Ma Dai’s hands lifted off of Xiao Qiao’s shoulders once she whirled around and beamed at him. In response, he gave her a tired smile and a happy laugh. She claimed her title and how she should lose to the likes of him before sliding out from beneath his hands to skip towards the entrance of his room. Wait, where was she going? He had everything they needed right here and the weather outside was absolutely terrible. Tilting his head and lifting a brow, Ma Dai laughed yet again as various little drops of water dripped off the tips of his hair and slid down the contour of his face to his jaw line, and down his neck before being absorbed into the ink-stained material of his robe. “My Lady, where are you going?”
Lifting a hand to her as if to draw her back, the smile on Ma Dai’s face remained. A sudden flash of lightning lit up the room behind him, thus darkening the front of his body facing her in contrast. Once the rumble sounded, he turned his head to look at the wide, open window behind him as the rain continued to pour. “You don’t want to go back out there again, do you, Xiao Qiao?” His eyes closed for a mere moment as his smile broadened, though he stepped out of the way and swung his hand back towards his own chambers—most specifically to a low-laying area near the window with a short table specifically for relaxation and tea time. Just because he was a man didn’t mean he couldn’t take time to relax and enjoy some tea. True, women were a little more knowledgeable in that field, but he didn’t necessarily have one around to keep him company. Well, occasionally he had Xiao Qiao, but…
“It’s late, there’s nowhere to go at this time of night.” He said to her before nodding his head back into the room. His chamber was probably the safest place for now. When she was ready, he’d escort her back to wherever it was that she was residing during her time in Shu. Despite his fatigue, he could always find and make time to cater to Xiao Qiao. It wasn’t often that she came to visit, after all. He really did love her company. Rarely were people as upbeat as she was, and that was one of the things that he absolutely loved about her. “I have everything here. Sit down over there and I’ll get the pot and the cups ready.” Of course, he didn’t initially mean to have their tea battle now; he just wanted a cup of tea; but if that’s what she wanted, then so be it. Dai offered yet another smile before he turned to move back into his quarters behind that same folding screen near the trunk to pull out a well-used set he often travelled with when he and his cousin were away for battle. It was a little embarrassing to use such a worn set, but it still worked, and he found no reason to go out and get another. Surely Xiao Qiao wouldn’t mind, or at least would understand his predicament.
Assuming she moved to seat herself upon one of the wide, plush pillows, Ma Dai moved back across the room to quickly prepare the tea. It really looked like she needed it, to be honest. Despite her peppiness and all-smiles, Ma Dai feared she was hiding something beneath it all; she was much like himself in that sense. Hopefully a little friendly conversation before bed would help cheer her up. Tomorrow, he’d take the time to dote on her. He’d even purposely lose one of their planned tea-battles. Anything to see her smile.
Once the tea was prepared, Ma Dai moved back towards the low table, where he knelt down and began pouring the tea. It was a little awkward, to be honest. Sure, he knew how to prepare and serve tea—thanks to his mother—but he was nowhere near as skilled as Xiao Qiao was. Though these little battles they had certainly taught him much, not to mention it kept bringing that single, bright individual back into his life. He smiled within the darkened room, setting the teapot down before seating himself next to her, sighing as he slowly stretched out his legs beneath the table. Ah, the tea would do his body well.
“So, tell me, my lady,” he began, looking over to her with that smile still present—although it sort of faded some with his relaxed state. He leaned back on both of hands, “you never did tell me why you came to visit in the first place.” As the thunder and lightning continued to flash and rumble the very structure they took refuge within, Ma Dai’s heart thumped heavily within his chest. He remained calm the best he could, but of course, that was made much easier with Xiao Qiao at his side.
"Huh?" Xiao Qiao took her cup and gently blew it to let it cool down; she took a little sip of her tea and sighed contently. Though she was a sore loser when it came to their tea-offs, Xiao Qiao had to admit that her dear friend and tea-rival had great taste in tea. "Oh, I came for our tea-offs, duh!" Xiao Qiao replied with a laugh. Yes, that was one of the reasons. Xiao Qiao swore she’d visit Shu every chance she had until she won their silly little game. Of course, the tea-off wasn’t the only thing that mattered to her: she enjoyed visiting Ma Dai and seeing his face, as well.
"… and well," she continued with a softened smile. "I wanted to see you, too."
Ma Dai was the perfect friend for her, really. Despite being from different kingdoms (but luckily allied) Xiao Qiao, at this point, considered him her best friend. That friend she could trust and depend on; she knew he wasn’t the kind who would trick and lie to her about anything, and she liked that about him. He brought an aura of ease whenever she was around him; some days when she visited, she would be extremely angry about something and spending time with Ma Dai would make her forget what she was angry about in the first place. Sure, back in Wu, Xiao Qiao had many friends and considered her own big sister to be her best friend as well. Though… even when she was with Da Qiao, Xiao Qiao would always feel… alone. After all, her sister overshadowed her greatly. She was beautiful, mature and smart— plus, she was the wife of Lord Sun Ce. That was an obvious plus for Da Qiao.
Xiao Qiao wasn’t jealous at all, really; she was happy for Da Qiao, if anything. Though whenever Xiao Qiao really needed her best friend, Da Qiao was so busy nowadays, looking after Lord Sun Ce’s daughters and little Sun Shao, and taking over for Sun Ce whenever he was absent; as the wife of the Little Conqueror, she had many responsibilities to take care of. Xiao Qiao didn’t blame her.
"Things back at home have been really crazy!" Xiao Qiao told Ma Dai. "Busy, busy, busy! Zhou Yu’s not home right now, so he left me with Zhou Xun and Zhou Yin. They’re actually not that tiring to take care of, surprisingly! They’re such good boys, just like their father!" Xiao Qiao had a moment of, ‘I’m the luckiest mom ever’ after mentioning how well-behaved her sons were. Zhou Yin had his moments where he would goof around, but his older brother, Zhou Xun would be there to tell him not to do naughty things to the female servants of the household. Oh, her sons were Xiao Qiao’s pride and joy. "… Zhou Yu hasn’t been home in a really long time. I sure do miss him; the boys miss him, too. They always ask me when he would come home, and I’m never sure what to tell them— oh, I’m sorry, Lord Ma Dai, am I talking too much?" Xiao Qiao asked and sheepishly laughed. "Silly me!"
The young lady looked down at her cup of tea and saw her reflection in the tea. Her bright smile was slowly fading a little bit. She was thinking of her sons back home and wondering if the gossipers were talking badly about them, like they talked badly about her. It was one thing when the gossipers were talking behind her back; but it was another when they had to involve her boys. They did absolutely nothing.
"Lord Ma Dai… do people in Shu… talk?” Xiao Qiao kept her eyes on her reflection in her tea cup. “Like… talk about Lady Shang Xiang because she’s married to Lord Liu Bei, even though she’s from Wu?”