“You’ve really been having dreams about her? Both of you?” Heavenly Father’s gaze was sharp and piercing as he met the eyes of his twin sons in turn.
“Yes, Father. Da Ge and I dream about her every night. Vivid dreams… not the kind that fade away in the morning and feel like no more than a distant memory. We remember them clearly. And…”
“We’ve had the same dream.”
“A shared dream?” Heavenly Mother’s eyes were filled with worry as she assessed her sons and the unusual request they were making.
Mo Yuan nodded. “Yes. I’ve seen Ye Hua and myself planting peach trees with our Fox Goddess. And Ye Hua has dreamt of the same thing.”
“There’ve been children in the most recent dreams, Mother. Both Da Ge and I have seen them.”
“Children? Your children?”
“Yes, Father. Both Ye Hua and I believe they are our children. I feel this overwhelming sensation of love and protectiveness… and joy when I hear them playing. It’s difficult to describe.”
“If both of you marry the same woman, you will never know whose children they are. There will always be the unanswered question of whether the child is yours or your brother’s. Are both of you prepared to live with that uncertainty?”
“Yes. I have no objections to raising children fathered by Da Ge as my own. The children will be both of ours regardless of whose seed led to their conception.”
“And you are okay with it as well, Mo Yuan?”
“Is there a possibility the Fox Goddess is carrying a child by one of you even now as we speak?”
Both Ye Hua and Mo Yuan stilled, glancing at each other in surprise. Neither of them had considered their sweet fox might be pregnant after their most recent night of lovemaking until right this second. Mo Yuan had not changed his semen when he released himself inside her. It was something he and Ye Hua had always been so careful about when they were with a woman in the past, both women they had shared and those they had not. An illegitimate pregnancy involving either of them would be a scandal of epic proportions in the Heavens. And yet, neither he nor Ye Hua had given it the slightest thought while making love to their Fox Goddess.
“Well? Why the hesitation? It’s a question with a yes or no answer.”
“Your silence speaks volumes already. Mo Yuan?”
“Is it possible the Fox Goddess is already pregnant? I assume she is a young, unmarried woman. Did either of you take steps to alter your seed to prevent conception?”
“No, Father. I forgot… Neither of us remembered to do so. It’s possible she is already pregnant if she did not take an herbal contraceptive beforehand.”
“I see.” Heavenly Father released a heavy sigh. “I can’t say I’m happy to hear my sons have been so irresponsible with a young woman’s life. But, I also can’t deny the significance of the dreams you’ve both been having. I still have some reservations but…”
“Do you love her, Mo Yuan?” Heavenly Mother interrupted, looking at both her sons in turn. “Ye Hua?”
“Yes.” They answered in unison without hesitation.
“Spending time with our Fox Goddess makes me happy. I’m content when she’s near and I long for her company when she’s not,” Ye Hua explained, reassuring his mother all was well. “She makes me feel whole inside, like she’s the woman I’ve always been searching for.”
“Being near her fills me with peace,” Mo Yuan added. “She makes my life feel calm and fulfilled in a way that even days of meditation can’t quite achieve.”
“Both of you feel this way because of time you’ve spent with the Fox Goddess in your dreams?” Heavenly Mother asked to clarify her sons’ feelings.
They nodded. “Yes, Mother.”
“Do you believe the Fox Goddess feels the same way about both of you?”
“She knew who I was by the sound of my voice alone,” Mo Yuan answered for both of them, remembering the way his sweet fox had spoken his name without hesitation. A woman who could tell them apart so easily must be in love. He had no doubts that their sweet fox could already list many of the ways he and Ye Hua differed from each other even if she had only spent two nights with them. He looked forward to her learning all of them.
“You’re the only other person who can tell us apart like that,” Ye Hua added, smiling at his mother’s relieved expression. “Even Father gets tripped up sometimes when he can’t see which one of us is talking.”
“You must bring your Fox Goddess to the palace very soon,” Heavenly Father spoke up, reaching to hold his wife’s hand tightly when her eyes teared up with happiness. “Your mother and I would like to meet the woman who managed to steal the hearts and souls of both of our sons.”
“Yes,” Heavenly Father answered with a pleased smile. “You have my blessing to pursue your Fox Goddess and convince her to marry both of you.”
Ye Hua shared an excited grin with his brother as the earring appeared in his hand. There would be no convincing needed. All they had to do was track her down…
Ye Hua couldn’t hide the elation in his expression when he stepped outside, squinting for a moment as his eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight compared to the dark interior of the jeweler’s shop where he had just spent the last few minutes having one of the most important conversations of his life. After centuries of futile searching, he finally knew his sweet fox’s name and where to find her.
As Ye Hua had hoped, it had been the jeweler’s name etched on the back of the earring and he had been able to use that information to find the correct shop. By mutual agreement, Ye Hua and Mo Yuan had decided Ye Hua should be the one to talk to the jeweler. The wizened old man had recognized the earring right away when Ye Hua showed it to him, having made it specially for a prominent merchant in town to give to his daughter for her birthday. It was the only thing he readily shared. He had, otherwise, been unwilling to answer any of Ye Hua’s followup questions at first. But the jeweler’s reticence changed quickly when Ye Hua revealed his identity; then the man had been very forthcoming with any and all information.
Her name was Bai Qian. She was the only daughter of Bai Zhi, a Fox God and the owner of the peach orchard located in a remote area beyond the outskirts of the town. The youngest of five children, she still lived at home with her parents and one of her brothers. The jeweler had asked Ye Hua to keep the true identity of her father a secret. Very few people knew Bai Zhi was a nine-tailed fox and a god.
Ye Hua still couldn’t get over that last revelation as he walked down the main street, ignoring those who stopped to watch him with questioning eyes. Wanting to avoid causing a ruckus if possible out of respect for Bai Qian’s privacy and that of her family, Mo Yuan was waiting for Ye Hua just outside of town. This far from the Heavens, neither twin was as easily recognized unless the both of them were spotted standing together. His steps quickened as he weaved his way along the crowded street. There was much he needed to tell his brother.
In the end, Ye Hua knew his father had been persuaded most by the shared dreams. But the fact Bai Qian was a Fox Goddess had not hurt either. Goddesses were incredibly rare in the world and nine-tailed foxes even more so; so rare in fact that up until the day Bai Qian revealed her fox form at the festival, most people thought they only existed in stories these days. It astounded Ye Hua to learn a family of nine-tailed foxes had been living here all this time, hiding from the realms in plain sight. It explained how Bai Qian had been so skilled at avoiding him and Mo Yuan.
Their sweet fox would no longer be able to avoid them now. The thought brought a bright smile to Ye Hua’s face.
“Well?” Mo Yuan demanded as soon as Ye Hua walked within sight of his brother. “Did you learn her name?”
“Yes, Da Ge. Her name is Bai Qian.” Ye Hua was unable to hide his amusement at the obvious impatience he heard in his brother’s tone. Stoic Mo Yuan rarely allowed so much of his emotions to show. While often only Ye Hua or their parents could read him accurately, right now anybody who saw Mo Yuan would be able to detect his eager anticipation. “Her father is Bai Zhi, a Fox God.”
“Bai Qian.” Mo Yuan repeated her name with soft wonder, as if he wanted to savor the sound of it spoken in his voice. “It’s a lovely name.”
Ye Hua nodded. “A beautiful name that fits our sweet fox.”
“We’re another step closer to tracking her down.”
“We’re there now, Da Ge.”
Mo Yuan’s eyes glinted with surprised interest. “You mean…?”
Tucking Bai Qian’s earring back into its safe spot in the hidden pocket of his robe, nestled between the two strips of crimson silk he also had stashed there, Ye Hua nodded again. “The jeweler was able to tell me where she lives. Her family owns a peach orchard nearby. If we follow the main road heading south, approximately five miles outside of town there will be a stone pathway veering off to the left that will take us there. He said we can’t miss it as long as we know the path is there. Otherwise, the path is invisible to all who pass by it.”
“Why didn’t you say that in the first place?” Mo Yuan growled his impatience. “We’re wasting time we could be spending with her. Let’s go.”
Grinning when Mo Yuan faded from sight to cloud-jump to the other side of town, Ye Hua followed in his brother’s wake, catching up with Mo Yuan where the unassuming stone pathway turned off from the dirt road. His eyes could follow it for quite a ways where it trailed through an area of dense hardwood forest but he could not see its endpoint because the path curved off to the right.
Staring at the stones that would lead him and his brother to their sweet fox, Ye Hua’s amusement faded and his face became serious as he experienced the first twinges of nervous tension. The next hurdle to making Bai Qian his and Mo Yuan’s wife for eternity was her parents, more specifically her father. A man who valued his privacy and had carefully guarded his family’s secrets for millenia would probably not welcome the idea of his daughter marrying even one of Heavenly Father’s sons, much less both of them.
While Mo Yuan would do whatever he could to help, Ye Hua understood the job of convincing Bai Zhi would mostly fall to him. Mo Yuan may be unmatched when it came to war strategy but the difficult negotiations that came after the battle were Ye Hua’s strength. His talent would be needed today.
Ye Hua would make this particular negotiation happen; whatever it took, he would find a way. For when it came to the chance of spending a lifetime at Bai Qian’s side, Ye Hua would not entertain the idea of failure for even a millisecond. And neither would Mo Yuan. Ye Hua couldn’t say whether it had been fate or just a simple stroke of luck that had brought their sweet fox into their lives that night but, in the end, it didn’t matter because nothing could take her away from them, not even her powerful father.
With that thought in mind, Ye Hua started down the path with determined strides, Mo Yuan following close behind him.
Sitting at the front window in her room on the second level of the house, Bai Qian’s eyes never left the break in the trees where the path connecting her family’s land with the main road started. She could feel her dragons approaching, had been able to sense they were close since the second they had arrived in town, even with the miles still separating them. Bai Qian couldn’t explain how she had been able to detect their presence over such a distance but she did not doubt her instincts telling her they were near.
Relief followed by a happy exuberance had overwhelmed her when she first realized they had found the earring and had both come looking for her. She had not been sure they would do so after their last awkward conversation but she had found ways to keep her parents in town just in case. Now, as she waited for them to appear, doubt and nervous anxiety tried to creep their way inside her, tempering some of her excited anticipation.
What if their visit today was not about marriage at all? What if they still wanted to keep their relationship with her casual? Would she have the resolve needed to deny them?
Hoping she wouldn’t need to find out, Bai Qian’s stomach dropped when Ye Hua and Mo Yuan finally emerged from among the trees, their hunter green robes blending in with the forest behind them. Her heart warmed at the sight of them; both of her dragons exuded strength and agile power with every step they took. Their very presence tugged on something vital inside her.
Unable to tear her eyes away from them, Bai Qian followed their quick progress across the large yard. The serious expressions on their faces gave nothing away. Could they feel her watching them? She suspected they could even if they did not stop or look her way.
Whatever the outcome of today, Bai Qian knew she would never forget this moment. The sight of both men approaching her family home after taking the time to track her down would be permanently etched in her mind for eternity. It wouldn’t matter whether the memory ultimately ended up being a happy one that provided her comfort or an unwelcome one that filled her with sadness and regret; the image would always be with her.
Ears perking up at the sound of a firm knock followed by the rattle of the wooden front door sliding open, Bai Qian barely breathed as she listened to the conversation taking place right below her.
The uncertain voice of Migu, the wood sprite who had insisted on serving the family ever since her father had rescued him from a fire, reached her first when he greeted Mo Yuan and Ye Hua. She wondered if the sprite would recognize the twins as Heavenly Father’s sons based on the appearance of their identical faces. Sure enough, Bai Qian heard Migu nervously stutter his way through a second, more formal, greeting.
A shiver tingled down her spine when Bai Qian heard the deep tones of Ye Hua’s voice, followed by those of Mo Yuan’s, as they both greeted Migu in return. Would there ever come a day when the sound of her dragons speaking failed to elicit a response within her? Bai Qian hoped she never reached that day.
“How may I be of assistance, your Highnesses?”
“We are here to speak with Bai Zhi. Is he available?”
A radiant smile she could not contain spread across Bai Qian’s face when she heard Ye Hua’s request. The twins were here to speak with her father. She knew that could only mean one thing. Feeling at peace for the first time in days, Bai Qian’s anticipation grew as she listened to the familiar footsteps of her dragons following Migu to her father’s study. She would like to be there to support them while they spoke with her father but she knew neither one of them would appreciate her interference.
But that didn’t mean she couldn’t listen in on the conversation. Did she dare?
Curiosity getting the best of her, Bai Qian left her room and started to sneak her way down the stairs. If she stood close enough to her father’s study door, she could usually find a way to get around his privacy barrier to listen. She didn’t use the trick very often but today was a special occasion.
“Qian Qian! Wait, Qian Qian. Don’t go down there.”
Sighing when her brother’s frantic voice whispered up to her from the bottom of the staircase, Bai Qian frowned at him as he ran up the steps to stop her.
“What did you do, Qian Qian?! The twin dragons are here. They’re talking to Father right now and they don’t look happy. I thought you said the ‘little misunderstanding’ with the Heavens had been cleared up and they had stopped looking for you. What’s happened now?”
“I lied.” How could she best explain the situation to her brother? “It wasn’t a misunderstanding really. It was…”
“You lied?! So it hasn’t been cleared up then?”
“There’s no time. Tell me later. They’ve found you! You need to get out of here! You can sneak out the back and lose them in the peach trees. I’ll cover for you and stall them for as long as I can.”
“Don’t be silly, Si Ge. I’m not going to run from them this time.”
“This time? They’ve almost caught you before?”
Ignoring her brother’s confused look, Bai Qian tried to maneuver herself around her brother only to be halted when he grabbed her shoulders.
“I’m serious, Qian Qian. You need to leave. They look angry.”
“They’re not angry,” Bai Qian responded, voice indignant as she defended her dragons. She pulled out of her brother’s grip and successfully moved around him, continuing her trek to the study.
“Their expressions can look stern when they’re focused,” she continued when her brother followed close on her heels. “And they’re probably a little nervous. But they’re definitely not angry.”
“What are you talking about?! Do you know the Celestial Princes? You failed to mention that part before.”
“Shh.” Bai Qian shushed her brother, holding one finger against her lips before giving him a stern expression of her own. “I want to hear what they’re saying to Father.” She stepped close to the study door on quiet steps, tweaking the privacy barrier before her with her magic.
Frowning in concentration, Bai Qian held her breath as she leaned in, bringing her right ear closer to the door.
“What did you say?!”
Cringing when she heard her father’s raised voice, Bai Qian worried about how the conversation taking place inside the room was going. Her father sounded irate. He was typically an easy going person but he was also very protective of his only daughter. Wishing she could be present to show her support for Ye Hua and Mo Yuan, Bai Qian considered knocking on the door to interrupt. Would her dragons be upset with her if she interfered?
Jumping when she heard her father call her name, Bai Qian started scrambling away from the door as the privacy barrier disappeared.
“I know you’re out there eavesdropping, Bai Qian. Get in here.”
How did he know? Bai Qian mouthed the question silently as she flashed her brother a helpless look. Her brother merely shrugged in response with a smirk. Bai Qian scowled at his expression.
“Now, Bai Qian.”
Peeking her head around the door when she opened it, Bai Qian’s face heated as two sets of piercing russet eyes zeroed in on her, capturing her attention and refusing to let it go. Their expressions remained impassive but she could see sparks of amusement in their eyes. They were enjoying her predicament! She tried to scowl at them but the effect was lost when Ye Hua winked at her, the cheeky gesture surprising her, and her blush deepened. Maybe they weren’t nervous after all. Her heart started pounding as she lost herself in their intense gazes.
The annoyed tone of her father barking her name reminded Bai Qian she was not alone with her dragons and she snapped her attention forward, finding her father frowning at her. She willed her blush away, trying her best to mimic her dragons’ stoic, unflappable expressions. Judging by her father’s deepening look of disapproval, she wasn’t fooling him.
“I’ve just learned that you proposed marriage to the Celestial Princes…both of them. At the same time. Is this true, Bai Qian?”
Bai Qian froze, unsure what to say. How could they tell her father about that?! What else had they told him?! She opened her mouth to respond but no words came out. Warmth engulfed her body as both Mo Yuan and Ye Hua stepped close to her side, moving simultaneously, to lend her their silent support. She took a deep breath, feeling braver now that they were next to her.
“Yes. It’s true.”
“Well, they’ve accepted your proposal,” he told her, voice calm and not giving much of his thoughts away. “And so has Heavenly Father.”
She waited for him to continue but he said nothing more. She forced herself to remain quiet while her heart skipped with excitement in her chest. As she stood before him, watching her father weigh the possible consequences of honoring the proposal she had made, Bai Qian silently urged him to agree. She knew a woman asking two men to marry her was a bold, unheard of move; some would judge her harshly for it despite the fact many men had multiple consorts. And she knew her family would not be able to avoid the spotlight completely if this marriage happened. Her father would be considering these same things. Would he be willing to overlook them?
“Is this marriage really what you want, Qian Qian?”
Her father’s voice was filled with worry now and Bai Qian loved her father more at that moment than she ever had before because she realized he would let go of his long guarded privacy if her relationship with Mo Yuan and Ye Hua was that important to her. And she also realized he would refuse to allow the marriage without hesitation, taking the risk of offending Heavenly Father himself, if she were actually being coerced in some way. He would suffer the consequences, whatever they might be, to protect her and her happiness.
“More than anything, Father. I love them both.”
Bai Qian didn’t miss the sound of the surprised breaths coming from both men when she made her declaration out loud but she continued to face her father, waiting to hear his response. She had imagined telling Mo Yuan and Ye Hua she loved them for the first time in a much different manner but Bai Qian knew of no better way to convince her father she was serious about wanting to marry them.
“Very well,” her father said with a sigh, breaking eye contact with her after a few seconds to look at Mo Yuan and then Ye Hua. “You have my permission to marry my daughter. Both of you.”
“Thank you!” Bai Qian rushed to her father’s side giving him a big hug and kiss on the cheek. She couldn’t remember a time she had felt as much joy as she did right now.
“Now I will have to convince your mother this is a good idea when she gets home,” he told her with another sigh before returning her hug briefly. He straightened and gave her a serious look. “Wait outside my study, Qian Qian. There are important things I still need to say to the two young dragons.”
“Be nice, Father,” Bai Qian scolded him over her shoulder as she hurried to the door, only allowing herself a brief glance at Ye Hua and then Mo Yuan before she left the room. If she met their eyes for too long with the way she was feeling right now, she would be lost in their presence.
“No eavesdropping this time, Qian Qian.”
A privacy barrier slammed into place across the door and Bai Qian didn’t dare interfere with her father’s magic again. She turned with a bright smile on her face only to find her brother staring at her as if he had never seen her before in his life.
“Are you crazy?! You asked the twin dragons to marry you? Both of them?”
“They have names, Si Ge.”
“I know. I just…I don’t know…You really want to marry two men? Two dragon princes?! You don’t know anything about royalty!”
“Yes, I want to marry Ye Hua and Mo Yuan.” She gave her brother a pointed look. “Don’t worry about me. Please just be happy for me instead.”
She watched him start to argue but then change his mind with a sigh. “You’re right. Congratulations, Qian Qian. I hope the three of you are happy together.”
“We will be.” Mo Yuan made sure to make direct eye contact with the other man when he stepped through the doorway and responded, allowing Bai Qian’s brother to see the sincerity behind his words. Bai Qian murmured his name softly without turning to look as he took his place next to her, filling Mo Yuan with that warm peace only she could give and reassuring him, once again, she was the perfect woman for both him and Ye Hua. Fate had smiled down upon them both when Mo Yuan and Ye Hua had gone hunting in the bamboo forest that first night.
“Your…your Highness! Wel…”
“There’s no need for that,” Mo Yuan said, interrupting Bai Qian’s brother before he could complete the formal bow and greeting. Mo Yuan did not want there to be awkward formality between him and a man he would soon call family. He tried to make his expression as friendly as possible. “Please. Just call me Mo Yuan.”
“And I’m Ye Hua.”
Mo Yuan glanced at his brother, not surprised to find an open smile on his face.
“It’s nice to meet you, Ye Hua. Mo Yuan. I’m Bai Zhen.”
Pleased to see Bai Zhen relax and offer a tentative smile of his own, Mo Yuan forced himself to remain patient while Ye Hua stood and made friendly small talk with Bai Qian’s brother, knowing the move would put Bai Zhen even more at ease. Finally, after several minutes, Mo Yuan caught Ye Hua’s attention and conveyed without words that he was beyond ready to have some time alone with their sweet fox. He could tell Ye Hua agreed with him.
“It was nice meeting you, Bai Zhen,” Ye Hua said as he turned back to Bai Zhen. “Stop by the Heavens when you have some time. Mo Yuan and I will show you around the training grounds there.” Ye Hua looked back at Mo Yuan. “Right, Da Ge.”
Mo Yuan nodded his agreement, clasping Bai Qian’s hand with his. He guided her toward the front door, waiting for Ye Hua to catch up before stepping outside. Bai Qian looked at both of them with surprised eyes.
“We’re leaving right now? But, my father…”
“Will understand, Qian Qian,” Ye Hua finished for her. “He may not like us leaving so soon but he understands.”
Mo Yuan scooped her up into his arms, ignoring her squeak of surprise. “There are things we need to discuss, Qian Qian.”
Ye Hua captured her lips with his own, silencing her protest with a fervent kiss and reminding Mo Yuan it had been weeks since they had last made love to their sweet fox, their fiancee.
Ye Hua straightened. “Let’s get out of here, Da Ge.”
“I’m right behind you,” Mo Yuan answered, tightening his hold on Bai Qian and jumping them both up into the clouds as desire flashed through his veins.
⇛ Next part: Hunting 7: Claiming Their Fox, part 2
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