“But compared to how Wu looks at me, or how Li Mei looks at me, or how Xue Hua looks at Ying Hua, I feel it’s closer to how Wu looks at Xue Hua when he’s not looking”, Xie Yi said with certainty.
Kindly, Mingtian added an explanation. “Xue Hua is my mate.” -to-be.
Lu Han gave an awkward smile. “It really is nothing. Look, even logically, there is no way a prince would take an interest in someone like me.”
Huo Cheng looked as if he was being hit, but only ever for the shortest moment before he caught his expression. A bit stressed, he cleared his throat.
“As he said, Xiao Yi. You’re only misunderstanding. Well, I can’t blame you, we barely know each other after all. On that note, we should use this time to get a-”
Xie Yi’s expression turned unhappy. A bit miffed, he interrupted Huo Cheng with a single word: “Coward.”
Misunderstandings were a terrible thing. They could destroy so much. Huo Cheng knew that Lu Han was misunderstanding about something so simple but so important, and he did not correct him.
The thought made him unhappy.
Huo Cheng was not a close friend, but he was kind of one, and also a close friend of Shi Yue, so he did not ignore the matter.
In the end, there was nothing he could do if the other rejected it, but that didn’t mean he didn’t dislike it.
The prince had heard others call him a coward before, for various reasons, but he had never seen someone look at him with such condescending and disapproving eyes like the young man not even an adult in front of him.
There was something so honestly deprecating about that look that he found himself lower his head as if he was in front of his grandfather after playing a stupid prank as a child.
Lu Han flushed. He tensely sat up straight, his hands pressing into his lap. His nervous look and trembling lips betrayed that he was uncertain about objecting; although not that far apart in age, Xie Yi was stronger than him.
“The prince is not a coward”, he tried to protect him. His voice got quieter. “He is a good man.”
“I don’t think that someone who likes another but flirts in front of them is that good of a man”, Xie Yi commented dryly. It was his honest opinion, nothing more.
Remembering how Huo Cheng had behaved in the brothel and what it meant, all of it before Lu Han, he did not like it.
“Unless I did truly misunderstand?”, he asked slowly. There was a chance, even if he did not think it was that way. However, he would believe Huo Cheng if the man insisted…
The prince looked into the clear eyes and found his throat constricted with the lie he wanted to say. His smile turned wry.
“You’re exactly like Shi Yue”, the prince said quietly.
Not a rejection, but Xie Yi glanced at Lu Han and even he could tell that the little guy did not understand it - possibly because the possibility evaded his mind.
Mingtian humpfed. In his opinion, although Shi Yue was not bad, he was not comparable to his little brother.
After all, the kid had managed to survive so many horrible years and was still able to drag himself out of that hell once he had been given the chance. He was a strong one.
Xie Yi observed Huo Cheng’s absolute look of defeat and Lu Han’s mixture of confusion and uncertainty. He crossed his arms and looked at Mingtian.
“Did I do something bad?”
“People generally don’t like it when you lay their feelings out in the open without their permission. They also get kinda defensive.”
“Another piece of common sense! Right now, I felt that this was fine, though”, the beast said with a shrug and toothy grin. “Because I agree that he is a coward.”
This time, Lu Han was even more scared to flare up. His lips pursed unhappily. He wanted to somehow prove that the man he adored was not like the two of them said, but he did not know how.
Huo Cheng’s eyes softened at the sight of the little guy bristling up in his defence.
“For some reason, this annoys me”, Xie Yi said with a deadpan face.
Mingtian raised a hand to rub over his head. Evidently, it was because the kid was not so lucky. The things that parted him and his crush were hurdles of incredible height compared to those two.
What was holding the prince back at all? The royals would be relieved if he took a man as his wife and would not have any heirs that might eye the throne. No one would comment on it!
“This topic aside”, Huo Cheng forced out. “Why don’t we go eat together? I’ll pay.”
“Can’t”, Xie Yi rejected with a shake of his head.
“Wu said no”, Xie Yi obediently said with a finger pointing at the man beside him. Wu showed his teeth in a dark grin.
“Is there any reason why I can’t take him out for a free meal?”, the prince wondered with raised eyebrows.
“Yes. You’re a playboy. The kid does not need to learn any of that.” Mingtian hugged the young man from the side protectively. “I don’t want you to colour off on him.”
“I feel there’s some sort of weird perception you have of me. I would not make a move on him”, Huo Cheng serenely promised, remembering that Shi Yue’s letter had sounded quite similar.
“No means no. You can go eat in the canteen with him or something”, Mingtian denied him again.
Lu Han gave a whine as he saw the prince open his mouth to start discussing.
Xie Yi pursed his lips, lowered his body out of Mingtian’s arms and quietly left the room to get some fresh air.
It was somewhat late when he considered the usual time he went to bed at the Virtuous Sect so he only hurried to get a small snack and then went into his room.
Xu Yan was already in his sleepwear, glancing up when Xie Yi entered and then made to secure the door with a dozen different safety mechanisms.
“How did you get to know the prince?”, he asked absentmindedly. “He was acting like he doesn’t know you, but you seem to know him?”
“I met him with my adult skin”, the young cultivator explained reservedly. “It’s a bit messy.”
“Aah! Xiao Yi! I knew it would be problematic sooner or later!” Xu Yan blew up his cheeks. “Did you get into trouble?”
“No, not at all.”
“Why do I not believe it considering you mentioned a brothel?”
“Ah, that…” Xie Yi rubbed his neck and leaned against the wall next to his bed. “Actually, Shi Yue was the one who took me to the brothel. He didn’t mean it badly or anything. Huo Cheng appeared there. I think Wu is misunderstanding that it was Huo Cheng who took me there and I… kinda didn’t want to correct him unless he asked.”
He lowered his head between his shoulders with a stupid smile.
Xu Yan found himself snickering. “Seriously? You actually used a prince as a scapegoat?”
“Why would I care that he’s a prince. I didn’t want Wu to have any reason to be mad at Shi Yue, they are already at odds for some reason”, Xie Yi whined to his friend.
“It might be jealousy. Both Wu and Shi Yue want to be the one to teach you, but their plans might not necessarily be the same.” Xu Yan lifted his hands with a shrug. It was only an idea.
Xie Yi’s lips moved forward in a pout as he thought about it. Shi Yue was very orderly in teaching him and Mingtian was freer. At first glance, it did seem like a possibility.
“Jealousy over someone sounds kind of too romantic, though”, he commented thoughtfully.
Xu Yan clicked his tongue thrice. “Tsk tsk tsk. You shouldn’t misunderstand it! Jealousy merely means feeling like something that is yours is being stolen away. You can feel that way over a friend or family. It’s pretty natural.”
“What does it feel like”, Xie Yi asked with a confusedly twisted face.
Xu Yan pointed at himself. “From tomorrow on, I’ll also be Shi Yue’s disciple and half of the time you two spent on lessons before will now be given to me.”
Xie Yi stared at him for a few seconds. Then his face turned into one of discomfort and finally unhappiness. He crossed his arms and pouted. “Oh.”
“Natural, but not a nice feeling”, the other young man chuckled. “Have you never felt it before?”
“I think I’m good at pushing it down”, he muffled his voice into a pillow he leaned on. “Even if I have a name for it now, I don’t want to keep it around. I’ll continue getting rid of it if I can.”
“Is it that easy to control your emotions”, Xu Yan sobbed. He always had so many problems controlling his own, it was fascinating to hear that. But it was Xie Yi, after all.
“Jealousy sounds too troublesome. Wouldn’t you make people mad if you treat them as your own belonging?”, he hummed.
“Excessive jealousy is a problem, but you’re missing something here. You feel jealousy about things you own and don’t want to lose, right? Jealousy is also a sign that someone is precious to you and that you are worried you might lose them. Don’t swallow it all.”
“Have I ever mentioned that I think being human is super complicated?”
“A few times.”