!”

“You couldn’t see my face,” Ningguang reminds her, strangely embarrassed. She didn’t look like that. Did she?

“But your face is heating up, so now I’m sure you did. And the way that you held her hands! And the flirting, when have you ever been a flirt?” Ganyu cries, lifting the lid off a cup filled with soup. “Wow, this smells amazing.”

“I always think the fragrance of a meal is indicative of its quality,” Ningguang says, in the vain hope that discussing Wanmin restaurant’s culinary prowess will steer Ganyu away from this particular train of thought.

“Don’t run from the conversation,” Ganyu hums, shattering Ningguangs hopes as she spoons noodles into her bowl. “Do you really like that girl?”

Ningguang tilts her head in confusion.

“I mean, do you like her seriously, or are you just….” Ganyu trails off, starting to blush herself.

“Oh! Oh, Gods, no, I think it’s serious,” Ningguang hastily replies, nearly knocking broth all over the couch in her momentary panic.

“Ha! So you do like her,” Ganyu exclaims, triumphant.

Honestly, Ningguang can’t bring herself to argue the point any more after she practically confessed that she’s seriously interested in Beidou. There was really no hope that she would get anything past her assistant with the frankly embarrassing behavior she exhibited, especially seeing as Ganyu has the uncanny talent of finding the truth from even the most close-lipped people. Consider her mission to act normal failed.

“Yes, I think I do,” Ningguang admits, staring down at her bowl. The beef and vegetables swirl around in the soup mockingly. “Really, I haven’t ever felt like this about someone before.”

And that’s true. Ningguang never had any crushes in her youth, too focused on getting good grades and her family’s finances to spend time worrying about matters of the heart. She always knew somewhere in the back of her mind that she liked girls, but the kind of all-consuming, heart wrenching feelings that come with being near Beidou? No, she’s never experienced those until now.

Her mother had told her that she would find love and hopefully marry in college, but, to her immense disappointment, that didn’t come true. Ningguang never had the time to associate with her classmates beyond group projects and the animalistic kind of bonding that came from the shared pain of studying for finals or the bar exam.

And Gods forbid she ever went to a college party! The only reason she knows Keqing and Ganyu is because she shares an office with them. And because, according to Keqing, the few lesbians that exist in the high elite of Liyue Harbor have a moral obligation to stick together.

“I know you haven’t,” Ganyu says, not unkindly. “All you have to do is talk to her, Ningguang. You can’t dance around each other forever.”

“I’m not sure how,” Ningguang replies, eyes still fixed on her soup. She can feel it cooling rapidly in her hands.

“The Tailor of Liyue, bested by a woman that she’s hardly even met,” Ganyu teases, setting her now-empty bowl on the table. “Quit moping!” She trills, poking Ningguang in the side with her jabby little fingers. Ningguang shrinks away, letting out a little laugh and batting at her friend’s hands in an attempt to stop the brutal attack.

Ganyu finally lets up, and allows Ningguang to return to a sitting position. “Listen,” she says, suddenly serious. “Who was the youngest full-time prosecutor in Liyue, graduating at only twenty years old?”

“Me?” Ningguang says.

“Correct,” Ganyu affirms, crossing her legs so that she’s fully on the couch. “And who is one of the most accomplished prosecutors in Liyue, with one of the highest conviction rates in the country?”

“Me,” Ningguang says.

And, who won a case against Rex Lapis, one of the most formidable lawyers in Teyvat?”

“Also me,” Ningguang says.

“So why are you getting so hung up over talking to a pretty girl?” Ganyu asks, patting her hand encouragingly.

Because she’s beautiful, Ningguang thinks. Because she’s beautiful, like ball lightning, or a storm at sea, fierce and fleeting. Because every time we meet, she finds a way to make me laugh, because she gets on my nerves in a way that makes me feel alive. Because she’s not afraid to push back. Because even though we see each other for such a short period of time, she somehow finds a way to reach into my heart.

“I don’t know, Ganyu,” Ningguang says instead. “I’ll try to talk to her more next time.”

That earns her a proud smile, like she said the right thing. They drop the subject soon after and eat in companionable silence for the rest of the night, only pausing to discuss the quality of the food or their most recent case. When Ningguang later waves Ganyu away, leaning over the railing and exchanging goodbyes as her assistant treks back to her car, she closes the door and turns back to her living room, feeling suddenly, achingly lonely.

Wanmin restaurant in the early morning is, for lack of a better word, a total madhouse. Beidou usually arrives at around seven in the morning, after a long, cold shower and a few cups of coffee, hair dried by the wind as she makes her way through the bustling harbor on the Crux. This is a privilege, seeing as most of the staff arrive before the sun rises.

When she parks her bike and enters the back door, she has to shield her eyes from the cold fluorescent lights of the kitchen for a few moments. Then, suddenly the light fades into the regular morning scene: Xiangling flitting around the space like a hummingbird on monster energy, accompanied by her slower-moving father and a variety of other chefs that she’s less familiar with.

Beidou doesn’t know the slightest thing about what actually goes on in here, usually because she’s booted out of the kitchen so she doesn’t disturb anyone, but it seems like it’s mostly prep work—chopped herbs, bubbling pots, wait staff bustling in and out of the kitchen as they set tables and touch up what wasn’t perfectly cleaned the night before.

“Morning, Xiangling, Chef Mao,” Beidou greets, strolling by the two of them on her way to the front of the house. Mao gives a thumbs up of acknowledgement from the back corner of the room where he’s bent over a crate of bottles, inspecting what looks to be today’s shipment of oyster sauce.

“Morning, Beidou! Did you have breakfast yet?” Xiangling asks from her post above a pot full of simmering chicken stock. She’s too busy carefully ladling scum off the top to actually look at her, though Beidou knows she would drop everything to whip something up if she was hungry. That’s why Xiangling’s the best.

“Yes, thank you, stay focused on your soup for now,” Beidou says. She cups her hand to her mouth and yells out an, “We open in an hour!” on her way past for good measure.

“I know!!” Xiangling calls back, even though she probably didn’t. Never good with time, that girl.

As Beidou follows the rest of the employees through the big metal doors leading to the dining area, she can see an array of empty booths and tables, sure to be full of people in the next hour or so. Hu Tao is far away at the front of the building, drumming her fingers on the front desk and spinning around on her swivel chair, clearly bored. Part of Beidou’s job here is to supervise her—that is, to keep her from playing pranks on any unassuming customers.

“Hu Tao,” she says as she slides up to where the other girl is sitting.

“Hiya, Beidou,” Hu Tao says, turning her tablet on and flipping between slides on the home screen. She’s not supposed to change the wallpaper, since this is technically a work-only device, but there’s a cute little drawing of a ghost serving as the backdrop to all her apps anyways. “We have a bunch of stuff to do today!”

Beidou tips her head back and sighs in response, crossing her arms. “You say that as if it’s a good thing.”

“Well, all I have to do all day is sit on my ass and greet customers,” Hu Tao replies. “And all you have to do is ride around on your pretty motorcycle! So I think it’s nice to be busy.”

“Hey, I do more than just ride around,” Beidou says, sort of offended. “I have to lug boxes to and from houses all day, too. And I greet customers like you do, so there.” She bumps her hip against the desk, making it rattle and wobble.

“What a hill to die on while Xiangling is breaking her back in the kitchen,” Hu Tao retorts, before typing something into a web browser. Then, suddenly brightening, she stands up with inhuman speed and shoves her tablet in Beidou’s face. Beidou definitely does not flinch. No, sir.

“What the hell?” Beidou asks, cross eyed. With the screen this close, all she can make out is a bright blue and a couple of white lines. She puts her hands up defensively in an attempt to push the device back. “Hey, move back a little, I can’t see anything when you’re that close!”

“Oh, poor, farsighted Beidou,” Hu Tao says, faux-pitying in the way that pisses her off the most. She still moves back a few inches so Beidou’s eye can focus on what the lines actually say, and she peers at the screen as the squiggles fade into a browser open to the local weather channel’s main website.

Today’s forecast predicts sunny and cloudless skies in the early morning, and issues a severe storm warning in the afternoon. That means there’s probably going to be an increase in delivery orders as the rain begins to come down, which subsequently means that she’s going to be completely soaked and exhausted by the end of the day. Fantastic.

“Thanks for the warning,” Beidou says, dry.

“I live to serve!” Hu Tao says, spinning around and flopping back into her seat with the kind of boneless enthusiasm that makes Beidou’s back hurt just from watching her. Fuck, maybe she is getting old. “Hey, maybe the customers will be merciful for once and not order anything.”

“Gods, I wish life were that easy,” Beidou replies, straightening as she sees people forming a line outside the entrance. We’re not open yet, she thinks, vindictive. Wait somewhere else. “But more rain means less in-person customers, and that means more deliveries. You wouldn’t have an umbrella on hand, would you?”

“Hmm,” Hu Tao hums, contemplative. “Nope!”

“Damn,” Beidou says, even though she wasn’t really expecting a yes. The weather in the harbor is usually consistent and nice—at least, for a port town, so hardly anyone carries around jackets or umbrellas in the summer. Especially not when they spend all day inside an air-conditioned building.

“It’s not like the umbrella would really help anyways. You’d have to cover the food with it instead,” Hu Tao says, leaning back in her chair and pursing her lips.

“Oh, the food!” Beidou realizes, eye widening as she smacks her forehead. “How am I going to protect the food?”

“I don’t know!” Hu Tao says, sounding almost sympathetic. “Maybe find some fabric to drape over it? Like a spare tablecloth or something.”

“Ah, I hate it when it rains!” Beidou huffs, stomping off to search through one of the back closets for some spare fabric.

This isn’t true. She usually loves the rain. When she was a kid, she would always dance around in her backyard during thunderstorms, stomping in puddles and delivering worms from the concrete sidewalk to her garden. The problem is when she has to work in the rain, where she can’t retreat comfortably to her house when it gets too cold and wet for her liking.

Beidou waves a hand behind her shoulder as she shimmies past a waitress fumbling with a large stack of plates, nearly knocking her over. “I’ll check in later, okay?”

“Good luck!” Hu Tao calls out, leaning off the side of her chair. Boy, she really hopes nobody orders out today.

Ganyu faces the large bay window on the side of her house, arms crossed on the sill, gazing at the veritable tempest that is beginning to roll over the harbor. It’s looking to be one of those coastal storms, the kind that smell like ozone and turn the sky a gloomy shade of green, that make people cancel plans and close down shops. Not enough to be dangerous, but enough to be worrying.

In other words, a perfect opportunity.

She smiles sweetly, and turns away from the window to dial a number into her phone. A digital copy of a menu is pulled up on her laptop, placed carefully on one end of her baby blue armchair.

Ganyu really didn’t want it to come to this. Really! But she’s a practical person at heart, and her conversation with Ningguang made it abundantly clear that neither she nor her friend were going to make the first move, and she can’t stand to see her friend so uncharacteristically indecisive. If something has to be done, then it’s her job as an assistant to do it.

A voice, high and reedy, picks up on the other end of the phone with an audible click. “This is Wanmin restaurant, how can we help you today?”

Ganyu shifts her phone to her shoulder as she scrolls idly through the list of appetizers, looking for a dish appropriate for Ningguang. “Hi, could I get an order of your Stir-Fried Filet to go, please?”

The line goes silent for a second, the muffled clanking of pots and pans the only sound that escapes the end of the receiver as, she assumes, the restaurant staff debate whether or not they can send someone out when such a bad storm is brewing. She waits patiently for the voice to return.

“Ah, yes you can,” The voice says, sounding harried. “What address are you at?”

Ganyu shuts her laptop, bringing her knees up to her chest as she carefully relays Ningguang’s home address to the restaurant. When she’s certain they’ve got it written down, she thanks the employee profusely and hangs up, satisfied.

Ningguang will certainly be angry about this, but she’s going to thank Ganyu later.

Xiangling ʕ·ᴥ·ʔ:
Beidou!!!! Ningguang ordered out again!!!!

Me:
wtf twice in a week

Me:
why is she obsessed??

Xiangling ʕ·ᴥ·ʔ:
Idk maybe cause she likes you (*__*)

Me:
xiangling

Xiangling ʕ·ᴥ·ʔ:
Ok I’ll stop sorry!!

Xiangling ʕ·ᴥ·ʔ:
Are you gonna be alright though..

Me:
??

Xiangling ʕ·ᴥ·ʔ:
The weather is so bad omg

Xiangling ʕ·ᴥ·ʔ:
But it would be wrong to turn her down she’s a regular!!

Me:
oh that's ok

Me:
i mean it's a d move on her part but a little bit of rain isn’t a big deal

Xiangling ʕ·ᴥ·ʔ:
If you’re sure ( ‘ •﹏•)b

Me:
i'll be fine i promise! >:)

Me:
WTF IS HER PROBLEM!!!!

Hu Tao (evil):
NINGGUANG??

Me:
YES

Hu Tao (evil):
LMAOOOO

Ningguang sits slumped on her couch, propped on an arm and a few decorative pillows as she carefully scans through page after page of her favorite science fiction book. The only noise in the room is the gentle crash of thunder and rain as it rocks against the harbor, marked by the occasional flip of a page as Ningguang moves to the next part of the story. An empty cup of tea sits on the side table, untouched since earlier in the afternoon.

She normally wouldn’t be spending any time reading for pleasure today, even though she’s technically free from work, but Keqing had insisted over the phone that she take a break lest she “develop a stomach ulcer, or worse.” Ningguang had initially protested, but she was forced to stay in her house with threats of bodily harm if she dared to disobey and a personal visit later to make sure that she was truly relaxing. Which seemed sort of ironic, seeing as that would take time out of Keqing’s own day off, but she knew better than to argue the point.

So, Ningguang spent the rest of the day in a sort of hazy, content state, where she forcibly pushed all of the thoughts of cold cases or opening statements or delivery women out of her mind and focused only on combing her hair, putting another clear coat on her acrylics, and immersing herself in a story about interplanetary politics.

The ensuing storm turned out to provide a nice ambience as she read, enough that she turned off all the lights and let the grey skies outside her window illuminate her spot on the sofa.

The calming atmosphere is shattered as Ningguang hears three loud knocks from across the hall, followed by the buzz of the doorbell. She slides her house slippers on and quickly makes her way to the front door, where she expects to see one of her neighbors kids, maybe, or a package thrown haphazardly on the welcome mat. She sees none of these things.

Instead, Beidou is standing under the awning, completely soaked. Her long, dark hair is plastered to her shoulders, and occasionally splashes little droplets of water on her face and back, her red eyepatch in full view as she pushes her wet bangs away from her forehead.

She has a bag of takeout balanced on her hip, which she’s thrown her jacket over in a last-ditch attempt to keep the food dry. Without the top half of her uniform, Ningguang can see that she’s wearing nothing but a thin white undershirt that exposes lines of tanned, freckled skin that usually never see the light of day.

She looks incredible. She looks extraordinarily tired.

“Oh! Oh, goodness, please come in,” Ningguang says, all in a rush and desperately confused as she moves to the side to let the other woman enter.

Beidou stomps her boots on the welcome mat, and toes them off by the side of the door, revealing that she’s wearing patterned socks complete with little embroidered bears. She says nothing, aside from a slightly breathless, “Here’s your order.”

Ningguang quickly takes the boxes off of Beidou’s hands and directs her to a series of hangers by the door, where her jacket can comfortably hang and, to her silent dismay, drip water all over the newly polished wood floors. A clap of thunder rings through the neighborhood, startling them both. Ningguang smiles, a little embarrassed. “I’ll go get a towel, just stay right there.”

She places the takeout in the fridge, where it can stay until dinner, and hurriedly makes her way down the hall to a closet filled with dried linens. She claps her hands together a few times to shake some of the residual water off, and takes a deep breath. Briefly considers her situation.

To start, what the hell is Beidou doing here? And in this weather? This can’t possibly be a sudden gift—she must be on the tail end of her shift, but she seems far too angry to be here on purpose. And Ningguang definitely didn’t order anything today unless she’s suddenly prone to fits of sleepwalking, but nobody else has her address except for—

Except for—

Ningguang tips forward and lets her head rest against the hard wood of the closet door, her warmest, fluffiest towels stacked in her arms. Except for Ganyu, who she really wishes was here, if only so she could wring her neck. Ningguang isn’t a particularly violent person, despite her apparent cutthroat behavior in court, but her patience is seriously being tested right now.

She resolves to call Ganyu and chew her out later when she has free time. The current priority is to get Beidou dry, restore her mood, and clear out any misconceptions about who exactly ordered out tonight, in that order. She turns around, summoning all of her strength, and carries herself back to the living room on newly-unstable legs.

In the time that passed since she left, Beidou moved from the entrance to one of the chairs by the kitchen island, sitting hunched over and dripping and looking kind of lost. Like a wet cat.

“Sorry about that,” Ningguang says softly as she approaches the other woman, dropping the towels on the granite countertop. “You can dry off with these for now, but you should definitely take a bath.”

Beidou grins a little bit and snatches one of the smaller rags, using it to wring out her hair. “Hey, now,” she says, squeezing a frankly incomprehensible amount of water out of her thick black mane. “That’s a little offensive, don’t you think?”

She’s clearly cracking wise, but Ningguang can still feel a hot flush rise on her cheeks. “It was never my intention to insult you.”

“Ha!” Beidou laughs, sounding chipper in the way that many of her colleagues are when they’re dealing with an especially terrible witness. “That’s what they all say.”

“Really, I was making an offer,” Ningguang says honestly. “Unless you’d rather wait until you’re home?”

Beidou’s eye widens, and for a short second she seems to pause, the water that’s steadily pouring out of her hair slowing to a trickle. Time unfreezes shortly after, and she cuts Ningguang off, letting her towel fall in her lap as she waves her hands. “I—You—Wait, if you’re really offering, that would actually be really useful?”

“I mean, I am really offering,” Ningguang says, more of a question than anything. She would kind of rather die than pressure Beidou into doing something that makes her uncomfortable. “The bath is that way, down the hall and to the right. I can, um, get you some clean clothes while you do.”

“Gods, thank you so much,” Beidou says, quickly standing and piling the bundle of towels in her arms. “I’ve been out all day, you don’t know how much this helps.”

She exits the room with all of the grace of a rampaging tornado, leaving puddles of clear liquid in her wake. Ningguang stands in the midst of the chaos for a moment, utterly mystified. She catches her reflection in the shine of the water as she goes to take out a swiffer and her dearest, most beloved roomba. She looks absolutely hopeless.

It’s only when Beidou is sitting on the cold porcelain of the toilet cover, peeling one of her socks off, that the situation that she’s gotten herself into really hits her. She mentally rechecks the facts as she shimmies out of the sopping wet tube that her poor little button-up has been reduced to, throwing it on the tiled floor with a damp plop.

1: Ningguang ordered takeout from Wanmin restaurant for exactly two days in a row, when she usually only eats out weekly. Sometimes only twice a month. She also chose what might be the worst possible time in the week to do such a thing, when normally her orders are during lulls in her shift or clear, sunny days.

2: This wouldn’t be particularly strange if she didn’t look incredibly shocked when Beidou showed up at her door, eyes wide and startlingly cute in a baggy sweater with her hair pulled into a high ponytail. And that’s rich, because she was the one who ordered the food in the first place. There’s always the possibility that it was an accident, but the restaurant got a call. You can’t call a restaurant by accident.

3: Ningguang seemed weirdly….hesitant? Embarrassed? When she was offering to let Beidou bathe, a service that she herself has extended to almost everyone who has entered her home. This one is less strange, seeing as they haven’t really held a conversation before, unless exchanging quips at Ningguang’s front door counts. It’s kind of a big leap.

4: Beidou is literally in Ningguang’s house, sitting on her toilet seat, stripped down to her skivvies and about to take a dip in her beautiful, marbled tub that probably cost a million dollars to install. The damn thing has a waterproof television embedded in the side, a small circular tray with a remote carved out of the polished stone and hidden in a forest of soaps and creams, and a jacuzzi button. This is absolutely ridiculous.

So, Beidou does what she does best and just rolls with it. She sits herself down on the side of the bathtub, turns on the tap, and fishes her phone out from the pile of clothes that was once her uniform. She notes, with a palpable sense of relief that there are no visible blemishes or cracks and it hasn’t gotten too waterlogged—all the Mora that she blew on getting an otterbox that one time finally paid off, so take that, Mom. Beidou sends out a quick text to Chef Mao, telling him that she’s going to clock out for tonight, and receives a thumbs up emoji and a smiley face in return.

When the water is comfortably hot, she lowers herself into the surprisingly roomy bathtub and submerges herself up to her nose so that the water swirls around her head and blocks out the sound of the rain and Ningguang’s busy feet as she stomps around upstairs.

She thinks about how she’s going to be able to wash herself with the same body lotion that Ningguang uses, and how she’s probably going to smell like her. She thinks about how she’s going to wear the same clothes that Ningguang uses, and how those are going to smell like her, too. She thinks about that for a while, just soaking in the bath, and then she allows herself a greedy little mental cheer of hell fucking yes.

Ningguang fusses over her walk-in closet for a humiliating amount of time, pacing back and forth as she sorts between the clothes that she’s labeled as casual wear. The last time she and Keqing had gone shopping, her fellow attorney had urged her to buy some more informal wear, complaining that Ningguang’s wardrobe consisted only of personally tailored suits and fine silk dresses, and that she needed to have more to wear than what she had called stuffy, yet necessary attire.

She had taken some offense to that—Ningguang admittedly doesn’t leave the house as often as she should, but she quite likes the reds, golds, and whites of her more formal attire. Still, Keqing had insisted, and so they had added a variety of more casual clothes to Ningguang’s collection.

In the present moment, she is more grateful to her friend than she may have ever been before, even when they worked together for months to win a case for the first, fateful time.

Ningguang ends up settling on a shirt that was always much too billowy and soft for her liking, crimson red with silver buttons, which will definitely fit nicely on Beidou’s more muscular form. She grabs a pair of black slacks wrapped around one of the hangers as well, and a couple of spare slippers.

When she heads down the stairs, she can hear the tell-tale gurgle of the bathtub as it drains out water. She stops before the bathroom door and knocks three times, politely.

“Yes?” A voice calls from inside, bouncing strangely off the tiles.

“I got you some clothes!” Ningguang says, pressing her ear to the door so she can hear better. “Do you want me to leave them out?”

“No, that’s alright,” Beidou’s voice says, coming closer. The door wrenches open. Ningguang pulls her face away from the sudden movement and shuts her eyes as quickly as possible, just in case she sees anything she’s not supposed to see.

Beidou chuckles. “It’s fine, I’m not naked or anything.”

“I think I’m okay where I am,” Ningguang says, as calmly as possible. Beidou is in front of her and probably wearing nothing but a towel. She holds out the clothes like an offering.

“Thanks,” Beidou says, as a damp hand grazes her wrist. “I’ll be out in a minute.”

The door shuts again, and Ningguang’s feet are stuck to the floor for an unflattering amount of time as she tries desperately to think pure thoughts.

“Hu Tao!!” Xiangling yells, the doors swinging in and out of sync as she runs out from the kitchen, waving her hand in the air and startling some of the passing waiters. Her hair is out of its net and done up in her usual two buns, meaning that cleanup is really, truly finished. “What does this mean?”

She’s holding her phone, cute panda case and all, and she places it on the desk where Hu Tao can see it clearly. She points at the string of messages on the screen. They read:

Beidou ★彡:
i'll be fine i promise! >:)

Beidou ★彡:
oh my god. i’m dying

Me:
Beidou??

Me:
Are you okay??

Me:
Are you okay hello????

Beidou ★彡:
oh sorry that wasn’t meant for you

Beidou ★彡:
i’m totally fine! dw

Ah.

“You want me to tell you what this means, really?” Hu Tao asks. It’s not entirely appropriate for someone Xiangling’s age, but they’ve both been invested in the slow-moving trainwreck that is Beidou’s love life for so long that she definitely deserves to know. They have a shared bond.

“Please, Hu Tao? I need answers!” Xiangling says, slumping over so that she’s on her knees with her head leaning on the desk, like she’s the world’s most pitiful creature.

“If you’re sure….” Hu Tao says, drawing her words out until the young girl is practically vibrating with excitement. She smiles her most evil smile, and pitches her voice down like she’s telling a terrible secret. Which she is, in a sense. “It means she and that rich lady are you-know-what.”

“No!!” Xiangling shrieks, exploding into giggles. “Gross, oh no, not Beidou.”

“Oh, but yes! Beidou and Ningguang are probably kissing in her big pretty mansion as we speak,” Hu Tao says, winking for good measure. She pokes at Xiangling’s forehead, making her laugh even more. “Now shoo! You have more work to do, don’t you?”

Xiangling sighs gustily, which means that she does. “But I put a whoopee cushion on one of the seats and I wanna see what happens when Chuyi from the teahouse comes over later,” she whines.

“Chuyi is visiting us?” Hu Tao asks seriously, because that changes the game.

Xiangling lifts her head to stare balefully at her friend. “Yes! And you know how much I hate her, I don’t know how my father puts up with her!”

“Xiangling, you are talking to a pranking master. Now, tell me what else you have planned for that girl.”

“Hey,” Beidou says, draping herself over the back of the couch. The shirt that Ningguang picked out hugs her shoulders a little too tightly for her liking, and she’s still slightly damp and sticky from the bath, but the distinctly Ningguang-flavored smoky-jasmine smell that lingers on her skin makes her feel about as warm and happy as a puppy in a blanket.

Ningguang closes the book in her hands with a short snap. It’s a shame. Beidou was attempting to read the wobbly little lines, though the story was clearly in the midst of a complicated plot that made barely any sense without context. “You’re finished?”

“Yup,” Beidou affirms, tying her still-wet hair in a low ponytail with a silk scrunchie she found while digging through Ningguang’s vanity. “I’ll get out of your hair soon, don’t worry.”

That gets Ningguang to tilt her head up so it rests against the back of the sofa, meeting Beidou’s gaze head-on. “Wait, are you leaving?”

“Yes?” Beidou says, confused. “Oh! Right, I’ll just swing around tomorrow and drop off your clothes. I’ve got your address right here.” She gives the side of her head a little tap. If Ningguang has a problem with Beidou coming to her house three days in a row, she shouldn’t have ordered out twice. Or offered her a bath. Or offered up her clothes.

“No, not that,” Ningguang says, standing and dusting off her knees. “Are you really going to go without eating anything?”

“Huh? I mean, I am hungry, but I thought I’d just….” Beidou trails off, watching in bewilderment as Ningguang makes her way over to the shiny black fridge where she last put the boxes of takeout. “I’d just leave?”

At a loss of anything else to do, Beidou follows Ningguang over, taking a seat at one of the stools by the kitchen island and watching as she pulls out the exact same box of food that Beidou gave her earlier.

“Isn’t that for you?” Beidou asks, placing her chin in her hand. “You ordered it, didn’t you?”

“Oh, Gods, did I not—” Ningguang says, hands twitching on the styrofoam like she wants to hit something, maybe, or facepalm. She decides to place the food in the microwave instead, letting it simmer in the artificial heat. “No, um, that was a friend of mine. A very meddlesome friend.”

“Meddlesome?” Beidou says, questioning.

“Maybe not meddlesome,” Ningguang considers. She takes a cup of pomegranate arils from the fridge, apparently all she’s going to eat tonight, and rummages around in her silverware drawer before retrieving a pair of chopsticks and a spoon that just looks expensive. “But it’s complicated. I suppose she was looking out for my best interests, in a roundabout way.”

The microwave beeps, and Ningguang retrieves the styrofoam container from the tiny little oven, sliding it across the counter to where Beidou can crack it open as she crosses the kitchen. She takes a seat on the stool adjacent to where Beidou is sitting, and peels the plastic lid off of her pomegranate seeds.

The stir fry is wonderfully fragrant and spicy, rich with the depth of flavor that is often found in Li-style cuisine. Beidou eats a lot of food made by Xiangling, and that includes meals from Wanmin restaurant consumed on and off the clock, but her dishes somehow taste different every time she eats them.

She chalks it up to the fact that Xiangling is practically a food scientist, recognized as a culinary prodigy by nearly everyone she encounters while traveling Teyvat in the search for new and interesting ingredients.

She has the full support of her father and a tight-knit group of friends by her side as she tests out her ideas during late nights at Wanmin restaurant, and as one of her regular taste-testers, Beidou can confirm that her young friend is one of the best chefs Liyue has to offer. So, despite her curiosity about what exactly Ningguang’s friend was doing by ordering out for her friend during a torrential downpour, she decides to not push the issue and digs in.

It’s only after a few moments of silent eating that Ningguang seems to realize that Beidou is missing her eyepatch—she had taken it off while in the shower, seeing as it was far too wet to wear without risking any infection. Ningguang continues digging around in her cup of arils, seemingly unbothered, but Beidou still sees her eyebrows raise in interest.

It’s not as though Beidou is insecure about her scars, but she’s well aware that most people tend to find the milky cloudiness and the scar tissue that surrounds her left eye off-putting. She chooses to cover it for their sake, and because she’s getting more and more light-sensitive as time goes on. Its fine. She had always wanted to be a pirate as a child anyways.

“Ah,” Ningguang says slowly, lowering her spoon. “Your eye.”

“You noticed,” Beidou responds through a mouthful of stir fry. She swallows thickly, and looks at Ningguang pointedly. “Does it bug you?”

“Why would it bother me?” She asks. “It’s only your eye. If anything, I find it very beautiful.”

Beidou feels the tips of her ears warm. “Pshaw,” she manages to huff out, too pleasantly embarrassed to say anything else.

“Honestly, I do,” Ningguang says, twisting around on her stool so that she’s facing Beidou. She brushes a few stray strands of hair away, gazing directly into her eyes and running a thumb over where the scar clips at her eyebrow. “Do you not believe me?”

“Not really,” Beidou says, a little too stunned to be anything but painfully honest. Ningguang’s hands are as cold as they were when they last touched in the muggy humidity of yesterday evening, but the feeling is pleasant in the way that an ice pack cools down too-hot skin.

Ningguang leans in, lowers her voice. “How can I show you?”

Oh, Beidou thinks, somewhat stupidly. Oh, this is what we’re doing. Cool, cool. Secretly, it took a little more time to get to this point than she really wished. But she definitely doesn’t mind that it’s happening now, when she feels clean and happy with food in her belly.

Beidou drops her head down to press a butterfly-soft kiss to Ningguang’s collarbone, the line of her neck exposed as her sweater falls over her shoulder. She draws herself back soon after, looks back at Ningguang’s flushed face and wide eyes and feels uncharacteristically shy. “Like that?”

Ningguang stares for a moment that feels like years, before gripping Beidou by the shoulders and planting the softest, tiniest kiss to the apple of her cheek, then to the side of her temple, her forehead, the space right above her eyelid and below her brow.

She leans back, whispers, “Where else,” in a low tone.

Beidou takes Ningguang’s hand and places the pad of her finger on her right cheek, where she dutifully presses another kiss. She follows Beidou’s hands to her hairline, where she hit her head while climbing a tree as a child, then to her jaw where she had her wisdom teeth removed, her throat where all her silly words come out, the bridge of her nose where the hole from a botched piercing still sits years later. She lets Ningguang map out her face with her mouth, gently caressing all the places where she once was hurt.

After what feels like hours of just feather-light touches, Beidou pulls away. “What about you?” She mumbles, feeling far too pampered.

Ningguang smiles, and silently points to her lips.

That’s more than enough for Beidou. She surges forward and captures Ningguang’s mouth in hers, not even caring that she probably tastes like Jueyun chilies and sesame oil and other savory, unsexy foods. Ningguang asked, and she seems pretty damn receptive, making funny little breathy noises into Beidou’s mouth and gripping at her back for purchase as she deepens the kiss. Her hands scrabble around for a moment and she suddenly breaks away, gasping for air.

“Uh, is something wrong?” Beidou asks, wiping at her mouth with the back of her wrist and lowering her hand, trying to give Ningguang some space.

“No, no problems, I’m just,” Ningguang exhales, shaky, and moves forward from her stool so that she’s sitting in Beidou’s lap, wrapping her legs around her hips. “This should be better, right?”

“Oh, much better,” Beidou agrees, mouth suddenly dry. “Can I,” she asks, and she moves her hand in the direction of Ningguang’s thigh as the other woman nods enthusiastically. She spots something incredibly interesting where the other woman’s shorts ride up, running her hand up and down the smooth patch of skin. “Is this a tattoo?”

Ningguang turns a lovely shade of pink. “Oh, that,” she says weakly. “It was a commemorative gift from when I passed the bar exam. You know,” she lets out a wobbly little laugh. “Teenage things.”

Beidou grins, and gently traces the crimson lines as they travel down her leg, drawing a shiver out of the other woman. “A Phoenix? It looks pretty,” she praises, before squeezing at the meat of her thigh, just enough to sting a little bit.

Ningguang makes a really beautiful noise in response, one that Beidou would really like to hear again, and she quickly shuts her up with another kiss.

Ningguang wakes slowly, with the sort of sleepy, relaxed bonelessness that is often too good to be true. She’s probably late to work, seeing as the sun is already high and warm in the sky, and she’s in desperate need of a shower that she definitely doesn’t have the time to take. She doesn’t really care.

When she sits up, pulling the covers down to her waist, she can see that Beidou is taking up the other half of the bed. She’s curled on her side with the duvet pulled high, and as Ningguang leans over her, she notes that half of the bedsheets are piled on the floor. Her hair fans out across the pillow, like some inky, tentacled sea monster, and, actually, Ningguang might have some of it stuck in her mouth—a necessary risk she took by volunteering to be the big spoon.

That being said, the sight of Beidou lying next to her fills Ningguang with some unnamed possessive feeling that warms her straight to her core. She reaches a blind hand out to the side table on her left, scrabbling around until she makes contact with her phone, and untangles it from the webbing of the extension cord.

Ningguang snaps a quick picture, saves it to her “Favorites” album, and then promptly dials Ganyu’s number. Her assistant picks up immediately.

“Ganyu.” Ningguang says, speaking slowly and quietly into the speaker so that she doesn’t wake Beidou.

“Boss? What’s going on?” She asks. Feigning innocence, the little terror.

Ningguang pauses, collecting herself.

“I’ll be taking the day off, if you don’t mind,” she says.

The ensuing commotion is so loud that it does, in fact, wake Beidou, and possibly the entire neighborhood. Ningguang can’t find it within herself to mind.