Shi Yue needed a few seconds to answer. “How did you do it then, in the end?”
“I was in the same lucky position that you are in. A person who made it clear they were interested, but who was decent enough to not try to cross any boundaries.” She knocked her knuckles gently against Shi Yue’s head and smiled. “It’s not that hard to say as long as you keep in your mind that those three words are all it takes to bind them to you.”
Shi Yue hummed and leaned on his arm. “The sect leader… My master once said that the older a cultivator grows, the more childish they become when it is about relationships.”
“A person with a very long life lacks the decisiveness of someone with a common lifespan. While that is understandable, there is something you have to keep in mind.” Master Chen opened the door and waved someone in to watch over the sect leader while she would leave. “We might be facing a war. As cultivators, we have a lot of time to hesitate over something… and a lot of time to regret once it’s too late.”
She left after saying her part. Her words were harsh, but Shi Yue knew she was only warning him.
He wasn’t worried that Xie Yi would die even if they started a fight with the Demonic Sect, but that didn’t change the point she made.
Shi Yue left the ward, only to run right into Xie Yi hanging off Xu Yan’s shoulder. The smaller cultivator was delivering herbs to an assistant and Xie Yi must have tagged along.
In the couple of hours that had passed since Xie Yi had gotten the information about Mingtian’s return, he had used up all of his patience. He was even more fidgety than Xue Hua, so he started sticking to Xu Yan in hopes of alleviating his fidgety mood.
There were too many things that were pulling at him.
He had new information about Xiao Zai, MingMing was coming back, he was going to meet an actual deity…
“Master!” Xie Yi whined when he saw the white-haired cultivator and lifted his head from Xu Yan’s shoulder.
Considering that Xie Yi was standing behind Xu Yan with his arms wrapped around the other’s waist and leaning on his shoulder, the position should have looked pretty romantic…
But it felt about as romantic as seeing him interact with Mingtian, possibly also because of Xu Yan’s deadpan expression.
Still, the brown-haired youth hurriedly shrugged Xie Yi away with the appearance of the Grandmaster whose eyebrows twitched at the sight.
“What’s the matter?”
“You can practice or take care of the kid you brought along”, Shi Yue suggested, nodding to the bowing assistant.
Xie Yi walked a step to the side and then returned. Under his arm he held a thin little boy, carrying him like a sack. The child was motionless except for a short tilt of his head to glance up at who was talking.
“I’m taking care of him. Look, he’s with me.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call that- ...Why don’t you carry him upright, at least.”
Xie Yi looked down, then grabbed the boy with both hands and held him upright… Still like a doll.
Qiang Ren gave Shi Yue an empty stare. He didn’t look very interested in what was going on or being carried around like this. Not even the Grandmaster whom he was seeing close-up for the first time could change that.
Shi Yue looked at the expression that was quite similar to a younger Xie Yi’s and smiled in amusement. “I can see why you like him.”
He turned to Xu Yan and gave him an apologetic glance.
“I will have to leave to the Honourable Sect with Xie Yi in about two weeks. Could I ask you to have an eye on the child?”
“Sure”, Xu Yan said amicably.
Looking at his expression, Shi Yue made a mental note to talk to the sect leader about including Xu Yan in some management tasks soon. It would be a shame to not do it.
“We are leaving? Is that a good idea right now?”
“I’d like to deliver the information we have myself. I’d have hesitated before, but Master Chen informed me that the sect leader is almost back to normal. That should calm everyone down.”
Xu Yan’s shoulders fell with a slow exhale.
Xie Yi glanced over, then grinned. “Worked on him, at least.”
His friend threw him a pouty glance. “You have no worries at all right now, you can’t relate.”
“Of course I have worries! I have a kid to take care of!” Xie Yi moved Qiang Ren to show him to Xu Yan.
Both blinked at each other without an expression on their face. Xu Yan raised an eyebrow. “I think he’s taking care of himself.”
Xie Yi pulled him into his arms and looked down. Qiang Ren looked up at the same time, his eyes showing subtle ripples. “Well, I’ll start training him as soon as Li Mei gives me the Go. Right now she’s forbidden me from doing it because he’s too thin.”
“Once he can eat normally, he might as well eat with us”, Shi Yue suggested quickly. Xie Yi was often joining Qiang Ren in his meals, so they didn’t eat together quite as often since he came back.
“Okay! It would be a good time for him to get to know Su Liang, too.”
Qiang Ren flinched a bit at the name. He remembered Xie Yi mentioning that he would be a playmate for that person, but the word made him uncomfortable. “Playing”, the thing that some richer kids liked doing with him, was usually pretty painful.
“It might not be bad once Su Liang can take on a human form”, Shi Yue said to himself and closely watched the boy. His gut feeling told him that Qiang Ren was exactly what he portrayed; a little street rat sold as a slave.
He didn’t feel too worried about the boy. He was too weak to cause trouble in a sect.
“Alright. I’ll be seeing you later”, Shi Yue ultimately sighed, brushed a hand over Xie Yi’s hair and left to run off to the next thing he had to settle - where Xiang Zhe would stay while he was out.
Several days later, Xie Yi stood before his door, waiting, long before the sun rose. Shi Yue would have been surprised, if he didn’t have Su Liang sit on his stomach, waiting as well, since about midnight.
Not to mention Xue Hua, who had also started wandering around the house a while ago.
“Even if I tried to forget, I wouldn’t be able to”, Shi Yue said in amusement when Xie Yi started walking circles around the room, Su Liang in tow.
“He’s a part of their family”, Ying Hua commented - the most relaxed out of the bunch. She leisurely chewed on some breakfast and watched everyone else run around nervously.
“Can’t we go out already and wait for him? Please?” Xie Yi was whining and Su Liang, maybe understand his words a bit, howled along. Unable to use fingers, the pup bit on Shi Yue’s pants and began tugging on them.
“Okay, okay. Let’s go”, Shi Yue gave in.
The group of three adults, one sword spirit and one cub left the sect before sunrise and settled on a small, rather open hill.
Su Liang was visibly tired but only took short naps, his face constantly turned into a single direction.
All of them felt Nie approaching a long time before he actually came into view. It was hard to explain what changed, but it was a slow shift in the air around them, as if the world was turning a tiny bit quieter.
Su Liang was the first to look up. Then came Ying Hua, followed by Xie Yi and Shi Yue. Lastly, Xue Hua turned his head and cuddled Xiao Liang closer to him.
The cub was excited, his tongue hanging out and ears up.
Mingtian was leading.
He was walking a bit before, often looking back at Nie but then sprinting forward to greet his family in large, loving hugs. No words were exchanged as everyone was still caught in the sudden silence that was spreading everywhere.