She was a young girl again . A young girl who was currently being chased around by her master because she had snuck off into the woods instead of staying behind to practice her Qi control drills . She was laughing and giggling, finding joy in the familiar lilt of her master's voice . Then, it all faded . The dream was slipping away . She knew that because Master's voice was becoming more and more masculine .
"…Chan'er? Chan'er . "
Yundong's concerned expression came into view when she blinked her eyes open . He was sitting on the bed, right beside where she was lying . As wakefulness slowly trickled in, she began to feel the sharp dig of Yundong's fingers on her shoulder .
"Beloved?" she mumbled, rubbing her eyes .
Her fingers were damp . She'd been crying in her sleep .
Yundong released his grip on her shoulder and smiled . "Are you okay?"
Su Chan went for a smile, though she wasn't sure if it had worked . Yundong was still looking at her with concern, so she guessed it hadn't .
Yundong pushed a few strands of her hair away from her forehead . "Did you have a good nap?" Yundong's tone was cheerful, but the look on his face was anything but .
Su Chan nodded a few times, then stretched out her legs .
"I made supper . " Yundong stroked her head again . "Are you still hungry? Or do you want to go back to sleep?"
Su Chan shook her head . "I wanna eat . " She should eat . Stuffing carrots into her mouth was better than filling her mind with countless illusions that always ended up turning into nightmares .
Yundong smiled and rose from the bed . "Come on, then . " He offered Su Chan his hand . "Let's eat before the food gets cold . "
The food was still warm when they sat down on the square table to begin supper . Yundong had made two simple dishes: stir-fried turnips with carrots; and also vegetable soup .
Yundong placed two steaming bowls of rice on the table and then sat down on the stool opposite hers . "Dig in, princess . " Yundong smiled and picked up his bowl of rice .
Su Chan smiled and picked up her own bowl .
Ten minutes into the meal, Yundong lowered his bowl onto the table . Su Chan stared at Yundong's empty bowl, then shifted her gaze to her own bowl . She hadn't even finished half of her rice .
Wow . Yundong had actually finished his meal before she did . That had never happened before . This deserved a new entry in their Food Wars records .
She could feel Yundong's eyes on her for the past ten minutes . She knew he was worried, but he hadn't say anything so far . He was just there, taking care of her, reassuring her with his presence . And for that, Su Chan was grateful . The truth was that Su Chan wanted so much to open up to him . She just didn't know how . She felt like she would fall apart the moment she started talking .
"How about I feed you?"
Su Chan looked up from her bowl .
Yundong was stirring her untouched soup with a spoon .
Su Chan bit her bottom lip to stop it from trembling .
What was wrong with her?
Just eat, Chan'er . It's food . Just eat . Suck it up and eat . Gobble everything down like you used to .
Yundong raised the spoon .
Su Chan opened her mouth . "Ah…"
Yundong smiled and brought the spoon to her lips . Su Chan wrapped her lips around the spoon and slurped .
The soup tasted bland .
It made no sense . Sweet potatoes are supposed to be sweet . Why did it taste so bland? Why did everything feel so meaningless?
The spoon rose to her lips again . Another spoonful . Would it taste sweeter this time? Yundong let out low humming sound, encouraging her to drink up . Su Chan parted her lips and slurped .
Bland . Meaningless . Painful .
Her throat felt warm, comfortable . Her eyes felt warm too, the stinging kind .
The spoon didn't rise to her lips again; Yundong had stopped feeding her soup . Seconds later, her half-empty rice bowl was pried off her hand . Her chopsticks clattered to the table when she let go of them .
"S- Soup…" Su Chan's lips trembled, and her throat clenched . "I… I want . . . s-soup…"
Lies . She wanted something, alright . But it had absolutely nothing to do with soup .
"I…" Su Chan buried her face into her hands and started sobbing .
There were noises amidst her sobs: the legs of a chair scraping against the floor; footsteps; whispers of comfort .
"I miss her, Yundong…" Su Chan sniveled and swallowed the lump on her throat . "God, I miss her so much…"
Warmth enveloped her body . Someone's jaw pressed down onto the crown of her head . Her beloved's jaw .
"I know, Chan'er… I know . " Yundong patted her back gently . "You… You were calling out her name in your sleep . "
"Oh God… Yundong… Oh God… What have I done? Yundong… What have I done?" Su Chan gripped her hair with both hands . Her voice had turned into a whisper by then . "It's my fault… It's all my fault… Everything is my fault…"
"Hey, hey, hey…" Yundong slowly got her to loosen her grip on her hair . "Come on… Don't say that . How is any of this your fault?"
"Master… She… She was…" Su Chan sniffed and wiped her cheeks with one hand . "She was ambushed . "
There was a sigh .
"Yeah . I kinda suspected that . " Yundong said, then paused . "But it isn't your fault, you know?"
Su Chan shook her head . "I… I tried to tell her . I was… I…" Su Chan let out another sob . "I can't lose her, Yundong… I can't…"
Yundong stopped her rambling with several taps on her shoulder . "It's okay, Chan'er . It's okay . " He crouched down until they were looking into each other's eyes . "Just tell me slowly, okay?"
Su Chan swiped her tears, then took a deep breath . "I saw, Yundong . I saw what Mo Ahshi did to Gu-shībó . I knew there was something wrong with… with…" Su Chan sucked in another breath when her voice turned into a choking sound . Yundong started patting her back again . Su Chan exhaled and cleared her throat . "Then, I told Master what I saw . She was furious . She didn't believe me . "
Yundong said nothing and kept stroking her back .
"She didn't believe me because I've…" Another lump formed in Su Chan's throat . "I've been disobedient . I haven't been a good girl…" Su Chan sniffed . "Running around causing trouble… I…" Su Chan blinked away more tears . "If… If only I'd been more obedient… Then Master would've listened to my warning . She would've been ready… and… and… none of this would've happened . "
The words kept pouring out of Su Chan's mouth . She'd been holding everything in ever since her escape from the Fox Zen School . And now that the floodgates had opened, she just couldn't stop talking .
"…She's been so busy . Her mind was occupied… Helping you… Worrying about the attack… And I didn't even help… So weak… A burden… I… I was just hiding… If only I'd been a bit stronger…" Her voice turned into a wail . "Oh God, what have I done…"
"Chan'er, look at me . "
Her hands were pried away from her face gently .
Yundong's determined expression came into view .
"We're gonna get her back, Chan'er . I'm going to do everything in my power to get her back, you hear me? Everything . "
Su Chan exhaled tiredly and stared down at her own lap . She didn't even have the energy to nod . This was too exhausting .
"I wanna help," she said tiredly .
Yundong lifted her chin up . "Then we'll do it together . "
Su Chan stared into his beloved's eyes . She didn't smile even though her heart felt a bit lighter now .
"Together . "