Foxglove and Snakeroot
Kai was pacing around in agitation with Yuna and Jin when Liwa re-entered the festival grounds and caught sight of them. Kai had been looking around furtively so he noticed her first, and came running as if she’d been gone for too long.
“I am glad you are safe,” he said, and a look of relief seemed to pass over his face.
“Qin has gone completely mad with grief,” Liwa told him in a low voice, quiet enough that Jin and Yuna wouldn’t be able to hear. “He’s spewing nonsense about Lan, about you.”
“The Azure Dragon’s vessel knows more about the world than we do,” Kai reminded her.
“And I suspect he has something to do with…” Liwa was about to tell him about Qin’s possible involvement with the people that had attacked him on campus, but trailed off when the other two approached.
“Where did you run off to?” Yuna asked, although her tone was more teasing than critical. She must’ve thought they’d snuck away for a rendezvous.
“I…” Liwa hesitated. The last thing she wanted was a repeat of last night’s events by reminding them of Lan when they only just seemed to be feeling better. If Qin tried something, she’d make sure to protect her friends. “I just wanted to give you guys some time alone to talk things out.”
“We talked stuff out ages ago!” Jin said. “But then I turned around and you and Kai were gone.”
“Kai and I had things we needed to sort out too,” she managed to say, which technically wasn’t a lie. At least she hoped it was close enough to the truth that Jin wouldn’t notice.
His expression did not change, which was a good thing. “Oh, good for you guys then. By the way, Yuna and I were just talking about how we should go check out the festivities! If you guys are down, of course.”
None of them had actually been to the new year celebration downtown before, and they didn’t realize that there were a ton of booths set up around the venue with enough activities, food, and carnival games to last them until nightfall for the firework show. Liwa had only seen fireworks in videos—they were heavily regulated and only designated for specific events and locations because they lit up the night sky and cut off the connection to the stars.
“This is a first for me too,” said Jin. “I think only Yuna’s seen fireworks in person before.”
Yuna nodded. “For the Qixi Festival when I was a kid. I don’t remember much, but my mom says I started crying because I couldn’t form celestial threads for a while.”
While she spoke, one of the booths with a starry-themed sign suspended in midair caught Liwa’s attention.
“Speaking of celestial thread,” she said, pointing it out for the others. “Looks like a weaving contest. You should join!”
“Who, me?” Jin asked, and Yuna smacked him on the arm for that. “That was a joke! A joke!”
As the four of them headed to the booth, Kai hung back and tugged on Liwa’s jacket so she slowed to his pace.
“What’s up?” she asked, glancing at him only out of her peripheral vision.
“You seem stressed.”
She turned to look at him directly. It had been a long time since Kai’s expressions had been entirely unreadable, the soft half-smile like a mask over his face. Right now, she could see the worry clouding his eyes, the unmistakable downward curve of a troubled frown. Had she always been able to read him like he was an open book?
Liwa could only look away and sigh, her misty breath clouding the air. “Is it selfish to wish for everything to go back to normal? I just wish for a day…a moment…without our past lives affecting our every action.”
“But I never would have met you,” Kai said bluntly.
“That’s not what I’m trying to—”
He slung an arm around her shoulder, effectively shutting her up into spluttering silence.
“Liwa, even if the world is against you, I will stand by your side,” he said, pulling her closer so she could feel the tickle of his hair against her cheek. “If there is anything troubling you, I want to do what I can to support you.”
He had always been so blunt and cryptically honest from when they’d first met until now. Liwa couldn’t tell if that was a confession or just words of support as a friend. Either way, she appreciated it greatly.
“Just like Lan, Qin keeps telling me to stay away from you,” Liwa said reluctantly, pulling herself free before Yuna noticed they had fallen behind. “The Azure Dragon, my own past life…even you used to say that we shouldn’t be together.”
“It’s true, we shouldn’t,” Kai said, and the matter-of-fact tone made her heart sink. “But I do not want my choices to be dictated by my past life as the white snake. And that means falling in love with you in this life, and choosing to be selfish again against all odds. So, will you go against fate with me?”
“Is that a confession?”
“If that is what you mean by a courtship,” he replied. “If you will allow me, that is what I would like from you, Liwa.”
Yuna ended up winning third place in the weaving contest before the booth paused their operations for the firework display that was starting shortly. It had gotten dark after they’d run around and tried out some of the carnival games and street food, and then gone back to the weaving contest in time for the winners’ announcement. Yuna emerged from the booth struggling under the weight of a giant loom, looking horrified and offended as Jin and Liwa doubled over in laughter.
“Stop laughing!” Yuna said hotly, thrusting the loom into Jin’s hands. “Can you put this in the car? Can’t believe they gave me this! I can literally weave in midair, who thought giving me a loom would be a good idea?”
“Come back before the fireworks start!” Liwa called as Jin ambled away with the weaving contest prize without another word.
“Maybe I should’ve gone with,” Yuna said, sighing. Then she nudged Luwa in the side and spoke in a loud whisper, “So, you guys are a thing now?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Liwa replied. Her face was perfectly blank, as if she’d mastered Kai’s art of unreadable expressions.
“What thing do you mean, Miss Yuna?” Kai asked, puzzled.
Liwa elbowed him. “Don’t listen to a thing she says.”
“Oh. Hmm, I suppose I won’t.”
“This man is head over heels for you,” Yuna mouthed at Liwa, who resisted the urge to give her friend a friendly punch because she would probably accidentally use too much strength.