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[ZhuBai RPF AU] White Dragon

Chapter Text

Look at me, trying to make you happy . W on t you give me a smile in return?
看我拼命逗你开心,能不能笑笑给我个回应?

Don t worry, I won t be able to keep my distance.
别急,我不会把你嫌弃。

– Bai Yu & Zhu Yilong, ‘Dixing Hits Haixing’
– 白宇 & 朱一龙 【地星撞海星】

-

The air crackles with a crisp cold over the army’s encampment as a sliver of the moon shows through the thick clouds in the dark sky. The council tent glows with many bright torches, braziers, and lanterns, and the generals, nobles, officers and ministers have been talking for almost an hour now.

They stand, surrounding a long table on which there is a long and beautifully rendered map that accurately shows the north of the realm. At the head of this table, there are two men, General Zhu and Advisor Bai.

“…-Our plan of attack shall be such.” General Zhu traces a finger down the map in the trajectory of their march. “The barbarians are coming from the north, -and we must intercept them before they come upon the border town, here.” He indicates the area. “We must anticipate more exactly where they will come from, and catch them between two of our battalions.” His back is straight, his topknot with not a hair out of place, and his armor polished brightly. With his sharp and refined features, his impeccable reputation on the battlefield, and masterful strategy, he is known as ‘The Jade-Faced God of War’.

Advisor Bai takes a step forward, waving his fan as he speaks. “The horde will most likely be coming from the northeast rather than the northwest – the northeast is a flat stretch of grassland, while the northwest has many rivers that would be difficult to cross on horseback. From now, it will likely take them three days to get within one hundred li of the border town.” His robes have fur trim, his beard is short, and his eyes sparkle with a bright light that belies mischief and quick thoughts. His lips curve easily, his posture holding an easy charm that draws people in, and his face undeniably handsome – all in all, he is the type to be definitely popular with women.

General Zhu nods. “In that case, if we march the day after tomorrow, we will have a clear window of time to assess or surroundings and catch them at a disadvantage when they go to attack the town.”

Advisor Bai smiles. “Exactly.”

The two men exchange glances, and General Zhu cannot help but genuinely smile in answer. And then the other occupants of the tent erupt into vigorous discussion, some against the plan, and others defending it.

“Deviating so quickly from the plan set forth by His Majesty?”

“It’s the best course of action!”

“The emperor’s instructions only said to stop the bandit invasion.”

“It was implied that His Majesty wanted to stop them before they even crossed the mountains!”

“They’re not even coming from the mountains!”

“We would be at a greater disadvantage – His Majesty is not fully aware of the situation.”

“Are you badmouthing the emperor?!”

“His Majesty put General Zhu in charge of the campaign!”

“I thought time was of the essence, shouldn’t we just march now?”

“On such a short notice, that’s impossible!”

Advisor Bai sighs then forces a grin, stepping in front of General Zhu, who is stuck between anger at being dismissed and exhaustion at having worked tirelessly for so long. “Alright, alright, alright!” he says loudly, over the din, clapping his hands to get everyone’s attention.

It takes a few seconds for a hush to fall and for the other men to look in his direction.

He snaps his fan shut. “So, apparently, a few things weren’t clear, for some reason.” The implication of an insult is thinly veiled behind a pleasant smile. “Let me clarify a few things, as someone who personally had to deliver His Majesty’s decree to General Zhu, and knows the emperor’s personal thoughts on the matter.” He raises his arm, gesturing expressively as he speaks. “First, General Zhu is in command, by His Majesty’s decree. Second, we don’t have as much time as we think. Third, these barbarians are who we must fight, for the sake of the realm’s peace. Not amongst ourselves.”

General Zhu regains his appearance of serenity and smiles also, inclining his head, and taking Advisor Bai’s arm, surreptitiously lowering it, saying ‘That’s enough,’ and ‘Thank you,’ without words. “I will be able to answer any questions, my lords,” he says evenly.

The din rises again, but at least, this time, it’s more organized. General Zhu realizes that he has not let go of Advisor Bai’s arm, but neither pulls away – Advisor Bai must not have realized.

Questions thrown at General Zhu are often answered by the personable Advisor Bai in a very natural way, for which the general is grateful. Keeping up an appearance of calm is constantly necessary, though terribly exhausting. Advisor Bai is much better at keeping a conversation going and steering a social situation in the right way.

Once the other generals, war ministers and nobles are gone, and the large council tent only has two people in it, General Zhu’s forcedly calm smile falls immediately from his face. His eyebrows twitch in frustration as he deeply frowns. “This is ridiculous. It’s not as if I am suggesting marching by dawn on the morrow with no warning.”

Advisor Bai sighs as he stretches, moving a pile of maps aside to sit on the edge of the table. “It’s politics, my dearest, darling general~. They’re all trying to show up one another, see who has the more power, who holds the most command. This happens all the time in court – it’s a real pain in the ass to deal with, let me tell you,” he says lightly, twirling the fan in his hand. He winks at General Zhu. “If you want, we could just ignore them and play word puzzles under the table. I have done the same on many an occasion.”

General Zhu rolls his eyes at the playfully affectionate address. Advisor Bai is playful, clever, uninhibited – someone who constantly (and consciously) rubs the reserved General Zhu the wrong way – and yet, over the past few months holding the border, and despite their constant bickering, they have grown closer than either of them would care to admit. “You, go away.”

Advisor Bai does not acknowledge the disapproval and continues to talk as before. “You’ll get your way in the end, you just have to keep standing there and letting the old men talk.” He gives General Zhu a sideways glance, full of mischief. “And, as always, when they’re done talking – you act.”

“I don’t need you to teach me,” says General Zhu sternly, with much more sharpness than he intends, affected by a lack of sleep and constant frustration.

Advisor Bai’s ever-present smile wavers a little. “Ah, my bad, then,” he says, raising his fan to his face.

“No, the fault is mine.” General Zhu winces, pinches the bridge of his nose, and then smiles slightly, apologetically laying his hand on Advisor Bai’s arm for a second.

“You’re tired, I’m tired, let’s leave it at that,” says Advisor Bai. He loops a casual arm around General Zhu’s shoulders, and General Zhu who usually cannot stand another person’s touch, doesn’t push him away. Even as it becomes a little difficult to think when Advisor Bai is so close (and the constant mantra of ‘don’t look at his mouth, don’t look at his mouth,’ that is going on in General Zhu’s mind doesn’t count).

“Your beard and eye-wrinkles may give you the appearance of my senior, but you are younger than me,” General Zhu tries to joke. “Lao-Bai.”

“That’s called charm,” scoffs Advisor Bai, stroking his bearded chin and winking. “Youre so cold to everyone that it makes things awkward.” He makes a face at the other man. “Conversation-ender.”

“…” General Zhu sighs, trying to resist the urge to roll his eyes again. As always, he’ll give in to the other man… For now.

Advisor Bai continues. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, the image of the perfect noble gentleman who has transcended all mortal attachments really does suit you, and it’s a useful image to keep up, but would it hurt you to cut loose once in a while?”

“I can’t tell if you’re complimenting or insulting me,” says General Zhu dryly. Being more reserved and introverted, he has a hard time understanding Advisor Bai’s open approach to the world, but often, it can be nice to be around him. Advisor Bai’s arm still has not left his shoulder, and Advisor Bai himself does not seem to notice, though General Zhu is very much aware.

“Bro. Come on-n~! Who do you take me for?” laughs Advisor Bai.

“I see you didn’t answer,” mutters General Zhu, but he can’t suppress a smile.

Outside, the sky is already dark, and the fires have been lit, the inside of tents having lanterns within them. After having bickered lightly for a while, and regained their sense of comfort, General Zhu is ready to get back to business and discuss battle plans. Advisor Bai, however, has other ideas.

“You need to sleep,” he says sternly, lightly smacking General Zhu’s arm with his fan. “You might be a Jade-Faced God of War, but you’re also a human man, and if you don’t sleep tonight, you’ll fall off your horse tomorrow, and then where will we be?”

General Zhu protests weakly against the overwhelming of it all as Advisor Bai grabs his arm and drags him into his tent. Advisor Bai gives him a light shove to sit down on the cot, and General Zhu numbly obeys, rather disoriented. He looks up at Advisor Bai standing over him, blinks, opens his mouth to say something, then closes it again. “…Are you just going to stand here all night?” he finally manages to ask in a very pointedly mild voice, nervously licking his lips.

Advisor Bai scoffs. “You’re not taking off your armor,” he says, impatiently tapping his fingers along his fan. “Listen, if you can take care of me, I can take care of you. When you found out I wasn’t eating breakfast, you made me come to your tent every morning and eat alongside you. Now it’s my turn.”

For some reason, General Zhu’s mouth turns dry as he looks up at the shadowed face of Advisor Bai within the faint orange light in the tent. But he tries to smile calmly. “I assure you, this is not necessary.” He is glad to be able to avoid the intensity in Advisor Bai’s dark eyes as he looks down to unlace his metal gauntlets, then work at the straps to his armor. “Thank you for your care, though,” he adds, and means it – glad that Advisor Bai specifically noticed and cared enough (though another part of him definitely wonders how much of this is the mischievous Advisor Bai messing with him.

“‘Thank you for your care’,” repeats Advisor Bai with a scoff. “Are you thanking your good xiong-di, or are you thanking your bride’s parents?”

“I don’t have a bride.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Not really.”

“Agh, why are you so aloof, huh?” The frustration on Advisor Bai’s voice is partially playful.

“Of course, I can’t compare to such a troublemaker.”

Advisor Bai lets out a loud laugh at this, tossing back his head. He does not deny it, and General Zhu tries hard not to smile again.

Advisor Bai remains standing over him even as General Zhu removes the last of his armor, putting it in a neat pile on a trestle at the foot of his cot. “Are you satisfied now?” General Zhu asks dryly. “I am not wearing my armor.”

“You’re wearing your boots and your day clothes. You’ve also been throwing desperate glances at those maps over there on the table,” sighs Advisor Bai. “As soon as I leave, you’re going to get busy strategizing and stressing out all by yourself, aren’t you? If you burn out, how are we going to take down those barbarians, huh?”

General Zhu sighs in defeat, rubbing his forehead as he leans forward, elbows on his knees. “You’re right,” he says, “Of course you’re right. It’s just…” he looks up at Advisor Bai with a helpless smile, “I’ve been so busy for so long, I’m not exactly sure I remember how to rest.”

Advisor Bai sighs in answer, fanning at himself. “You always work so hard, so focused… I could learn a lot from you, to be honest,” he says. “But you’ve got to remember to rest. Rest well.” He points a thumb at himself and grins. “Just put yourself in the capable hands of your Yu-ge – and I’ll take care of you.”

General Zhu’s cheeks hollow as he forces yet another smile away. “…You’re ridiculous.”

“Aw, you love me,” scoffs Advisor Bai.

General Zhu’s mouth becomes suddenly dry again, and he quickly looks away with a scoff, a little bit flustered.

Advisor Bai folds his fan and sticks it in the sash of his over-robe, then crouches down in front of General Zhu, grabbing one of his legs.

General Zhu chokes a little. “You- What are you doing?”

Advisor Bai pulls both boots off him, then gives him a little shove. “Relaxing you.”

“…!” General Zhu is entirely lost for words, raising himself on his forearms to stare at Advisor Bai, at least so he isn’t flat on his back in front of the other man. He blinks a few times. “Wait, what?” He focuses on looking anywhere but at the other man’s mouth.

“If you don’t try to sleep, I will literally tie you to the bed,” Advisor Bai threatens. At the widening of General Zhu’s eyes, he looks like he is trying very hard not to laugh loudly. “Ehey, General Zhu, what are you thinking?”

“I-” General Zhu really hopes that his face is not half as red as it feels. “I understand, so, you don’t have to do anything unnecessary.”

“Define ‘unnecessary’,” says Advisor Bai. “I’m not leaving until I see you laying down, with your eyes closed, dressed properly for sleep,” he says with mock-sternness.

“I will get undressed and sleep, but really, do you have to be here?” General Zhu says, trying not to sound too much like he’s pleading, because Advisor Bai sounds like he’s having way too much fun.

“Of course,” says Advisor Bai, sitting down on the bed beside him. “And you’re not doing what you need to be doing, so I’m going to have to step in.” He reaches for the ties to General Zhu’s robes.

General Zhu’s face flares with heat, and he grabs the other man’s wrists. “Like I said, don’t do anything unnecessary,” he chokes out.

“It’s pretty necessary,” sighs Advisor Bai. “Come on, let me take care of you.”

“You’re trying to take my clothes off,” snaps General Zhu.

“So? What’s the deal? We’re both guys, right~?”

General Zhu closes his eyes for a moment, trying to ignore the headache building behind his forehead, and trying to dissuade himself from wanting to hit his second-in-command. “That isn’t-”

“Besides, it’s only your over-robe, don’t get too excited.” Advisor Bai winks.

General Zhu glowers at him, grip tightening threateningly on Advisor Bai’s wrists. “…”

“I’m joking, I’m joking, I’m joking!” laughs Advisor Bai. “Ow, ow, ow, General Zhu, Long-ge, let go, let go-”

General Zhu pulls Advisor Bai’s hands away, then quickly unties and throws off his over-robe, leaving his layered under-robes on – trying not to feel a little self-conscious. “There,” he says. “Happy?”

“Very.”

General Zhu scoffs.

Advisor Bai rolls his eyes.

Pulling the blanket up around himself and looking over at Advisor Bai who has not yet stood up from where he is sitting at the foot of the bed, General Zhu raises his eyebrows. “Are you going to make this a habit?”

“Only if you’re going to make the whole ‘not-resting thing’ a habit.” He grins. “I can be just as persistent as you.”

General Zhu wants to stop himself from smiling, he really does. But he can’t, and in the end, he only shakes his head. “I should thank you, though your bedside manner still needs some work.” He briefly thinks of continuing this habit, if only to spend more time together with Advisor Bai, but he quickly puts a damper on the thought as ridiculous.

“Well, we’re so close already, what’s the point of formalities?” asks Advisor Bai.

“What indeed,” mutters General Zhu. How close are we, really? He cannot keep from smiling again as he watches Advisor Bai leave the tent, and then watches his shadow linger outside for a moment.

General Zhu blows out the candle in the brazier beside his bed and lays back down again.

Even though they seem close, General Zhu realizes that compared to himself, Advisor Bai is somewhat of a mystery, actually. While it seems that they know each other very well, he knows almost nothing of Advisor Bai’s past – and the times when General Zhu was at court, he does not remember anyone like Advisor Bai at all – which is strange for such a personable person.

General Zhu can only take guesses at Advisor Bai's origins and past from things he's seen of the other man. He deduces that Advisor Bai's background must be very humble, and only recently risen to influence through his skills alone – therefore not wanting to show off his low birth and not talking about his family or childhood at all. General Zhu had been one day’s ride out of the capital with his division of men, ready to carry out the emperor’s orders towards the border – when two riders had approached their battalions.

It had been Advisor Bai with a decree from the emperor about instructions for the quenching of invasions over the border, and his one attendant, an affectedly lazy, yet extremely loyal young man by the name of Da Qing. Sleepily smiling as he closes his eyes, General Zhu thinks fondly of the time he had first met Advisor Bai and how far they have progressed since that time.

Advisor Bai had been instructed by the emperor to personally assist General Zhu with his mission, and at first General Zhu had thought uncharitable thoughts towards the emperor's intentions. But now, he realizes what a blessing it is to have this man by his side.

-

-The folded fan under his chin tilts General Zhu s face up, then lightly traces a line from his neck down his torso and stopping at his abdomen, the sound of wood against silk, and his own breathing too loud in the silent tent with its deep shadows and barely enough light.

General Zhu takes a step back as the other man, whose face is in shadow, approaches him closely. His throat feels dry, and he swallows, tongue nervously darting out to wet his lips. What are you doing?

The other man grins. Doing? he repeats, and the word is somehow dirty now that he says it with that mouth, and that light, teasing tone.

The back of General Zhu s knee hits the edge of the bed, and, unbalanced, it only takes a light shove from the other man to have him falling back.

Won t you let me take care of you, General Zhu? His voice is a bit lower now, slightly amused, though a little breathless.

Trying to regain his breath, General Zhu raises himself up on his forearms, only to be nudged gently back again. A hand pulls the ties to his undermost robe, and a red tongue flicks out to wet plump lips surrounded by evenly-trimmed beard.

General Zhu really can t stand it. He grabs the other man by the front of his robes, pulling him up for a kiss, wrenching him closer with an unvoiced desperation. This person This person is someone he really likes but he could never say it-

But the other man only indulges him for a few moments before breaking away with a laugh. He trails a hand down the front of General Zhu s chest and lower, until it stops at his hip. Remember, I m taking care of you, Long-ge, ah. Don t move?

He huffs. Don t tell me what to do-

A light kiss is pressed to the inside of General Zhu s hip, and then that mouth opens and slowly takes in his cock.

Nh- A-ah- General Zhu tries to muffle the cry that escapes from his throat, covering his face with his arms.

The other man s stretched lips tug at the corners with a suppressed, teasing smile, and his movements become even more teasingly slow. Body stiffening with overwhelmed, he tries not to cry out again, hands tightly gripping at the sheets as the head of the man between his legs bobs a little, his cheeks hollowing as that hot, wet mouth becomes tighter around him, hands keeping General Zhu s shuddering thighs apart.

Xiao-Bai …” he begs hoarsely-

-

General Zhu awakes with a gasp, face flushed, and stray hairs from his topknot sticking to his face, damp with sweat. “Oh, god, not again…” He pinches the bridge of his nose, and lets out a string of curse words under his breath, before he throws himself back onto his cot and covers his face. He’s achingly hard, he just woke up from a dream where someone who looked too much like his second-in-command was deep-throating him, and he really needs an intervention.

At two hours before the crack of dawn, earlier than anyone else awaking, General Zhu begins his exercise routine by throwing himself into an icy river, and staying there, with his teeth clenched against the cold, until at least one of his big problems is solved. He goes through the motions of lifting heavy things, then practicing sword-forms, until he almost can’t move anymore.

Then he bathes in the cold river again, much more quickly, and returns to his tent to get his armor on and start the day, drying his damp hair with a cloth.

Except, upon his return, he finds someone stretched carelessly out on his cot, eating his breakfast and humming cheerfully. Advisor Bai really is too shameless. A vein ticks in General Zhu’s forehead, and he clears his throat loudly, glaring a little at the other man. “What are you doing.”

Advisor Bai pauses with a spoonful of rice porridge halfway to his mouth. His expression brightens when he sees General Zhu, though he doesn’t move from his comfortable spot. “Good morning, General Zhu~,” he says. “Did you sleep well?”

General Zhu tries very hard not to let those words affect him, after all, there’s absolutely no way Advisor Bai could know… “Reasonably,” he says shortly, then clears his throat, trying to think of literally anything else.

“Only reasonably?” curiously asks Advisor Bai. “You look better. Not as tired and pale.” He grins. “I know you rested well, don’t lie.” He winks, again, jokingly teasing, as usual. “Did you dream about me~?”

General Zhu chokes, then awkwardly tries to smile. He turns slightly away, nervously licking his lips and hoping that the heat rising in his face does not translate to bright red cheeks. “I had a dreamless sleep,” he lies. “Very restful.”

“Ah, well, you win some, you lose some.”

General Zhu ignores him and rolls his eyes, quickly changing the subject. “May I join you?” His voice drips with sarcasm, after all, this is his breakfast and his tent – and while Advisor Bai is more welcome than he could know, there’s a layer of frustration.

“Of course! Welcome, sit down, be comfortable!” Advisor Bai’s shit-eating grin is answer enough that he knows exactly what he’s doing – as if he enjoys riling General Zhu up. Actually, not ‘as if’ – he definitely does.

General Zhu sits down beside him, picking a map off the bedside table and putting it beside the tray of food. Work is something he takes pride in, and puts all of his efforts into – a good escape from inconveniences in life, also. Through his great services to the realm on the battlefield, he was recently personally recognized by the emperor, and sent on this campaign to the border. Though he was ‘personally’ recognized, the emperor’s face was hidden by a screen, and it was his attendant that spoke the emperor’s praises, not the ruler himself.

It was said that the emperor, besides being an exceptionally good ruler and politician, was exceptionally good-looking, and excelled in the six arts, and especially archery – though the same is said of many emperors, regardless of the truth.

Tracing the path of attack with a fingertip, General Zhu automatically eats quickly, not even looking at his food. “Fighting in the flatlands…” he mutters around a cheek full of rice. “Quickly pincer? Hm… Pretend to fall back towards the river and then…” He swallows without even chewing. “Hm, not that…”

Because Advisor Bai is so unusually quiet, General Zhu has become so immersed in his work that he doesn’t even notice the other man anymore. He reaches for a dumpling, and when he doesn’t feel one, he pats around without looking up, until he finds something.

That something being Advisor Bai’s hand. General Zhu blinks a little with puzzlement, then sets Advisor Bai’s hand down and smiles awkwardly, looking down and wetting his lips with the tip of his tongue. “Sorry, I got carried away.”

The corners of Advisor Bai’s mouth tug upwards and he looks at General Zhu with such a fond light in his eyes that the general's heart rises into his throat for a moment. And then the moment is gone and Advisor Bai bursts out laughing. “I bet you were gearing up to take a bite, weren’t you?” he manages to get out in between gales of laughter.

General Zhu laughs a little in answer, giving in to Advisor Bai’s teasing.

Again, he becomes absorbed, getting out a brush, ink, and paper to write down notes as he plans out the details of the battle plan. He has put all the empty bowls on the bedside table and puts his writing supplies onto the tray in his lap.

“…I bet you can’t lift me up,” suddenly says Advisor Bai.

General Zhu blinks up at him. “What is this, out of nowhere?”

“The men were saying that you could easily lift me up, more easily than I could lift you, but I don’t believe it. After all, I’m taller than you.” Advisor Bai scoffs. “I might even be exactly as strong as you, after all, my archery skills are superb!”

“Only taller than me by this much,” says General Zhu, holding his fingers a certain distance apart and then turning back to his work. “No-one disputes your skill with the bow.”

“The thing is…” Advisor Bai sounds a bit awkward. “I made a bet. That’s partly why I wanted to see you, this morning.”

General Zhu looks up again, trying to hide his amusement. “Are you so eager to lose money?”

“Ah?” Advisor Bai grins. “Those are fighting words!” He jumps up, spreading his arms far apart. “How about? Try it!”

General Zhu sighs. “I really am not going to get any more work done with you here, am I…”

“That’s not fair, you got so much done and were ignoring me so much you almost bit me!”

“…”

Advisor Bai beckons him with two fingers. “Come on, I want my money’s worth.”

General Zhu opens his mouth to protest, but Advisor Bai is already grabbing him around the middle and heaving upwards. General Zhu, in his defense, tries to make himself as light as possible, offering no resistance. However, Advisor Bai’s face only gets red, and his grunt of, “Goddamn it,” doesn’t help at all.

Even though he is standing on tiptoe, General Zhu’s body has not yet left the ground. “Are you done?” he asks.

Advisor Bai’s reply is a little muffled, since his head is facing upside-down. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” He stands back up straight again and crosses his arms. “Fine. But now it’s your turn.”

General Zhu rolls his eyes. He awkwardly bends over a little bit, puts his arms around the thin waist of Advisor Bai, all the while cursing himself for getting this easily roped in, and then takes in a breath – and heaves the other man over one of his shoulders. “There, are you satisfied?” he says. It’s heavy, but not too bad. He tries not to think of their proximity, or of exactly how narrow Advisor Bai’s waist is.

“Oh god-fucking-damn- You’re kidding!” grumbles Advisor Bai.

Unfortunately, this is the moment when the tent flap lifts. Da Qing appears there, saying with a sleepy drawl, “Hey, General Zhu, Advisor Bai? You’re needed at the council tent-” He looks at the two of them and his eyes widen, biting his tongue in surprise. “Oh, what-”

“…”

“…!”

The situation is filled with awkwardness. General Zhu suddenly looks very guilty and flustered, quickly setting down Advisor Bai. He clears his throat. “Ah, that is,” he begins, forcing a smile, “Advisor Bai made a bet of strength…-” He realizes that explaining this quickly would make the situation far more awkward. “Yes. We’ll be there immediately.”

Advisor Bai laughs helplessly, slapping his knee. “Your face!” he manages to gasp in between gales of laughter. “Oh my god, your face- Pft- Haha!”

Da Qing looks sour. “I can’t help it if you looked indecent. Stop making General Zhu uncomfortable. Hmf.” He sticks his nose in the air, but sneaks a sideways glance at Advisor Bai.

“Ehey? Is that any way to speak to me?”

“…My lord,” adds Da Qing.

Advisor Bai looks sour in answer, and by this time, General Zhu has regained some appearance of composure. He makes himself smile and takes Advisor Bai’s elbow to steer him out of the tent together with himself. “Good, good, good – alright, let’s go,” he says somewhat quickly. “Let’s not keep anyone waiting.”

General Zhu pretends not to notice as Da Qing and Advisor Bai both turn back and stick their tongues out at each other like literal five-year-olds. His own embarrassment is enough, without adding second-hand embarrassment from his second-in-command and the attendant.

-

The plan of attack is approved, after a long explanation. Advisor Bai complains to General Zhu afterwards, “It’s so annoying how they twist the emperor’s words to their own motives… He put you in charge for a reason, didn’t he? Ah, how annoying. At least we are marching tomorrow.”

“‘Who can presume to know the heart of the Son of Heaven?’” mutters General Zhu, rolling his eyes a little as he flips through a report from earlier this week by one of the scouts, trying to scrounge up any details he may have missed.

Advisor Bai laughs for a little longer than General Zhu’s words would merit. “Who indeed.” He sits next to General Zhu, making neat little annotations on the map. At some point, he reaches over and feels General Zhu’s upper arm, eyes narrowed, as if he is trying to be subtle.

General Zhu tries not to laugh as he realizes that Advisor Bai is still working through the disbelief of earlier this morning. He looks up only for a moment, unable to suppress a smile, and flexes his muscle absentmindedly, going back to reading. “We match them in terms of numbers.”

“Our supplies should last us for another month,” says Advisor Bai, suddenly serious – as always, a large shift between his usual smiling and joking self, when he works, he is perfectly poised. “We can restock on the way back to the capital in two cities.” He pokes at the map. “Here, and here.”

“That’s more than enough time,” decides General Zhu. “If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be back a week after the Spring Festival.”