Xie Yi was aware that he was in a dream, but that did not lessen the feeling of estrangement and the strong desire to leave immediately.
His hands, mutated and formed into claws as they had once been, rummaged through the open chest cavity of a faceless man. It was uncomfortably warm, hot even, and wet. The heart still drummed against his fingers, a soft pulse.
When his fingers found the man’s core he tore at it, slowly and calmly, until it ripped out of his body. Then he placed it onto his tongue, biting down like a beast and crunching on it while his eyes already searched for the next target.
He woke in the middle of the night. It wasn’t the type of nightmare that would keep him up, but he could tell he felt troubled over it. In the end, it wasn’t a complete lie. How many times had he torn out the cores of people’s bodies? How often had he devoured them, for the arrays tattooed into his skin and organs to work?
Xie Yi rolled around in his blanket, his face scrunching up.
Acting spoiled, huh. Xue Hua had said it was fine.
The youth stood up, keeping his blanket wrapped around his shoulder and dragging it along as he walked to his door on bare feet.
The moment he touched Shi Yue’s door handle, the Grandmaster woke up and turned his eyes towards the entrance. He felt surprised to see his disciple’s head poke through the gap.
“Can I come in?”
“Of course.” Shi Yue spoke quietly but his voice was tinged with confusion. He was, by no means, thinking that Xie Yi coming here was supposed to be seduction.
Xie Yi closed the door behind him and tapped two steps forward before stopping. He looked at Shi Yue, who made a motion to move out of bed.
“...Can I come in?”
Shi Yue froze. He needed a second to understand why Xie Yi had repeated his question before realizing the difference. Instead of climbing out of bed, he simply pulled back a patch of his blanket and patted the space next to him.
Xie Yi shoved his blanket to the foot end and quietly crawled under the warm cover. Wrapping an arm around Shi Yue’s chest, he placed his face under his chin and rubbed slightly.
Shi Yue responded by gently embracing the youth, whose body was surprisingly cold. “Did not sleep well?”
“Thinking too much. What are we going to do if things go wrong? If we can’t fight the Demonic Sect after all?”
“Why so pessimistic? This isn’t like you.”
“Living with the kids is nice”, Xie Yi mumbled and buried his nose in the nape of Shi Yue’s neck, inhaling the familiar and calming scent. “Teaching Qiang Ren. Making sure that Xiao Zai will grow up well. Watching Su Liang play around. And seeing Mingtian everyday, and being with you.”
Shi Yue closed his eyes. Xie Yi continued to ramble on quietly, his sentences short and chopped. Xu Yan, Li Mei, even Master Chen. The lessons, the sparring. Eating together.
But a single sentence, the summary of everything, he did not vocalize.
I am tired of war.
...No matter how bloodthirsty, no matter how much he enjoyed fighting - there was a full life he wanted to leave behind. He did not want to be constantly confronted with it and have it gnaw at his thoughts every time he rested.
There was no telling whether this final fight would not cost them some of the peace they wanted to protect.
“Ah Yi”, Shi Yue sighed, hugging his lover closer. “We are strong. We have an information advantage, thanks to you. And… we can cheat. It’s not something I want to do, but if I have to be egotistical for the safety of my loved ones… I will do it.”
“Cheat?” Xie Yi murmured the word softly.
“Mingtian cannot be involved in this war. He is safe, anyway, as his strength is too much”, Shi Yue whispered. “And we will place the kids with Nie. All three of them. I’m sure he will not complain… You and me, we can always run and I’m sure if I follow your lead, we can lose track of any enemy. As for Xue Hua, I will try to keep him out of it as much as possible. Mingtian will keep him safe, and they can drag Xu Yan, Li Mei and Master Chen with them if necessary.”
Shi Yue gently kissed the crown of Xie Yi’s hair.
“See? If we want to run, at any given time, we can.”
“You don’t want to run. You would hate leaving everyone behind.” Xie Yi tilted his head up.
“I do.” Shi Yue did not deny it. “But you are precious, and they are precious. If needed, I will weigh the lives I can protect.”
Xie Yi became quiet again. His fingers tugged over some of Shi Yue’s hair and curled it around his hand and fingers.
“...Can we bring Feng Yan over to the sect before bad things happen?” The warm but rough voice of the burly smith was still lingering in Xie Yi’s ears.
“We will. Now rest a bit more, I’m here.”
Xie Yi hummed and closed his eyes again. In the hazy state of being half asleep, he listened to the strong heartbeat beneath his head.
A couple of hours later, Shi Yue tried to soothe an increasingly restless Xie Yi, who kept on squirming around.
The young man was quite annoyed; he was starting to understand the random, unwanted physical reactions people could have to touching their loved ones. Unwilling to ignore it - and knowing that the room was soundproof anyway - he stretched out his head to bite on Shi Yue’s neck.
A sharp tinge of pain jolted Shi Yue further awake. He swallowed the scolding words he wanted to say when Xie Yi whined unhappily, his head lifted to look at Shi Yue with wide, moist eyes.
...Okay. Little wife is cute, little wife wants to be spoiled.
Xie Yi groaned at the hand sliding under his clothes and gave a satisfied smirk.
Anyway, not that they needed that much rest.
The two kept on lying down peacefully until Qiang Ren came knocking in the morning.
He stood before Xiao Zai, who was likely the one who wanted to wake up Xie Yi but did not dare to knock. Xie Yi smiled at Qiang Ren, who looked happy at the silent agreement of having done the right thing. The tall cultivator picked up Xiao Zai easily, settling her on his left waist with one arm.
“Okay, time for breakfast”, Shi Yue declared, feeling a bit bubbly at the sight of Xie Yi carrying Xiao Zai like a daughter.
Even if Xie Yi was his boyfriend right now, it made no real difference for Shi Yue. He wouldn’t have asked Xie Yi out if he didn’t plan on keeping him at his side forever, so essentially, Xie Yi was more like half a wife - or husband - already.
If Xie Yi planned to treat Xiao Zai as his daughter, then she’d be his, too.
“Anything you want to eat?”, he asked the little girl, who shyly lowered her head and uncertainly fiddled with Xie Yi’s hair.
“Give her options”, Xie Yi suggested.
“Well, we can have buns, or I can make us some soup…” Shi Yue softly listed a couple of things, watching Xiao Zai’s reaction. She did not vocally confirm what she wanted, but she lifted her head at hearing what interested her.
It was a peaceful morning.
Mingtian and Xue Hua joined, Su Liang carried by them, and the three children got a corner for themselves. Qiang Ren tried his best to act all mature, handing the bowls over to Xiao Zai and watching over Su Liang.
Xie Yi’s eyes narrowed like a relaxed cat’s. He would protect this life.
In the early noon, an attendant came knocking with an envelope. Shi Yue frowned at seeing it and waved for Xie Yi to follow him as they made their way to his office. Xie Yi lounged on the sofa, waiting for Shi Yue to speak.
For a while, only the rustling of paper was heard.
“Yao Ming is conscious”, Shi Yue said after a while. Xie Yi lifted his brows and looked over to him. “They flushed his whole body free from toxins. He was near unconsciousness for a while but could start speaking again yesterday evening.”
“What did he say?” Xie Yi propped himself up.
“His memories are mashed up, so he couldn’t say too much. All he said was that he had been attacked and taken along by the Demonic Sect while he was out. They did something he couldn’t remember, and after that he was somehow determined to do whatever they asked of him. He doesn’t remember why.”
“Hmmm.” Xie Yi merely hummed; Yao Ming had talked nonsense about some woman he wasn’t even sure actually existed.