Xie Lian tilts his head as he tries to figure out what the statue he’s looking at is. Hua Cheng is wrapped up behind him, clinging to his back, absolutely ignoring the sight (even though it had been Hua Cheng’s idea to go around and see what kind of statues had been erected as the tale of their romance has grown). Xie Lian had been absolutely giddy at seeing the first one and the excitement hasn’t really faded up until this one.
“I have no idea what I’m looking at,” Xie Lian finally admits. “I can’t even figure out where the limbs are.”
The statute, if it can even be called that, is a strange box shape. Xie Lian can see the heads, he can even see the legs. But the arms are a confusing jumble to him and if Hua Cheng hadn’t pointed it out, Xie Lian might have considered it an oddly smooth pile of rocks.
Also it’s on a pedestal and right by a tiny shrine with a beautifully written sign declaring which pair of deities it belongs to. Xie Lian glances at the handwriting then back to the statue, wondering if it’s the same person who created them both, and if so how has this statue gone so wrong.
“It’s experimental,” Hua Cheng says. “The limbs are there, but they are elongated, and clearly the two are embracing.”
Xie Lian follows where Hua Cheng points but he still can’t see it.
“I’m sorry, San Lang, but I don’t see it. I don’t think it’s bad. The carving is clearly skilled. I don’t want to diminish the artists talent. But I really can’t make sense of it.”
“Ah, the under appreciated genius, how that poor artist must suffer,” Hua Cheng says but he’s back to embracing Xie Lian and absolutely not paying attention.
“Will you still leave them a token of appreciation?” Xie Lian asks.
“Mm, I will. It’s not to my taste but the skill is clearly there. And it’s good for an artist to experiment. I want to encourage that.” Hua Cheng says. A silver butterfly lands on his outstretched hand and transforms into a white flower, which Hua Cheng leaves on the statue’s ‘arm’.
Xie Lian smiles and pats Hua Cheng’s arm where it rests across his waist.
“I still say you could take students and teach them. You’re clearly skilled. And you could pass your skills on.”
“I refuse,” Hua Cheng says. “The very idea disgusts me. If gege wants to learn then I would be more than happy to teach him. But I don’t care to take on other students.”
Xie Lian smiles again, amused and fond as ever.
“Well, this was disappointing for me, I won’t lie. But I think you were pleased by it in some strange way so it’s worth it.”
“You don't appreciate art, gege,” Hua Cheng says.
“I definitely don’t see it the way you do,” Xie Lian agrees easily. Then he takes a checklist out of his sleeve and marks this one off, including a sad face next to it to show that it’s not a place he wants to revisit. “Okay, the next closest one is in Guizhou but I want to see the one in Dunhuang first. Pei Ming had a really weird grin on his face while he was telling me about it and I think we’re probably going to have to either destroy it or outright buy it.”
“Mm,” Xie Lian says with a nod. “The last time he looked like that it was when that statue of us was naked. Well, my statue was naked. Yours was clothed.”
“I liked that one.”
“I’m well aware.”
“You weren’t totally naked. You had a dress on.”
“It was like the ravished scraps of a dress. It was obscene. I would have preferred the nudity, honestly.”
“Ah, see, this is why we get along so well, gege. I too prefer you naked.”
The statue has both of them naked.
It’s inside a shrine so at least it’s not out in the open.
But it’s not a small shrine and there are people leaving offerings to it.
A line of people.
Xie Lian hides his face for so long that Hua Cheng nudges at him with his elbow in concern.
“We’re...just...I’m breaking this into dust, San Lang.”
“Definitely. Both of us are bigger than that. It’s an insult to us. Can we break it now?”
“It’s the middle of the day...oh why not, I hate looking at it. Hey! You there! Watch out! We’re going to break this statue! Get out of the way if you don’t want to get hit!”
“This one is my favorite,” Xie Lian says.
“You philistine,” Hua Cheng says in mock outrage.
“They made me taller than you,” Xie Lian says happily. “You need to shower them in flowers. Go on, San Lang, show your appreciation.”
“They get one flower, same as all the rest,” Hua Cheng says without being snippy. But it’s a close thing.
“Where is this beautiful artisan? I need to bless them. Good luck for the rest of their life. Good fortune and all that.”
“That’s not what you’re a god of,” Hua Cheng reminds him.
Xie Lian ignores him and clasps his hands together, staring in awe at the statues.
“I’m so tall!”
“I heard you guys are going around breaking ugly statues of yourselves,” Shi Qingxuan says, happily biting into the dumplings Xie Lian and Hua Cheng bought for him and his friends. There’s a pile of mantou that Xie Lian cooked, and Shi Qingxuan had taken them, excitedly talking about how he was going to poison the rats that had been bothering him.
Xie Lian does not want to hear about rats so he had quickly and loudly announced to the other beggars that he still had some fresh dumplings to spare. They’re a rowdy crowd right now, the mood excited thanks to the food, and Xie Lian is glad they can do this at least weekly for Shi Qingxuan, even if he won’t accept help the rest of the time.
They’re sitting on empty barrels outside a dilapidated storage shed where Shi Qingxuan and the other beggars are currently staying. Shi Qingxuan fishes out a blanket and covers the barrels, which judging by Hua Cheng’s sniff is not good enough for Xie Lian, but Xie Lian happily takes the offered seat.
“Not the ugly ones. Just the...erm....okay, yes, the ugly ones,” Xie Lian says as Hua Cheng chuckles beside him.
“Gege’s taste is very simple. It saddens me. But we’re broadening his outlook so there’s still hope for him,” Hua Cheng says. He’s very happily sitting on the ground, his head on Xie Lian’s lap, and he practically purrs when Xie Lian’s hand drops to run through his hair.
Shi Qingxuan nods then chokes as he shoves too much into his mouth. Xie Lian patiently pats his back till he manages to swallow.
“My favorite statues of me were the ones with the really big chests. It made me laugh so much! Not even a god can have a chest that huge, you know? Spiritual energy doesn’t work that way,” Shi Qingxuan says with a laugh. Then he settles down so he can take a drink of wine. “Xie Lian, you still don’t drink, do you?”
“Not in public,” Xie Lian says, flushing a little. Hua Cheng hides his smirk in Xie Lian’s thigh. Xie Lian tugs on his hair, gentle, but hard enough that Hua Cheng can feel it.
“That’s a shame because this is really good stuff!”
“I will pass,” Xie Lian says with as much dignity as he can muster. It’s not a lot.
“Next time you should bring them some wines from the West,” Shi Qingxuan suggests. “Those are more filling.”
“Okay,” Xie Lian says. “There are some places there I want to see next anyway. Quan Yizhen wants us to go visit him but he never stays in his palaces or shrines so it’s hard to find him. It’ll be a good chance to see him.
“I heard there’s an interesting statue of you guys in Qingcheng,” Shi Qingxuan says. “Three of them, actually, but the other two are normal.”
“At this point I prefer ‘normal’,” Xie Lian says. He heaves a sigh. “Do you know how many of those statues portray me as a woman?”
“What’s wrong with that?” Shi Qingxuan.
“You make a very beautiful wife,” Hua Cheng says soothingly.
“You stop that,” Xie Lian says, blushing at Hua Cheng. He turns back to Shi Qingxuan. “I’m not offended. I’m just confused. Why do so many people think I’m a lady?”
“Eh, I got turned into a lady too. It only bothered me when people thought I was married to my brother. I didn’t have to do anything though. Ge was the one who would go and smite their temples.” Shi Qingxuan laughs at the memory.
“I offered to smite them but gege said ‘no’,” Hua Cheng says.
“We are not smiting anything!”
“Only breaking the ‘ugly’ ones, right?” Shi Qingxuan says.
“That’s...that’s different! It’s indecent!”
“Wait, what’s indecent?” Shi Qingxuan asks, frowning.
“It was good to see you, we’ll be back next week, bye bye!” Xie Lian says as he stands up and loudly announces that they’re leaving. He’s not going to have this conversation with Shi Qingxuan. Not again.
Sometimes they come across their statues by accident. It’s always a pleasant surprise. They find them tucked away in lonely villages, where somehow the tale of two gods in love has made its way there. Xie Lian never expects them but Hua Cheng always searches them out, his eye lighting up when he finds these minuscule offerings; sometimes they aren’t statues either but just paintings. That doesn’t diminish his adoration.
This statue is truly Xie Lian’s favorite but he can’t say anything, his voice taken away by the majesty of it. As opposed to many of the statues that have him and Hua Chen side by side, this one has them back to back, the two of them in fighting poses. The statue of Xie Lian is leaning forward, sword in hand ready to do battle, and the statue of Hua Cheng behind him leaning into the spaces that the statue of Xie Lian leaves in his movement forward. Xie Lian doesn’t have the words to properly describe it but he loves the image it presents.
There's nothing wrong with a romantic embrace or gesture. But there is something so true to them like this, the two of them in action and in movement.
“This one is almost as good as you, San Lang,” Xie Lian says. “It practically moves.”
“Mm, very talented,” Hua Cheng agrees. He has barely looked at his statue, too enraptured by the sight of Xie Lian’s statue. Xie Lian worries for a moment that Hua Cheng is going to take this statue for himself, either by buying it or stealing it in the dead of the night. Xie Lian almost doesn’t want to say anything. He can’t stop Hua Cheng form outright purchasing it after all. Though he certainly will make him put it back if he tries to steal it.
“We don’t have room for it at the manor,” Xie Lian reminds him.
“I’ll make room. We’ll build a whole wing for it,” Hua Cheng says dismissively. “I want it.”
“San Lang! No! We don't have room for it!”
“I told you, I’ll make room,” Hua Cheng says. “Now who owns it? I’m going to buy it.”
“Don’t you dare!”
“I can’t replicate it. And I don’t want to. I want this one.”
“You leave it here,” Xie Lian says, equally stubbornly. “That person worked hard. They deserve to look at their good work.”
Hua Cheng looks at Xie Lian, back at the statute, then pouts.
“Gege, I want it.”
Hua Cheng sighs, despondent, then kneels down before Xie Lian.
“Please?” he says, his expression pleading and soft. He looks so innocent.
“No,” Xie Lian says and hauls him back up. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”
“But if I see this statue at home, you’re in trouble,” Xie Lian says.
“What kind of-?”
“I’m going to spread a rumor that we broke up. Shi Qingxuan will help me, he already promised, and you know what a gossip he is.”
Hua Cheng glances at the statue then at Xie Lian.
Hua Cheng heaves a giant sigh and presses his head to Xie Lian’s shoulder.
“Gege, you are too cruel. How could my heart handle that kind of talk? I wouldn’t bear it. If any god spoke such a thing I’d have to raze their temples and then you would be so disappointed in me but I truly wouldn’t be able to help it.”
Xie Lian pats Hua Cheng’s cheek.
“Let’s finish up our business here then we can go home. If you want to sculpt and draw then you can. I’ll model for you, alright? Just the way you like it.”
“The way I like it,” Hua Cheng repeats. There’s a glint in his eye. “You mean nude?”
“Yes,” Xie Lian says. He doesn’t sigh but it’s a near thing. “No clothes. I promise.”
“Deal,” Hua Cheng says and takes his head, hauling him back towards the village. “Let’s hurry then. I have a promise to make good on.”
Xie Lian flushes a little but at least he doesn’t have to worry about another statue showing up in their manor. He’d rather see what Hua Cheng creates anyway. Those are his favorites.