YuNing tapped her foot impatiently watching as body after body was examined and turned over. Well, what was left of the bodies. She grimaced as a particularly loud squelch filled the air, the sound of flesh being pulled back from a pool of blood. She and XingHe hadn't been as late to the carnage as the the merchants they'd pestered for information made them believe. Though upon seeing the sight she understood why they wouldn't have approached it either to see how old it was or even tardy long enough to see who it was.
It wasn't often that one witnessed such a massacre after all. With bodies strung along the roadside in pieces with blood everywhere. Most of them looked like they might have been eaten, or exploded from the inside. She wasn't sure. She didn't want to be sure, hanging back to let the men do the work of figuring out what was what and to who. It wasn't that she couldn't handle the gore but that she wasn't sure she would be able to handle it if she found An XueYun. Watching XingHe as he meticulously made his way through the remains she didn't think he would be able to handle it either, but she couldn't stop him.
A running problem in their relationship she realized as she watched him turn over another torso, this was one was mostly intact. Or as in tact as just a torso could be compared to a complete human body. Her stomach turned and she turned to watch White Fang who was resting nearby, nose in the air watching a bird. She wished if only for a moment her life were that peaceful. That the only thing required of her were giving rides and protecting those she cared about and not having to feel unrequited love.
With a sigh YuNing turned back to the carnage, just in time to see the Prince pull what looked like it was once a white cloth from a body. Her heart lurched and her breathing seemed to stop as she watched XingHe and the Prince crowd what was left of that body. A silver of blue caught her attention, a piece of jewelry she was more than a little familiar with catching the sunlight as one of them held it up. XueYun's earring. Her thoughts were echoed in XingHe's voice. It was all the warning anyone had before his emotions exploded.
She wasn't sure why but White Fang was scooping her up and pulling her to safety as she watched the Prince and XingHe fighting, then an explosion of star power followed that sent the Prince packing. Leaving only her and XingHe who was clinging to the jewelry as if his life depended on it. And for a moment, just a moment her heart was lighter thinking her rival in love was gone. Until the moment filled in with the image of XueYun, her best friend. The only friend her father had allowed her to have for so very long.
Blindly she made her way to XingHe, not noticing or caring about the crater around him only caring about the two blue earrings in his hands. All that remained of XueYun. The tears were next, hot and heavy down her cheeks and the arm around her waist was a comfort, a life line to the living as she gently took one of the earrings. XingHe didn't try to stop her like he had stopped the Prince. "I'm sorry." Were the only words she could find as she clutched it to her chest.
Hours must have passed before either of them moved again. She knew because of the way her body ached when she finally rose, XingHe's arm falling from her waist. His body still pressed over the earring as if he could soak XueYun back up from it. Of course YuNing knew better. Had known the chances of her best friend even being alive after she'd heard about the attack. XueYun had been talented, had been strong, once. But she'd seen her decline and her lack of motivation after that fateful training camp. After being accused of cheating on her to be husband.
"We should go." YuNing barely recognized her own voice in its rawness, in its pain. "We can't get revenge if we don't." Her voice was bitter, almost as frail as the way XingHe looked when he did finally rise making his way to White Fang. In her eyes he looked like someone that could be blown away by the wind. She wondered if she looked any better as she climbed up the wolf, hear heart heavy and her mind guilty for even slipping on the thought of being rival-less.
It was days before YuNing saw XingHe again. For as soon as they returned to Blue Carp Town he disappeared into his room and refused any visitors. And despite her desires to see him and comfort him she found herself with arms full of An XueYan, her best friend's younger sister. And in those days it felt like all she could do was cry and remember. Thinking of how a fate not so dissimilar might have befallen her if she'd been forced to keep her title, to marry into a rich family for power.
The first words XingHe said to her were an apology. She wasn't sure what it was for. But she'd smiled anyway and accepted it along with the hug that felt like it had been so long in coming. And slowly over the course of days it felt like things were normal again. Like they were them again. XueYun not forgotten, as YuNing wore the earring she'd taken from XingHe and he wore the other one in the opposite ear. As if together they were the pair. In a way she felt it was XueYun between them as she always had been.
In other ways it felt right as time started to move forward and YuNing felt her heart tug more and more each time she looked at the earring dangling from XingHe's ear. Each situation so much different from the first time she'd seen him put it on. Sorrow turning to conviction, to action. Her own actions echoing the resolve they'd both silently sworn on revenge. War raged but it was Blue Carp Town that she believed in as the bodies outside started piling up and those coming in multiplied. As their bid for the north strengthened to a claim.
Still, it was years before she could look at the earrings they wore and not think of what could have been. What she could have lost, maybe what she deserved to lose as she told herself some days looking at XingHe sleeping beside her. She had been selfish only once in choosing him, selfish in thinking that it was okay that XueYun had died before living a loveless marriage as she'd never truly been able to let her have XingHe. And most days she was able to forget, but not all of them.
Most days she was able to go on, hunting for the those that killed her best friend out of guilt, out of hurt, out of anger. Others she found herself unable to look at XueYan who she'd adopted and not think of how she was in a very selfish way glad, in the dark part of her soul that only wished for her own happiness. In those moments she knew that her with XingHe was how it always should have been. They never lasted long before she was hit with the guilt, but she could never bring herself to be sorry. Not really. Instead she just worked harder to carry the weight that would have been XueYun's.