Season Content Notes (incomplete): violence, anti-nonhuman bigotry, consensual violence
In the silence only excellent soundproofing could create, the quiet rustle of reeds was loud.1
Wu sat in the middle of the floor, manipulating a double handful of dried stalks, while Tracey watched. Zi split the stalks, placing some on the floor in front of zir, a few at a time. Then set a handful aside before starting again with the rest.
Stillness had never come naturally to Tracey, but she held herself as still as possible. Only her fingers moved, tapping out a soothing rhythm on the seam of her skirt.2
Eventually, Wu placed the last handful aside and closed hir eyes.
Tracey had watched Wu cast hir reeds dozens of times over the years. She’d never shaken the edge of fear it brought her. And tonight, the night of their first great victory, the fear was worse than ever. Tracey knew she had good people behind her. But she didn’t think she could do this without Wu beside her.3
Wu opened hir eyes and smiled. “We have danger, but also opportunity.”
Tracey sighed, tension running out of her. But she couldn’t stop himself from asking, “We?”
Wu, not understanding, bowed, hir shoulders drawing inward. “Forgive this presumptuous one. Your servant only meant— your servant would not lay claim to what is rightly yours.”
“What?” Shocked, Tracey knelt beside the dragon. “Oh, damnit, Wu, I didn’t mean…”
Wu looked at her, and Tracey could see the confusion and hurt in hir gaze.
“I’m afraid of losing you.” Tracey reached out and took Wu’s hand, rubbing a finger across the braided ring zi hadn’t removed in over 10 years. “When you gave yourself to me, you said…”
“Your servant said many things. Do you doubt them now?”
“No! No.” She took a deep breath. “But… I guess I feared I would need to pay a price for winning today.”4
“Tracey.” Wu’s hand cupped her cheek. “Talk sense or I’m going to put you to bed and call a healer.”
“Your first loyalty, you said, would always be to your ‘path of heaven’ or whatever it is.”
“And you thought… what? That I would leave? Now?”
“If your Heavens called you, yes. Of course, you would.”
Wu sat back and covered hir mouth. Hir eyes sparkled. And every once in a while a strangled laugh slipped through hir fingers.
Tracey didn’t see the joke.
“That… That’s not how it works.”5 Wu said finally.
Tracey leaned forward and tapped Wu’s knee. “What’s not how it works?”
“The Heavens…” Wu took a deep breath and fought down hir laughter. “They aren’t like Deborah’s God, Trevor. They don’t issue commands or expect people to serve them. They… they are. Their path is the path of righteousness. Of right conduct.6 Not… whatever you have been thinking.”
For a moment, Tracey was still. “…you mean I’ve spent over a decade worrying that one day you’d up and leave on some kind of divine marching orders for nothing?”
“Apparently.” Wu’s lips quirked.
“Are you smirking at me?”
Zi was smirking at her.
“Where in the world did you get that idea anyway?”
Tracey glared. “Wu, I conquered the world because of a prophecy and a vision quest. Over half the magic workers and soothsayers in the world support me — many of them because they got some kind of divine marching orders7 from whatever it is they follow. You have not once in over a decade talked about your beliefs or faith or whatever it is you follow except to say, on the day you took my collar, that your first loyalty was to the path of heaven. What did you expect me to think?”8
“Oh.” The humor drained from hir face.
“It was pretty obvious you didn’t want to talk about your culture or past, and I respected that. I didn’t go researching Chinese belief systems behind your back or digging into your family and background.9 I figured you’d tell me if you wanted to. But… damnit, Wu…”
This time Wu gave her a full bow, face pressed to the floor, hands clasped behind hir back.10 “Your servant most humbly begs forgiveness for hir foolishness. Your servant has… reasons for not speaking of things past. But your servant owes you the knowledge you need to make full use of your servant. And… your servant regrets, bitterly, the pain hir foolishness caused.”
Tracey grabbed a fistful of Wu’s hair and pulled hir head up. A frisson of energy danced along her nerves, stronger because of the fear and frustration which had come before. She knew why she took such pleasure in control. Knew also how dangerous it was for a woman who had set herself up as a dictator and tyrant. But she and Wu had shared this bond almost since the day they met. She wasn’t giving it up unless she had to.
“Let me be sure that this time I understand.11
“Your path of heaven is a guide for your actions. A code of ethics or moral strictures.
“You have given yourself to me, and there is no person, entity, being, or god that can make you leave me. But your path of heaven comes before your loyalty to me, and if I tell you to do something that violates your code, you will disobey.”
She gave Wu’s head a little shake. The dragon winced but remained passive under her hand.
“Do I have that right?”
“Yes, you are correct.” Wu swallowed. “Only at your word will your servant leave.” Wu met her eyes for a moment, long enough Tracey glimpsed the fear in them, before looking down again.
“Wu…” she released the dragon’s hair and cupped hir chin. “Do you really think I would cast you off over this?”12
“No.” Zi swallowed again. “No. But one day you will learn of your servant’s past. And I fear that day.”13
Tracey’s fingers tapped on her thigh, but this time the rhythm didn’t soothe. “We will deal with that day when it comes. But I can’t imagine anything from the past that would change how I feel.” Tracey had killed a man earlier that day because Winehurst was no longer useful to her and couldn’t be trusted not to interfere. She couldn’t imagine what in Wu’s past could be so horrible zi feared to tell him.
Tracey pushed the question away. It was for the future, and this was now. She pulled Wu up and into a hug. “It’s okay. We’ll be okay.” They held each other for several minutes until Tracey said. “Now, tell me about your divination.”
How NOT to Save the World (S 1, E 4)