Qin Yining frowned with heartache before focusing on conscientiously wiping down Pang Xiao’s body. Worried that he’d catch a chill, she patted his body dry with a handkerchief before fetching a set of undergarments from his belongings and draping it over his shoulders.
Averting his eyes from his legs, she pointed elsewhere. “Put on your clothes and take a seat over there. I’ll help dry your hair.”
Pang Xiao looked down at a certain magnificent area of his before smirking broadly. Landing a noisy smack with his laps on Qin Yining’s red face, he ran off in a splendid mood.
Qin Yining tossed Pang Xiao’s dirty clothes into the bathwater before taking a clean towel to tousle his hair. Her slender fingertips rubbed his scalp with just the right amount of force, sending shivers down Pang Xiao’s body. With a firm tug, he pulled her into a seated position on his lap and kissed her deeply.
Qin Yining’s grip on the towel tightened as her breath was taken away. It took a while for her to realize his state of mind wasn’t quite right, and she hastily pulled away with a beet red face.
But Pang Xiao caught her slim waist and pressed her little butt back down on his legs. He drew her in tightly and buried his face in the crevice of her neck, his voice hoarse. “My dearest, don’t move. Just let me hold you.”
Qin Yining’s heart pounded like a drum, her face flushed with emotions and her heart completely soft. She stayed still, not daring to move a finger.
When she saw that he’d calmed down after a while, she smiled teasingly. “Be a good boy, Dafu, and stop moving. Your hair’s not dry yet, so be careful, you might catch a cold.”
Pang Xiao snickered at Qin Yining’s words, rubbing her face with his stubble. “Bad girl, do you think you can just call me Dafu like this? You should be calling me my good brother!”
Qin Yining snorted softly, “You’re so full of it.”
Pang Xiao closed his eyes, relaxing into her ministrations with a silver comb. “How is calling me my good brother being full of it? It’s not like I told you to call me my good dada.” 
This guy can joke about anything!
Qin Yining twisted his ear, but found that the fingerful she’d grabbed was unexpectedly soft. She couldn’t help but tweak it some more. It was so soft! “Who knew you were such a doting, loving husband?”
“That’s right, have you only just noticed? The entire world knows that I’m a henpecked husband and crazily in love with my wife!” Pang Xiao’s answer was bold and confident, delighting Qin Yining.
While Pang Xiao used a knife to shave himself in her mirror, Qin Yining carefully gave his clothes a thorough washing.
“Won’t His Majesty be furious for you leaving the capital like this? Have you already made arrangements for the family?”
Pang Xiao assessed his chin in the mirror and rubbed it a few times. “Don’t worry, I left my grandparents and mother in father-in-law’s care. When I left, Ah Lan also promised to help me take care of them. They’ll be fine, but your parents have been frantic with worry since your disappearance.
“Your mother took it especially badly and can’t stop crying. The old dowager tried to cause trouble a few times and even wanted to arrange a marriage between me and your eighth sister. I vehemently refused on the spot and stormed out. If your mother were to learn about it, she’d definitely kick up an enormous fuss with the old dowager.”
Qin Yining’s heart stung with melancholy and concern whenever she thought of her family. However, knowing how capable and resourceful her father was, she wasn’t too worried. He had the power to protect the family. But since Pang Xiao had mentioned Ji Zeyu…
“Prince Consort Ji is truly loyal to you.”
“Yes.” After Pang Xiao shaved off his stubble and tidied up, he rolled up his sleeves and walked over to the barrel, shifting Qin Yining aside. “Let me wash it, I don’t want you to hurt your hands.”
His large, slender hands were filled with strength, making quick work out of scrubbing and wringing the garments dry.
Seeing this, Qin Yining didn’t object to the change in responsibilities and took a seat beside him, cupping her face as she watched. “Do you trust Prince Consort Ji?”
Pang Xiao didn’t raise his head. “I trust him. Don’t worry, I have a good eye for people. Although we fight at times, face off against each other, and even plot some harmless schemes against each other, it’s all an act. We still have a mutual understanding with each other. When it comes to something important, I trust him.”
Qin Yining nodded in response; she in turn trusted Pang Xiao’s judgement. What she left unspoken was that although Ji Zeyu treated Pang Xiao as a true friend, he was completely hostile toward her. He didn’t like her in the slightest or approve of her marriage with Pang Xiao. However, there was no need to say that and cause trouble between her husband and his good friend.
Before long, the clothes were scrubbed clean and Pang Xiao casually hung them somewhere to dry. With the basin in one hand and barrel in the other, he asked Qin Yining to hold the tent flap open so he could pour out the water.
She wanted to help carry some of the weight, but ended up giggling with empty hands when Pang Xiao walked out effortlessly with the wooden basin and barrel.
By now, cooking fires had flared to life around the camp.
“We’ve cooked porridge, but we don’t have any other dishes.” Lu Heng walked over with a smile. “There’s only some pickles and broad bean sauce that some Xiyue tribespeople sent over the other day.”
“That’s plenty enough.” Pang Xiao smiled broadly. “It’s already a big improvement from gnawing on hard flatbread in the desert.”
The Elite Tigers had also tidied up and were in high spirits. Chuckles rose and fell when they heard the prince’s words.
Huzi was even more lively as he laughed, “Right, the flatbread was hard enough to break our teeth! We definitely crave something warm and soupy after leaving the desert. Porridge hits the spot!”
Lu Heng called everyone over to the steaming iron cauldron and handed each of them a coarse clay bowl filled with fragrant, steaming brown rice porridge. A bowl of pickled vegetables and broad bean sauce was also passed around for everybody to share.
The group of more than fifty men clasped their bowls tightly, slurping down the food with gusto. Pang Xiao put away two bowls in a flash before gargling his mouth with water.