A chorus of excited laughter rang out from the children gathered around her as Bai Qian finished telling the adventurous tale. Sharing her father’s stories with the children of Qing Qiu was always one of the highlights of her week. The children, their numbers growing all the time to Bai Qian’s delight, would meet her at the restored pavilion by the lake with its shining pearls to listen to Bai Qian tell stories. The fragrance from the nearby flowers in her now thriving garden permeated the air as Bai Qian laughed along with her audience.
Using magic to help bring the tales to life, she would tell them all of her childhood favorites while adding some new stories of her own. She would often include cherished memories of her family as well to keep their legacy alive. Bai Qian would make sure her family was never forgotten here in Qing Qiu.
Bai Qian stood to greet a waving Xiaoli as her friend came by to pick up her young daughter and the other children too young to walk back to the village on their own. They spoke for a few minutes, discussing the latest happenings in Qing Qiu.
Since Bai Qian and Ye Hua could only live in Qing Qiu part time, she had asked Xiaoli and her husband along with Guangli and Biyu to watch over the people of the village. They would ensure everybody was living well and in peace whenever Bai Qian was away in the Heavens. The four of them had the authority to manage any small troubles that crept up. They would contact Bai Qian and Ye Hua directly if anything more serious needed to be handled.
Xiaoli’s attention was pulled away midsentence by a wandering boy. She ran over to him, taking him by the hand to lead him back in the other direction. “I need to go before I lose somebody,” she called out with a laugh, bowing to Bai Qian hastily before gathering several children around her and her daughter.
Bai Qian smiled as she watched them walk away, happy Qing Qiu and its village was alive and thriving once again. Her family’s land had become everything she had hoped it would. It was a safe home for those who needed one.
Turning, she hurried away from the lake, heading towards the peach tree forest and Zhe Yan’s cabin. The air was warm and refreshing, carrying the sweet scents of spring, and the sky was a vivid blue with white billowing clouds. It was the perfect day for a picnic.
With a wave of magic, Bai Qian changed into her favorite dress as she walked, its mismatched colors and uneven hem a close match to the one she had loved so much as a girl. Ye Hua had given her many wonderful gifts over the years of their marriage but this dress would always be one of her favorites. She wore it as often as she could even after the other ladies in the Heavens had attempted to imitate its design. Ye Hua had grumbled for weeks about that, irritated they were trying to steal his wife’s unique and creative style, until Bai Qian had convinced him it should be taken as a compliment.
The dress brought her so much joy to wear, especially because it always reminded her of the first day she had met Ye Hua, a day that had come to be a special memory for both of them. Would Ye Hua and the black dragon have tried so hard to find her in the forest if that first meeting between them had never occurred? It was an interesting question but one she would never know the answer to. What she did know is that she was grateful for every moment with Ye Hua including that first argument with him.
“Qian Qian!” Meixiu called out as Bai Qian approached the small pavilion Zhe Yan had built next to his cabin. Mo Yuan helped a very pregnant Meixiu get to her feet so she could hurry over and give Bai Qian a hug. Meixiu was due to give birth any day now and Mo Yuan was never far from her side as they both looked forward to the birth of their daughter. Zhe Yan had been almost certain their first child was going to be a girl with the spirit of an eagle like her mother. Bai Qian couldn’t wait to meet her niece.
“How are you feeling?” Bai Qian asked, hugging Meixiu back.
“A lot less graceful than I used to be,” she answered with a grin. “And really tired. But, otherwise, I feel good.”
Mo Yuan helped Meixiu back to her seat next to his and Zhe Yan’s. Zhe Yan handed Bai Qian a cup of his best peach wine, the variety even Ye Hua liked, before refilling Meixiu’s cup of tea.
“You remember your part in the plan, right Qian Qian?” Zhe Yan asked her, an eager expression on his face.
She grinned and nodded, taking a sip of the sweet wine she enjoyed so much.
“Speaking of the plan, where is Ye Hua?” Mo Yuan looked around with a frown at his brother’s absence. “He’s late. You don’t think he knows, do you?”
“I’m sure he doesn’t,” Bai Qian answered. “He’s given no sign he suspects this is anything more than a meal with family. He wanted to work on that painting for Kunlun Temple after his meeting this morning. You know how involved he gets when he’s painting. He’ll realize what time it is eventually.”
As if their conversation had conjured him, Ye Hua appeared, an apologetic expression on his face. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, hurrying over to join them. He had specks of blue paint on his fingers. Bai Qian wiped the paint away with a small shake of her head before giving her husband an affectionate kiss on the cheek.
“It’s about time you got here,” Mo Yuan said, hiding amusement behind a feigned expression of annoyance. “I was beginning to think I needed to go up to the Heavens in order to drag you down here.”
“How are you, Meixiu?” Ye Hua asked, pointedly ignoring his brother’s words. “I hope you’re feeling well.”
“I am,” she responded.
“And you, Zhe Yan?” Ye Hua said, still ignoring Mo Yuan. “It’s been weeks since I saw you last.”
“I’m hungry,” Zhe Yan replied. “Mo Yuan is right. It is about time you got here.”
“Never keep a pregnant lady waiting,” Mo Yuan added.
Ye Hua growled something rude under his breath before cracking a smile and they all started laughing.
The scent of spiced salmon filled the air as Zhe Yan summoned a variety of dishes to the table in the pavilion.
“Everything looks and smells delicious,” Bai Qian told him, her mouth watering at the sight of the food. She had skipped breakfast that morning and her stomach rumbled with hunger. Ye Hua flashed her a teasing grin when he heard it, piling a large amount of food on a plate for her.
“I can’t eat all that,” she protested.
“I’ll finish whatever is left,” Ye Hua told her with a wink. “I’m starving.”
“How are things going in Qing Qiu?” Mo Yuan asked Bai Qian as they all started eating.
Conversation turned from the latest restoration efforts in Qing Qiu to the meeting Ye Hua had in the Heavens earlier in the day. Ye Hua filled his brother in on all the latest events. Then, Zhe Yan shared details about the improvements he had made to the healing center he was in the process of building in a clearing of the forest.
It would be a place for Zhe Yan to further his medicine practice and treat those who were sick or injured. Bai Qian thought the peach tree forest was the perfect place to recover from both physical wounds and emotional ones. That was one reason she had insisted the forest should be Zhe Yan’s when he once tried to give it to her and Ye Hua.
The forest would always be a special place for Bai Qian but Zhe Yan could do so much good with it. And she knew she could visit her beloved peach trees whenever she wanted. The only place in the forest that still remained hers and Ye Hua’s was the ancient grove at its heart. The two of them would be forever linked to those powerful, majestic trees.
“Will you show us the healing center, Zhe Yan?” Meixiu asked when they had finished the meal and there was a lull in conversation. Her eyes met Bai Qian’s with a conspiratorial glance.
Bai Qian perked up. It was time. “That’s a good idea. I would like to see it, too. Maybe we could go for a walk afterwards? The weather is so nice. It’d be a shame not to take advantage of it.”
“It is the perfect day for it,” Zhe Yan agreed. “I think the light exercise will do Meixiu some good as well.”
“You’ve been tired lately. Are you sure you feel up to a walk?” Mo Yuan asked Meixiu, having no problem playing the worried husband and father-to-be. If Bai Qian didn’t know better, she would think the reluctance in his tone was real. But they had been planning this for weeks.
“I’ll be fine,” Meixiu answered, struggling to get to her feet. Mo Yuan immediately jumped up to help her.
Bai Qian took Ye Hua’s hand when he offered it, smiling at him as she did.
As they walked to the half-built healing center, Zhe Yan listed all the new amenities he was adding to aid his medicine practice. The center was a wooden structure much larger than Zhe Yan’s cabin. All the rooms had large windows to let in a lot of light. He was currently planning out where to create some large pools for healing baths. Bai Qian was impressed with what he had done so far and Zhe Yan beamed when she told him so.
The group then decided to visit the meadow near Bai Qian’s old den, Mo Yuan sharing an amusing story about his disciples as they walked. When they were almost there, Bai Qian caught a quick wave of Mo Yuan’s hand out of the corner of her eye. She suppressed a grin and pretended to spot something interesting off to the side of the trail. She dropped Ye Hua’s hand and scurried out of the way, trying her best to look like she was hurrying over to investigate something. Her fox yipped with excitement, adding to the fun.
In a blur, Mo Yuan was at Ye Hua’s side. He dropped Ye Hua with a well practiced sweep of his foot, throwing out a swirl of magic at the last second to cushion Ye Hua as he landed on his back with a thud.
“What the hell, Da Ge?!” Ye Hua growled irritably. “What was that for?”
Bai Qian pounced before Ye Hua could jump back up to his feet, running over to his side and kneeling next to him as she cupped his face in her hands. She plastered a worried expression on her face, leaning onto his chest with her arms to discourage him from getting up.
“Are you okay?” she asked him, caressing his cheeks.
“I’m fine,” he bit out, glaring at a proudly smirking Mo Yuan.
“Don’t move,” Bai Qian scolded him when Ye Hua went to roll to his side. “You might hurt yourself.”
“I’m fine, Qian Qian,” he told her, softening his tone when he looked at her. Then he glared at his brother again. “But Mo Yuan soon won’t be.” He moved to try and get up again.
Knowing she wasn’t strong enough to keep him down on the ground if he really wanted to get up, Bai Qian did the only thing she could think of to distract him. Her lips met his in a soft kiss. He returned it as she had known he would.
Ye Hua’s shoulders relaxed as her lips played with his until he reached his hand around her neck to pull her closer, deepening the kiss. Bai Qian soon forgot they had an audience as her husband’s scent and taste filled her senses until the loud sound of someone clearing their throat invaded the moment. She pulled away from Ye Hua with a gasp, blushing as she looked around. Mo Yuan was still smirking while Meixiu clutched her rounded stomach as she laughed at the two of them.
“Nicely done, Qian Qian,” Meixiu said when she finally caught a breath. “That worked like a charm. He forgot all about Mo Yuan and everybody else.”
“That was longer than two minutes,” Zhe Yan declared, coming over to offer Ye Hua a hand up. “You owe me fifty gold pieces.”
Ye Hua just looked confused.
“You don’t remember our bet?” Zhe Yan asked, chuckling. “Didn’t you agree that if Mo Yuan could drop you and keep you down for two minutes, you’d pay me fifty pieces of gold? You insisted he couldn’t do it but I believe he just did. He planned out the whole thing.”
Dawning comprehension grew on Ye Hua’s face before he sighed. “I didn’t say he could use my wife against me,” he grumbled.
“But you didn’t say he couldn’t either,” Zhe Yan countered, patting Ye Hua’s shoulder.
“That was ages ago,” Ye Hua protested, pulling Bai Qian closer to him and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “I had forgotten all about it.”
“You didn’t specify a timeframe for when the bet had to be completed,” Zhe Yan told him.
Ye Hua summoned a leather bag of gold and handed it over, watching as Zhe Yan counted it and gave half of his winnings to Mo Yuan.
“I can’t believe you plotted against me,” Ye Hua whispered in Bai Qian’s ear, nuzzling her neck with his nose before kissing her cheek.
She smiled, enjoying his closeness and the way his scent wrapped around her. “It was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
“I’ll get you back for that, Da Ge,” Ye Hua told Mo Yuan as they started to follow the trail again. “You just wait.”
Mo Yuan grinned over his shoulder. “You can try. I look forward to it.”
Zhe Yan groaned before moving closer to Bai Qian’s other side. “Here we go. It’ll take them years to sort it out. They’ll be one upping each other for the next decade at least.”
Bai Qian giggled as Ye Hua turned to look at Zhe Yan. “I’ll get you back, too, Zhe Yan. Just wait and see.”
Zhe Yan only laughed at the threat.
When they reached the meadow, Bai Qian summoned two large blankets for them to share, spreading them out over the soft grass. They spent the afternoon talking and laughing, Bai Qian lying back to stare up at the clouds in the sky as she enjoyed spending the afternoon with her closest friends and family.
Later that evening, Ye Hua and Bai Qian were sitting in their special place by the lotus gardens in the Heavens, drinking the bottle of wine Zhe Yan had given them before they left the peach tree forest. Bai Qian savored the wine as she kept thinking about the bright, happy glow on Meixiu’s face. Pregnancy really agreed with her friend and it had set Bai Qian to thinking about something she had been considering more and more in the last several years. Was Ye Hua ready to be a father? The only way to find out was to ask him.
“I’m ready to have a baby, Ye Hua,” she blurted out, forgetting her plan to ask him about it instead.
Ye Hua choked on his wine.
“Oh no.” Bai Qian scooted closer to him, patting his shoulders as he coughed and sputtered. “Are you okay?” she asked him, now rubbing his back. “I don’t know how I always seem to do that to you.”
“Qian Qian,” Ye Hua wheezed when he finally stopped coughing.
“No, don’t try to talk yet. It’s okay.”
“Qian Qian,” he repeated, his voice stronger but still raspy. He turned to face her, catching her hands with his and cradling them in his lap. “Do you really mean that?”
She looked into his red face and watering eyes, a serious expression on her face as she met his gaze. “Yes. What about you?”
His eyes darkened, hungry for her. “I can’t wait to be a father. I think we should start trying for a baby right away.”
She nodded and his mouth captured hers in an eager kiss, his tongue sweeping into her mouth to tease hers. He pulled her onto his lap so she could straddle him as he moved his mouth to nibble along the skin of her neck. Clutching his shoulders tightly, Bai Qian rocked her pelvis against his growing erection in an eager rhythm she knew would excite him further. An aroused growl rumbled in his chest and his teeth nipped the skin of her shoulder possessively. The primal sound and sharp pain sent shivers of excited anticipation zipping through her. His hand undid the tie holding her dress closed and she whimpered.
“Forgive the interruption, Your Highness,” a familiar voice said from the walkway that was hidden behind a shrub so as not to invade their privacy too much. It was Jia Yun. A different kind of growl erupted from Ye Hua and his dragon at the unwelcome disturbance. Ye Hua took a deep breath to calm himself, watching with real regret in his eyes as Bai Qian hastily straightened her dress back into place.
“What is it?”
“An urgent message arrived from Kunlun. Lady Meixiu is going into labor.”
Bai Qian squealed with happiness, jumping on Ye Hua’s lap. She couldn’t help herself. Her fox howled joyously.
“Now?” Ye Hua questioned with disbelief. “She’s going into labor right now?”
“Yes, Your Highness. Heavenly Mother wanted me to tell you right away.”
“Thank you, Jia Yun,” Ye Hua answered, dismissing his trusted assistant.
“Why does it have to be now?” he muttered, giving Bai Qian a pained look.
She gave him a scolding frown as she stood from his lap, dodging his hand when he tried to pull her back down.
“Come on, Ye Hua. We need to go.”
“Now? Couldn’t we leave in thirty minutes?”
She rolled her eyes at him but then grinned. He stood reluctantly when she tugged on his arm. “No. We have to leave now. I promised Meixiu I would be there with her.” A different kind of excitement was filling Bai Qian. They were about to have a new addition to the family. It was a cause for celebration.
“And you know Mo Yuan wants you there for the birth of his first child. He must be beside himself with worry. Your parents will already be there. But he’ll want you there for support, too. You’re his brother.”
Ye Hua sighed. “The baby making isn’t going to happen tonight, is it?”
“I’m afraid not,” Bai Qian told him, hugging his arm to her chest. “But I’ll be all yours tomorrow night.” She lowered her voice into a whisper, tugging his head down to brush her lips against his ear. “I’ll make it worth the wait.”
An interested light ignited in his eyes as she kissed him. He pulled her close. “I look forward to it,” he told her, his voice gruff.
She clasped his hand, intertwining her fingers with his. “Now let’s go take care of Meixiu and Mo Yuan. They need us. You’re going to be an uncle soon.”
He nodded, suddenly appearing happy at the idea of meeting his niece. Still holding hands, they faded out of sight as Ye Hua cloud-jumped them to Kunlun Mountain.
⇚ Previous part: Ch 57: Never to Leave