the night before | hbd sunnyv
Ren Liufang wishes Xiu Lihua wouldn’t.
It is the night before they invade the Ren Compound, from which Ren Liufang’s influence had been removed from after Ren Mingshou after the final instance of her disobedience. Cheng Bowen had insisted upon joining along with them and Xiu Lihua’s old friends, but he was in the other room now, probably grieving. Ren Liufang wouldn’t touch him until the next morning, when she’d evaluate his condition for the upcoming mission. For now, she places her trust in Shi Jinghui.
Xiu Lihua and Ren Liufang are left by themselves now, in the room they had rented for themselves. It reminds her of that first night in the inn, only a few days after their first reunion. Ren Liufang’s arms are wrapped around Xiu Lihua’s waist and her chin is nestled on her shoulder. Xiu Lihua shifts uneasily in her grasp at first but relaxes after the body warmth tires her out. They’ve already talked about how the next day must go. Ren Liufang has recounted her stories and Xiu Lihua hers, and now, they both lay together, basking in each other silently.
But a bug wriggles inside of her head. She has no choice but to spit it out.
“Xiu Lihua, do you love me?”
An annoying question like that.
It is not unusual to hear each other’s full names fall from each other’s lips. Still, Xiu Lihua turns around quickly, rotating her body on the mattress. Ren Liufang softens her hold on her so that they can face each other fully.
“W-What brought this on?” Xiu Lihua asks, clearly flustered. The tip of her nose is flushed prettily.
“I just wanted to hear it,” Ren Liufang replies softly. The other woman examines her facial features for a second before sighing, averting her eyes in uncertainty.
Normally, Ren Liufang would never have asked this question. The notion of love had only been brought up a few times and had been accepted only once before, so both of them were still new to the idea. Xiu Lihua in particular was easy to fluster and put off balance when it came to things like this and tends to think too deeply, and Ren Liufang is not cruel enough to find pleasure in a large amount of the other’s apparent suffering. The confession itself had been difficult enough for Xiu Lihua to live through without burning up to the highest heavens in embarrassment, and Ren Liufang had built up a sort of resilience to waiting after such a long time for it to happen. She could wait more.
In conclusion, there had been no conversation. It was not even determined after this time if they were even dating.
Xiu Lihua bites her lip, forming a cute expression. Ren Liufang wants to touch her face, but she refrains from the action out of self discipline. Instead, she tries to alleviate the other’s distress.
“It is my mistake for ask this so suddenly. It’s alright if you can’t give me an answer right now,” she says as an apology. She hesitates before saying the next thing, lowering her gaze and gripping the other’s chest. The real hard-to-swallow pill will reveal itself now.
“Please, if you love me, then do not sacrifice yourself for me tomorrow.”
Xiu Lihua inhales sharply. Ren Liufang tightens her grip on her body, her expression momentarily contorting into one filled with pain. She buries her nose into the back of the other woman’s neck, hugging her to her chest as if she’d disappear if let go.
“That’s all I ask,” she whispers. “Please.”
Xiu Lihua is silent. Then, she touches Ren Liufang’s cheek softly, caressing her pale skin with the palm of her warm hand. Ren Liufang leans into the touch, averting her eyes. Xiu Lihua strokes her jawbone for a few seconds longer, her eyes brimming with emotion.
“I cannot imagine myself… I cannot imagine myself being like this with anyone else,” she says quietly. “No one else but you.”
It’s as close to a confession as it gets. Ren Liufang’s eyes widen, and Xiu Lihua continues. “I’ve wanted to apologize for so many things,” she admits, “always.”
“There don’t need to be any apologies tonight,” Ren Liufang says resolutely. She rubs the underside of Xiu Lihua’s eyelid with her thumb and presses their foreheads together. “This is enough.”
Xiu Lihua raises her gaze in order to meet hers. Without warning, she grabs the back of Ren Liufang’s neck and joins their lips in a single fluid movement. Ren Liufang makes a sound of surprise, but her mouth easily fits in with the other woman’s, their tastes melding together sweetly.
They keep kissing like that until she realizes that Xiu Lihua is too timid to take it further on her own, her eyes squeezed shut almost like she is holding her breath underwater. Ren Liufang can’t help a smile at her cuteness, quickly taking control and slipping her tongue in. Xiu Lihua gasps and tightens her grip on the nape of her neck.
When they finally break apart, both of their eyes are dilated, their breaths heaving out of their mouths hotly. Ren Liufang stares at her, the woman she’s loved for a third of her whole life, and Xiu Lihua stares back just as strongly.
“Let’s have each other tonight,” she says, “before tomorrow comes.”
Xiu Lihua’s cheeks flush, but she pulls her down for another kiss, and it all goes from there.
Afterwards, they lie next to each other again, their skin warm against each other and their bodies sated. Xiu Lihua’s hand lazily traces Ren Liufang’s waist, emboldened by the prior activities. The other woman’s chest rises and falls steadily, her thin frame warm in her hands. She gazes at the older woman, unable to take her eyes off of the sleeping form.
She must’ve been tired, Xiu Lihua muses. Then, her expression turns solemn, and she brushes a stray strand of hair out of Ren Liufang’s face, her lips pressing together into a thin line.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I’m sorry.”
The kiss Xiu Lihua presses to her forehead is still awkward because of her own inexperience, but it’s the only thing she can do to atone.
How easy life would be if you could be satisfied simply by loving another without expecting anything back. Except, she isn’t good at that either. She can’t express her feelings freely through words, and she’s too stilted to initiate anything. But what if she were presented with an opportunity to finally show her love with the strength that it demands? With no fear of how the other woman would respond?
She runs it through her mind, a single moment where Ren Liufang isn’t raised enough or a missed swing that results in a vulnerable part of the body being exposed. Or maybe, a sudden unprecedented burst of power that would catch her off guard.
“I don’t think I can stop myself should such a situation arise.”
Xiu Lihua traces the scars on her back, her fingertips having memorized the pattern of marred skin already. Then, she looks to Ren Liufang again. The other woman shivers in her sleep, and Xiu Lihua pulls her closer.
In the end, ‘I love you’ are just words.
For a blubbering idiot and unlovable person such as herself, Xiu Lihua would die in order to realize them.