Warning: General suckiness, which I apologize for. There's also mild language.
Disclaimer: Me: borrowing characters. Koei: owns characters. Me: get no money. Koei: gets money.
A STORY WRITTEN HISTORICALLY INACCURATELY
Chapter Twenty-One Stupid
"Well," Huang Gai mused. "Could be worse."
Zhou Yu almost laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of Huang Gai's statement. Almost. But his bruised pride and, more importantly, other bruised areas refused to allow him such a luxury. Instead, he raised a perfectly groomed eyebrow. "Oh?"
At that very moment, a pair of Wu's notoriously pretty (though equally absentminded) palace maids began to draw nearer from the opposite direction, excitedly exchanging gossip. As they approached, they began to flash each other knowing looks more and more frequently, and their giggles became progressively more subdued. But Zhou Yu could tell by the many looks they continually sent his direction that they had either witnessed or heard about the morning's events, and his mood darkened tenfold. Huang Gai strained to catch up to the fuming strategist as Zhou Yu's steps grew successively faster and angrier, until the strategist was practically stabbing the floor with the bottoms of his feet.
"Look on the bright side, Lord Zhou Yu," Huang Gai called out from behind Zhou Yu, politely acknowledging the maids even though Zhou Yu himself made no such effort. In response to Huang Gai's remark, Zhou Yu sighed exaggeratedly and turned around to face the veteran.
"What bright side?" Zhou Yu snapped. "With all due respect, General Huang Gai, there is no bright side."
A cautious grin spread across Huang Gai's tanned face. "Well … er … at least they know for sure that yer a man … no more girly jokes, eh?"
Immediately, his lips pinched sourly, Zhou Yu spun back around and continued to charge down the hallway.
Huang Gai shook his head and sighed defeatedly. Some people just had no sense of humor.
x . x . x . x
Da Qiao heard sheets rustling from behind the door and sighed heavily, gently knocking again. "Xiao?"
"Xiao, I'm coming in."
When Da Qiao opened the door, she found her younger sister entangled with various blankets and sheets, tearstained but still completely furious. Still, Da Qiao knew the tears themselves counted for something.
"Xiao, is it really so bad?"
These were just the words to set Xiao Qiao off. "Is it really that bad?" Xiao Qiao mimicked bitterly, harshly wiping the tears from her face with the backs of her hands. "What do you think? He's completely stupid! I hate him, I hate him, I—"
"Oh, Xiao." Da Qiao tentatively approached the bed and sat down next to her sister, tenderly rearranging the loose strands of Xiao's light-colored hair before wrapping her arms around her sister. "You know he didn't mean to hit you."
"It's not just that!" Xiao Qiao began to sniffle, rage receding. "He—well—you don't know what it's like! I mean, ever since we got married—no, ever since we met—he's been grumpy and snooty and all, 'I'm better than you!'!" Xiao Qiao's hands curled into fists around the blankets. "He doesn't do anything except make me feel bad and he always makes me feel like he doesn't even want me there! The only times he talks to me, he says things like, 'Go away!' or, 'You shouldn't be here!' or, 'Don't do that!' Everyone else here is so nice, but he's such a jerk! And you're never around anymore, always off with Lord Sun Ce, who is a perfect husband--"
"Xiao, you are still a child," Da Qiao berated, though gently and without malice. She smiled at the accusing tone in Xiao Qiao's voice. "People in love don't always get along."
"Oh, yeah? What about you and Lord Sun Ce?"
Da Qiao paused thoughtfully, eyes softening as she spoke of her husband. "Lord Sun Ce is everything a woman should desire from a husband."
Xiao Qiao rolled her eyes, pulling away from her sister's embrace and turning away so she no longer faced Da Qiao. "Ha! See? You don't know what it's like."
"I said he is everything a woman should desire. I never said he was perfect."
Xiao Qiao fell silent, and Da Qiao once more closed the distance between them and placed her hand on top of Xiao Qiao's, trying to catch the other girl's eyes.
"Xiao, Ce has been wonderful, but everyone has their flaws. Lord Sun Ce and I have argued before. He has angered me before—several times, in fact. Many of the feelings you say Zhou Yu has caused you to have are feelings Lord Sun Ce has given me as well. Even so, I love him. I know he is a good person, my lord, Sun Ce, even when he upsets me."
A snort came from Xiao Qiao's mouth. "Yeah, that's the difference. Lord Sun Ce's a good person. But Zhou Yu's like … a demon! No, wait, the god of all demons!"
Da Qiao could not suppress a stream of laughter, laughter like wind through glass chimes. "Oh, Xiao, you don't give Lord Zhou Yu enough credit. He has done so much for you. He's really trying to love you."
"As much as he tries with Lady Li Mei?"
"Are you jealous, Xiao?" teased Da Qiao.
"What do I have to be jealous of?" Xiao Qiao sniffed. "She's mean and stupid."
Da Qiao smiled, then sighed wistfully. "But she's rather beautiful, don't you think? A rival for the famous Qiao sisters."
"Hmmph! You're much prettier. And anyway, she has a huge pimple on her nose."
When Xiao Qiao again withdrew her hands from Da Qiao's, Da Qiao could not help laughing again. "Oh, come back here, you," she teased, leaning in to hold Xiao Qiao in her arms.
x . x . x . x
Dinner at Wu was a pleasant affair—if by pleasant you mean "taut" and "awkward" and "chokingly silent."
"What a delicious meal!" Sun Ce exclaimed delightedly, oblivious as usual to many facts, the most apparent of which being the enmity between Ling Tong and Gan Ning. The pair seemed ready to kill each other, though Lu Xun was wedged uneasily in between them in hopes of preventing the inevitable.
Da Qiao gave her husband a polite smile, eyes flashing sadly toward the empty seats normally occupied by Xiao Qiao and Zhou Yu. Somehow, the victory feast did not feel like a victory feast, and everybody except for Sun Ce seemed to realize this.
After chugging down his entire cup of wine, Sun Ce let out a satisfied, "Ah," and subsequently brought his cup back down onto the table with such force that the sturdy wooden construction shook upon impact. Then Sun Ce seemed to finally notice his best friend's absence. "Where's Yu?"
A pause hung through the air for an uncomfortable amount of time as though suspended in water, until Huang Gai took it upon himself to answer the question. "Lord Zhou Yu is busy at the moment with … er … paperwork."
At the last word, Lu Xun blushed and averted his eyes, reminded of his own unfinished duties and of the cold, unreadable look Zhou Yu wore on his face when Lu Xun told him as much.
"Aww man, leave it to Yu to rain on the party." Several generals snorted, and one even bothered to mention that the correct phrase was rain on the parade, but Sun Ce merely shrugged and continued ravaging the food on his plate as though it might disappear if left alone. "He could always work later, ya know," Sun Ce pointed out through a large mouthful of food. "We should be celebrating! We won, after all!"
Cheng Pu ignored the piece of rice that flew from Sun Ce's mouth and landed with an ungraceful plop in Huang Gai's wine. "Not to be abrupt, Lord Sun Ce, but we should be planning our next move. Strategy, I mean. The Wu territory is ours now, but the other warlords will want to challenge th--"
"General Cheng Pu?"
Chills ran visibly through Cheng Pu's spine at the sound of such a cold voice from behind, but he nevertheless straightened in his seat and bravely replied. "Yes?"
"I am sure Lord Sun Ce will appreciate hearing your opinion later, honored general, but as for now, I can say with equal certainty that he would rather be stuffing himself to asphyxiation than listening to misguided opinions."
Both men heard the unspoken word in the sentence: "your misguided opinions." As Zhou Yu impassively took his regular seat next to Sun Ce, Cheng Pu turned away and made crude gestures in imitation of the callous strategist, causing Han Dang to roll his eyes at his friend's childishness and smack Cheng Pu upside the head.
"Hey, Yu! Speak of the devil! I was just telling Huang Gai here how you should join our party. Or was it parade?" With that, Sun Ce sent a cheerful grin towards his best friend, slapping Zhou Yu affectionately on the shoulder.
Zhou Yu pushed an open scroll in front of his Sun Ce's face. "Actually, I am here strictly for business purposes, Sun Ce. These tax figures for the month cannot possibly be accurate."
Sun Ce rolled his eyes. "Tax figures, shmax figures." He snatched the parchment from Zhou Yu's hands and lightly set it aside. "Come on, Yu! Join the feast!"
Before Zhou Yu could reply, the loud clang of silverware sounded from another section of the table, and, after slamming his empty cup of wine on the table so roughly that the plates nearby rattled, Ling Tong abruptly rose to his feet. "Gan Ning, you …!"
"Don't be jealous, girly, just 'cause the heavens gave me your share of manliness." Gan Ning picked a scrap on chicken from between his teeth and nonchalantly flicked it from his fingers.
Ling Tong's body began to visibly tremble. "I hate you."
Gan Ning wiped an imaginary tear from his eye. "Still sad about Daddy Ling?"
"It's not funny!" Ling Tong clenched his hands into tight fists, veins bulging. "You think killing my father was a joke?"
"You want to start a fight here, girly?" Gan Ning turned his head and spat contemptuously, then turned back to face Ling Tong. He then rose slowly from his sitting position, eyes never leaving Ling Tong's. "I'm more than willing."
The threat swept through the room, and a dreadful silence ensued as both men glowered at each other, cracking knuckles and clenching fists.
"Oh, give me a break." Sun Shang Xiang's clear voice cut through the hostility as she too brought herself to a standing position. "You men and your need to be macho."
Gan Ning grinned at Sun Shang Xiang, raising an eyebrow suggestively as he extended one arm toward the Wu princess. He winked before adding, "Scared I'll get hurt? Don't worry, there's no way I'm losing to Miss Girly here--"
"Sit down, shut up, and eat your food, or I'll make sure you never make babies again." Sun Shang Xiang's eyes flashed dangerously.
"Can't say no to a lady, can I," Gan Ning responded, smiling weakly. He sat down again, looking dazed.
"And Ling Tong, was that your name? Let's go out and talk."
Gan Ning's smile instantly faded. "Hey, when do I get a turn?"
Sun Shang Xiang glared at Gan Ning once more, then looked back at Ling Tong and smiled cordially. Both Ling Tong and Sun Shang Xiang walked out of the dining hall, leaving the rest of the company quite at a loss for words.
Finally, Sun Ce again broke the tension by filling his empty cup to the brim again with wine and raising it into the air with great zeal. "Drink up, everyone! Last one to drain his cup is a wimp!" He grinned. "Besides, Zhou Yu and I are having a drinking contest! Yeah!" His trademark grin swept across his features as he turned to Zhou Yu. "Right, Yu?"
Zhou Yu's expression was less than pleasant as he darkly pushed his empty goblet to the opposite end of the table.
Sun Ce laughed nervously, and the dining hall finally exploded in merriment. Yes, the banquet had finally begun.
x . x . x . x
Sun Shang Xiang entered her father's bedroom smiling, eyes lit nostalgically as she ran her hands across the wall. The window was open, and the moonlight seemed to wane peculiarly as it streamed through the vast but abandoned expanse of Lord Sun Jian's chambers, as though it, too, was affected by the odd mustiness of the room.
"You know, we have a lot more in common than you'd think," Sun Shang Xiang mused quietly, smiling to herself before turning around to acknowledge the grumpy person behind her.
"Hn," was Ling Tong's cynical reply. The sarcastic man stood back by the door, just barely within the boundaries of the room "I doubt that."
"Gan Ning's a total asshole."
Ling Tong's eyes widened as he considered her commentary. "Wow."
Sun Shang Xiang turned back to the wall, grinning cheekily. "Yep."
As Sun Shang Xiang continued absently tracing her fingers against the wall, she could feel Ling Tong's hesitation. He finally spoke as Sun Shang Xiang continued along the wall.
"But I thought you, well, you know … " His words came slowly, and Sun Shang Xiang detected the awkward waver in his voice.
"You mean how we're together?" Sun Shang Xiang completed casually, fingers and feet both suddenly coming to a halt.
"Well, yeah … I mean, yes. That."
Sun Shang Xiang laughed so unexpectedly that Ling Tong drew back sharply, only to find out just how painful it was when the side of your head collided with an open doorway. He tried to discreetly disguise the injury, and although Sun Shang Xiang never once faltered, he somehow sensed she had noticed.
"I punched him in the face, you know. When he tried to kiss me."
This time Ling Tong wasn't at all amazed. He could imagine the tomboyish princess easily beating anyone up. She was rather tough.
Not waiting for Ling Tong to reply, Sun Shang Xiang continued. "It's funny how things changed so quickly."
Ling Tong didn't quite know what to say. Luckily for him, Sun Shang Xiang chose to grin brightly at him instead. "We're very much alike, you and I." Ling Tong was beginning to wonder what exactly Sun Shang Xiang meant by that, but before he could reach a valid conclusion, Sun Shang Xiang suddenly leaped over and linked one of her arms with one of his. "So, tell me about your father."
The two started back out of the room. Though he faltered at first, Ling Tong soon began to talk confidently, with Sun Shang Xiang nodding and adding an empathetic little, "Hmm" wherever needed.
"You know," said Ling Tong, "my father was an amazing man. Even though you never met him, that is. He was just so …"
Sun Shang Xiang allowed Ling Tong to trail off, reassuringly placing her free hand on his forearm as they both continued walking.
"That's okay. I understand. I'm sure he was a great man."
Ling Tong nodded, then opened his mouth once more. When he was once again distracted by reminiscences of his father, Sun Shang Xiang stole a quick glance back at the open door leading to Sun Jian's old room. A great man, she thought, closing her eyes and giving herself a moment. Then she reopened her eyes once more returned to her role as Ling Tong's audience.
Back in the room, a gust of wind carried through Sun Jian's open window. The door gently closed.
x . x . x . x
"Can you put out that stupid candle? You can keep kissing your books tomorrow morning, if you're too devastated to tear yourself away from the thought of leaving them."
Zhou Yu, who had been working through the endless piles of paperwork, clutched his forehead and rolled his eyes. When he spoke, his voice was noticeably strained. "I am making sure our kingdom's finances are in sound order, Lady Xiao Qiao, and although your pretty little brain might not be able to distinguish between a brush on parchment and lips on paper, I enthusiastically assure you I am not kissing my books."
Xiao Qiao sat up on the bed, eyes narrowed. "What did you say, Nerdy Boy?" she snapped.
"Nothing to worry about." Zhou Yu continued to shuffle papers, occasionally marking a page with his elegant brush strokes. He seemed intent on completing this task.
"You know, that was mean."
Zhou Yu nodded in agreement, jaw clenched and eyes practically burning holes into the desk he was sitting at. "Yes, very."
"You don't see me calling you stupid."
Zhou Yu shook his head, trying to ignore her annoyingly squeaky voice. "Never."
This seemed to get Xiao Qiao thinking as she tried to recall all the insults she had pelted at the Wu strategist. "I've called you ugly, nerdy, obnoxious, hateful, and idiotic. But not stupid."
Brushing her aside with a distracted hand gesture, Zhou Yu responded through gritted teeth, "No, of course not."
"I guess idiotic kind of means stupid, though."
"Yes. Yes, it does." Zhou Yu gritted his teeth, resisting the urge to get up and strangle her in order to shut her up. Gods, what was with women? Why did they always have to giggle and gossip? They could go on endlessly about nothing. No wonder they didn't have men coming after them—what kind of man would want to live with an endlessly chattering mouth for the rest of his life? Zhou Yu imagined a man coming home after many years of military service, weary and glad to be home, only to be greeted by nothing but a gigantic mouth at his door, endlessly yapping away. The mental image was almost funny, and Zhou Yu felt himself wanting to laugh. Ridiculous, the thought of coming home to nothing but a mouth. He let a few chuckles loose.
Then, strangely enough, Zhou Yu felt all his stress and anger simply melt away. He wasn't sure why or how, but all he knew was that all of a sudden, he felt relaxed and carefree, two words that were simply never used to describe his state of being. He could only find one way to express this liberation: he laughed harder. "Yes, you're right," he managed to say between chuckles. "Quite right."
Startled by his newfound calmness, Xiao Qiao was at a loss for words, so she laughed as well. She didn't exactly know what was so funny about the situation, but she didn't really know what else to do.
Something awkward still lingered once the laughter ceased, but there was something else distinctively un-awkward as well. Perhaps it was the latter, this new element, which caused Xiao Qiao to ask Zhou Yu, "Are you going to sleep on the floor again?"
Zhou Yu's eyes flew wide open, and Xiao Qiao turned pink when she realized what exactly her words had sounded like. She hastily rushed to correct the misunderstanding. "I … I'm not saying that it matters to me. At all. Matters to me at all, I mean. You can go and sleep on the floor all you want. I suppose it serves an ugly woman-hating meanieface like you right, to go breaking your back sleeping on that desk or on the wall or whatever." Xiao Qiao shrugged. "But if you want—I mean, if you stay on the farthest edge of that side of the bed, and if I stay on the farthest edge of this side of the bed, and there's enough room between us to fit an ox swelled about the size of your overgrown ego (which is humongously humongous, by the way) plus three Gai-Gai's, and if you use a different blanket and pillow and stuff …" Xiao Qiao shrugged again, hoping it would complete her meaning.
Remembering his declaration to Huang Gai, Zhou Yu sighed and pushed away his papers, moving to snuff out a candle. It's a start, I guess. A beginning, though that's not the word I'm looking for.
The thought of sharing a bed with Xiao Qiao was a bit unnerving, Zhou Yu had to admit. Sanity began to set in, along with his good senses. Eww. I can't honestly be sharing a bed with THAT woman.
Despite that, another voice was telling him, So what? She's your wife. Don't be stupid.
Stupid. That was the word he'd been searching for. This whole thing was stupid. Hoping he and Xiao Qiao could ever be on friendly terms was stupid. Time after time, he'd been hopeful, and time after time again, he'd been kicked back to square one again. So why was he still trying?
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"What did you just call me?" asked Xiao Qiao accusingly, scooting away as promised to the opposite end of the enormous bed.
Shoot. He hadn't meant to speak the word aloud. "Nothing." Zhou Yu snuffed out the candle and approached the bed carefully, as if it might bite him if he weren't careful. With caution, Zhou Yu slowly lifted the corner of the blanket and slid under the covers into his own bed, making sure he was all but hanging off the edge.
In one swift motion, Zhou Yu felt the blanket being swept off him. Before he could protest, Xiao Qiao informed him with a sniff, "This is my blanket. You can hug your pillow if you're cold. Pretend it's Lady Ma."
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
End of Stupid
I don't know if Xiao Qiao has actually called Zhou Yu stupid in the fic. I think she probably has, though in the typical Crazy Insanity fashion, I'm too lazy to go and look for it myself. Either way, she doesn't have a picture-perfect memory, and besides, even if she did, she'd claim to be a good girl anyway, I think. So please don't kill me for getting the facts wrong, because I know they probably already are, along with God knows how many other facts I've gotten jumbled up so far.
Anniversary!: As of APRIL the NINETEETH of TWO THOUSAND AND SEVEN, this fanfiction (A Story Written Historically Inaccurately) was officially two years old! Whoo! This chapter is coming three months late, but regardless, some sort of gesture is due.
Thank you's: I'd like to thank everyone still reading this after all that time. Wow! Holy smoking mackerel, can you believe this fanfic is already over two years old? I was such an immature little brat when I started writing this (which hasn't changed much, if you think about it), but I am much too lazy to go back and edit, so you get to deal with my (numerous) fluctuations in writing style and maturity level. Hooray! That said, you guys are amazing – I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for such an incredible fanbase.
That said, reviewers. For two years, your encouraging words have kept this little brainchild of mine afloat. I mean, sometimes I think to heck with it, I'm not a great writer, this story sucks, I'm too behind, I should just quit. But I can't, because you guys are holding me in check. To xq-of-wu, KairiLuv, Paupu, Aquatic Idealist, xX Lady Xiao Xx, sage-serenity, Hado82, RWT, smile for me, lilswtchibi, Sunflower, and anyone else who reads this: thank you all so very much! Hopefully this fanfic will end sometime before the end of next school year (Ha, I can dream) … the ending will probably be modified drastically against my original plans, of which I really have none.
Sidenotes: Rereading the last chapters, I've realized I've been putting in so little actual content. I'll try to get around to better content, I swear. It'll happen sometime.
Again, I must apologize for the amount of time it took for me to write this chapter. Truthfully, I didn't even start it until mid-May because of standardized testing and finals and summer school and blah blah blah, and I only wrote about one paragraph until mid-June. I have about a million useless excuses. Bottom line is, sorry for being Queen of Late, Late, Late, Late Updates yet again.