Once he was completely finished with checking and making sure the dog was alright, he finally moved his attention to Yujia, who stared back at him blankly.
Only pure confusion went through Yujia's mind. She was still trying to piece it all together.
"Junior Sister— I didn't expect to see you here." He masked his worried gaze with a smile.
Right. Yujia temporarily forgot that Zixu was now her Senior Brother, since Ye Yunhe's father took him in as a disciple. She nodded back and said, "Senior Brother Zixu, I didn't expect to see you either."
He knelt down in the grass to pet his dog, continuing, "Are you simply taking a walk because of the good weather today?"
Yujia almost snorted. She wished that was the case. Except, how was she supposed to say, '
Oh, I was just riding on a psychopathic demon, but now I'm all good'
"I guess you could say it that way. A leisurely stroll that landed me here. What about you?" she settled with telling him.
He looked down at the dog, the corners of his lips lifting up. "My dog likes to go on walks through the forest. I thought I would accompany him, but… he saw a rabbit halfway through." At this, a small laugh escaped him. "He ran after the rabbit and deviated from the path we were going through, so of course, I had to chase him. And here I am now."
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Yujia only just now noticed the beads of sweat dotting Zixu's forehead, and his breathing which seemed heavier than normal. He must've ran after his dog at full speed. The image of a panicked Zixu losing his usual composure to run after his dog brought a smile to her on the inside.
Thinking for a brief second, she looked down, reached in her pocket, and pulled out a handkerchief, which was only a square of rough fabric. Yujia handed it to him and glanced away.
He looked at the square for a second, then took it from her. "Thanks."
"No problem." Yujia looked back at the dog, who was grinning even more. "Your dog is so strange," she teased, "She's always grinning? I have never seen a grinning dog before."
Zixu handed the handkerchief back to her when he was done wiping his sweat. He smiled too with an affectionate smile that met his eyes. "Mimi has always been like this, ever since he was a puppy."
"Mimi?" Yujia questioned,
"She's a girl, right?"
Mimi— which literally meant honey— seemed like a very feminine name.
"Oh, no." Zixu shook his head, scratching behind Mimi's ears. "Mimi is a boy. The whole reason for why he's called Mimi is because my younger brother named him. I was seventeen, but Ziyang was only ten when we got Mimi as a newborn. He thought Mimi was a girl at first, and because of his coat color, he named her that. He called him Mimi for a whole week until he was told that Mimi was a boy. But the name stuck."
Yujia reached forward to pat Mimi as well. She softly replied, "That's cute. You seem to love your dog very much."
"I do." Zixu tilted his head. "Dogs in general— they're sometimes… better than men."
Yujia thought back to Zhizhong and Little Demon and laughed sullenly. "I can agree with that. Dogs are superior to everything. Humans, horses…"
He lifted his brows. "Horses? You dislike horses?"
She raised her head up, her hand clenched into a fist as she answered, "Yes. Passionately. I hate them with a burning passion."
"What have they ever done to hurt you?" he joked. Yujia had so many replies to that, but he continued before she could say anything. "I'm fine with all animals. I've had a good experience with all the horse's I've ridden on in the past. And Mimi gets along with horses very well."
Yujia wished that she could say the same.
She didn't want to think about what just happened a few moments ago with her and the demon creature, so she attempted to change the topic. "You seem a lot different than how you were before— you're a lot more talkative today," she pointed out.
Usually, though Zixu did share a few personal stories about himself, they were much more rare. But on the topic of animals, he became much more lively and interested in the conversation.
The warm smile on Zixu's face fell, quickly replaced by the typical calm smile he wore in a split second. The switch between his expressions was almost instantaneous after his rhetorical question, barely a falter in between them. He sat straighter, exhaled, and looked at her with a different gaze.
Zixu was still smiling. But now, the smile he wore was somehow much more different than the one he had on before.
Yujia observed all of this silently.
He brushed through Mimi's fur with his fingers one last time, then stood up, dusting off his robes. Glancing away from her, Zixu said dryly, "I still have things to get to today, so I believe I'll be leaving, if Junior Sister has no objections."
She said something wrong.
Yujia wasn't sure what she said wrong, but the change in the air between them was apparent.
Was it her statement about how he was more talkative? But how was that wrong?
It was as if her relationship with Zixu was back to square one from her one simple statement. She first met him as a calm and collected person, but as the two of them interacted, talked, and spent time together, she felt like Zixu was warming up to her, if only just a little bit. She wouldn't consider them good friends, but at the same time, maybe friends. At least she enjoyed talking to him.
But now, Zixu was standing in front of her stiffly, his fingers curled up by his side. He was back to that well-mannered, ever-so-perfect Yu Zixu that everyone else knew.
Yujia hastily stood up too. She wanted to know why the words she said were wrong, and what mistake she unknowingly made by asking that question.
"I need to head back too. We're going in the same direction, so would you mind if I walked with you?" she asked, her words laced with hesitation.
But contrary to the expectations she held in mind, Zixu replied with a single word of agreement. The two began the walk back together, yet Yujia couldn't quite think of the words she wanted to tell or ask him.
Somewhere along the mostly silent walk, perhaps almost an hour later, the two of them both realized and came to the conclusion that they were utterly lost.
They had been walking for so long, but there was no sight of a road anywhere. Normally, by this time, they should've already been mostly out of the forest and definitely on a road. Maybe they made a few unknowing turns along the way— mostly stop stop Mimi from chasing after a bird or a rabbit— but they should've been heading in a mostly linear direction, right?
Or, at the very least, they weren't walking in circles…
"Are you sure we're heading in the right direction?" Yujia stared at a tree stump that was right in front of them. "I swear, I've seen that tree stump for the fourth time already."
Maybe they were walking in circles.
Zixu looked at her with a shrug. "I've been following you, all this time."
"No— I've been following
!" she retorted.
When Zixu went to the left, she went to the left. When Zixu went to the right, she went to the right. She just assumed all along that Zixu knew what he was doing, and never questioned it. But how was she hearing now that he had been following
"You've been following
?" Zixu repeated.
At this, Zixu stopped in his tracks. He spun in a slow circle, looking in every varying direction, then looking up at the sky with his hand shielding his eyes from the sun. He finally laughed at this point, an awkward laugh that consisted of pure disbelief.
"I'm bad at directions," he admitted.
Yujia clasped her fingers together. "Nice to know. I, too, have zero sense of direction."
Their eyes met. Yujia saw the awareness registering in Zixu's eyes, and she was sure that he saw a similar sight in hers.
Then, Mimi barked, leaping to chase after the thirteenth rabbit or small creature he had come across in their entire walk.
At this moment, Yujia realized that the two of them were utterly screwed.
In Chinese, he, she, and it all translate to varying forms of "ta", which all sound the same though having different written characters. Thus, Yujia believed that Mimi was a "she" despite Zixu's usage of "he", since they sounded the same.
For a solid few moments, Zixu only had eyes for his dog.