I couldn't have been more shocked by anything else in the world.
Never in my wildest dreams had I ever expected Bai Ye to say such a thing. He was one of the most revered immortals on Mount Hua, the role model of almost every aspiring young disciple. To think that someone like him would cross such a line … was almost blasphemy to me.
Besides, there was nothing in it for him. Dual cultivation works best when the two people are a close match in spiritual power. For levels as different as Bai Ye and I, the benefits would all be in my favor, whereas he would barely be able to absorb any power from me.
But he was willing to do it to save my life.
My slowing heartbeat started to quicken again. It might be the shock doing the trick, but I felt a slight bit of strength returning to me, and I managed to open my eyes.
Bai Ye's beautiful dark eyes were looking back at me. I thought I saw a thousand feelings in them: compassion, sorrow, a hint of regret … But above all, there was a tenderness that I didn't know where to place.
"Qing-er," he said, "we are running out of time."
I realized then that he was waiting for my agreement. My heart skipped a beat. "Yes," I replied.
It was barely a whisper, but that took all the strength I had just gained. My eyelids dropped closed once more, and I felt lightheaded as he lowered me onto my pillow.
My senses were still dull. I thought I felt light kisses brushing against my cheeks, my neck, my shoulder. Fingers loosened the ribbons on my clothes, and the trail of kisses followed, down my collarbones, my breast. A hand ran along the side of my waist, my hip, my thigh.
It was a sensation that I had never felt before, and I hoped that there was more strength left in me to fully experience it, to respond. But I was still weak, drifting on the edge of consciousness.
Then I heard Bai Ye whisper in my ear: "I wish there's time to better prepare you for this … I'm sorry. It might hurt."
Before I could process what he meant, a sharp pain penetrated my lower body like a knife piercing through me. It caught me off guard, and I groaned. But the moment I opened my mouth, he pressed his lips against mine and swallowed the sound.
As if the pain had shocked me out of a stupor, my senses grew more clear, and I was suddenly aware of the softness of his lips. He tasted like herbs, the freshest ones after a clear summer morning's rain.
"Qing-er," he whispered. I felt his warm breath on my cheeks, his graceful fingertips stroking my forehead as if to smooth out my knitted brow from the pain. Then he kissed me again. His hand moved along my neck to my chest, leaving a burning sensation in its wake. He cupped one of my breasts in his palm, his fingers brushing over its tip. The touch sent a strange yearning down my whole body, and I moaned into his mouth.
His caress was light and soft, but every movement drove my breaths into mad disarray. Realization hit me belatedly: what I had never dared dream of was happening now. I was lying naked beneath Bai Ye, our bodies entwined, his hand dancing over my bare skin. He was kissing me. And he was making love to me.
The earlier pain had eased. He moved slowly, and I could tell that he was trying his best to be gentle considering my current state. I tried to lift my hand to touch him, to tell him how much I appreciated his thoughtfulness and care, but strength still failed me.
I must've grunted from the effort, because he suddenly stopped. I opened my eyes and stared right into his worried gaze.
"Am I hurting you?" he asked.
I managed the slightest shake of my head. "I wish …" I said slowly, "I could … touch … you …"
He looked surprised. Then he laughed. A low, soft chuckle. He reached for my hand and pressed it against my pillow, his fingers interlaced with mine. He held me tight and thrust inside me again, harder and deeper than before.
For a moment, I imagined that we were just a pair of ordinary lovers spending a night together. He didn't have to hold me or kiss me for dual cultivation, and I let myself believe that he was doing it because he had feelings for me just like I did for him. I knew it was only my wishful thinking, but the thought still brought me overwhelming happiness.
Even if death was the price to pay for this, it was worth it.
"Bai Ye …" I whispered. I had never called him by his name before, nor did I ever think I would. But maybe being on the brink of death made me brave for once, or maybe I was too deep in my imagination to remember the boundaries of reality.
He held me even tighter, the rhythm of his motion picking up further. "Say it again," he kissed me and breathed.
The doting tone in his words broke my last reservation. "Bai Ye …" I repeated. The words tasted sweet on my tongue, like hope, like faith, like the deepest dream come true.
He kissed me once more, and suddenly a warm gush of energy coursed through me, bringing strength back to every muscle of my body. My fingers twitched. I could move them again, and before I knew it, I had already clasped them around Bai Ye's grip.
"Force the venom out, Qing-er," he said softly, though the urgency in his voice was unmistakable.
I nodded, commanding the immense power to move through my body. It took almost no effort to push all the venom to my free hand. I lifted my forefinger and forced out the dark blood through my fingertip.
The heavy, suffocating feeling finally dissipated. As the blackness in my blood lightened and trickled to a stop, tiredness washed over me, and I drifted off into a dreamless sleep.