They had made a round through half the valley already, most of the buildings being those where important members of the dragon clan or friends of Zhu Hong lived. But when Zhen Zhu looked around the big building that they had just walked into, he was a little unable to believe what he was seeing, his eyes turning wide. This building was really just a building to spend some leisure time and if he hadn’t gotten things wrong, then it was one that he was really looking forward to.
Zhen Zhu couldn’t help himself and stared intently at his husband, his eyes seeming to ask if he was really seeing things right.
Zhu Gong laughed and pulled at his hand, pulling him over to the lake in the middle of the building. “If you don’t believe it, just jump in. Just make sure to take your clothes off first.”
Zhen Zhu looked around and noticed that they weren’t the only ones in here. A few others had already entered the water and were leisurely swimming around while some were still sitting at the edge of the water or maybe they were on their way outside. There were both phoenixes and dragons among them and judging from how close some of them were, most of them had come here as a couple just like he and Zhu Hong.
Zhen Zhu really wanted to give it a try as well but he also felt a bit shy. He had hatched not too long ago and the only person who had seen this body of his naked was his own husband. To expose himself in front of others really was something that felt a bit strange.
Zhu Hong who had grown up with the others in the valley didn’t have the same hangups. He threw off his robe, putting it down at the side, and then jumped into the water, his vermilion hair seeming darker now that it was drenched.
Zhen Zhu watched him with rapt attention, clearly enthralled by what he saw. The sight definitely made him forget about anything else. He pulled off his robe as well and made to jump into the water. Right at the edge, he hesitated though. Zhu Hong had clearly had quite a bit of practice. Not only his jump but also the way he had dived into the water and then broken through the surface had seemed experienced. If he tried to do the same but did much worse, he would be embarrassed. He didn’t want to risk that in front of his husband.
Thinking up to there, Zhen Zhu sat down at the edge of the spring and first dipped his feet into the water. His eyes widened a little when he did. The water was quite cold, making him retract his feet.
Zhu Hong who had swum back to his side by now laughed. “Too cold?” He reached out, grabbing that slender foot and gently rubbing it.
Zhen Zhu smiled and immediately forgot about the coldness. He let Zhu Hong hold onto that foot and swung his other leg over the edge, submerging it in the water.
Zhu Hong looked up, his gaze traveling over his spouse’s body before he hastily lowered his gaze. “Tell me when you’re ready. I’ll help you.”
Zhen Zhu gave a hum. His husband let go of his foot and then reached out to grab him around the waist, gently pulling him into the water and holding him in place.
To be honest, Zhu Hong wasn’t sure if Zhen Zhu even knew how to swim. It was something that the dragons were naturally good at but he wasn’t sure if the same could be said about the phoenixes. He had seen several of them here before so he had hoped that Zhen Zhu might also like it.
Zhen Zhu didn’t know either but he was curious enough. He stayed in his husband’s arms for a moment, wrapping his arms around his neck while he looked around everywhere. Thanks to the hairstyle that Zhu Hong had decided on today, only part of his hair got wet. When he really started to swim, it also wouldn’t get into his face as much. Realizing this, Zhen Zhu couldn’t help but lower his head and look at his husband. “Did you already plan this the whole time?”
Zhu Hong nodded. “Pretty much. I figured that you should know where we can go to have a bit of fun in the valley. This is probably one of the places that most people like quite a lot. You can always come here, no matter the time of the day.” His lips curved faintly and there was a twinkle in his eyes. “I’ve been told it’s especially romantic at night when the moon is high up in the sky. Naturally, you need to be lucky though to get a chance to be here alone with just your partner.”
Zhen Zhu smiled as well when he imagined such a scene but even if they couldn’t make that real, he was happy that Zhu Hong was always taking into consideration what he might need in the future. Wasn’t that alone worth a lot? “Thank you.”
Zhu Hong looked at him, a little surprised that he was this moved even though this had been something that was really just a slight effort on his part. He reached up and rubbed Zhen Zhu’s shoulder, touching the wet strands of his hair in the process. “It’s alright. I’m your husband. This is the kind of thing I should do for you.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and then nodded to the water. “Let’s give it a try.”
Zhu Hong nodded as well and carefully let go of him, ready to grab him immediately should Zhen Zhu not be able to figure it out. As it turned out, he had worried too much. His little phoenix spouse took a moment to move his limbs and get the hang of it, then he swam away from the spring’s edge to the deeper part of the water.
Zhu Hong hastily followed, not taking his eyes off him for even a heartbeat. Zhen Zhu didn’t seem to notice. He swam in a circle and then dived down, his pearl-white limbs moving elegantly and his hair dancing behind him.
Zhu Hong stayed at the surface to watch and his expression turned into surprise. Once again, he felt as if he could see the shadow of the phoenix Zhen Zhu would become in the future in him. In the water, he seemed so reassured as if he didn’t need to rely on him at all.
Zhu Hong exhaled faintly, not sure how to feel about this. He was happy to see that he didn’t need to worry but there was also a sense of loss. He probably … liked being relied on.
Zhu Hong’s smile turned a little wry. It didn’t matter. He had sworn to make up for that lacking connection by always thinking for Zhen Zhu. Even if it went against his own wishes, he would do it. Zhen Zhu … was more important.
Just then, Zhen Zhu broke through the surface. The water ran down his forehead, hanging onto his brows and lashes for a moment before it trailed down further and gathered at his jaw. His lips raised into a sweet smile and even his eyes had curved. “That was a lot of fun.”
Zhu Hong nodded. “You can stay here for as long as you want.”
Zhen Zhu reached out and clung to his husband’s neck again, his smile not diminishing in the least while he shook his head. “No need. While it was fun, there are still so many more things to see. Let’s go do something else instead. We can come back here another day.”
Zhu Hong nodded, a hint of relief showing in his eyes. He knew he shouldn’t think like this but he still was a little afraid inside. He needed some time to deal with those feelings so it was best to focus on something else first.
He gently wrapped Zhen Zhu in his arms and brought him back to the edge of the spring. He lifted him up and out of the water before he pulled himself up. The two of them got dressed again, Zhu Hong’s mood still complicated while Zhen Zhu was brimming with happiness. Finally, they left the building, going to look at some of the others that Zhen Zhu hadn’t seen yet.
When half the day had gone by, Zhu Hong brought Zhen Zhu back to the building of the phoenixes. They said goodbye at the door and he left to go and prepare everything else that Zhen Zhu would need in the upcoming weeks.
Today, Zhen Zhu wasn’t as worried anymore and rushed right in, smiling brightly at the other phoenixes inside. Nothing could be seen of sister Yu Sui or Dong Ling but he saw the phoenix with the wavy pink hair again, as well as a few of the others that he had gotten to know yesterday.
He didn’t know any of them closer yet, so he figured that today would be a good opportunity to change that. He went to sit down next to the one with the wavy hair, looking at her with brightly shimmering eyes.
The female phoenix raised her brows, wondering what exactly Zhen Zhu might want. Looking at him like this, she felt that he really was like a cute junior that they should all take care of. This was probably the kind of phoenix that looked the most like they had just hatched. She still remembered how Dong Ling had already looked so mature and serious the first day after he arrived. It had really been no fun! Thinking for a bit, she reached out and gently patted Zhen Zhu’s hair, realizing that it was a bit wet. “Did you go to have a swim?”
Zhen Zhu nodded happily, touching his hair that was hanging down over his shoulder. “Mn. My husband took me around the valley a bit more. I think by now, I’ve seen almost everything.”
The other phoenix laughed, feeling that Zhen Zhu didn’t have a good grasp on how big the valley really was. In any case, there were still several hundred dragons living here together with their spouses. So the valley also couldn’t be considered small. But in any case, it was nice to see that he got along so well with his husband. “Well, that’s really nice of him. I guess you’ll be able to go wherever you want to on your own in the future then. If you need help finding something though, can always ask us.”
Zhen Zhu gave a hum and then couldn’t hold back the question he had been thinking about since coming in. “Big sister, what’s your name?”
The phoenix laughed again and patted his head once more. “It’s Meiguo Shiying. You can just call me Shiying if you want to though.”
Zhen Zhu nodded, committing it to memory. Actually, he felt that the name really fit her quite well. Then again, that really wasn’t strange. Usually, the phoenixes would be named after the shell of their egg if the memory of his clan wasn’t wrong. There were hardly any phoenixes that were given a name different from that. And usually, the shell already gave an idea about what the phoenix inside would look like.
Zhen Zhu hadn’t seen his own shell but looking at himself, he was pretty sure that it should have been a pearly white with an apricot-colored pattern. That was why his parents had decided to call him Zhen Zhu after that base color of his egg.
Zhen Zhu fell into deep thought, wondering just what his egg had looked like. Most likely, he should ask Zhu Hong about it when they met up in the evening.
Shiying raised her brows, wondering what exactly that little phoenix in front of her was pondering. Was it so strange to not call her whole name? There were quite a few phoenixes with similar names around, so this might indeed be a bit confusing for him. She just gave him time to get used to the thought, patiently waiting beside him.
After a moment, Zhen Zhu pulled himself out of his thoughts, looking up at Shiying again. “Sister Shiying, can I ask you something else?”
Shiying nodded, motioning for him to go ahead. “Whatever you want to know, you just have to say the word. Not just toward me but also toward the others. We’re all helping each other here.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and then pondered how to say what had just gone through his mind. “Well, when you said your name, I couldn’t help but remember that it’s our parents who give us our names, right? So … I was wondering about my parents. When do we usually meet them?” He remembered that from the memories of his clan that they should be there at the wedding but he hadn’t seen them. So he wasn’t quite sure what to make of this. Maybe he was just wrong about things.
Shiying was startled, then suddenly had a bad feeling when she looked into those guileless eyes. His parents … “Weren’t they at your wedding?”
Usually, not everyone would go to the weddings but it was at least customary for the dragon’s and phoenix’s parents, as well as for the elders of the dragon clan to be there, together with the two grandelders, and the couple getting married.
Zhen Zhu shook his head though. “No. At least nobody told me that they were my parents.” For the phoenixes, it wasn’t always obvious at a glance just who was related to whom. So as long as nobody stepped forward to tell him that they were the ones who had given birth to his egg, it would be difficult for Zhen Zhu to figure out. But nobody had stepped forward, which was quite strange.
Shiying didn’t quite know what to say for a moment and lowered her head. “Well … in that case, I’m afraid your parents might not be alive anymore.” This was really the only thing she could imagine.
Zhen Zhu’s head immediately drooped. “Oh.” He knew that Zhu Hong’s family was also dead and there was only Elder Bi who was actually unrelated to him but had more or less raised him. As a phoenix, Zhen Zhu wouldn’t have a close relationship with his parents either but he at least would’ve liked to get to know them. Now though, it turned out that they also weren’t there anymore. He couldn’t help but be a little sad about it.
Shiying reached out and rubbed his head, finally even pulling him into her arms. “I’m sorry. Don’t take it too hard. In any case, even if your parents aren’t here, don’t you still have your husband? And who knows? There might not be either of your parents around but you could have some aunts and uncles or maybe a grandmother or grandfather who are still alive. You should ask Grandelder Lan Jing about it when you visit the forest next month.”
Zhen Zhu raised his head, looking as if he was slowly revitalizing in her arms. Right. Even if there were no parents, there might be other relatives around. He shouldn’t give up hope yet! He nodded seriously, indicating that he would definitely do so when the time came.
Shiying was also relieved when she saw that he took it this well. In any case, she really didn’t know how to cheer up a little phoenix like this when the subject was so serious. It probably would’ve been best to get his husband here to deal with it.
Feeling that she really couldn’t take another attack of such sadness, she hurriedly cleared her throat and motioned upward. “How about I show you the rest of the house? With everybody asking questions yesterday, you didn’t really have time to look around, did you?”
Zhen Zhu shook his head and immediately jumped to his feet. “I didn’t. But I would love to see everything, sister Shiying!”
Shiying laughed, then got up as well, taking his hand to pull him forward. “Let’s go then. I’m sure you will love it!”
The two of them went to the back of the room where a staircase was leading up to the next floors.
Zhen Zhu curiously looked around when they stepped on the stairs and noticed from up above that there were actually a few other rooms further in the back of the first floor. He hadn’t seen those either yet but he figured that there would still be time for that later on.
When they reached the top floor right beneath the roof, Zhen Zhu’s eyes grew bigger. This really was a place made for the phoenixes to enjoy themselves. There were not only huge windows for them to look out over the other buildings but also what looked like nests.
Shiying put a finger against her lips, motioning at him to be silent, and then pointed over to one of the nests. A phoenix with gray and dark violet feathers was lying in there that shimmered in the light as if they were translucent. “That’s Ying Shi. Us phoenixes can come here to have some rest so when you come up here, you should lower your voice a bit. It’s not a problem to talk but you shouldn’t make too much noise.”
Zhen Zhu nodded eagerly, actually wanting to give it a try. But when he looked over at Ying Shi, he suddenly felt self-conscious. The phoenix over there was so big that he filled the whole nest, some of his feathers even resting on top of the edge. In comparison, Zhen Zhu … he hadn’t taken that good of a look but he was pretty sure that he still fit snuggly on his husband’s chest. He definitely couldn’t compare with this.
Seeing his drooping head, Shiying felt panicked. What was it with this little phoenix? Why was he suddenly changing his mood all the time? Didn’t he like this place? She reached out, gently patted his shoulder, and then motioned down again. In any case, even if they wanted to talk, this wasn’t the right place to do so.
Zhen Zhu followed her in a low mood. As soon as they stopped on the next floor, Shiying turned back around to him. “What’s the matter, Zhen Zhu? You don’t like it?” Usually, phoenixes actually preferred to rest in a nest like this. It was just that it was more convenient to sleep together with their partners so they usually wouldn’t bring it up at home.
At most, there were a few that would do so when they were expecting their first child because they felt it would make a bit of a difference just where those eggs were laid. Normally, there wouldn’t be a single dragon who wouldn’t immediately rush about to make everything possible for their pregnant spouse. But outside of those times, this really was a rare luxury for the phoenixes so they had made this place for themselves.
Zhen Zhu wasn’t quite sure how to say what he was thinking or if it was even a good idea to speak about it but looking up at the ceiling he finally figured that it also couldn’t hurt. “That … Brother Ying Shi is so much bigger than me. I probably wouldn’t even fill out the bottom of a nest like that.”
Shiying stared at him, wondering if there was something more to come but Zhen Zhu already fell silent again, looking depressed. Thinking about it for a moment, she finally figured that he probably felt that he wasn’t very impressive as a phoenix.
She couldn’t help but laugh when she realized and reached out to rub his head. “You, ah! Why would you be worried about that? You just hatched a few days. Of course, you will still be a little smaller. Just wait a week or two and you will probably also be as big as brother Ying Shi.”
Zhen Zhu looked up, a little worried if she was really telling the truth. In any case, he felt like he was a really small phoenix. Shiying looked as if she was serious about this though. Thus, he finally just nodded. So far, she had been really nice to him. Most likely, she wouldn’t lie about this.
Seeing that Zhen Zhu was slowly coming around, Shiying smiled brightly, and then pulled him in the direction of the next room. “Well, if you’re not worried anymore, then let me show you the other fun things that we can do here.”
Zhen Zhu wasn’t quite sure what to expect but when she finally opened the door next to the staircase for him, his eyes immediately widened and then sparkled with joy. It seemed that the phoenixes in the dragon valley really knew how to play.
Similar to how the nests up on the third floor had filled most of that place, the second floor was mostly filled with big branches that were extending out from the wall, a swing tied to each of them. No wonder that the other phoenixes would come here regularly. Not only could they have a chat with the others of their kind and rest up, but they could also play to their hearts’ content here. Who wouldn’t be in love with this place?
Shiying laughed again when she saw his expression and pulled him over to the swing, motioning for him to get on top while she went to another one that was hanging from a branch a little bit further away. “You’ll see, it’s always nice to play around here.” Saying so, she started to swing her legs, the hem of her robe, as well as her sleeves and hair, swaying with the movement. Soon enough, she was able to lift off the ground quite far, looking a bit as if she was flying.
Zhen Zhu’s eyes sparkled even more and he started to imitate her, soon getting the hang of it. At the same time, he couldn’t help but wonder if flying really was like this. Because he had only hatched two days ago, he hadn’t had a chance to try it out yet. He should probably do so when he got home today. Thinking of that, Zhen Zhu became even more excited, soon forgetting about the time, and only remembering when Shiying told him that it was about time to leave or his husband would have to wait too long.
At that time, Zhen Zhu hadn’t even seen the rooms on the first floor he had been curious about. But remembering that Zhu Hong had just wanted to take care of a few things before he came back to get him, Zhen Zhu immediately panicked and rushed out, colliding with a broad chest. He looked up, and the panic vanished, giving way to happiness. “Zhu Hong!”
Zhu Hong nodded and leaned down, kissing his husband’s cheek. “Did you have fun today?” Actually, he didn’t need to ask. It was clear as day that Zhen Zhu had enjoyed himself quite well. He looked up. Seeing Shiying, he inclined his head toward her. “Sister Meiguo Shiying, thank you for taking care of Zhen Zhu.”
Shiying just waved. “It was my pleasure. You should take the little one home now.”
Zhu Hong nodded and then put an arm around Zhen Zhu’s waist, leading the way.