Compared to the bath, the air outside was much cooler and more comfortable. Xie Yi breathed in and out a few times before he walked around the building. His thoughts were a bit slower than usual, quite uncomfortable. He preferred the cold.
He found Xue Hua in his bird form, ordering his feathers. Xue Hua stopped when he found Xie Yi approaching and blinked his rainbow eyes leisurely. “Is something the matter?”
“Would you mind me just… throwing myself into your feathers for a moment”, Xie Yi asked with a dark face. He looked at the blue-tinted feather that were giving off cold air even from a bit away.
“...No? Go ahead?” The bird-head tilted in confusion. Since Xie Yi was someone he was used to by now, he did not mind it a lot. Generally, having his feathers touched was nothing especially intimate. He also knew that Xie Yi would not pull at his feathers or something stupid like that.
The youth walked forward and buried himself in the sea of cool feathers that only turned colder the closer they got to his body. Sighing in comfort, he could feel his heated body cool down. The flush of heat in his cheeks and stomach was settling down.
After a few seconds, something jumped on his back. “Hey, what are you cuddling my mate for?”
“MingMing”, the youth greeted with his face still looking down.
Xue Hua lowered his head to touch his beak against the tiny body of Mingtian, who in turn rubbed his head against it. These were the moments when he didn’t like being tiny; Mingtian liked it better when he could curl around Xue Hua.
“I was out hunting right now. Xu Yan is returning”, Mingtian growled while nudging his nose into the feathers and then against Xie Yi’s face.
The youth jolted up. “He is? Soon?”
“Three hours maybe. Take it slow.”
“I want to wait for him at the gate”, he said while fidgeting. As he was about to jump out, Mingtian snapped his jaw around his long sleeves and tugged him back.
“You’re not going out there alone. Especially not to greet the rest of the group.”
While Shi Yue was asleep, Xie Yi had spent the whole day at his side. After he had woken up once, the young man had only been allowed to move to the lower grounds when accompanied by Master Chen, to ensure that the mood didn’t spill over. He hardly went back to the main grounds.
Xie Yi pursed his lips. “Master Chen is working.”
“Wait for Shi Yue. They’re coming in a few hours, you can wait for your master to come out, right?” Mingtian huffed.
“Yue usually stays an hour in the bath in total”, Xue Hua added from the side. “It won’t be too late then.”
Xie Yi groaned and fell back into the feathers.
When Shi Yue walked out slowly, leaning against the walls with his hand to make sure he did not stumble, he found his disciple sit near the door with an expectant and begging expression. It gave him a headache.
A few words from the avian beast summarized the situation after Xie Yi’s whining simply did not get to the point.
The Grandmaster fixed his orderly hair and looked at his disciple, his arms folded behind his back. His movements were a bit stiff but otherwise there wasn’t too much hinting at him being hurt. "Let's go then. We can wait at the wall before you turn insane sitting here."
Xie Yi jumped to his feet. “Do you want to lean on me?”
“Not needed”, Shi Yue rejected. He wouldn’t show that weakness in front of the sect.
“Okay. We have time, so we can walk slowly”, Xie Yi insisted instead, giving the pace. It was much, much slower than his usual one but he did not want to hurry Shi Yue, who was a bit unsteady anyway.
Shi Yue looked around and avoided reacting to the regular looks that Xie Yi threw at him to ensure he wasn’t pale. The disciple’s concern was so obviously written over his face that it was a bit embarrassing.
“Look where you walk and not at me”, Shi Yue scolded softly and the other redirected his gaze forward.
A large number of disciples reacted to the two of them coming out from the higher grounds.
It was noon anyway, so most disciples were taking a break. Added to that was the fact that it was Shi Yue showing up. Lastly, the recent rumours.
The extent of what the disciples knew was that Xie Yi had ran off to do something. Shi Yue had made his way to find him and coincidentally encountered a group of demonic cultivators. He had spent the last three weeks dealing with the aftermath.
People didn’t know how hurt he had been exactly - most assumed he was doing other things such as interrogating prisoners or something - but the mood was tense as it had happened because Xie Yi had ran away.
Shi Yue could feel their stares and hear their whispers. He was trailing behind Xie Yi with a bit of distance in hopes of not appearing too much like he was guarding a prisoner.
“Master Li has to watch over him again.”
“I feel bad for him. Can’t even let his disciple wander around on his own.”
Most of them held a neutral tone and were intended for only one or two people to hear, only audible because of Shi Yue’s good ears.
In the crowd, someone spoke louder.
“Ever since he’s come here, there’s been nothing but trouble.”
It was a quiet sentence but not whispered to hide it. It was loud enough that people, especially Xie Yi, were supposed to hear it.
Xie Yi threw the cultivator a glance in passing but wasn’t interested in picking up the topic. He knew that a lot of trouble came with him, it was the truth.
His indifference only fanned the anger of the man, however. He stepped out of the masses and after Xie Yi.
With a provocant voice, he spoke up once more. “What are you even sticking so closely to Master Li for? Is it to get advantages… or for something else?”
The innuendo was clear enough with the tone that he used for the latter half of the sentence. Xie Yi stopped and rolled his eyes.
“You sound like you have already decided on the truth of the matter. Why ask me then?”
Xie Yi intended to walk on. Sheesh, there were too many people watching. Shi Yue would be unhappy if he caused a fight right now.
“Isn’t it because you are in love with him?”, the cultivator shouted, pointing right at Xie Yi. He gave a wicked grin. “So disgusting - for Master Li to even tolerate you around, you're lucky. You should be thrown out!”
The amount of cultivators who preferred the same gender wasn’t so small that it wouldn’t show, but being open about it was a completely different thing. Courtship, especially, was done fully hidden. Interest towards people you were reliant on - teachers, people who took care of you, your superiors - was out of the question.
People were still expected to get together with someone that they could continue the family line with. Status, power, looks, everything was expected to match up.
You could play around, but losing your head for someone you shouldn’t or couldn’t marry was absolutely disdained.
Now that Xie Yi could be considered an adult, his ‘foolish infatuation’ wouldn’t be ignored anymore and there were more than enough disciples who did not like the sight of a fellow male wooing a teacher.
Although Shi Yue was around, the disciple did not believe he would get into trouble for being rude to Xie Yi. The teachers did not stop verbal spats unless a disciple specifically asked for help. Moreover, most people believed that Shi Yue would actually agree that the situation was a bit troublesome.
Shi Yue frowned at the side and made half a step forward, intending to interrupt. He did not like the way the young man was talking.
However, Xie Yi moved first.
He walked right up to the cultivator and at that moment, the young Xie Yi was gone - exchanged by an adult with the aura of an elder, steady and mature.
Xie Yi looked down at the cultivator who sneered with the face of someone who thought he was winning.
The black-haired man cocked his head and held his eyes until the older disciple began to visibly hesitate, pressured by the feeling of being looked at by an overbearing existence.
“That is absolutely correct”, Xie Yi said slowly and loud enough for everyone to hear. “I do love him. So? How does it affect you?”