“If you could pass on my request to General Pei, I’d be grateful,” Xie Lian said with a warm smile. He was seated in a high-backed, gold-rimmed white chair in a gleaming heavenly palace, and across the table, a familiar face regarded him. Xie Lian struggled to understand his demeanor; though Feng Xin had never treated him with disrespect, his current manner seemed more reserved and cautious than ever.
“Sure, Your Highness. Although, why are you coming to me with this? Why not just ask your Crimson Rain Sought Flower?” Feng Xin smirked a little at the word your. And despite the fact that he and San Lang had been married for three years, those sort of remarks still made Xie Lian blush.
Well, usually they did, but today, Xie Lian’s smile faltered. “He’s busy,” he coughed. “Oh, by the way, Nan Yang, how are things in the Heavenly Capital? I figured that while I have some free time on my hands, I might as well catch up.”
“Not much changes around here. We respond to heavenly pleas and neutralize troublesome ghosts and demons – that’s about it. I’m sure your life is much more exciting.”
“How is Cuo Cuo?”
Feng Xin’s expression shifted slightly, and now Xie Lian could discern genuine affection shining through. The change pleased Xie Lian, so he smiled too. Feng Xin said, “Good, good. We’re working on his writing now.”
Xie Lian thought it amusing that he and Feng Xin were teaching the same thing, only to vastly different students. “I see.”
“Taizi Dianzia, how are you? You’ve spent more even time in the mortal realm than usual, these past few months.” Feng Xin remarked with forced nonchalance.
“Quite good. Very good, actually. I’m very happy. I’ve also been devoting my time to – research.”
“There are a few novel spells I’ve discovered, just in case…”
He trailed off, and then a heady silence fell between the two. “Probably something with the Human Face Disease, or calamities, or something. His Highness is preparing to save the common folk again.”
Xie Lian seemed lost in thought, but he quickly righted himself. “Probably.”
Feng Xin seemed to decide to not probe him any further. “Typical of you. But that wasn’t what I meant. Has something happened?”
“Well – things happen all the time – what do you mean?”
Feng Xin looked at him carefully. “Since our last meeting, your aura has changed. It’s a bit more like what it was.” His expression grew more complicated. “It’s…smothering.”
“Eh?” Xie Lian said. “But –“
“And, Your Highness, I don’t know how to put this, but you’re glowing.”
Xie Lian’s arm shot out, and he examined it closely. Sure enough, a halo of light was emanating from his porcelain-like skin. He blanched. “Why…”
“You’ve always been good at maximizing the efficiency of your spiritual power,” Feng Xin said, like knowing everything about Xie Lian was the most natural thing in the world. “I suspected that maybe you’d been sharing mana with Crimson Rain Sought Flower too much –“ Xie Lian’s mouth opened in protest – “But since he’s busy, my new conclusion is that you’ve simply gotten back some prestige amongst the mortals and ghosts.”
“I suppose,” Xie Lian muttered, looking again at his arm. “I – I used to glow like this?”
“Like the sun,” Feng Xin said softly, eyes dark. Xie Lian thought that maybe his growing spiritual power brought back bad memories for Feng Xin, and so reached out for his former attendant’s shoulder.
But Feng Xin interrupted, shrugging off his hand. “Taizi Dianzia, I don’t think I’ve ever expressed how sorry I am. For leaving you. But seeing people venerate you, feeling the ground tremble as you walk, seeing power flowing from your palms…”
Xie Lian was looking at him, wide-eyed. Feng Xin concluded, voice low, “Nothing has ever felt more right to me.”
As Xie Lian walked unhurriedly down the street, many clamored for his attention. Some cried, “Lord Grand Uncle,” some “Your Highness,” and others still, “Your Highness the Crown Prince.” Typically, he’d pay comments like this no mind – after all, he felt that they were worshipping San Lang, not himself – but after Feng Xin’s comments, Xie Lian felt odd.
He stopped by one short man who was waving his arms exuberantly, and smiled softly. “Your Highness!” the man gasped.
Xie Lian paused, before asking, “Why are you cheering? I haven’t done anything to deserve it.”
The man’s eyes were shining. “Grand Uncle, you’re mistaken. Grand Uncle is the most powerful martial god! He protects the voiceless! His compassion is boundless!”
Xie Lian coughed. “But I’m just a scrap collector.”
A crowd was forming around the first man. “Nonsense! His Highness’s struggles make him more relatable and genuine! It’s a true testament to Our Lord’s power that he was able to woo and captivate such a grand being.”
“Only Our Lord is capable of such an incredible feat!”
Xie Lian was taken aback and moved, so he thanked them, waved, and moved on. His head was spinning, so he quickened his pace, anxious to get back to Paradise Manor.
He was grateful for the praise, but the people’s cries were jostling around his memories of times long past. The Ghost City was far different from Xianle, but…
Xie Lian sighed, and pushed open the heavily adorned door, making his way to their room.
“San Lang?” Xie Lian called. His voice reverberated throughout their chambers, but was met with silence. He frowned, and then sighed. “So, he’s still out, huh?”
Xie Lian grabbed a book from a nearby shelf and placed it down, fanning gently through its aged pages. Where was I… he thought idly and then, having forgotten his exact location, picked one at random. He resolved to find a bookmark next time, rather than falling asleep in this stool.
Normally, he’d fly through a book of this girth in two or three nights, but the ancient language of Yong’an made his investigation arduous. Xie Lian flipped, and flipped, growing more and more restless as he read.
Suddenly, a steady arm circled his waist and squeezed. Cold, smooth lips pressed on his neck and then lifted only slightly, enough for Hua Cheng to whisper, “Gege.”
A round of shivers ran down Xie Lian’s spine as a hand pulled his robes down slightly, and Hua Cheng’s lips pressed again to his neck, and then to his sensitive collarbone. Heat filled Xie Lian’s cheeks and he attempted to turn around, only to be held in place firmly.
“San Lang, is your business done?” he queried.
“Yes. Black Water is still a bitch. I’d rather not talk about it right now.” Hua Cheng’s voice was gravelly and thick. “Dianxia, I need you.”
Xie Lian chuckled. “San Lang, you’ve hardly been gone more than a fortnight.”
“Gege didn’t miss me?” Hua Cheng pouted. He withdrew from Xie Lian’s collarbone, and the absence felt too cold. Xie Lian turned and saw him plop down on a stool next to him. So, Xie Lian swiftly rose, and sat in Hua Cheng’s lap facing him.
“I didn’t say that,” Xie Lian admitted sheepishly, staring into Hua Cheng’s eyes and putting his arms over the other’s shoulders. Hua Cheng looked surprised, and Xie Lian thought it cute how, regardless of however much Xie Lian said ”I love you,” Hua Cheng almost seemed to anticipate rejection. As if Xie Lian was still out of his league.
It was nonsense, of course.
Hua Cheng grinned, though, and shifted so that their torsos and lips were pressed against one another. Then, Hua Cheng kissed him like he was a man dying of thirst, and Xie Lian was his last source of water. Heat rushed across Xie Lian’s face as Hua Cheng controlled the kiss, crushing his mouth against Xie Lian’s without mercy. Without another word, Hua Cheng rose languidly, sweeping an arm under Xie Lian’s knees and carrying him over to the bed.
Hua Cheng pinned his arms down above him and sat lightly on his abdomen, rejoining their mouths with overwhelming force. Xie Lian broke away briefly, gasping for air.
“San Lang, I know you don’t need to breathe, but…”
“Sorry, gege,” Hua Cheng laughed, not looking sorry at all. Then he started, leaning back onto his heels. “…”
Xie Lian stared up at him. “What’s the matter?”
“Dianxia, your body…”
He’d thought that Hua Cheng’s eyes seemed much brighter than normal because he was excited, but upon second glance, Xie Lian realized that it was simply reflected light.
Light reflected off of his own body.
“…Beautiful,” Hua Cheng whispered, eyes full of earnest reverence.
“Feng Xin noticed that, too… I think my number of worshippers has risen exponentially recently, that’s the cause behind this. But I thought I’d gotten it under control…” Xie Lian said uncertainly. As he watched, the light abated, somewhat.
Hua Cheng made a thoughtful noise, and then wordlessly kissed the hollow of Xie Lian’s collarbone. Xie Lian’s face filled with warmth, and the brightness in the room climbed again.
“San Lang!” Xie Lian cried, as Hua Cheng pulled down his robes and began peppering kisses further and further down his chest. The light pouring from Xie Lian’s body got stronger. Xie Lian exhaled. “Sorry, it’s kind of weird…”
Hua Cheng lifted his head, paused at Xie Lian’s hipbone. “How lucky am I,” he murmured. “I’m not worthy.”
“San Lang…” Xie Lian placed his hands behind him and pushed himself up, face stormy. Hua Chang looked at him. “It’s not true. Everyone keeps saying… that I’m… They praise me. And I don’t …”
Dark eyes stared at him. “Dianxia. You are worthy of love… and of praise… and of worship.”
“Why would they put their faith in a god who has made so many mistakes?”
“They weren’t your mistakes. You are too kind, and so evil people took advantage of you. So, why do you still blame yourself?” Hua Cheng was leaning closer and closer to Xie Lian’s face, and even though the anger on his face wasn’t directed at Xie Lian, it still made him shiver.
“Even without their help, I have erred.”
“And? Who hasn’t? Your intentions, your beliefs, your ‘you.’ Those are the things for which they praise you, not your spotless record.” Hua Cheng smiled a little bitterly. “I won’t lie, though… you don’t need any of them, you don’t need any other worshippers besides me. I am yours.”
Hua Cheng pressed harder on his chest, searching his face for a reaction. “…San Lang,” Xie Lian’s body exploded like a fireworks show. “I know.”
Xie Lian gasped as Hua Cheng aggressively nipped at his stomach, letting his fingers roam. He seems especially possessive tonight, Xie Lian thought with a touch of amusement.
“San Lang…” Xie Lian whispered, pulling at Hua Cheng’s head.
“Gege –“ Hua Cheng said as their eyes met. Xie Lian gently laced his arms around him, and then pulled him in for a kiss. He was used to being on the receiving end, but it had been so long since he’d been the giver, it felt strange. Nevertheless, he kissed Hua Cheng, gingerly streaming spiritual energy into his lover’s body. Hua Cheng then took the lead, growing more and more insistent and impatient, so Xie Lian gave more. The light in the room dimmed.
When they broke apart, Hua Cheng had a strange look in his eyes. “Gege, that was…” He looked stunned. “That… you… taste good.”
Xie Lian couldn’t help but giggle. “Finally, I can start paying you back.”
“There’s no need.”
“I want to.”
Hua Cheng paused. “Well… okay. It feels very good to me. I feel light.”
Xie Lian beamed, and with that, Hua Cheng’s face was hungry again. They locked together once more, all tongues and teeth and heat, and Xie Lian thought he would work very hard at being a proper god from now on. After all, he had a lot of interest to pay off.