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.
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.