Disclamer: This story is based on characters created and owned by Tong Hua. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Zhang Xiao spends the first and second day looking under the bed sheets, the bed, the carved wooden tables, chairs, in the silk curtains and the delicate vases on display everywhere. In the gardens, she peeks into bushes, under all the stones and then in all the potted plants throughout the house. Her raid of the study leaves papers on the floor, brushes scattered across the table, ink slabs out of place and neatly stacked books in tottering piles. It's a horrible mess but she packs it up in the end.
She is running around in the pale yellow under-robe that is supposed to pass for pajamas and her hair is tangled, sticking up in all directions. She looks ridiculous but what she is doing is more important than mere appearance.
Despite her manic search for hidden cameras and microphones, she does not miss the distressed looks the servants exchange.
They seem convincingly convinced that their young mistress has gone mad.
"They're really good," she thinks, reluctantly impressed, "but annoying." Still, she plays her part as they have theirs; white collar worker from 2011 hunting with increasing urgency for some sign of the 21st century. It's what all this is for, she thinks to herself reassuringly, entertainment for the masses.
"Whatever you're doing, it's not working," She winks at Qiao Hui in a rare moment when there are no others around and whispers knowingly, "I've watched plenty of game shows and reality TV so I'm not about to freak out if that's what you people are hoping for."
"Game shows? TV?" The girl repeats with some confusion and much concern as clothes are tossed out of the wardrobe and her mistress leans further in to inspect the four corners. "Are you alright, Miss?"
Dissatisfied, Zhang Xiao ignores her and puts everything back into place (rather neatly, much to the surprise of Qiao Hui, who knows the child better than almost everyone else in this household).
"Mmmm. Once I find proof, I'll win and you'll have to let me go with my prize! " She says cheerfully, "We should keep in contact though. What's your phone number? Email?" It isn't nice to try to trick someone into giving themselves away, but she figures that it ought to be par for the course when you kidnap people from hospitals (can anyone even do that?!) and force them to take part in something for greater viewership and ratings. At least she is not lying. They get along well, Zhang Xiao majored in Chinese History and she loves period dramas, Qiao Hui speaks as if she has stepped out of an ancient Chinese text (Whoa, talk about dedication!). There, see? Shared interest. That she doesn't shoot Zhang Xiao pitying or condescending looks as the others do, is definitely a plus.
Outside of this stupid situation they could be friends.
But first, she needs to find those damn cameras.
Could they be in the incense burner? She lifts up its bronze lid.
On the third day, Zhang Xiao refuses to get out of bed. Her legs are sore; the headache she went to bed with last night is still gnawing away at her brain like beavers to a tree. "I don't feel well," she announces pathetically, maybe if the producers think she's seriously ill they'd stop filming. She really is sick though. Sick of this game of charades they have forced her into playing.
And still there is no glint of a lens from anywhere in the room, even with the early morning sunlight chasing away the darkness in every corner.
She is throwing a tantrum like the princess that she's not, but Qiao Hui smiles with something like relief and exasperation and knowledge that everything is back to normal. This though, this is nothing like Zhang Xiao's normal and that smile, she thinks, is not the kind you give to a stranger even if your job depends on it.
It is a kind of realization, and suddenly, she is frightened.
This is not the first time she finds her heartbeat speeding up and her hands shaking and growing cold in this place, but something has changed. Something is different.
Because, what if… if… if she isn't dreaming if this isn't a TV show then…what if…
She is Maertai Ruo Xi, sister of the eighth prince's second wife.
She knew the thought was just the irrational product of her headache coupled with panic and adrenaline. Yet she cannot stop dwelling over it.
She makes Qiao Hui leave the room, slamming and latching the door shut behind her. The other girl's relief had quickly been replaced by alarm as Zhang Xiao's mood plummeted, and having Qiao hui remain in the room would be distracting. She could bring all the servants and wives of eighth princes to talk to Ruo Xi, the sixteen-year-old, out of locking herself in, but Zhang Xiao, the twenty-five-year-old university graduate, wants some time alone to think.
The last thing she remembers before waking up here is the accident (headlights, a truck, terrible pain exploding through her body and a vague recollection of flying through the air). So…maybe she is lying in a hospital somewhere and in a coma? Do people dream when they're unconscious? People can't feel pain in dreams, right? She poured herself a cup of freshly made tea, still steaming, that Qiao Hui had left in the room and drank it quickly. It burned.
So. Then. Not a dream.
Would a television company kidnap some random hospital patient for a show though? It's a ludicrous idea. Illegal too. However it really is the only thing that can explain what is going on- assuming that she isn't insane and hallucinating, of course. Perhaps she never was Zhang Xiao at all…no, no, no. No. She has twenty-five years worth of memories to provethat she was.
…And yet, here she is in (17th?) 18th century China.
Could she have gone back in time?
"Time travel exists only in fiction. This is real life." Zhang Xiao says stubbornly to herself. She must have spoken louder than she thought, because there is a momentary lull in the hubbub outside her room. Then she hears the click-clacking sound of footsteps moving away while the hushed discussions resume.
She curls up on the bed that seems more like a wooden couch and traces the exquisite patterns of flowers on the blanket. It feels solid. Not solid as in hard: the material is soft and smooth and warm and, well, real. Absently watching as the steam from the teapot unfurls from the spout, she wonders if she's the only one here in this place.
A/N: I never watched the first episode of 步步惊心 but I did read a synopsis of it in a magazine. This is my idea of how her first days in the past could have gone.
And yes, it's bad. I know.