Azure skies stretched outside, the fluffy clouds playfully drifting as they chased each other. The weather was pleasant and warm. The energetic sounds of the wind rustling leaves and the calls of birds wove through the lazy morning, creating a peaceful scene.
Sunlight filtered through the window, setting aglow the motes of dust dancing in the air. Rays of light lit up the room in warm tones and added shine to the long stretch of hair that extended downwards until it was touching the floor.
Wei Xiang sat at the edge of the bed, his back facing outward. His hair was unbound and fell straight down his back and over the bed’s frame, brushing the ground lightly. Errant rays of light caressed the thick tresses, glinting off the silky strands.
Standing behind him, Qinghe ran a comb down the entire length of hair, a content smile on his face. He made sure to press down firmly as he pulled the comb sideways and down, massaging the scalp and dragging a low hum of pleasure from his lover. The comb traveled from the root of the hair and down to the very tip, the rhythmic drag and pull soothing them both.
Qinghe had always liked Wei Xiang’s hair. It was long and straight, its thickness thrice his own. So this morning, after waking up refreshed with his injuries all healed, he had offered to thank Wei Xiang for his considerate ‘service’ last night by brushing his hair. Though it didn’t have the slightest of tangles, they both tacitly didn’t mention the lack of need for combing. The couple just enjoyed the serene and relaxed atmosphere, wishing it could go on like this forever.
Knocks sounded against the door, interrupting the peace.
Qinghe called, “Come in.”
The door opened and the twins entered.
“Senior Brother, we’ve come to check on you,” Fei Jin announced.
Rousing from his comfortable stupor, Wei Xiang lazily reminded him, “Qinghe, remember what you promised last night.”
Ah, yes. He’d said he would apologize.
Putting down the comb, Qinghe looked at the twins with wide, dewy eyes. Using his acting skills after a long time, Qinghe said tearfully, “Jin-er, Yin-er, I’m sorry for worrying you all this time. Your senior brother only wanted to spare you trouble, but I ended up hurting you both carelessly. I was so thoughtless. I hope you won’t think me a burden and help me out from now on.”
Since this was the first time his acting had been directed at them, the twins had zero immunity. They immediately ran over to Qinghe and hugged him tight, burying their faces in his shoulders.
“Senior Brother, of course we forgive you! We’ll help you, we’ll help you!” they cried joyfully.
“I’m truly fortunate to have such understanding and adorable junior brothers!” Qinghe said with tears of gratitude brimming in his eyes.
Having to bear witness to this ridiculous scene, Wei Xiang tsked from the side.
These brats had their guards up high against everyone except Qinghe. If their senior brother asked them to jump into a bubbling pool of magma or pull out their own beating hearts, they would do it without question. As such, it was all too easy for Qinghe to just blink his eyes at them and gain their forgiveness.
Seeing his lover’s expression from the corner of his teary eyes, Qinghe looked up and sent him a wink before resuming his cheesy acting. Wei Xiang chuckled silently and shook his head as the drama continued. What more could he do?
After they finished hugging and exchanged a few more sugar-coated words sweet enough to make the audience member Wei Xiang’s teeth ache, this dramatic reunion-type scene was finally over and all was considered forgiven.
“Now that you three are done, Qinghe, continue with my hair,” Wei Xiang called.
Pouting, the twins immediately protested, “Brother Wei, are you trying to keep Senior Brother all to yourself? How stingy!”
Raising an eyebrow at their petulant tone, Wei Xiang was unimpressed as he spoke, “Just wait your turn until he’s done like good little children and maybe I’ll buy you some sweets later.”
The twins looked indignant as Fei Jin called out to Qinghe in a complaining tone, “Senior Brother!”
Chuckling, Qinghe interceded, “Alright now, be good and don’t fight. Why don’t you three spend some time together? The twins can brush Xiang’s hair for a change.”
“No!” Three resolute refusals sounded decisively in the room.
Qinghe laughed out loud at the expressions on their faces, his exuberant laughter pleasantly rippling through the air.
It was the first time in a long while that he had laughed so heartily. The three other people looked at his unhidden amusement with soft, affectionate smiles on their faces. They’d heard him chuckle but never full out laugh like this before.
When Qinghe was done, he wiped away the tears of mirth from the corners of his eyes and noticed the others looking at him with strange faces.
“What?” he asked befuddled.
The three shook their heads.
Qinghe felt amused again. These three were like a father and his sons rather than older and younger brothers. Then did that make him the mother? Qinghe wondered. But he supposed it was fitting. He had raised these two brats up after all.
“Ah! Sweets!” Fei Yin suddenly whispered as if he’d abruptly remembered something.
His eyes lighting up, Fei Jin also exclaimed, “Yes, the sweets! Senior Brother, you promised to make us some of your sweets after we were done cultivating on Starry Mountain Peak.”
“Ah, I forgot. I was searching for the ingredients when the previous matter interrupted me. Why don’t you two also help me with it like you used to when you were kids?” Qinghe promptly turned it into a family activity. Having more hands meant lesser work for him.
The twins nodded excitedly. They hadn’t done anything so much fun together in years.
Qinghe handed them the list of ingredients and the twins scurried out eagerly.
“You can cook?” Wei Xiang asked doubtfully.
With a proud sniff, Qinghe declared, “Yes, I can. But I can make only one thing.”
Unable to bear the temptation of that mouth curving haughtily, Wei Xiang got up from the bed and strode over to Qinghe, his loose hair swaying side to side seductively.
Leaning down, Wei Xiang pressed his lips to his lover’s soft ones. The air immediately seemed to heat up as their need for each other sparked. They opened their mouths and tasted each other greedily, their tongues entangling and their breaths mingling.
Hands wandered under clothes, soft moans and groans echoing in the room.
In the thick of this ambiguous atmosphere, the door suddenly slammed open as Fei Jin’s voice exuberantly announced, “Senior Brother, we found it al―”
Qinghe and Wei Xiang parted, lightly panting, cheeks still flushed with desire.
Fei Jin and Fei Yin were standing at the doorway, hands full of cooking supplies. Their eyes were round and their mouths agape. The shock was as if they had barged in on their parents doing the deed.
They had only been gone a few minutes! How did these two start getting into each other’s business so soon?!
On the other hand, Wei Xiang had similar grievances. The brats had only been gone a few minutes! Why couldn’t they have taken more time to return?!
Sighing in regret, Qinghe didn’t feel embarrassed at all as he straightened up his clothing. He casually waved the twins in and started sorting through the supplies they’d brought.
Wei Xiang went to sit back down on the bed, his expression frustrated due to thwarted desire. He wanted to kick these menaces out and continue eating up his beloved!
But seeing Qinghe happily preparing to make sweets, Wei Xiang sighed and let it go. At least he’d get to taste his lover’s cooking. That would have to make up for it now.
In the meantime, Qinghe was busy setting everything up in preparation.
First, Qinghe prepared to boil the milk. Placing a container of milk on a wooden stand, Qinghe lit up a campfire talisman. It was called that because it was used mostly to light campfires while outside in the wild. Even Qinghe and Jing Shui had used them throughout the one month they had spent in the hidden realm where they had faced the Behemoth.
The campfire talisman lit up, yellow-gold spiritual flames dancing merrily. Limiting his spiritual output to thin out the size and heat of the flames, Qinghe placed it under the wooden stand, right below the vessel full of milk. The milk slowly heated up and started simmering in a low boil.
Campfire talismans were especially good to use this way since they produced light and heat―the two elements most required from a campfire while camping―but it didn’t char or burn anything. When the flame went out, it would leave behind nothing, not even ash.
That was why Qinghe liked to use them to fashion impromptu portable stoves like this.
After carefully mixing in a generous amount of sugar and leaving the milk to condense, Qinghe began preparing the flour and the thick cream. He sorted all the materials he used as flavoring and extracted what he needed from them. He squeezed out juices from fruits and edible flowers to make food coloring that he would use to tint the sweets in mild and pleasant shades. The stone molds were also cleaned and prepared, set out to dry so that it didn’t have any dampness that could clump the flour. He chopped nuts, chose the most fragrant saffron strands, and picked the freshest and best mint leaves one by one.
Wei Xiang and the twins watched from the side, fascinated.
Qinghe neatly alternated between all these tasks, simultaneously rotating his attention in an efficient manner so that not a split second of time was wasted. His slender and nimble fingers were always gracefully at work as his eyes constantly flickered here and there, assessing and calculating. He seemed to always be in dexterous motion, yet calm and stationary at the same time.
It was mesmerizing to witness this entire process.
Qinghe might only know how to make one dish, but he had clearly perfected making it into an art form.
Seeing that those three were just staring at him as he did all the work, Qinghe spoke out, “Rather than just looking, why don’t you help me a bit here?”
Snapping to attention, the twins immediately asked, “Senior Brother, what do you need?”
Smiling, Qinghe pointed to his side and instructed, “Sit here and help me with rolling the dough into balls and putting them in the mould. Xiang, you can help by mixing in the flavor and coloring.”
Wei Xiang sighed, but also went to help.
Qinghe finally stopped the campfire talisman and removed the bowl of condensed milk. Fei Jin and Fei Yin’s eyes brightened as they practically started drooling. Knowing what they wanted, Qinghe spoke, “You can taste a little, but only a little, mind you!”
Eagerly nodding, they scooped up a little of the condensed milk and let the rich and sweet milky flavor wash over their tongues.
Qinghe offered to Wei Xiang, “Do you also want some?”
“…” Did he look as childish as that pair of brats?
After having a little taste himself, Qinghe dripped some over his finger and wiggled it in Wei Xiang’s direction temptingly. “Come on, try it. It tastes really good.”
Well, Wei Xiang felt that this was an invitation he couldn’t refuse. Leaning over, he closed his mouth over his lover’s enticing finger and enfolded it with his tongue.
Qinghe felt the warm and moist mouth enveloping his finger and flashed back to last night. His eyes darkened as Wei Xiang lightly sucked, his hot tongue moving over the smooth skin.
After sucking it clean, Wei Xiang let go and sat back, saying with satisfaction, “You’re right, it is delicious.”
The twins studiously ignored them both while nursing grievances in their hearts. These seniors were so shameless, flirting like this in broad daylight in front of their poor innocent eyes! Can’t you both save it for after we leave?
They all returned to their respective tasks, working together in harmonious silence.
“By the way,” Wei Xiang abruptly spoke, “why did you make it so hard on yourself this time? If it’s you, I know that you must have thought of many other more efficient ways to retrieve your senior brother from that place.”
The twins looked up in confusion.
Qinghe smiled wryly. His lover truly knew him well, he couldn’t get anything past him.
Fei Jin asked, “Brother Wei, what do you mean? How could there be a different way? The kidnappers had taken so many precautions!”
Wei Xiang just looked at Qinghe with a raised eyebrow as if asking him to enlighten them.
While carefully mixing the ingredients, Qinghe explained, “There were many holes in their precautions. For example, talismans and formations. Neither of them would have been hindered by the spirit-suppressing material. I could have easily taken some time to have someone draw a formation on me or hide stacks of pre-activated talismans under my clothes before leaving with them. I could have secretly hidden small weapons like needles, garrotes, spikes and stilettos, or tools like small explosives, vials with poisonous fumes, and lockpicks. I could have concealed them in my sleeves or secret pockets, in-between the layers of my clothes or within the lining of my robes. There were many loopholes and countless ways to get out of the situation.”
Sighing, Wei Xiang admonished, “And yet you used none of them.”
Qinghe helplessly smiled. “I had my reasons.”
“Oh?” Wei Xiang looked unconvinced.
“I wanted to spend a bit more time inside with Senior Brother and straighten some things out. All this while, though he remained ignorant and incompetent due to the Elders’ negligence, he also didn’t have the will to learn. He wallowed in his uselessness and plotted against me, all the while as the hate directed on him by others sank his self-esteem. He needed a push to gain the will to improve. Now he will be more receptive towards my teachings. Seeing him working hard and actively interacting will also gradually make the disciples’ impression of him go up, making it easier for him to take the sect master’s seat later on. After all, a sect master need not be powerful, he needs to be able to keep the sect together.”
Used to his scheming ways by now, Wei Xiang and the twins could only sigh and let it go.
“Ah, I forgot to ask,” Qinghe said looking up, “How’s Senior Brother doing now?”
The twins suddenly froze. They didn’t remember seeing Chen Xiande today at all. It couldn’t be that he still hadn’t returned?
Wei Xiang chuckled after surmising what happened. “If he hasn’t made it back yet, then I suggest you go look for him. One side of the forest lies within the territory of demonic cultivators. It would be bad if he went wandering in the wrong direction.”
“W-We’ll go take a look!” Fei Jin announced loudly as Fei Yin frantically nodded. They both rushed out, leaving the couple behind to finish making the sweets while having a different sort of sweet time on their own.