There were many things in this life that Keqing found as simple pleasures, even to the great disbelief of her friends. She loved perusing the shops of Liyue, for one thing, and she loved looking over architecture of other nations in her spare time to admire and hum over the vast variety of techniques that she could perhaps one day see for herself.
But, in all honesty, the greatest details in life were the days she got to spend with Ganyu.
It was a little odd, honestly, at first when it came to working late with the secretary. They used to only exist in the same room, and their acknowledgement of each other’s presence would only ever be reduced to simple nods and well wishes to get home safely. Now, though, with years of development and consternation (through the death of their god, no less), it was slowly blossoming into new routines that Keqing knew she wouldn’t tire of.
Ganyu’s shy smiles weren’t any less shy towards her, yet now they lacked the sort of lackluster shine of them and invited her in the longer each night drew deeper. Though they couldn’t be considered as something like “friends”, Keqing found herself wondering if there would ever be a moment in her lifetime she could ever pursue that.
For, of course, simple appreciation of her coworker.
“Ganyu?” she called out, and the namesaked coworker lifted her head to meet her eyes, tilting her head in quiet question. Keqing gulped down the lump in her throat and continued, “Are you free to look at these plans right now?”
Ganyu gave her a thin-lined smile. So shy, as always. “I’m here for the same reason as you, Lady Keqing. Of course.”
She leaned over Keqing’s shoulder, the thinness of her breath tickling the column of Keqing’s neck. Ganyu inspected the architectural plans for a drawn moment, humming to herself and bringing her finger to trace over the bold lines made by the commissioner. Keqing didn’t let herself dare breathe.
“Yes, these plans, they’re—” Ganyu searched for the wording. “They’re the most detailed sketches I’ve seen all month. Can I ask who these are for?”
“Pop-ups shops in the Harbor to replace one of the old restaurants in the alleyways,” Keqing answered. She placed the plans on the table and flattened them out with her palms. “I’m not sure if I should approve it though. What do you think?”
Despite what everyone thought of her and what she made of her beliefs, she valued Ganyu’s opinion more than anyone else’s.
“I suppose we could do with newer things in the Harbor, so I wouldn’t dismiss this just yet,” Ganyu said thoughtfully. She let her words settle on her tongue before she spoke, a finger tapping gently on the table to let herself concentrate. “Liyue’s forever changing, and I like to see it become a good thing. Do you think the Harbor will do good with another market district? I’ve yet to catch up on the ledgers.”
Keqing pursed her lips, forcing her mind to draw out the numbers from the account books she looked at so intensely the day before. “We’ve had a bunch of trades directly after Rex Lapis’ death, but the plunge a couple weeks after was imminent.” She tried not to cringe at how coarse she sounded. She prayed Ganyu didn’t take her so brusquely. “I believe we’re slowly coming back onto our feet, mora wise, but you know how Ningguang can be. She wants it all to be over as quickly as possible.”
“So you think this would be a bad idea?” Ganyu asked her. Keqing still couldn’t tell what side Ganyu was leaning towards.
“Not necessarily, but I do think that I can’t put my wax sealed approval on these plans until I take a better look at each owner’s contributions,” she said decisively.
Ganyu nodded along to that. She seemed content with Keqing’s answer. “I could accompany you to speak to the owners this week. I’m sure Lady Ningguang wouldn’t mind the help.”
“I wouldn’t know how to thank you,” Keqing admitted, and she began to roll up the plans on the table.
“Thank me by seeing it through, Keqing,” Ganyu said easily, her smile somehow softer under the glow of their candles.
It made her heart buzz in her chest. Enough so, in fact, that Keqing couldn’t hold back and ask, “If this is all we’re doing for tonight, I wouldn’t mind taking the extra time to escort you home.”
She almost knocked over the candle in trying to unlighting it with her fingers. Why did she say that?
Ganyu took it in stride, however, and laughed gently. “It’s dark out. I wouldn’t want you getting lost on the way home.” Right, of course. The heightened vision thing.
Keqing shrugged nonchalantly, though her heart hammered in her chest from the embarrassment. “If you’re sure?” she pressed, just in case, and to pretend that it wasn’t one big impulse. She was only human, after all. “I wouldn’t mind the extra walk, really. I'm sure it would help me clear my mind before getting some shut eye.”
“I’m sure,” Ganyu confirmed. Her smile dropped, only slightly enough for Keqing to notice, and she looked suddenly comprehensive. “I’m, um… being accompanied home, anyway.”
Keqing couldn’t explain the drop in her stomach even if she was held at knife point. “Oh. I wasn’t aware you were…”
Dating? Seeing someone? She didn’t know which word was supposed to leave her mouth.
She was more than thankful when Ganyu caught on. Her eyes widened, and she vigorously shook her head as she let out a skittish laugh. “Oh, no, not like that! My friend docked recently, and we haven’t seen each other in a while, so we planned to go out for an evening walk after work.”
“I see.” Keqing bobbed her head to that, her shoulders gradually untensing.
And then she remembered that there was only one ship currently docked in the Harbor, a warship that had caused Ningguang great headaches that morning and called for her to fine the helmed captain once she stepped foot in the Jade Chamber.
Ganyu must have seen the realization strike her at that moment, because her face turned down slightly and subtle panic was painted across her features.
“Oh, Beidou isn’t— we aren’t— well—” Ganyu stammered, and Keqing felt a little bad. She just didn’t know what to say to comfort her. Trying again, Ganyu loosened a breath and said, much calmer, “Please don’t share my… relations with her. I ask that of you as a friend, Keqing.”
“I wasn’t going to anyway,” Keqing assured her, though still slightly confused, as to why such a trivial thing needed to be kept so hush hush. It made a slow fire burn in her stomach. “You have my word.”
Ganyu shook her head, rubbing her forearm to comfort herself. “Beidou is a wonderful friend, and she understands why we can’t exactly meet under broad daylight. I’m not ashamed to call her my confidant, but I know it would complicate things here if it were to get out.”
Keqing immediately understood. Gossip spread in the very corners of Liyue like wildfire on dry grass, and most of the time it would happen without the recipients ever knowing until the fire was too high to water out. Still, it rubbed her the wrong way to see Ganyu so startled from talking about it. She wondered if it was because she truly didn’t trust Keqing, or if Ganyu reacted that way to everything.
“I understand, Ganyu,” she said, keeping her voice low. “You don’t have to worry.”
And then Ganyu smiled at her, relieved and happy. She picked up her coat from her chair. “I’m… really glad to hear that.”
Keqing let herself smile back at her. “Of course. I hope you have fun tonight, then.”
“And I hope you get home safe, Keqing.” Those words made the burning in her stomach flounder into something warmer, like steeping tea on the stove.
Once their desks were cleaned out and things were carried out, they waved to each other goodbye and split their ways. The street lamps of Liyue acted like miniature guiding points to her home, and she found it without any scuffle or mark. In fact, Liyue was so quiet and peaceful that evening that even the grasshoppers forgot to play their songs.
Despite it, Keqing didn’t know why she tossed and turned so much that night.
Keqing yawned, a cup of tea by her side as rubbed her bleary eyes and blinked down at the reports in front of her. The words were beginning to cave in on themselves, making it harder and harder for her to round up the sayings to string them into a coherent sentence for her to decipher.
She’d never had sleepless nights before, but this one had hit her over the head with a giant mace. Even the strongest cup of coffee the Qixing could provide her wasn’t enough to keep her alive on her feet.
Nonetheless, work had to be done, and Keqing dimly wished that someone could close the curtains to allow her privacy to scowl at her work.
“Were the grasshoppers bothering you last night, Keqing?” Ganyu asked her amiably. She set down a steaming cup beside Keqing’s hand, and she realized that her other cup had been nearly empty for hours.
“You know what’s weird? I haven’t heard a single one all week,” Keqing remarked, and she took a sip of Ganyu’s tea appreciatively. She let the flavor coat her tongue and let the warmth settle all the way down to her stomach. It was already making her feel better, though she didn’t know if it was the hot tea or the proximity of Ganyu’s arm from her. “Thank you for this, though. I really appreciate it.”
“Sleep is one of the most important things you can give to your body,” Ganyu told her. It sounded a little bit like a scolding, and the childish thought made Keqing smile behind her cup as she drained a little more of it. “I’m sure you know that.”
“I do,” Keqing agreed. She cleared her throat to get rid of the amusement in it. “It was just an off day for me, I guess. I’ll get some extra sleep later tonight.”
Ganyu frowned at her. “Usually, there’s an issue if you can’t sleep well. It doesn’t happen often with you.” She paused, as if she was trying to let those words settle in. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Keqing shook her head lightly, putting down the cup to twist her body and look at Ganyu. “I’m fine, Ganyu,” she said sincerely, though it did nothing to damper the frown on her lips. “Thank you for the concern, really. I swear I’m fine.”
Ganyu relented. “If you’re sure.” She pushed herself off Keqing’s desk, and Keqing smiled at her reassuredly. “But if you change your mind and you want to talk about anything, I’m right here.”
“Thank you,” Keqing said genuinely. She didn’t know if it was the drink or Ganyu’s words that pooled her abdomen with warmth. They looked at each other awkwardly after that, with Keqing’s fingers flexing on top of her parchment paper and Ganyu looking at everything around Keqing except for her in an attempt to look casual.
Thankfully, Ganyu sensed that she wasn’t going to say anything further, so she asked, “I’ve— actually been meaning to ask. Are you planning to go meet the commissioners?”
“Oh, yes,” Keqing said with a blink, and she hit her chest once to clear her throat and sat up straighter on her desk. She rolled up her parchment and busied her hands, just to give herself something to do while Ganyu stared intently into the side of her head to listen. “I asked Ningguang for her time in the afternoon to expand on it further. I was going to bring you up and say that you were interested in collaborating with me in being an envoy for my duties, but well— are you still… alright with that, Ganyu?”
The awkwardness was only mildly scrubbed away with Ganyu’s easy-going smile. “Of course. As long as you think my presence would be helpful, I would be more than happy to accompany you.”
“That’s good. That’s great, actually.” Keqing didn’t know why her demeanor was so… out of place. Maybe the lack of sleep was affecting it, though somehow it only happened around Ganyu.
Perhaps it was because they were on equal footing, thus creating an imagery issue with herself that maybe she wasn’t showing her usual potential around someone who mirrored her in effort. Yes. That must be it.
“If that’s all, you could, uh.” Keqing gestured vaguely to Ganyu’s desk quite a few steps away from her, and Ganyu seemed to snap out of whatever trance she was in at that.
“Oh! Of course. I apologize.”
“No need,” Keqing said dismissively, and she put a sheet of paper in front of her to take a long.
But she could still feel Ganyu’s presence looming over her, hesitantly, and she wondered what on Teyvat was making this woman so wary around her.
“Actually, did you want to ask me something?” Keqing asked her, as kindly as she could muster. She knew that if she snipped her voice just a tad bit more, Ganyu would’ve hung her head and walked off, apologizing for her bothersome behavior. It was a fact she knew from personal experience, unfortunately. “I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed a little…”
“Timid?” Ganyu said, and she smiled at her obvious behavior despite herself.
Keqing pondered that thoughtfully. “I would have used ‘reluctant’, but you could say that.”
Ganyu chuckled. Her nervous antics were slowly fading away with each friendly jab Keqing made at her. Keqing was silently glad. “I just didn’t want you to think that I wanted to insinuate that I didn’t trust you. Last night.”
“Ganyu, we all have things we want to keep private,” Keqing soothed. She took a sip of the tea Ganyu gave to her, as a way to gather what she wanted to say as concisely as possible. Ganyu fidgeted with her fingertips. It was a nervous habit of hers. “Your friendship with Beidou is none of my business. I wouldn’t have said a word even if you told me I didn’t have to.”
Ganyu’s shoulders slumped. “Thank you, Keqing. But in all honesty, I was less worried you’d gossip about me and more than you’d think less of me, somehow.”
Keqing furrowed her brow. “Think less of you?” she echoed.
Ganyu looked embarrassed by that, and she scratched the side of her jaw with a finger, her eyes wandering to and away from Keqing. “I know what you think of Beidou. You’re quite vocal of it. I didn’t want you to think that because I was friends with her, that I was any less competent in my job.”
It took a moment for that to sink in. Keqing blinked. Then blinked again. And then it truly hit her, right square in the face as if Ganyu had taken her cup and splashed her with warm tea: she’s been bad-mouthing Ganyu’s friend in front of Ganyu.
“Oh! Ganyu, I didn’t mean anything by what I say of her, I just mean—” Keqing shook her head, willing her brain to work and to find better wording.
Ganyu looked to be the one more apologetic by it. “Oh, no, it’s alright! I know she can be a handful, and some of the things you say do hold some merit, but that’s not what I’m so… well,” she said, laughing slightly to herself and making vague gestures with her hands.
Keqing still couldn’t help but feel a little stupid. “Sorry,” she said as wholeheartedly as she could. “But, in any case, I don’t tend to see people differently when I know their relations with others. Especially if they’re someone like you.”
“Like— like me?” Ganyu stammered. She was fidgeting with her fingertips again. Keqing smiled a little at that.
“Over three millenia should be more than enough to vouch that you’re a more competent person than anyone else in Liyue,” Keqing said. “And, honestly, Ganyu, don’t lose sleep over it or anything. I’m sure Beidou’s great company if she’s the reason you showed up to work smiling.”
She couldn’t help but let that tease slip out of her mouth. She found it quite nice how squeaky and adorably pink Ganyu got on the rare (rare) occasions that she did, even if her chest slightly squeezed at knowing the suggestion behind it this time.
“Actually, it wasn’t her, entirely, um,” Ganyu explained as calmly as she could, but her eyes still wouldn’t meet Keqing’s for more than a couple seconds and Keqing’s chest was feeling like it was under quicksand. “It’s a beautiful morning today. Wouldn’t you say?”
“One of our better days this week,” Keqing agreed. “Too bad I woke up feeling like I drank a sip of dandelion wine.”
Ganyu laughed at that. “I’m sure you’ll feel better after a nap or two. I know I do.”
Keqing bobbed her head to that. “Speaking of naps— isn’t yours coming around the corner?” Having a sharp internal body clock like hers had its perks from time to time.
“Oh! Yes. Thank you for reminding me,” Ganyu said. She backed away from Keqing’s desk to get back to her own, possibly to pull out her new pillow to take a nap right there after her meal, but it seemed that her sleepless body had been so deprived of natural healing that it went into flight or fight mode, thus giving her the mentality that every thought must be said out loud.
At least, that was the excuse she gave herself.
“Would you like to go on a walk with me after?” she blurted out, and Ganyu turned her shoulder slightly to look at her, eyebrow curiously raised. “After your nap, I mean. You said it was a beautiful day, and I wouldn’t mind having some company while enjoying it. If you wouldn’t, of course.”
Ganyu’s smile was small. Small, yet quite genuine. And it suited her. “I’d like that very much, Keqing. Wake me up if I oversleep?”
As if you’d ever, Keqing thought to herself, but she said, “Of course. Enjoy your break.”
The tea’s caffeine seemed to kick in right there. Her hands buzzed with the kind of restless energy she felt after being out too long, and her eyes scanned every report in front of her until letters bled into one another. She signed report after report, and discarded the ones that she didn’t approve of, murmuring under her breath as she did so.
If there was a timer by her desk, she was sure she would have broken some sort of record, because in one blink of an eye, her tall stack of work was dwindled down to a few dozen. Though, she wondered if she ever blinked at all while doing it.
Once her stack had run out and she signed the last report with an inked flourish, she sat up from her chair and picked up the papers and set it down on the corner of her desk.
She miscalculated how loud it was, and startled by her own bang on the table, accidentally cut her finger.
She knew she should’ve kept her gloves on for paperwork.
Ganyu was awake in an instant. “Keqing?” she called, and Keqing desperately looked around for a small bandage to put around her finger. “Keqing, are you alright?” The concern in her voice was almost borderline panicked.
“Fine! I’m fine!” she called back, getting dirty looks from other secretaries going in and out of the building and working alongside them. “Just a papercut.”
Ganyu was by her side with a blink. She almost yelped when she nearly bumped right into her chest. “Can I see it?” Ganyu asked her, and something in her voice made Keqing hand over her finger without another word.
After a couple seconds of turning her hand over gently, and clicking her tongue under her breath, Ganyu let go of her. “It only cut the first layer of your skin, thankfully. You’ll be fine without a bandage, unless it bothers you.”
“Figures. It didn’t really hurt much.” Keqing pursed her lips. “It just kinda took me by surprise.”
Ganyu gave her a little smile. She looked as if she was stifling a yawn too. “Still stings,” she pointed out.
Keqing nodded, exhaling as calmly as she could. They were standing by her desk, the both of them looking at and around each other. She wondered if they looked as ridiculous as she felt to other people. “I cut your nap short by two minutes,” she said. “I’m really sorry about that.”
“It’s fine,” Ganyu said reassuredly, but her stifled yawn couldn’t hold it back anymore. She yawned, shaking her head and blinking right after. “I can live without two minutes. Do you wanna go on that walk to shake that out?”
“As long as you promise never to talk about it again,” Keqing joked, and she laughed slightly under her breath as Ganyu nodded and pursed her lips to keep from smiling. She took her gloves on her desk and stuffed them into her pocket, just in case. “C’mon. Before I startle you again.”
As they walked side by side out the door, Keqing realized that Ganyu had never woken up so easily like that before.
Once, in the middle of a firework show, Ganyu napped wordlessly at her desk while everyone around her oh’d and ah’d and giggled at the lights sparkling above them with accompanying booms that shook nearby houses.
She wondered if it was her presence that had awoken Ganyu so fast, and the mere entertainment of the thought made her puff out her chest slightly in pride while Ganyu bent down to look at the glaze lilies blooming around the edges of their building.
But then out in the distance, a person waved at them with a leisurely look, her broad shoulder pressed against a stack of planks. She was much too far away for Keqing to recognize, even when she squinted, but Ganyu seemed to light up like a house on fire.
She sprang up from her crouching position to wave back, much more animatedly than Keqing had ever seen her greet a person before, and the woman down the hill seemed to cup her hands and yell. Still, Keqing couldn’t make any sense of what she was hollering.
Ganyu, on the other hand, grinned, smiling wider than any time in their career, and cupped her own hands to yell back, “It’s good to see you too, Beidou!” while her coat furled in the wind.
Keqing watched the scene with semi-amusement, her eyeballs ping-ponging back and forth from the two women who seemed to know what the other was conveying despite the distance.
Her stomach was warm again, but in a way that trash burned in the alleyways. Gross, viscous, and vile in nature.
She didn’t know what to make of it, or to understand why the feeling was so present.
She felt it before, of course. Many times in her life as a child, especially when she looked out of her window while she was studying to see other children her age living carefree lives and spending time the way they wanted to. As she grew, she realized that her feelings were misplaced and that gratitude for the position given to her was imperative if she were to continue to look over Liyue.
She had felt it before, but not in a long time. At least, not in a time long enough for her to make sense of it.
Ganyu seemed to sense her unease with it, though, and she turned to look at Keqing with a slowly fading smile. Keqing wanted to see it again, even at the expense of her roiling stomach.
“Are you okay?” she asked, and the concern was etched in the way her frown became as prominent as her smile before. Her eyes even glanced down to the hand that Keqing put on her stomach, and Keqing cursed herself.
She removed the hand placed lightly on her abdomen and gave Ganyu the best smile she could muster. “I just forgot to have some lunch,” she said. At least, that wasn’t a lie. “I should be fine when we get back.”
“Alright,” Ganyu relented, though she continued to eye Keqing suspiciously the entire time they walked and felt through the breeze.
Before going home that night, Ganyu placed a piece of paper on her desk without saying a thing.
When Keqing opened it, there was a list of ingredients and simple instructions on how to create a stuffing vegetable medley soup in a pinch.
She stuffed it into her pocket, and then hung it up with a clothespin in front of her stove at home. Maybe one day she could invite Ganyu to try her cooking and give her tips on how to improve. The invitation only to make sure she was making good vegetarian food for herself, of course.
(The vegetarian food she knew she’d barely touch.)
The next few days at work weren’t so eventful, as they usually were.
Paperwork upon paperwork was a regular thing to go through with her line of duty, and she mourned for the day when she was allowed to finally do something outside. Her only solace was the fact Ningguang would come by her desk once a day to chat with her, giving her updates with the marketplace that was in development. Most of the things she said were related to the amount of mora they would generate, and though Keqing contributed to most of the Tianquan’s rhetoric, she couldn’t care less.
Four days passed by without so much as a newer development with the owners of each store, and Ningguang tried to comfort her by putting her hand on her shoulder and leaning over to micromanage her reports.
Though a little irritating, Keqing didn’t shrug off the hand on her shoulder or to push away the close proximity Ningguang was closing in with, knowing that Ningguang would use it to her advantage to annoy her when she was being especially dismissive of her “mora for thoughts”.
“Is that all?” she asked, and she didn’t try to hide her annoyance. She gestured at her pile of work helplessly. “I’m here for the rest of the night, Ningguang. You don’t have to pile everything on me all at once.”
“Oh, I know,” Ningguang replied. She sounded amused. Keqing wanted to slam her forehead into the desk. Ningguang was currently sitting on her desk, twirling her pipe and watching Keqing torture herself in trying to find a gentle enough request for her to move. “But it’s a little tiring going from the Jade Chamber to here all the time, if you ask me.”
“You could’ve just made me go up there myself,” Keqing said, gritting her teeth together. She tried to drown out Ningguang’s words while she read the report to herself.
“Where’s the fun in that?” Ningguang hummed, and she took a closer look at her pipe. “I need to get out of there once in a while anyway. Who better to see than one of my most diligent members of the Qixing?”
Keqing rubbed the side of her head, feeling it throb underneath her fingertips. “You have an entire Harbor at your leisure.” In fact, you fund it, she wanted to bite out, but held her tongue long enough to prolong the words.
Ningguang laughed at that. “That’s true. And I do make time for that— but after coming to see you and your work.”
“I feel so special,” Keqing said sardonically.
Legs hooking back over the desk to come off, Ningguang laughed gently. She placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed, as she’s done several times before over the course of the few days, and bid her farewell (finally).
Keqing settled back into her work, sighing and playing with her quill while looking over the newest report on her desk. She felt something burning into her forehead a couple moments later, and she looked up in time to see Ganyu look away.
Before she could ask, Ganyu said, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to stare.”
“I wasn’t assuming you did,” she answered. She straightened her back and tucked in her chair, looking expectantly at Ganyu. “Is everything alright?”
“Of course. If anything was out of order, I would’ve immediately reported it to you,” Ganyu said quickly. Keqing frowned at that. She was intentionally avoiding her question.
As if catching on to Keqing’s suspicion, Ganyu dropped her parchment and smiled sheepishly in surrender. “I was just curious about Ningguang, that’s all.”
Keqing’s eyebrows pulled together. “What do you mean by that?”
Ganyu shrugged nonchalantly, but she could see the clear tension in them. “She’s been coming down here a lot recently. And… only for you, I’ve noticed.”
It didn’t sound accusatory in any way, nor could Keqing find any reason for Ganyu to bring it up. For once, she was lost in reading someone’s intentions. She decided to fish for context clues instead. “Don’t pay her any mind,” she said with a snort, tapping her stack of papers on the desk. “She won’t say it out loud, but she feels bad that she’s been keeping me in the dark with the marketplace plans. It’s probably her way of showing she’s sorry.”
Ganyu's frown deepened. Usually, she’d be separating piles and checking things off while she spoke, being Liyue’s champion multitasker and all, but her hands were completely still for once. If anything, it seemed like Keqing had made it worse, somehow, especially when she noticed how tightly Ganyu had been holding her papers. They creased underneath her fingers.
Before she could say something to douse water on the fire, Ganyu asked, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her be so sociable with another person.” It was said calmly, like a fact. As much as she strained her ears to find something in between the words, there was nothing, as if Ganyu had spoken her words on a transparent sheet of paper.
“Are you sure?” she asked hesitantly. “She’s pretty sociable whenever I’m in the room.”
Keqing forgot that water could make fire worse.
Ganyu looked down at her papers. There was no emotion etched onto her face, even as she said, “I see. I’ve known her even before she held her title now, and I wouldn’t consider her as someone who enjoyed being that way.”
“Right.” Keqing swallowed the lump in her throat. She didn’t know why she was suddenly so nervous. It was like icicles were formed at her back, its pointy shards pointing right at her organs, ready to pierce her if she made another wrong move. Even the room itself felt like the hot, humid air had become fifty degrees colder.
They worked in silence after that, the sounds of a clock clicking and the scribbles of ink on paper floating around the room like a ghost.
Once in a while, Keqing could see Ganyu’s eyes flicker up to where Keqing’s shoulder was, just out of the corner of her eye. At some point, her eyes narrowed, staring at the corner of her desk for what felt like eons until Keqing subtly put her hand in its general direction to rest it and Ganyu blinked herself awake in her daze to look back down at her work.
Keqing had never felt so nervous to work before. She didn’t even know why, for Archons’ sake.
She brainstormed while she worked on the things at her desk, until a fire roared to life in her head, and she blurted out, “Do you want to grab some lunch with me? There’s a great new restaurant that opened across the street from us.”
Maybe Ganyu was having a bad day. At least in her experience, food always cheered her up.
Ganyu put down her work again, and smiled at her for the first time in hours. Keqing felt relief flood over her. “I’m sorry, not this time,” she said, and Keqing held her breath again. “I have a lot of work to do.” She lifted her long scroll to show off its length, and Keqing finally understood that her smile wasn’t meant to be anything else but apologetic.
“Next time then,” she said, and Ganyu shot her one last smile before delving back into her secretary work.
Keqing leaned back, stretching her arms big and wide, and then massaged her wrists. There was always next time.
Unless Ganyu only rejected her invitation because of something she did?
Keqing shook off the thoughts. She wasn’t one to overthink— they only ever hindered a person, and she wouldn’t let herself be hindered now.
She grabbed a couple of her things and a bag of mora, then bid Ganyu a goodbye to take her lunch break. Alone.
Miraculously, a Millelith soldier stopped her before she strayed away too far, and he was red in the face from running to her (she was just walking at a brisk pace, really?) and told her that her presence was required at the Jade Palace in Ningguang’s private chambers.
She supposed lunch could wait for another hour or two, and she followed the soldier to be escorted to where she was needed. All the while, she felt those icicles back at her shoulder blades, though they felt more like a chill in the air than anything else. She wondered what had made the weather change so much in Liyue. Just yesterday, the sun had been beating itself into her back.
Before long, she was situated between the indoor plants of the Tianquan and the Tianquan herself.
Ningguang riffled through her papers, talking about things that for once, were going through one ear and out the other. Like the spout of a tea kettle, Keqing couldn’t hold any words in her head as the best tea pot could with overflowing water.
Outside the Jade Chamber was a giant ship, anchored and tethered next the Harbor while its illustrious sails swam in the wind for all to bear witness to. While Keqing was too high up to take a good look at the faces that walked around Liyue, she only continued to squint and look back and forth between people who looked even a little bit out of place to stare them down. Maybe even ones who looked like pirates.
As ant-like as they may be, Keqing wasn’t one to quit so easily. Plus, she made sure to have her fill of carrots for dinner every night.
She snapped out of it when Ningguang waved in front of her face. She looked back, staring into the unimpressed look of the Tianquan, and flashed her an apologetic smile.
“Is something here distracting you, Keqing?” Ningguang asked her dryly. She pointed vaguely around her office, the papers in her hand ruffling with the movement.
“No. Of course not.” Keqing shook her head at that, then moved her chair closer to preserve her self image.
“Then I assume you heard about my crunch numbers about the new addition to the marketplace,” Ningguang continued, and sighed through her nose while she flipped her papers back. Pinching the bridge of her nose, she added, “All my years, I’ve never seen you two so distracted before. It’s like Rex Lapis himself had come down as an apparition to detract you away from your work. Get it together, at least while you’re here.”
“My sincerest apologies if I come off that way. I assure you, it won’t happen again,” Keqing said in a stippled tone. She was pinching the ends of her gloves on her lap, knowing that Ningguang had the unfortunate knowledge of her distracted behavior. She paused right then.
Before she could open her mouth to ask, Ningguang went back to droning on and on about the logistics of the marketplace and the amount of guesstimated mora it would generate for the first two weeks it would be installed versus its initial pricing.
Keqing wished more than ever that someone could pull her up from the collar and toss her out of the Jade Chamber. Maybe then, she could see Ganyu from here, instead of the abominable ship outside of the window.
She flinched, then answered, “Yes, I agree, more mora is good?” Though it came out as an inquiry.
Ningguang glared at her from over her papers. “If you’re going to be so distracted while you’re with me, the least you can do is help me relight my pipe.”
Keqing mumbled a, “Right, sorry,” under her breath, then came around the desk to do as told. She picked up Ningguang’s match and struck it across the desk’s surface, though as she leaned over to light it for Ningguang, she slipped.
Ningguang reprimanded her while she cleaned up the mess.
She got back about an hour after their meeting.
Her back ached and she stretched it as best as she could, then plopped herself into her chair with an exhausted exhale. Her muscle memory forced her to take a pen in her hand, even as she stood there looking up at the ceiling to collect herself.
Keqing closed her eyes and counted to three, before pushing in her chair to get herself ready for the last stack of paper for the night.
Meanwhile, she could see Ganyu glancing up at her here and there.
Ganyu was glaring right into where her neck and collarbone met, the unfortunate bright red burn mark from her slip glaring back at the secretary.
Keqing tried her best to ignore her gaze. Perhaps the sun was in her eyes, and she was trying to see what injury Keqing had sustained as non-nosy as she could.
As petty revenge for Keqing’s inattention to her during their meeting, Ningguang sent her off to check on the business owners early in the morning.
Though Ganyu had promised to be there with her for every step of the process, Keqing found it unnecessary to wake the woman up from a long deserved sleep for something she could have done alone. Sure, the company would have been nice, but Keqing didn’t want to dampen their friendship with something as small as an early morning inspection.
Certainly, Ganyu would refuse to eat lunch with her then.
Keqing walked through the barren stacks of material goods, all ready to be set up in stalls once the alleyway marketplace would be approved. They all looked ready to go, though some clearly opened and closed their mouths trying to ask her for an estimate of the final approval and others were quite apprehensive under her watchful gaze.
There was one old lady, however, who was surrounded by a million flowers that she was frantically misting while waving away flies with that morning’s newspaper.
She zapped away the flies nearest to the florist with electro while coming up to the flowers.
“Oh, thank you, dear,” the woman said graciously, and she huffed while leaning herself against a brick wall. “I don’t mean to rush you and the Tianquan, but I would appreciate it if I could bring in my flowers into my greenhouse as soon as possible.”
“You wouldn’t have to wait long from here. We only need a few more days to officiate everything,” Keqing promised. She picked up a sack of soil that the woman was eyeing, and the woman redirected her to set it down next to azaleas that looked incredibly beautiful under the rising sun.
“Well, regardless,” the florist said kindly. She gestured to her flowers. “If you would like some to take home for your troubles, I would be more than happy to give you some. You could even see it as an incentive for you to try and speed up the process a little.” She laughed a bit at that.
Keqing took a quick sweep at the flowers with her eyes. The polite decline was at the tip of her tongue, though she spotted qingxin flowers neatly tucked away in the corner.
The florist saw her staring at them instantly. “Unfortunately, I can’t give those to you for free,” she said with a frown. “They’re my most expensive flowers in the shop, coming from the highest peaks in our mountains in Liyue.”
“Oh, I know,” Keqing said, not unkindly. I know because sometimes I spend my time up those peaks looking for them. And, most of the time, she wasn’t able to find any. “I wouldn’t have taken them from you for free even if you offered. I’ll take a bouquet with a generous tip to go with it.”
The florist blinked. “Are you sure? That many qingxin flowers would cost you a fortune.”
What was the point of having that much mora if she wasn’t going to spend it wisely? The decision was out of her mouth without even having to think much of it.
“I’m quite aware, thank you. Could you wrap it up in your nicest blue?”
About half of her pouch empty and a bundle of qingxin flowers and accompanying free blue flowers (“If you’re going to give a bouquet to your lady, the least you could do is give her a pretty one,” the florist scolded her, and she said nothing to decline that) in her arms later, Keqing was almost skipping all the way back to her workplace. She had to school her features into something uninterested though, and then opened the door with her shoulder.
Ganyu perked up at the sight of her, and she had to suppress a grin. She probably saw the flowers first.
But then, Ganyu’s eyes slid away from her face and to the flowers, and her eyebrows jumped up in surprise. If she didn’t see the flowers, what made her so happy to see Keqing come in? She’d muse that another time, but now, she knew she had to put her rehearsed words into use.
Keqing cleared her throat. “Ningguang asked me to check on the business owners earlier today,” she started, and she metaphorically patted herself on the back on how casual she sounded. “The florist gave this to me as a gift, for helping her business grow and all. I thought you’d put it into much better use than I would.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, per se.
“Keqing, I don’t know what to say,” Ganyu said quietly, and her eyes kept flicking back and forth between her and the flowers. She stood up slowly, putting her hands out apprehensively as if Keqing would pull that back away from her at the last minute.
Once Ganyu was in reach, Keqing put the flowers in her arms proudly. “You don’t have to say anything,” Keqing assured her. “I wouldn’t have known what to do with it anyway.”
“Still, I…” Ganyu searched for the words. She was cradling the flowers close to her chest, and Keqing resisted the urge to come closer to her. “Thank you. That’s honestly all I could say at the moment. It’s one of the most beautiful bouquets I’ve seen today.”
“Of course, Ganyu.” She allowed herself to smile and nod, and Ganyu smiled back at her shyly.
Then Ganyu turned around to come back to her desk, and Keqing only realized the meaning of her words.
Ganyu said one of the most beautiful bouquets she’s seen that day.
She said that because there was already a bouquet at the corner of her desk, much bigger and bolder than the one Keqing had given to her.
Before Ganyu put her bouquet right beside it, a stark contrast between her tiny one versus the behemoth, Keqing could spot the tag still attached to it.
She couldn’t read the scribbles written on it, but she could read the gigantic letters underneath that were scribbled as, “Love, Beidou.” beside the draped coat on her chair.
The tip of her quill snapped on the desk.
Beidou was sitting on a crate near the dock with her men, a cup of cider in her cup and a hand on her knee. She was laughing, proud and boisterous, taking swigs here and there to give whatever good ol’ sea story she was retelling a practiced paused suspense.
All in all, she looked quite relaxed.
Keqing glared at her from where she stood, imagining how easy it would be to slice her throat open with her hair pin or stretch out her other eyepatch and snap it back or drown her in the river and taze her dead with—
“You’re doing it again.”
Keqing flicked her eyes over to Ningguang. She looked bored, almost, as she spun her smoking pipe and squinted at Keqing like she was a figment of her imagination. That, or she truly found it annoying to be forced to come with her two coworkers to check on the market men to double check the ledgers. The annoyance would be shared, at least.
“Doing what?” Keqing said dryly.
Ningguang only rolled her eyes. “You’re looking out into the sea like you have a personal vendetta against it,” she explained, as if she was saying the sky was blue. “If I left you out to your own devices, I’m almost afraid you’d zap the rivers dry.”
“I’m not angry with the ocean,” Keqing said impatiently.
“Then why so…” Ningguang gestured to her tense posture.
Keqing shook her head. It was better for her to think she had an irrational anger towards a body of water than the woman commanding the helm of it, anyway. It was less messier to deal with.
“Pirates,” she mumbled under her breath. Because she couldn't help it.
Ningguang chuckled under her breath. “Come, then. Let’s push away your childish antics for the afternoon to get some work then.” She accentuated her words by rubbing her hand on Keqing’s back.
Keqing gave her a subtle side glare, though Ningguang only gave her an innocent half smile in return.
She shook her head and let out an irate sigh, tuning her ears to the businessmen that were trying to call them over.
Thanks to her field of work, Keqing refined her listening skills to the best of her abilities. She could hear every lie slipped through the tongue, the most subtle of squeaks in voices, and even the creaks of shifting feet underneath floorboards during interrogations.
It came to no surprise to her when she heard the telltale sound of a snapped pen, one crisp and sharp enough to belong to many angered merchants she had to deal with over the years.
Though, she couldn’t imagine that turning her head around would only allow her to be greeted by the sight of Ganyu, who had tagged along to her work as promised, and who was currently checking the flowers in the flower stand nearby, a casual look on her face.
She wondered if she had to train her ears a thousand more times yet again, but the sight of a broken pen tip clutched between Ganyu’s fingers made her think otherwise.
Ganyu casually slipped it into her coat pocket, while Keqing watched her in curiosity.
If there was one thing Keqing could do without ever a flaw, it was being able to analyze everything.
Years and years of being able to memorize, annotate, and analyze things that happened around her came in handy when it came to Ganyu, embarrassing as it seemed.
She analyzed Ganyu’s smile when it came to seeing her versus Beidou, about the prospect of eating alone for lunch versus with her, about flowers and her new vegetable medley soups and Beidou’s soups and her music and Beidou’s music and her like of shopping and Beidou’s dislike of shopping and absolutely everything else in between.
The conclusion was that Ganyu smiled wide when she spoke to Beidou and turned away after smiling at her, that Ganyu seemed relaxed when eating by herself but fidgeted nervously when eating with her, that Ganyu was over the moon when seeing Beidou and everything that reminded her of Beidou, only to be much more subdued and hesitant around her.
In all essence, Ganyu liked Beidou better.
If there was ever a chance that Ganyu was interested in her, she wasn’t ever as interested as she was with her good friend and secret peer, Beidou.
Keqing sighed, then twirled her pen a couple times before putting it down on her desk. Her little corner was brightly lit by late night lanterns she set up around the area, ones that glowed in a more familiar way than the firepit at home.
As always, she was one of the only people working overtime.
Except, oddly enough for a Wednesday evening that called for no early morning shift, Ganyu wasn’t there with her, as she usually was.
Perhaps it had to do something with the card left on her table late that morning, when she read it with careful eyes and a slow spreading smile on her lips as she tucked herself back into her chair in a much better mood than Keqing could give to her.
She exhaled heavily, tapping her pen impatiently on the hollow surface and letting its steady beat fill the room to force herself to focus. It wasn’t working as it usually did, however, because the thought of Ganyu spending time with that pirate right now was filling her mind with tar and magma from the corners of Natlan.
What were they doing right now? Were they laughing together, jostling each other’s sides and holding each other close while they drunkenly professed each other’s love and kissed and whispered sweet nothings, and that Ganyu would be perfect in a way that Beidou didn’t realize?
But then she thought back to those sweet smiles and the way Ganyu’s unbridled laughter would echo off the nightly walls whenever Beidou was brave enough to sneak her away from work, and realized that perhaps she was the one who was undeserving of that kind of love.
After all, Keqing wasn’t the one to make her so happy that way.
So what gave her the right to be so angry?
Perhaps she should have heeded her father’s words closer— jealousy was a corrupted little thing that hurt no one but the one who curated the poison.
“I’ve known of your mood swings all week, but I didn’t think they would get this bad,” Ningguang proclaimed.
The squeak of a chair being pulled out beside her was the least of her worries. It did nothing to pull her out of her own head.
Ningguang seemed to notice that immediately. She frowned. “I may like to test your patience time and time again, Keqing, but I don’t enjoy seeing it forever. What’s troubling you?”
“Your microaggressions aren’t going to work,” Keqing replied impassively. She picked up another report and followed the words with a finger, though she didn’t know if it was to make Ningguang think she was working or herself. “If you wanted me to stop slacking off, you could’ve sent me a letter in the mail. It could’ve been less inconvenient for you.”
Ningguang let that roll over them like a blanket before responding. “I’m not here as your business partner,” she began adroitly. “I’m here as your friend.”
Something about her words sounded sincere enough for Keqing to slump.
She pressed her back against her wooden chair and breathed in deep, before nodding her head twice to let Ningguang know she was listening.
“You’re only human, Keqing. You were the one to remind all of Liyue that whenever you get the chance, and now I think it’s something you need to hear from someone now.” Ningguang put her hand on her forearm.
It seemed to be a habit of Ningguang’s. Keqing had found it demeaning, in a way, like she was trying her best to seem eye to eye with people below her.
Now, Keqing found it comforting. Even if it made her a little sad.
“I gave up,” Keqing told her stiffly. Realizing that those words would mean nothing to someone else, she said, “With Ganyu, I mean.”
Ningguang only lifted an eyebrow. “Giving up on her in what way?”
“As in…” Keqing shrugged helplessly. She didn’t really know how else to say it. “Pursuing her” sounded as if she came on strong, which she made sure she didn’t. “Courting her” seemed like she wasn’t doing enough, which she was.
“Liking her” seemed the most viable option, but it wasn’t as if she could turn off a switch when it came to feelings. Even now, the wishful thought of Ganyu being across from her while she worked to keep her company plagued her mind.
“Is this about Ganyu?” Ningguang asked her. When Keqing shot her an incredulous look, she laughed, then leaned back to smoke her pipe. Keqing hadn’t even noticed that it was in her lap. “I don’t spend much time around you, but the children have told me more than once that you seemed too cowardly around a woman for your own good.”
“I wasn’t scared,” Keqing argued hotly.
“Then what, by Celestia, is your issue, Keqing?”
“She likes Beidou!”
Keqing didn’t dare try to take those words away. It was true, in any case, and surely Ningguang with her thousand eyes around Liyue had known longer than she had about their constant associations with each other. She didn’t even shout them— just enunciated them for Ningguang to listen to, even if she already knew.
Though Ningguang's open-mouthed gape made her wonder if this was as much of a surprise as it was to her a while ago, but it was more than enough of an incentive for her to continue.
“She’s asked me to hold their relationship secret and I’ve promised to take that to my grave, but I know this isn’t something exactly surprising to you,” Keqing said carefully, and she leaned over to speak more closely to Ningguang. “I’m sure even you, of all people, know when someone’s in love, and when you can’t do anything to stop that, lest you want to be selfish.”
The implication rested between them like a silk sheet over the richest duvets. Clear, delicate, and almost taboo to speak about.
Ningguang looked almost… amused by her words.
Once the shock had worn off and her smoking pipe had long since cleared itself from any herbs, her gaping mouth curled up into something that made her look as if she was holding back a laugh.
Before Keqing could snap at her to speak up, Ningguang shook her head, in a way that looked quite fond.
Her peculiar smile paired with her mysterious words.
“Keep your weekend nights free. I will book a reservation for four.”
It was like Ningguang to book the most high end restaurant in Liyue, but it was very unlike her to book it under the premise that it was a double date.
It was practically embarrassing having to walk into Liyue’s finest restaurant in broad daylight right beside Ningguang, knowing that she had announced to the waitress and everyone around them that they needed a table for four, for two joint dinner dates.
Was she trying to make Ganyu jealous too by pretending she was interested in Ningguang?
Keqing knew it would be fruitless labor. Ganyu didn’t have a single antagonistic bone in her body.
“What are you doing?” she hissed in Ningguang’s ear, and Ningguang waved her off with a simple hand.
“Trust me,” Ningguang told her languidly. “Relax. Everything’s paid off.”
“You know that’s not what I meant.”
“But I truly meant trusting me.” Ningguang held her gaze while she sipped her flute. “Let things play out, Keqing.”
“You’re making a grave mistake,” Keqing said flatly, glaring over at her.
She had to reset her facial features once Beidou and Ganyu arrived, both suspiciously close to each other and sporting apologetic looks and coats that nearly matched in color. Without meaning to, Keqing eyed Ganyu’s most vulnerable spots for any signs of, well, activities present on her skin, though she snapped them away once she realized what she was doing. It wasn’t any of her business.
But, at the very least, she couldn’t spot any in the few seconds her eyes betrayed her.
(And that Ganyu had a very nice collarbone.)
“Yo,” Beidou greeted languidly, and the tip of a sly insult was already on Keqing’s tongue.
She only stopped because Ningguang put her hand on her forearm, squeezing to remind her that this dinner was for diplomatic purposes. The look she shot at Keqing wasn’t any better.
Beidou pulled out the chair for Ganyu, flourishing a hand for her friend and making Ganyu smile underneath her hand to suppress it. Keqing glared harder, and the surprise of a spark traveling through her wine glass almost made her drop it. She set it down before anyone could notice the light of her Vision at her hip.
“I hope I didn’t inconvenience you two for the evening,” Ningguang told them smoothly, and she raised her glass to her lips.
“Us? Not really,” Beidou responded with a lazy grin. Ganyu nodded in agreement next to her, her hands resting neatly on her lap. Keqing almost quipped at the pirate to let her speak, for once. “We probably would’ve gone out and strolled in the Harbor if you didn’t invite us. Right, Yuyu?”
Keqing almost swallowed her wine down the wrong pipe. She inhaled sharply. Yuyu?
“Right, um,” Ganyu said, and her quiet voice almost drowned out under the instrumental nuisances of the restaurant. She contemplated blasting lightning right into the musicians’ stage. “It’s been an awfully quiet morning. If anything, this dinner is a good change of pace for us.”
“Well said!” Beidou guffawed, and she put a hand on her back to pat it. Keqing’s knee twitched at the sight.
“Of course,” Ningguang answered, and her smooth voice forced Keqing out of her daydreams of destruction. She put her hand back on her forearm, and Keqing could have sworn Ganyu’s eyes flickered downwards in an instant. “I hope you two don’t mind that I put our orders in the mercy of the chef. I thought it would be nice to be a little adventurous here and there.”
Beidou shrugged, then took a deep chug of her beer. It seemed that while the three of them had gotten wine, she was the only chair with a cold glass of beer. “I don’t mind. We’ve been here a couple times before already, and the chef’s a genius. Not as good as Xiangling, but, you know, beggars can’t be choosers.”
Ningguang smiled gently at that.
It didn’t take long for their meals to arrive after a few more (albeit tense) pleasantries and stories of the comings and goings of the day leading up to the dinner, and a plate of shrimp steamed in front of her face. The sight of it helped her calm down, and she even began to smile with the first bite.
“So, Keqing,” Beidou said, and she focused all of her attention on her. Immediately, Keqing’s hackles raised and she stood there, tense and forcing herself to plaster on a polite smile. “I hear you’ve been helping with the architecture of the new market.”
“And the administration,” Keqing said dryly.
“Really? That sounds like a lot to deal with,” Beidou answered, and she raised her eyebrows in surprise.
Keqing put down her chopsticks. “They sound like a lot to you, you said?”
“Well, yeah?” Beidou tilted her head, as if she wasn’t getting it. “I know if that was me, I wouldn’t be able to keep with all of that, at least without losing my head a little.” She laughed at that.
“You’re right. You wouldn’t.”
Keqing stared at her while she had another mouthful of her meal. Beidou’s brow scrunched, and she shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
Clearing her throat, Ningguang asked, “Shall I request the dessert menu now?”
“But we just got our food?” Beidou mused, and even pointed at her filled-up bowl of rice and meat. One glare from Ningguang later, and she backtracked and added, “Dessert would be nice.”
“Good.” Ningguang relaxed at that. “Now, please, continue with your cordial conversation.” She gave Keqing a glare of her own. Keqing only ate a shrimp in return.
“Sure,” Beidou said hesitantly. She put more food in her mouth and let herself savor it before continuing, the soft violins of the background helping Keqing latch onto something that could help her compose herself.
But then Beidou opened her mouth again, and even the strongest, loudest, boldest music in Teyvat couldn’t save her now.
“Do you do anything for fun, Keqing?” she asked.
And Keqing quipped, “Anything that isn’t with you is enjoyable to me.”
Beidou decided to dismiss that with a chuckle. She took more beer, though Keqing noticed how she uneasily drummed her fingers on the cup. “Okay, well, do you like your job? I’m sure you’ve noticed that I like mine. Being a sea captain can be challenging at times, but you know what? It’s pretty rewarding if you put in the—”
“Oh, I’ve noticed, no worries.” Keqing played with the food in her bowl as she spoke. “You like bothering as many people as you can.”
Beidou frowned at that. She lifted a subtle hand towards Ningguang when Ningguang opened her mouth, shaking her head slightly. After a swallow of her food, Beidou asked, “Alright. No work chit-chat then. You got anyone waiting for you back home, Keqing? That topic’s always a salve for dry conversations.”
That hit Keqing right in the nerve.
“Do you, Captain?” Keqing asked her, and the animosity in her voice was rising with every syllable. “Don’t you have things better to do than sit there and peeve people whenever you have the chance? What are your hobbies, Beidou? Are they the same as your work— running around drinking rum and doing trades with people when you’re suffering from a hangover?”
“I drink beer, first of all.” Beidou looked more confused than angry. That made Keqing more furious. “What did I ever do to you? Seriously.”
“What did you ever do to me?” Keqing repeated. “What did you ever do? I could give you a list right here if I wanted to, but it wouldn’t change the fact that you’re one big—”
She paused, and her senses finally came back to her. Her tunnel vision dissipated and she saw Ningguang staring at her, gaping and affronted, while Ganyu was rubbing her nose and looking rather embarrassed.
Keqing immediately sobered up.
“I apologize,” she said, as sincerely as she could. She turned to look back at Beidou. “I didn’t know what came over me. Sorry.”
“Eh, it happens to the best of us.” Beidou shrugged. The weird thing was that she truly looked unbothered. If Keqing ever had a sliver of respect for her, it would be with that. “Bad days, you know? S’all good.”
“Right,” Keqing said. She shifted in her chair. “Well, do you have any… actual hobbies then, Captain?”
“Just Beidou’s fine,” she said offhandedly. She smiled and held her beer up to Keqing in acknowledgement. “You really weren’t that far off anyway. Drinking’s great, but so is sailing, being with my crew, you know— all the pirate stuff you were talking about.”
“Sorry,” Keqing apologized, and the warmth under her collar crept up to her.
“It’s fine, really,” Beidou told her with a grin. She turned her eyes over to the person next to Keqing. “How about you, Ning? Got any new hobbies I wasn’t aware of?”
“If you were expecting a different answer from last time, you’d be disappointed,” Ningguang replied, and she put down her cup. Beidou only pouted at her playfully. Ningguang chose to ignore that. “How about you, Ganyu? I’m sure this conversation is a little repetitive to you, but I realize I actually don’t know much about you.”
“The sentiment is shared,” Ganyu said. There was an odd kind of distaste in her eyes, one that Keqing couldn’t say she was familiar with. “And I believe I would like to keep it that way.”
Her words settled like peppercorn on the tongue. Briny, outlandish, and completely indigestible.
They were still Ganyu-like, with her soft spoken intonation and the softness of the volume, but the stony look in her face made Keqing gape at her from across the table. So did Beidou and Ningguang.
“Ganyu, I don’t seem to understand,” Ningguang said slowly. “Your words came off a little strong. Could you rephrase that?”
Ganyu thought about it. She shook her head. “I think you heard me perfectly clear.”
“I think what she means is,” Beidou piped up, and even she looked rather nervous. She was gesturing almost wildly with her hands. “She… doesn’t like mixing work with her personal life, as in, the people she works with. So—”
“No!” Ganyu looked flustered by her outburst. “I— I mean, no, no, not that, I—” Her eyes flickered over to Keqing almost nervously, before her shoulders slumped and she focused on Ningguang and clarified, “I meant that I respect the Tianquan. Your laws are efficient in every way and they’re worthy of respect, but as you, Ningguang, I find you too forward.”
The table gaped at her. Ganyu wasn’t one to be forward herself, and she explained things in a way that was euphemistic at best, so Keqing translated as best as she could in her head.
Ganyu found Ningguang to be too promiscuous.
“Now what—” Ningguang looked like she was still trying to wrap her head around her. Even Beidou had left her beer completely untouched. “What gives you that impression?”
Ganyu looked ready for the question. She had her back straightened out, and she put a fist up to her mouth to clear her throat. She said, “For starters, I’ve seen you ask Keqing to your private chambers for her presence. She would disappear for hours at a time, and I could only assume that— that she’s there for personal reasons.”
“Ganyu, that’s not—” Keqing sputtered, but Ningguang put her hand back on her forearm.
The contact made Ganyu’s eyes flicker down, but this time in a much clearer way. Her eyes hardened, filling with a look that Keqing had found to be reflected on herself numerous times the past month. Ningguang didn’t remove her hand.
“I respect the decisions you make, both you and Keqing,” Ganyu said, and her soft spoken voice made her words sound much colder than they already were. “But because I respect it, I also hope you respect that it’s something I don’t particularly enjoy.”
Or, in other words: I don’t like seeing you two together.
And it sounded hauntingly like the words Keqing wished she spoke herself.
“I’m going to order some dessert for the table,” Ningguang announced.
Keqing looked over at her in alarm. “What? But she just—?”
“I know.” Ningguang’s eyes glittered in something akin to mischief. When they flickered over to Beidou, it was like she transported her thoughts to the woman, and Beidou grinned appreciatively. “You two stay here. Beidou and I don’t want any dessert.”
“What?” came out of her mouth the same time Ganyu said it.
“Don’t put words into my mouth,” Beidou scolded. She got up from her seat, took off her coat, and put it around Ningguang’s shoulders, who pulled it closer into her. “There’s a great bar down the street. We don’t end our dates without some alcohol in our system. It was per our agreement.”
“Unfortunately,” Ningguang said, and she rolled her eyes. Though, the corners of her lips twitched when Beidou pressed a kiss to her temple.
Ningguang raised a hand to the two remaining at their table in farewell. “You two have fun. And order as much as you want— it’s under my name.” And then the pair was off, their hands intertwined and laughing all the way to the exit with whatever joke had spilled from Beidou’s mouth.
And Keqing and Ganyu could only stare after their backs, knowing now that the double date requested was for the wrong pairs.
And what else could she have done, besides laugh and run her hands over her face in complete embarrassment.
“I hope you’re not too full,” she said, and Ganyu looked over at her with every inch of red as she was. “Do you want to go on a walk with me?”
“I’d love to,” Ganyu said quietly. And she wrapped her coat tighter around herself.
The flowers underneath the moonlight looked as beautiful as they were in the sun.
Though, in the back of her mind, she knew they only looked that way because of Ganyu next to her, who bent down every now and again to smile and touch the petals with the gentlest of hands. Even in the darkness, Ganyu glowed brighter than any lampgrass she had ever come across.
Keqing could only stand there while she stopped to look at the flowers, scolding herself for ever thinking that she should be the only person allowed to have this beauty shared.
“I’m sorry,” she said sincerely. Ganyu tilted her chin up to look at her in question. “About how I acted around Beidou. She’s a good friend.”
Ganyu let that sit in the stagnant air. She stood up first, slowly coming up to her height and letting a smile spread across her face. It made Keqing’s chest feel like a thousand fireflies.
“I’ll only accept your apology if you accept mine. I didn’t mean all that hostility towards Ningguang,” Ganyu told her. She looked ashamed of herself as she looked down at the grass between them. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that crass with a person before. I still don’t know what came over me during that dinner, I— well, I mean, I do, but—”
“I understand,” Keqing said quickly. “Actually, I understand a lot more than you think.”
Ganyu’s smile widened at that. “My father used to tell me that human feelings can be easily influenced.” Her smile dropped a little. “I didn’t take him seriously. I should have.”
“But you know better now,” Keqing piped up. “Don’t you?”
“I do.” Ganyu held out her hand.
Keqing held her breath.
Then, in one quick, bold move, she took the offer and intertwined her fingers, and let Ganyu lead them down the moonlit hill. The fireflies helped them down, and they danced around her fingers when she reached out to marvel at them. Ganyu watched her, a faint look of adoration in her eyes, and each time Keqing blinked, they only grew in number.
And that made her think.
“What makes me so different from Beidou that you could look at me like that?” she asked. After all, she was nothing but an observer— and now she had the final piece of her puzzle.
While Ganyu looked at Beidou like an old friend with familiarized routines, she looked at Keqing like something new and profound and good, with a nervous attitude that was attuned to the realization that her behavior (and thus, Keqing’s) stemmed from the irrational fear of losing her, even before anything even began.
Ganyu shrugged at her question. “I was taking a late nap after work, and you put your coat over me. I didn’t ask you to.” And that was that.
Keqing remembered it. It was nothing but a hazy memory, but she remembered coming home cold and shivering, but knowing that she’d do it all over again.
It didn’t take big things to be afraid of losing something.
Near the intersection between her home and Ganyu’s, Ganyu released their hands.
Her disappointment was brief, however, because Ganyu tilted her chin up with a finger and pressed her lips at the very corner of her mouth. It was almost like a promise of something more, or of a possession that she was finally allowed to have.
Keqing liked the sound of both.
“Next time,” Ganyu teased, “don’t be so jealous.”
Before Keqing could retort, Ganyu slid the coat off of her shoulders and handed it back to Keqing, then waved at her before pivoting and walking home under the brightly lit lanterns.
And it was only then that Keqing realized she had been wearing her coat that entire night, and only gave it back after knowing that it would come back to her from now on— that while it was Keqing’s, now it was also hers.
And there was nothing to be afraid of anymore.
There was a gift basket waiting for Ganyu at her desk.
Keqing peeled off her coat and eyed it suspiciously. “Yuyu?” she called, and though her intonation was sweet, Ganyu peeked her head out from the other room suspiciously.
“What’s wrong?” she called.
“Nothing, just—” She pointed at the gift basket. “Where’d you get that?”
Ganyu frowned, then squinted. “I’m not sure.” She moved into the room and came by her desk, looking around the flowers and assortment of goods to look for a sender. Once she found the tag, she quickly read through it. She smiled.
“So, who’s it from?” Keqing asked her casually.
“Oh, just a diplomat from Qingce Village,” Ganyu told her. “He admired my work effort, so he sent me some local goods to make my day.”
Ganyu scanned her face. “What did I tell you about being like that?”
“I’m not jealous!” she argued.
Ganyu lightly hit her nose with a notepad. “I didn’t say you were,” she said in amusement, and Keqing groaned.
“Go take your nap. I’ll finish the rest of your papers for you while you rest,” she grumbled, then leaned over to kiss Ganyu on the cheek.
Ganyu kissed her again, right on the lips. “Thank you,” she said sincerely, smiling at her with the biggest doe eyes. “Try not to overwork yourself. We have dinner at six.”
“I know,” Keqing proudly answered.
But as Ganyu went to take a nap at her desk, Keqing waved a hand in front of her eyes to make sure she was truly out before checking the tag one more time. She stared at the name and committed it to memory, making a mental note for herself to check— just in case, of course. Men were fickle beings who loved to bother.
She dropped the tag and let out a breathless laugh. “Right, sorry.”
Ganyu shook her head groggily.
“Hey, don’t look at me like that,” Keqing bickered. “You did the same thing when that lady at the market asked me if I wanted to try her perfume and you—”
Keqing laughed, much louder this time. She placed a kiss on one of the bases of Ganyu’s horns. “Sleep well.”
It was a sentiment she knew Ganyu would never have to share with her. It was already one that she took every day she spent by her side, one that came from knowing that Ganyu was all hers, that she had nothing to be afraid of, and that everything in her heart was nothing to be so irrational about.