Whether it was Zhen Zhu or Zhu Hong, they both slept for several hours before they woke up, finally feeling as if they had regained their full strength.
Zhu Hong waited for Zhen Zhu to hop down from his chest and then rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. The last few days almost seemed like a dream. They had been hectic but also enticing.
To be honest, after a few days of rest, he absolutely wouldn’t mind to either return to that city or go and visit some other place with Zhen Zhu. He liked going on that kind of journey with him.
To see Zhen Zhu’s eyes light up whenever there was something new for him to see … it made him feel that he was doing the right thing. As if this small family of theirs was exactly where it should be. To see that smile more often, he would be willing to do a lot of things, don’t mention going to have some fun in a different place.
While Zhu Hong was thinking about those things, Zhen Zhu was sitting at the edge of the bed in his phoenix form, wondering if it would be a problem to try flying right now. He still remembered that Zhu Hong had said that he should first learn to do it well before they left for another place. Thus, he’d better start trying early.
He was a little afraid though. The last time, while he had been able to fly on the spot, actually moving a distance and getting to a certain goal was difficult. He was afraid that he wouldn’t manage to do it.
After a moment, Zhu Hong finally realized that something was going on. He raised his brows before turning onto his side again and reaching out to Zhen Zhu, rubbing his back. “What’s the matter?” To be honest, he had never seen Zhen Zhu just crouching in his phoenix form, not doing anything. He didn’t quite seem like his energetic little spouse.
Zhen Zhu looked over the shoulder and finally decided not to do it. He changed back and rolled over to his husband, hugging his waist. “What if I can’t learn to fly well?”
Zhu Hong’s brows wandered even higher and he immediately hugged Zhen Zhu back. “Why wouldn’t you? You’re a phoenix. It’s in your nature to fly. Even if it might be a bit difficult at first, I’m sure that you’ll be able to do it.”
Zhen Zhu nodded even though he wasn’t completely convinced yet. In any case, he wouldn’t give up immediately. He would at least give himself a few days to try some more.
Seeing that his expression was a little better, Zhu Hong sighed and then motioned over to the chest standing at the side where they were keeping Zhen Zhu’s clothes. “We should get dressed. Chengse invited us over to eat after we finish sleeping. I guess they were pretty worried about us when we came home looking this beat.”
“They also worried when we needed too long in the forest. I guess they always worry no matter what we do.”
Zhu Hong nodded slowly while brushing through Zhen Zhu’s hair, his expression pensive. “I guess that is how family works.”
Zhen Zhu peered at his face and felt like something was up. Before this, Zhu Hong had always said that they were like his family but there had always seemed to be a hint of hesitation. Now, things were different. He had no idea how that had suddenly come about but he was happy for him.
When he had found out that he didn’t have a family of his own anymore, he had been sad. But realizing that at least Grandelder Lan Jing was a relative of his, he had been happy again. While it wasn’t bad to have his little family with Zhu Hong and also Elder Bi and his family, he didn’t want to miss that link to his past.
Those parents that found a cozy spot for him on the mountain, who had been awaiting his return, he didn’t want to let go of them completely even though they weren’t here anymore and he had never even met them. After all, could there ever be too many people caring about you?
Anyway, for Zhu Hong to be able to get closer to Elder Bi and his family was something that he really wished for him to have. It could probably give him some sense of belonging. Something that even he as his spouse might not be able to do because he wasn’t of the dragon tribe and also hadn’t grown up here.
While he had found his sense of belonging in Zhu Hong, maybe it wasn’t the same the other way around. He didn’t know. He just felt that it couldn’t hurt to have some more people in his life who would be there for him. He wanted Zhu Hong to be happy.
Thinking of that, Zhen Zhu finally got up and went to pick out a nice robe, only to find his husband still lying in bed when he turned around. He smiled and then rushed back over, kneeling down next to him and putting his hands on his chest. “Ah, I’m already up and dressed and you are still lying here? Weren’t you the one who promised we would go over? Don’t tell me you don’t want anymore.”
Zhu Hong looked up and chuckled, reaching out to rub Zhen Zhu’s cheek with his thumb. “It’s alright. I just need a minute.”
“A minute to get dressed or a minute to think through whatever it is that is going through your mind right now?”
Zhu Hong glanced at him, his gaze seeming even more pensive than before. Clearly, he was thinking about whether he should tell him or not.
Zhen Zhu hesitated for a moment and then still spoke up. In any case, they were husbands. What was there to hesitate over? “You know, you can tell me. It’s alright. No matter what it is.”
Zhu Hong sat up at that and pulled him into his arms, his gaze serious. “I’m not sure how to say this. It is just that these days with you … they’ve made me feel different about some things. Including my relationship with Elder Bi and his family. You know, all these years, maybe I’ve been too hung up on technicalities.”
Zhu Hong faintly furrowed his vermilion brows and gave a hum, trying to find the right words to express what he meant. “Think about what we talked about with Grandelder Lan Jing. I always thought that the only way to be a partner was to have a bond. I never thought that there could be another way.
“Even if I had known there was another way, I might’ve thought that it was wrong. But the only one who was wrong was me. Because I didn’t understand. I didn’t realize that the bond was just a means to an end, not the actual goal.
“And now that we’ve come back, I couldn’t help but think that maybe … family is the same. Yes, you can be bound by blood. But maybe just like with the bond that isn’t the important part.
“Maybe that is what originally connects us but even without that bond of blood, we can still be a family. And maybe in comparing myself to Elder Bi’s actual children, I was robbing myself and him and the other members of his family of something that we could have had. So maybe I was wrong again in regard to that.”
Zhen Zhu didn’t quite know how to react to that. He had asked and he was happy that Zhu Hong was willing to tell him what was going through his mind but he wasn’t sure what to say to help him.
Right now, it seemed as if Zhu Hong had already reached the end of this line of thought and had come to terms with it. That was a good thing. He should probably reassure him of that. But he felt like Zhu Hong probably didn’t even need that reassurance. Although … looking into his eyes, there seemed to be a faint hint of regret. Yes, most likely, he regretted having needed so long to realize. He felt that it was a pity to have wasted so many years where he could have had them as a family.
Zhen Zhu lowered his head for a moment and then just leaned forward, hugging him gently. “You know, it’s not too late to change it. You might have been worried about things the last few years but it can be different now. You can’t change the past but you can change your behavior going forward.
“I don’t think it would make a difference to them. It won’t make one for me either.” In any case, he would also love to have a bigger family. And to him, Elder Bi’s family was precisely that. After all, sister Yu Sui was the one who had introduced him to the other phoenixes and been there for him. And in any case, Zhu Hong’s family was his family as well.
He didn’t know what else to say so he just continued to hold his husband, trying to reassure him with his presence. In any case, where words couldn’t help anymore, actions might speak louder.
Zhu Hong hugged him back, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Yes, Zhen Zhu was right. He couldn’t change how he had behaved in the past years but that didn’t mean that things had to continue the same way in the future.
He could allow himself to be close to the others, closer than he had been, from this moment on. It wasn’t wrong and he didn’t have to worry about what would happen should there ever be a falling out. In any case, why was he expecting one? So far, they had always gotten along. And he felt that if he allowed himself, things might get even better.
Yes, that was what he should believe in. And even if something happened, it would be possible to find a way to deal with things. Yes, in a family, if there was a problem, you would try and solve it together.
Having made up his mind, Zhu Hong rubbed his spouse’s back and then motioned to the other side of the room. “Well, thank you for listening and for saying that. You’re right with everything. So, let’s starts right now. I’ll just put on some clothes real quick and then we can go. I’m sure they want to know everything we’ve seen in the city.”
Zhen Zhu nodded and then jumped out of the bed, swirling around on the spot once before he turned back to his husband. “Just because we’re family, that doesn’t mean that we have to tell them everything though, right?”
Zhu Hong had just knelt down to open the chest and was taking out a robe when he heard that. He couldn’t help but turn around and raise his brows. “Is there something that they shouldn’t know?”
Zhen Zhu didn’t speak immediately and just shifted on the spot while Zhu Hong continued to take out the robe and put it on. Only when his husband had finished and came over to stand in front of him did he finally look up and get it out with. “You don’t have to tell them that I still can’t fly well. It’s embarrassing.”
Zhu Hong looked at him indulgently, finally leaning down and cupping his cheeks before he gave him a gentle kiss. “We won’t tell them anything you don’t want them to be told. But you don’t have to be embarrassed.
“You’ve only hatched a week and a half ago. Now, you’ve probably reached your full size so it’s the perfect time to try. It’s not a problem if you aren’t able to do it just yet. In another half a week, this might already be looking completely different. Still, if you don’t want them to know, I certainly won’t tell them.”
Zhen Zhu nodded, although he had to admit that Zhu Hong wasn’t completely wrong. It probably wouldn’t be a problem to tell them. Still, he couldn’t help his feelings. “Anyway, let’s go eat! I’m starving.” He hurriedly turned around, grasping Zhu Hong’s hand and pulling him out of the house.
Zhu Hong was pretty sure that he wasn’t starving considering that eating was the one type of break they had actually taken in the city but he didn’t expose him and just followed him out of the house and then over to Elder Bi’s.
Before they even managed to reach the door, it was already opened and Elder Bi came rushing toward them.
Zhu Hong almost wanted to laugh and couldn’t help but lean closer to Zhen Zhu. “He was definitely waiting for us to come over right behind some window, looking out constantly to see whether we were on our way yet and cursing at the same time because we were too slow for him.”
Zhen Zhu just smiled and then snuggled up to his husband’s side, feeling that it was really nice to come home. While he loved seeing the city, he also loved being in the dragons’ valley where they knew people and would be greeted like this. Who wouldn’t be happy about being this welcome?
The two of them went over, greeting Elder Bi who immediately started to alternately curse them and ask how they were feeling. Clearly, he had been worried about them even though Zhu Hong had told him that they were just tired.
Zhu Hong just chuckled, not worried about this at all. Usually, Elder Bi would try to pretend that everything was in order and that he was a calm man that would never lose his cool no matter the situation. But it was moments like these when it became obvious that he wasn’t like that at all.
In fact, inside, he was the type of person that was always worried about his family and couldn’t help but think about them every moment of the day, wondering if something had gone wrong anywhere and if his help was needed. And then, he was probably embarrassed about that so he tried to hide it behind a tough attitude but couldn’t quite bring himself to do that either.
It really was endearing to watch. Especially today. Thus, Zhu Hong was in a very good mood when he entered the house and greeted the others.
Once again, the whole family had gathered together from Elder Bi and Chengse to their children with their spouses and their children. Everyone was talking over each other, asking how they had been, whether they had slept enough yet, whether they were hungry, what exactly they wanted to eat, and how everything had gone well in the city.
For the time being, the two of them didn’t even manage to get a single word in so Zhu Hong pulled Zhen Zhu to sit down, leaning back while everyone else was chattering. Finally, Chengse remembered that instead of asking them, it might be better to just get the food out that she had prepared before these two would actually starve in their house.
When all the bowls and plates had been spread out on the table, the others finally also quieted down, letting Zhen Zhu and Zhu Hong talk about their experience. Zhu Hong actually held back and just let Zhen Zhu talk, looking at his spouse while he was excitedly recounting all the things they had seen and done.
In the meantime, he made sure to put some food into his bowl or even just directly hand it to him so that he just needed to take a bite and chew and could then continue talking right the next moment. He was afraid that if he didn’t do that, his little spouse would probably not eat anything and really feel like he was starving later on.
Zhen Zhu was indeed not thinking much about the food. Even though he was sure that Chengse and the others had put quite a lot of effort in, he was much more interested in telling them everything. After all, there had been so many things, he wanted to share all of them with their family.
The others happily listened and watched as Zhu Hong sat to the side and fed him. Just like Grandelder Lan Jing, they also had the feeling that they had an especially suitable couple in front of them. Thinking back to their own past when they had just married, they figured that they hadn’t been quite as intimate with each other at this stage.
And their family, Elder Bi and Chengse were actually the ones who had the worst start. Because of Bi’s personality, Chengse hadn’t been at ease until she finally realized that behind that tough attitude was actually a man that loved her very much.
As a result, Chengse had made sure that her dragon children would do better than their father and had even gone to talk to Hui Se after she carried Yu Sui’s egg down the mountain.
She didn’t know if it had been that stern talking to she had given them but all their children had had it much easier than them. But looking at Yu Sui and Hui Se as an example, even they had needed a few more weeks to get to such a point because Yu Sui had always been shy and first needed to be coaxed out of her shell by Hui Se. To see Zhu Hong and Zhen Zhu like this … it really made her heart overflow with warmth.
Finally, Zhen Zhu came to the end of his tale, stopping at the time they had made a stop at that food stall before they left the city. He didn’t mention how his husband had carried him back even though it should be obvious just based on the fact that the others had seen them return.
At this moment, he didn’t think of that though. He was just really proud that he had managed to leave out all the parts that would make it clear that he still couldn’t fly. Well, now, he had talked quite a lot.
When he realized this, he looked around, trying to find something to eat only to figure out that actually, he wasn’t hungry anymore. He stared at the table blankly for a moment and then turned to look at his husband who was currently raising his chopsticks again, holding another piece of food in front of his mouth.
Zhen Zhu blinked his eyes but obediently opened his mouth, feeling that this explained what had happened. He actually hadn’t noticed at all while talking.
The others laughed when they witnessed this exchange.
“Looks like you had quite a lot of fun in the city. Maybe it’s really good that we didn’t accompany you.” Hui Se looked at the two of them with glittering eyes and then turned to her own wife. “Maybe the two of us should also go some time. It seems like it’d be a lot of fun with just the two of us.”
Yu Sui chuckled as well. “You shouldn’t expect too much. I’m not as outgoing as Zhen Zhu. But I also wouldn’t mind a little vacation. Just wait a little longer.” She didn’t want to say it but she was pretty sure that there were still a lot of things that Zhen Zhu would need help with. And as the phoenix closest in age to him in their family, she felt that she should be here to help him through that. But after that, she definitely wouldn’t have anything against a trip with just her wife.
Elder Bi couldn’t help but look at his daughter and daughter-in-law, feeling that they were really taking this too easy. “Do you also need to do this? If you really want to go out, why not go out as one big family with all of us? That way, everyone will be much safer.”
Hui Se nodded. “Oh, we definitely could. It wouldn’t be a romantic trip then though. I think I like this idea of just being with my spouse. Please don’t take offense, father-in-law, but I really wouldn’t want to have you with me when I’m trying to give Yu Sui a surprise.”
Elder Bi could only make a face and then turned back to Zhu Hong and Zhen Zhu, hoping that the two of them would be more responsible in the future. “Well, you’ve had your trip now. I guess you’ll be staying in the valley from now on, right?”
Zhu Hong smiled at that, having expected nothing else. “Well, for the time being. We’ll take a rest first and then go on another one. Maybe I’ll have to go on another mission soon though. I guess we’ll see how that works out. I’ll talk with Grandelder Zise about that in the next few days.” Also, there was still his surprise for Zhen Zhu but he naturally couldn’t say that while his little spouse was right next to him. Thus, he could only keep quiet and smile to himself.
When the others saw his expression, they weren’t quite sure what to make of it. But in any case, he looked really happy and so did Zhen Zhu. So save for Elder Bi who was still worried, the others were just happy for them that things had turned out this well.