Xue Hua would never, not even to himself, admit how long he had taken to dress himself up for a chance. Or the fact that Ying Hua had seen it and snorted a laugh.
Obviously he could have gone out in the default clothes on his body when he shifted into human form - something similar to his own feathers just turning into clothing. He just had… suddenly felt like changing it a bit. And besides, Yue had bought him a lot of clothes over time and he almost never used them. That was kind of a shame, wasn’t it?
As for putting his hair up, he had just felt like it today. A change of pace, too. Just like sitting outside in the pavilion where Yue often sat.
In the noon, where none of the other people in this yard were around. On a day where Xie Yi was in conf-... was resting in his room. Also, coincidentally the first day that Mingtian had gotten his collar and was allowed to walk around freely, including this yard under Xue Hua’s quiet suggestion.
...Alright. He did feel a bit stupid about all of it. He was just hoping to get lucky.
There was no helping himself, however. Especially not when the husky, low voice called out to him.
Mingtian was easily powerful enough to be able to tell when people were around and could also shield the shift in spiritual energy when he changed into human form. The danger was considerably lower than one might think, even if he was standing in the middle of a sect. A lot of the teachers relied on the beasts to give them a warning, so unless Xue Hua gave a sign, even Yue wouldn’t react if he noticed something.
Xue Hua clenched his fingers around the cornflower blue robe and kept his face nonchalant as he reacted to the call by turning around.
Mingtian had come somewhat close, standing just two steps away from him, and was smiling gently. A breeze was ruffling through his fur-like hair, messing it up.
He had become a full adult; his body had matured completely. The steeled muscles of his arms flexed with every movement, the motion seductively reaching up to his covered shoulders. His clothes weren’t wide enough to not pull tight lines over his shoulders, chest and hips, strongly accentuating his great figure.
The lines of his face had become a bit rougher and more angular, adding to the mature feel. He didn’t have a beard - a lot of beasts never seemed to grow one - but that kept him young. There was a playful glint in his eyes that he had never quite lost, now covered with joy at seeing Xue Hua.
The bird beast forcefully closed his parted lips. Oh heavens. He shouldn’t have taken the time to look.
“Hey”, Mingtian greeted again when he was finally standing next to Xue Hua. He sounded slightly awkward - not too surprising, considering the situation. His eyes wandered over Xue Hua, who looked exceptionally beautiful under the sunlight. “I hope I’m not disturbing you or anything? Did you want to be alone?”
“It’s fine”, Xue Hua responded calmly and felt proud about it. At least his voice wasn’t doing the same as his heartbeat - running away.
Mingtian exhaled in relief at the response and quietly looked around. He felt a bit bad about leaving Xie Yi behind, but he couldn’t sit inside all day. He had wanted to try his luck and see if he could find Xue Hua and had succeeded. He just wanted to talk and see if he could hold a decent conversation with him.
"It suits you", Mingtian muttered, making a gesture at Xue Huaa's clothes and hair. Not that he didn't like the usual style the most, but this one was also refreshing and had a bit of a special feeling that he quite liked. If he could, he would have liked to stare longer, but as it stood, Xue Hua just hummed with a turned away face and silence fell again.
Xue Hua peeked over while keeping his calm face despite his thoughts tumbling around. He was happy that Mingtian had noticed his looks, but what now? He was terrible at small-talk!
“You’ve… got the collar”, he said instead, a bit muffled.
Mingtian looked over and Xue Hua tapped against his own throat. Mingtian lifted his hand to touch the thin collar around his neck and smiled.
“Yeah. This morning.”
“Is it uncomfortable?” Shi Yue had never put a collar on Xue Hua. He didn’t need it. By the time they met, Yue had been a Master and until they got back to the sect, three years had passed. The sect had decided that he was intelligent, peaceful and controlled enough to not need additional means of ensuring safety.
Due to that, he had no idea what it would feel like to wear the collar, but he judged it must be uncomfortable.
“Xie Yi complained a bit for me. It’s not completely a standard collar; they used my fur to weave it and Shi Yue enhanced it. It doesn’t feel foreign. As for its use, well, to be honest, it doesn’t affect me at all”, he chuckled. “But I wouldn’t mess up the kid’s life here, so I’ll keep myself small unless he needs my help.”
“Oh, so it’s your own fur”, Xue Hua muttered. That explained why he thought the colour was so ni-...familiar.
“You’ve grown very strong”, Xue Hua commented after a pause, realizing that Mingtian had said the collar wouldn't affect him in any way. The difference was astounding.
“As did you. I spent a lot of time training with Nie”, Mingtian shrugged. Nie had really taught him a lot, otherwise he wouldn’t have become so strong so fast. Just the techniques were amazing - as to be expected from a deity!
“Nie?”, Xue Hua asked and for the first time in a long, long while, he felt his mood plummet to an absolutely negative degree.
The crossbreed shivered a bit, confused. Did the temperature just lower? Was Xue Hua annoyed? His voice has sounded a bit different.
Of course Mingtian wouldn’t be able to notice how his own voice had changed at saying that name - happy and warm, content. Just like speaking of a very precious treasure.
Xue Hua set his jaw. It wasn’t like he knew what Mingtian had been up to all those years. It wasn’t like he had a right to ask. If Mingtian met people, then it was his business, and if they got along well, then it was also only his business, and not Xue Hua’s. He had no right to inquire…
As much as his thoughts rationalized the situation, his eyes still fixated Mingtian’s while burning with anger and hidden jealousy. He didn’t say anything to explain himself and just glared Mingtian into the ground, just short of hitting him.
The other man opened his mouth mutely, utterly confused. What? What was up? “Are… you angry about something?”
“Not at all”, Xue Hua said through gritted teeth. It would have been more convincing if his tone wasn’t so icy that literal clouds appeared as he spoke the words, the air giving tiny crackles.
With a wave of his sleeve, he turned on his heel and intended to walk away.
“No way, don’t just go-”, Mingtian exclaimed, hurriedly reaching out to grasp the bird’s wrist. Carefully, of course, but tight enough to hold him back. Xue Hua never saying what he was annoyed about was a continuing problem and he didn’t want it to spiral out of control again. Not when they had just met each other again.
“Let me go”, Xue Hua demanded, snarling. The darker his tone, the more painful his heart grew. Honestly, he felt like crying and hitting Mingtian. Why are you getting along with others when you’re not getting along with me? How can you turn to other people?
He wasn’t troubled about Mingtiaan’s relationship with Xie Yi in the slightest, but that single utterance of ‘Nie’ had thrown his heart into a frenzy.
Unhappy and a bit worried that he might start to cry after all, Xue Hua tore his hand out of Mingtian’s grasp.
With a small jingle, the glimmering hairpin flew out of his sleeve with the violent motion.
Beast-types had habits, just like animals. There were a lot of connections, too.
For example, bird-types liked going on a distance and overlooking the situation as a whole when stressed, and canine-types had a natural instinct to hunt and follow fleeing prey. That often did include an instinct to catch things that were flying past them, which was why little birds never flew past canine beasts. They got snatched out of the air way too often.
Anyway, the moment Mingtian saw something flying by, added to the fact that he instantly attributed it to being Xue Hua’s belonging, he stretched out his hand to catch it as carefully as possible.
The crisp ringing of bells sounded again, unmistakable.
Xue Hua had always believed that the bells were fake, but they were actual bellflowers. For some reason, Mingtian had never encountered a situation where a deity attacked him - even if he accidentally messed up a temple or a grave or whatever, the deities had always ignored him.
That’s why, when he had seen the bellflower fruits hanging from the tree, he had approached it and touched them. They were hard like real bells, to his surprise, and made tiny sounds in his hands. It was beautiful and clear and somehow untainted. As if driven by the devil, he had snatched two and ran.
For a whole week, he had hidden from everyone, waiting for the deity’s wrath to fall over him. Yet the days passed and nothing happened.
Suspicious, he had wandered back to the tree. That a deity had forgotten the fruits was highly unlikely, but either way, he had been allowed to take them. Mingtian had bowed in front of the tree, then snatched a thicker branch that had fallen during one of the recent storms, and ran off again.
He was terrible at carving, but just making a simple hairpin wasn’t too hard. Fixing the bells to the pin so that they wouldn’t fall off had been way more complicated, but worth it.