Chapter 60: Budding Tenderness
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After their disastrous first meeting where Jing Shui very firmly rejected going with Wu Xiao, the sect master of the Golden Sun Sect had to step in. With a mix of coercion and threats from Liu Xue, Jing Shui finally let himself be taken away by Wu Xiao to the grounds of the Silver Moon Sect.

Seeking to minimize the youngster’s discomfort, Wu Xiao simply gave Jing Shui a room to stay in and did not attempt to meet him after that. He felt that this young prince would probably need some time to acclimatize himself to all these sudden changes in both his environment and his situation. Deciding to work on the child’s issues after he settled in, Wu Xiao thus let him be for now.

But the surprising thing was that Jing Shui soon came to visit Wu Xiao on his own, albeit in a very sneaky manner.

On this day, the skies were dark with thunderclouds as heavy drops of rain relentlessly beat on the windows. Winds howled and thunder boomed in the distance as flashes of lightning intermittently bathed the world in a stark light.

The Silver Moon Sect was situated on a small island surrounded on all sides by the ocean and only connected to land through a single, large stone bridge. Therefore, storms such as the one brewing right now were not an unusual occurrence.

As the rain poured from the skies outside, Wu Xiao sat placidly on his bed, his posture straight and eyes closed as he meditated in lotus position.

Suddenly, he heard the soft sounds of someone tiptoeing outside his room, accompanied by the pitter-patter of dripping water. Though these faint noises would be inaudible to normal humans, as a millennia-old cultivator, Wu Xiao’s senses were highly sharpened, and thus he easily detected the soft-footed approach near his door.

Not willing to give away that he’d already perceived the other person’s presence, Wu Xiao merely opened his eyes a slit while still maintaining his meditative posture. Another cultivator might have noticed the faint glimmer between those slightly parted eyelids, but Jing Shui had not yet started on the path to cultivation, so he wouldn’t notice that Wu Xiao’s eyes weren’t completely closed.

Silently opening the door, a soaked Jing Shui stepped inside the room, not realizing in his nervousness that he was leaving behind wet footprints.

On one hand, he held a beautifully bloomed hydrangea that was a lilac-blue color, little droplets of rain decorating those soft petals like tiny crystals. The entire flower looked tender and lush without even the slightest blemish on it. None of the little petals were crumpled or withered and even the leaves on the long stem looked verdant and healthy.

As Jing Shui carefully snuck inside, the expression on his face was unlike before. There was no irreverence or disdain reflected on his delicate and youthful features. Instead, he looked at the seemingly meditating Wu Xiao with eyes full of awe, guilt, and fear.

The first time he’d seen this ethereally beautiful cultivator, Jing Shui had been captivated.

With his shining silver hair, those keen black eyes, every step and motion filled with endless elegance and poise, this person looked so lofty and unattainable, like the moon floating high up in the sky.

Jing Shui felt that if he reached out his hand to touch this person, this beautiful image would disappear into mist, just like an illusion, like a wonderful dream dissipating in the harsh morning light.

But then Jing Shui heard that he’d be staying with this person, that he’d have a chance to meet this otherworldly man every day.

Feeling overwhelmed, he had panicked and lashed out. And though he knew that he shouldn’t be rude lest he made this silver-haired man hate him, Jing Shui had been unable to stop his tongue from spitting out those impolite words.

In a way, he thought it would be better if he made this person hate him from the beginning itself. In that case, this beautiful man wouldn’t act nicely with him one day only to hurt him later. Jing Shui did not want to trust another adult ever again, so he decided to act rudely to alienate him from the start.

But to his surprise, even as he kept on behaving obnoxiously, the silver-haired man simply sighed and continued being kind to him as he brought Jing Shui to his sect and showed him to his room. Therefore, Jing Shui had unconsciously begun softening towards this person.

And then the silver-haired man never came back for him again.

Thinking that he must have chased him away with his brash mouth, Jing Shui decided to pick the prettiest flower he could find and secretly give it to that beautiful person to assuage his own guilt.

After all, back at the imperial palace, Jing Shui had once seen a servant gift another servant a flower to apologize. After that, they’d started sucking at each other’s mouths for some reason, but that was a different matter. What Jing Shui had gleaned from that exchange was that you could give flowers to tell someone you were sorry.

So, braving the torrential downpour, Jing Shui wandered the sect’s gardens for hours until he finally found a flower that he decided was somewhat worthy of that person. All that was left was to stealthily give it.

So here he was, sneaking into Wu Xiao’s room.

But thinking that if he were to be found out, he would be scolded or punished like back at the palace, Jing Shui also felt very afraid.

So, trying to be quiet, he slowly inched close to the undisturbed figure on the bed and carefully placed the hydrangea in front of those crossed, white-clad legs.

As Jing Shui straightened, his gaze automatically wandered upward.

Suddenly met with the close-up view of Wu Xiao’s face, Jing Shui grew stunned. His awe and wonder showed openly in his expression as he leaned closer, his nose almost touching Wu Xiao’s as he carefully peered at that exquisite face.

His lashes were so long…, Jing Shui thought dazedly as he marveled at those dark silver eyelashes that fanned lightly over smooth cheeks. They looked so soft that Jing Shui raised a finger without thinking, wanting to run it over those thick lashes and that silky, alabaster skin.

Then thunder suddenly crashed outside, snapping him out of his reverie. Realizing where he was and what he had been about to do, Jing Shui panicked and hurriedly rushed out of the room.

On the bed, Wu Xiao opened his eyes the rest of the way.

Looking at the wet flower soaking his bed and the trail of water left behind by the not-so-sneaky child, he sighed ruefully even as his lips curled up in amusement. This Jing Shui turned out to be far cuter than he’d thought.

Wu Xiao’s eyes flicked down towards the flower. Then slender fingers reached out to lightly grasp the hydrangea’s stem, lifting it up.

Wu Xiao had to admit that it really was quite gorgeous. If the person giving it to him had not been a clueless teenaged child, he would have suspected that he was being courted.

His gaze still focused on the flower, Wu Xiao waved a hand to gather the water pooling on the floor before throwing it outside. Then he got up and changed the damp sheets on his bed.

Looking at the flower again, Wu Xiao hesitated a bit.

He should probably put it somewhere safe. After all, as interesting as it would be, he couldn’t very well walk around carrying a flower everywhere he went.

Thinking this, he took out a luxuriously crafted bottle from his storage space. Wu Xiao then carefully put the fully-bloomed hydrangea inside, using the bottle as a substitute vase.

This bottle was actually a container for potions, an ancient artifact that could keep its contents fresh for a long time. Wanting to preserve this flower that Jing Shui had braved the harsh weather to pick, Wu Xiao unhesitatingly discarded the stopper and used this legendary artifact as a vase.

Thinking back to how soaked Jing Shui had looked, Wu Xiao considerately sent a message instructing the disciple who was in charge of cooking for the mortal guests to add a lot of health-enhancing medicinal herbs into Jing Shui’s food to battle against cold, fevers and any other possible illnesses.

After he was done, Wu Xiao found that his eyes still kept being drawn towards the hydrangea as he thought back to the complex emotions present in Jing Shui’s gaze when he snuck into his room.

Wu Xiao decided that he really hated seeing fear in those wide, doe-like eyes. If anything, those eyes should show happiness and joy. Earlier when they’d first met, that expression of Jing Shui’s where it looked as if his eyes would spit fire had also been very cute. But thinking about it, Wu Xiao felt that any expression shown in those striking eyes would look adorable, as long as it wasn’t fear.

And so, Wu Xiao sat down and seriously contemplated on how he could make sure that Jing Shui would never look at him with fearful eyes ever again.

Since Jing Shui must feel most distrustful towards adults right now, the simplest way would be to not act like an adult. But that was too simplistic, the solution obviously wasn’t so straightforward.

Thinking more on what Jing Shui went through…he must hate strict and serious adults the most, shouldn’t he? So Wu Xiao decided that he should simply avoid acting that way in front of him.

As Wu Xiao pondered further, he thought back to when a few disciples had greeted Jing Shui after he had just arrived at the sect. Hearing those disciples cheerily calling him ‘Brother Jing’ or ‘Prince Jing’, Jing Shui had obviously looked very uneasy and distressed. Now, why was that?

Hmm, was it because he didn’t like being called by his family name?

Did the name ‘Jing’ remind him of the imperial family, and by extension, the imperial palace?

Wu Xiao felt that it actually made sense.

Thinking up to here, Wu Xiao already had an idea of how to act.

First, the way he behaved should not overlap with those from the palace, which meant he shouldn’t look too serious or act strict. Maybe he should behave playfully then? After all, Wu Xiao felt that acting the fool could be quite fun.

Second, he should not call Jing Shui by his family name, so ‘Disciple Jing’ and ‘Xiao Jing’ were out.

Then what should he call him?

After thinking awhile, Wu Xiao’s mouth split into a grin. If he called him something as overly familiar as ‘Ah-Shui’, then would it anger that cute little teen until he was spitting fire again? Wu Xiao couldn’t wait to find out.

And finally, he should somehow let Jing Shui feel familiar and comfortable with him. Letting him not use honorifics would probably do. Since he would be calling him Ah-Shui from now on, it was only fair to let the kid call him Wu Xiao as well. After all, it wasn’t like Wu Xiao was the type to mind this sort of a minor thing.

Also, regarding Jing Shui’s issues, they were actually not that difficult to unknot.

As long as Jing Shui was allowed to play freely without being forcefully confined, as long as he could stay in an environment free of anxiety, undue pressure, or unreasonable expectations for a few months, he should slowly start to recover on his own.

This was because Wu Xiao felt that Jing Shui had a relatively strong mind. Though that mind had almost cracked under the constant bombardment of stress, it still remained relatively stable. With time, it would regain its vigor.

And even if that didn’t work, Wu Xiao was confident that he could dig out the root of any other problems that cropped up and address it next. He wanted to slowly work on all of Jing Shui’s issues, unraveling his fears one by one until that brat can smile happily again.

Keeping all of this in mind, over the course of the next few months, Wu Xiao slowly implemented his ideas and began getting closer to Jing Shui.

His figure could often be seen as he teased the young teen, a somewhat silly smile stretched on his face as he happily called out “Ah-Shui!”

Though Jing Shui felt very flustered at this otherworldly person behaving with such familiarity towards him, he still began opening up to Wu Xiao. And since Wu Xiao seldom behaved like an adult in his presence, Jing Shui let down his guard completely with him.

When the nights grew long and his nightmares haunted him once more, Jing Shui would go searching for Wu Xiao, because this was the only adult he ever felt safe with. Of all the people he knew, this was the only person he felt he could show his true self to.

Wu Xiao was also the only person who could comfort him with his smooth, clear voice while saying, “Ah-Shui, it’s alright. I’m here, they can’t hurt you.”

And because of him, no longer did Jing Shui feel the urge to indiscriminately push everyone away to protect himself. Why would he? Even if all those people betrayed him, even if they tried to hurt him, he knew that Wu Xiao would always be there to take care of him afterward. So why should Jing Shui hold himself back?

And so, he slowly began spending more time with other people as well.

But though Jing Shui started keeping company with the disciples of the Silver Moon Sect, it was obvious at a glance that he was terrible at socializing. However, considering how he had been trapped in that palace without being allowed to play with kids his age, it was hardly surprising.

Nevertheless, because of Jing Shui’s extremely good looks that were highlighted due to his haughtiness, along with his significant talent for the water element that showed through despite the lack of training, the other disciples soon flocked around him.

Though Jing Shui looked arrogant and his speech was seldom warm or friendly, he never hurt anyone with his words and he showed his care and concern through actions and deeds instead. All these factors combined gained him a lot of fans.

And so, a Jing Shui fan club was soon formed.

When Wu Xiao heard of this, his reaction was as expected. He slapped an appearance changing talisman on himself to appear as a disciple and marched to the fan club’s meeting room to…promptly register as a member.

Wu Xiao reasoned to himself that he was only keeping an eye to see that the fan club activities were not interfering with the disciples’ cultivation.

Of course, Jing Shui knew about none of this. Even if he found out, all he would do was ask what a fan club was.

But putting that aside, what was obvious to see was that Jing Shui visibly got better. Though he hadn’t shed all his troubles yet, he was definitely on the road to recovery.

As time passed, Jing Shui became more outgoing, especially when it came to Wu Xiao.

For example, on a particular day, Jing Shui went to one of the beaches at the edge of the island to practice wielding the water element on his own.

Though his training hadn’t officially started yet, he still wanted to work hard and climb up the cultivators’ ranks, because no matter how good his innate talent was, he knew that he would still start his life in the Golden Sun Sect as an outer sect disciple. Only after he formed his cultivation core would he be promoted to an inner sect disciple. Wu Xiao had even said that when it happened, the sect master of the Golden Sun Sect might take him in as her head disciple.

Jing Shui was very pleased to hear this, because if he became a head disciple, then didn’t that mean that there was a chance he could become the sect master in the future? And if he became the Golden Sun Sect’s sect master, then he could finally be on equal footing with Wu Xiao.

Though he didn’t consider why he wanted to be considered as equal to Wu Xiao, Jing Shui still liked thinking about it very much, so he made it into his goal.

And to achieve this goal, he needed to practice!

So here he was at the beach, reaching out with his fledgling spiritual senses to accustom himself to the sensation. But as he widened his senses, Jing Shui felt the presence of someone else on the beach with him.

Curious, he made his way over to see who it was.

In a natural pool that was filled with the rising tide, Wu Xiao stood completely unclothed, his side to Jing Shui. With a washcloth in his hand, Wu Xiao was carefully wiping himself down, his expression intent and focused on his actions.

Though he appeared slender while clothed, Wu Xiao’s body right now was revealed to be leanly muscled. As he moved his hands in steady motions, the muscles in his arms and back flexed, shifting under the smooth, evenly toned skin. His motions were elegant and measured, exuding a hypnotic sense of sensuality that could capture the heart of anyone watching.

Wu Xiao was covered in a thin sheen of moisture that faintly reflected the sunlight, clear droplets of water hanging on his body. His long and wet hair appeared especially shiny and sleek as it shone brightly like a mirror’s surface. Damp, glistening strands of hair stuck to his body, the silvery tendrils seeming to accentuate his graceful form.

A sense of quiet and peace surrounded him, the only sounds that of the light splashing of the pool water and the distant crash and roar of waves.

Stunned at this splendid sight, Jing Shui sat back and appreciated this feast for the eyes. As expected of the person he’d acknowledged as being the most beautiful, Wu Xiao really was perfect in every way!

Suddenly pausing in the action of washing himself, Wu Xiao turned to directly face the little peeping tom. Blinking his eyes coquettishly, he joked, “Ah-Shui, do you like what you see?”

Seeing that he had been found out, Jing Shui unabashedly came out of hiding. “Hmph, why should I like it? You’re simply being conceited.”

Wu Xiao’s mouth twitched as he refuted in his heart: Then why is your gaze still stuck to my body, you little brat?! Can’t you tone down the admiration in your eyes a little? This old one is really about to start blushing, you know!

But on the outside, Wu Xiao only smiled wryly as he spoke, “Then do you also want to come and bathe here? The water gathered in this place tends to accumulate a purer form of spiritual energy, it’s especially good for water-wielding cultivators.”

For a moment, Jing Shui’s mind blanked. Was Wu Xiao asking him to bathe together with him?

And for some unknown reason, Jing Shui felt his face heating up at that thought. Suddenly feeling overly self-conscious, he stuttered out a refusal before running away.

There was no way he was going to get so near to that person with such a perfect body, with that gleaming silver hair and that silky smooth skin and… No! He should stop thinking about what he just saw! It made him feel strange and weird, so it was better to bury that scene deep in his mind.

And thus began Jing Shui’s unwitting path to denial.

On the other hand, Wu Xiao only felt confused.

Was the thought of bathing together really so frightening? But the sight of that brat running away with a red face really was too cute!

And so, a certain Wu Xiao decided to keep making his Ah-Shui blush just so he could enjoy the sight of his red cheeks and embarrassed expression.