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Thunder cracks like an egg over Xie Lian's head and he awakens with a jolt. It's dark out still; he can hear the rain like a waterfall against the tile roof. He takes a moment to be desperately, pathetically grateful that he's not in Puji Shrine; he's sure he would have been washed away by now. Instead he's in one of a dozen guest rooms in Paradise Manor, warm and dry, if a little unhomely.

 

He had been out with Hua Cheng when it started raining, the first big deep gutter-filling riverbank-churning rain of the season, and when Hua Cheng walked him home they'd stood in the doorway to the shrine and watched the water pouring in through a hundred holes in the roof and Hua Cheng had said, "Yeah… no," and he had taken Xie Lian back to Paradise Manor after all.

 

And now Xie Lian is awake again, and alone, although he would rather be neither of those things. He lies in bed and stares at the elaborate gilted ceiling and tries to go back to sleep, but it's no use.

 

Somewhere in this building Hua Cheng is asleep.

 

It feels extremely silly, but Xie Lian just kind of misses him. He wonders if Hua Cheng would mind if Xie Lian joined him in his room for the night. Surely there's a couch or something that Xie Lian could sleep on, right?

 

Then he thinks about how Hua Cheng looks at him when he thinks he isn't paying attention, and he slides out of bed and leaves.

 

He pads barefoot through the empty hallways. Ordinarily he certainly would not be able to find a given room in an unfamiliar mansion just by chance, but it's Hua Cheng's room in Hua Cheng's mansion, so he trusts his instincts for once in his life. He passes nondescript doorway after nondescript doorway, peering at each one and waiting to feel lucky, until at last he comes to the end of a hall and thinks, This one's it . He picks up the dice in the little dice holder and tosses them lightly, and gets -- snake eyes.

 

He sighs in disappointment.

 

The door clicks open.

 

He peers inside, ready for it to be a closet or an empty room or a wall of dirt or something. But to his horror, he can see a big four-poster bed, and someone waking up inside.

 

The figure sits up blearily and stills when they notice Xie Lian. They stare at each other. Please don't be a monster, please don't be a monster, Xie Lian thinks.

 

"... Gege?" Hua Cheng asks sleepily.

 

It occurs very abruptly to Xie Lian that he did not actually plan this far ahead, and he has no idea what to say to Hua Cheng. So he just says, "Hi," lamely.

 

Hua Cheng stares at him some more, and then he leans over and feels blindly around on his bedside table. After a moment he sits back up and Xie Lian realizes he's tying his eyepatch back on. "Are you okay?" he asks as he ties it. His voice is low and scratchy with sleep. "Did something happen?"

 

Xie Lian slips into the room and closes the door. "I'm fine," he says. "Sorry for waking you up. I just… wanted to see you. I guess. Sorry, it's stupid."

 

"Oh," Hua Cheng says. "No, you're fine. No worries. I like seeing you too," he adds, and then he seems to wake up a little more. He drags his hands down his face. Xie Lian smiles at him, endeared. Hua Cheng lifts the quilt beside him and asks, "Gods. Okay. Do you want to…?"

 

Xie Lian nods helplessly. "Yeah," he says, "yes, I do," and Hua Cheng waves him over. He climbs onto the bed and is immediately startled by how soft it is; it's covered in layers of cushions and blankets. "Whoa," he says. "Oh, wow. This bed is so comfortable, I'm never gonna leave."

 

"That can be arranged," Hua Cheng mumbles, lying back down. He gestures for Xie Lian to scoot closer and says, "C'mere." Xie Lian tucks himself into his side obediently and Hua Cheng nuzzles into his hair. "You're cute," he says softly. "Is this okay?"

 

Xie Lian pushes a little closer and says, "Yessss," and Hua Cheng chuckles sleepily, brushes his fingertips across Xie Lian's waist.

 

This kind of closeness is new, but it feels normal, natural, right. Xie Lian can feel Hua Cheng's sleepiness seeping into him. He presses a soft kiss to his chest, and closes his eyes, and sleeps.



*

 

Xie Lian wakes up with a beam of bright sunlight evidently aimed directly into his eyeballs. He frowns and turns his face away, and throws his arm across his eyes for good measure. He feels Hua Cheng shift beside him, his arm a comforting weight across Xie Lian's chest. At some point one or both of them kicked the quilt down to their knees. He thinks Hua Cheng is looking at him, so he tips his face a little in his direction and says, "G'morning, San Lang."

 

Hua Cheng hums into his shoulder. "Morning." He lifts the arm across Xie Lian's chest and Xie Lian briefly mourns the pressure of it, but then he feels the lightest touch of fingers against the hand thrown over his eyes. "Does gege have any plans for the day?"

 

Hua Cheng brushes the very tips of his fingertips down each of Xie Lian's fingers, from tip to base, and then traces some feather-light design into his palm. Xie Lian tries to think through it. He says, "Um…"

 

When he seems to have finished with his palm, Hua Cheng starts with Xie Lian's fingers again. His touch is so light that it's almost painful; it's not that it tickles, exactly, it's just maddening. It makes Xie Lian want more than he's getting. "I don't… think so," he says. "No plans."

 

"Hmm," Hua Cheng says, briefly lacing their fingers. "Me neither." He seems to sense Xie Lian's frustration, and his fingers move slowly down his wrist, stroking the delicate skin there gently, and then over his sleeve to his forearm. With the barrier of his sleeve it's both better and worse; the overstimulation is muted, but Xie Lian finds that he wants Hua Cheng's hands on his skin. He makes a sound like mm.

 

"Good?" Hua Cheng asks in an undertone.

 

"You're driving me insane," Xie Lian mumbles. "Keep going."

 

Hua Cheng laughs into his ear and does as he's told. He brushes his fingers around the bend in Xie Lian's elbow, strokes his upper arm along the underside, follows the sweep of his triceps past his armpit and down to his chest. Xie Lian inhales slowly. For a moment Hua Cheng lays his hand flat and solid over his shirt across Xie Lian's pectoral, his thumb just brushing the edge of his top, before he drags his hand back up, just the tips of his fingernails, to trace burning lines across Xie Lian's collarbone. Back to skin. Xie Lian tilts his head back a little to give him better access, and moments later he feels fingertips brushing his throat, lilting up and down over the white ribbon and the collar underneath.

 

"Mmn," he says quietly. "San Lang."

 

"Hmm?" Hua Cheng asks, attentive. "I'm here."

 

"Feels good," Xie Lian tells him. Hua Cheng hums again, pleased. He keeps going, fingers still butterfly-light against his skin. Xie Lian can feel a flush rising in his neck and high on his cheeks. Hua Cheng follows it, traces the line of his jaw up to his ear, curves his fingertips around the shell of one ear and then the other. Xie Lian is struck with indecision: he wants to move his arm so Hua Cheng can touch the rest of his face, but he likes the mystery of it, likes the lack of distraction that vision would otherwise provide.

 

In the end Hua Cheng laces his fingers with his and uses their clasped hands to lift Xie Lian's arm off his face. Xie Lian keeps his eyes closed as Hua Cheng positions his arm on his stomach and goes back to brush his hair off his forehead. He drags a just-barely-there fingertip along Xie Lian's eyebrow and murmurs, "Beautiful. You're so beautiful, gege."

 

Xie Lian can't help but smile. "San Lang isn't so bad himself," he teases, and Hua Cheng laughs quietly. Xie Lian cracks one eye open to peek at him. He really is very handsome, Xie Lian thinks. Especially like this, warm and soft and relaxed, pressed up close to him, hair messy in the morning sun. Xie Lian wants him.

 

Hua Cheng sees him looking, and they watch each other in honey silence, just smiling. He trails his forefinger down Xie Lian's temple and across his cheek to brush against his mouth. Xie Lian feels his lips part unconsciously. But the touch is already gone, down to his chin then back up his jawline again. Xie Lian's eyes fall closed again as Hua Cheng slides his hand through his hair. He's careful not to let his cold silver vambrace touch Xie Lian's skin; it wouldn't have bothered him anyway, but Xie Lian appreciates the thoughtfulness.

 

Hua Cheng's hand returns, fingers curled under Xie Lian's jaw. Again his thumb brushes Xie Lian's mouth. Xie Lian kisses the side of it as Hua Cheng moves his hand up his face, and Hua Cheng pauses, perhaps in surprise. Xie Lian kisses his thumb again. He opens his eyes. Hua Cheng's mouth is slightly open, his eye dark and half-lidded. His thumb traces Xie Lian's lips slowly, his fingers resting lightly at Xie Lian's throat.

 

Xie Lian opens his mouth, just a little. Hua Cheng exhales, takes the invitation, dips his thumb just barely past his lips. In then out. Xie Lian lets his lower lip catch on it, and Hua Cheng makes a sound in his throat and brushes his thumb against Xie Lian's mouth again. "Gege," he says, breathless.

 

Xie Lian doesn't respond, because he wants Hua Cheng's fingers in his mouth. He sucks a kiss into the pad of his thumb. Hua Cheng obeys, pushes his thumb into Xie Lian's mouth and lets it stay there, long enough for Xie Lian to suck it deeper in. He pushes his tongue against it and Hua Cheng's face turns a very pretty shade of pink. He holds Xie Lian's chin and strokes his thumb in and out, watching his mouth work. Xie Lian moans around his hand, raises his own hands to hold Hua Cheng's wrist in place as he fucks his mouth.

 

After a long moment Hua Cheng pulls his hand away. They stare at each other, both breathing heavily, more out of psychosomatic habit than real necessity. "You're blushing," Xie Lian tells him breathlessly.

 

"Yeah," Hua Cheng agrees, a little hysterical.

 

"Is this okay?" Xie Lian asks, lacing his fingers with Hua Cheng's. His thumb is wet and slick with spit.

 

"Yes," Hua Cheng breathes, "yes, it's okay, oh, my god." He rolls over so that he's half on top of Xie Lian, pushes their foreheads together. "I want to make you feel good. Tell me what you want," he says.

 

Xie Lian tries to think through the rapidly building haze of arousal. "My neck," he decides, "kiss my neck."

 

Hua Cheng kisses just under his jaw and moans quietly. "May I leave marks?" he asks.

 

Xie Lian experiences whatever is the opposite of complete ego death. There is no one in the world except for him and Hua Cheng. "Yes," he says.

 

Hua Cheng kisses down his throat, soft and open-mouthed. Xie Lian sighs in pleasure and says, "San Lang. My San Lang." He releases Hua Cheng's wrist with one hand and tangles his fingers in Hua Cheng's wild hair.

 

Hua Cheng inhales at his name and scrapes his teeth against the soft skin of his neck, and then it's Xie Lian's turn to moan as he bites down gently, sucks a bruise into his throat. "Gege," he murmurs. Xie Lian gasps and presses their clasped hands to his mouth, kisses Hua Cheng's knuckles one by one. Hua Cheng gently frees his hand and strokes blindly along Xie Lian's cheekbone, and then he feels his way back down and places the tips of his pointer and middle fingers against the seam of Xie Lian's lips. Xie Lian opens his mouth and takes them eagerly, sucking and licking at them as Hua Cheng fucks them in and out of his mouth. Xie Lian drags his newly-freed hand down Hua Cheng's back, pushing him closer and also, a little bit, feeling him up. Hua Cheng hums his approval into Xie Lian's throat and moves to kiss a new mark into his skin. His fingers are gentle but insistent in Xie Lian's mouth, rubbing smooth and slick against his tongue with each little thrust.

 

Xie Lian gasps, "Hold on a moment," and Hua Cheng pauses. Xie Lian shifts, pulls Hua Cheng sideways, so that he's situated neatly between Xie Lian's legs, and says, "That's better." He cants his hips once into Hua Cheng's to emphasize how much better it is.

 

Hua Cheng inhales sharply and leans up and kisses him, finally. They both make embarrassing noises when their brains catch up to their bodies, moaning into each other's mouths, and then they have to stop for a second to laugh at themselves. "Cute," Xie Lian breathes, "You're so cute, San Lang," and then Hua Cheng puts his hands in his hair and kisses him again, and they stop laughing. Hua Cheng licks his mouth open, tongue taking the place of his own fingers, and Xie Lian's perception narrows down to the weight of Hua Cheng over him, the wet sounds of heavy kissing, the hot slide of tongues. He rakes his fingers down Hua Cheng's back and gets his hair pulled tight in return.

 

"San Lang," he gasps into Hua Cheng's mouth. "Guess what. Guess what."

 

"What," Hua Cheng asks, pulling away to kiss his cheek, his temple, his ear.

 

"You're my first kiss," Xie Lian admits.

 

Hua Cheng stills above him. They make eye contact for a long moment. Then he rolls off of Xie Lian and covers his face with his hands and makes a sound like steam escaping a kettle.

 

"Eh!" Xie Lian says. "No, what, come back here." He pushes himself up onto one arm to look down at Hua Cheng. Underneath his hands his entire face is red. "San Lang, are you alright?"

 

"I'm good," Hua Cheng manages. "I'm just having a moment."

 

Xie Lian leans over and kisses the backs of his hands. "Alright," he says. Hua Cheng uncovers his face and looks at him for a long moment. His mouth is red from kissing.

 

"I'm in love with you," he says abruptly. "You know that, right?"

 

Xie Lian had an idea or two. He leans down and kisses Hua Cheng on the mouth, on each eyelid, on his forehead. "Mm. My sweet love," he murmurs, and Hua Cheng exhales into his chest, wraps his arms around Xie Lian's waist.

 

"Yours," Hua Cheng agrees. Xie Lian kisses him again, slow and soft. Then he sits up and starts untying the belt around his top. Hua Cheng's eye widens as Xie Lian shrugs out of his sleeves, and he sits up too, catches Xie Lian's hands in his. His eyes catch, briefly, on the necklace he'd given Xie Lian, months and months ago.

 

"Too fast?" Xie Lian asks, when Hua Cheng doesn't say anything. "I can put my shirt back on."

 

"Isn't it?" Hua Cheng asks. "I don't know what exactly the rules are for your practice. I don't want to mess anything up for you."

 

"Hm," Xie Lian says, frowning, instead of saying what he wants to say, which is That's a shame, because I'd like for you to mess me up. Hua Cheng is right, though; Xie Lian himself actually isn't sure what, exactly, the rules are. It's never really come up for him before. Evidently kissing is fine, and arousal is fine, and even grinding against another person is fine; probably any sort of penetrative sex is out of the question, but would it be okay for Hua Cheng to just touch him? For him to touch Hua Cheng? What about mouths?

 

"... My cultivational sect sucks, actually, I've decided," Xie Lian tells him, and Hua Cheng barks out a surprised laugh. "Alright, rain check on sex until I find out what the rules are. Yes?"

 

Hua Cheng tips his head into Xie Lian's bare shoulder and pulls his shirt closed again. "Yes," he agrees.

 

Xie Lian pulls his fingers through Hua Cheng's hair. "I feel fairly confident that there are ways to make each other cum that won't break any rules," he informs him. "But just in case."

 

Hua Cheng's hands still at his waist. "Dianxia, given the rain check, you absolutely cannot say the word cum to me right now," he says. His ears are so red.

 

Xie Lian laughs, delighted, and cups Hua Cheng's jaw to look him in the eyes and kiss him again. "San Lang," he says, thrilled, "you're pretty sensitive, huh?"

 

Hua Cheng lets himself be showered in kisses and says only, "Yeah, well," which makes Xie Lian laugh again, and push him back against the cushions, and kiss him again, and again, and again.