Time had always been Ganyu’s most reliable companion.
For over 3,000 years, no matter what she had inevitably lost to its unstoppable flow, Ganyu knew that time was also the only thing that had allowed her to pick herself up over and over again whenever she stumbled down.
This thought, although at times felt more like a forced self-consolation than a genuine belief, was what had helped her keep her chin up whenever the loneliness of her unending days started to feel bigger than her.
She could always try again to fit in better with the people of Liyue – to hopefully live more wholly one day – if she gave herself more time to learn, she had told herself.
Besides, she reasoned with herself, her everlasting life wasn’t without a purpose. She was still here, in Liyue Harbor, because she had a duty to fulfil for the Geo Archon.
More time had simply meant more opportunity for her to better herself and to help Rex Lapis protect the living things of Liyue.
Well…until it hadn’t.
“What are you thinking so seriously about in the morning?” Keqing’s voice – still raspy from sleep – came from behind her with a lazy smile.
Ganyu couldn’t see the said smile but could feel the shape of it when soft lips pressed against the naked skin of her shoulder blade.
A small smile of her own formed despite her less than peaceful morning thoughts, and she closed her eyes – basking in the moment of respite with a sigh of relief – when Keqing trailed the lazy smile up to the slope of her shoulder and the side of her neck.
“Do you mind sharing it with me?” Her lips nipped slowly at the soft skin of Ganyu’s neck, and Ganyu found that her relief was chased away by something else entirely.
“Keqing," she admonished her lightly, feeling a pleasant shiver crawl underneath her skin despite her protest and knowing that she didn’t sound convincing at all.
Her voice was already breathy and turned even heavier when Keqing’s tongue lapped at that one bruised spot on her neck that still felt too sensitive after being sucked on so many times last night.
That spot had always driven her wild and sometimes, she lamented that Keqing seemed to know it all too well.
“Keqing, I can’t really speak to you about anything if you – ah.” Ganyu stifled a gasp and arched, shuddering back against the warm body behind hers when Keqing’s hand, having snuck underneath their shared blanket, found one of her breasts from behind and squeezed gently.
Her girlfriend only laughed at her dying protest but finally acceded. “Alright, alright. I’ll behave myself,” Keqing hummed, grazing her index finger against Ganyu’s tip as she retracted her hand which, Ganyu knew, was completely intentional.
She sighed and finally turned around to face the girl. “You’re so…handsy these days. Aren’t you tired? You didn’t even sleep last night because of…this.”
Keqing’s sleepy smile widened into a laugh. “Oh, Ganyu. I love that your cheeks still color whenever you mention this,” she gestured at both of their naked forms with her finger, “as if we’ve just started dating five weeks ago and not five years ago.”
Ganyu wanted to roll her eyes at that but she knew that she was, indeed, sporting an embarrassing blush. Maybe she had truly been alone for far too long before this.
“I’ve told you, I – I haven’t been with anyone like this for a really long time. Five years are hardly enough as adjustment period.”
Keqing’s chuckle only grew bigger. “Well then, I’m honored I get to be the one who does this with you,” she grinned, “the whole relationship, of course, not just the nightly activities. You’re great both in and out of bed.”
Ganyu couldn’t see her own expression, of course, but at the moment, she was sure that she was looking mildly appalled. “Archons, wherever did you learn to speak so greasily like that? The strict Yuheng I knew from five years ago would have rather swallowed her own tongue than said anything like that. You were so polite and formal even just to ask me out.”
Keqing’s chuckle softened into a smile. “Well, it’s been five years, Ganyu.” The look on her eyes turned even softer as she regarded Ganyu and it made Ganyu’s inside thrum with warmth all over.
Keqing still looked at her like she did five years ago; like Ganyu was the loveliest thing she had ever seen.
“You’ve wiped off every last bit of my worry these past five years. At first, I was nervous because I was unsure if you agreed to go out with me because you really liked me. I thought maybe you just said yes because you felt like you shouldn’t say no.”
At this, Ganyu’s forehead crumpled into a frown and Keqing stared at her sheepishly from the small gap of their pillows. “You really thought I would do that? Of course, I wouldn’t. I only said yes to you because I really like you.”
Keqing’s eyes still seemed to dance with happiness at that small, old admission. “Well, you did have a penchant for bottling up your real feelings and doing whatever was asked of you by people to be polite.” She chuckled. “And you still do that now, by the way. It seems that no matter how many times I’ve nagged you to stand up more for yourself, your old habit is simply too hard to break.”
Ganyu opened her mouth to say something – to say that all she needed was more time to break that indeed awful habit – but then she realized that five years were already a lot of time for Keqing.
It put her to a stop.
Keqing had said that it had been five years.
Ganyu, on the other hand, had said that five years were hardly enough.
And in there, lay the thorn that had been pricking her inside this morning and every other morning. To her, five years were a speck of dust in her millennia of existence. But to Keqing, five years were a huge portion of her life.
That was why she had changed – had evolved so much, really – compared to her younger self five years ago, while Ganyu was still just…Ganyu.
Time, once her best companion, was now something she found terribly frightening.
“Are you thinking of unhappy thoughts again?” Soft fingers touched the strands of her hair that had fallen over her eyes, and Ganyu blinked back to her senses to find Keqing staring at her with a concerned smile as she tucked the blue strands behind her ear.
It was the same worried look that she had always had whenever Ganyu fell into yet another one of her fretful thoughts.
How exactly could Ganyu stop these thoughts?
Five years ago, when Rex Lapis had unexpectedly passed and Ganyu had lost the biggest anchor of her life, Keqing had been the one who held her steady and stopped her from getting washed away by the worst of her own thoughts.
The abrupt departure of the Geo Archon had spelled an end to her contract and made her lose the clear-cut purpose of her life, and for months afterward, Ganyu had felt like a fish dying outside its water; struggling to find what she had lost but gradually running out of breath.
It wasn’t until Keqing, who wasn’t even close with her yet at that time, inquired her with concern about her condition did Ganyu realize that she was breaking apart.
She was getting thinner day by day and her performance at work was horrendous. Keqing must have noticed this, but somehow, instead of reprimanding Ganyu – like Ganyu had thought she would, considering her strict personality and their strained relationship in past – the Yuheng had simply offered to work with her at night.
The time when everyone else had left the Yuehai Pavilion and Ganyu’s mind would often slip to the darker crevices.
Even when Ganyu had tried to politely refuse her at first – hating that she would bother someone in Keqing’s position with her troubles and knowing that they weren’t even friends to begin with – Keqing had simply said that she was the one who needed Ganyu’s assistance with her work.
In a way, Keqing had been the one who put a stop to her darker thoughts. So now, Ganyu wasn’t sure how she could put a stop to these thoughts about Keqing.
“I’m sorry. I – I wasn’t really thinking of anything,” she lied in the end, curling her fingers on the cover of her pillow a little tighter as she forced out a smile. “I think I’m just spacing out because I’m sleepy. You did make me lose sleep last night.”
Keqing’s chuckle was unusually bashful. “I’m sorry. I know that you have work today. It’s just…I still miss you a lot after not seeing you for nearly three weeks,” she sighed, flipping on her back and staring up at the ceiling, “and I have to go out of the city again today so...I guess I was just trying to make up for our lost time.”
“Can’t you let the Millelith go to Mingyun village on their own today?” Ganyu reached a hand to the side of her face, frowning slightly as she ran the back of her fingers over fresh scars and still bluish skin. “You’ve just come back from Guili a few days ago and your injuries haven’t even fully healed.”
She tried to keep her voice neutral, but deep down, all the fibers of her being were rebelling against the idea of letting Keqing venture into her lengthy expeditions outside the Harbor again in the state that she was in.
The injuries that she had gotten from her expeditions lately were quite…alarming.
Ganyu knew that Keqing was one of the best swordswomen in Liyue and was fully capable of protecting herself, but lately she hadn’t seemed to be able to do so.
Her heart clenched unpleasantly again when she thought back on a few nights ago; when Keqing had come home clutching a large forehead wound with her hand to stop the constant blood flow from dripping into her eye.
The memory made Ganyu both cold with remaining fear and hot with uncharacteristic anger. Anger at whoever – or whatever – had harmed her that way.
“It’s okay,” Keqing said, tossing around to face her again with a smile that Ganyu knew was meant to console her. “I’m recovering fast thanks to you and your exceptional herbal medicine. I think you can open a pharmacy one day to rival Dr. Baizhu.”
“This isn’t the time to be joking, Keqing," Ganyu sighed, refusing to let her slip away with this one. “I…have a bad feeling about this. You’ve done many expeditions in the past but you’ve never come back with these many injuries before. What’s going on lately? Are you – are you hurt somewhere and it’s been hindering you from defending yourself properly? In that case, you shouldn’t –"
“No, no, I’m fine, sweetheart. I promise.” Keqing caught her hand when she tried to remove it from her face, keeping it cradled against her cheek.
Ganyu softened a little and allowed it to be kept there. “It’s just the Fatui. I’m still unsure but I think they’ve been trying to stir another chaos with…ancient magic. The monsters that we found in their vicinity lately have been…terrible. A lot more terrible than they usually are.”
When the consoling smile on Keqing’s face slipped off, Ganyu finally saw the flicker of wariness in her eyes that she had been trying to mask.
“I’ve been going with the Millelith because I want to confirm things on my own. Given the Fatui’s last attempt with Osial, I think it’s possible for them to try similar thing with another monsters. They were capable of recreating The Sigil of Permission and reawakening an ancient god, so I don’t think they’ll have problem with others.”
Ganyu all but sat up and pulled her hand away from Keqing. “You never told me this,” she said, feeling almost betrayed. “How long have you known about this? All this time, you said that you were just out clearing the usual monster sighting.”
Keqing had the decency to look apologetic at least.
She sat up too, taking Ganyu’s hand in both of hers and stroking it gently. “I’m sorry, Ganyu. I just – I didn’t want to make you worry. You already seem like you have a lot in your mind lately and I didn’t want to add to your burdens.”
“You’re never a burden to me," Ganyu said, bewildered that Keqing would even think so. Didn’t she know how important she was to Ganyu?
Didn’t she know that in a way, she was the only one that Ganyu really had in her life now? Had Ganyu not shown her enough just how much she meant to her?
“You’ll never be a burden to me," she reinstated, hoping that her voice didn’t sound as shaky as the roll of emotions that crashed in her chest. “And now that we know this isn’t just a regular monster sighting, we need to inform Ningguang and the other Qixing so they can send a bigger army to deal with them.”
“Ganyu, no.” Keqing seized her wrist when she tried to get off the bed, and Ganyu found herself being pulled back to her initial position with a soft but firm grasp.
Keqing looked at her in the eyes with gentle imploration. “I can handle the Fatui alone. Besides, we shouldn’t send the entire Yuehai Pavilion into chaos over an issue that’s not confirmed yet, should we?”
Ganyu knew that it was reasonable.
She knew that she was, perhaps, just being irrationally worried.
But was it really wrong of her? To fear of losing something – someone – who had given her life a smile again? Even though it would be just for a short while, or even more because it would be just for a short while?
She couldn’t afford losing Keqing any earlier than she inevitably would.
“I’m going with you then," she decided, desperate because she saw no other way to calm herself down around this. “I – I’m stronger than you and I can –”
Keqing’s lips twitched with a small smile and Ganyu realized, belatedly, that in the past, the prideful Yuheng would have been terribly insulted by what she had just said.
Now though, Keqing simply leaned forward to her and wrapped her arms around her. Stroking Ganyu’s back slowly, she emulated her past words with amusement, “You adepti and your sanctimonious arrogance. You still haven’t changed much, I see.”
It pulled a small smile from Ganyu despite herself.
“You should know that I love you so much, I’m willing to let that awful insult slip.” Keqing loosened her hold around her and pulled back slightly to press a kiss on the side of her face. Then, she regarded her with a more serious look. “You don’t have to come with me, Ganyu. I know you don’t like resorting to violence. Killing anything takes a lot out of you.”
She was right. But Ganyu had to protest that.
“I’ve killed monsters and the Fatui before.”
“Only because the whole city would have been drowned by Osial if you haven’t.”
Ganyu frowned – because it was true – but, “Well, I’ve also fought in the Archon War.”
Keqing chuckled at her attempt. “It was only because you were a staunch follower of Rex Lapis. Besides, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t take a lot out of you. You still have nightmares about that war sometimes, and it’s been millennia since.”
Ganyu sighed because she knew that she had been defeated.
She had…never been good at debating.
Keqing, on the other hand, was notorious for shredding her way through any argument and for being more hard-headed than even the Lord of Geo’s sturdiest rocks.
Ganyu raised a hand to rub her own forehead, knowing that she had lost.
“Just promise me you’ll be very careful at least?” she relented, earning herself a grin from her frustratingly stubborn lover. “I’m serious, Keqing. Write to me every day when you’re away. I want to know that you’re alive and well.”
Keqing’s grin was nearly reaching her ears as she leaned forward to press a kiss on her lips. Ganyu welcomed her despite her defeated sigh and raised both hands to cup her cheeks as she kissed her back just as thoroughly.
When Keqing pulled back from her, cheeks rosy and lips glistened, her eyes were alight with mirth. “It’ll be no problem. If I could make the employees at Yuehai Pavilion work hard, I’m sure I can make some homing pigeons work very hard too.”
Ganyu chortled and leaned forward to kiss her smug grin off. “You better be. I’ll be waiting to hear from you every day.”
When five days had passed and Ganyu had received a total of five letters from Keqing without missing a day, she began to think that maybe, she was truly just overreacting about the situation.
Keqing’s letters had relayed that she and the six Millelith were doing well, and Ganyu had believed her because she had pored over those letters every day and found no sign that said otherwise.
Keqing’s handwriting had been as meticulous and neat as always, and she had even had the time to embarrass Ganyu by saying that she had missed her so much, she would fling her on bed and pin her there for days the moment she came home.
That should be the sign that everything was okay, right?
No one in grave danger would have had the time to sit down and pen such letters.
So, Ganyu decided to let down her worries and proceeded with her daily tasks at the Yuehai Pavilion as usual, sifting through never ending papers while waiting for the only piece of paper from afar that she cared about.
It had always come exactly at her lunch time.
Until one day, it didn’t.
“Ganyu, are you alright?”
Ningguang’s voice startled her from her trance and Ganyu whipped around from the window to find the Tianquan staring at her confusedly.
“What are you doing just spacing out there? Your lunch break is about to be over. I thought you’ve always taken a nap around this time.”
Ganyu cleared her throat and bowed. “My apology, Lady Ningguang. I was just –”
“There’s no need to apologize.” Ningguang waved her off, a knowing and teasing smile on her lips. “How you choose to spend your break is completely up to you. If it’s waiting lovesickly for Keqing’s letter that you want to do, then you shall do it.”
Ganyu felt her cheeks heat up. Had she been so obvious? Granted, everybody in the Yuehai Pavilion knew that she and Keqing were together now – even knew that they lived together – but it didn’t mean that she could just stand out here gazing foolishly at the window while everybody watched.
Ningguang chuckled and walked past her to her office. “Don’t worry if the letter doesn’t come today. Although uncommon, the homing pigeons do get lost sometimes. Or perhaps, Keqing has an urgent matter to attend. You’ll most likely receive her letter again tomorrow.”
Ganyu hoped so too.
But alas, it didn’t happen.
Nothing came the next day, and the day afterward.
Ganyu went from being mildly concerned – telling herself that she was just paranoid – to being so anxious, she could barely focus on work.
Had something happened?
Why had Keqing stopped writing letters to her suddenly?
The anxiety ate away at her like a parasite that grew larger day by day.
Even Ningguang, who had been so sure that the missing letter was just a one-time occurrence, seemed to be worried too when there was still no news from the expedition team after nearly a week.
“It’s strange," the Tianquan admitted, an uncharacteristic frown marring her features as she pondered behind her desk. “Fengyan, the Millelith Sergeant who’s going with Keqing, usually sends me a report too once every two days.”
The admission fuelled the fright that had been gnawing at Ganyu even more, because it couldn’t be a coincidence that both the letters from Keqing and from the Sergeant stopped coming at the same time.
Something had to have happened to them.
“Lady Ningguang, I – I think I would take a leave starting from today. I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but I think I have more than enough to cover a week or two. Is it okay with you?” Ganyu asked, fear rising in her like a wave of dark, cold ocean.
Ningguang lifted her face from her palm and looked at her with surprise. She took only a second to figure out what she really meant. “No, Ganyu. You cannot go to Mingyun village to search for them alone. You don’t know what will be waiting for you there.”
Ningguang rose from her chair and walked around her desk with a conflicted look on her face that Ganyu had only seen twice since she had become the Tianquan. The first one had happened when they had faced Osial.
Her stomach sank even further.
“If they’re really being held back by something,” Ningguang’s voice was strained, “then whatever this something is, we should not underestimate. Those that went were the best Millelith that we have. Not to mention that Keqing herself is there and she is –”
The Tianquan’s words were interrupted by a loud slam of her office door, as someone barrelled in unceremoniously.
“Lady Ningguang, I’m sorry!” Baiwen rushed in like someone possessed, eyes wide and wild and skin looking as pale as a sheet. “I – I’m sorry for not knocking, but there’s something urgent that I need you to –”
“Lady Ningguang!” A man drenched in blood barged into the room in near hysteria, collapsing onto the floor.
Fengyan, Ganyu noticed with shock, recognizing the horribly battered Sergeant who lay on the floor with a gaping wound on his stomach which continuously oozed blood.
“Fengyan,” Ningguang’s eyes widened, feet immediately racing towards the fallen soldier who was wheezing in pain as if he was on his last few breaths. She knelt down and assessed him, dread filling her expression as she found not only the slashed wound on his stomach but also a punctured wound on his chest.
The lungs. That was why he was wheezing.
Ganyu’s fingers turned cold.
“Call for medical help!” Ningguang snapped at Baiwen, pressing her hands against the gaping wound on Fengyan’s stomach to stop the bleeding, although it seemed futile.
“Lady Ningguang, the Fatui – the Fatui, they have – they have killed everyone…“ The Sergeant stopped and coughed up violently, hacking and wheezing as blood dripped down from his chin. “We – we caught them doing – something – and then they captured everyone. Lady Keqing – they got Lady Keqing –”
“Where is she?” Ganyu bent down and seized him by shoulders, fingers trembling as they curled on his uniform. Fear that had been rising like an ocean wave in her now doubled and crashed in like a vicious tsunami that threatened to swallow her whole.
Dread filled every last bit of her vessels.
“Where is she? Is she alive? Tell me where you last saw her. Tell me, Fengyan!”
“Ganyu," Ningguang put a hand on her trembling wrist and squeezed it, stopping her from shaking the half-conscious Sergeant with a veiled but surprised expression. “He’s dying. He can barely breathe. Calm down.”
Ganyu released her iron grasp on the Sergeant’s uniform and staggered backwards, realizing that she had nearly shaken a dying man to death.
She felt sick.
With this. With the thought of Keqing being held hostage by the Fatui somewhere no one knew. And with the thought that she might not even be alive by now.
She wanted to throw up.
“Dragonspine…” The Sergeant rasped, coughing with each painful intake of breath. “They…they killed everyone but they took her and me to...Dragonspine. Lady Keqing helped me to…escape but they managed to catch up with me and injured me. I…don’t know if she is still –”
“Which part of Dragonspine, Fengyan?” Ningguang asked carefully, letting the gasping man speak on his pace.
“The outskirts of…Entombed City.”
Ganyu dashed out of the room before Ningguang could even say a thing. Her mind was already set.
She was going to save Keqing.
It didn’t matter that she had to go alone. The others would only slow her down anyway.
And each second that she spent fumbling here or hesitating on her journey could cost her Keqing’s life. Ganyu wouldn’t live with that. She couldn’t live with that.
She only stopped by her desk briefly, pulling out her stash of arrows and bow and then barging out of the Yuehai Pavilion without waiting for anyone.
The journey from Liyue Harbor to Dragonspine would have taken an ordinary human seven days. Ganyu, however, was not an ordinary human.
And she was desperate.
Driven by the gnawing fear in her heart that grew bigger and bigger by each passing hour, she pushed herself through the long, arduous trek with no moment of respite.
With each fallen dusk and rising daylight, Ganyu was acutely aware that her chance to find Keqing alive was getting thinner.
It terrified her, the thought of losing Keqing; of never seeing her again or touching her again. She had always known that she would inevitably lose her one day, but please, not today.
Not now, please.
They were supposed to still have time.
Ganyu was supposed to still have time to see Keqing beam that big, silly smile that she reserved only for her, to watch her try and fail to make dinner for her, and to drift off to sleep with a smile after listening to her ramble about work.
She wasn’t supposed to be here, trying to stop the bone-chilling air of Dragonspine from freezing the sliver of teardrop that she forcefully wiped off from her eyes.
Ganyu sucked in a deep breath and forced herself to focus on the task. She would find the Fatui who held Keqing hostage.
Closing her eyes and willing herself to tap into the adeptal magic in her that she had long forsaken, Ganyu opened her eyes again with bright blue blazing in them.
The force of the ancient, powerful magic pulsed behind her eyes and built a mounting pressure that almost hurt, but Ganyu bore the pain because she needed this.
The full eyes of the adeptus surpassed even the Traveller’s gift of elemental sight.
In an instant, everything around Ganyu blasted into the hues of blue. Then, a familiar hint of purple shone dimly from the northeast direction.
Keqing’s electro trail. Accompanied by other trails of purple and blue that were different from theirs. Ones that were darker and tainted by the same vile magic that Ganyu had sensed during their fight with the Fatui Skirmishers and Osial five years ago.
The Cryogunner Legionnaires and Electrohammer Vanguards, no doubt.
Following the trace, Ganyu stalked up the tall mountain and made her way steadily through the heavy snowfall. The sheer cold of Dragonspine was infamous to bring even the toughest adventurer down to their demise, but in her current state, imbued with a mix of her adeptal power and cryo vision, Ganyu was barely cold.
If anything, every bit of the frozen fractal in the air felt as if they could seep into her skin and infuse her with more power.
“Keqing!” Her blue eyes faded when she finally spotted the one she had been looking for, heart thundering in her chest.
There, tied up against one of the snow-covered pine trees, sat Keqing with her head hanging limply over her neck. Her long, purple hair obscured her face from Ganyu’s sight, but Ganyu knew just by looking at the unnaturally sharp angle that her neck was bent with that she was unconscious.
Fear seized her entire being and made her leap forward without a second thought, abandoning the idea of assessing her surroundings farther.
“Keqing, baby…” She fell onto her knees in front of the motionless girl, reaching a shaky hand up to touch her face and tilting her head backwards so she could see her better. Her trembling fingers halted midway, however, because she couldn’t sense any remaining warmth from Keqing.
It terrified her.
“Keqing, baby, can you hear me?” She pushed on and trailed her quivering fingers on the younger girl’s cheek after a while, grateful to find that there was still a faint, weak exhalation of breath coming out from her despite the corpse-like coldness of her skin.
She was still alive.
Barely, but alive.
Ganyu could work with that.
“Keqing, it’s me. I’m here now. I’ve come to take you home. You’re going to be okay.” She tilted Keqing’s head backward slowly, fearing that even the subtlest of movement would crush her.
The result crushed her heart instead because what she saw – the appearance of Keqing’s usually perfect face – was horrific.
Her skin was the sickly white color of the snow. Her lips were cracked dry and her right face was swollen with atrocious cuts and bruises. Her nose seemed to be broken and a huge, diagonal gash that had bled and dried ran deep from her scalp all the way down to her right eyebrow.
“Oh, baby, what did they do to you? Your face…your perfect face,” Ganyu trailed her fingers over the cold, broken skin and felt immensely pained.
Some of these injuries would never heal completely. And while Ganyu wouldn’t mind as long as she was alive, she knew that Keqing would, even without admitting it to her. She would never really like looking at herself in the mirror anymore.
“Who’s there?!” A loud voice barked from behind them and Ganyu whipped her head around to find the perpetrators of the situation.
The Fatui Skirmishers, just like what she had guessed.
Qilin were the most benevolent of all adepti. They drank only spring water, ate only whole grains, and did no harm to insects nor plant.
And yet, as Ganyu laid eyes on these men – these heathens – who had nearly killed the most important person in her life, she found that she was overwhelmed with a sudden surge of rage that she had never experienced before.
Not even during the Archon War, when she had slain more gruesome monsters.
“It’s another one of the Qixing!” One of the Vanguards shouted, his voice loud and heavy just like the electro-infused hammer he was readying in his hands. “Lucky for us someone’s stupid enough to come up here alone. Go get her and see if you can make her spill some useful intel. That other girl was too fucking stubborn.”
So, this was it. They had been torturing Keqing – nearly cutting her life short and robbing her of all the wonderful future she could possibly have – just to get some mundane intel for some power-hungry Fatui Harbingers somewhere.
Her life the price of a spit of information.
Ganyu’s blood boiled like a molten lava in her veins despite the sub-zero temperature that was freezing everything around them. Her sight blasted with fiery blue again, but this time, the magic behind her was furious instead of frightened.
None of these men would get anywhere near Keqing again.
In fact, none of them would ever go anywhere again.
This place shall be their final stop.
“Go get her!”
The Vanguards and Legionnaires charged forward at their leader’s command, letting out a loud battle cry befitting of their last fight.
Ganyu lifted from the ground and rose her hand to the icy air, closing her eyes and feeling the pulse of anger in her blow out as an explosion of magic that was stronger than anything she had ever manifested.
Every last bit of the frozen water in the atmosphere that had coalesced into her hand shot out at the men as sharp icicles, slicing through their skin and impaling their flesh easily as if they were just made of butter.
The men fell onto the snow with loud screams of agony, clutching their punctured eyes and necks as Ganyu unleashed another burst of powerful magic up to the sky.
The sky lost its last ray of light and rained down icy spears like unforgiving judgment.
Some of the men tried to flee as the unstoppable storm of icicles assaulted them, but Ganyu had made her mind that none of them was going to walk out of this place alive.
She pulled out her arrow, let the ice on her fingertips infuse it with cryo, and fired it.
The cryo-infused arrow pierced a running Vanguard’s head from behind and bloomed into multiple sharp flakes that shot up to the sky before plummeting down to the other men near him in a shower of hundreds, small needles.
Normally, Ganyu wouldn’t have gone for the fatal points in battles.
The most she usually did was found a spot that would incapacitate her enemy but not kill them, unless truly necessary.
This time, however, the wrathful magic in her was out for blood.
And she was following it willingly.
The raspy, weak voice shattered through her walls of concentration and yanked her out of her blood haze, pulling her back to reality like a hand that was dragging her out of deep, dark waters.
The icy blue fire in her eyes faded away at the familiar voice, and that was when Ganyu realized that everyone around her had lain dead on the snow that no longer appeared white but red.
“Ganyu…that’s enough,” Keqing rasped, coughing violently just from saying those short words. Her eyes opened weakly and even the simple movement seemed to take so much toll on her because she nearly passed out again.
Ganyu dropped her bow and arrow and rushed to her.
“Keqing," she fell onto her knees in front of her, cradling her face with both hands as she looked into her eyes. Relief like no other filled her heart at the sight of the violet eyes blinking back at her again.
“You’re awake. Archons, you’re awake.” She leaned forward and pressed her lips on the side of Keqing’s head, kissing her face over and over again and finally letting the tears in her eyes fall. Her hands shook greatly as they wrapped around the cold girl. “Archons, I was so scared…I was so scared of losing you…”
Keqing let out a soft, weak chuckle. “Of course, I would wake up. I…do everything on plans, and I…have no plans to die today. Death will have to be…more stubborn than me...to take me away unplanned.”
Ganyu peeled away from her, face still tearstained and eyes still shot red with tears. “Don’t do this again, okay? Don’t…don’t give me a scare like this again. I can’t – I can’t deal with the thought of losing you so early – I –"
“Ganyu," Keqing’s voice halted her bouts of nervous breakdown, her eyes warm with that smile that she always only reserved for her as she fought to stay awake. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m still here with you.”
She took a hold of one of Ganyu’s hands and squeezed it gently with whatever power she had left, making Ganyu drop her head on her shoulder as she cried her heart out.
Keqing let her sob quietly against her, waiting patiently as Ganyu gripped the front of her shirt with a shaky fist and tried to stop herself from crying. “Let’s go home now? I…don’t want to spend another minute…in this place. It’s so…cold.”
Ganyu lifted her face and wiped off her remaining tears almost frantically, nodding at her and undoing the tied rope around her wrists quickly before doing the same to the one that was binding her to the tree.
“Let’s get you home.” She looped one of Keqing’s arms around her shoulders and helped her stand up, grateful that she wouldn’t be coming home alone from this trip.
They still had time and it was all that Ganyu could ask for.
“Dr. Baizhu’s medicine is going to make me sicker,” Keqing rasped when Ganyu came back to their room after sending the doctor off, grimacing at the bundle of ground herbs that Ganyu carried in her hands. “How long did he say I should take…those?”
“About a month,” Ganyu sighed, placing the bundle on a nearby table and busying herself with checking its content. “You have to take them three times a day. They’re important for your internal injuries.”
She expected to hear some protest from Keqing – she had always bemoaned taking Dr. Baizhu’s medicine even once a day – but somehow, she heard nothing in return this time.
Ganyu pushed the oddity away from her mind though, and carried on with her task to arrange the medicine quietly. She didn’t really want to think much about anything at the moment if she could.
“Ganyu," Keqing broke the silence finally, making Ganyu have to stop moving things around busily – anxiously, really – as she had to acknowledge her. “Are you mad at me…?”
Ganyu’s shaky fingers curled around the innocent package of herbs with perhaps, a little more force than necessary. “Mad at you?” She turned to face Keqing, her voice incredulous. “You think I’m mad at you?”
Keqing’s guilty face, still marred by the terrible bruises, made her heart clench with pain and made her feel even more ridiculous about her question.
“How could I be mad at you when having you here, alive in this house with me at this moment, feels like a far-stretched miracle already? Do you have any idea how terrified I was when I was looking for you?”
Keqing’s eyes softened with apology. “I’m sorry.”
It took her that moment to realize that Ganyu had been unusually quiet ever since they got back home two days ago not because she was angry at her for being so reckless but because she was still terrified about what could have happened.
“I’m really sorry,” Keqing said again, her eyes pleading at Ganyu’s stiffened form that still stood a few feet apart from her. “I was…acting rashly. I should have listened to you and alerted the other Qixing about it instead of going at it alone.”
Ganyu didn’t know what difference that statement would have made if Keqing had died in that frozen hell of a mountain.
Hand wiping away at her tears that had started to fall again, Ganyu made a move to leave the room and sorted herself out somewhere else.
She disliked crying like a mess in front of anyone when –
“Ganyu, stay, please?”
Keqing’s plea halted her halfway through the room because it was simply the softest beg that she had ever heard from her in all five years of their relationship.
Turning around, she found Keqing staring at her with a small, weak smile. “Please, don’t sleep in other room again tonight. I…I can’t sleep well without you. It’s been hard to sleep well since the expedition started too.”
Ganyu really would rather not have anyone – not even Keqing – see her cry again at the moment. Archons knew she had done it too much these past few days.
But she also wanted Keqing to get as much rest as she could.
Looking up at the ceiling, Ganyu blinked back the remnants of her tears and took in a deep breath. Slowly, she walked over to their bed and sat on the edge beside Keqing.
Keqing scooted away, however, patting the now empty spot for her. “Lie down with me? You look like you could use some rest too.”
Ganyu was tired.
Exhausted in fact, both physically and mentally.
She hadn’t slept well in days too.
She settled on the bed with Keqing, scooting over so her body could cover Keqing’s from behind. Then, looping an arm over the girl’s waist, she rested her face against the warm, purple hair that smelled of familiar lilac.
It worked like wonder to soothe her from whatever chaos was going on in her mind. Perhaps, she hadn’t been able to sleep well because she had been apart from Keqing too. The presence of her warmth beside her had become a habit, unconsciously.
“Ganyu?” Keqing’s soft voice pulled at her now silent mind, making her hum slowly against her nape. “Hm?”
“Can I ask you about something?” Keqing’s tone was light, a tentative attempt to bridge through the silent gap that still stretched between them. “How bad is my face looking right now? Will I still be able to walk out in public without making children cry?”
The hyperbole of her question made Ganyu chuckle despite herself. “It’s not that bad.”
“So…you mean it’s still pretty bad, right?”
“It’s not. You’re still pretty. You’ll always be to me.”
“So…you’re saying you'll still love me even if I look like I belong in some circus?”
A small smile curved Ganyu’s lips and she knew that Keqing could feel it on the soft skin of her nape because she finally relaxed in Ganyu’s arms. “I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not, but yes, I will. Archons know I would have chosen to stop loving you long time ago if I could.”
At this, Keqing wriggled in her arms and turned around, facing her with soft, deep eyes that looked like anything but unserious. “I’m sorry, Ganyu, I really am. I’ll be more careful next time. I don’t…I don’t want to make you this distraught anymore. I think I forget sometimes, that I’m not alone anymore. That anything that happens to me will affect you too. It was foolish of me to go alone.”
Ganyu only nodded, not trusting her voice to not crack if she spoke again.
It took her a good few seconds before she could reply. “It’s okay. You’re back. You’re home with me now. It’s all that matters.”
Ganyu didn’t realize that she had been closing her eyes so tightly until Keqing’s fingers grazed the swollen, tender skin just underneath her eye.
She opened her eyes, finding the amethyst-colored ones staring at her with all the love and promise in the world. “We still have time. I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”
The ache in Ganyu’s heart, having been stinging so sharply for days, finally dulled to a slow, weak throb that she could manage.
“Thank you,” she whispered slowly, closing her eyes again and willing the words to seep into her every fiber. They still had plenty of time together.
“Good night, Ganyu.” Keqing shifted up slightly on the pillow, pressing a soft kiss on her forehead and drawing the blanket over the two of them. “Sweet dreams.”
“Sweet dreams," Ganyu muttered back, finally feeling like she could fall asleep tonight without hearing the phantom clock ticking in her heart again.
Keqing was still with her and it was all that mattered for now.
They still had time.