A/N: I started this story a while ago, (almost 9 months ago) and wrote half of it, and later decided I didn't really like the direction I'd taken with it. It's based much more off the book and I still don't know how I feel about that. So there are some things I don't like, but I really wanted to play out the thought process to the end. I just finished it up quick. There may also me some location/time inaccuracies since I wasn't checking all of my references exactly.
She could see the river, its muddy waters rushing by, a constant movement between the trees on the bank. No one else was upon the wall at this time and Sun Shang Xiang was glad. She was in no mood to speak civilly to anyone. Not even her husband Liu Bei, and she had no desire to accidentally snap at the older man, as she knew she might. There was something strangely endearing about Liu Bei, though Sun Shang Xiang was reluctant to admit it aloud. But right now her thoughts were centered upon one very proud, very dead man, and she was frustrated beyond belief.
The man whose scheming had gotten her into this mess: married to her brother's enemy. She was beginning to mind it less now, but it was still aggravating as she could not confront Zhou Yu. She wanted to scold him, to tell him what an idiot he'd been, to berate him, tell him that he needed to pull himself together. But all of that is very hard to do to a dead person satisfactorily.
Zhuge Liang was just now returning from paying his respects to his deceased rival, and Sun Shang Xiang could see his boat docking from her position. Now that the strategist had returned they would probably be moving farther away from the banks of the river. Thoughts of the man lead Sun Shang Xiang to narrow her eyes. She had a great deal of respect for Zhuge Liang, but it was hard for her to picture him as anything other than a heartless schemer. Part of her suggested that this was an irrational and childish thought, but Sun Shang Xiang was in no mood to listen to that particular little voice.
Zhou Yu... how could you let that man bate you so...
Quite suddenly she heard foot steps off to her right. With a start she realized that she must have lost track of time in her musings, as the intruder of her solitude was none other than Zhuge Liang himself. She watched out of the corner of her eye as he stopped a respectable distance away and stood as if waiting for her to speak, or at least to acknowledge his presence. However, Sun Shang Xiang was as stubborn as her brothers and continued to stare forward. If Kongming wanted to talk, he was going to have to initiate the conversation.
And eventually he did.
"Lady Sun, if I may be permitted to speak..."
"I am in no mood to converse at this moment, and especially not to you, Zhuge Liang."
Sun Shang Xiang could not help adding the slight snub at the end, though she knew it was unfair and rude. Kongming continued on as if she had been as polite as was expected.
"Pardon me, I only wish to express my condolences. I wish I had not met him under such unfavorable circumstances. I have the utmost respect for his abilities."
Zhuge Liang did not need to name names.
"Then your wishes are wasted, as I am not in need of comfort. I do not mourn Zhou Yu."
There, she'd said it.
"Yet you knew him, and he was your brother, Sun Ce's, friend. It would only be natural to feel some grief, at least for your brother's sake."
She spun her head to him and spat, "My brother is dead."
Zhuge Liang stayed silent, eyes upon Sun Shang Xiang. Immediately regretting her outburst, she felt herself falter as she looked away again. His calm stare was too much; she could feel his gaze and the unsettling feeling that he knew she was not speaking the truth—at least, not the whole truth. The truth was...
"The Zhou Yu I knew faded away a long time ago."
Sun Shang Xiang hated rhetorical questions.
Whipping around to face him, anger rising, she shot, "You brought him to this!"
The answer was calm, calculated, "He brought it upon himself."
"Don't talk such garbage. You provoked him! You brought him to...," she faded away, unable to say it.
"To what? Stupidity? Madness?" apparently, Kongming had no trouble voicing her thoughts, "I do not choose who others abhor. If Zhou Yu wanted to dislike me to the point of idiocy, that was his choice."
Some how this did not sit well with Sun Shang Xiang, the logic was not quite right. It was as if a vital piece of information was left out.
"That's a lie—" she quickly corrected herself, "no, it's a half-truth. You knew his temperament, and used it to your advantage. I'm not so foolish as to blame his troubles solely on his own faults."
"Ah, then you do believe he was faulted."
"Everyone has their... flaws."
Zhuge Liang only smiled.
She'd seen him do this before, controlling the conversation by saying something he knew would draw out someone's personal opinion, and then turning back around with a statement amounting to, "Ah, I was just testing you," followed by some compliment to sooth the deceived one's wounded pride. She did not want to play this game at her expense.
"What is your purpose? Why are you speaking to me?" her voice sounded a bit harsh, even to her own ears. But Xiang was tired of this mental chess match she was bound to loose.
"Ah, always to the point—I will be straight forward then: I desired to see how much—"
But Xiang didn't let him finish. "How much what? How much I'm grieved by his death? How much I blame you? How much that pain is bleeding into the rest of my life? I'm sure it has something to with want you wanted to get from me in your own round-about manner."
"Do you blame me?"
"Yes!" but she paused, and then quietly, "no... both."
"And do you grieve?"
"Yes, of course! What do you think I am, stone? But, Kongming, there is more to it than that. Yes, I feel loss, but I am not sad. Not really."
"Because what I did changed him?"
"No, he was changed before that. There's something you must understand, Zhuge Liang, Zhou Yu lived for his service to Wu, for perseverance and growth of his lord's lands. He was ever loyal and dutiful. He lived on continuing that dream my brother had."
"Is that not a noble life?"
"People don't live for ideas, Kongming, they're not enough. People live for people—for someone else, and, perhaps the ideals they hold, but mostly, for someone else. To live only on ideals is to live a half life, and Zhou Yu has been living such a life for a long time.
"He lived on Sun Ce's dream and the idea that now that he was left alone, the burden was his to bear, the responsibility for the success of Wu was his, and that he alone of all the advisers had skill and the wisdom to bring that dream to life. And you took that from him, the one thing propping up his life. And, the funny thing, it wouldn't have mattered nearly so much had someone been there to smile over his shoulder, tell him he was thinking too hard, making something big of something little. The one person who could do that for him died a long time ago. So I am not sorry, because Yu... he was waiting to fulfill his duty so he could die without regrets. And I'm angry because that one thing he wanted was denied him, he died full of spite and resentment, and you're the one who took it from him. So I really have no desire to speak with you Zhuge Liang."
"Does your blame spill over to your husband?"
"What? Why should I blame him for having a strategist who happens to be a complete asshole, but does is job impeccably? In you he made a good choice for an ally, but that doesn't mean I have to like you."
There was a pause for some time, until Sun Shang Xian said, somewhat spitefully "Have I covered everything, all those little things you wanted to figure out."
"You have missed the mark, ever so slightly."
Then realization dawned upon Xian, and she said bitterly, "Ah, I see, you wanted me to 'unburden' myself, to try and get me to work out my sorrows. Well, Kongming, it hasn't worked. I'm just as angry as ever."
And with that Sun Shang Xian had had enough and stocked off in a stubborn sulk.
Zhuge Liang turned to look out over the battlements at the river, collecting his thoughts. He smiled ever so slightly, "Woman's intuition."
Hmmm, I just realized that Xian seems to change her mind half way through. It's probably explained by time this story has spent on the shelf, but maybe it wouldn't be too out of the way to pin it to complex emotions?