Zhu Hong knew Elder Bi just as well as the rest of his family did. Thus, he was also pretty worried that he would just follow them himself or send one of the others to do so secretly, still causing a situation that he didn’t want.
Even if Zhen Zhu wouldn’t be able to notice, as his husband, he needed to tell him if it happened. Otherwise, could Zhen Zhu really trust him in the future? He felt that this was important.
The only thing he would never tell him about was how he was lacking that bond with him because he was sure that it would hurt him much too deeply. Just think of how he had reacted when he told him that he didn’t immediately want children! Even though he had come around later on after he had explained it and then probably a little more after Grandelder Lan Jing had also said that she thought it might be better to wait a bit more, things would be different if it was about the bond. He didn’t dare to give that a try.
He hurriedly flew over to a small grove not too far away from the valley and stopped there, turning back and looking up into the sky.
Zhen Zhu was confused and hurriedly clung to his waist, looking up together with him. “What’s the matter?” He only dared to whisper, afraid that there was something grave going on and that he would make things worse if he was too loud.
Zhu Hong realized that he had probably scared his spouse so he hurriedly hugged him back to reassure him before he explained. “It’s not anything bad. Just that I know Elder Bi rather well. He is the type who would say he won’t get involved and then still do it. He is a bit of a mother hen when it comes to his children. And I guess he does see us the same way. So I’m afraid he will follow along.”
Zhen Zhu blinked his eyes. “But is that really be so bad?” He still didn’t get it.
Zhu Hong looked at him and then reached up, brushing through his white hair. “It wouldn’t be bad. Not that way at least but … this is our outing. And I guess I want you to feel comfortable.”
Zhen Zhu was still quite confused. “But they are like your family. And they are really nice to me. I don’t think that I would have a problem if they were around. I also really like sister Yu Sui. So if she and Hui Se came along, I definitely wouldn’t mind.”
Zhu Hong still hadn’t been able to spot anyone following them so he turned around and wrapped both his arms around Zhen Zhu’s waist. “Would you still say the same if I told you that I thought of teaching you how to fly on the way to the city? Do you want them to see?”
Zhen Zhu’s expression lit up when he heard that he would be taught to fly and then crumbled as soon as he imagined how somebody else would see that. Then, he wildly shook his head. “No, I wouldn’t!” It was embarrassing enough that he was small and everybody treated him like a child even though he was also a fully-hatched phoenix and just needed a bit more time to reach his full size in his phoenix form.
This was a normal thing that everyone went through. He didn’t quite understand why he was treated like a baby. The only one who didn’t was his husband. Although even when it came to him, he knew that Zhu Hong probably saw him like a chick that needed to be taken care of. Look at how he was always rubbing his head! People did that with their dragon children as well. He had seen it more than once in the valley.
Zhu Hong couldn’t help but feel that his little spouse was suddenly angry when his expression changed yet again. “What’s the matter? You don’t want to learn?”
Zhen Zhu didn’t quite know how to put his thoughts into words. He hemmed and hawed a bit before finally, he pursed his lips. “It’s not that I don’t want to learn. But just said … I’m almost fully grown even in my phoenix form. Why are people still treating me like a child?”
Zhu Hong was confused for a moment as to how his spouse had arrived at that thought but not considering that, he had a feeling of enlightenment. Well, he probably should’ve expected this. From the very beginning, he had realized that Zhen Zhu had this wish of seeming more sophisticated, more mature. He hated that he had this kind of cute face that just made people want to pinch his cheeks and mother him. And unfortunately, since he was the newest addition to the dragons’ valley, whether it was the dragons or phoenixes, this feeling was even stronger.
He sighed when he thought of that and felt that his little spouse was actually pitiful in that regard. “Well, you are naturally right that nobody needs to treat you like this. You’ve hatched so you’re officially an adult. But I guess it is happening because you are the youngest one who just came into the valley. People feel that they need to take care of you. I can imagine that it might be aggravating for you. I’m sorry about that. As your husband, maybe I should’ve shut that down already.”
“You’re not any better! You always pat my head like that.”
Zhu Hong raised his vermilion brows, not quite sure what to make of this. “You don’t like when I do that?” To be honest, he felt like Zhen Zhu looked at him as if he really wanted him to pat his head every now and then. He had even gotten into the habit of nuzzling the spot beneath his chin with his head. If that wasn’t because he wanted to be patted, then what was the reason?
Zhen Zhu was at a loss when he was asked that. To be honest … “Well, I do! But it still makes me feel like a child.”
Zhu Hong wasn’t sure how to react to that. So he wasn’t really wrong to do it but at the same time, he was? He didn’t know what to make of that. He pondered for a while and then finally resolved to maybe just not doing it as often. And maybe there were other things he could do to make Zhen Zhu not feel as bad about this.
In any case … “I think you don’t need to worry too much. This is merely a temporary matter. As soon as one of the others gets married or somebody has a dragon child, they would probably start pampering that person in the same way. Then, they might already treat you differently.
“Also, with every day spent in the valley or traveling outside, you will learn new things. When you have become accustomed to everything, they won’t have a reason to treat you like this any longer. Right now, they probably feel that there are still many things that you need to learn. So that is also what they focus on. But soon enough, you won’t need that anymore. Then, I’m sure that their treatment of you will also change.”
Zhen Zhu still didn’t quite know how to react to that at first but after thinking for a bit, he felt that Zhu Hong was right. Yes, most likely, it was just a question of time until he wouldn’t have to deal with this anymore. He just had to wait for a bit and everything would change. And the more he and Zhu Hong did together, the faster this would go.
Thinking of that, he looked up at his husband with glimmering eyes. “Then, in that case, after going to the city, can we travel around a little more? I’m sure there must be many other interesting places.”
Zhu Hong’s gaze turned indulgent. “Certainly, we can. But maybe let’s not jump in headfirst. For now, we haven’t even gone to the city. I suggest we first go there, have a look around, and see how it goes. After that, we can still decide what to do next. There is no reason to do that yet already, right?”
Zhen Zhu pursed his lips but he felt that his husband wasn’t completely wrong either. “Well, if you insist.” He wouldn’t make trouble for him. And he could see that Zhu Hong was quite right. It might indeed be better if they waited a bit longer before making any decisions.
Zhu Hong nodded and then motioned ahead. “Well, first, I would suggest we go to the city. My idea was that I would fly a bit of the way until we get somewhere where you can try flying yourself more easily. Then, when you can do it yourself, we could even fly together for the rest of the way if you want to. If you don’t want to, I absolutely don’t mind carrying you though. The decision is all yours.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and interlaced his fingers with Zhu Hong’s, the previous unhappiness already forgotten. He was really looking forward to this trip. “Then where can we try?”
Zhu Hong gave a hum, looked around, and then motioned ahead. “Well, it’s not really convenient to do it where the trees are standing too close. You need enough space to be able to change forms and then, there also shouldn’t be too many obstacles around at first. So maybe let’s find a clearing or go to the other side. How about a nice walk there? I think there’s still enough time for that.”
Even though it was getting later, there was still enough time to have a try. If Zhen Zhu still couldn’t do it, he could just fly the rest of the way to the city. If he managed to do it though, then he would just let him play around for a bit and then they could speed up on the rest of the path to make up for that time. He didn’t think that there would be a problem.
Zhen Zhu was immediately on board when his husband made the suggestion. He happily followed him and soon enough, the two of them managed to find a clearing.
The surroundings of the dragons’ valley were a mixture of other valleys and hills interspersed with some higher mountains, some barely reaching up above the crowns of the trees while the others seemed high enough to be able to touch the clouds and vanish in the realm above.
The grove where they had landed was growing on the side of one of the higher mountains. A stream was running down from above, tinkling as it made its way past them and even further down.
Zhen Zhu’s eyes immediately lit up when he saw this and he pulled at Zhu Hong’s hand, pulling him over to take a closer look.
Zhu Hong smiled and followed him over, actually regretting a little that they hadn’t waited until the morning to leave. Looking at how Zhen Zhu was currently behaving, he probably would have liked to have some more time to explore.
Zhen Zhu really would’ve loved to run about but he got that there wasn’t enough time so he finally turned back to his husband, looking at him expectantly. “So, do we try it now?” His expression suggested that while he was looking forward to giving it a try, he was also afraid that it might not work out. Clearly, his last attempt had caused him some worry.
Zhu Hong almost wanted to reach up and rub his head but held back at the last moment when he remembered what Zhen Zhu had said before. “Well, I think this place isn’t bad. Just make sure you don’t get too close to the water.” The stream wasn’t that deep and Zhen Zhu could swim anyway but he still wanted to make sure that nothing happened. In this kind of mountainside, it was always possible that there was something underwater that they didn’t expect. So it was better to be a little more careful.
Zhen Zhu obediently nodded and then let go of his husband’s hand, changing to his other form. Just like in the morning, it was clear that he still hadn’t exactly reached the full size of an adult phoenix but he was close to that. In a day or two, he might already be fully grown.
Zhu Hong took a step back, making sure that he wouldn’t get into his husband’s path. The first few attempts could be quite difficult from what he had heard so he didn’t want to add any more trouble.
Zhen Zhu focused his gaze on the ground in front of him and then started to flap his wings. Compared to the last time he tried this, there was a lot more wind being generated, clearly showing that he wasn’t the small chick anymore that he had originally been. Just a week could make a big difference for the phoenixes.
Unfortunately, even though he flapped his wings, he still didn’t manage to take off the ground and only lost his balance.
Zhu Hong wanted to rush over but then held back at the last moment. “Don’t worry, it might take a few tries. Just try again.” From what he had just seen, he was pretty sure that Zhen Zhu could do it. It was just that he was nervous and all tensed up, making it difficult to actually get it right.
Zhen Zhu looked up at him with his eyes teary but indeed got up again and started anew.
Zhu Hong watched him, his heart feeling pain when he saw his husband this worried about whether he could do it or not. “Don’t worry about it. I think that your attempt just now looked already much better than at the beginning of the week. I think if you try once or twice more, you’ll be able to soar through the sky.”
Zhen Zhu’s expression immediately became better. Come to think of it, he had also felt that his wings were much stronger than before. Clearly, with these wings, he should be able to do it!
Having calmed down, he tried again and this time, his body soon lifted off the ground, and he slowly made his way up little by little. He was a little unsteady, not having figured out that part yet but he did manage to rise into the air. His eyes widened and he turned to look at his husband, barely managing to keep in the air.
Zhu Hong laughed and really wanted to follow along but he didn’t dare to do that yet. Right now, Zhen Zhu wasn’t that high up yet and he also still seemed to have some trouble. It was best to give him some more time. “You’re doing great! Just try out some more. Try to fly a bit higher or turn on the spot, just make sure that you keep steady.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and then tried the things that his husband had suggested, first trying to go up and down, which actually went quite well after a few tries. His body didn’t shake as much anymore and with each time that he tried, it seemed to be getting easier.
Having had some success, Zhen Zhu’s confidence soared just like his body. He started to fly in a circle and it actually worked out on the first try. By now, he was much steadier than at the beginning as well. In any case, flying was something that was inherent to the phoenixes. Naturally, after having reached this size, he would be able to do it with a bit of practice.
After a few more rounds, he let himself fall back to the ground, and then turned back, rushing over to his husband, and throwing himself into his arms. “I did it! I can fly!”
Zhu Hong laughed, happy to see him this excited. “You really did it! I knew you could do it.” He leaned down and kissed him, his eyes glittering with happiness. “Looks like soon enough, the two of us will be able to soar through the sky together.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and hugged him again before he pulled him over to the edge of the river. “Let’s take a break. After that, I can try to fly with you to the city myself.”
Zhu Hong was slightly worried that he might not be able to take the distance but he still nodded. In any case, if Zhen Zhu really got too tired on the way, he could just pick him up and carry him the rest of the distance. There was no reason to needlessly worry about anything else first.
Sitting down next to him, he looked around and figured that this was a rather romantic spot actually. They were alone, there was the sound of the water splashing next to them, a cool breeze even though the weather was warm and in the distance, there was the brilliant golden shine of the evening sun.
Thinking for a moment, he took out his xun, putting it to his lips and playing a tune. He still hadn’t been able to remember the one his father played for his mother back then but he could make his own for Zhen Zhu. He would just see what he liked and then go from there.
It could be their own melody, something that was only shared between them. And whenever they were going to have a child in the future, he would teach them the same song. Then, there wouldn’t be a child left wondering about this kind of thing in the future. No, he would make sure that he prepared even though he wanted to spend the rest of eternity with Zhen Zhu and the small family they would hopefully have one day. For now though, it was enough to just have this moment.