Title: Mourning Moment
Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, and I'm not making any money off of this.
Notes: This was written for the ame_soeur community on livejournal, for the challenge "This is not the worst moment of my life." Unbetaed.
This is not the worst moment of her life.
The worst moment was when Li Mu Bai breathed his last in her arms. After that, Shu Lien thinks she can handle anything.
Or she used to think that. But she never expected Lo, crushed and soaked, standing in her door yard with an ivory comb in his hand.
Jen is gone. The words are shocking to think, painful. Shu Lien had hoped that even if Mu Bai was gone, even if his light had been extinguished, Jen's would shine on. But Lo is crouched across the table, his cup clenched tight in dirty hands, his voice rough and raw and sorrowful. Shu Lien sips her tea for the lack of anything else to do, and tries to keep herself together.
"She jumped," Lo says again, and stops. There is simply nothing more for him to say, and he stares into the murky liquid in his mug as though hoping for some answers. Shu Lien feels her throat tighten and sets the teacup down carefully.
This is not the worst moment of her life, but it's close.
There's no thought of Lo going anywhere else tonight, so Shu Lien has a room prepared for him. They sit at the table, tea gone cold and bitter before them, and they stare, not at each other, but into the past. Into safe memories where the people they love are not dead, and it may be raining, but they are not weighed down by the weather. It's dark before Shu Lien can bring herself to move, and she thinks the only reason she manages it is because she can no longer see Lo sitting across the table. "Are you hungry?" she asks, though if he feels anything like her, food is the last thing on his mind.
"No." The word is soft, and her eyes can faintly make out the movement of his head as he shakes it. "Not now." He reaches across the table for the first time, uncurling from his sorrow, and takes her hand. "I- She told me, what happened. I should have said before. I'm sorry."
His hand is rough, but Shu Lien is used to rough hands. Her hands are strong and callused, working hands, hands that can wield a sword or a teapot with equal grace. "Thank you," she tells him, but her voice is hollow, and the words taste wrong. She wants to scream and rage, like she has not done yet, but even when her fiance died, she did not lose her composure. Mourning must be done in silence and in darkness, and Shu Lien is heartily tired of both. She frees her hand gracefully and pulls back. It's her turn to retreat into herself, and the dark is a willing accomplice.
Lo snorts, almost a laugh. "Why thank me for giving you pain?" he asks, and Shu Lien feels her temper flair. He's right, and she knows it, but protocol demands her peace, so she keeps it. "Your hands are strong," he says, echoing her earlier thoughts. "Jen's were, too, but soft, as well. She was pampered."
"She was a lady."
Silence enfolds them then, broken only by the constant fall of rain on the roof. There are lamps being lit elsewhere, and light shines in a broken shaft across part of the room, dazzling their eyes. Shu Lien grimaces. She does not want the light on her, for her sorrow is too near the surface, raw and fresh. She stands, abandoning her tea on the table. "Come with me," she orders, and strides off, not waiting to see if he will follow. She hears his footsteps behind her, and nods to herself, leading them both to her set of rooms. There is a fire here, lit against the chill of the night, but no other light. It will do.
Lo looks only a little surprised when she turns on him, too fast for him to avoid, and the blow strikes him on the cheek sharply, not enough to break, just enough to sting. He rocks back and catches her hand as the second comes, and Shu Lien allows it, stopping in his grasp. They stare at each other by firelight, and in Lo's eyes, Shu Lien can read his understanding. It isn't about them so much as it is about those who are not there.
Lo's skin is smooth but hairy, and Shu Lien finds it odd, though not repellent. She thinks her skin must be coarser than Jen's, not as tight, though still firm. "You're beautiful," Lo whispers, and Shu Lien closes her eyes.
It is not the worst moment because there is something more to hold onto, but it is not something Shu Lien would have chosen for herself. The rain pours down outside and inside, Lo holds her by the firelight. Jen is gone, and Mu Bai, and only they are left. They are kindred spirits now, and Shu Lien wonders when Lo will return to his mountains. Perhaps he will ask her to go with him.
Perhaps she will go.