Chapter 45.5

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written by Chimera
edited by MiniOrchid

As expected, Li Ying had recovered from her injury within two days. The evening of the day she got injured, Die Feng had returned with dinner and a soothing tea 2nd brewed for her head. When he arrived, the Princess was less animated than usual. Her red eyes made Die Feng wonder if she had gotten any rest at all. She was in low spirits but it did not seem like she wanted to talk about it. She asked him to eat with her if he hadn't eaten yet and he picked up a bowl.

To cheer her up he asked if she would like to go to the garden where 8th was playing his flute. "Not tonight," she responded. "Let's just eat."

They began eating in silence, the clink of their chopsticks and spoons the only sound. Eventually, Li Ying asked what he had done that day and he told her about library maintenance. Bodhisattva Wei Tuo had recently come for a look and had given suggestions for the new cataloguing system Die Feng had been developing to make ranking books easier. That got the Demon Princess and Die Feng comparing sources for acquiring rare scrolls. He had a wide network amongst Celestials while she had black market contacts.

The conversation drew her out and she gained more animation. When he had been about to leave she had held him back with a touch on his arm, some unnamed emotion in her eyes. "Thank you," she said. "For staying with me."

Unsure what the intensity of her gaze signified, he said. "You're welcome."

By the next day she was her usual playful self. When he brought her dinner she handed him a bowl of rice without ceremony and began eating.

The same happened the next evening and the next.

The Princess resumed her training and exploration of Kunlun while Die Feng resumed work. The realm politics were moving along. Messengers from the West Sea came everyday as the sea tribes rallied and argued. Die Yong's wedding alliance was in the final stages of negotiation and gifts were being exchanged. On the day of his brother's wedding, the West Sea Crown Prince was supposed to be declared. It was only a formality as everyone knew that the throne would pass to Die Yong. Die Feng had already made a couple of visits to the West Sea and back.

He had grown increasingly certain that managing things from Kunlun would not be practical for much longer. He needed to be on the ground, speaking to people face to face. Yet he also knew that leaving Kunlun would herald greater changes. Changes that Die Feng was not sure he was ready for.

The last few days, his evenings with the Princess had become the only times he could let himself take his mind off work.

Today she had snuck into the kitchen, determined to unearth some wine. Silently praying that she never discovered the existence of the wine cellar, Die Feng offered to bring her the wine from High God Zhe Yan's orchard that Bai Qian had given him for his birthday. Not being much of a drinker, he hadn't opened it yet. The Princess had gleefully accepted. Now they were sitting side by side against the wall on the kitchen floor, holding bottles. Li Ying was narrating another mortal realm anecdote.

"Once when I was the daughter of a wealthy merchant I was kidnapped by bandits."

"Why am I not surprised?" said Die Feng, taking a swig.

"Hey! I'm telling the story," she protested.

Putting down his bottle, he held up his hands. "Okay, okay, what happened next? Were you scared?"

Her grin belied her next words. "Oh yes! It was terrifying! On the way to their hideout I couldn't stop thinking if the bandit leader would be a handsome rogue like in the mortal plays."

"Was he?" he asked, more than a little curious.

"Alas! He turned out to be a cruel man with rotting teeth. My death was horrific," she said with relish.

Die Feng shuddered and, unconsciously, moved closer. The woman had a screw loose.

"That made me learn not to trust plays," she pouted.

He laughed. "Life is not like plays, Princess."

"I know," she sighed. "But I still had to see if there was any truth to adventure stories at all. So then I tried becoming a pirate queen."

Die Feng took another sip. Heat spread through his body as the wine travelled down. "Become a pirate," he said. "Right. The obvious conclusion."

She pointed her finger at him, "For two mortal years I carved an empire on the high seas until my brother summoned me back."

He raised an eyebrow as she drank, "You're not nearly cunning enough to be a pirate."

Wiping her lips, she smirked, "I am not bound by mortal limits either."

"That's cheating!" Die Feng protested.

"Details," she waved him off. "What I learned was that mortal life is not like adventure stories at all. People are preoccupied with hunger and wealth. Isn't that even more interesting?"

"It is," he agreed. "The idea of adventure is appealing but when it comes down to it people will stick to what they are familiar with. Same physical comforts, same desires and the same hunger. I certainly am set in my ways."

"You're too set in your ways," she said, giving him a light shove.

He acknowledged it with a nod. "Change is painful after getting comfortably used to something.

The more I get used to it the more I get attached."

"Didn't any of your past lovers ever ruffle you up?" she asked.

Taking another draught, he shook his head. "I have not been with a woman yet."

That made her sit up. "What, never?"

"No," he said, raising his eyebrows. "Is that so surprising?"

"It is unusual amongst Demons."

Die Feng turned this over in his mind. By now, he was well on his way to being pleasantly tipsy. Damn, the vintage was potent. "It has never been of particular concern. It's my duty to enter into a politically advantageous match arranged by my parents and advisors for the benefit of the kingdom. When the time comes, I believe the rest will follow naturally."

"That is it? You do not seek love or passion?" she asked. The cutest line appeared between her eyebrows. Die Feng felt like smoothing it.

"As long as there's harmony and mutual goodwill I should be fine," he assured her.

"And this politically advantageous match will be with a Celestial vir- woman of virtue?" she continued.

"Probably, yes."

"Hmm," she said.

They sipped in silence. He could smell basil and caramel. Not surprising, since they were in the kitchen, but where had he sniffed this combination before-

"Die Feng," said Li Ying, interrupting his thoughts. Oh yeah, it was her scent. Closing his eyes, he leaned back his head and inhaled deeply. "Will you be scandalised if I ask something?"

Eyes still closed he said, "Princess, when have you ever cared about scandalising me?"

"True. Do you-" she paused, looking for the right word "-have urges?"

His eyes snapped open. "Urges?"

"I mean, don't you get frustrated? Being...chaste all the time?" she sounded so puzzled.

He chuckled. "I channel my energies into meditation and exercise."

"And that is enough?"

Die Feng shrugged. "I've lived here from a young age. There are other things to occupy my mind."

At the moment though, his mind was veering away from its usual occupations.

"You need education," she declared. "Do you even know how to-"

Was the woman serious? Did she really think- "I am acquainted with the facts of a union between a man and woman, thank you."

"But do you know anything about pleasure?" she continued undaunted. "So one day you fulfil your duty and marry a virginal Celestial bride but what good will the wedding night be if neither of you are acquainted with receiving and giving pleasure? It will be the unschooled teaching the unschooled."

"You seem very concerned about my wedding night," he remarked. This conversation was not going well. Was it the wine or her words that were making him more heated?

"I'm looking out for you as a friend!" she protested.

"Funnily enough, my other friends don't seem to – what are you doing?"

He couldn't take his eyes off as she rolled back her sleeve and reached inside. Why was she-? Reaching into sleeve pockets did not require the rolling of sleeves or baring of smooth snow white arms. She saw him watching from the corner of her eye and smirked. Damn it, she knew exactly what she was doing, the evil woman. With a casual flick, she unrolled her sleeve and her arm was covered again. Die Feng forced himself to look up from the spot where her skin had been moments ago.

"Here, take this," Li Ying put down a book next to him. "It should be enough to get you started."

"Is that-"

"Erotic stories, yes. I'll send you more from my collection when I return."

He choked.

"Be sure to tell your future bride to thank me," she said in a self satisfied tone, patting his arm.

He caught her hand, "I might as well send her to you for lessons while I'm at it."

Leaning over him, she smirked again. "Oh? She might not want to leave me after."

He leaned forward, "I would snatch her back."

The smirk slid off her face. "Careful, Die Feng. You almost sound like a romantic."

Still gripping her hand, his eyes bore into hers. "Make no mistake, I do not sit around sighing over love. But what is mine is mine."

"Then you should be the one getting lessons," she said in a low voice. "Give me a night or two and I will ruin you for other women-"

Before he knew what he was doing Die Feng had pulled Li Ying down until he felt her heated lips against his. The corner of her mouth tilted up in another smirk and Die Feng bit down on her lip. That wiped the smirk off all right. She gave a low moan, much to his satisfaction. He ran his tongue over the bite and she opened her mouth. Her hands cupped his face, drawing him closer. The taste of the wine on her tongue, the scent of her...he was getting lightheaded.

She was almost on his lap as he strained to feel her body against his. He ran his hands over her back, and felt her shiver, her breasts pressed against his chest. Her hand travelled to the base of his neck, holding him in place while her tongue explored his mouth. He strained to regain the upper hand and she nipped his jaw, making him gasp. He changed tactics and leaned back, pulling her down.

They landed on the floor, her hand pressed down on his chest, making him crave her touch on his bare skin. She was everywhere. Her hands, her tongue, the feel of her body... He couldn't be gentle and her lips were hungry, searching. And Die Feng wanted to move closer, closer still. Exercise was not enough to contain these...urges. Those other things that occupied his mind, he could not recall a single one of them. Millennia of meditation, failed when needed the most.

In a swift move, Die Feng turned them over so that she was underneath. They were both panting hard as he scanned her face. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips swollen. He had made them that way. And her eyes, her eyes were fiery, commanding him to come back.

"We..." he swallowed, trying to catch his breath. "We have to stop."

"Why?" she said, voice hoarse.

"I..." he had to clear his head. He sat up, putting space between them. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. That was-"

"It's just a kiss," she whispered. "Nothing more."

Die Feng shook his head, avoiding her eyes.

"You're afraid of getting attached," he heard her say.

He looked up sharply. "What? No-"

"That's what you said. When you get used to something you start to care. And when you care for someone you care for them wholeheartedly. I too have seen that much."

He wanted to deny again but her words rang in silence.

She lowered her head, "You are wise to resist."

"Princess-"

She looked up, "But I am a selfish being. Before we depart, I will claim your attention for however long you offer it."

Her eyes locked onto his, daring him to refuse. He did not back down. "You always have my attention, Princess."

What that boded he could not say, nor did he want to examine too closely. What did it matter? They would part ways soon enough. He would leave for his brother's wedding and she would return to her home.

She stared at him and he stared back until he sneezed.

That broke the tension.

Li Ying blinked at him before her face relaxed into a smile. Stretching with a cat-like grace, she yawned before speaking, "I wouldn't mind getting intoxicated with you more often."

Die Feng snorted. The wine had kept them warm but the night had steadily gotten chillier. The cold air helped calm his racing heart. He got up and offered her his hand. "Let us leave. I daresay we've had enough intoxication for one night."

Silently, they cleared the kitchen floor of the wine and the untouched snacks and headed down the corridor together.

Suddenly, Li Ying gasped and sped up.

"What is it?" Die Feng asked, following.

"I thought I saw-"

As soon as she rounded the corner, she jumped back to avoid stumbling over Shimu's mount. Die Feng steadied her with one hand on her elbow and looked at Fong Hung. The toad had been growing at an unprecedented rate after taking High God Zhe Yan's elixir. He was almost the size of a small dog by now.

"Damn, he got there before me again," said Li Ying, looking at Fong Hung with a cross expression.

"Where do you even hide it?"

Fong Hung glared back and croaked. Was it just him or did the toad look aggravated?

Li Ying held up her hands. "Okay okay, I won't say anything. Don't be angry."

"What are you even talking about?" Die Feng asked.

"It's nothing," she said. "I lost a toy, that's all."

"Oh. I can help you look for it," he offered.

She turned to him with a sly grin. "Why not? One of these days I'll tell you about it."

He wasn't sure what the grin boded but his heart skipped a beat. He really was tipsy still. They bid each other good night and departed for their rooms, not speaking of what had passed down in the kitchen. As he climbed into bed, Die Feng still felt flushed and tingly. But as he drifted off to sleep, his lips curved into a smile.

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