Nian Hong Fang crouched on the ground, picking the ripe fruits from the plants in his Master’s herb garden and putting them in the basket next to him. Behind him, steps sounded and soon, a shadow fell over him.
“Oi! Who’s this beauty picking flowers?”
Nian Hong Fang’s lips curled involuntarily. He put away the berry he had just picked and then turned around, glancing up at the person behind him. “And who’s this rogue trying to lead the beauty off the righteous path?” He took his basket and got up, looking the person in the eye.
“It is I, Ma Zhi Wu.” He made a pause and his lips likewise curled into a smile. “Although I wouldn’t call myself a rogue. I do think of myself as a gentleman.”
“Sure you do!” Nian Hong Fang laughed and shook his head, walking away.
“Eh! Where are you going?” Ma Zhi Wu rushed after him, falling into step behind him.
Nian Hong Fang raised the basket for him to see. “Bringing some berries to my Master.”
“Oh. Then … where is your Master?” He glanced around, his gaze settling on the Grandelder’s palace. It should be one of the Elders from there, right? Whether it was in the demonic sect or here in the Yun Zou Sect, he had always seen Nian Hong Fang bustle around with some herbs or, well, parts of them. He should be an alchemist.
“Where he usually is, I guess. Why would you want to know?”
Ma Zhi Wu looked away, the tips of his ears turning red. “No special reason.” It definitely wasn’t because he really was a rogue that couldn’t help but salivate over a beauty and wanted to have more chances to trouble them. No, no! His intentions were definitely honorable! He just … he just wanted to go pay his respects, yes!
Nian Hong Fang didn’t seem to want to understand that though. “If there’s no special reason, then there’s no reason to know either.”
“That …” Ma Zhi Wu stopped walking but the beauty in front of him didn’t slow down and didn’t even glance over his shoulder to see whether or not he was following anymore. Ma Zhi Wu wanted to call out but didn’t know what to say. In the end, he could only rush after him and fall into step next to him once again. He stayed quiet for a while before he reached out and touched his arm, trying to keep him from going further.
Nian Hong Fang did indeed stop, glancing at those rough fingers on his arm before he looked up at Ma Zhi Wu. “What is it?”
“That … You do know that I’m not a demonic practitioner, right? I was also just there as a spy!”
“Mn. I know. My Master told me.” He nodded but still picked up his pace once again, continuing toward the Grandelder’s peak. In his heart, he couldn’t help but feel a little bitter though. His Master had told him but how much heartache had he felt prior to that already?
He would never forget the gaze his Master had used to look at him when he went back to the Yun Zou Sect and cried because he had thought he had lost his heart to a demonic cultivator. He would never forget those sleepless nights he had had, the endless dreams of that laughing man in the dark robe that had somehow stolen his soul away.
And he would certainly never forget seeing that same man clad in a white robe here in the Yun Zou Sect, a whip tied to his belt just like before and that spiritual beast at his side that Elder Geng had tried to tame for such a long time. At that moment, his heart had seemed to crack.
He had thought that it was his fault, that he had somehow led that demonic practitioner to their sect and would be the cause of great harm. Who could have known that his Master would then explain to him that the person he saw wasn’t a demonic practitioner but Elder Geng’s head disciple instead that had been undercover in one of the demonic sects to gain information for them?
Relief and resentment had mixed in his heart that day. Knowing that the one he loved was not his enemy but also understanding that he had not been told the truth even after opening his heart to him … He did not know if there was more sweetness or bitterness, he only knew that he was afraid to get close once again. Because if he did … Who knew if he wouldn’t burn his hands? And what was an alchemist without their hands?
Ma Zhi Wu watched his expression and then reached out again, taking his hand and pulling him back into his arms. “How can you say yes when we have to pretend to be demonic practitioners and then say no when we can be ourselves again? Could it be that everything was really just an act? Xiao Fang, don’t do that to me!”
Nian Hong Fang closed his eyes, his fingers around the handle of the basket tightening. If only he could, if only he could … But he did not dare to get close to the flame. Because even if he wouldn’t be pulled from the righteous path as he had once feared, he might still be pulled on the wrong one. Who was to say it wouldn’t happen? “I … I still need to go and deliver these berries to my Master.”
Ma Zhi Wu took a deep breath and sighed just as deeply. “I see. I guess then … I should not disturb you any longer.” He let go and stepped back but his gaze stayed on Nian Hong Fang’s back the entire time, waiting for him to turn around and look, to give him some kind of sign.
There was none but Ma Zhi Wu did not intend to stop. Even if there was nothing now or today, there would still be tomorrow or the day after that. Even if he had to wait an eternity for that sign he wanted to see, he would not give up. He would not give up on that love that he had found at that unlikely place.
Maybe, he really was like a beast that had sunk its teeth into its prey and refused to let go. But even if it was, even if he didn’t know if it was right or wrong, he refused to give up. One day, that person would stop when walking up that path and he would glance over his shoulder for the shortest of moments and flash him a smile. He deeply believed in that.