168 – Another Heaven
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A beautiful scenic mountain view. Fresh snowfall, covering a forest spreading out as far as the eye could see. A steaming hot spring, filling the air with a soft haze of mist. A cold breeze from the early winter air, but one pushed back by the comfortable warmth radiating from the hot springs.

Watching all of that from a table nearby were a certain lovey-dovey couple.

Yue let out a soft and cute yawn before smiling and leaning her head against John's right shoulder. As she did, she adjusted the yukata around her body, tugging it a bit closer to her chest.

John chuckled and took a sip from a cup of green tea. After that, he poked Yue's cheek and said, "Sleepyhead. If you're that tired, you should have kept sleeping instead of insisting on watching the sunrise."

"Hmph. You're the reason why I'm so tired in the first place, Husband." The green-haired beauty grabbed John's right arm to use as a makeshift pillow and said, "Now be silent and let me enjoy this moment."

"Fine, fine." John smiled and shifted around to let Yue get a more comfortable sleeping position. "Is that better?"

"Mmhm." Letting out a content sigh, Yue nuzzled against John's arm for a bit before closing her eyes.

John shook his head and then looked down at the table.

As a gift for staying at the onsen, the married couple that owned the place prepared an early breakfast for them to enjoy after watching the sunrise. A fancy traditional Japanese meal, handmade, wrapped, and delivered at the crack of dawn.

Since Yue was too comfortable to move, that left John to prepare the meal and arrange everything. A difficult feat with only one hand free to be sure.

Of course, he was used to more difficult tasks. Like the time he got caught by the guards after disguising himself as a courtesan in the Peach Blossom Pavilion and had to untie himself from the rope using just his teeth and the fact that he was more flexible than he thought.

...It was a long story.

Anyway, that time he didn't have any spiritual energy or special powers to work with. Compared to now...

John flicked his left hand, using his spiritual energy to unpack and arrange the breakfast.

Beautiful sliced pickled turnips and radishes, plated like flower petals around a soft-boiled egg. A steaming pile of rice stored in a woven bamboo container. Grilled salmon with a side of miso soup. Dried seaweed, pickled greens, and then some natto to finish it off.

Ah, and of course green tea. But John had already prepared that.

Beyond taking the lunch boxes out of the bag and opening them, John didn't have to do much to arrange the dishes since they were already carefully packed and prepared. Even so, he made sure to shift the open boxes around so that the homecooked meal's beauty was on full display.

Yue cracked an eye open when John finished and said, "Is this our meal?"

"Mmhm." John nodded and said, "It's part of the culture here." He reached into the bag and pulled out the two sets of ceramic chopsticks that had been provided. One pair for him, and one pair for Yue. After setting his aside, he handed the other pair to Yue and said, "Here, Wifey."

"Mm..." Yue hesitated, clearly reluctant to give up her warm pillow and comfortable position. But then she nodded and sat up. "I suppose those elders did put a lot of work into this. It would be rude to not accept their hospitality."

"Mmhm." John nodded and said, "Besides, those two were nice enough to not kick us out even when you-"

"Husband!" Yue turned a deep red and said, "Stop that!"

John laughed. "Fine, fine. I guess it *is* a bit too early." He shifted his gaze to the breakfast and said, "Now, I've always been curious on what a traditional Japanese breakfast is like, so this should be fun."

"Hm?" Yue glanced at John and said, "But this meal does not seem too difficult to prepare. True, it is meticulously arranged, but it is nothing special... Is it?"

"True." John nodded. "I could make something similar, but this is special, you know?" He reached over to pour a cup of tea for Yue and said, "The fresh rays of the morning sun, the cool winter breeze mixed with the hot spring's steam. And then there's the beautiful view paired with this inn's history. It gives an atmosphere to the meal that can't be replicated with just preparing the dishes on their own, you know?"

Yue looked skeptical and said, "Then was the meal you prepared for me on the first day as husband and wife in the Three Realms mere travel fare?"

John waved his hand and said, "That's different. After all, it'd be unfair to compare my cooking and arrangements at the Imperial Jade Pagoda to this place." He paused, furrowing his brow. "Come to think of it, I guess this must seem a bit underwhelming..."

Staying at a Japanese onsen and a historical inn was a neat experience for the average person. Especially staying up to see the sun rise over the scenic mountain range.

But compared to the Three Realms where you could find hot springs that could actually grant immortality, mountains that housed mythical beings like dragons and phoenixes, as well as views that showed not just the rise of the sun, but the shine and revolutions of countless stars and cosmoses...

"Silly Husband." Yue shook her head and then smiled. "As long as I'm with you, it doesn't matter where you take me. I'll still cherish every moment just the same."

John was stunned for a brief moment. But then he let out a soft smile and pulled Yue in for a hug. "Now who's the one whispering sweet nothings, Wifey?"

Yue giggled and said, "I learned from the best, my dear husband."

"And you learned to be way too cute because of it."

Yue huffed and pushed John away. "G-Go eat your portion already before I decide to consume it all myself."

John laughed. "Right. Forgot just how much of a foodie my cute wife's become."

"I am not fat!"

John sliced a bit of the salmon with his chopsticks and said, "Your words, not mine."

Yue rolled her eyes and then poured herself a bowl of miso soup. As she did, she looked back at John and said, "How do you think the children are getting along, Husband?"

"Hm? They should be fine. Why?"

Yue was quiet for a moment and then said, "No particular reason. But..." She sighed. "It's strange. I'm happy to be alone with you like this, and there isn't a moment that I don't appreciate you doting on me so much. Yet... I feel like something is missing." She frowned, subconsciously placing her hand on her belly.

Seeing that, John's eyes widened a bit. But then he let out a soft smile and said, "Well, I guess that's just your motherly side kicking in."

"P-Pardon?" Yue blinked and said, "My... motherly side? Me?"

"Mmhm." John grinned and said, "I told you, didn't I? You're a great Mommy, Yue. Look at you, worried about the kids while on a date night with me."

Yue blushed and said, "T-That isn't true. Someone like me being motherly..." She shifted, uncertainty filling her jade-colored eyes. "...Can I even be called a proper mother after all I've done to your daughters?"

"Dummy." John tapped Yue's head and said, "No beating yourself up."

"But-"

"No buts. Unless you want to show me yours again... But I think peach is better for dessert, right?"

Yue blushed, a deep red that spread down past her neck. "Pervert!"

John rolled his eyes. "Again, says the woman who begged me to turn her around and-"

"HUSBAND!"

"Anyway." John smoothed his expression and gave Yue a serious look. "Yue."

She paused and then nodded. "Yes, Husband?"

"You need to stop worrying. Everything was a bit unexpected, but you'll be a great mother." John hugged Yue and said, "My cute Wifey is smart, polite, kind, and caring. Those are all the best attributes for a great mom, you know? Plus, only a few days away from the kids and you're already missing them. If that isn't the sign of a good Mom, I don't know what is."

Yue still looked hesitant, but she nodded. "If you say so, Husband."

"I do say so. Now, let's finish enjoying our meal and then get ready to head onto the next part of our date."

"Hm?" Yue tilted her head. "There's more?"

"Of course!" John nodded and said, "But that's going to be a secret until later. For now-"

A low growl echoed.

Yue coughed and averted her gaze.

John laughed and said, "Well, I guess for now we should make sure the little one gets fed, right? Here." He picked up a slice of turnip and held it up to Yue's mouth. "Say 'ah.'"

Yue narrowed her eyes. "I am not a child, Husband!"

"Considering what you were saying last night-"

"Gah! Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut up!"

-----AI|IA-----

A mile or so away from where John and Yue were staying, another married couple were sitting outside at a table and enjoying the early morning sun.

"My, my." A beautiful middle-aged woman with lilac colored hair sipped on a cup of tea as she looked towards the direction of where John and Yue were staying. "What a lively couple. Don't you think so, Senpai?"

Across from her, a man with auburn hair turning gray from age let out a sigh. "That's one way to put it, considering they were at it all night. It's a good thing that we didn't accept any other guests this week or else it would have been awkward."

"Oh please, Senpai. You know as well as I do that most of the young couples that reserve our inn use it to-"

The man groaned and said, "Please don't remind me."

The woman let out a sly smile and said, "No need to be embarrassed, Senpai. After all..." She reached across the table and traced her finger across her husband's chest. "We know how wonderful it is firsthand, don't we?"

"...Please don't tell that to your older sister."

"Of course I won't. It'll be our little secret, Senpai... Though, you still haven't told me what happened between you and Nee-chan back in London."

The man coughed and said, "A-Anyway... We should get started on lunch. That guy ordered the full course, so it'd be best to start early." He stood up and held out his hand. "Ready to go?"

The woman giggled and then grabbed his hand. "Yes, Senpai!"

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