When Xie Lian and Hua Cheng settled into bed for the evening, a passionate mood developed between them. They stripped their inner robes and were quickly wrapped in an intimate embrace. In the months since their first encounter in Huangji Temple, it wasn’t uncommon for such a mood to overtake them every few days or so. Xie Lian had begun to gather his bearings as a lover, and he felt incredibly proud whenever he managed to flip the situation around and render Hua Cheng speechless or control his pleasure, just like Hua Cheng always did for him.
However, Hua Cheng was ceaselessly surprising, and playful on top of that, so whenever he had a mind to reduce Xie Lian to little more than a breathless mess, he didn’t stand a chance. It turned out that this was one of those nights.
Hua Cheng was holding Xie Lian’s wrists over his head with one hand and had propped himself up on his other forearm. His pace was languid and he mouthed at Xie Lian’s neck between deep kisses. Xie Lian had completely surrendered to him and was moaning and panting without embarrassment.
Although it was very passionate, it was also normal for them, and Xie Lian felt very at ease. He shivered when Hua Cheng caught his earlobe between his teeth and started whispering in his ear. It was all praise and adoration, and it heated his already-flushed face.
“San Lang, ah,” Xie Lian breathed with a smile.
Xie Lian startled. Hua Cheng had spoken from inside his head! A moment later, he remembered the existence of the private communication array and relaxed again. It had been so long since they had last used it, given that they were together almost all the time, that Xie Lian had nearly forgotten about it completely!
Yet, this was strange after all. Not only were they not apart, one might even say that they were especially close together at that moment! What was Hua Cheng doing in his head?!
“Gege, I love you,” Hua Cheng said aloud, and Xie Lian’s heart fluttered. For a moment, he forgot his suspicions and tipped his head up to catch Hua Cheng in a kiss. He felt like melting candle wax. Then, while their lips were still slotted together, his voice once again filled Xie Lian’s mind.
“Gege, I want you to fuck me.”
Xie Lian choked into the kiss and broke away, spluttering for air. The effect of those words on his body was immediate. He rolled his hips desperately and hooked his legs around Hua Cheng’s back as if to drag him closer, faster, deeper.
But Hua Cheng acted like he didn’t notice at all! He maintained his same languid pace and his same slow kisses, completely ignoring Xie Lian’s overtures, and whispered in his ear, “Gege is so beautiful.”
A moment later, silently, “You’re driving me fucking crazy with how good you feel, Gege.”
Xie Lian’s heart threatened to burst from the whiplash of these two voices. The Hua Cheng in his ear was utterly gentle and loving and sounded almost as if he would burst into affectionate tears at any moment. But the Hua Cheng in his head was sexy and wild, pure lust and seduction. Having one or the other was overwhelming enough; hearing both of them together was really too much to bear!
Xie Lian struggled to free his hands, desperate to find purchase on Hua Cheng’s back and force him to move faster, but Hua Cheng’s grip was unrelenting. “San Lang!” Xie Lian whimpered. He felt like his entire body was on fire, and Hua Cheng refused to put it out.
“Gege, I’m so lucky that I met you, I love you so much, I’m so happy, thank you for loving me.”
“Gege, you know what would be fucking hot? I think you should–”
“SAN LANG, PLEASE!!”
Hua Cheng finally smirked, and released his wrists. Immediately, Xie Lian grabbed a fistful of his hair with one hand and dragged the other down on Hua Cheng’s hips, colliding their mouths and bodies together. Hua Cheng met him eagerly and Xie Lian moaned with relief as Hua Cheng dragged a hand down his body and lifted his hips into a more urgent angle. Hua Cheng was moaning, too. Fervent tension knotted up between them and, within a few ecstatic moments, released so intensely it was almost painful.
Xie Lian’s limbs slipped from around Hua Cheng and dropped onto the tangled bed sheets. Hua Cheng collapsed on top of him, no longer holding himself up at all. For a long while, they laid pressed together like that, sticky with sweat and slick with release but too tired to care.
Unusually, it was Xie Lian who recovered first. He brought trembling hands up to Hua Cheng’s back and brushed them over his skin. Hua Cheng shivered and whispered, “Gege…”
Xie Lian smiled and kept brushing. “San Lang, you’re incredible.”
Hua Cheng burrowed his face into Xie Lian’s neck and mumbled something incoherent. Xie Lian rolled them over, coaxed Hua Cheng away from his shoulder, and kissed him. It was the sort of tender kiss that made them both ache. When Xie Lian pulled away and saw the expression on Hua Cheng’s face, he flew immediately back down and kissed him again.
After a few minutes, Xie Lian had barely managed to clean them up before Hua Cheng drew him back into bed and curled his long limbs around him, smothering Xie Lian’s flushed body with his own cool skin. Xie Lian sighed happily and drew the blanket up over their naked bodies.
His mind was loose and relaxed as it wandered. Occasionally, a particular kind of memory would make him shiver, but the effect didn’t last long before Xie Lian floated on to the next thought. He could tell that Hua Cheng was experiencing something similar whenever he quivered into Xie Lian’s back. This comfortable, quiet intimacy that they shared was precious to him.
Suddenly, Xie Lian’s wandering mind made a connection that he absolutely could not drift past. He groaned and curled into a tight ball.
“Gege?” Hua Cheng shifted behind him.
“…San Lang,” he mumbled pitifully. “I… should really change the password for my private communication array…”
Xie Lian’s password had been the same for over 800 years, ever since he first ascended at seventeen: “Just recite the Ethics Sutra a thousand times.” He’d always been fond of that joke, and he’d been well known for his ascetic cultivation style. However, some things had changed dramatically about his life in the last several months! To access his array, it was simply too much to imagine that Hua Cheng had said that, while doing that… Xie Lian groaned again as Hua Cheng overcame his surprise and began laughing brightly.
“So Gege is embarrassed because of that password! Hahaha! Well, I would of course be happy to assist you in choosing a new one.”
Hua Cheng’s own unbelievable password flashed through his mind. Xie Lian shook his head furiously, yet he couldn’t help but smile. “No way! Whatever you say would be just as embarrassing, or worse! At that point, why even change it?!”
They were caught in a fit of laughter, and by the time they settled down, Xie Lian’s stomach burned from it. With a few lingering huffs, Hua Cheng spun Xie Lian around beneath the blanket, pried him out of his shrimp-like ball, and held him against his chest while he stroked his hair. Xie Lian still felt too worked up from laughing, but he was quickly relaxing and even started to feel quite sleepy. He had just closed his eyes and nestled deeper into Hua Cheng’s embrace when that low voice rumbled into his hair.
“You know, Gege, I don’t think you need to change it.”
“Mm?” Xie Lian replied groggily. “San Lang, you’re so shameless to say that while we… while we’re like this! Of course I should change it…”
Hua Cheng chuckled. “Actually, I think there are parts of the Ethics Sutra that Gege is following more than ever these days.”
If Xie Lian had been more awake, he might have recognized the way Hua Cheng’s voice curled, like he was holding back a smile in his throat, and been more suspicious of his words. But he really was too tired, and could only note his surprise that Hua Cheng had ever bothered reading a text he so clearly didn’t care to heed, so Xie Lian simply asked, “Oh? Which parts?”
Hua Cheng’s smile broke free, and it was so wicked that Xie Lian could sense it in the air. Dread rushed through him.
Hua Cheng pulled him in tightly and with surprising sensuality, one hand on Xie Lian’s lower back and the other cradling his head. He brought that wicked smile close to Xie Lian’s ear.
“‘Coldness over heat.’”
Xie Lian’s mind stalled. It was way too shameless, too shocking!! He groaned painfully and hid his face in Hua Cheng’s chest as Hua Cheng’s entire body wracked with powerful laughter.
Since Hua Cheng’s initial return to Mount Taicang, around half a year had passed and the seasons had shifted. Although winter in what had once been Xianle wasn’t too extreme, the top of the mountain was exposed to harsh winds that cut right to the core and brought occasional bursts of snowfall. Between his heavenly immortality and his endurance, Xie Lian was mostly unaffected, and of course no amount of cold weather would ever trouble Hua Cheng. Still, Xie Lian’s heart was moved when he returned from his gardening one day to find a thick white coat folded on the bed, along with a small flower.
He was shrugging out of that coat the next afternoon when Hua Cheng smirked at him from across the cottage. “Gege looks warm,” he complimented. Hua Cheng’s eye trailed up and down Xie Lian’s body as he stretched to hang the coat and bent down to move the basket of mushrooms he had gathered.
Xie Lian looked over after placing them on the table, oblivious to his lewd staring, and smiled. “I’m very comfortable! It’s all thanks to San Lang’s considerate gift.”
Hua Cheng was lounging on the bed. It was astonishing, Xie Lian observed, just how easily Hua Cheng could make wherever he was sitting look like the most luxurious place there had ever been. He was perfectly suited to the opulence of Paradise Manor in his Ghost City; in such a humble cottage as this, Hua Cheng looked quite out of place. Xie Lian was the Crown Prince of Xianle, His Royal Highness Who Pleased the Gods, and yet he thought he had never once sat so frivolously as Hua Cheng!
Hua Cheng’s eyebrow raised and Xie Lian realized he’d been staring for too long. He tore his gaze away, gave a little cough, and walked over to sit sheepishly beside him on the bed.
“I’m glad that Gege likes it,” Hua Cheng continued as if nothing had happened, sparing him. He started twirling the tips of Xie Lian’s hair between his fingers and looked up at his face. “Gege never asks for anything, so I had to figure it out by myself,” he said in the same easy tone.
Xie Lian’s mind flashed with incense and candlelight, writhing bodies on an altar, and Hua Cheng’s voice inside his head a few nights earlier. He blushed, then corrected with a small smile, “That’s not true. I’ve asked you for something.”
Hua Cheng’s smirk reappeared and he changed course unapologetically. “And what a request it was! Perhaps Gege can understand why I’m eager for the next one…” His hand brushed, as if by accident, low on Xie Lian’s back while he played with his hair. Xie Lian swatted at Hua Cheng’s shoulder and laughed.
“So shameless, San Lang!”
Grinning, Hua Cheng looped his arm around Xie Lian’s waist and pulled him down. After a bit of adjusting, they lay facing each other, one arm folded beneath their heads, their other hands clasped between them.
“Have you been lying here long?” Xie Lian asked.
“I’ve been in quite a state, Gege.” The smile on Hua Cheng’s face completely contradicted his voice, and Xie Lian raised his brow with a disbelieving snort. “It’s true! Imagine how I felt when I woke up without Gege to keep me warm! I didn’t even know where you’d gone. It was so distressing I could only wait here for you to return.”
There were too many blatant lies to bother refuting them. For one thing, Hua Cheng’s silver butterflies were omnipresent on the top of Mount Taicang these days; Xie Lian was confident that Hua Cheng would always know exactly where he was, and he recently proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that he could reach him whenever he wanted via the communication array. Xie Lian shook his head in fond bemusement and leaned forward to kiss him. He chose a light butterfly kiss for poetic impact.
“It sounds unbearable, San Lang,” Xie Lian said with equal drama in his voice. Hua Cheng’s grin widened and his eye flashed. “What a terrible husband I’ve been! However could I hope to make it up to you?”
“Well, Gege, there is one thing…”
“A kiss?” Xie Lian predicted, smiling.
They laughed long into that kiss before the flavor turned more sentimental. Xie Lian was soft and warm when their lips finally parted, and Hua Cheng looked deeply content. Xie Lian freed his hand and tapped Hua Cheng on the tip of his nose, making him blink.
“So, what’s the second thing?”
“It’s simple,” Hua Cheng said. “I want you to ask me for something.”
“…Huh?” Xie Lian’s eyebrows curled in confusion.
“I really mean it, Gege! I liked your last request so much, I want another one!”
In spite of their earlier conversation, Xie Lian hadn’t seen this coming at all. What a peculiar request! He couldn’t imagine anyone besides Hua Cheng flipping such an opportunity around in this way.
“San Lang, you…” Xie Lian laughed and rubbed his face. “Alright, alright. I’ll try to think of something.”
“Thank you, Gege!” Hua Cheng beamed. “While you’re thinking, I’ll make lunch. Don’t slack off!”
“There’s no way!”
Hua Cheng kissed his forehead and sat up. Xie Lian stayed put while Hua Cheng picked up the basket of mushrooms, gathered a few more things from a second basket, and slipped out the door without bothering to put on a coat. Within a few seconds, the sound of his preparations could be heard from the small kitchen beside the cottage.
Xie Lian flopped onto his back and stared at the ceiling, lost in thought. What should he ask for? He really had no idea. After spending hundreds of years scrounging to survive, even a simple life without too many hardships would have felt like paradise to Xie Lian.
And yet, the life Xie Lian had been living with Hua Cheng was so much more than that. He spent his days in the company of his most treasured person, the one who had seen Xie Lian in his best and worst moments and loved him the same, the one who lit up like the sun whenever Xie Lian was around, the one who truly took him for a god. They fished and tended their garden and repaired buildings in the Royal Holy Pavilion. They laughed and talked and slept long past sunrise. Xie Lian was even learning how to lounge, although he was still bad at it.
He was blissfully happy. What could a person who has had all of their dreams fulfilled possibly want?
Xie Lian was still wondering when Hua Cheng returned with two bowls. They sat at the table and chatted while they ate. It was a welcome distraction from the puzzle in Xie Lian’s mind.
“Gege,” Hua Cheng said as he placed down his empty bowl. “Since we finished restoring that building near the entrance last week, I was thinking we might start working on another one.”
“Yes, I was thinking that, too.” Xie Lian smiled. “Do you have anything in mind?”
“Hm, how about something in the Xianle Pavilion? Other than Huangji Temple, most of the places are still in disrepair. We could rebuild your chambers from before your ascension, or one of the training halls, or–”
“That’s it!” Xie Lian clapped his palm against the side of his fist. His eyes were bright, and Hua Cheng raised his eyebrows.
“A training hall, then?”
“No, no. You’ve just given me an idea! I know what I want to ask for.”
At that, Hua Cheng’s face glowed with excitement. He leaned forward over the table and took one of Xie Lian’s hands. “That’s great, Gege! Please, ask me!”
“I want to spar!” Xie Lian squeezed Hua Cheng’s hand and smiled. “It’s been so long since I practiced swordplay, and even longer since I trained with anyone else. There aren’t many other people who can match me now that Jun Wu… um, well, anyways, I think it could be fun to spar with you,” he finished awkwardly, somewhat jarred by the unpleasant memory that had crept into his mind.
Hua Cheng’s bright smile brought Xie Lian’s feet back to the ground. “It’s a great idea,” he praised earnestly. “Gege is a martial god, after all. It’s only natural that no one is your equal.”
“San Lang is very strong, too! Don’t discount yourself!”
He bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement. “It’s all because of Dianxia’s generous advice.”
“So… you agree?” Xie Lian pressed. Hua Cheng lifted his hand and kissed it, then nodded.
“Of course I do! We should go to Paradise Manor so you can pick out a sword. Is Gege alright with leaving Mount Taicang for a while?”
Xie Lian was elated, but he considered the question seriously. It had been quite a while since he settled on the mountain, first to work, then to wait, and finally to live. The outside world and all the troubles of the three realms had been distant. It was a bit like his many years as a scrap-picker, when he’d been cut off from the heavens and the ghost realm, but with even more isolation.
He took a deep breath. Now that Xie Lian was closely examining things, he realized that he had changed a lot on Mount Taicang, especially since Hua Cheng had rejoined him. Many old wounds he had all but given up on had finally begun to heal. Months ago, Xie Lian had been completely wrapped up in Hua Cheng, and nothing else mattered at all. He would never have thought of leaving their quiet sanctuary. Considering it now, he didn’t have as negative of a reaction as he expected, and even felt a bit excited to seek out new experiences together.
Xie Lian refocused his eyes and met Hua Cheng’s patient gaze. He nodded with confidence. “I am. As long as you’re with me, San Lang, then it doesn’t matter where we go.”
Hua Cheng’s eye closed for a moment and brimmed with affection when it reopened. “I love you. Let’s go now.”
Xie Lian felt his heart stutter, but he only laughed. “Alright!”
There was excitement springing his steps as Xie Lian flew around the cottage and prepared to leave. In truth, there wasn’t much to prepare, but he was too energetic to realize it. Hua Cheng watched him fondly as he leaned on the doorframe, one hand clutching his other elbow and the other spinning a pair of dice between his fingers. He had strapped E-Ming to his belt for the first time in weeks, and its crimson eye rolled around happily at his waist.
“I think I’m ready,” Xie Lian finally announced. He eyed his coat. “Is it very cold in Ghost City?”
“Gege will find it much milder than here,” Hua Cheng said. He threw the dice into the air, caught them with a flourish, and opened the door. Then he took Xie Lian’s hand and they stepped into Paradise Manor.
There was an immediate flurry of activity upon their arrival. They had entered the main hall and several of Hua Cheng’s subordinates leapt up to greet him. When they spotted Xie Lian, they hushed with surprise. When they finally noticed their linked hands, the ghosts swarmed around them and exclaimed so raucously and with such excitement that Xie Lian’s head spun.
“My Lord Chengzhu! Grand Unc–”
A thumping sound cut off the voice, and another ghost jumped in with, “Xie Daozhang!”
With a simple raise of his eyebrow, Hua Cheng silenced the crowd of ghosts. They backed away, bowing clumsily and muttering to each other.
“We’ll get right out of your way, My Lords!”
“Just call if there’s anything you need!”
“…holding hands, did you see??”
The doors shut, and the sudden silence seemed deafening. Xie Lian lifted his free hand to his face with a soft groan. Hua Cheng laughed and leaned down to kiss his blushing cheek.
“Don’t mind them, Gege,” he said. “Why don’t we go ahead to the armory?”
Right. The armory. Xie Lian glanced up at Hua Cheng while they walked. He had two fingertips pressed to his temple, but in a moment he dropped them and smiled.
“The training hall will be ready for us when Gege picks his sword.”
As soon as the doors to that grand armory were opened, Xie Lian was once again overtaken with delight at the sight of so many fine weapons. He dropped Hua Cheng’s hand and automatically reached out to the nearest sword, pulling it off the hook and weighing it at the balancing point in his palm.
“I’m relieved that most of the weapons were unharmed,” Xie Lian noted, then winced. “I’m… very sorry about that…”
“Gege has no need to apologize.”
Hua Cheng rested a hand on Xie Lian’s waist as he picked up sword after sword, testing them with various swings and making random, disjointed comments about their balance or durability. Hua Cheng always replied with ease, as if he were somehow privy to the missing context concealed within Xie Lian’s thoughts. They circled the armory completely, then Xie Lian walked back towards the middle of the room and picked up a sword for the second time. It was thin and had a mother-of-pearl flower embedded in the pommel.
“This one,” he said simply.
“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed. They naturally found each other’s hands again and Hua Cheng led them outside.
The training hall was a wide, single-story structure tucked behind Paradise Manor and beside the lake. Once inside, Xie Lian thought it was perfect for a match. His blood pumped with anticipation and he turned eagerly to Hua Cheng.
Hua Cheng brought his hand to E-Ming’s hilt and pulled – but the scimitar stayed firmly stuck in its scabbard. He frowned, and E-Ming started shaking wildly around on his belt.
“San Lang? Is everything alright?” Xie Lian came closer just as Hua Cheng started to laugh.
“I might need to pick out another weapon, too,” Hua Cheng said, giving E-Ming a slap. “It doesn’t want to fight you, Gege.”
“Ah?” Xie Lian’s heart softened, and he crouched down to the level of E-Ming’s chaotic eye. “Don’t worry! We aren’t really going to fight. It’s just a sparring match! I promise we won’t hurt each other at all.”
E-Ming’s eye stopped rolling around and looked at Xie Lian suspiciously, narrowing to a thin slit. He petted the hilt a few times and reiterated, “I promise it’s all okay!” until E-Ming finally seemed to relax. Xie Lian took a few steps back and Hua Cheng successfully drew it from the scabbard, holding it loosely at his side.
“Ruoye,” Xie Lian called, and the white cloth uncoiled from his wrist. In a few moments, he had bound his sleeves back and calmly drew his own sword, looking directly at Hua Cheng.
“Taizi Dianxia,” Hua Cheng said.
“Blood Rain Seeking Flower,” Xie Lian replied with a smirk.
In exact synchrony, they dashed towards each other. Sword and scimitar met with a loud ring. Then, the match truly began.
Xie Lian spun around Hua Cheng and tested him with blow after blow in rapid succession. Hua Cheng blocked them all easily, moving with a precision that deeply impressed him. There wasn’t a single stray movement in his technique. Xie Lian couldn’t help but compliment, “Nice!” Hua Cheng smiled, then switched to the offensive.
Here, he was crafty and playful, using the curve of his scimitar to full advantage when disguising his strikes. Xie Lian was slightly mesmerized by the fluid motion of Hua Cheng’s wrist as he flicked E-Ming into an upward slash. He blocked it without trouble and stepped out of reach.
Once their tests were completed, the two men flew all around the room, leaping and ducking down low and performing incredible feats of flexibility. If anyone had been watching, they would have seen only blurs of white and red too quick to focus one’s gaze upon. That onlooker would probably have been sliced to ribbons, as well, since Xie Lian and Hua Cheng really were making use of the entire room for their match.
Without needing to speak, they seemed to agree that a larger space was necessary. Xie Lian wasn’t close to using all of his power, nor was Hua Cheng; neither actually intended to land a strike, and were in fact prepared to stop every blow should the other fail to block it, yet the match was exhilarating all the same. They were almost perfectly matched, and so they could overlook the matter of power entirely and focus on enjoying each other’s martial prowess. Within minutes, the purpose of the match had shifted from the traditional goal of disarming one’s opponent. Instead, Xie Lian and Hua Cheng were trying to impress each other!
And so, the match moved outside. The red and white blurs sped around the courtyard and the sound of clashing metal rang through the air. Hua Cheng leapt up onto the roof of the training hall, and Xie Lian followed him with great enthusiasm and a lunging strike. Hua Cheng dodged by jumping over onto the flying rafters on the first level of Paradise Manor.
At this point, some ghosts started to cry out from the streets below as the fight they had been hearing came finally into view. While Hua Cheng and Xie Lian chased each other around over the various structures in the Paradise Manor compound, an animated commentary flowed from the gathering crowd.
“Isn’t that Lord Chengzhu’s Lord Friend? Xie Daozhang?”
“It is, look, look!”
“But… why are they fighting?”
“Did they break up?!”
“Nooo, no way!!”
“Look how strong they are, damn, this is really impressive!”
“As expected of Our Lord!”
“Please don’t break up with him, Xie Daozhang!!”
In spite of the volume of their exclamations, Xie Lian didn’t hear a word. He was completely focused on Hua Cheng. The passion of their match had increased greatly and Xie Lian was feeling lightheaded with delight. It wasn’t a neutral fight at all for him! Although he never looked at Hua Cheng’s face – it became increasingly important for him to train his eyes on Hua Cheng’s solar plexus in order to react to his strikes and execute his own – Xie Lian felt that he was also just as giddy.
Hua Cheng flipped backwards off of the roof and landed in a crouch on the top step leading up to Paradise Manor. He looked up at Xie Lian beneath a mess of wind-swept hair, a challenge flashing in his eye. Xie Lian smirked and leapt down with a great cry. He made as if to strike from above his head, but as Hua Cheng was drawing up to his full height and Xie Lian had nearly landed, he suddenly flicked his wrist and imitated Hua Cheng’s own underhanded strike. Excitement surged through him, as it looked like he might have finally caught Hua Cheng off his guard, but at the very last possible second, E-Ming flashed up and swept Xie Lian’s blow aside.
They paused and stood like that for a few seconds, blades held out at their sides, chests heaving. There was a heavy silence around them as they stared at each other.
Then, Xie Lian threw his sword aside, cleared the distance between them in a single step, and drew Hua Cheng down into a passionate kiss, crushing their bodies together. E-Ming clattered to the floor and suddenly Hua Cheng lifted Xie Lian in his arms, deepening the kiss.
A great cheer erupted from the crowd of ghosts, and they began to rush up the stairs towards Paradise Manor. Xie Lian broke the kiss and slid down Hua Cheng’s body until his feet touched the floor. He laughed breathlessly and was about to reach up to kiss Hua Cheng again when the ghosts finally reached them. Before he knew it, they’d been separated and swept up onto the shoulders of the dense crowd. They were tossed and swayed around as the crowd began to process down the street, cheering madly all the while.
“Congratulations, My Lords!!”
“Lord Chengzhu, you finally got him!!”
“We knew you could do it!!”
“Did you use that potion I gave you, My Lord?”
“Xie Daozhang is so powerful, ah!”
“All three realms tremble before the power of your blades!”
“And before your great love!”
“Yeah, that kiss was hot!!!”
“Oh my GOD they KISSED?!?”
Xie Lian’s face heated with embarrassment at first, but by the time the crowd turned the corner leading past the Gambler’s Den, his adrenaline won out and he wore his flush with an open laugh. He looked around at the ghosts who were pouring out from every shop and residence to see what the spectacle was all about, yet his eyes drew back to Hua Cheng each time without fail, like metal to a lodestone. Hua Cheng was laughing quietly – privately, Xie Lian felt with a jolt of electricity – and he had eyes only for Xie Lian. After a while, Xie Lian gave up on trying to look away and surrendered to that loving stare, so warm and tender he could feel it embracing him.
“Thank you,” Xie Lian said quietly, certain that Hua Cheng would understand. Sure enough, he grinned, and his voice sounded once again from within his head.
“You’re welcome. Oh, and Gege? They were right. That kiss really was hot.”
Xie Lian buried his face in his hands as Hua Cheng began to laugh.