Liu Qingge was born an alpha from a prestigious, wealthy alpha family. He had experienced rut before, naturally. His ruts were normally always manageable. He had trained himself to find release in other ways - mainly through fighting against demons whenever he was in a rut. The adrenaline rush certainly helped in battles and sometimes made him even more bloodthirsty than the demons themselves.
He had also experienced qi deviation, once. It was a very minor one, back when he was still learning and was a bit too eager to break through. His Shizun had warned him about the risk of going berserk and potentially harming not only himself but also the people around him. Since then Liu Qingge had always been careful whenever he was close to breaking through.
It just so happened that on this fateful day the qi deviation occurred at the same time as his rut. He was alone in the Spiritual Cave, with no opponent to release the heat inside him.
He sensed another presence. An opponent. His hand unconsciously gripped his sword.
Then he began to smell something sweet.
His mind changed its trajectory and he dropped the sword.
He didn't know who the hell the omega was at the time but he felt the connection. Of course, it could have been just the rut messing his mind. Liu Qingge used the last piece of his rationality left to bite his own arm in the effort to not lose control.
Then he felt the omega's breaths in his ears and the hand pulling him, begging him to feel the warmth.
He lost to his rut, for the first time.
He pulled the omega close, kissing their lips hungrily, licking, devouring every inch of their body that he could savour. The smell of arousal permeated and Liu Qingge’s member hardened even more. He ripped off the layers that stopped them from feeling each other’s bare skin. He growled like a beast, precum dripping from the sensation of his partner’s tongue running across his neck and chest.
He grabbed the other’s arms and pressed their bodies together, thoroughly enjoying the sensation of their private parts rubbing against each other. Liu Qingge’s hands roamed across his partner’s body, feeling every inch of warm smooth skin that contrasted the cave’s cold air. His right hand stopped in between the two round mounds and his fingers searched for entrance. He needed to be inside this person, right now.
The place was already wet and dripping and Liu Qingge spared no thought to bend down and lick it. It earned a long lewd moan from the person and he inserted his fingers, stretching the entrance impatiently. He pressed the person down, and pushed himself in with one smooth movement that was sure to send jolts and possibly pain to the person beneath him but Liu Qingge’s mind was too hazy to even care.
Especially when the person kept breathily muttering things that drove him crazy. “More,” the person gasped. “Fill me up - more - give me your seeds… more!”
He rolled his hips, lifted the person’s legs over his shoulders and pushed in deeper. More arousing pheromones emanated and permeated the air and Liu Qingge was drowned in ecstasy. It was so hot, so tight, so wet inside. He rutted, spilling his seeds inside the person numerous times. He flipped the person around, penetrated them once more, and bit the person’s nape. Mine , he thought. Mine, mine, mine!
When Liu Qingge came to, he was horrified to discover himself trembling, with his pants down and his robes mostly torn up, as well as a mess of hot sticky fluid flowing down from his manhood, all over his thighs.
Underneath him was another trembling figure. His legs were opened, with semen in the space between his legs, and a bite mark on the exposed nape.
Oh no. Oh shit.
What had he done?
Adding to his horror, he discovered that the person underneath him turned out to be Shen Qingqiu, his own senior martial brother, the Qing Jing Peak Lord, his sort of nemesis. Impossible. Wasn't Shen Qingqiu also an alpha...no, was he a beta? But an alpha can only mark an omega, meaning…
Shen Qingqiu was an omega. And they had just mated. Shit.
Liu Qingge hurriedly pulled up his pants and wrapped whatever left of his own robes around his senior martial brother and carried him to Qian Cao Peak, leaving the Spirit Caves earlier than he planned to. Cultivating be damned, he had to take responsibility. He took pride in never losing control of his rut, how could this happen?
Mu Qingfang certainly looked displeased when Liu Qingge explained the events that had occurred. Yue Qingyuan more so. In fact, he looked like he was tempted to unsheathe Xuan Su to be used on Liu Qingge.
"Shen Shixiong is indeed an omega, though he wishes that his status is not to be disclosed to others," Mu Qingfang explained. It was a secret only known to him, Yue Qingyuan, and Shen Qingqiu himself. Shen Qingqiu, throughout his years in Cang Qiong Mountain had been relying on inhibitors supplied by Qian Cao Peak and never disclosed his status to anyone else.
Liu Qingge bit his lip. "I will take responsibility. I will also accept punishment."
Mu Qingfang and Yue Qingyuan alike looked conflicted. "I'm not sure if Qingqiu Shidi will want that," Yue Qingyuan said. "Marriage is not going to fix this."
"At least punish me. I forced myself on him-"
"You did not."
Shen Qingqiu's voice came out from the treatment room. His complexion looked better now and he was able to walk. He was back to the cold, aloof scholarly immortal.
He sat in front of Liu Qingge, next to Yue Qingyuan. Liu Qingge noticed even though he was facing him, he was not looking at him in the eyes.
"It was partly my fault as well. I was in heat and when I was trying to not get myself killed from your berserk state, I experienced qi deviation myself and lost control of my own mind," Shen Qingqiu admitted. "I have vague recollection but I may have tempted you to take me back then."
Mu Qingfang sighed. "So both of you were experiencing heat and rut at the same time. Both of you were also experiencing qi deviation."
It was almost like a situation in which two very drunk people happened to be very horny and decided to do it. It was unclear who was to be blamed in this situation.
"However, you do realize that while one is in heat and the other is in rut, the possibility of conceiving is very high, don't you?" Mu Qingfang reminded them.
Liu Qingge flinched. He remembered the sticky mess he had left on Shen Qingqiu. Inside Shen Qingqiu.
"Can't you give Qingqiu Shidi the morning after pill?" Yue Qingyuan asked.
Mu Qingfang shook his head. "Unfortunately the morning after pill can disturb his qi circulation. If I were to give one to him right after he experienced a qi deviation, that was solved by dual cultivation… there's a risk of him getting a worse, possibly fatal one next time."
Shen Qingqiu drummed his fingers lightly as he thought deeply about it. He glanced at Liu Qingge who looked very much deep in guilt. Shen Qingqiu was frankly stunned that he decided to pounce at him rather than stabbing him with his sword back in the cave. He even marked him. It was very likely that he and Liu Qingge were fated mates, though he wasn't going to acknowledge that.
"We only did it once and most of the semen leaked out. I doubt there will be pregnancy in the first try," Shen Qingqiu said, though he knew he was hoping too much. An omega in heat and an alpha in rut mating was the perfect formula to conceive a child.
"Let's just hope for that then," Mu Qingfang said.
Yue Qingyuan did not punish either of them since neither parties intended to blame each other but he warned Liu Qingge to isolate himself - preferably in his own space - until his rut was over. Liu Qingge went to see Shen Qingqiu.
"Shen Qingqiu... regardless of whether there's a baby or not, I can't just act like nothing happened," Liu Qingge said. "I bit you. We are mated."
Shen Qingqiu raised an eyebrow at him. "So?"
Liu Qingge choked. "Why?"
"Why don't you reflect back on yourself when you asked me? I doubt anyone with a sane mind would agree."
Liu Qingge tried. For the whole week during his rut he tried to reflect on it but failed to get an answer. He came from a good family. He had a good social standing. His cultivation and strength were excellent. His looks were not bad. He was an alpha and physically compatible with Shen Qingqiu. So why did he get rejected?
He went to see his sister at Xian Shu Peak. The matter regarding his and Shen Qingqiu's 'accident' was kept a secret but Liu Qingge had no choice. He told his sister about what had happened.
She looked split in between delighted and mortified.
"Of course you can't just ask him to marry you! You haven't developed feelings yet, how can you ask him to do that!"
Liu Qingge frowned. "Feelings?"
"All this time you and Shen Shibo have been at odds with each other. You have to start looking at him in a different light and make him do the same."
Liu Qingge wondered what kind of material was being taught at Xian Shu Peak, as his sister waved him goodbye with a pouch full of 'Guide on Capturing A Man's Heart for Men'.
Shen Qingqiu took a deep breath as he wrapped himself in his blankets. His heat had not yet ended and unfortunately due to the qi deviation Mu Qingfang did not allow him to take any suppressants, for the same reason he wasn’t allowed to take a morning after pill. He had been in self isolation for three whole days now. The effect of dual cultivation from Liu Qingge had dissipated and now his pheromone was leaking out again. The younger disciples had been entrusted to the oldest disciples to take care of.
Yup. Shen Qingqiu remembered pretty well that in the midst of his qi deviation added with his state of drunken heat, he had told Liu Qingge to take him, rubbed against him, pretty much seducing him.
It was partly his own carelessness, forgetting to stock up on suppressants. Taking the suppressants constantly for decades had made him more resistant to it, hence reducing the drug's effectiveness. Increasing his cultivation would enable him to control his heat better but rushing it when he was already this unstable had backfired.
That being said…
Of all people, why did it have to be that brute?!
He might not feel as disgusted if the accident occurred with a stranger. At least there'd be no string attached. He could pretend it was a one night stand that would be forgotten soon. For his mate to be Liu Qingge of all people… Shen Qingqiu prayed he wouldn't get pregnant from that brute's seeds. It was hard to tell, a lot of the semen leaked out but some did get in and might have gotten inseminated, especially considering they were compatible mates.
He heard a knock on his door and got up. Luo Binghe came in, his face as dirty and his clothes as messy as usual. "Shizun, I've finished the task," Luo Binghe murmured weakly.
Shen Qingqiu eyed the child. An alpha child, he knew it as soon as he saw him. An alpha child, so talented with a high potential, just at the right age for cultivating, and loved by his mother. Just like Liu Qingge. So talented and so loved. He envied them, hated them so much.
Shen Qingqiu suddenly noticed something. Luo Binghe was not reacting to his strong omega pheromone despite being an alpha. He then realized that out of all the disciples he currently had right now, Luo Binghe was the youngest and weakest. He likely had not reached puberty yet and his cultivation was still awfully low. No wonder he wasn't reacting to Shen Qingqiu's omega pheromone. Even a beta like Ming Fan had looked at Shen Qingqiu strangely when Shen Qingqiu called him in temporarily earlier to give out instructions.
Shen Qingqiu thought about it. He needed an alpha's touch to stabilise his spiritual energy during his heat and this meek-looking boy looked like he could be trusted to not open his mouth.
"Little beast, go get a tub and fill it with water," he ordered.
Luo Binghe blinked. "Shizun?"
"Right now." There shouldn't be a problem if he gets this boy trained early to not defy him. Shen Qingqiu could try making this boy his adoptive cub, who could help him in his future heat.
Luo Binghe went to fill the bathtub, thinking his Shizun wanted to bathe. However, to his surprise, after the water was warmed Shen Qingqiu ordered him to strip. Luo Binghe's face turned red.
"You stink. Clean yourself," Shen Qingqiu said and picked up a clean cloth. He dumped Luo Binghe into the tub, tugged his hair roughly to pull him up, and began scrubbing his body.
Luo Binghe yelped. "Shizun?!"
"Stop flailing, little beast. How are you no different than an animal, when you can't even clean yourself properly?"
"... Disciple apologizes…" Luo Binghe murmured.
After he finished scrubbing all the dirt off Luo Binghe (the boy's face was crimson from the embarrassment upon seeing the dirty water) he threw some fresh robes to Luo Binghe and a cloth to dry off. Shen Qingqiu went back to his makeshift 'nest' and called Binghe to come.
Binghe was scared. He had heard rumours that his Shizun used to frequent brothels before he became a peak lord. What if Shizun wanted to use Binghe to satisfy his lust?
In spite of his fear, Luo Binghe braced himself and sat down in front of Shen Qingqiu. Shen Qingqiu combed and braided his hair. He then told Binghe to lay down in bed. Luo Binghe nervously laid down, his mind thinking of possible ways to knock his master out if he ever tried to do something to Binghe.
Then Shen Qingqiu also laid down, piled up more blankets around them, held Binghe's hand, and went to sleep.
Luo Binghe froze. He waited the whole night for Shen Qingqiu to do something indecent but the man just kept holding his hand while sleeping. Binghe did notice his Shizun's temperature was quite high, almost like feverish.
He got very little sleep that night, trying to think of why Shizun wanted to hold his hand to sleep, even going to the extent of bathing him.
The next morning, with his chastity still fully intact, Luo Binghe got up early and made some rice gruel and ginger tea. He served them to Shen Qingqiu, praying to the heavens above that this time he won't get hot rice gruel and tea over his head.
Shen Qingqiu narrowed his eyes at the steaming bowl of food suspiciously. Luo Binghe gulped. To his surprise, Shen Qingqiu ate them. He cleaned the bowl and sent out Binghe, ordering him to come again after finishing his errands.
When Luo Binghe came back to the hut, Shen Qingqiu was sitting in front of a table with a paper. He gestured at him to sit facing him. Luo Binghe obliged.
"How much can you read?" Shen Qingqiu questioned.
Luo Binghe looked down. "This disciple is dim-witted and can only read simple characters…"
"That means you haven't read much."
"... I have not."
Good? Luo Binghe was puzzled.
"I'm going to teach you how to read. However, remember this - in the future you may only read what I approve. Do not accept any unknown reading materials from your senior brothers - especially indecent ones."
Luo Binghe's eyes widened from shock. The teacher who had previously scorned and beat him up suddenly was giving him private lessons.
"Also, after the lesson move your things to the side room. From now on you'll be serving me. Understand?" Shen Qingqiu said and tapped his disciple's head with his fan.
That night Shen Qingqiu made him take a bath and slept holding Binghe's hand, yet again. Luo Binghe was completely puzzled. Shen Qingqiu was isolating himself from other disciples, yet here he was, suddenly having the disciple he hated the most to hold his hand to sleep.
Luo Binghe was overjoyed. He had no idea what caused his teacher to suddenly have a change in heart but he welcomed it very much. Shizun began teaching him to read and write. After a week, he stopped letting Binghe into his bed but let him sleep in the side room, so Binghe didn't have to sleep in the woodshed anymore. He was also now in charge of Shizun's meals.
Liu Shishu came to visit a week after Binghe moved in. Weird, because as far as Binghe knew the Bai Zhan Peak and Qing Jing Peak were always at odds due to their Peak Lords' rivalry. Shizun didn't seem to welcome Liu Shishu but Liu Shishu brought a dead beast to the bamboo hut and told him it was a present for Shizun.
"Discard it," Shizun ordered.
Luo Binghe dragged the beast to the river and was about to bury the body somewhere when he came across Ning Yingying and his other senior sisters.
"You're throwing it away? What a waste," Ning Yingying said. "I've heard from Ming Fan that the meat is quite delicious."
Luo Binghe wouldn't want to get involved with Ming Fan but Ning Yingying didn't seem to get a clue and went ahead to call his Shixiong. Ming Fan wasn't happy to see Binghe either but he seemed thrilled to see the beast.
"It's a delicacy in my hometown," Ming Fan said. "You can roast the meat and make a nice broth from the bones."
The senior brothers skinned and carved out the beast. Luo Binghe started a fire. When Ming Fan noticed him trying to start the fire manually instead of using a talisman, he sneered. "You can't even make a small fireball? How lame."
Ning Yingying and the other girls were not pleased. "If A Luo doesn't know it shouldn't it be your fault for not mentoring him well?"
Ming Fan scowled. "Fine."
He showed Binghe how to use a fire talisman to light a fire. A weird kind of friendship began there, as the disciples began roasting the boar and making soup. Near dawn they were caught by Shen Qingqiu and were ordered to run laps around the mountain.
Liu Shishu kept sending dead beasts as gifts every week and each time Shizun still refused them. Luo Binghe obtained new ingredients every week. As time passed Shizun seemed to tolerate his presence more and was eating more of his food. Sometimes he even asked Binghe to make something.
Two months later, he noticed Shizun started throwing up whenever he was cooking. Binghe, fearing for his life, began cooking outdoor, but weirdly enough Shizun didn't seem to blame him for the smell, and told him to continue cooking in the kitchen. Still, his Shizun threw up every morning and looked paler and more lethargic each day. He kept asking Binghe to make ginger tea, sometimes citrus tea, sometimes herb tea. Shizun was never picky about what he ate but lately he began demanding for certain ingredients to be included or taken out from his meals.
Liu Shishu came again bringing yet another catch this morning. He asked for Shizun as usual.
"Shizun is unwell, he doesn't want to see anyone," Luo Binghe answered. It was true. For the past week their lessons had been cut short and Shizun had delegated the smaller, simpler tasks to Binghe or Ming Fan.
Liu Shishu paled. "What do you mean unwell?"
"... He is lethargic and he throws up sometimes -" Binghe didn't even finish his sentence when Liu Shishu pushed him away and barged into the bamboo hut.
"Shen Qingqiu, are you pregnant?!"
Luo Binghe dropped the wooden spoon in his hand.
"..." Mu Qingfang frowned after he finished examining Shen Qingqiu. "It is no doubt pregnancy. Already around two months, which means...it is from that time. It's Liu Shixiong's."
Shen Qingqiu wanted to hide his face in his palms right now. Why? Why did he have such rotten luck?!
And why the hell did Liu Qingge look happy? Did he want to have babies so much? Why didn't the bastard just get married to someone acknowledged by the Liu family then? He just had to have an accident with Shen Qingqiu.
"... Do you want this baby, Shen Shixiong?" Mu Qingfang asked. "You're the mother and it is your body. You have the right to decide."
"I'll keep the baby," Shen Qingqiu answered, surprising both Bai Zhan and Qian Cao Peak Lords. He scowled at them. "What?"
Mu Qingfang shook his head. "I was surprised. Considering this baby isn't planned and your relationship with the father isn't the best, I was not expecting you to want it."
Shen Qingqiu's eyes twitched when he saw the pleased expression on Liu Qingge's face. "I'm not keeping it because of you. The baby is mine."
Liu Qingge flinched. "But it's mine too!"
"You're not the one giving birth to the baby!"
"Yes, but I'm your mate and you didn't get pregnant on your own!"
"Just because we fucked once and you bit me doesn't make me your mate!"
"Well, I want to make you my mate!" Liu Qingge argued. "I've sent you gifts several times already, didn't you get them?"
Shen Qingqiu scowled. "Those were gifts? Try harder, Liu Shidi."
Mu Qingfang sighed. At least this time Shen Shixiong said 'try harder' instead of a flat 'no', so he supposed he could count it as a progress?
"Shen Shixiong is pregnant?!" Shang Qinghua shrieked.
Shen Qingqiu shot a murderous look at him.
"I thought you were an alpha or beta," Qi Qingqi said.
"An alpha or beta can still get pregnant, though the chances are very low," Mu Qingfang said, without ever clearing up Shen Qingqiu's real identity as an omega.
"So who's the father?" Wei Qingwei asked.
Shen Qingqiu wanted to remain silent but freaking Liu Qingge straight up raised his hand and admitted. "Me."
The Peak Lords who just heard it for the first time in the meeting - minus Yue Qingyuan and Mu Qingfang - were shocked to the core. They had long known that the two viewed each other as nemesis and couldn't imagine how it even happened.
"How did Liu Shidi go from trying to stab you with his sword to stabbing you with his...cough," Shang Qinghua stopped himself before he got stabbed by Shen Qingqiu.
"It was an accident," Shen Qingqiu answered.
"That's what everyone says, hic," the drunk Zui Xian Peak Lord hiccupped.
"So what are your plans?" Qi Qingqi asked.
"Keeping the baby," Shen Qingqiu simply replied, glancing at Yue Qingyuan. "I can, right?"
Yue Qingyuan nodded. "Of course you can. How can I force you to take an innocent life, if you desire to have it?"
"Do you two plan to get married?" Wei Qingwei asked.
Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge exchanged looks.
"My answer remains," Shen Qingqiu persisted.
"I'm not going to stop," Liu Qingge said.
"If you want a baby go look for someone else!"
"I don't want just the baby."
"If you're thinking of marrying just because I'm pregnant, you're in for a big mistake."
"You and I are mated, why can't you just give me a chance? I've told you I want to marry you even without a baby, haven't I?"
"Too bad, even with a hundred babies I'm not marrying a brute!"
Yue Qingyuan already sensed the incoming headaches. The rest of the Peak Lords were still wondering how they two got knocked up.
Luo Binghe knew what pregnancy was. It was when a parent would carry a baby inside for nine months. He heard from his late mother that it only happened to mated people though, so he was stunned when Shizun finally (and very reluctantly) disclosed to his disciples that he was with a child.
As far as Binghe knew Shizun wasn't mated to anyone. However, Ming Fan told him that people can still get pregnant even without having a mate.
"If you kiss someone long enough you can get pregnant," Ming Fan said. "That's why it's impossible for the father to be Liu Shishu."
"That's not true. My mother and I kiss each other a lot. My mother said you need to share a pillow and a blanket together to get pregnant," Ning Yingying argued.
"That's because you and your mother kiss on the cheeks. I heard it has to be done on the lips," another shijie said.
"Hmph, you are all fools. Let me, as the oldest here tell you. To get pregnant, you need to use the calendar to count your heat cycle. It needs to be aligned with your mate's rut or heat cycle. That's why pregnancy is a big deal, it's a super complicated process," a different shixiong proudly said.
"What do you do after counting the cycle?"
"... My mother said it's an adult business. You only find out after you form a core," the shixiong coughed.
By that logic only high level cultivators could get pregnant so Luo Binghe decided to not take the words of his seniors. Cultivators in school-based sects like Cang Qiong Mountain were known to not stress on child-bearing that much, since they were aiming for immortality rather than continuing a lineage, especially since successors were chosen among the disciples and not among the masters' kins.
"Do not waste your time thinking about unnecessary stuff, Luo Binghe," Shen Qingqiu warned him. "Come here."
Luo Binghe came and obediently sat in front of the mirror, his back facing his teacher. Shen Qingqiu took the comb and started braiding his hair. Luo Binghe felt weird. By now he could guess that his master's sudden change of heart may have been caused by the pregnancy. Maybe it developed his maternal instinct? Whatever, Binghe would take what he could. He would thank the baby for being conceived in the future.
Shen Qingqiu sighed as he put the comb down. Yue Qingyuan had descended the mountain for a meeting with other sects. With Yue Qingyuan absent, as the second in seniority he was supposed to be in charge of the sect but he didn't feel like dragging his nearly five-month pregnant body there. "Luo Binghe, go to Qiong Ding Peak. Pick up any documents that your Shibo left for me."
Luo Binghe nodded and smiled. "Yes, Shizun!" Lately Shizun had stopped calling him 'little beast' and began calling him by his name.
Luo Binghe didn't return until late evening, and when he came back he was injured. Also, Liu Qingge was with Binghe.
Shen Qingqiu was enraged. His mind was now partially affected by the pregnancy hormones, making him more emotional, and all he could think of was that his cub had been hurt. He stood up and slapped Liu Qingge. "What did you do to him?”
Liu Qingge glared at him. "Would it kill you to be patient and not assume things?"
Shen Qingqiu scowled. He took a step back. It wasn't the first time Bai Zhan Peak disciples had gone wild and beat up his disciples and so he had misunderstood.
Luo Binghe hurriedly explained that there were demons invading Qiong Ding Peak while they were there. The rainbow bridge was destroyed so the disciples couldn't go to ask for help. Luckily Liu Qingge was coincidentally there and helped get rid of the demons.
"Your disciple fought well," Liu Qingge complimented.
Luo Binghe blushed.
Shen Qingqiu bit his lip lightly, hiding his expression behind his fan. "I see. Luo Binghe, go to your room."
Liu Qingge suddenly looked uneasy. "That boy stays in your house?"
"So? He's helping me with things."
"He's an alpha."
"He's underaged, just recently reached puberty. He hasn't developed as an alpha yet."
"Why didn't you get another omega to help you?"
"All the omegas in my peak are females. Thanks to a certain someone making a big deal about me going to brothels there are rumours about me being a lecherous alpha male. Should I still get an omega female here?" Never mind that he purposely picked Luo Binghe because he needed an alpha's presence to help balance his unstable qi (aside from his cooking, which made Shen Qingqiu continued keeping him here, of course). If Liu Qingge knew that he would berate Shen Qingqiu for not calling him and would invade his home straight away.
Liu Qingge's face reddened. "I didn't know… if you needed help with daily activities I would have done it! I could have helped you!"
Shen Qingqiu scoffed. "How? Can you, Liu Shidi, help take away my morning sickness? Can you make my meals three times a day? Can you stand being ordered around by an omega? I don't think so."
"... Can that alpha stand being ordered around?"
"Alpha or not he's still an immature brat. By the time he's matured, the baby will be born and grown up, I won't need him around anymore."
Liu Qingge clenched his fist. "... Fine. I'm leaving for tonight. I'll come again tomorrow."
He turned around and was about to leave when he suddenly heard Shen Qingqiu call his name. "Liu Shidi."
Liu Qingge halted his steps.
"... Thank you. For saving my disciples."
The dim light made Shen Qingqiu's expression almost melancholic. However by now Liu Qingge could almost read him. He chuckled. "You're welcome."