Fengjiu took Dong Hua to the market that afternoon, to meet the women who picked the fruit.
"These are the finest fruit pickers in all of the realms." She told him and he greeted them formally. She watched as they shook, their heads to the ground.
"Please ladies, relax. Dong Hua Dijun is a huge fan of your skills." She told them and he smiled to them.
"Your fruits are some of the finest I have tasted." He complimented them and watched as they all thanked him in a deep bow.
Dong Hua took the bag of fruits from Fengjiu and the people of Qin Qiu watched on with suspicious eyes. They had always known that their Queen was a great beauty. But enough to lure in the Dijun? They were impressed. Everyone smiled and snigged as they walked through the market and Dong Hua felt the vitality of their life flow through him.
"You know your people well." He told her and she nodded back to him.
"Every Queen should." She told him and he smiled, nodding.
"I have never been in a place like this, without politics." He noted and she shrugged her shoulders.
"I try my best to please the people, I guess they appreciate it enough to not rebel."
"I think they are happy." He told her and she blushed.
"I hope so."
Fengjiu suggested they take a trip out on the river.
"Let's try not to fall in this time." She chuckled, as they climbed into the boat.
"Even if we do, I am sure I can fish you out again." He jested with her and she blushed, shaking her head.
She basked in the sun as Dong Hua rowed the boat.
"Did you ever think it could be like this?" She asked him and he looked to her, her face lit by sunlight, more beautiful than he had ever seen.
"I could have never hoped." He admitted and she chuckled.
"You were a lost man." She told him and he nodded.
"Yes, quite lost."
"Why didn't you come to me when you wanted to bring Ye Hua back?" He asked and she looked out over the river.
"I knew you would have tried to stop me." She admitted and he nodded.
"Undoubtedly." He confirmed and she ran her fingers through her hair.
"But if I had not done it, you would still be a grumpy old lump of rock." She teased him and he looked at her with a playful glint in his eye.
"How did such a grumpy old rock gain your affection, might I ask?" He asked, genuinely curious.
"Because under that grumpy solid layer, I saw you for who you really were." She whispered to him.
"And what is that?" He asked her, his curiosity peaked.
"A man who had been strong for too long." She told him and he wondered how she had seen him so clearly.
"Everyone always asked you for advice or approval, but no one ever truly cared for you, only admired you." She deduced and he offered his hand.
She took his hand and he pulled her over to his end of the boat, rocking it and spilling some water at their feet.
"What gave you such clarity?" He asked her, his face close to hers.
"I watched your eyes." She admitted and he pushed her hair away from her face.
"Did they really reveal so much?" He asked and she nodded.
"To me they did." She told him and he brushed his thumb over her cheek.
"What do they say now?" He asked, looking directly at her.
"I cannot tell." She whispered nervously.
"Have you lost your clarity?" He asked and she shook her head.
"I am just afraid to tell you what I see." She admitted and he stroked her cheek again.
"Tell me, Jiuer." He pleaded and she looked at him directly.
"I see love." She told him and his face became soft with a smile touching his lips.
"So you haven't lost your skill." He nodded, glad she still saw the truth.
"You are so hard to read now. You used to be an open book for me." He noticed, looking in her eyes, searching for a clue.
"I thought it was obvious." She whispered and he raised his eyebrows.
"I am not as clever as you, Jiuer. You have to tell me." He urged her and she placed her hands over her face, and he removed them immediately, holding her hands in his.
"I am a Foxtail, I love for life." She admitted and he smiled to her.
"And who is the recipient of this lifetime love?" He asked her and she turned a deep shade of red.
"Dong Hua Dijun." She whispered and he felt a weight leave his shoulders. A part of him had feared she had lost her love for him, but he could see the pleading in her eyes. He laced a hand around her neck and pulled her close.
"I will never disappoint you again, Jiuer. I promise." He told her, and before she could respond, he pressed his lips to hers.
Fengjiu placed her hands on his chest. He had never kissed her before, only in the mortal realm. She shuddered, feeling his arm snake around her back, pulling her closer. She wrapped her arms around his neck, breaking their kiss, holding him so tight she thought he might choke.
"Dong Hua, I never thought this day would come." She squealed with excitement and to her surprise, he squeezed her back, his arms tight around her waist.
"I had never allowed myself to dream. You did all of this, Jiuer." He told her and felt her squeeze even tighter.
She pulled him back to the Fox Den, her hand in his.
"We have so many fruits to eat." She beamed back at him and he thought himself the luckiest man in the world. He sat and watched her nibble on berries and chop larger fruits on the table.
"You are a vision with a knife in your hand." He told her before he realised that the words had left his mouth. She giggled, shaking her head.
"What a strange thing to say." She offered him the bowl of berries and he shook his head.
"My arms are tired from the rowing today." He complained, rubbing his bicep.
"Let me feed you." She sat closer to him, taking a berry in her hand. She thought he might dissuade her, but he simply opened his mouth and raised an eyebrow, daring her to stand down. She raised a shaking hand to his lips and placed the blackberry in his mouth. He closed his eyes in bliss as he chewed on the fruit.
"Delicious." He told her and she blushed a deep shade of pink.
Si Ming halted as he walked into the dining room. He was stopped in his tracks when he saw the little princess placing berries in the Dijun's mouth, giggling all the while. He was shocked into silence when he heard the Dijun chuckle and complain about the pain in his arms, although Si Ming knew he was perfectly well.
After a while, Fengjiu noticed Si Ming and turned a deep shade of red.
"Let me prepare dinner." She hopped up and ran into the kitchens.
"Dijun-" He began, but Si Ming was lost for words.
"Your lips are pink." Was all he could think to say and Dong Hua licked his lips, nodding.
"The fruit here really is better than any I have tasted." He told Si Ming and watched as he looked at him with knowing eyes.
"I can tell you are waiting to say something, just say it." He ordered and Si Ming beamed with a smile from ear to ear.
"I cannot believe this, Dijun, you look so in love." He complimented him and Dong Hua smiled softly.
"Does it become me?" He asked and Si Ming nodded energetically.
"I have never seen you more radiant." He assured him and he rubbed a hand over his face.
The next day, Dong Hua requested that Fengjiu take him to the peach forest.
"I have been here once before, when Ye Hua returned. But I did not stay for long." He informed her and she nodded.
"There is nothing more beautiful than the peach blossoms in bloom." She told him and he nodded.
"Then I cannot wait to see them again." He told her.
Zhe Yan was shocked to see little Jiu and Dong Hua walking in his peach forest. He had been at the feast at Kunlun and witnessed the love lantern, as shocked as everyone else. But now, to see her leading him through the forest, pointing out different trees and recounting information he had taught her decades ago, brought a warmth to his heart.
Dong Hua had never seen anyone as radiant as Jiuer in the peach forest. Seeing her, surrounded by peach blossoms, inhaling their sweet scent was one of the most blissful experiences he could imagine. She told him about the ages of the trees and when she used to come and learn magic with Zhe Yan. He listened silently and enjoyed watching her babble on about which trees produced the sweetest fruits.
"I went to see your father a few days ago." He informed her as she walked on the fallen blossoms.
"Father? Why did you go to him?" She asked, confusion on her face.
"Jiuer, I might be Dijun, but I am still just a man." He told her and watched as she became even more confused. He approached her, his steps slow and trembling. He had wanted to wait, but he couldn't, he needed to be with her forever.
"I have never met anyone like you before. So willing to put others before yourself, so joyful even when pain should ravish your life." He told her and she hid her face from him, embarrassed.
"Don't look away from me, Jiuer." He ordered her and she looked into his eyes.
"To everyone else, I was the Djiun, someone to be revered and avoided. But you have seen me for who I am." He told her.
Fengjiu was lost in confusion as he spoke, she had no idea what was happening. When he fell to his knees, she rushed over, to order him to stand, but he refused.
"Jiuer, you are every part my equal. Your sacrifice gave me an opportunity for love. I am here, in your realm, your humble servant, asking you to guide me in life, to allow me to walk beside you for the rest of my days. Will you marry me?" He asked and she felt tears well in her eyes, she had never imagined this would happen, that Dong Hua could be so romantic. She fell to her knees to greet him.
"I have loved you for so many years, it would be my honour to be your wife." She told him as he brushed away the tears on her cheek.
"No, Jiuer, the honour is mine." He placed his lips against hers and she melted into him, wanting to become one with him forever.
Dong Hua lifted her to her feet. He had never felt joy like it.
"We are going to be together forever." She whispered in shock, her eyes wide with realisation. He took her hand and placed his lips on her palm.
"I will never leave you." He promised and she threw herself into his arms.
Zhe Yan's ears spanned the whole of the peach forest and he sat in pure shock as he heard the Dijun profess his love for little Jiu. It appeared that the women of Qin Qiu were being rewarded for their years of strife. He gave them some time, before he found them, strolling through the forest, hand in hand.
"I think congratulations are in order." He greeted them and watched as Dijun smiled and little Jiu blushed
Zhe Yan popped open one of his oldest bottles of wine that he had saved, not even for Qian Qian and Ye Hua's wedding, but for something more personal. Little Jiu had been like a daughter to him for a long time. He had nurtured her when her heart had broken and he thought it was only right that he celebrate her joy with his most precious brew.
He ordered them to tell him the whole story, from beginning to end. He could never remember Dong Hua being a storyteller, but he proved him wrong by animatedly recounting the series of events. Zhe Yan was shocked when he learnt of little Jiu's sacrifice.
"Jiu, you should have never held onto that burden. Why didn't you tell me?" He asked, knowing he would have kept her secret.
"Jiu's sacrifice was what saved me from my fate." Dong Hua explained and Zhe Yan was sure that it was going to be the story of the ages, a stone cold Dijun saved by a young beautiful foxtail, gilted in heartbreak, it was timeless.
"I cannot tell you how happy I am. The realms will rejoice." He toasted them and Dong Hua allowed himself to be unapologetically happy in that moment.
When they returned to the Fox Den, Dong Hua took Jiuer's hands in his.
"I have to return to heaven. I need to announce our marriage." He told her and she beamed up at him.
"Can I come with you?" She asked and he shook his head.
"I don't want them to ask you all of the questions. Let me do this for you, okay?" He asked, smoothing down her hair.
"Very well." She told him and he placed a kiss on her birthmark, before leaving to pack his belongings.