Zhen Zhu happily looked around inside, feeling that this house seemed quite cozy. In fact, he might actually like it a bit better than Zhu Hong’s house. But this was probably due to the fact that there were more people living here and the house probably even had a longer history than Zhu Hong’s. Surely, many others had left their traces here over a long amount of time while Zhu Hong’s house was only his. As a dragon that had rather recently come of age, Zhu Hong naturally couldn’t compare to this kind of place where several generations were living together.
Actually, thinking about it a little longer, Zhen Zhu also realized that this meant that in the house that he and Zhu Hong had, he would be able to leave a trace of his own instead of just having to live in a house that had already been filled by somebody else.
Thinking of that, he actually felt that it was a bit exciting. As Zhu Hong’s spouse, he naturally also wanted to do something. And since the phoenixes would usually stay home and take care of the house while the dragons went out to take care of things like food, clothes, and anything else their family may need, making their place a welcoming one that Zhu Hong would always like to return to would be his task.
Zhen Zhu lowered his head when he realized this and a hint of satisfaction emerged from his heart. He would definitely show Zhu Hong that he could make the best place for him that he could imagine. Nothing would be left for him to wish for. He’d better start immediately after getting to know all the important people. The sooner Zhu Hong could see just how lucky he was with having him as a spouse, the better. He didn’t want him to regret deciding on his egg after all.
While Zhen Zhu had been thinking about this, they had already arrived in the next room where quite a few people had already been gathered. Seeing all of them in one place, Zhen Zhu was immediately pulled out of his thoughts and curiously looked around again.
In the middle of the room sat a slightly older woman with wrinkles on her face who should be Elder Bi’s wife Chengse. On each side of her was a younger woman, one with the slightly fiercer appearance of the dragons while the other had the bright appearance of the phoenixes and resembled Chengse a lot. They should be Elder Bi’s daughter and her wife. In the background stood two men who looked vaguely the same, even though one of them was clearly older than the other by quite a few years. This definitely had to be the two sons of the family.
Zhen Zhu glanced around, but he couldn’t see the wife of one of the brothers or the children of the household. He didn’t know if they would come over later on or if they just weren’t interested in meeting him. Thinking of the latter, he wasn’t quite sure what to think of it. He definitely hadn’t expected to get a welcome ceremony but after hearing just how important Elder Bi was to Zhu Hong, he couldn’t help but feel that if the family wasn’t interested in him, it might worsen his husband’s relationship with them. That was definitely something he didn’t want to see.
Zhu Hong seemed to see that he was a little worried and gently squeezed his hand. In the presence of all these people, he didn’t really want to say anything though. That would have to wait until later.
At that moment, Elder Bi turned back to them and excitedly started to introduce everybody one by one. Just as Zhen Zhu had expected, the women sitting there were Elder Bi’s wife, as well as his phoenix daughter and their daughter-in-law. The two men were his sons as well. As for the other members of the family, it turned out that his other daughter-in-law was taking care of the children right now and would come down when she realized that they had guests. Until then, it would just be them.
Zhen Zhu didn’t mind. In any case, with so many people around, there really wasn’t any way for him to get to know everyone well. If he was able to have a few words with everyone, that would already be good.
Having introduced everyone, the elder invited Zhu Hong and Zhen Zhu to sit down, so they could have a talk.
Zhu Hong held his husband’s hands, trying to reassure him. In fact, Zhen Zhu really didn’t need his reassurance anymore. He didn’t feel like there was anything wrong. Wasn’t it just visiting some relatives? Since they were very open-minded toward him, there really wasn’t a problem with coming here and talking for a bit. If their attitude toward him had been different, he might have still been a little afraid, but it was definitely not a problem if they were like this. In fact, even if Elder Bi had brought up moving in, Zhen Zhu also might not have had a problem with it. As long as Zhu Hong didn’t mind, he would be willing to do it.
Elder Bi poured him a cup of tea and also put a plate with snacks in front of him, smiling kindly the whole time. Clearly, he was immensely happy to see him. Who would be afraid of a kind elder like this?
Zhen Zhu also happily smiled back and took some of the snacks, taking a bite. His brows shot up in surprise and quickly nibbled his way through. “These are very tasty. Thank you very much, Elder Bi.”
Elder Bi laughed and then gave Zhu Hong a triumphant look. “Look at this! Your little husband actually has better taste than you.”
Zhen Zhu looked up at his husband, wondering if he had done something wrong and almost wanted to put the pastry done that he had picked up.
Zhong turned to him and shook his head. “If you like them, you should eat them. Elder Bi actually likes making this kind of thing. Unfortunately for him, whether it is his children or me, we never really liked them. The only one who is able to put up with it is Chengse. Now, I guess he must be especially happy that he found a new victim to try them on. In the future, I’m afraid you’ll have to taste test quite a few.”
“Oh, so it was like that. Well, I don’t mind.” He turned back to Elder Bi and gulped down the last crumbs of the pastry. “Then, may I take another one?”
Needless to say, Elder Bi didn’t just not have a problem with it, he even leaped to his feet and rushed to get a few more versions of his pastries for Zhen Zhu. If he could, he would’ve stuffed the little phoenix with one of each kind, just to get a bit of feedback. He really didn’t know what he had done wrong when making his own children, that neither of them would be willing to eat his pastries. He was sure that they were really tasty.
Zhu Hong watched Elder Bi and Zhen Zhu interact harmoniously and couldn’t help but smile. He had been a little nervous before coming here. Even though the elder had already seen Zhen Zhu yesterday in both his phoenix form and his other form, they hadn’t been able to speak with each other. So, it was hard to say what exactly the elder thought of him. Now though, there was no need to worry any longer. Clearly, the people that were important to him in his life got along quite well. This was really something he was glad to see. Especially since it hadn’t needed any encouragement and had worked just like that when the two of them met. Clearly, they weren’t just doing this for his sake.
After a while, he cleared his throat and turned to Elder Bi’s phoenix daughter. “Sister Yu Sui, would you mind bringing Zhen Zhu over to the other phoenixes later on? Or maybe even accompany him while he is there? While it’s important to me that he gets to know the people that I consider my family, I especially want him to be able to also have a connection with his own people. So I think it would be good if he went over there early on and introduced himself.”
Elder Bi’s daughter nodded and then glanced over to her wife. “I will be back a bit later then today. I’m sure that everyone will be very excited when they meet Zhen Zhu for the first time. Most likely, they’re already gossiping about how he’ll be.”
Her wife just smiled and shook her head. “Just take your time. Don’t think about me. I can also stay home and accompany father and mother for a while longer. I’m sure they’ll also be happy to have me here.
Elder Bi’s wife did indeed seemed quite happy at the opportunity to have her daughter-in-law over for a bit longer while Elder Bi himself mostly seemed distraught over the fact that Zhen Zhu would already leave his house this soon. He turned to Zhu Hong, looking a bit like there was something he wanted to talk about.
Zhu Hong had a faint inkling of what it was but he didn’t think that right now was the right time for it. He glanced at Zhen Zhu and reached out, rubbing the back of his head and then brushing through his white hair. “Then, after you’ve had enough of the tea and the pastries, let’s go over. I’ll bring you there and leave you with sister Yu Sui, and then when you’re done, you can just come back over here. Then sister Yu Sui can go back home with her wife and I’ll take you home as well, alright?”
Zhen Zhu hesitated a bit and squeezed Zhu Hong’s hand. “Why can’t you come with us?”
Zhu Hong smiled indulgently and leaned over, kissing his cheek. “I know it’s only the first day but we won’t be able to stay at each other’s side every moment of our lives. It’s important that you also get to know other people.”
Zhen Zhu still didn’t seem quite happy with it. “Isn’t that why you brought me here to meet your family? In any case, I already know them and I think we get along very well. What need is there to get to know other people as well?”
Zhu Hong laughed. “You don’t want to meet the other phoenixes? I’m sure they’re curious though.” In any case, Yu Sui should know better than him just how things were when the phoenixes gathered.
Zhen Zhu didn’t seem quite sure how to answer but in any case, he clearly wasn’t too happy at the prospect of going without his husband.
Yu Sui couldn’t help but lean forward and reached over to take his other hand. “You don’t have to worry. It’s quite normal for a new phoenix to go and meet the others. In any case, our partners will usually leave the valley for some time to go and do missions outside or hunt. So sometimes, we will be without them. Who are we going to rely on then if not on our brothers and sisters from the phoenix clan? You don’t have to worry. I’ll stay with you the whole time. The others are also really nice. You won’t have any problems at all.”
Zhen Zhu still didn’t seem quite sure, but with everybody looking at him like this, he still nodded. He didn’t really want to separate from Zhu Hong for even a single moment but what could he do? If his husband asked him to, he should do it.
Zhu Hong saw him nod but he wasn’t really relieved. “If you really don’t want to, then you don’t have to either. I’m not going to force you.”
Zhen Zhu looked up excitedly but, in the end, he shook his head. “No, it’s alright. I will just give it try. In any case, just going over and looking for a while will be enough, right? Then, after we’ve done that, older sister Yu Sui and I can just come back, right? We don’t need to stay there for long.”
Zhu Hong raised his brows, a little afraid that this little phoenix would charge in, tell everyone who he was and then rush out after giving everyone a wave. “Well, you definitely don’t. I do hope that you’ll make some friends though. It might be a bit easier to talk with them considering that you are of the same race. If you ever have problems that are specific to the phoenixes, I won’t be able to help you as much. At that time, you’ll have to rely on the others.”
Zhen Zhu nodded again, a little more serious this time. That was right. As a phoenix, there were things that he had to prepare for that Zhu Hong wouldn’t know about. Or at the very least, he wouldn’t know about the finer details. Just thinking about it casually, he could come up with a few things on the spot.
For example, he was the one who would have to lay their eggs later on. While he had some general knowledge about that from the memories of his clan, there were also some things that he couldn’t figure out just from that. So, that was something that he really should prepare for. And what better way to do that than to go and ask the other phoenixes? It really was true that it was better to connect with them early on. If he didn’t know them, then asking that kind of question would also be a bit strange, right?
Thinking it through, Zhen Zhu’s expression turned a little better. “Well, I guess you’re right. Then I will try and get to know them. In any case, since sister Yu Sui is coming along, I guess I don’t have to worry too much. It’s not like they’ll be mean to me if she’s right next to me, right?” He laughed happily, making Zhu Hong feel as if a burden had just been taken off his shoulders.
He really wanted for Zhen Zhu to get to know the other phoenixes. While he might not have had enough time to prepare for the arrival of his spouse, he at least knew that it really wasn’t always easy for the phoenixes in the dragon valley. That was why sometimes if a couple didn’t work out, the phoenixes would leave to go back to their own forest. And if something happened to their partner, they usually also wouldn’t stay here. As long as the other phoenixes were there, it might be different but otherwise, there really wasn’t any reason for them to stay here. After all, they didn’t have a deep connection to the valley like the dragons.
And if their partners weren’t there, then a lot of phoenixes were lonely. How often had he seen a lonely phoenix standing at the side of the road, longingly looking at the faraway mountains where their spouse had flown to while they remained at home, unsure what to do.
With the older phoenixes that were already more integrated into the group of spouses in their valley or the family that they were taking care of, this was a lot rarer. Thus, he had always told himself that when he had a spouse, he wanted them to be different. He wanted them to have something to do when he was outside.
In any case, he had always enjoyed going on missions. He couldn’t imagine not doing that after getting married. Thus, he definitely couldn’t let Zhen Zhu not find other people to spend time with or something else that he could do while he was away.
Although … with everything else that had happened, he might indeed be willing to give up on the missions as long as that meant that Zhen Zhu would be happier. But it was of course even better if everything worked out as he had originally intended. After all, just in case that things got worse because his feelings for Zhen Zhu were different from Zhen Zhu’s feelings for him, then he should have something to fall back on.
Thus, hearing Zhen Zhu say that he was alright with meeting the others really was something that made Zhu Hong feel that it was for the best. “Alright. Then I hope you’ll be having fun there. In any case, if you really don’t like it, you can return at any time.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and then turned back to the others, grabbing another pastry. “Then, when are we going to leave, older sister Yu Sui?”
Yu Sui glanced at the window and couldn’t help but feel that right now, there really wasn’t much time left. “I’m afraid it’s going to be dark in another hour or two so we should probably go immediately. Otherwise, the others will also return home.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and then immediately got up but stood at the same spot for a moment, not quite sure what to do. From the moment he had arrived, he had been given into Zhu Hong’s hands. Then, his husband had carried him to his house, led him over to the temple to get married, and then back to his house. Not a single moment had passed where they hadn’t been together. He didn’t even know how to say goodbye to him.
Zhu Hong looked up and had a faint inkling of what was going through his head. He smiled and reached out, wrapping his arms around Zhen Zhu’s waist. “Did you forget that I said I would accompany you over there?”
Zhen Zhu was startled and then suddenly remembered that Zhu Hong had said he would go with them and only return here after they had arrived wherever that place was where he was supposed to meet the other phoenixes.
He felt a little strange now that it was pointed out to him, but seeing that the only people around were his husband and his husband’s family anyway, he didn’t mind too much. “Well, you should have reminded me.”
Zhu Hong nodded and then got up, pulling Zhen Zhu into a hug and rubbing his back. “I should have. In the future, I’ll think of it.” He indeed tried to commit this to memory. For Zhen Zhu, everything was new right now. New people, new places, new things to learn and do, how was he supposed to keep everything in mind? Naturally, there would be slip-ups every now and then. It was completely expected.