Unfortunately for the other phoenixes, they would still have to wait for quite some time to be able to do so. Seeing the nest, Zhen Zhu just couldn’t help himself. He jumped inside from Zhu Hong’s claws, looking around curiously.
Even though it had been a few days and he had grown quite a bit, he still hadn’t dared to give the ones in the phoenixes’ building of the dragons’ valley a try. He just felt that it would look ridiculous. But here, it was different. There weren’t as many people around and nobody that he knew anyway save for Grandelder Lan Jing. And he would also be expected to sleep in this nest together with his husband. It really wouldn’t be obvious just how small he was.
He looked up at Zhu Hong with glittering eyes when his husband landed and turned back into his other form, wanting to give it a try immediately.
Zhu Hong wasn’t quite sure how to react. Taking a glance at the sky, it was indeed getting a little late. After all, they had arrived late and then spent quite a bit of time at the Grandelder’s place. Now, it would get dark soon. It wasn’t necessarily time to go to sleep though. They could very well stay up a few hours more. “Didn’t you want to have a chat with the others?”
Zhen Zhu’s expression fell when his husband reacted like this. Did he have to go and have a chat with the others? To be honest, he didn’t really want to. He just wanted to give this nest a try and see if it was really better than sleeping in a bed.
Zhu Hong sighed and turned to Grandelder Lan Jing who had landed on the branch outside, giving her an apologetic smile. “Well, I guess we will already stay here if the Grandelder doesn’t mind.”
Lan Jing chuckled at his response. “I certainly don’t. I’m not quite sure if the others won’t mind but no matter what, you can just spend some time with them tomorrow morning if you want to. It was an exciting day for Zhen Zhu. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to go to sleep early.” Not that she really thought that these two would get to sleep anytime soon. That little phoenix was clearly quite excited. She didn’t think that he would be able to fall asleep for at least a couple of hours. There was certainly much to talk about.
Zhu Hong glanced at his spouse and felt that this really might be for the best. “Well, we’ll do it that way then.”
Lan Jing nodded and gave Zhen Zhu a nod as well before she turned around, jumped off the branch, and turned back into her phoenix form, flying to the ground where the others were already waiting. Turning back, she shook her head at them. “Don’t bother. They spent quite some time getting here and Zhen Zhu is probably tired. Just wait until tomorrow morning.”
The Elders’ faces immediately fell. Lan Jing just chuckled though and went back inside, leaving them to themselves. In any case, they would be able to take the disappointment for just one day.
Back in the nest, Zhen Zhu was still excitedly looking all over. Zhu Hong also took a closer look. He had been wondering about making a nest for Zhen Zhu at home but he didn’t know how exactly to go about it. Now, he was finally able to survey one up close so he could get a better understanding of them.
He tried to keep in mind what materials were used and also how it was structured, feeling that he was slowly getting a better grasp. As for the size … it was hard to say considering that Zhen Zhu still hadn’t stopped growing. Most likely, he should wait another month or two and then come back here to give it a try and see how it fit Zhen Zhu before starting to make one himself. That way, it would be easier to guarantee that his husband liked it.
Zhen Zhu finally couldn’t help himself and turned into his phoenix form, lying down. His size actually wasn’t that small anymore save for his wings that didn’t manage to fill out a good part of the nest yet. He wriggled around, trying to find the most comfortable spot. It took a while, but finally, he managed to make it work.
Lying like this, he felt happy. It was as if this was really the way it was supposed to be. Since the day when he had seen Ying Shi in the nest, he had always wanted to give it a try. Now, he finally had the chance. Why wouldn’t he be happy? He closed his eyes, actually dozing off for a few minutes, his expression one of pure bliss.
Zhu Hong stared at him, a little surprised to see this happening but finally figured that it probably was to be expected. It had indeed been a long day. No matter his excitement, Zhen Zhu was probably exhausted as well.
He sat to the side, watching over Zhen Zhu while his thoughts couldn’t help but drift back to what Lan Jing had said before. There was a lot to unpack there. There was even more to unpack in regard to his own feelings.
He had always figured that there was only one way for things to be. And when he wasn’t able to follow that path because he just did not make that kind of connection with any of the eggs on the mountain, he had figured that either there was something wrong with him or that his time hadn’t come yet and his destined partner wasn’t there yet.
But now it seemed that his thought process might have been wrong. Maybe it was more likely to assume that the dragons who had come back from the mountain empty-handed before also hadn’t been able to feel that connection and they had returned because they also felt that there was only one way for things to happen.
He likely would have done the same if not for the fact that he had been afraid of putting Elder Bi in a bad spot. That was the sole reason why he had just gone through with it and tried to make the relationship work despite everything. He had been afraid at first but by now, he was less so. He was happy with Zhen Zhu and he felt like they could really make it work. Grandelder Lan Jing’s words had made him feel that this was even more the case.
Thinking about those matters now, he felt like maybe the problem was somewhere else entirely and not on his side. Maybe the expectations that were put on the young dragons and the stories that were told to them were a cause for quite a few people’s hurt. It was actually sad to think about it that way.
On the other hand, he was happy to have it affirmed that his relationship with Zhen Zhu didn’t have to be any less. Not just because he would try his best to make him happy but also because the connection apparently wasn’t required in the way he had thought it would be. Even if it was there, things could still go wrong. So why he put so much emphasis on it in the first place? Shouldn’t have done that. As long as he was able to make this relationship work, that was enough. He realized that now.
He reached out and gently stroked Zhen Zhu’s wings, finally inching closer and turning into his dragon form as well. He made sure not to disturb him and lay down at his side, still watching him.
He didn’t know if Zhen Zhu felt that connection to him that he hadn’t been able to conjure up for that egg. But that didn’t have to mean anything. He didn’t even need to ask. It was alright as long as they kept going forward as a pair of spouses that wanted to have a future together.
He wasn’t against it. Living side-by-side, sharing a home, having children … he didn’t mind that. In fact, not being alone anymore, gaining a family, those were both things that he actually liked to have.
Thinking of that, Zhu Hong felt contended and finally couldn’t help but doze off as well, proving that Lan Jing didn’t quite know this pair of husbands yet. Clearly, they were able to rest even though they had originally been agitated.
The one who finally woke up first was Zhen Zhu. He hadn’t really wanted to test out the nest immediately and hadn’t been that tired so his nap hadn’t actually been long. He blinked his phoenix eyes and then stretched his wings a little, finally realizing that something was different.
He turned to the side and then found out that his husband was lying next to him in his dragon form, his vermilion scales glinting in the last bit of the evening sun.
Zhen Zhu couldn’t help but stare. In the mornings, he was usually the one who woke up later so when he opened his eyes, he would find Zhu Hong up already and looking at him, maybe brushing through his feathers. Now, he actually had the chance to look at his sleeping husband.
Just thinking of that, happiness bubbled up in his heart once again. Such a good opportunity, he couldn’t let it slip away! He snuggled up to his husband and then stared into that face.
To be honest, it was quite exciting. Before this, most of their time had been spent in their other forms. So today had been the first day when he actually saw Zhu Hong’s dragon form up close. But he had been so focused on the scenery down on the ground that he hadn’t paid much attention to it. Now, things were different.
He looked at his husband’s scales and then turned back into his other form to give them a poke. They were really hard, the surface rough even though it still managed to glint in the sunlight. The impressions he got just from looking at it and actually touching it were completely different, making him feel a little awed.
Next up, he went to examine Zhu Hong’s claws. Compared to the rest of the body, they didn’t seem as imposing but when he got closer, he realized just how sharp they had to be. He had wanted to touch but finally pulled back when he saw the glint on the edge. Even though he was curious, he also didn’t want to hurt himself. If Zhu Hong woke up and saw him bleeding, he would blame himself. Who knew if he would ever get the chance to see him asleep like this again?
With Zhen Zhu playing around in the nest, jumping all over him, Zhu Hong was finally woken from his slumber. He cracked his eyes open and looked at him indulgently, letting him continue to explore until he had played to his heart’s content. Only then did he change back his form and pulled him into his arms.
Zhen Zhu fell against his broad chest with a yelp and looked up at him in surprise. “You’re awake!”
Zhu Hong leaned down and kissed his forehead, giving a nod. “I’m indeed. So, have you seen enough of your husband?”
Zhen Zhu gave a hum as if he was thinking and then shook his head. Hugging him tightly, he nuzzled the spot below his chin. “I’ll never have enough of you!”
Zhu Hong couldn’t help but laugh and brushed through Zhen Zhu’s white hair. “Well, you’ll have more time in the future for this. Now, how did you like your first little nap in a nest? Just as cozy as you imagined it?”
Zhen Zhu had been talking about those nests in the phoenixes’ building quite a few times already, clearly envious that the others could just go up there and try them out while he didn’t dare to do so because of his size. Now, he finally got around to it. He could imagine that his little spouse should be quite happy.
Zhen Zhu indeed immediately nodded his head like a chicken pecking rice. “It is awesome! Just to think that we will spend the whole night here, I’m so happy!”
Zhu Hong nodded and rubbed his head again, glancing up at the other branches that were holding nests as well. He still hadn’t told Zhen Zhu that he intended to make one himself, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to make true on that promise.
Furthermore, there were already so many others that he needed to keep like their trip to the city for example. Before he hadn’t done these things, he didn’t want to make any more promises. Otherwise, who knew if they wouldn’t turn out to be empty ones? What he promised, he should keep. So he wouldn’t say things easily.
Zhen Zhu didn’t notice that his husband was thinking of something else already. He was still completely immersed in his joy of finally getting the chance to sleep in a nest. In fact, that just now could only be called a short nap. Spending the whole night in there would probably be even more exciting so he was looking forward to it.
Zhu Hong let him have his fun. In fact, seeing Zhen Zhu this happy, he couldn’t help but think of another promise that he had made. “I already said that we could stay longer if you wanted to. So you can decide. We just have to bring it up with Grandelder Lan Jing tomorrow.”
Zhen Zhu looked up, for the first time feeling a little unsure of what he should do. He naturally liked it a lot here. For one, there was sleeping in the nest, then, there were also a lot of phoenixes around that he would love to get to know. He also hadn’t been able to take a good look at the forest yet and he still needed to make a decision regarding that feather and scale from his parents. So most likely, it would make sense to stay a little longer.
But on the other hand … he really wanted to go and see more of the world: that city that Zhu Hong had spoken about and all the things that he had seen on the way here. The forest would certainly be exciting but it was a place that he could always return to. It didn’t have the same appeal as those places outside that they would visit. So he had a hard time deciding.
Zhu Hong didn’t rush him. “You don’t need to decide immediately. If you want to, we can just stay here for the night and then talk about it again. Or you can also decide on it tomorrow whenever you feel like it. It doesn’t need to be now or right tomorrow morning. There is enough time.”
Zhen Zhu nodded, but he still wasn’t quite sure how he was supposed to make that kind of decision. He should probably try and see about that tomorrow. Speaking of decisions though … He slumped down on his husband’s chest and gave him a slightly frustrated look. “Say, what do you think it’s a love?”
Zhu Hong raised his brows. “Love?” That was a question that was a bit difficult for him to answer. “Well, if you had asked me this morning, I would’ve said that love is the bond between a dragon and phoenix.”
Zhen Zhu cupped his cheeks, seeming a little lost. “And now you’ve changed your mind?”
Zhu Hong furrowed his vermilion brows, not quite sure how to say what was going through his mind. “I’m not sure if I would say it like this. It isn’t that I really changed my mind, just that the things that Grandelder Lan Jing said before made me think. Maybe my idea of what love is was false or at least too narrow. Maybe there’s more to it and I just never thought about it. So now, I think that love can be more than just that.”
Zhen Zhu gave a hum, not quite sure what to make of that. Thinking for a bit, he finally just told his husband about what the Grandelder had told him. “Well, now, I’m not sure what to make of that.
“That feather and that scale are proof of their love. Just like the ones that we exchanged. Now, my parents aren’t here anymore. And while it would benefit us to get their feather and scale, I think it might be wrong to take them. After all, they were something that they just wanted to share with each other.”
Zhu Hong hugged his waist and took a moment to consider things from all perspectives. What Zhen Zhu said wasn’t wrong. But he also felt that maybe his little spouse hadn’t thought it through completely. “I can’t tell you what your parents would have wanted. But if I imagine that the two of us are to have a child in the future and then imagine that maybe something were to happen to us so that we couldn’t be there for them, then I think I would want them to do that.
“After all, that would give us a chance to be there for them and help them even though we can’t be there for them ourselves anymore. And that child … wouldn’t it be the result of our love? So if our love blossomed into that, would our child really not be somebody who deserves that proof of our love?”
“Oh.” Zhen Zhu’s expression turned thoughtful. Looking at it that way, that didn’t seem wrong. “Then do you think I should do it?”
Zhu Hong wasn’t quite sure how to answer that either. “I’m not sure if I would say it like this. You see, I think that it wouldn’t be a problem for you to take it. But whether you should … There’s a little more to that.
“In any case, I think that you can grow into your own strength. But it is true that without your parents guiding you or my parents guiding us, we are more vulnerable to dangers from outside than others might be.
“There just are things that we might not know about that are normal for others. Maybe at such a time, it would come in handy. But the thing is that you probably don’t need that right now. It can wait. You don’t need to make the decision right now.
“So I would say that maybe you should just give yourself more time. Just … spent some time here first, then go to the city like I promised you, and then you can decide what you want to do. I will probably have to go on some missions and then you probably also want to travel a bit with me. At that time, it might really come in handy. So maybe let’s wait until then to decide.”
Zhen Zhu nodded, already feeling that this was really the best decision. As expected of his husband, he really had the best ideas!
He snuggled up to his side and then looked at the leaves above their heads, smiling faintly. “Alright, we’ll do it that way. Just leave the decisions for the future when it’s time. It doesn’t matter what decision it is.” Yes, they didn’t need to decide today whether they would stay in the forest for a long time and they didn’t need to decide today either whether he should go and get his parents’ feather and scale. All of that could be decided on another day. For today, it was enough to just enjoy being here and make some more memories as a couple.