There were a lot of things to learn when it came to the tribes of the world and since they were already on the topic it made sense to talk about the places where they lived as well.
As such, a few hours weren’t enough. Still, the little phoenix didn’t really want to be separated from his husband for too long so when Zhu Hong returned for lunch, they ate together and then, the young couple went home together.
As soon as they were out of the door, Chengse turned to her husband and told him what was going on with Zhu Hong’s surprise. Elder Bi had already thought as much and nodded slowly. "In that case, we have to give him some time to finish things. And we should also help him try and find out just what Zhen Zhu would like the most."
His wife nodded and then thought of their daughter. "Seeing as Yu Sui is expecting, this might be a good opportunity. She probably wouldn’t mind if we used that to find out a bit more. In fact, as long as we speak to her about it beforehand, I’m sure that she would be thrilled to be able to help with this."
Elder Bi nodded. "Yes, let’s do that. Do you want to talk to her?" He would probably be able to do it as well but it might be awkward for her to have her dragon parent ask about this. So he wasn’t too sure if it was the right thing to do.
Chengse promised and then got up, happy that she would not only get to help Zhu Hong but also have a chance to go over and see her daughter. She happily left, leaving Elder Bi to wonder by himself what he could do to help the young couple.
Even before Zhu Hong’s parents had died, he had already seen him grow up. And then, he had watched over him in the years after that, making sure that whatever was going on, Zhu Hong would always have somebody to turn to.
He had been there to explain things to him when he was old enough to go up the mountain, he had taken him along on missions and taught him, telling him all the things that he had learned over time to make it easier for Zhu Hong and help him stay safe.
He had never regretted it. On the contrary, he had always felt that it might not be enough, just like he always did with his children. If he could, he would give them the world. All of them. It was just that he couldn’t prevent bad things from happening either. Just like he hadn’t been able to do anything when Li Se’s wife died. Knowing this pained him because he really would have liked to do more and always wondered if maybe there was some oversight on his part.
It was the same in regard to Zhu Hong. In all these years, no matter what he did, he hadn’t been able to get closer to him. He never thought that the fault lay with Zhu Hong though. No, he had always assumed that it was his own failure. Maybe he hadn’t done enough, maybe he hadn’t stepped up at some point when it was necessary.
In any case, to now see that things were looking up for Zhu Hong and that he was not yet only getting closer with them but also was on the cusp of having his own family with Zhen Zhu, he after really wanted to help. Trying that was really the only thing he could do.
Thinking for a bit, he finally went and gathered some materials he could show him. That young phoenix was a curious one. As long as he showed him something new, he would be interested for sure and want to hear more. That way, he could probably keep him busy for at least a week or two, giving Zhu Hong enough time to prepare things. With the help of the rest of their family, this would definitely work out. And they weren’t enough, there were still the other phoenixes and dragons in the valley that they could ask. Surely, they would also help out.
At this time, Zhen Zhu was excitedly telling his husband about his day, while Zhu Hong watched him with a smile.
"Seems like you had a lot of fun."
Zhen Zhu sidled up closer to him and nodded. "A lot! I mean … it can’t compare to spending time with you but it wasn’t bad. Also, I feel like I understand a lot more about the things we saw now. And going forward, when we go to the other cities, I won’t be as unprepared. Although I think that there are still a lot of things that I don’t know yet."
Zhu Hong reached out and rubbed his husband’s neck, landing a kiss on his cheek. "I wouldn’t worry about that. In any case, you’ve already learned quite a bit today. And it’s not like we are going to leave immediately. I’m pretty sure that Elder Bi wouldn’t mind teaching you some more while we stay here."
Zhen Zhu nodded but he seemed a little reluctant.
"What’s the matter?"
Zhen Zhu held onto his husband’s arm, not quite sure how to say what was going through his mind. "Well, you know, I know it’s unnecessary and I’m probably being too much but I also don’t want to be without you the whole time. I’ll miss you!"
Zhu Hong’s gaze became a little complicated. He knew that it was normal for phoenixes to be especially attached in the beginning and if things worked out well between the couple, it would still be so in the future.
Still, they needed to accept sooner or later that they couldn’t always be with their partners. Most phoenixes managed after a couple of weeks at the very latest and the dragons had an easier time anyway. But in his case … he had a hard time saying no to Zhen Zhu. But it wasn’t like he could prepare a surprise for him right in front of his eyes so this was necessary. Also, he didn’t think that it was bad to slowly get Zhen Zhu used to not having him around. If he didn’t get used to that, it would be even worse when he finally had to go on a mission again.
Zhu Hong sighed and rubbed Zhen Zhu’s neck again, trying to reassure him now that he was at his side. "Well, it’s not like I’m out of the world. I’m actually still pretty close by, just taking care of some other things. If I don’t want to go on any missions for now, I’ll have to make myself useful in the valley. I’m afraid that is something we’ll have to live with. In the future, I will need to go out and go on missions for real. I know that you probably don’t like the thought but it is just a matter of fact."
Zhen Zhu nodded, not having expected anything else. "I know. That’s why I’m saying that I’m probably being too much. I know that you can’t change it. You probably also don’t want to be apart from me, right?" He looked at his husband hopefully, clearly expecting a love confession in return.
Zhu Hong chuckled. Sometimes, his little spouse was really too easy to see through. He leaned down and kissed his forehead before pulling him into his arms. "Of course, I miss you. Whenever we are apart, I miss you terribly.
"But I know that it’s something that is necessary so I’m willing to bear it. If I could, I would also bear it for you. Unfortunately, you’ll have to live with it. But anyway, look at it this way: As long as I take care of the things that need to be taken care of, we will be able to the rest of the time together. So let’s just plan it all out."
Zhen Zhu blinked his eyes, not quite sure what his husband meant. "What are we planning out?"
"Well, there are things that I need to do and there are things that you need to or want to do. So I’d say it would be best if we took a few hours every day to do the things where we can’t be together and both do our own thing. Then after either of us finishes, we will come together again and spend the rest of the time with each other.
"Imagine if I went out while you were just waiting at home and then when I came home, you were to tell me you want to go to Elder Bi to learn more. That would be much worse!"
Zhen Zhu pursed his lips. "Why would I ever do that?"
Zhu Hong nodded at that. "Right. Why would you ever do that? So you see, we’re already doing very good!"
Zhen Zhu pursed his lips, feeling like his husband had tricked him. He couldn’t really be angry at him though because, to be honest, he felt a little cheered up now. Even though it couldn’t change the situation, it was true that things could be even worse.
There were things that they had to do at specific times and if these things weren’t always at the same time, then that would be a problem. And Zhu Hong had times where he needed to go out. So it would be best if he found something for himself to do as well. That was something that he could do to support his husband.
Having made up his mind, Zhen Zhu gave another nod. "Alright, I understand already. With some time, I’ll get used to it as well. Just … let’s make sure that we still spend a lot of time together for now, yes? At least half the day!"
Zhu Hong raised his brows and then gave him another kiss on the lips. "Not just half the day but the whole night as well. And after a while, we will go out to travel again and have a few days just to us. And then, let’s do that regularly, alright? Until you don’t want anymore."
Zhen Zhu grasped his husband’s hand, shaking his head. "You won’t be in luck then. Because I will always want to do that!"
"That sounds like good luck to me."
Zhen Zhu just laughed and the two of them dropped the subject for the time being.
The next few days went pretty similarly. The two of them would go over to Elder Bi’s house, spending some time with him and his family before Zhu Hong went off to do his 'tasks' while Zhen Zhu stayed behind to learn from Elder Bi and the others or sometimes went over to the building of the phoenixes together with Yu Sui.
Zhu Hong managed to figure things out pretty fast in regard to the nest. After trying the first day, he got a better idea of how it was done and then tried to make it more comfortable to lie in over the next two days. Meanwhile, Yu Sui wriggled some information out of Zhen Zhu in regard to what kind of nest he would like if he could choose one.
After two weeks, Zhu Hong finally finished the nest. And since they had both kept pretty busy, he had managed to do so without his husband noticing right in the room in their house that Zhen Zhu had chosen. This was mostly thanks to the fact that they had spent most of their time at Elder Bi’s house and had even stayed over there at night, not giving Zhen Zhu the opportunity to look around their own house much.
Zhu Hong looked at the finished product and his face lit up with a smile. Finally, it was time to tell Zhen Zhu about his big surprise. Just imagining how happy he would be …
Although, Zhu Hong had to admit that he was also a little worried. He wasn’t sure how to bring it up. In fact, he had been so busy preparing everything that he hadn’t even thought about that once. Now, he wasn’t sure if he should prepare anything in regard to that. After all, it was a special moment, wasn’t it? Most likely, that deserved more than just telling him to go up and take a look. He didn’t quite know what to do though.
He left the room and then went over to Elder Bi’s house where Zhen Zhu was currently sitting with the Elder and snacking on some of his baked goods. Zhu Hong shook his head when he came inside, wondering how his little spouse was even able to eat these. But in any case, as long as he liked them, he might as well.
He went over and leaned down, kissing him on the cheek before he sat down and pulled him into his arms. "Did you have fun?"
Zhen Zhu nodded and pulled up his legs, snuggling up to his husband’s chest. "Elder Bi was telling me about his travels from when he was younger."
"Oh?" Zhu Hong raised his brows at that and glanced at the elder who pretended that he hadn’t done that. "That must’ve been interesting." He remembered that Elder Bi had told him those same stories when he had been younger. But in the last few years, he hadn’t really heard those. Most likely, Elder Bi felt that he was too old to be interested in them but now, he actually pulled them out again for Zhen Zhu. Well, it was also good that he had the opportunity to talk about it again and Zhen Zhu also seemed to have enjoyed himself.
Zhen Zhu indeed immediately nodded. "Yes, he has seen so many places! We definitely have to travel around just as much. Speaking of which … when are we going to leave again?" He looked at his husband with big eyes, clearly hopeful that they would do so soon. In the last two weeks, he had practiced flying while he was with Zhu Hong. Now, he felt that he should be proficient enough to at least fly a part of the distance himself. As for the rest … well, being carried by his husband was also nice.
Zhu Hong laughed at that. "Well, if you’re looking forward to it this much, then we shouldn’t wait too long anymore." In any case, in regard to flying, he felt that it would be best to let him experience actually traveling a longer distance. While he could learn to fly in the valley, flying for a long time was still different, and needed actual experience to get it right.
Zhen Zhu still needed to realize where his limits were, how long and how fast he could go, and when he would need to take a break. Also, he hadn’t made any real experience with air streams yet or how it was to fly in bad weather. All those things were important though so he’d rather leave sooner than later and have him get to know some parts of that. Before that, he still needed to show him the nest though.
He hesitated for a moment, not quite sure how to say it. He really wanted to make it special but he didn’t have any idea how. Planning out this whole surprise had been difficult enough already. And now, there was this small added complication as well.
Zhen Zhu tilted his head, noticing that something was up with his husband. "What’s the matter? Is there a problem with leaving?" He was a bit sad when he thought that but he would also understand if something else had come up.
Zhu Hong shook his head though. "Not a problem. I guess we should get to planning our next trip then." Thinking for a bit, he motioned to the door. "How about doing that at home?" In any case, even if he thought any longer, he probably wouldn’t be able to come up with anything that special. And knowing Zhen Zhu, he would be delighted no matter how he was told as long as the end result was the same. So he should just go with it.
Zhen Zhu didn’t think too much about it and just nodded, turning around to say goodbye to Elder Bi before he grabbed another few of the little cakes and then followed his husband out of the house, clearly in a happy mood.
To be honest, even if they wouldn’t go to travel anytime soon, he would be alright with that. While he definitely loved seeing new things, he had also gotten more used to being in the valley and he felt like things were quite nice. He didn’t want to completely miss out on traveling around but it would be alright to not do it immediately.
When they reached the entrance to their house, Zhu Hong once again wasn’t quite sure how to continue. He glanced at Zhen Zhu and then opened the door before following him inside. Stopping there, he faintly cleared his throat.
Zhen Zhu turned back around, wondering what exactly was going on with his husband. Somehow, he was being a bit strange. He didn’t understand why though. "Did something happen?"
Zhu Hong sighed when he saw Zhen Zhu’s worried expression and stepped forward, pulling him into his arms. "Nothing bad. Just that … before we go, I have a surprise for you." There, now it was out. But this was probably better. In any case, Zhen Zhou would definitely be ecstatic when he saw just what the surprise was.
To be honest, Zhen Zhu didn’t even need to see what the surprise was. Just the fact that his husband wanted to surprise him made him delirious with happiness. He hugged his waist, looking up at him with glittering eyes. "Really? Ah, that wouldn’t have been necessary." His gaze clearly said that he was very satisfied though and definitely wouldn’t mind getting more surprises in the upcoming years.
Zhu Hong chuckled and leaned down, giving him a kiss on the lips. "Really. It’s upstairs. So let’s go and take a look? I feel like you should see this before we leave."
Zhen Zhu nodded eagerly and gripped his husband’s hand, letting Zhu Hong lead him to the room where the surprise was waiting for him. When they stopped in front of the door, Zhen Zhu stared at it as if he would be able to figure out what was behind it just by gazing at the wood alone.
Zhu Hong laughed and reached over, rubbing his neck. "Do you want to open it yourself or … should I do it?"
Zhen Zhu looked up at him and then back at the door, not quite sure what to do. He was so excited! This was the first time that his husband was surprising him. He didn’t even know what to expect. But in any case, he was sure that he would love it. After all, it came from Zhu Hong.
He lowered his head, shifting on the spot a little before he tiptoed and gave his husband a kiss. "Thank you!"
"You haven’t even seen what it is though."
"No matter what it is, I’ll be happy." With that, he turned around and swiftly opened the door, standing in the doorway and staring inside with eyes that immediately got wide when he realized what was inside.
"It’s … it’s a nest!" Zhen Zhu’s eyes started to glitter again and he rushed over, wanting to jump in but then reconsidered at the last moment. Instead, he carefully stretched out his hands, wanting to touch it but then didn’t do so either.
Zhu Hong leaned in the doorway and crossed his arms in front of his chest. His spouse was really too adorable. Clearly, Zhen Zhu didn’t even know what to do with this. The last two times when he had seen one, he had just directly jumped in. Now, it was his own so he was probably afraid of doing some kind of damage. Clearly, this meant that this nest was special to him.
Zhen Zhu held back, his happiness tinged with worry.
"I made it according to your size. So don’t worry about it. It’ll definitely fit you."
Zhen Zhu nodded and then finally reached out again, touching it gingerly. "When sister Yu Sui talked about nests the last few days, I thought it was because she was going to lay an egg soon but … it had to do with this, right?" He looked to Zhu Hong, feeling that everything made sense.
The constant days of spending time with Elder Bi and his family instead of his own husband while Zhu Hong was out for hours on end, doing some kind of task that he never really gave him any details on.
Because he had been talking so much about what he himself was doing, he had hardly realized and whenever he did ask about Zhu Hong’s day, he would only get a short answer before his husband somehow managed to divert his attention. He probably should have realized but he really hadn’t. This came completely out of the blue.
Zhu Hong smiled even more brightly when he brought it up. "I guess it was a bit of both. Sister Yu Sui and Hui Se will be thinking about it for sure. But I also might have asked for a little favor. I didn’t want to ask you myself because I was afraid it might become too obvious. And I didn’t want to disappoint you in case it didn’t work out. After all, it was my first time making one. Anyway, I hope it’s really how you would have imagined it. If you don’t like something about it, we can still change it. It’ll take some time to do but I’m sure we’ll manage."
Zhen Zhu frantically shook his head and then climbed into the nest, sitting down in the middle as if he wanted to make sure that it couldn’t be suddenly taken away or changed just like that. "No! I want to keep it just like this." In any case, this was the first gift that he had gotten from his husband. And it had been made specifically for him. Also, Zhu Hong had put so much effort into it. Thus, he definitely wasn’t willing to change anything about it. Not even a single twig could be taken out!
He lay down on the spot, rubbing his head against the soft part in the middle before he rolled around.
Seeing him like this, Zhu Hong laughed again and then went over, climbing inside as well. "I hope that you are really satisfied. In any case, you seemed so happy the two times when we were in the forest and then also in the city when you go to sleep in one so I figured it would be a great idea if you had one at home as well. It’s made so that you can lie on the inside and I on the outside. I think that’s going to work quite well."
Zhen Zhu turned back around, looking directly into his husband’s eyes. "Thank you." He really wanted to say more, some words that would really convey how touched he felt and how much this gesture and Zhu Hong in general meant to him. But … he couldn’t really think of anything. There were only these two words: thank you. Other than that, everything else just didn’t want to come to mind.
Zhu Hong nodded and then leaned forward a little, giving him a kiss on the forehead. "You’re my family. The most important person in my life. I’d do anything for you, not to mention this kind of small thing to make you happy. I want you to know and always keep it in mind. And if there’s ever something else that you need or want, you just need to say the word and I’ll try to make it possible for you."
Zhen Zhu nodded and then just crawled closer to his husband, hugging his neck and burying his face at his chest. He didn’t know what to say, he just knew that he loved this man very much and no matter what the future held for them, he would always stay with him. Whatever happened, they would clearly be able to make it work. He was sure of that.
The things that he couldn’t say, the things that Zhu Hong couldn’t say, they didn’t matter. It was enough to know that they would always be there for each other and would carve out a future for themselves. Just like they had done every day since Zhu Hong went up the mountain and chose his egg.