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Paused, Fractured, Found, Beloved

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The music pounded through Xie Lian’s body as he moved, letting it guide him. The choreography was known to him, like so many other choreographies that he had danced before this. He could probably dance this whole show in his sleep now, the muscle memory taking over as he and the rest of the group moved together. Still it had to be perfect, there were no shortcuts in creating quality. To his right, just in front of Xie Lian danced Feng Xin, movements just as sharp as Xie Lian’s, with a little more force. Right beside Feng Xin was Mu Quing, dancing alongside them in his more laid back style, but in sync. In the back Lang Qianqiu and Quan Yizhen danced too, all five of them like a well oiled machine. They breathed at the same time, moved at the same time, looked in the decided directions and smiled as they were choreographed too. Xie Lian sang out his notes, before Feng Xin took over, and they shifted places, the dance changing their positions on stage. Behind them, a wall of dancers were moving too, creating a larger than life atmosphere for the screaming crowd before them.

They shifted again, fanning out on the stage, only to move back in towards each other. The stage lights flashed with them, casting the stage in light colors as they moved in sync. This was the forty-third show on the tour. The final show for this album. They had been all over the world over the span of nine months, showing their fans their music. They had to give their all now, just like they had on all the shows. Just one last time. Xie Lian was tired to the bone, and the knee he had twisted three weeks ago in a city he couldn’t remember which it was anymore, ached. Still, they owed it to everyone who had come out to see them to be perfect. For every note sung to be perfect, for every step taken to be on the beat and in sync with the group and the dancers.

Failing was not an option. 

It was never an option.

Xie Lian wanted to be perfect. They all needed to be perfect.

The stadium was filled, and above them the stars shone against the night sky. Light sticks in white, pink and green swayed in the air as the crowd screamed along with the lyrics to the song. If they fell quiet, the crowd could probably go on without them. This was the third and last extra performance, and the air was vibrating with energy because of it. Xie Lian rolled his shoulders to release some tension that kept creeping up his neck, holding back the urge to wipe the sweat from his brow. He kicked his leg out in time with the others, and then slid to the side to change their positions, before he crouched down. The music paused for a breath and so did their movements, before it started once more. All of them moved too, Xie Lian pushing the last of his energy out into his limbs as they all sang in unison. He snaked his body up, careful not to over do it. The brand, keep the brand Xianle , echoed through his mind, and Xie Lian threw another soft charming smile towards the crowd for good measure. His song was sweet along with his steps - no place for any mistakes. This was first nature now. This was what Xie Lian did best, what he knew better than anything else. The only thing he knew how to do. 

Signs waved high in the air with the group’s name—FCG—spelled out on them. The signs were decorated too, flowers springing up the sides, painted or in fabric. Flower Crowned Gods . The crowd screamed it too, a wall of sound meeting the music. There were signs with his own stage name too, Xianle, and with the other members of FCG too. There were even a few shipping signs there, mainly for Nan Yang and Xuan Zhen, the stage names for Feng Xin and Mu Qing. At first it was something White No Face-Entertainment had played up, in their early promotion work. After that it had taken on a life of its own within the Followers, what their fans called themselves, and it was rare not to see signs for them paired together during the concerts. Xie Lian always smiled at it, even if Feng Xin and Mu Qing themselves seemed less pleased about it.

Nevertheless, it was not Xie Lian’s business, and he pushed through the pain of his knee as he jumped up and landed as softly as he could, hand raised in the air as he sang to his heart content. If he pushed on, no one would see how tired he was. He could hear as well as see the crowd chanting for them, as his heart pounded and pounded to the beat of the song. He loved this, but he felt so tired too. Just a little more, and they could go home. 

Just a little more. 

They moved together to stand close, and Xie Lian smiled as he leaned on Feng Xing as they both sang. This was choreographed too, even if it looked like it was spontaneous. Like it was supposed to look. Then, they moved together, Mu Qing breaking his frozen position first, only to be followed by Lang Qianqiu, and lastly Quan Yizhen. The song was coming to an end, all five of them moving toward the edge of the stage to greet the fans as close as possible. The light rose, and Xie Lian gave it his all, fueled by the energy of his friends around him, and the Followers before him. There were countless faces in the crowd, screaming along with the song, dancing with them. Xie Lian side stepped, and switched position with Lang Qianqiu, before they switched back once more. 

Then, they all stepped up the very edge, and froze in their positions, as the last notes of the song rang out. The sound before them was deafening, as the stage became completely black. Xie Lian let out a deep sigh, but didn’t slump. He kept his posture even if he dropped his pose as he stepped back from the edge. He couldn't relax yet. They were supposed to be hidden in the darkness of the stage as they moved off, but you never knew. A bad media photo could follow one for years. Xie Lian had not experienced it himself, but he had seen many others face it. The crowd roared as the group stepped away, the sound ringing in Xie Lian’s ears now that the music had ended. All of them moved back to the stairs leading down from the stage, while the crowd continued to chant: 

 

FCG FCG FCG FCG

 

The backstage area was filled with people, and as soon as Xie Lian stepped down the stairs hands were on him, drying his sweat off and showing their way towards the dressing room. Xie Lian didn’t know any of them by name, even if he probably should. He did in the beginning, but now there were so many of them and they changed so often. It was enough to keep track of all the artists back at the Heavenly Realm, the dorm all the artists signed by White No Face-Entertainment owned by Jun Wu, lived in.

Cameras met them too, and Xie Lian smiled as he looked into them, the performance not over yet. This would go up on White No Face- Entertainment’s website, as well as social media. He made a heart with his hands and smiled sweetly into the camera. 

“Thank you!” he said to the fans, letting out a little laugh to mask how his knee buckled a little. “We love you!”

“Oh god,” Feng Xin groaned by his side, and Xie Lian let out a sigh and a laugh all in once, adrenaline still rushing in his veins. “I can’t believe it’s over.” 

The camera focused on Feng Xin for a moment, who nodded in greeting, before the camera moved on to the other members as it followed their walk. Xie Lian’s knee ached, but not as bad as it just had danicng. Something euphoric always followed after a show, the adrenaline of it all mixing with the relief of having made it through on the other side. 

“It’s not over yet idiot, we still have to clean ourselves up and pack,” Mu Qing pointed out with the camera directed towards him, but it seemed not even his snarky remarks could touch Feng Xin right now, which was rare. Behind them the crowd could still be heard, calling for them. Xie Lian closed his eyes and tipped his face up to the sky, feeling someone tug on his arm to keep him moving forward. He sighed and focused back on the present. There was usually a serenity that washed over him when a tour was done, which seemed to be missing now. It was over and it had gone well, and they would be going home, and yet that calmness wouldn’t come over him.

He shrugged off the hand on his arm, and turned. He caught Quan Yizhen’s gaze as he did and saw him break into a wide smile. Xie Lian smiled back, bumping his shoulder, which of course led to Quan Yizhen punching his arm, a little too roughly. It stung, but after seven years together in this group Xie Lian was used to it. He rarely even bruised anymore.

“We did good,” Quan Yizhen said shortly, and Xie Lian nodded, because they had. They had done great. They had all worked so hard for this tour, and before when making the album, and when rehearsing the shows. So many people had worked so hard to create all of this, and now it was over. 

For now.

Xie Lian wiped his face and neck with the cloth someone had given him, and reached out for a water bottle that came from somewhere. The cloth was damp, beige and glittering when he pulled it back, covered in make-up. The bottle was already opened, and he put it to his lips to drink. The camera still followed them, and Xie Lian was very aware of it as he drank. There were too many memes of him online already, he didn’t want any more.

“We were really sharp in ‘Ascend ,” Lang Qianqiu said chippery with a bounce in his step, and Xie Lian hummed in agreement. He thought so too. Ascend was rarely his favourite to perform, but they had all been as if in one mind tonight doing it, and Xie Lian always enjoyed those performances the most.

“You did well in your solo song,” Xie Lian said to Lang Qianqiu when he pulled the bottle from his lips, still moving down the hall towards the dressing room. “They were wrapping my knee so I didn’t see, but the singing was great.”

“Yeah, it was good,” Quan Yizhen agreed from beside them with a blank expression, looking down at Xie Lian’s leg. “How’s the knee?”

“Good,” Xie Lian said with a smile, because right now it didn’t hurt too much. The camera was on him as well, and he still very well remembered Jun Wu’s words when he had just injured himself, about not worrying the fans. “How about your ankle?”

“Ah, it’s fine,” Quan Yizhen said with a shrug. He had hurt it when part of a stage collapsed when they were in Banyue performing. “Just as good as always.”

“How long do you think until they have us back in the studio?” Lang Qianqiu asked, and Mu Qing and Feng Xin both groaned from behind them, stopping their bickering to do so.

“Don’t even say that,” Feng Xin said, rolling his shoulders when Xie Lian looked back at him. “At least give us a week.”

“A week!” Mu Qing protested. “I want a month!”

“Yeah sure like that’s going to happen,” Lang Qianqiu laughed as they stepped into the dressing room, the camera stopping outside. Good. The mood was about to get not film worthy. “They already finished writing it, didn’t they?” 

Quan Yizhen instantly sank down into the couch, and Xie Lian mentally groaned, wishing that it was him. He looked down at his white clothes, and closed his eyes for a moment to try to collect himself now that they were finally a little more alone. This was basically as much privacy as any of them ever got. 

“I need to go home for a while at least,” Lang Qianqiu said as he sat down in his chair, his smile replaced with a yawn. Mu Qing hummed in agreement. Xie Lian hummed too, even if there was no need to. He had nowhere to go home too, there was no home beyond the Heavenly Realm for him. It didn’t matter much for him if they got a week off, or a day. It would be nice to be back and sleep in the same bed for an extended period of time, and not having to move across time zones and not knowing what time of the day it was. Other than that, it was better to work. It was all Xie Lian knew after all. He just hoped they hadn’t moved their dorm like they had after the last tour. I always made Xie Lian feel uncomfortable knowing someone had packed up his things. It wasn’t as if he had much which was his, but what he did have felt important.

“I’m so hungry,” Quan Yizhen said blankly, and they all laughed because of course he was. Soon, the tour manager would come in and brief them and after that they could eat. Lang Qiangqiu pulled something from his bag on the table, and threw an energy bar over which Quan Yizhen captured eagerly. Xie Lian was pretty hungry too, when he thought about it. He hadn’t eaten since lunch, and it was approaching midnight. Xie Lian moved over to the clothing rack, and removed the heavy gold jewelry from around his neck and shoulders to hang it up. Next came the white jacket and then his shirt, before he grabbed another white sweatshirt with gold lettering on the chest to pull on.
“It’ll be good to be home,” Xie Lian said only to say something, and they all looked at him. They were all in different stages of undress, shredding off the stage clothes. “I miss my bed.” Not that Xie Lian had a bed that was his, but there was one assigned to him at least.

“Yes, soon,” Mu Qing agreed as he pulled off the dark blue and bronze robes which had been his last outfit. “I miss regular sleep.”

“I miss the food from the common kitchen at the Heavenly Realm,” Quan Yizhen said, running a hand through his half-long brown curly hair. Lang Qianqiu bumped his shoulder, and as expected earned himself a hard punch on the shoulder. “What?”

“Do you only think about food?” he asked with another yawn, and Quan Yizhen shook his head. 

“Only when I’m hungry,” he said with a shake of his head. “I think about music and dance most of the time.”

“When are we leaving?” Feng Xin asked, and Mu Qing rolled his eyes. “Hey! Don’t roll your eyes at me. What’s your problem?”

“We’ll leave when we're ready to go, you idiot!” Mu Qing answered, and then they were bickering again. Xie Lian turned to look at the mirror, slumping down in a chair as he reached for the wet wipes to start removing the now blotchy make-up. He tugged at the golden choker around his neck, and swallowed. He met his own eyes in the mirror, but quickly looked away. He looked too tired, and too hollow, and he didn’t want to think about it. If he just kept moving, and kept working, maybe that spark that still flared up every now and then would come back to stay. 

 

_______________________

 

It was afternoon the next day when they arrived home. By then, they had gone through a three hour bus ride to the airport, a five hour airplane ride, and now two hours in the van from there. The airplane rides were always the worst somehow. Xie Lian’s head always felt so heavy after them. It was a nice sight, to see home.

White No Face-Entertainment’s headquarters stood as the tallest building in the neighborhood, completely white with large windows. The golden sign ‘White No Face-Entertainment’ gleamed in the sunlight, and Xie Lian let out a sigh as they passed it to drive towards the back. This had been his home for ten years now, since he was fourteen.

Then, he had only been a scrawny teen, bouncing around on the dance floors, with calloused fingers from playing guitar and a dream of singing on the big stages. It seemed like a lifetime ago. Ever since the day he moved in it had been hard work almost every day, and Xie Lian had spent them dancing, singing, practicing. The callousness on his fingertips had disappeared, because it was a skill he was deemed not to need. His body was sculpted through diet and exercise, and his dance moves were made fluent and sharp with a strict training regime. There had been, and still were, singing lessons, to get him to sing just right. It had taken up his entire life since then, and Xie Lian had built a career from everything they had given him. 

So many had come and gone through the years, who had not been as fortunate.

They drove past the open steel gate which protected the back, and it closed heavily behind the van after they had passed it. The entrance for the Heavenly Realm came into view. It was a familiar sight, and Xie Lian couldn't help but smile as he spotted the decorations outside of the doors. A large ‘ Welcome Home FCG ’-sign hung over the glass sliding doors, and behind them Xie Lian saw familiar faces milling around. He was dead tired, and mostly wanted to be alone, or as alone as one could be with four roommates, but he would have to persevere. This was tradition, and if they had all taken the time to come out to see them. Xie Lian needed to show his appreciation.

“I just want to go to beeeeed,” Feng Xin groaned as if thinking the same thing as him, and Xie Lian nodded even as he smiled at him. “I’m too tired for this, don’t they know that?”

“It’s tradition,” Xie Lian argued, and Feng Xin groaned again. “It’ll be fun once we get in there.”

“Don’t be so ungrateful,” Mu Qing snapped, and Feng Xin looked at him with sharp eyes. 

“I’m not being ungrateful,” Feng Xin answered sharply, and Xie Lian reached down for his bag, and pushed his sunglasses down from the top of his head onto his nose. “We’ve been touring for nine months, I’m allowed to be tired.”

“That doesn’t mean you can just disregard other’s efforts,” Mu Qing argued, and Xie Lian unbuckled his seatbelt just as the car came to a stop. He turned, and saw Quan Yizhuen and Lang Qianqiu sleeping soundly in the seat behind him. 

“Hey,” Xie Lian called, pushing at Lang Qianqiu’s shoulder first. He stirred, and Xie Lian pushed at it again. “We’re home.”

“Mmmh,” Lang Qianqiu mumbled as he stirred fully, and then blinked awake. “What?”

“Home,” Xie Lian repeated, and then pointed to the house. Lang Qiangqiu looked out the window, blinked, and then stretched as he let out a groan. Xie Lian smiled. Lang Qiangqiu had a tendency to be able to fall asleep everywhere. “You okay? It seems like there’s quite a lot of them in there.” 

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said with a nod, and then turned to his seatmate to try to wake him. Xie Lian was grateful. Sometimes Quan Yizhuen threw punches in his sleep. Leaving it to Lang Qianqiu, Xie turned towards the door of the van, and rolled his head to the right and then the left, before he pushed it open and stepped out. The sun hit his face, and Xie Lian pushed through his tiredness as he walked to the back of the car to grab his packing. The other’s joined him, and together they walked towards the sliding doors. A camera man came out to meet them to film them coming home, and with the opening of the doors the music form inside became recognisable.

“Noooo,” Feng Xing groaned. It was their music, of course, from the tour. “I don’t want to hear it.”

“Come on,” Xie Lian said, with a shake of his head and a wide smile towards the camera, and the doors opened before them. The crowded inside paused, and then cheered, all eyes turned towards them. The applause rose, and Xie Lian let out a sigh, raising his hand in greeting. It only took a second, and then the crowd were moving forward to greet them. Qi Rong, Xie Lian’s cousin, was the first to reach him. He was signed to the label, but not currently in a group. Xie Lian wasn’t that surprised, even if he had never told his cousin so. Qi Rong was beyond difficult to work with. He had joined in with their practises from time to time, and it always ended in fighting. 

“Cousin!” Qi Rong cheered, and Xie Lian smiled at him, trying to keep the deep exhaustion from showing. “You all did fucking great, you earned so much money for the label!”

“Qi Rong, don’t curse,” Xie Lian tired, and Qi Rong laughed, a little too loud and a little too much. “How have things been here?”

“Same as always you know, all diet and workout and practice,” Qi Rong said with a shrug. “It’s just work work work, you’re so lucky getting to go on tour and travel. Gotta be amazing getting out of the dorm and living in hotels and with the fans,” he laughed then, raw and a little unsettling. 

From the corner of his eye Xie Lian saw Jian Lan approach Feng Xin, and saw him blush fiercely. Mu Qing humphed by Xie Lian’s side, before he started throwing insults at Qi Rong, who became aggravated in an instant. Xie Lian patted Mu Qing’s shoulder in support, but he only shrugged him off with an angered huff. Even if Xie Lian didn’t fully understand the thing between Feng Xin and Mu Qing, he did want to show them support. Hopefully they would work it out at some point… otherwise living in the dorm would become unbearable. Then Xie Lian realised that if they worked it out, it would probably be too. 

Anyway, that was something to worry about later, Xie Lian realised, as he saw White No Face-Entertainment’s other major group approaching him just as someone pulled Qi Rong away. The Three Tumors had become big just the year after them, and were a three person group. They lived in the dorms like everyone else, even if they had managed to get their own rooms. Probably because one of the members, Ling Wen, had amazing negotiation skills. She, along with Pei Ming and Shi Wudu, approached Xie Lian, who smiled pleasantly. He liked Ling Wen, she had even done a couple of collaborations with FCG. However, Shi Wudu and Pei Ming always made him slightly uncomfortable, but in very different ways. Shi Wudu always seemed to look down at everyone with an underlying anger just waiting to explode and Pei Ming well…He was a flirt. 

“Welcome home Xianle,” Ling Wen said, reaching over to give him a one armed hug. Xie Lian leaned into it, and caught Pei Ming’s gaze as he did. Pei Ming wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, which truly only he knew how to do. Xie Lian felt himself flush, and he pushed back to hide it, even if he heard Pei Ming laugh. “Did you enjoy the tour?”

“It’s been very low discipline since you all left, you always put us all to shame,” Pei Ming said, and Shi Wudu humped.

“They put you to shame,” he said as he looked over at Pei Ming with a blank expression. “Ling Wen and I always work hard.”
“Well, you have to have some play too,” Pei Ming said with a laugh, before he walked forward to put his arm around Xie Lian, who tensed at the contact. “Isn’t that right Xianle? Did you have some playtime during the tour?”

“Eeeeh,” Xie Lian answered, feeling the flush rise on his cheeks as he squirmed under Pei Ming’s arm. “No-no it was all work, you know how it is.”

“Leave him alone you perv,” Ling Wen sighed and shook her head. “Not everyone is as deprived as you.”

“Xianle,” Shi Wudu said, and Xie Lian felt himself tense even more as he turned towards him. “There were no scandals during the tour, and it was well visited.”

“Ah, thank you?” Xie Lian said, unsure if it had been a compliment really. Shi Wudu nodded, and then walked away. Pei Ming laughed, and patted Xie Lian’s shoulder a little too roughly.

“See you around,” he said, and then moved on to torment Mu Qing who stood further away in the room. Ling Wen hung back though, and laced her fingers together before her. 

“Xianle looks tired,” she pointed out, and then her gaze dropped to his knee. Xie Lian licked his lips. How did she always know everything? Did everyone know? “Rest, alright? You only got one body.”

“I’ll do my best,” Xie Lian said, and Ling Wen laid her head to the side, her expression indicating that she didn’t believe him at all. Xie Lian didn’t point out that she looked like she needed some rest herself, the bags under her eyes almost bruisingly dark. “How is the new album coming?”

“Hm,” she said, glancing to the side at her group members. “It’s getting there. We’ll be releasing a single soon. It’s called Heavenly Calamity.”

“I’m looking forward to hearing it,” Xie Lian said, and Ling Wen nodded. She stepped away soon after, and Xie Lian made the round around the room to greet everyone and check in with everything that had been happening. It was mostly gossip about who had been laid off, and if there had been any newly signed artists. Xie Lian only listened half heartedly. He was running out of energy fast, but felt himself perk up when he saw Mei Nianqing, Jun Wu’s right hand and assistant, step into the room. His presence could only mean one thing, and it was not staying longer at this party. It didn’t take long before all noticed him, and the tell tale hush fell over the room.

“Thank you all for celebrating the home coming of our Flower Crowned Gods,” he said, his expression calm and neutral. “You will have to excuse me for stealing them from you. We have business to discuss.” 

No one said anything to them, only a quiet murmur flowing through the room. Xie Lian caught Mei Nianqing’s eyes, and nodded in understanding. He managed to find his luggage left by the door, and pulled it with him towards the dorms. Most of the packing from the tour was official label things, like the costumes. They would be sent to the dry cleaners and then handled accordingly, so Xie Lian only had his one suitcase even after having been away for so long. He stepped into the corridor and saw Lang Qianqiu and Quan Yizhen walking before him with Mei Nianqing towards their room. It all felt so familiar. Xie Lian longed to sink into bed and rest. It did seem like he would have to wait however. It was rare that Mei Nianqing came to see them right after a tour. Usually they got to see him the next day, along with Jun Wu.

They stepped into the dorm, the line of bunk beds on one side, the door into their small wardrobe and bathroom on the other. The walls were covered in photos from their seven years as a group, and Xie Lian guessed they would add to them after this tour too. Lang Qianqiu was usually the one to do it, but Xie Lian liked to help.

Xie Lian put his suitcase by his bed, and sat down on his bottom bunk. Lang Qianqiu and Quan Yizhen had done the same, and soon they were joined by Feng Xin and Mu Qing, who seemed too tired to argue. Mei Nianqing smiled pleasantly towards them, and they both settled into a bed each too, Feng Xin next to Xie Lian and Mu Qing next to Lang Qianqiu. 

“I know you’re all tired, and surely have things you want to do,” Mei Nianqing said, his expression as calm as always. Xie Lian squirmed and looked around the room, seeing the other tense too. “But I have something I need to talk to you all about.”

“What’s up?” Lang Qianqiu asked, leaning forward a little. His leg started bouncing. 

“Please don’t say we have to start working right away,” Mu Qing said with a flat tone, and Mei Nianqing tilted his head right, and then left.

“Well..” he said, dragging the word out. Oh no, that wasn’t good. 

“Uuugh,” Quan Yizhen groaned, falling back on the bed as he covered his face. Xie Lian poked him with his foot from the other bed in silent support. He knew how much he wanted to go home. How much they all wanted it.

“Don’t be like that,” Feng Xin said, but Quan Yizhen only groaned again. Xie Lian glanced towards Mei Nianqing, who seemed to be waiting for them to settle. Xie Lian pulled his leg back, and after a moment, Quan Yizhen sat up too, even if he looked very tired. They all looked so tired. 

“So, Yushiguo Magazine is hosting a charity event,” Mei Nianqing continued, and Xie Lian nodded. This was nothing new. They had done charity events before. “And you all know how Jun Wu wants to make sure we contribute with everything we can to good causes,” Mei Nianqing pointed out and they all hummed in agreement. Jun Wu often said it was important for them to give back as much as they could, and to use their talents to do so.

“When is it?” Feng Xin asked, and his voice sounded so small. Xie Lian’s heart ached for them. It wasn’t fair really. They had worked so hard and deserved time off, to see their families and to rest. 

“Practice for it would start in three days,” Mei Nianqing said blankly, and all around the room sharp intakes of breath could be heard. Xie Lian felt a knot tighten in his stomach.

“No,” Mu Qing said firmly, shaking his head. “I really just want at least a week to go home. I need to see my mom. I haven’t since we started the tour.”

“Yes well that could be arranged,” Mei Nianqing said easily, and Xie Lian blinked in shock. Mu Qing froze too. It wasn’t unheard of, it was even common, that group members were exchanged or simply kicked out for being difficult. Xie Lian couldn’t remember it happening to any of the bigger groups however, and not for something as simple as wanting rest… then again, a similar threat had been made many years ago when they had just started. It just seemed so long ago that Xie Lian had almost forgotten it.

“What?” Feng Xin asked, sitting up straighter. He looked as panicked as Xie Lian felt. “I mean wha-”

“They’ve only asked for Xianle,” Mei Nianqing explained, and suddenly all eyes were on Xie Lian instead. Xie Lian felt his stomach sink, and he looked right at Mei Nianqing, not daring to look around the room.

“What?” he asked as he licked his lips nervously, feeling his mouth dry. Why would they ask just for him? Wasn’t that strange? He had done a couple of things alone, but it had mainly been photoshoots, interviews and promotion work. A few non-music events. He had never done any performances without the group since they started out together seven years ago.

“They want only Xie Lian?” Lang Qianqiu asked as he blinked, and Xie Lian felt his gaze fall heavily on him. “Not the group?”

“Yes,” Mei Nianqing confirmed with a nod, and Xie Lian looked away from him down into his lap, where he was wringing his hands together.

“Oh,” Lang Qianqiu said, and Xie Lian glanced over at him. He frowned, a complicated expression on his face. Xie Lian didn’t know what to say. The air in the room felt thick, and he squirmed under it.

“Wha- what did Jun Wu say about it?” Mu Qing asked, and Xie Lian looked over at him next. Mu Qing wasn’t looking at him, however, his attention was turned towards Mei Nianqing, his brows knitted together.

“He said he thought you ought to do it, but that it was up to all of you in the end,” Mei Nianqing said, looking over the group. He looked at Xie Lian last and lingered, and then Xie Lian felt the rest of the group look at him too. Xie Lian looked over their faces, and bit into his cheek. He didn’t want to let them down, and he didn’t want to do something they weren’t comfortable with. The atmosphere between them had always become sort of odd when Xie Lian had done work outside of the group. So far, no one had asked for simply one of the others. Still, he didn’t want to let down Jun Wu either, if he thought he should do it.

“I don’t really know,” Xie Lian said, looking back down at his hands again. “Since it’s for charity I feel like perhaps I should?”

“This of course would mean that you can all go home, until the event is over,” Mei Nianqing pointed out, and Xie Lian looked up at him with wide eyes. “Since Xianle doesn’t have family to visit and you can’t start recording the new album if you’re not all together.”
“Oh,” Lang Qianqiu said, his expression suddenly more hopeful as he looked over at Xie Lian.

“I mean,” Feng Xin said, turning to look at him. His expression was tense, but he smiled encouragingly. “How do you feel about it, Xie Lian?”

“What does it include, the charity event?” Xie Lian asked and looked back up at Mei Nianqing. He did really want the rest of the group to get the time off they so desperately needed. They all still had parents, or siblings, or someone they cared for they longed to see. Xie Lian could understand that. He didn’t have anyone like that, so he could do this so they could rest and see them. Still, he should know what he was getting himself into before fully accepting.

“The idea is for it to be a trans-label collaboration. The magazine will pair you with another artist from another label, and you will create a performance with them. There will also be a promotional photoshoot beforehand,” Mei Nianqing explained, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise.
“Create a performance…outside of the label?” he asked, having to confirm this to actually believe it. They had never been allowed to do anything like that before. They weren't even allowed to have input on more than a couple of dance steps here and there in their performances and now…now he was going to create a full performance with another artist from another label? Could Xie Lian even handle that?

“Yes,” Mei Nianqing confirmed with a nod. He looked as calm and collected as always. 

“And Jun Wu agreed to this?” Xie Lian asked, only to make sure. Jun Wu was always so adamant about these things. Xie Lian was a performer, Jun Wu always said. His strengths lay in conveying emotions on stage. He did not have the talent to create. 

“He did,” Mei Nianqing said with another nod, and a smile tugged at the corner of his lips. “He has high regards for Yushiguo, as you know.” 

“Well- how do you guys feel?” Xie Lian asked, turning to look at the others. He didn’t want them to be upset about him doing music with someone else, but he also didn’t want to be the reason that they couldn’t go home like they so desperately wanted.

“I really want to go home,” Mu Qing admitted, letting out a deep sigh. He looked at Xie Lian, but said nothing more. Xie Lian wasn’t sure what that fully meant, but he assumed that it meant Mu Qing wished he would do it?

“If Xianle does this, it will mean more time at home for the rest of you of course,” Mei Nianqing said again. “The charity event is in two and a half weeks. Xianle would leave to meet the artist that he’s been signed with in three days, and then practice for the routine for the following two weeks. You could all rest during that time.”

“Then… then I’ll do it, of course,” Xie Lian said with a nod. “It’s for a good cause and you all get to visit home,” he said as he looked around the room. Mu Qing looked relieved, as did Lang Qianqiu and Quan Yizhen. Feng Xing looked concerned however.

“Don’t you need rest too, Xie Lian?” he asked, and Xie Lian pulled forward his most genuine smile, which wasn’t as strained as he thought it would feel. He was happy. He was glad he could do something so they could get what they want, but so he could still work. It was really for the best, as long as it was fine by them.

“I’ll be fine,” he assured, and looked around the room. “I promise.” Feng Xin nodded slowly, and then Xie Lian saw a smile curl on his lips too. Good. It had been the right thing to do then. The atmosphere in the room had lightened, and it made it easier to breathe.

“Good,” Mei Nianqing said, and smiled fully now. “There is a need for you to film some things before you go, some vlogs as well as a tour wrap up for the channel. I expect we can have it all done in a couple of days if you’re eager to get home, and before Xianle needs to leave for the shoot.”

“Of course,” Lang Qianqiu said. “Not today though, right?”

“No,” Mei Nianqing laughed and shook his head. His gaze landed on Xie Lian however. “But Jun Wu would like for Xianle to visit him to discuss the charity event? He will see all of you tomorrow for the tour briefing of course, but he wanted to see Xianle in private.”

“Now?” Xie Lian asked, feeling his body ache. He longed for a shower, and to rewrap his knee and stretch it, and then sleep. It didn’t seem like he was going to get to do any of that for a while though.

“Yes,” Mei Nianqing said with certainty. Xie Lian held back a sigh and nodded, before he stood. “I’ll head up first to deliver the news, but you follow soon, yes?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian agreed, and turned back to look at the group. They were pulling themselves up from the beds as Mei Nianqing exited. “You all good?” he asked, and a murmur of agreements came.

“I’m really grateful,” Lang Qianqiu said, and smiled widely. “And now I need a shower.”

“Ugh, me too,” Mu Qing groaned. “I smell like airplane.”

“I called first dibs,” Lang Qianqiu said, and then they were bickering, as suitcases were pulled forward and opened. Xie Lian gave one longing glance at his bed, and then let out a sigh as he moved to the door.

“I’ll see you guys later,” he waved, and received a couple of goodbyes mixed into the bickering just before he closed the door. 

The walk to the main elevator was familiar, and Xie Lian stepped into it and pressed the top button to the top office floor. Above it was just the penthouse where Jun Wu lived, but Xie Lian had never been there. Only very few had access there, and Xie Lian was not important enough for that. Instead he kept his gaze forward on the doors, and tried to muster up some energy. It wouldn’t do to look dead tired in front of Jun Wu, everyone knew that.

The elevator slowed and then came to a stop, and the doors slid open to open up to a large lobby. Xie Lian nodded in greeting towards the receptionist sitting outside of the large white wooden doors with gold decorations, who greeted him pleasantly and told him to sit down. Xie Lian did, and kept his posture straight even though all he wanted to do was slump into a pile. The clock over the entrance ticked loudly in the bare space, and Xie Lian did his best not to look at it, since it seemed to make the minutes move slower. He wished he would have brought his phone or something, but it was still tucked into his luggage. He wished even more to stretch, but that wouldn’t really be appropriate. After thirty-five long minutes, the receptionist looked away from her computer at him, a soft smile on her face.

“Jun Wu can welcome Xianle into his office now,” she said, and Xie Lian smiled at her, standing to walk over to the doors. His knee twinged as he stood, but with the next step it was better. He pulled one of the heavy doors open, and walked into the white office, bathing in the orange evening sunlight from the large windows. On a couch to the left sat Jun Wu, a glass of some drink in his hand. 

“Xianle,” he said calmly, putting his glass down on the marble table before him as he stood. “How good it is to see you. Welcome home to the Heavenly Realm.”

“Thank you, Jun Wu,” Xie Lian said, stopping to bow before he moved over to where Jun Wu was standing. “It is always nice to be home.”

“Of course,” Jun Wu said, a pleasant smile on his face. He motioned for Xie Lian to sit on the other side of the couch, and Xie Lian did. Jun Wu looked at him for a moment, smiling softly, before he too sat. “How was the tour?”

“It was very good,” Xie Lian said with a nod. It still sort of felt like he was in the middle of it, so it was hard to get perspective just yet. “I think we did well.”

“Indeed you did,” Jun Wu agreed. “The reviews are as always magnificent, except of course the ones in Wuyong and Yong’an, but that means Xianle can always work harder to improve, yes?” Jun Wu said, and Xie Lian felt disappointment in himself curl at the pit of his stomach as he nodded. “All of them were sold out as well. You’ve brought in much money to the company to ensure we can keep creating music and make dreams come true. Well done,” Jun Wu continued, his voice smooth and his expression pleasant.

“I am glad,” Xie Lian said, even if the bitterness of feeling like he could have worked harder laid at the back of his tongue. 

“And how is Xianle?” Jun Wu asked, resting back against the backrest while his dark eyes stayed on Xie Lian. His eyes flickered over Xie Lian’s face, and then dipped down. “You look tired.”

“I am, but it's now trouble,” Xie Lian assured. He had been doing this for a long time now, and he knew the tiredness of coming home from a tour, even if it hadn’t seemed so bone deep before. He would be back to normal shortly. At least he hoped so. “A couple of good nights sleep in one and the same bed will do the trick.” Xie Lian smiled reassuringly, and Jun Wu hummed, his gaze dropping to Xie Lian’s leg.

“How is Xianle’s knee?” he asked, and Xie Lian moved to place a hand over it. “You had just hurt it after we last spoke.”

“It’s alright, the physical therapists helped,” Xie Lian said, rubbing at it absentmindedly. It wasn’t too bad right now.

“Mhm,” Jun Wu said. “Then I am glad I urged Xianle to push through the pain that time. I am proud of Xianle for pushing on for the fans. A little pain has never stopped you before.”

“Yes, I didn’t want to let anyone down,” Xie Lian assured. He had hurt his knee during a performance, and the pain had been staggering then. Xie Lian had been half carried off the stage by Mu Qing and Feng Xin, as Quan Yizhen and Lang Qianqiu had their own performance. It was at the end of the show, and they had been performing at new places for six nights in a row. Xie Lian could hardly breathe from the sharp pain shooting down his shin. The stage manager had called Jun Wu, and he had urged Xie Lian to tape it and continue. The fans would be so disappointed and worried if he didn’t, he reminded Xie Lian at the time. 

Xie Lian had been dancing on painkillers since. 

“And you didn’t,” Jun Wu said, and it made Xie Lian let out some of the tension he was holding in his shoulders. “Mei Nianqing tells me you accepted the offer of being a part of the charity event.” He reached forward to grab his glass, and took a sip of it. 

“Of course,” Xie Lian said with a nod. “Anything I can do to help.”

“A good choice,” Jun Wu said with another nod. “Xianle is so thoughtful of others.”
“It is nothing,” Xie Lian said and waved his hand dismissively. This was what was best for everyone after all. “What is the event for? Is there anything I need to know?”

“It is for a music magazine, Yushiguo, FCG have been in it before,” Jun Wu explained. “The editor, Yushi Huang, has always been adamant about giving back. The event is to collect money for journalists and music scholarships for those who cannot afford to study without support.”

“Oh, that is a good cause then,” Xie Lian agreed. “And this collaboration…”

Something dark came over Jun Wu’s expression, and Xie Lian swallowed thickly and shrunk in on himself. That look never meant anything good. Thankfully it was gone in an instant. Instead Jun Wu reached out for his glass, and took a big swing from it.

“Yushi Huang was adamant about making the parings and assisting the artists in the performances for the event on her own and without guidance from me,” he said, and now Xie Lian understood. Jun Wu was very caring of his artists, and he always wanted the final word on everything before it was finalised. Something like this, where he wouldn’t be in control, was unheard of. Jun Wu fixated him with a look, which made Xie Lian hold his breath. “It is important therefore, that Xianle remembers everything I have taught him. Remember the brand, and do not get pulled along with this other artist, whoever they are.”

“I understand,” Xie Lian said with a nod. The brand was something Jun Wu had been meticulous about from the start, both for the band and for the individual artists. Xie Lian’s brand was based on his innocence, as being pure and untouchable. He was to always wear white and gold, and only that. He hadn’t bought a single clothing item for himself since he had gotten signed with the rest of FCG. There was no room to step out of that role, and everytime Xie Lian had misstepped he had been sharply reprimanded. “I will do my best.”

“I know you will,” Jun Wu said, his hand landing on Xie Lian’s shoulder. Xie Lian felt himself tense, but smiled towards him. “Try even harder than that, yes? We do not want all the hard work everyone has put into you to be spoiled.”

“Of course,” Xie Lian agreed with a nod. Jun Wu smiled, his hand sliding off Xie Lian’s shoulder. 

“I believe in you Xianle,” he said and then stood. “Now, you should get back to the dorm and rest. I suspect you will have much work to do before you leave for the charity event, so we have things to broadcast from FCG in your absence.” 

“I will. Thank you for the advice,” Xie Lian said as he stood. Jun Wu turned back to him, and tilted his head to the side just barely. 

“I only want the best for Xianle,” he said calmly. “I see your potential like no other, but I also know your weaknesses like no other. Be mindful of them.”

“Yes,” Xie Lian agreed with another nod. “Good night.”

“Good night Xianle,” Jun Wu said, and then turned away from him. Xie Lian didn’t linger, but instead pushed out into the now empty and dark reception and to the elevator. He took it down, and wound his way through the corridors to the dorm. Well there he stopped, and instead of moving into it walked on, through the common room and out through the main entrance he had entered just a few hours ago when they arrived home. 

The cold air of the night hit his skin, and he tipped his head up to the sky as he closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Something uncomfortable was crawling under his skin, and he couldn’t pinpoint why. It had been growing stronger and stronger lately, and it felt suffocating. He took another deep breath, and then opened his eyes. The city lights were too bright, so no stars could be seen in the dark night sky. Xie Lian placed a hand over his heart only to feel it beating. To be sure it still did. 

A strong beat met his hand, and he let out a sigh.

Why did he feel like this?

What was this emptiness in his chest? 

Chapter Text

It felt weird to step out of the White No Face-Entertainment van alone, staring up at the large hotel. The car ride felt pretty odd too. Xie Lian couldn't remember when he last spent so much time alone, or almost alone. The driver had been as quiet as they always were, so Xie Lian had put on his headphones and rested back. Mei Nianqing had given them the demos for the new album, and now was a good time to listen to the songs to start to learn them. There were eleven new songs, and when Xie Lian got back from this charity event, FCG would start to record them and practice the dances which were currently being put together by the label choreographers. 

The songs were good, Xie Lian thought, as he listened to them on repeat for the five hour drive. They were along the same sound the group usually went with, so it felt familiar. Still, no song made Xie Lian pause and go back to listen again immediately. There was nothing in them that made him thrilled, and it made him feel slightly untethered. Hopefully it would feel better once the group started to sing them, and the songs started to feel more like their own and not someone else putting words in their mouths.

It was nice to have a couple of hours to himself, Xie Lian found. In the dorms, there were always people running around and into each other’s rooms. It wasn’t common that someone raced into theirs anymore, like it had when they were younger, but it was never quiet. They were also five sharing a small space, so the room was rarely empty. He wondered what it would be like to have a hotel room all to himself for a little over two weeks. He might grow crazy having to spend so much time with himself.

Then again, much time would be spent practicing. 

He had tried not to think too much about who he would be paired with. It seemed neither Mei Nianqing or Jun Wu had received any information on which artists would be participating, since it was to be released on the magazine's social media just after the promotion photo shoot. Xie Lian was nervous. His life was spent around other artists, and song coaches, choreographers, make-up artists, and stylists, along with the staff from the record label. The culture on White No Face-Entertainment might be completely different from elsewhere though. 

Xie Lian let out a sigh, and grabbed his luggage tighter as he stepped through the doors into the hotel lobby. There stood a woman, who immediately spotted him and approached. Xie Lian pushed off his headphones and pulled his mask down, smiling towards her.

“Xianle,” she greeted. “We are very honored to have you here. I’m Jiang Ying Yue from Yushiguo Magazine, and I am here to escort you to your room. Was the ride here alright?”

“Yes, it was fine,” Xie Lian said with a nod. “Thank you for coming to meet me.”

“Of course!” she cheered, motioning towards the elevator. “We are so excited to have you join in the event. We are sure it will really help us in retrieving funds.”

“Ah, I’m glad,” Xie Lian said, stepping into the elevator after her. “So, are the other artists staying at the hotel too?”

“Yes, those who don’t live in the city already,” she said with a nod, bouncing on her heel a little. “They’re all coming in today so it’s been busy, but it’s so nice to have it all on the road now.”

“I bet,” Xie Lian said with a nod as he watched the floor numbers climbing. “Are there many of us?”

“Oh, there’s twelve artists coming in, making six duos,” she explained. “I’ll explain it all in detail when we get into the room and you settle in.”

“Of course,” Xie Lian said, grabbing his bag a little tighter. The elevator came to a stop, and Jiang Ying Yue motioned for him to step off first. Xie Lian did, and then stopped as she followed, and walked them down a long corridor. She stopped at one of the four doors of the corridor, and held a card to the handle only for a green light to blink, as a click sounded.

“Here we are,” she said, pushing the door open to the room, holding it open for Xie Lian who stepped in after her. He looked around the spacious room as he put his bag to the side. It was a very good room, luxuriously decorated with a lot of space. There was a small seating area, with a couch and two armchairs, as well as a four poster, queen sized bed on the other side of the room. It was all decorated in dark greens, and it created a calm feeling. It was a good room, much like the ones he and FCG usually stayed at when touring. 

“This is really nice,” Xie Lian offered with a smile, and saw a blush color her cheeks.

“Only the best,” she said, and then pointed towards the couch. “Please take a seat and I will go over everything.” 

Xie Lian did as told, and was handed a packet of information. It had important contact information if he needed to reach out to someone in the team, general information for the hotel, and schedule for the photoshoot the next day as well as a lot more information. Xie Lian had just started flipping through the papers when Jiang Ying Yue spoke up again, and he put them in his lap to focus on her.

“So, we have paired you with Crimson Rain Sought Flower, who is part of the band Calamities. We think you two will balance against each other well. You are very different musically, but I am sure you will be able to create something very interesting,” Jiang Ying Yue explained.

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, trying to remember if he had heard about this person. He was fairly sure he might have heard the bands’ name before, but he wasn’t sure. There was a monitor in the common area of the Heavenly Realm which showed the gossip magazines websites, only so the artist knew what was being written about them, and Xie Lian might have picked something up from there. “I am not fully familiar with him, I’m afraid.”

“Oh well,” she twisted nervously as she spoke, which put Xie Lian a little on edge. “Crimson Rain Sought Flower is very talented, and musical. He’s very determined, and not always very pleasant. Very honest. My boss however seems to have no trouble with him, so I am sure he can’t be too bad.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, twisting slightly in his seat. Jiang Ying Yue cleared her throat, clearly uncomfortable. “I am sure it will work out either way.”

“Yes, since you are so experienced we were sure you would,” she said with a hum. “So, tomorrow is the photo shoot, you’re in the second slot. I will come pick you up and take you there after you’ve been styled. It’s a set on top of a roof for you two, a very nice location. We received instructions about what you were to be styled in, so we’ve covered that. And then you shoot for three hours. The photos will be used for promotion, mainly on social media.”

“Okay, so the day after tomorrow, are we allowed to promote the event on our social media as well?” Xie Lian asked. He had made a couple of posts during the morning about going on an adventure alone, but he had kept it very vague. He knew Jun Wu would appreciate it if he could be more active on the group’s page. The label wanted them to be as visible on social media as possible, and with the rest of the group visiting family it would be good if Xie Lian was more active. 

“Yes, as soon as the post about you being in the event is out, feel free to promote it!” Jiang Ying Yue agreed with a nod. “So, tomorrow you will meet Crimson Rain Sought Flower for the first time, and then you two take it from there. In the information packet there’s a schedule for the remainder of the time up until the concert. We have booked dance studios for you to rehearse in if you want to, just a couple of blocks away, and then you have two days with three hours of stage practice the days leading up to the concert.”

“Okay that sounds good,” Xie Lian agreed. He was used to having more time to rehearse, especially on stage, but this was only one song, so he guessed it would be enough. “What about the performance, is there anything prepared for it?”

“You and Crimson Rain Sought Flower get to do whatever you want! We have a couple of guidelines, which you can find in there,” she said, pointing to the bundle. ”Other than that, you pick a song and rehearse it. It’s very free artistically, so it’s all up to you what you want to do! Let us know if you need any help with anything!”

“Alright,” Xie Lian agreed, feeling his nerves rise. He knew he wouldn’t be allowed to use any of FCG’s songs, and it wasn’t as if he had any on his own. He would have to discuss this with Crimson Rain Sought Flower when they met, and just hope the other man didn’t think he was completely clueless. 

Maybe Xie Lian was. He sort of felt like it right now.

Could he really do this alone?

“Good, so again, if you need anything just reach out, and otherwise I’ll get out of your hair!” Jiang Ying Yue said and stood. Xie Lian thanked her, and then stood as she walked to the door. They said goodbye, and she promised to come pick him up early the next morning. Xie Lian thanked her again, and as soon as she walked out of the door he sunk down into the couch with a sigh as nerves filled his chest. This was all so much. Too much. He wasn’t sure he could handle it. 

He looked to the side, and reached for his phone. He contemplated calling someone, only to ask for help or advice or anything, but then decided against it. He wasn’t sure who he would call anyway. Instead he took a deep breath, and decided to unpack. It was soon done, and then Xie Lian decided to order some room service, the one dish that fit the diet plan, and then settled down to read through the information packet. It was mostly information he had already been told, just with more details. Once it was all read through, and the lunch was gone, and Xie Lian had made a social media post from the hotel room, curiosity got the better of him. He picked up his phone and settled back to search out everything he could find about Crimson Rain Sought Flower.

He came to an information page first, and read through the whole thing, but didn’t find much. For most artists, there was information about parents and history, but for Crimson Rain Sought Flower, there wasn’t even a real name. The first thing written about him was about his band, Calamities, and their rise to fame. They had started from nowhere, without a label, and then got big almost overnight. They only had an EP then, and had only two releases since, but they had insane numbers on the streaming sites. After the first EP, they were signed by a record label called ‘Scrap Collecting Immortals Record Label’ owned by someone named Hua Cheng. When Xie Lian tried to read up on the label and it’s owner, the information was even more sparse. Were they just very lowkey? It seemed improbable, with how much money they must make. Xie Lian recognized a couple of the artists' names signed by them, but Xie Lian wasn’t sure why. He went back to the page about Crimson Rain Sought Flower instead, to see if he could find something more.

At the top was a photo of him, and Xie Lian couldn’t hold back from pressing it to enlarge, feeling his face heat as he got a better look at him. Crimson Rain Sought Flower had black long hair, wild and unruly. It was parted to the side, and a little shorter in the front to fall in front of one of his eyes, which seemed to be covered in a black eyepatch, which looked to have some sort of pattern. The picture wasn’t clear enough to make it out. He had a slender nose, sharp cheekbones and jawline, as well as thin pink lips. The left eye, the uncovered one, was black as the night and lined with red and black. His skin was pale, and he looked into the camera with a smirk which made Xie Lian’s heart flutter.

Oh. 

That was new.

There was no denying that Crimson Rain Sought Flower was attractive, and Xie Lian would even say handsome - even if his look was almost a little too wild for it. There was something more however. Xie Lian couldn’t pinpoint what it was, but something in that black eye made him want to know more. It was far too easy then, to exit the information site and move over to photos, and lose himself in looking though the collection the search engine could offer. Xie Lian wasn’t sure how long he spent simply looking at Crimson Rain Sought Flower, but he was sure he had never ogled anyone for so long before in his life.

When he ran out of photos, Xie Lian moved over to social media, which at first seemed to have a lot more information on the man. He soon realised however that fans mostly seemed to write theories about the Calamities and Crimson Rain Sought Flower, and that there was a very little fact, only theories and hopes. It was very amusing however, and some even seemed to think that Hua Cheng and Crimson Rain Sought Flower were the same person. There were an abundance of memes saying ‘I’m not saying Hua Cheng and Crimson Rain Sought Flower are the same person, I’m just saying that no one’s seen them together’. It seemed that no one had ever really seen Hua Cheng at all, which was odd. Xie Lian lost hours on reading theories about Crimson Rain Sought Flower, and found it highly amusing.

Calamities had some official social media, but it was only promotion of their albums and tours, which held almost no photos but rather just graphics. Nothing like Xie Lian’s social media, or FCG’s, which was packed with everyday things and photos of them. Crimson Rain Sought Flower didn’t have any official social media at all that Xie Lian could find, which he felt was a little disappointing. Having emptied social media out as well,  there was only one thing left to do. Xie Lian picked up his headphones and connected them to the bluetooth, and settled back to listen to the most played song by Calamities. The music felt sensual, and when the voice of Crimson Rain Sought Flower flowed through the speakers, a shiver raced down Xie Lian’s spine.

It was a deep voice, but still clear. It rolled over the words effortlessly. Xie Lian closed his eyes, and focused on the words as Crimson Rain Sought Flower sang on.

 

When you move, I'm put to mind of all that I wanna be

When you move, I could never define all that you are to me

So move me, baby, Shake like the bough of a willow tree

You do it naturally, Move me, baby

You are the rite of movement, Its reasonin' made lucid and cool

I know it's no improvement, When you move, I move

 

It was sensual, in a way that Xie Lian had always been told he was not allowed to express himself. Jun Wu had always been so clear about it, since it went against the brand. It wasn’t for all the groups signed with White No Face-Entertainment, for example Three Tumors had another type of sound, but for FCG and especially for Xianle, such things were forbidden.

He found he really enjoyed it however, and he really liked Crimson Rain Sought Flower’s voice. It was easy to see why they were so popular.

Next one was an upbeat song, but with an equally dark theme, and in that fashion it continued. Song after song came through Xie Lian’s headphones, and with each song he felt like he enjoyed Crimson Rain Sought Flower’s voice even more. The style was very different from what he himself usually sang, but he really enjoyed listening to it. Xie Lian listened through all of the songs he could find on the streaming site, and when he had made his way through them all he moved over to watching videos, both of live performances as well as music videos. He felt like he devoured it all, and only paused when he found his stomach growling with hunger. Xie Lian looked up, and noticed he was sitting in a completely dark room, the sun having set outside of the windows.

Oh.

He blinked, and felt his cheeks flush. He had really lost himself in his research, how silly. He stood a little too abruptly, and felt his knee protest. A hiss left his lips, and he groaned. He laid his phone down to charge, and went to call for more of the same diet approved dish as he had for lunch, before he sat down to go through his stretches and exercise. He was just done when the food arrived, and he ate it while continuing to watch videos on his phone. He told himself that it was good research, but he barely bought it himself. There was just something so enticing about Crimson Rain Sought Flower, impossible to look away from. Xie Lian wasn’t sure how he would manage in the coming days really, being around him. 

It was late when he finished, he made another social media post before and he took a quick shower before he crawled into bed. He laid down, and shifted, finding it too quiet. With a sigh he reached for his headphones and put them over his ears. He opened the playlist for Calamities he had made, and scrolled down to one of the songs which had especially caught his attention. All the information he had found indicated that Calamities wrote their own music, and Xie Lian found it so intriguing. What had been going through their minds when they wrote this?

He pressed play and closed his eyes, and slowly felt his body grow heavy as Crimson Rain Sought Flower’s voice filled his mind.

 

Soldier keep on marchin' on, Head down 'til the work is done

Waiting on that morning sun, Soldier keep on marchin' on

Head in the dust, feet in the fire, Labour on that midnight wire

Listening for that angel choir, 

You got nowhere to run

You wanna take a drink of that promise land, You gotta wipe the dirt off of your hands

Careful son, you got dreamer's plans, But it gets hard to stand

Soldier keep on marchin' on, Head down 'til the work is done

Waiting on that morning sun, Soldier keep on marchin' on

 

____________________________

 

Being in the chair being styled for the photo shoot was familiar, and Xie Lian sat still as the make-up artist and hair stylist did their job. There was nothing unusual about it really. They had contoured his face, bringing out sharper angles. Then, they added a soft pink rouge to his cheeks, before they marked his lips. Last, they added a gold shimmer to his eyes. It was the same way he had been styled for almost a decade. Xie Lian could do it himself now, if anyone had trusted him enough to do it. His long brown hair was tied half back from his face with a white ribbon, but otherwise fell freely around his shoulders. 

He was moved over to clothes after, all the while he tried not to think too much about how soon he would be with Crimson Rain Sought Flower, who’s voice he had in his ear the entire night. He was feeling nervous in a way he hadn’t in so long. Everything felt new here. White No Face-Entertainment had their own photographers and stylists, so Xie Lian knew them all. Here, all the faces were new and it made him feel a little lonely and nervous. 

He was put in a pair of white slacks, rolled up at the ankles, as well as a white collarless short-sleeved shirt. The sneakers on his feet were gold, and so was the choker he placed around his neck last - almost like a signature piece. He couldn’t even remember when he had started to wear it anymore. Jun Wu had suggested it, he thought. The stylist praised him, and Xie Lian smiled warmly at her, before he took a couple of behind the scene shots to post on social media. Nothing of his own outfit however, and nothing that could be tied to anything really. It could be of any styling set. He looked at himself in the mirror, and smiled. He looked nice, and he hoped it would look good on the shoot too. He couldn't be sure, but he was guessing Crimson Rain Sough Flower was going to be wearing red, since it seemed to be his signature color. He gave himself a final look over, and then stepped out from behind the styling screen, only to come face to face with a broad, almost bare chest.

Xie Lian gasped, and snapped his eyes up, only to meet one black eye, the other covered by a black eyepatch with an embroidered butterfly pattern. Xie Lian felt his heart start to rush in his chest, and he swallowed thickly as he tried desperately to will down the blush seeping into his cheeks.

Crimson Rain Sought Flower was really incredibly handsome, even more so in person which Xie Lian had thought was impossible. His features were of course the same, but there was this confident aura around him which made him look so relaxed it made Xie Lian’s knees a little weak. 

Maybe it was just his bad knee.

“Ah!” Xie Lian managed to push out, blinking as he took a step back to create some distance between him and that bare chest. He needed to say something, professionally preferably. “Crimson Rain Sought Flower, it is an honor to meet you.”

Crimson Rain Sought Flower blinked, as if surprised. The bridge of his nose pinkened, but it was gone in an instant. Then his lips curled into a cocky smirk, which made the heat flare up on Xie Lian’s cheeks again. Horrible. He couldn’t remember flushing like this before, ever. 

“The honor is all mine,” he answered with respect in his tone, bowing his head as if speaking to someone important. Xie Lian blinked in surprise. He had expected sass, or perhaps even sharpness. In all the interviews Xie Lian had seen with Crimson Rain Sought Flower, he always carried an air of being better than everyone else, easily tearing them down with a single comment. Never had he seen him act like this. “Please call me San Lang.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, and then smiled. Was that his real name, or perhaps simply something he made up on the spot? All of the sources were so clear about him never giving a name. “I will then.”

This made Crimson- No, San Lang, beam as if Xie Lian had given him the greatest of treasures. It was incredibly pretty on him. 

“Gege,” San Lang said, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise again. “Are you ready? They said that the car is ready for us to go to the location.”

“Yes, I am,” Xie Lian said, looking down on his wardrobe. “Is San Lang done too?” 

He made the mistake of looking away from that gleaming black eye to look down again, and once again got a full view of San Lang’s chest. In all honesty, it wasn’t completely bare. San Lang was in a pair of red suit pants, with a black vest with a deep cut. Over he wore a red suit jacket, which was short and ended just below his ribs. Over his chest hung several silver chains, tied together with a silver butterfly in the middle. 

He was however, not wearing a shirt. 

And that was a very sculpted chest.

Xie Lian swallowed hard. What was he doing? He had been around artists for almost all of his life. He and the rest of FCG changed in front of each other constantly during performances and in the dorms. He had seen countless bare chests. Why was he reacting like this now?

“Yes, Gege I am done as well,” San Lang said with a smirk. His black hair was let out, except for a single braid hanging to the side of his face, with a red bead hanging at the end of it. His eyes were lined with red, and Xie Lian realised they must look almost like opposites when standing side by side. 

“Of course, of course,” he said, nodding as he did. “San Lang looks very handsome. Red suits him.”

San Lang looked taken aback, and then he looked away. Xie Lian squirmed, wondering if he had said something wrong. He was just about to apologise, and San Lang looked back at him. 

“Gege is very gracious, and he also looks very beautiful.”

“Oh, thank you San Lang,” Xie Lian said, feeling his cheeks heat again. Neither of them said anything for a moment, before San Lang motioned them to start walking out towards the door. Xie Lian thanked the stylists before he fell into step with him to walk out the car which was waiting for them. The driver stepped up, but San Lang waved him off, opening the door for Xie Lian to slide in. 

San Lang followed into the car and settled on the seat beside him, before he smiled as their gazes caught. Xie Lian smiled too, leaning back as the driver informed them that he would start driving and that it would take them about fifteen minutes to get there. 

“That’s not too bad,” Xie Lian mused. “Once, we had to drive an hour and a half to get to a shoot, I almost fell asleep on the way and ruined the styling.” 

“Is Gege used to photo shoots?” San Lang asked, and Xie Lian turned to him and nodded. There had been countless of them through the years after all. “Then I hope he will give San Lang advice once we're there?”

“San Lang must have experience too,” Xie Lian said with conviction. “I saw some photos online which must have been from photo shoots.”

“Gege looked me up?” San Lang said, a smirk curling on his lips. Xie Lian felt his heart beat a little faster, feeling caught red handed. Still, he couldn’t let it show, once again telling himself that he needed to be professional. 

“Of course,” Xie Lian said with confidence. “I had to do research of course.”

“Very smart,” San Lang agreed, and Xie Lian let out an internal sigh of relief. It wasn’t that odd that he had looked Crimson Rain Sought Flower up after all. The way San Lang was acting was just making him feel like he had done something odd. “As expected. What did Gege think of what he found?”

“San Lang has a very good, deep voice, and a good sense for the guitar,” Xie Lian said honestly, and San Lang smiled. “Do you write the lyrics for your songs yourself?”

“I thought we were talking about photo shoots,” San Lang said, and Xie Lian was recognizing now that he was being teased, and shook his head.

“Sorry, sorry, much ashamed,” he said to tease back, turning away to look out the window at the city passing by.

“No, no,” San Lang hurried to say, and Xie Lian looked back at him, holding back his smile.  “I am very happy to hear Gege’s opinion on our music. We do write the songs ourselves.”

“That must be very hard,” Xie Lian said. He had always enjoyed writing songs, but the ones he had shown to Mei Nianqing or Jun Wu had never been deemed good enough. He rarely did it now, but every now and then inspiration struck and he had to write down a few lines. He had them tucked away in the notes in his phone.

“Not really,” San Lang said, his tone flat, as if writing songs was the easiest thing in the world. Maybe it was for him.

“San Lang is talented then,” Xie Lian said with conviction, and San Lang turned more towards him.

“I am sure Gege could do it too,” he said, sounding just as confident as he did in himself. “Do you not get any influence on the songs you record?”

“No, it is not my strength,” Xie Lian admitted, feeling a little exposed all of a sudden. San Lang frowned.

“Has Gege tried?” he asked, and Xie Lian looked away from him, because his handsome face was far too distracting and Xie Lian couldn’t handle it when he felt so exposed.

“Hm,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue to talk about this, but he didn’t want to seem rude. They were having such a nice conversation after all.

“Perhaps it could be time to try again?” San Lang asked, and his tone was very soft. Xie Lian looked back at him, and found only sincerity in his gaze. “I am sure Gege has much to say.”

“Maybe,” Xie Lian agreed, feeling a little breathless. He caught himself quickly however, and decided that a change of topic might be wise. “So, photo shoots. It did seem as though San Lang had some experience, since I saw a few.”

“Yes, we have done a couple for the band but not many, mainly promotion,” San Lang said, resting back against the backseat, twirling the bead at the end of his braid. “Gege has surely done much more.”

“Yes, there has been quite a lot,” Xie Lian agreed, because there had been photoshoots for albums, for photo books and posters, as well as all the advertisements. A couple of magazine covers too. “I must admit I’m a bit nervous though.”

“Oh? How so?” San Lang asked, and Xie Lian shook his head at himself.

“Well, with White No Face-Entertainment, there’s always internally employed photographers and stylists,” he explained, and San Lang hummed in understanding.

“Known faces?” he asked. 

“Exactly,” Xie Lian agreed with a nod. 

“Well, I do know some of the people Yushi Huang usually works with,” San Lang said casually.  “Would Gege like me to point them out once we get there?”

“Only if it is not too much trouble,” Xie Lian said, and San Lang’s eye sparkled.

“No trouble at all,” he assured.



They arrived at the location soon after, and were shown up onto the rooftop of the building. The roof was filled with people milling about, setting the lighting and locations. Yushi Huang came to greet them as soon as they stepped up, and Xie Lian liked her immediately. San Lang was polite to her too, but nothing more, which was a stark difference to how he had acted with Xie Lian in the car. 

“We’re almost set up here,” Yushi Huang explained, turning towards the set. “We’ll start with the both of you standing on the edge there, so we get the background of the rooftops behind. In terms of posing, just do what you feel like. We know you haven’t worked together before, so just get into it and we’ll give directions as we go.”

“Is there several sets to shoot at, or is that it?” Xie Lian asked, and Yushi Huang hummed and looked around. 

“We’ll see how it goes, and how much time we have,” she said. “We hope to get a couple of different backgrounds. There’s a plan to have you sit down on the roof as well.”

“Alright,” Xie Lian said, looking around the set. Stylists came to look them over again, and touched up their make-up and made sure their clothing was in order. After they left, San Lang held his promise and pointed out photographers, assistants, set stylists, costume stylists, people from the magazine and coordinator. It seemed San Lang was very knowledgeable, since he knew everyone by name and profession. Xie Lian tried to keep track of them all, and after a moment it seemed everything was ready. They invited them onto the set, and Xie Lian climbed up on the high ledge first, and looked down. There was a ledge just below, so if he would lose his balance he wouldn’t fall to the ground, but at the same time the ledge wasn’t visible from the roof. He looked out over the rooftops, letting out a gasp. It really was a beautiful view. He understood fully why they had picked it as the backdrop.

“Is Gege admiring the view?” San Lang asked beside him, and Xie Lian looked away from the rooftops to look at him. 

“Mn,” he agreed with a nod. “It’s very pretty.”

“Fitting then,” San Lang said, looking at him with that dark eye. Xie Lian didn’t fully grasp what he meant, so he simply nodded. “What do we do now then?”

Xie Lian looked over at the photographer, who was looking at their direction without truly looking at them. 

“They’re checking lightning and angles now, just to see how it looks with us standing here,” Xie Lian said. “They’ll probably take a few test photos just to check, and then they’ll ask us to pose.”

“And what poses would Gege like to do?” San Lang asked, and Xie Lian considered for a bit. Then, he gave a few directions, and as the photographer and lighting crew tested things out, they tried out a few things too. San Lang easily followed Xie Lian’s suggestions, and when they called for them to start they easily fell into posing together. They started with them both standing up, Xie Lian turned facing the camera while San Lang looked away from him. They took a few like that, and then changed to the opposite. Then, they tried it with Xie Lian looking forward, and San Lang looking at him, before they switched again. The set director yelled out instructions, but San Lang didn’t seem interested in following them, only moving when Xie Lian asked him too.

After shooting for a while, San Lang leaned closer, and whispered; “Gege, mind if I try something?”

“Oh, no of course,” Xie Lian said with a nod. “You don’t have to follow what I say.”

“Every advice Gege gives me is excellent advice, so why shouldn’t I listen,” San Lang said. Then, a gleam filled his dark eye, full of mischief, as he sank down to place one knee by Xie Lian’s feet. Xie Lian started slightly, and San Lang smirked. 

“San Lang!” he said, but his smirk only grew wider. 

“This San Lang thinks this would be a good photo,” he said, that mischief still dancing in his eyes as he leaned back a little. “Don’t you agree, Gege?”

“Alright,” Xie Lian agreed, feeling his cheeks flush. The set director seemed to like it too, because as soon as they took more controlled poses there were directions and praise being shouted at them, as the shutter went off rapidly. San Lang looked up at him, and when Xie Lian looked down to meet his gaze, it could only be described as fond. 

They posed like that for a while, and then Xie Lian crouched down too, turning fully to San Lang, who countered with sitting down fully to look at him. Xie Lian could hear the shutter continue to go off, but now they were fully facing each other instead, and Xie Lian found he could barely concentrate on all the people around them, because San Lang was so mesmerizing. He leaned in closer, towering over San Lang a little. San Lang tilted his face forward as the space between them grew narrower. Xie Lian felt his heart thunder in his chest, and he paused, neither of them touching but close enough for him to feel San Lang’s breath ghost over his lips. 

“Gege,” San Lang whispered, and Xie Lian let out a long breath, and then leaned back. He had gotten too carried away with it all, and San Lang was too enticing, too pretty. Xie Lian needed to create some space between them, only to clear his mind. 

“Sorry,” Xie Lian said, sitting down fully too. “San Lang has a very pretty eye.”

“Mn,” San Lang said, blinking. He looked away from Xie Lian then, looking out over the rooftops. His profile was so handsome, and Xie Lian traced it with his gaze, before he too looked out at the view - his feet dangling over the edge at each side of the banister. 

“Alright!” Yushi Huang called, and Xie Lian looked back, finding the crew starting to back away. “Good job boys! That was great.”

“Yeah?” Xie Lian asked with a smile, and from the corner of his eye he saw San Lang move back to look at her too. 

“Gege gave such great directions, how could it be anything but amazing,” San Lang said, and Xie Lian laughed and shook his head. San Lang was really too much. Yushi Huang had come up to them then, and she smiled.

“You have really good chemistry. We got some amazing shots,” she said with a nod, and then looked over to the side. “We want to try one more thing, but really we got a lot of good shots so after that we should be done.”

“Okay,” Xie Lian agreed, shifting to jump down from the banister. San Lang followed. “What is it?”

“You see that sloping roof over there?” she asked, pointing to a roof that extended to the side of the one they were standing on. “We want you to lay on it. It’s not steep enough to be dangerous, and I think it could be a good contrast to these ones.”

“You want us to lie side by side or…?” San Lang asked, and Yushi Huang nodded. “Are you sure it’s not dangerous?” He glanced at Xie Lian then, who smiled at him.

“Yes, and if you’re not comfortable, we don’t have to,” she assured, and San Lang looked over at Xie Lian, who shrugged.

“I’m good to try, if San Lang feels like it’s okay,” he said, and San Lang nodded. With that, they moved over to lay on their backs on the roof. The crew moved over too, and as they settled they set up the equipment, as well as tested the lighting. The sky was blue above them, with just a few clouds moving across it. San Lang leaned in towards him, and Xie Lian looked over at him. San Lang kept his gaze for a moment, and then he rested back, his arms behind his head.

“What does Gege think that cloud looks like?” he asked, and Xie Lian blinked, following his hand up to see which he meant. He let out a little laugh. This was a cute game, and not at all what he had expected.

“Cotton candy,” Xie Lian answered, and San Lang hummed.

“All clouds look like cotton candy,” he pointed out, and Xie Lian smiled. Yeah, he guessed that was true.”Gege needs to be more specific.”
“What about you San Lang, what does that cloud look like?” he asked, pointing to one next to it.

“A butterfly,” he said calmly, and Xie Lian tilted his head, trying to see it. “That part is one wing, and that’s the other.”
“Oh, now I see it,” Xie Lian said, smiling. “What about that one?”

“No, it’s Gege’s turn now,” San Lang said firmly, and Xie Lian hummed as he looked the cloud over. 

“Like a dragon maybe,” he said, pointing up at it. “That’s the neck, bending down to the head, and then a long tail that goes under the cloud.”

“Mn, Gege is right,” San Lang agreed, pointing up at the sky. The shutter of a camera went off, and they both looked up.

“No, don’t stop!” the photographer called out. “You’re doing great, it looked really natural.”

“Maybe because it was,” San Lang mumbled, and Xie Lian couldn’t help laughing at that, hearing the shutter go off again. Oh. He didn’t think he had ever laughed when being photographed like this before. 

“What does San Lang think that cloud looks like?” Xie Lian asked, and for a while they continued their game, until the director asked them to switch poses. They positioned the photographer to the side, and had Xie Lian lay on his stomach, closest to the camera. San Lang laid behind him, propped up on one elbow. They took a couple of photos like that too, and then with them sitting side by side on the roof as well, before Yushi Huang called for a wrap up. Xie Lian let out a sigh of relief. It had been fun, but now he was exhausted and hungry. 

They were escorted down back to the car, and Xie Lian sunk into the plush seats of it. Beside him, San Lang chuckled, but sunk even further into the seat, slouching. 

“What did San Lang think of it?” Xie Lian asked, and San Lang hummed as he contemplated. 

“It was fun to do it with Gege,” he said, his eyes turned towards the roof of the car. “It was alright I guess.”

“I’m glad you didn’t hate it,” Xie Lian said, and San Lang hummed again. “I’m exhausted, and so hungry.” He placed his arms over his stomach, and from the corner of his eye he saw San Lang look over at him.

“Does Gege have any plans for the night?” he asked, and Xie Lian hummed as he looked over, blinking. Then he shook his head.

“No, I don’t know anyone here, and I- I guess I would just eat that salad from the room service menu and do some workout in my room,” he answered truthfully. He had gone to the hotel gym early in the morning so he wouldn’t bump into anyone, but he needed to stretch his knee again, as well as do some more training. “What about San Lang?” 

Xie Lian looked over then, and met San Lang’s dark eye. It was really so pretty. 

“I was wondering if maybe Gege wanted to come to dinner with me?” he asked, and Xie Lian felt his brows raise in surprise. “We could discuss the performance and the practicing for the concert. Only if Gege wants too of course.”

“I’d really like that San Lang,” Xie Lian said softly. “I don’t know- I haven’t been to a restaurant in so long.”

“Really?” San Lang asked, seeming surprised by this. “Why?”

“Well at the Heavenly Realm, ah that’s the dorm all the artists of White No Face-Entertainment live in, we have a joined cafeteria we eat at. Like in school, kind of. And when we’re out touring the crew buys food and brings it to the arena we’re performing at, or the hotel.”

“Sounds dull,” San Lang pointed out, and Xie Lian hummed. He had never considered this, but he did always feel a little sad not to see more of the destinations they toured. “Now I must take Gege out.”

“Ah, alright,” Xie Lian agreed with a smile, feeling excitement rise in his chest. “Do you-, I might need a shower before? You want to meet back down in the lobby after half an hour, once we get back?”

“Sounds like a good plan,” San Lang agreed, and Xie Lian smiled widely back. They arrived back at the hotel, and were brought back to styling to give back the wardrobe they had been put in. Xie Lian dashed up to his room once he was done, and got ready as quickly as he could. He had just stepped out of the bathroom, ready all but to pick clothes, when his phone started ringing on the nightstand. He looked down at it, and saw Jun Wu’s caller ID. He picked the phone up, but then saw that he was running out of time to get ready. He didn’t want to keep San Lang waiting after all. He bit his lip as his thumb hovered over the answering button, and then let the phone fall to the bed as he turned to rummage through the closet instead. He pulled out a white sweater, and a pair of light blue, washed out jeans, pulling both on in a rush. He hurried to the door next and fastened the golden choker around his neck last, and pushed his feet into a pair of white sneakers. He grabbed the card to the room and his wallet last, but left his phone. It was silly, but Xie Lian didn’t care. He could deal with it later.

San Lang was already down in the lobby once he arrived, and he smiled as he spotted Xie Lian coming out of the elevator. 

“Gege looks nice,” he said, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush. At least San Lang’s chest wasn’t exposed now, even if he still looked unbelievably handsome. He was dressed in a pair of black slacks and a red sweater, the sleeves rolled up. On his left lower arm there was a black tattoo, stark against his pale skin. Xie Lian couldn’t make out what it said, but he didn’t dare ask either. His hair had been braided back from his face, but the lengths fell freely down his back, looking wild but still so smooth. 

“San Lang looks very handsome,” Xie Lian answered, and San Lang shook his head, turning towards the door. Xie Lian fell into step with him, and they walked down the sidewalk. 

“Did you find a place to eat at?” Xie Lian asked, and San Lang hummed in agreement, explaining how he had booked a table at a restaurant he had visited before. The air was chill but not cold, and Xie Lian breathed it in. It was nice, walking down the sidewalk, talking about things they passed and how the day had been. He found he very much enjoyed San Lang’s company, and he wasn’t sure if he had ever felt so relaxed around someone so fast. It was just easy to be around him. 

They arrived at the restaurant, and the hostess looked very flustered as her gaze flickered between the both of them, showing them up to the seating area on top of the restaurant roof. It was more secluded then the dining room below, with small tables in nooks of winding ivy and fairy lights strung up. It was really nicely decorated. Xie Lian smiled as he looked around at it all, feeling excited.

“This is a beautiful spot, San Lang,” he said after they had ordered. He was excited about the food too. He couldn’t remember when he had last ordered something like it to eat. It went against all the diet restrictions, but he could indulge for once. San Lang hummed, as if this was nothing special at all.

“I’m glad Gege likes it,” San Lang said, playing with his fabric napkin, running it back and forth between his fingers. “I can’t believe Gege hasn't been out like this in so long.”

“It’s a little odd to be away from the group, and to be out without everyone at the label,” Xie Lian admitted, but tipped his head up to the lights and smiled. “It’s nice too. I spent almost the entire day yesterday alone, I can’t remember when that last happened.”

“How is it, living in the dorms?” San Lang asked leaning forward to rest his chin in his hand.

“It’s alright,” Xie Lian said, feeling himself frown. “It’s a bit much at times, sharing with five others, but you get used to it. Mu Qing and Feng Xin argue a lot, so that’s a bit draining.”

“Rude,” San Lang said, and Xie Lian shook his head. “If they share a space with Gege, they should behave.”

“They simply don’t know how to talk about their emotions,” Xie Lian admitted, but San Lang didn’t seem too convinced by that either. 

“They should still learn how to, so they don’t disturb people with their selfish arguments,” San Lang said with conviction, some of that sharpness which Xie Lian had seen in interviews coming out. Interesting. “Does Gege wish for more alone time?”

“It would be nice at times,” Xie Lian admitted, but then shrugged. “I can always go to a dance studio to be alone though, even if there’s usually an audience then I suppose.”

“Seems tiring, being watched all the time,” San Lang said, and Xie Lian hummed in agreement. It kind of was, actually. He hadn’t thought about that.

“How about San Lang?” he asked, taking a sip of his sweet tea. “Does San Lang live alone, or share?”

“I live with my bastard cat,” he said blankly, so much that Xie Lian had to hold back a laugh. “Otherwise it’s just me. I have a big house.”

“Oh, do you like it?” Xie Lian asked, and San Lang shrugged. 

“It’s alright, good enough to live in,” he said, his gaze still on Xie Lian. “What does Gege want to do about the performance?”

“Oh!” Xie Lian said, frowning as he considered the problem with not having any music for them to use. “I don’t- the label won’t let us use any of FCG’s songs, and I don’t really have any of my own…” he trailed off, feeling anxiety climb up his throat as he looked at San Lang, who smiled softly.

“No need to worry Gege,” he said, as if he could see it on Xie Lian’s face. Was he so obvious?” “I have some we can use, I can show them to Gege tomorrow, and we can pick one we like.”

“Thank goodness for San Lang,” Xie Lian said with a sigh, and San Lang chuckled. 

“Anything I can do to help,” he said, and truly he was too handsome for Xie Lian to handle. “It would be an honor to have Gege sing something I’ve made.”

The food came then, and Xie Lian enjoyed each and every bite of the dish, just as much as he enjoyed the setting and the company. He was still a little nervous about this all, but now he was more excited. He was really looking forward to the coming two weeks, and spending them with San Lang.

Chapter Text

They met up early the next day in the lobby of the hotel. Xie Lian had already been awake for a while, having gone to the gym as well as stretched his knee. It was feeling better, now that he had spent almost a week off it since the tour ended. It was good. He didn’t know what San Lang or Yushiguo Magazine expected in terms of their performance, but he assumed it would involve dancing. The knee was still sore, but he knew he could push through the pain, and if it got bad he could always start eating the painkillers again. He had packed enough to sustain himself through the coming weeks.

San Lang looked tired as he looked up from staring down at his phone, but he still smiled as he spotted Xie Lian coming towards him from the elevator.

“Good morning Gege,” he greeted, pocketing his phone. 

“Good morning San Lang,” Xie Lian answered, falling into step with him as they turned towards the door. “Thank you for last night.”

“The pleasure was all mine, Gege,” San Lang answered, and Xie Lian felt a flush threaten to spill over his cheeks. Why did his voice have to sound like that? 

“Did San Lang sleep well?” Xie Lian asked as they stepped out from the hotel into the street. They had been offered to be taken to the studio by car, but since there was only a five minute walk they had both decided that walking was preferable. The sun was slowly rising, and it painted the city in soft yellow and pink. 

“Mn,” San Lang agreed, squinting at the sun as if it had personally offended him, and pushed his sunglasses down on his nose. “I stayed up a little late is all.”

Xie Lian held back a laugh, and pulled his mask up over his nose. It was a good way not to get recognized, and he had become accustomed to wearing it when out in public. They performed so often, and when they were not touring there were recordings and practices as well as promotion. Xie Lian really didn’t have time to get sick. 

“We should stop for coffee then,” Xie Lian said, and San Lang hummed in agreement. They found a small café on the way, and both of them giggled as they learned that neither of them actually drank coffee. They left with a cup of tea each instead, as well as something to eat for breakfast. It was nice to walk side by side like this, starting the morning with low chatter about ordinary things. The studio was easy enough to find, and the receptionist pointed them up to a dance studio booked just for them on the second floor. Xie Lian thanked her, and then followed San Lang up the stairs and into the room. 

It was a fairly standard dance studio, with mirrors along one side of the room, the other three walls painted white. A barre ran along the back wall, in light wood, just like the floor. There were only a couple high windows on the wall facing the door, so it felt secluded. Beside the mirror was a sound set up, and that was it. Xie Lian felt at ease. This felt so familiar. The room wasn’t too big, but not too small either. He felt a restlessness swirl in his chest to move, to dance and to sing. 

He turned to San Lang with a smile, and was met with a soft gaze from the other man. He had pulled his sunglasses off, and his dark eye gleamed as it met Xie Lian’s.

“So San Lang,” Xie Lian said, walking further into the room. “What do you think of this performance? What do you want to do?”

“I’ve brought a few songs that we can listen to, like I promised Gege I would,” San Lang said. He shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on a hook by the door. He was in more casual clothes today, a pair of soft sweats and a red sweatshirt. His hair had been pulled back into a ponytail, and it left his eye patch more exposed, the lines of his jaw appearing sharper. 

“I would love to hear them,” Xie Lian said, feeling excited and nervous. Calamity did such different music from FCG. What if Xie Lian couldn’t pull it off artistically? What if he wasn’t good enough? “Are these songs that San Lang has written?”

“Mn,” he agreed, pulling his phone from his pocket. He put the cord from the stereo into it, and started it up. San Lang leaned back against the wall, and started looking through his phone. “It’s songs we’ve planned to record but haven’t yet.”

“Why is that?” Xie Lian asked, and San Lang looked up from his phone to look at him, seeming to consider his answer. 

“Something might be missing, or they didn’t fit the rest of the songs on the album,” San Lang explained, shrugging. “Most of them are new, so I wrote them after the last release.”
“And you feel okay sharing them with me?” Xie Lian asked, and San Lang nodded.

“Gege can have whichever song he wants,” he said, as if it was a certainty. He was really too much. “This San Lang would be honored to have Gege sing one of his songs.”

“I hope I can live up to San Lang’s talent in music making,” Xie Lian said truthfully, and San Lang looked at him for a long moment as a frown appeared between his brows, making Xie Lian squirm.

“I don’t think that will be an issue,” San Lang huffed, and then looked down at his phone again, scrolling through the music. He seemed to find one he liked and paused his movements, a smile on his lips. “Is Gege ready?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian agreed. “How many songs are there?”

“Three, but if Gege doesn’t like them we can figure something else out,” San Lang said with another shrug. “This first one is a bit more uptempo, so it might fit with Gege’s talent in dancing.”

“Have San Lang looked me up too?” Xie Lian asked, teasing back like San Lang had the day before. San Lang’s eye sparkled, and he let out a snort.

“Something like that,” he admitted, and Xie Lian smiled as he shook his head. “Gege is a very talented performer, both in dance and in song.”

“San Lang is very kind,” Xie Lian said, letting his eyes drop to the phone. “Will you play it now?”

Something mischievous filled San Lang’s expression, a far too handsome smirk forming on his lips as he pressed play. The song started with piano keys, sounding sinister and pulling the listener in, which was soon joined by drums. It promised dance possibilities, like San Lang had said. Xie Lian felt it fill him, and he turned to the mirror, moving lightly to the music. The lyrics followed, San Lang’s deep voice filling the space. 

 

Dangerous, how we toe the line

Push it every time

My, my

Compromised from how you say my name

I see those golden eyes

And I, I

 

The song felt sensual, sexy even, like much of the music Xie Lian had heard from Calamity. He moved to the beat by marking through improvised steps, keeping his focus on listening to where the song was going to go. He marked out a couple of more moves, not taking them out. It would be good to dance too, even if the feeling was more sensual than Xie Lian was used to. Could he choreograph something like that?

 

Want to be tied up in your bed

With your name carved deep into my chest

Harmless games went to my head

Now I want you breathing down my neck

 

Xie Lian paused his steps, his eyes growing wide as his cheek flushed bright red as he met his own shocked gaze in the mirror. He snapped his gaze over to look at San Lang, who’s smirk had turned into a wolfish grin. Xie Lian’s pulse quickened. This was way beyond what he had ever performed before. This was so much. Was San Lang playing with him? Did he really want them to perform this together?

 

Like an animal

I want you to myself, come on take control

Yeah, can you hold me down, smooth criminal

Yeah, you're rushing through my veins

Got me going half insane

 

“Too much?” San Lang asked, looking like he knew Xie Lian was losing his mind over the lyrics. They were far beyond suggestive. This was explicit, and Xie Lian wasn’t sure he would be able to sing something like that, and not with San Lang, and especially to him. He felt his heart pick up speed just thinking about it, looking into San Lang’s eye and voicing such desires. Still, the beat was so good, and Xie Lian felt himself wanting to dance to the rhythm of the song. San Lang seemed to relent in his teasing when Xie Lian didn’t answer, scolding his expression into something less predatory. “I don’t want Gege to be uncomfortable.”

“I don’t think I could sing that convincingly,” Xie Lian admitted, looking away from San Lang to look into the mirror. He avoided looking at himself however, since he was sure he was flushed. “Maybe you could sing, and I could dance?” he prompted. The song was still playing, the lyrics repeating themselves as the chorus was sung again. It could work. San Lang could sing and he could dance around him - with him. Xie Lian moved once again, and then pushed down on foot a little too hard, sending a spike of pain from his knee. A hiss left his lips, and he frowned at himself in the mirror, reaching down to rub at his knee. Damn it. He had thought it was better by now. It was lucky he had put a couple of painkillers in his jacket pocket.

“Gege?” San Lang asked, having pushed off the wall to approach him. Xie Lian straightened, rubbing his neck sheepishly. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Xie Lian answered with a shake of his head, waving his hands as if it would wave the problem away. San Lang didn’t look like he believed him, his gaze flickering between Xie Lian’s face and his knee.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, and his voice was suddenly cold. Xie Lian swallowed, and let out a nervous laugh.

“No I- well I hurt it during the tour, but it’s been getting better. I thought I would be able to dance without the painkillers, but it seems I’m not fully there yet,” he admitted, making a move towards his jacket. “I’ll just take one-”

He was cut off by San Lang moving forward, reaching out towards him. He stopped just before he reached Xie Lian’s arm however, pulling his own back as he straightened himself.

“I don’t want Gege to do anything which puts him in pain, even if medication could help,” San Lang said. “Are you in pain when you don’t dance?”

“No,” Xie Lian answered truthfully. “The stretches have helped with that, so it’s just when I strain it. But really San Lang it’s alright and I can still dance-”

“Maybe we should perform a song with not as much dance then?” San Lang suggested, and Xie Lian blinked at him in surprise. San Lang’s expression softened a little, before he continued. “I’m not much of a dancer anyway. Gege would have out shined me instantly. He’ll do that anyway with his song, so maybe I’ll keep some of my dignity like this.”

“San Lang doesn’t have to make excuses for me,” Xie Lian said firmly, and San Lang shook his head, taking a step backwards towards his phone. “I’m not weak.”

San Lang turned around with a wide gaze. “Gege is the strongest I know,” he said firmly. “However, Gege’s well being comes first. The songs I had picked out were mostly dance friendly, since Gege is so good at it. I do have something else however.”

“I don’t want to trouble San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and San Lang shook his head again, turning back to walk over to the stereo before looking up to meet Xie Lian’s gaze.

“Gege could never trouble this San Lang,” he said, his gaze earnest. It made Xie Lian’s heart swell in his chest. Why was he so sweet to Xie Lian?

“Alright,” Xie Lian said with a nod, before stepping up towards him. “What did San Lang have in mind?”

“This track only has music so far,” San Lang said, his finger moving over the screen, before another song started playing. “I wrote it just before I left for this, so it’s very open so far.”

There were drums as well as a single guitar as the song started, and just like San Lang had said there was no singing on the track. It was not dancy, but it had a slightly sensual feel to it, as expected from San Lang by now. It wasn’t as much as the previous song however. Xie Lian felt much more relaxed with this, even if the tone was darker than FCG’s music. It intrigued him even. How would his voice sound with music like this?

“I really like it, San Lang,” he said, closing his eyes as the music washed over him. It was a fairly simple set up on the music, but it would do well with singing on it as well. He liked the feeling of it and how it built, even though it was much more rock than he had ever performed. 

“I’m glad to hear it,” San Lang said with a proud note in his voice, and Xie Lian looked up to meet his gaze. He was leaning back against the wall once again, his expression calm and warmer once more. Xie Lian couldn’t help but wonder why he had gone so cold earlier, when he had noticed Xie Lian was injured. Was he disappointed Xie Lian couldn't dance?

“Does San Lang have an idea for the lyrics?” he asked, trying not to dwell too much on it. He didn’t enjoy feeling like he wasn’t living up to expectations since he was usually aiming to surpass them, but if San Lang didn’t want him to dance, he wouldn't’. This was a collaboration after all, and in honesty it would probably be good for the knee to rest. 

“A couple of lines,” San Lang said, with a mumble as the song continued to play, and then his eye gleamed as if he thought of something. “Maybe we could write it together?”

“What?” Xie Lian asked in a rush, feeling nerves flutter in his stomach. “I don’t know if I can.”

“I think that Gege can,” San Lang said with conviction, and Xie Lian looked down at the floor. “Unless… unless Gege doesn’t want to?”

“No!” Xie Lian said, snapping his head up. This made San Lang startle, and Xie Lian shook his head. “I do want to! I just- I don’t know if I’ll be any good at it.”

“We’ll do it together, okay?” San Lang asked, and smiled so softly it made Xie Lian’s heart stutter in his chest. “I start with a few lines, and then Gege has that to work with?”

“Alright,” Xie Lian agreed, and San Lang grinned, sitting down on the floor. Xie Lian took a deep breath, and then walked over to sit opposite him. San Lang placed his phone on the floor, the notes app open. He seemed to have put the song on loop, because soon it started over again, the tones filling the studio once more. San Lang let out a breath, and then he sang out a line, making Xie Lian’s heart pause in his chest.  

“Open my chest and colour my spine,” San Lang sang, and then wrote it down, before pulling the song app back. He pushed the song back, and started it again. He moved back to the lyric line he had written, singing it out before typing out two more lines.

 

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you all

 

“This would be easier with the guitar,” San Lang mumbled almost to himself, and Xie Lian hummed. “I’ll have to bring it next time.”

“San Lang brought his guitar? Is it at the hotel?” Xie Lian asked, and San Lang nodded. “Should we go back then?”

“Gege doesn’t mind?” he asked, and Xie Lian shook his head. “Okay, let’s go back. Does Gege want to listen to the song as we walk?”

“Oh, can I?” Xie Lian asked, and San Lang hummed, plugging in his headphones before handing them over to Xie Lian. He put them over his ears, and San Lang started the song. They picked up their things next, and then walked out of the dance studio and trekked back to the hotel. During the walk Xie Lian tried to focus on what he could add to the song, and to the few lines San Lang had written. 

Well back at the hotel they took the elevator up to San Lang’s room, which looked almost identical to Xie Lian’s, only in different colors. Xie Lian settled into the couch, and San Lang retrieved his electric guitar, placing it on his lap. It looked like it belonged there, like San Lang had been born to play guitar. Xie Lian felt a pang of nostalgia in his chest at the sight. It has been so long since he had held a guitar, and his fingers ached a little to play again. He probably couldn’t anymore, so he pushed the urge down, as San Lang opened his notes app again to bring up what he had written down. He placed his fingers on the neck, his fingers on his right hand moving over the strings.

 

Open my chest and colour my spine

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you all

 

San Lang played as he sang, going back to sing it once more. Xie Lian felt goosebumps rush up his arms at the sound. Then, San Lang continued to sing out another line, complimenting the one before but still keeping the same style.

 

Swallow my breath, And take what is mine

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you all

 

“That’s beautiful San Lang,” Xie Lian praised, because he truly thought it was. Poetic and a little possessive, but submissive too. What could he possibly write which would fit that?

“Would Gege try the next part?” San Lang asked as he stopped playing, and Xie Lian felt himself swallow thickly. “San Lang can send the song to Gege, so he can think about it until tomorrow?”

Xie Lian let out a sigh of relief. He didn’t really want to write something in front of San Lang right now, in case it was terrible. Especially when he had so effortlessly written something so beautiful. “That would be great, San Lang,” he agreed. They exchanged numbers as well as email addresses, and San Lang sent over the song for Xie Lian to work with. They decided that they would continue the next day with the song, but still Xie Lian felt reluctant to leave. He knew he probably should focus on the song, but being around San Lang was just too nice.

“Does Gege play?” San Lang asked once the song had been sent, looking over at the guitar which was laying on the coffee table. Xie Lian let out a sigh as he looked over at it, shaking his head. 

“I did once, but it’s been a very long time,” Xie Lian admitted. “I don’t think I’ll remember much on how to do it.”

“Why did Gege stop?” San Lang asked, reaching out to pick it up from the table. “Did he grow tired of it?”

“No,” Xie Lian admitted with a sad smile. “It just wasn’t what the label wanted for me. They didn’t think it suited me very well, and that I should focus on singing and dancing instead.”

“Sounds like they’re very ignorant,” San Lang said, something cold flashing in his eyes again. “Does Gege want to play?” he asked, and leaned forward to offer the guitar. Xie Lian looked at it for a moment before he nodded, and reached out to take it. The weight of it was familiar in his hand, even if it felt like an echo of a feeling. He settled it over his knee, and placed his left hand on the neck, his fingers easily finding their way to an acord. He took a breath, and then ran his fingers over the strings with his right hand before he moved into another accord, only to repeat the process. Then, he placed one of his fingers wrong, and the sound showed it. Xie Lian winced, but San Lang only smiled.

“Much ashamed,” Xie Lian said with a sigh, ready to hand it back, but San Lang only shook his head and urged him to continue. Xie Lian felt something warm curl in his chest, and put the guitar back in his lap to try again.

They spent the rest of the day like that, sitting on the couch and playing guitar, Xie Lian rediscovering the joy of it again. He learned to play the chords for the song, and it did help make him feel the song more. By the time he had the verse down, as well as the chorus, his fingertips ached, but there was a wide smile on his face. The sun had long since set once he made it back to his bed, and they had eaten both lunch and dinner together, as well as some overly sweet cookies San Lang had bought from a vending machine.

Once he sunk into his bed later that evening, the words for the next part of the song seemed to come almost without effort. Xie Lian simply thought about San Lang’s gaze, and his smile, and the way he felt like he wanted to be close to him. 

 

I'll be the blood, If you'll be the bones

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you all

 

So lift up my body, And lose all control

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you all

 

______________________________




In the days that followed they wrote the song together, sitting side by side in San Lang’s hotel room. It took them four days to get the lyrics down, after having played around with words and order for a while. San Lang encouraged him, and it really did feel like they worked together to create it. Once it was finished, Xie Lian felt very proud over the work they had done. It seemed San Lang did too, with how he smiled as they sang it together. He looked especially proud when Xie Lian played too. 

By then, Yushiguo Magazine had posted photos of all the artists on their social media, starring Xie Lian and San Lang as well. They had been posting photos from the shoot daily, and each day Xie Lian felt himself looking forward to the updates. San Lang and he just looked so good, and Xie Lian couldn’t help but save each new update to his phone, only so he could look at them over and over again before he went to bed. 

He posted things on social media too, but it was mostly just selfies of San Lang and himself sitting on the floor of a hotel room, or the dance studio, or out getting boba. His phone blew up with notifications every time he did, fans being both excited and worried about Xie Lian doing things outside of the group. Xie Lian shook his head. That had never crossed his mind. Xie Lian leaving White No Face-Entertainment and FCG to join what, Calamity? From what San Lang had told him about his band mate Black Water Sinking Ships, he would never agree. There was really not enough time to answer all the fans’ worries unfortunately, but luckily most seemed excited.

The same could not be said about the other members of FCG, who all called the day the news about Xie Lian collaborating with Crimson Rain Sought Flower dropped. Feng Xin was noticeably worried, Mu Qing annoyed, Lang Qianqiu a little confused and Quan Yizhen simply called to tell Xie Lian that if Crimson Rain Sought Flower did anything rude, he would punch him in the face repeatedly. It was really very sweet, even though San Lang looked deeply unimpressed by their worry. 

Jun Wu called every other day as well, and Xie Lian answered when he had the time. It was odd, because usually he always picked up when Jun Wu called. No other alternative seemed to be possible. Now however, he didn’t want to. Something unsettling filled his gut when he saw the caller ID, and he felt the instant urge of wanting to ignore the call. He knew it was probably because he was going against Jun Wu’s directions of keeping to the brand. This song they had written together was not too risky, but something in Xie Lian knew Jun Wu wouldn’t like it. The performance taking shape was nothing like what FCG would do either, but with each new part being set Xie Lian liked it even more. 

It couldn’t be too bad though, Xie Lian argued to himself even as he avoided the subject with Jun Wu. This wasn’t FCG. This was him and San Lang. They came from two different styles. It needed to fit them both. 

Xie Lian also found that he enjoyed it. This new style was exciting, and as they created the performance he had an energy and a spark he had been missing for a long time. San Lang urged him on too. When Xie Lian hesitated, he waited, until Xie Lian had made up his mind and gave his thoughts. It was rewarding, seeing the song and the performance take shape and feel deeply proud of every part of it. It was laced in everything, from creating the song and choreographing the performance. Yushiguo Magazine urged them to create the stage show as they themselves deemed fit, and Xie Lian enjoyed immensely getting to try it out on stage to change their ideas after what they had planned all alone in that dance studio. After the first day of doing run-throughs on stage they got to see a video of it, and Xie Lian felt pride swell in his chest as he watched. They had created that from the base up, just San Lang and him.  

Something bothered him when he looked at the video however, and the more he thought about it the more an idea took root into his mind. This was truly stepping away from everything which was the brand, but now that he had started Xie Lian found he couldn’t stop.

“San Lang,” he called once they were in the car on the way back to the hotel. San Lang opened his dark eye and turned to Xie Lian. He looked tired, which wasn’t too odd. They had spent the night before staying up late, San Lang teaching him to play poker. The night before they had found their way up on the hotel roof and stargazed. Really, they had been getting disastrously little sleep. It was as if as the days passed, they wanted to spend more and more time together. Perhaps because they both knew that soon this would be over. At least that’s how it was for Xie Lian. He almost dreaded going back, but he wouldn't let his mind voice those thoughts. 

“Yes Gege?” San Lang asked, a soft smile gracing his lips. He was so pretty, and so wonderful. As much as Xie Lian had felt himself flourish during this creative adventure, the best of it all had without a doubt been getting to know San Lang. Xie Lian had never met anyone like him, and he knew he would miss him terribly once they parted. 

Now was not the time to think about that however.

“Do you think we could go out, and you could help me pick something out to wear for the performance?” Xie Lian asked, feeling his pulse quicken. It was silly, but he knew he shouldn’t. He had brought stage clothes, and he had tried them today. There was nothing wrong with them per say, but when he had seen the whole thing together they simply didn’t seem to fit. Not with the song, and not with San Lang’s clothes.

Maybe not with Xie Lian either.

“Of course,” San Lang said, sitting up a little straighter. “What did Gege have in mind?”

Xie Lian smiled, and in the safety of the bubble they had created for themselves, told him his plan. 

 

_______________________

 

The stage was dark as Xie Lian stepped up on it, the cheers from the crowd filling his ears. The hosts of the event had just talked again about the charity, and how to donate to it, and now it was Xie Lian and San Lang’s turn to take the stage. They had been introduced, and now it was all up to them to perform. Xie Lian hadn’t been this nervous in years. It all felt so much more raw, now that it was his own creation, something he wanted to present to the world.

“Gege will be mesmerizing,” San Lang whispered in his ear on the dim lit stage, and Xie Lian felt butterflies explode in his stomach at the words. San Lang had already stepped away from him, Xie Lian knew he had. They didn’t have much time to get into position after all, and Xie Lian would see him soon. He let out a deep breath, and placed his hands in position, keeping his head high.

This was it.

The song started as the lights illuminated San Lang from the other side of the stage, his red suit jacket standing out against the dark. There was a black shirt under, which was fully open, and over it hung silver chains, decorating his chest. His nails were painted black, and there were several silver rings on his fingers. There were silver chains hanging down one side of his hips as well, his legs covered in black slacks. His hair was loose, a red ribbon braided into the plaits, the signature red bead hanging at the base of it. San Lang looked incredibly handsome, with his red electric guitar hanging off his shoulder and connected to the receiver hanging at the back of his pants, just like the headset microphone hanging over his ear placed before his mouth. 

He was so beautiful, and Xie Lian felt nerves rise in his veins as San Lang instantly started to sing. 

 

Open my chest and colour my spine

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you al l

 

His gaze was focused forward, and Xie Lian watched him sing. He had such a good voice, and his fingers moved so effortlessly over the stings with his long fingers. 

 

Swallow my breath, And take what is mine

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you all

 

San Lang sang out the last part of his verse, and Xie Lian let out a slow breath as he looked away from San Lang to focus forward. The lights came on before him, and he looked out over the sea of people and the cameras, hearing the roar of the crowd as he became visible, there seemed to be a pause of it however, confusion. He gripped the black guitar hanging over his shoulder tighter, and played as he too sang. 

 

I'll be the blood If you'll be the bones

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you all

 

He knew it would be shocking to step up on stage like this, not a single white or gold item on him. He was in a tight black turtleneck with long sleeves, which ended just under his ribs. His black pants were high waisted, but they showed off a sliver of skin between them and the shirt, visible even with the guitar. His eyes had been painted dark, and there was a red line under the lashes. His hair had been tied up with a silver band, matching his boots which were silver as well. The night before, San Lang had painted his nails black too. The crowd seemed to have fully realised it was really him, and now screamed their approval. Xie Lian played and continued to sing, closing his eyes as he felt the lyrics he sang. 

 

So lift up my body and lose all control

I'm giving you all

I'm giving you all

 

Xie Lian looked away from the screaming crowd to look over at San Lang, who was already half turned towards him. Xie Lian took a step towards him as he sang, his gaze meeting San Lang’s as he too stepped closer.

 

You hover like a hummingbird, Haunt me in my sleep

You'll sailing from another world, Sinking in my sea

 

They stepped even closer now, eyes locked as they continued to play. It felt exhilarating to play as well as sing on stage, Xie Lian’s heart racing in his chest. San Lang’s gaze was a comfort however, and Xie Lian sought it out as they sang the next part together.  

 

You're feeding on my energy I'm letting go of it

He wants it

 

They turned away from each other then to face the crowd, playing and singing in unison.

 

And I run from wolves

Breathing heavily, At my feet

And I run from wolves

Tearing into me, Without teeth

 

Xie Lian turned his back towards San Lang, continuing to play the guitar as San Lang sang the next part of the verse. Xie Lian leaned back, as if resting his head against San Lang’s shoulder. He turned towards the crowd, but felt San Lang’s gaze on him even still. Was he imagining it? 

 

I can see through you, We are the same

It's perfectly strange, You run in my veins

How can I keep you, Inside my lungs

I breathe what is yours, You breathe what is mine

 

Xie Lian pushed up from his position, turning towards the crowd first but then continuing so he was facing San Lang once more. San Lang smirked, and Xie Lian couldn't help but smile back, his heart jumping in his chest as his eyes met that gleaming black eye. He was getting harder and harder to look away from. 

 

You hover like a hummingbird Haunt me in my sleep

You'll sailing from another world Sinking in my sea, oh

 

They were standing so close now, looking into each other’s eyes as they sang the pre-chorus together once more. Xie Lian felt like his body was tingling, aching for something. Joy was rushing through his veins, and he never wanted to step of the stage, never wanted to look away from San Lang 

 

You're feeding on my energy I'm letting go of it

He wants it

 

They turned away from each other once more, the crowd screaming at them as they sang the chorus to them. Adrenaline was rushing in Xie Lian’s veins, his heart pounding as his fingers moved through the cords on the guitar.  

 

And I run from wolves

Breathing heavily, At my feet

And I run from wolves

Tearing into me, Without teeth

 

Xie Lian turned to look at San Lang, who took a step towards him. Xie Lian took a step backwards and beckoned for him, calling him to him. He wanted him to. He wanted him close. He wanted him to follow. 

 

And you can follow

You can follow me

You can follow

You can follow me

 

San Lang did as told, the smirk on his face growing as they sang towards each other. Before they reached the chorus again Xie Lian stopped, and San Lang caught up to him, stepping closer. They were supposed to turn towards the crowd again now, but Xie Lian found he couldn’t. He didn’t want to. San Lang didn’t either, and they continued instead - looking into each other’s eyes. 

 

You hover like a hummingbird Haunt me in my sleep

You're sailing from another world Sinking in my sea, oh

You're feeding on my energy

I'm letting go of it

I want it

 

Xie Lian did want it. He didn’t want this experience to end, and yet he knew it had to. He had to give it his all now that he had it, enjoy each second of it. They continued to look at each other, pushing on through the song they had made together. 

 

And I run from wolves

Breathing heavily, At my feet

And I run from wolves, Tearing into me

 

San Lang quieted as Xie Lian let go of his guitar and reached up, cupping San Lang’s cheek as he let his hand caress down his bottom lip to expose San Lang’s teeth, as he sang the lyrics he changed on the spot. 

 

With sharp teeth

 

San Lang’s skin was smooth and warm under his hand, and the sensation of it shocked Xie Lian. It was only then he realised they hadn’t touched before, and how much he desperately wanted to do it again. He let his hand drop however, and took a step around San Lang as he grabbed the guitar again, turning around to face him once more. San Lang had turned around too, and followed him back across the stage, his gaze predatory. It made Xie Lian shiver, and his gaze dropped to his lips, licking his own as they sang the final part of the song. 

 

And you can follow, You can follow me and

You can follow, You can follow me and

And you can follow, You can follow me

You can follow, You can follow me

 

Xie Lian stopped, and San Lang stepped as close as he could, both of them breathing heavily as Xie Lian looked into San Lang’s eye. His cheeks were a little flushed, and his gaze was intent. Xie Lian wanted to kiss him more than he had ever wanted to kiss anyone in his entire life.

The lights fell, and the hosts stepped up on another part of the stage as the crowd in the venue roared. Xie Lian heard both his own and San Lang’s stage name being called over and over as they exited. Xie Lian felt high on adrenaline, and when he got off the stage he couldn’t help but push the guitar back before he turned round. San Lang had just pulled his own guitar off, when Xie Lien stepped up in a hurry, pushing up on his toes to wrap his arms around San Lang’s shoulders to hug him tight. An oof   left Hua Cheng’s mouth, and Xie Lian took a deep breath, pushing his face into the crook of his neck. He wasn’t sure if this was okay, but he needed something, anything, to ground him in this moment. 

An arm wrapped around his waist, pulling him tightly to San Lang’s chest. Xie Lian let out a soft sigh of relief. He knew he couldn’t kiss him, because he really didn’t know if San Lang would even want that. They were parting the next day anyway, and it would probably be much more trouble if Xie Lian was to indulge in this burning urge, but he could indulge in this.

“Gege,” San Lang said breathlessly, and Xie Lian gripped him a little tighter. “Gege was amazing.”

“Thank you for singing with me, San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, and felt San Lang’s fingers curl against the exposed skin of his waist. 

 

_________________________

 

“I’m going to fall asleep in the car,” Xie Lian said with a yawn, and San Lang chuckled, even though he looked just as tired as Xie Lian felt. “How long is the drive for you?”

“Four hours,” San Lang said, looking down the street. There were already two cars standing by the curb, waiting for them. The charity event was done, and had collected a significant amount of money and deemed a success. Xie Lian and San Lang had spent the evening at the venue talking to the other artist, and when it was over it was past midnight. Neither of them seemed to want the night to end just yet however, so they had made refuge from sleep up at the roof, laying side by side staring up at the stars. They had stayed until the sun rose, when they had to admit defeat against time. They walked down and packed, and now they stood here facing each other. 

This had to be goodbye.

“Thank you for… ” Xie Lian started but trailed off, his heart aching. Where would he even start? He wanted to say thank you for everything, wanted to step closer and press his lips to San Lang’s, maybe even pull him back into the hotel and see how it would feel to indulge in more. In something Xie Lian had never done before. He didn’t however. It was silly. San Lang probably didn’t feel like that about him after all. 

“Gege has nothing to say thank you for,” San Lang said, a gleam in that black eye which was so enticing. “This San Lang is very honored to have been given the opportunity to perform with Gege.”

“You’ll text me?” Xie Lian asked, sounding far too desperate. “I really want to see photos of E’ming.”

“Of course,” San Lang said with a smile. “And all Gege needs to do is call, and I’ll come.”

“San Lang, I’m on the other side of the county,” Xie Lian laughed, shaking his head at San Lang’s silliness. 

“It doesn’t matter,” San Lang said, and he looked so earnest. Xie Lian’s heart jumped in his chest. “If Gege ever wants to do something like this again, or just create music, he’ll always be welcome at Scrap Collecting Immortal’s.”

“Don’t you need to ask Hua Cheng about that first, before making such offers?” Xie Lian asked, mostly as a joke. San Lang shook his head, looking more serious than Xie Lian had expected.

“Hua Cheng would be honored to have Xie Lian on his label,” San Lang said firmly, and Xie Lian felt his heart jump in his chest. It was the first time he had used his real name. San Lang smiled then, and reached out to caress a stray hair behind his ear. Xie Lian felt his heart jump again. “I mean it,” San Lang said, looking straight at Xie Lian as he did. “You only need to say the word.”

“A-alright,” Xie Lian agreed, feeling very breathless. “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“Good,” San Lang said with a smile, his hand falling from Xie Lian’s face. 

“Goodbye then, San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and his heart ached as the words left his lips. Who knew when he would see him again. If he ever would.

That thought hurt more than he wanted to acknowledge. 

“Goodbye Gege,” San Lang answered, and Xie Lian forced himself to take a step away. “Safe travels.”

Xie Lian nodded as he took another step back, and then turned away from San Lang to push into the van. His chest felt like it might explode from the ache swelling inside it, and he couldn't help but turn towards the sidewalk once the door was closed. San Lang was still standing there, and Xie Lian waved at him, receiving a smirk and wave back. The van drove out then, and as San Lang’s figure got smaller and smaller, Xie Lian’s heart broke. 

 

_________________________

 

Mei Nianqing met him when he stepped out of the van back at the Heavenly Realm, a pleasant smile on his face. Xie Lian had managed to sleep a little in the car, but he was still so tired. He smiled back however, hoping it didn’t show.

“Xianle,” he greeted, and Xie Lian nodded as he grabbed his bag from the back. “It is nice to have you back. I hope you feel rested.”

“Ah,” Xie Lian said, not sure if he should be honest or lie. “I hope everything has been alright here.” He looked up at the large building, and suddenly it made him feel trapped. Each step felt heavy… He was probably just tired. 

“Hard work as usual,” Mei Nianqing said, as they started walking towards the house. “We would like you to lay down the base song for the new album. Have you been studying it?”

“Oh, yes a little,” Xie Lian admitted, even though he hadn’t spared it a thought during the two weeks he had been away. He suddenly felt very glad he had listened to it again in the car on the way back, even if it had only been to try to ward off the thoughts of San Lang. “Tomorrow morning?”

“Now, Xianle,” Mei Nianqing said as if he was speaking to a child, and Xie Lian felt his stomach turn. “We need you to do it now. Time is money, and FCG has been away for over two weeks.”

“Are the others back?” Xie Lian asked as they stepped inside, and he greeted the other artists milling around there. No one approached however, as expected when one was walking with Mei Nianqing.

“No, they’ll be back tomorrow,” Mei Nianqing said as they walked side by side down the hallway towards the dorm. “Make sure you eat something, and then get up to the studio. They’re waiting for you.”

Mei Nianqing said nothing more, but turned away from him and walked away. Xie Lian looked after him for a moment, his whole body feeling heavy. He had almost forgotten this, in the freedom he had in the past two weeks. His time was not his own. It belonged to the label. Xie Lian let out a deep sigh, and hurried to the dorm to drop off his things, the bag and guitar, and then passed by the cafeteria to pick up an energy bar. It tasted like sawdust. Had they always tasted like this? The food he had been eating with San Lang had been so good, and it made this feel very stale.

There were indeed a couple of familiar sound technicians up in the studio, who greeted him warmly. Xie Lian was given the lyrics and stepped into the booth, only realising when he was in there that it was the lyrics for all of the songs. That was quite excessive, he felt. He already felt exhausted, from the lack of sleep and the long trip. Perhaps because of the pain in his heart too.

Maybe it was good to work then. Maybe throwing himself into work would make him think a little less about San Lang. Xie Lian placed the papers on the music stand before him, and put the headphones on, the joy of music making which had been so present in the past weeks gone. 



Five hours later Xie Lian felt like he might keel over from exhaustion. He had recorded several versions of each song, and while he doubted that they were any good based on the condition he was in, it was done. Usually he wanted to get everything perfect, but he was far too tired now. The sound technicians let him out once they deemed him finished at least, and when Xie Lian had rubbed his eyes and let out a long yawn he stepped out of the recording booth, only to see Jun Wu standing in the door to the sound studio.

“Xianle,” he said softly, a whisper of a smile on his face. “Welcome home.”

“Thank you,” Xie Lian said, trying to push away his tiredness. He was really exhausted, he just wanted to go back to the dorm and fall into bed. “I was told to come record the new tracks. I hope some of the vocals laid today will be alright.”

“Mh,” Jun Wu said with a nod. “Will you come with me?”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said in surprise, even as he nodded. He didn’t want to. He desperately wanted to sleep. “Of course.”

Jun Wu didn’t wait, but stepped out of the room and into the corridor, and Xie Lian scrambled a little to follow. They walked towards the elevator, and stood in silence as they waited for it. When it arrived it was empty, and Xie Lian stepped in after Jun Wu who reached over and pressed the button for the top floor, swiping his watch against the board to give access. Xie Lian blinked in surprise, too shocked to say anything, even if his mind was racing a mile a minute. 

Why were they going to Jun Wu’s apartment?

“Xianle,” Jun Wu called, and Xie Lian looked over at him. His expression was blank, his eyes cold. “You have disappointed me greatly.”

“Oh?” Xie Lian said, even though he knew why. “I’m sorry.”

“Are you?” Jun Wu asked calmly, and Xie Lian found that he really wasn’t. He didn’t regret a single second of the past weeks. Jun Wu seemed to know it too. “So insubordinate, Xianle.”
The elevator came to a stop, and Jun Wu stepped out of it. Xie Lian stood for a moment without moving, but was soon called to follow. He let out a sigh and did as told, stepping into the lavishly decorated apartment, everything gleaming in polished white or gold. Jun Wu said nothing more, but guided him in deeper into the apartment. They came to a room with a large couch, where Jun Wu motioned for Xie Lian to sit down on it, and he did. Jun Wu did too, and then silence fell between them. 

“Why did you go against everything I’ve told you?” Jun Wu asked after an excruciating time had passed. “I have spent so much time on you, Xianle. I’m very disappointed.” 

What could Xie Lian answer? Why had he gone against the brand, and what he knew the label and Jun Wu approved of? Because it felt right to do so? It wasn’t so much to break the rules that felt right, but that all the choices that he made felt right, and that they simply seemed to go against the rules. 

“I didn’t mean-”

“To ridicule me?” Jun Wu asked, and Xie Lian looked at him with wide eyes. “After everything I did for Xianle when he came here, and when his parents died.”

“I didn’t ridicule you, did I?” Xie Lian asked,  eyes wide. He knew had stepped out of the path laid for him, but ridicule… no that did not fit with the image of the events from his point of view. 

“Xianle do you not know that I own you?” Jun Wu said, and when he looked at Xie Lian his eyes burned with something Xie Lian didn’t want to name. He had heard him speak like this before, but that was years ago, when Xie Lian was a teen. It made him just as scared now, as it had then. “When you disobey, you make me look ridiculous.”

“No I-”

“What was all of that, on stage?” Jun Wu questioned, leaning closer. Xie Lian felt his heart beat faster, but it was nothing like he had felt with San Lang. This was something else entirely. This was fear. “In your black clothes, with your dark makeup, and that guitar around your neck. You looked like Crimson Rain Sought Flower’s whore.”

“Jun Wu!” Xie Lian gasped in shock, pushing back on the couch. Jun Wu’s brows furrowed, and Xie Lian felt a shiver race down his spine.

“Is that it, Xianle?” he asked, reaching out toward him. Xie Lian was about to push away from the couch to create space between them, but Jun Wu’s hand was quick to cup his neck, and tangle his fingers into the hairs there. He tugged, and Xie Lian let out a yelp of pain and surprise. “Did Xianle get a taste of freedom and instantly opened his legs for someone so wretched and foul?”

“Let go,” Xie Lian gasped, but Jun Wu didn’t even seem to be listening to him. His expression was flat, but his eyes glowed with lethal anger. 

“After everything I did to keep you pure,” Jun Wu said. “And you stepped up on stage and flirted with him for the world to see, touched him although you knew I would watch you.”

“Jun Wu stop!” Xie Lian cried, sitting there with wide eyes as he tried to push him away. Jun Wu’s grip tightened, and then he shoved Xie Lian down on the couch, his back hitting the seat of the couch. “Let me go!”

“Xianle,” Jun Wu said, his eyes on Xie Lian’s face but his hand on his chest, wandering down. “If you were so focused on burning the brand I built you to the ground, to crumble it with childish games-”

“What?” Xie Lian asked, swallowing around the nausea rising in his chest. This was wrong, this felt so wrong. The memories of San Lang’s arms around his waist, his hand cupping his cheek, flashed past his mind. This felt nothing like that. Xie Lian felt like he might throw up from panic, from fear.

“Is it not best if we do it properly then?” Jun Wu asked, his hand having reached Xie Lian’s pants now. Xie Lian felt panic flare in earnest, and he pushed up at Jun Wu’s chest. “Take all of that purity from you, show who you really are?”

“No!” Xie Lian exclaimed loudly.  He pushed at his chest again, making no progress at all. 

“Xianle has been very disobedient. He needs to be punished,” Jun Wu said, his hand fiddling with the button of Xie Lian’s pants which thankfully didn’t seem to want to open.

“No!” Xie Lian shouted again, and then the hand which had been on his neck moved forward, wrapping around his throat like all those golden chokers had for all of these years. Xie Lian hadn’t worn it at all since the photo shoot, only putting it on as he approached the Heavenly realm. It shafted now, under the unbearable pressure. Jun Wu pressed down, making it hard to breathe, to scream. 

“You have a choice Xianle,” he said, and how could he sound so calm? What was he doing? Xie Lian could barely understand it. “Either you accept this and become mine fully, as you were intended,” he said, and now his lips twitched up into a smirk. He leaned down, his breath ghosting over Xie Lian’s lips. “Or I’ll ruin you. I own you, your voice, your dance, everything. You’re nothing without me, have nothing without me.”

The full reality of the situation seemed to slam down into Xie Lian’s body at the sound of those words, and he jerked his face forward, his forehead colliding with Jun Wu’s nose. Next he shoved his knee up, hitting him right between his legs. Jun Wu let out a shout and then a groan, collapsing on top of Xie Lian, who quickly showed him off. He rushed from the room to the elevator, his heart pounding in his chest as he ran. He let out a sigh of relief as the doors to the elevator opened instantly, his legs feeling like jelly. He stepped in and pushed the button for some floor, he didn’t even know which, panic racing in his veins as he waited.

The final thing he saw before the doors closed was Jun Wu reaching the hallway, blood dripping from his broken nose onto his white suit and the marble floor, as he failed to reach the elevator in time. 

Chapter Text

Xie Lian’s heart hammered loudly in his chest as he stared at the blurry reflection of himself in the golden elevator door. He would feel it moving down, but he wasn’t even sure which button he had pressed, where he was going. His mind was spinning too fast, and at the same time it felt completely empty. There was a pressure around his neck, and Xie Lian reached up as the choker became suffocating. His fingers trembled as he tugged at it, gasping desperately as he finally managed to get it loose and let it fall to the floor. 

The pressure over his throat remained, as if Jun Wu’s hand was still wrapped around it.

What had just happened?

Without fully being sure why, Xie Lian picked his phone out from his pocket. At the top of his notifications were a text from San Lang, asking if he had arrived safely. Xie Lian felt his fingers trembling, and he pressed it, only to open the contact. His finger hovered over the call button for a moment, and then he pressed it. He brought the phone to his ear, looking up at the board showing the elevators decent as his heart continued to pound and pound. One signal went through, and then another. Xie Lian’s mind started spinning even faster. What was he doing? He couldn’t call San Lang and what- say what? He didn’t even know what had just happened himself. It didn’t make sense, none of this made sense. 

Xie Lian pulled the phone from his ear and ended the call before the third signal came through, sucking in a breath against the pressure over his throat. The elevator slowed, and Xie Lian looked to the side, only to see that he had pressed the floor for the dorms. 

Oh. 

The doors opened, and there stood  Li Chao. At first sight Xie Lian felt relief wash over him. Li Chao had been one of the guards which had accompanied Xie Lian on many PR-jobs as well as FCG on their tours. He had always been a safe presence. When met with Li Chao’s icy gaze all relief washed off Xie Lian however, leaving only cold dread. 

In his hand, his phone started ringing.

“I’ll take that,” Li Chao said, plucking the phone from Xie Lian’s grip before Xie Lian had a moment to realise what was happening. As it was pulled from his limp grip, he saw San Lang’s name on the display. Li Chao’s mouth twisted into a disapproving sneer, and then he dismissed the call, before pocketing the phone. 

“I-” Xie Lian said, unsure of how to continue. He had no words, no idea what to say or do. He wanted to ask for help, to scream for it, but couldn’t find his voice.

“I’m supposed to escort you out of the premises,” Li Chao said coldly. “If you struggle, I will call for backup and we’ll carry you out.” 

“Oh,” Xie Lian said dumbly, his heart pounding in his chest. “I- I need to get some things in my room first.”

“No,” Li Chao said firmly, and Xie Lian felt a cold shiver race down his spine. He didn’t have much, but he had a couple of things he had kept from his parents in the small corner which was his in the shared dorm room. It was the only belongings he still had of them.

“Plea-” he started, feeling tears well up in his eyes. Li Chao cut him off without a single look of sympathy.

“After what you’ve done, after what all of your actions will cause, you should be happy we’re letting you walk out of here with the clothes owned by the label on your back. Let's go.”

He reached forward, and his hand curled roughly against Xie Lian’s upper arm before he tugged him forward. Xie Lian felt his eyes burn, but no tears fell. Xie Lian wanted to struggle. He wanted to run back and get his things but it was as if he was unable to act. He looked over the familiar corridor, lined with dorm doors. This had been his home for so long and now- now he was being thrown out. Should he have simply let what was about to transpire up in that apartment…happen? Should he have surrendered to Jun Wu’s actions? Xie Lian couldn’t find himself to make sense of it. Should he plead now? Ask to be brought back and apologize? 

No.

No he couldn’t. 

A memory flashed before his mind, of San Lang’s hands on his cheek that morning, a wanted caress. Xie Lian had burned for them, just like Jun Wu has said. Then, Jun Wu’s touches had felt nothing like it...

They made a turn, and Xie Lian felt a sense of numbness as they walked with even steps down known corridors. Everything was quiet, the only sound heard being their steps. Then, Xie Lian heard his phone start to ring again. He felt his heart pause in his chest, and then start to race. He looked over, but Li Chao didn’t acknowledge him or the phone. He only tightened his grip on Xie Lian’s arm, and continued to walk them forward. 

It took far too long before Xie Lian realised they weren’t walking towards the back entrance of the Heavenly Realm, but to the front of White No Face Entertainment. It made Xie Lian squirm, but Li Chao still didn’t say anything, but moved Xie Lian over white marble floors, across the reception which was empty and cold. 

Xie Lian felt so cold too, and just as empty.

The front doors opened and Li Chao pushed him out of them, crossing his arms over his chest as he glared down at Xie Lian. It felt ominous. Here was someone who had kept him safe for years, looking at him now as if he deserved to be trampled and left to crawl. 

“Don’t ever come back here unless you’re asked to,” Li Chao said, voice as cold as his eyes. “You’re filth, and everyone in the building, and the world, will soon know what you did. You’ll never work in music again. You’re nothing.”
“What did I do?” Xie Lian asked, trying to make sense of it all. Wasn’t it him who had almost just been… 

The punch in his stomach came unexpectedly, and Xie Lian folded forward as the air vanished from his lungs. He gasped as he folded his arms over his stomach, falling to his knees on the sidewalk. Xie Lian gasped as he tried to suck air back into his body, every breath burning into his chest. A hand grabbed his white shirt, and then he was pulled up to his knees, meeting Li Chao’s angered gaze. The bodyguard leaned close, his breath pushing against Xie Lian’s face. 

“Get out of my fucking sight,” he growled, and then pushed Xie Lian away hashly, making him tumble fully to the ground. Xie Lian’s hands scraped against the asphalt as he tried to catch himself, but scrambled fully up and took a couple of quick steps away. There he paused and looked back at the golden doors, Li Chao still standing there and looking at him with disgust in his face.

Xie Lian thought of the members of FCG, of all the time they had spent together inside that building, of all the hours they had spent together on tour. They were the only family Xie Lian had left… and now he had lost them too. Tears welled up in his eyes from the hurt of losing them, of losing all of that. Li Chao took a threatening step forward, and as tears started tumbling down Xie Lian’s cheeks, he turned and ran.

 

__________________

 

Hunger ached in each and every fiber of Xie Lian’s body. His neck ached, the wounds on his hands parched, and his stomach throbbed, and his eyes burned from all the tears he had shed during the night. He had run as fast and far as he could and had energy for, until he came upon a park. There he folded himself over, and cried until there was nothing left in him to give. He had passed out on a park bench, only to be woken by the police early in the morning, telling him he wasn’t allowed to sleep there. Xie Lian had stumbled up and started walking aimlessly, unsure where to go, or what to do. 

He had no money, no phone, and he barely dared to even show his face anywhere in the state he was in. Now the sun was setting again and he was so hungry he didn’t know what to do with himself. The last full meal he had was breakfast with San Lang, and his body was trembling with hunger and exhaustion. What was he to do? He had nothing, only the soiled white clothes he was wearing. 

Xie Lian passed a bakery, and paused as the smell of it filled his nose. He felt tears fill his eyes as his stomach clenched violently again, and even though he knew it was no use he pushed the door open and stepped into the shop. The smell was even more mouthwatering inside, and Xie Lian felt his stomach growling from it. He looked up, and saw a lone woman standing behind the counter. The rest of the shop appeared empty. She frowned as she looked him over, but it was soon exchanged for a smile.

“Hi!” she said in a friendly tone, and Xie Lian tried to smile back, but without any success. “How can I help you?”

“I’m so hungry,” Xie Lian started, his hand splaying over his stomach on impulse.

“Well this is a good place to remedy that,” she said with a laugh, and Xie Lian fidgeted. “What can I get you?”

“I don’t have any money,” Xie Lian admitted right away, and she blinked in surprise, and then frowned. “Sorry I-”
“I can’t sell you anything if you don’t have any money,” she pointed out, her voice still kind. Xie Lian nodded in understanding. He knew that, of course, but he just didn’t know what to do anymore.

“Alright,” he said, and then looked up to meet her gaze. “Thank you anyway.”

He turned to walk out, his body feeling so heavy. The sun was still setting outside, and Xie Lian shivered from even looking at the light dimming. It had been cold last night, and his clothing was not really anything to keep the chill away. He had just reached the door, when the woman called for him again.

“Wait!” she said, and when Xie Lian turned to look at her he saw her smiling softly towards him. “If you want, you could help me with the dishes in the back? When it’s done, you can have the leftovers from today?”
“Really?” Xie Lian said in a breath, having taken two steps into the shop as hope lit in his chest. 

“Ah, yes,” she said, moving over to the counter to flip a part open. “I’m Yajuan Yang. The dishroom is here in the back.”

“I- I have to tell you that I’ve never done dishes before,” Xie Lian admitted, even though he wondered if maybe he shouldn’t say anything. She might change her mind after all, and he wasn’t sure what he would do if she did.

“Okay, well it’s not too difficult,” Yajuan Yang said with an amused tone. She walked into a small room with a large sink with a hose like thing hanging over it, a big grey dishwasher and a large pile of dishes. “Here we are. Now, what you’ll do is…”

After ten minutes of showing Xie Lian how to operate the dishwasher which was unlike any dishwasher he had ever seen before, as well as how to scrubb and what water temperature to use, she left him to it. She said he could just call for her if he needed anything, and promised to be back as soon as she was done cleaning the front. Apparently Xie Lian had caught her just as she was about to close. 

“I’ll turn the radio on, so you have something to listen to as you work,” she said with a kind smile. Xie Lian had a feeling she really didn’t need his help, but was doing this just to be nice to him. Either way, he appreciated it. “It always makes time pass faster as I work.”

I don’t know if I want time to pass faster, Xie Lian thought. He had no idea what he was going to do, when he was done with this mountain of dishes, where he would go. Although, after he was done he was going to get food, and that was something he very much looked forward to.

“Alright,” he said with a smile, hoping to look pleasant. She gave him one more nod, and then disappeared out into the shop again. Xie Lian let out a sigh, and rolled up his sleeves from the dish gloves, and adjusted the apron he had been given. He could do this.

He scrubbed, and washed and rinsed and pushed dishes into the dishwasher on colorful trays. He had no idea if he was doing a good job, but the dishes looked clean which was the point, so hopefully it was alright. He was about two thirds through the pile, when an entertainment segment started on the radio.

And now for the news which has shocked the music world ,” the radio host said, and Xie Lian felt dread race down his spine. Was it already out? Of course it should. So many hours had passed since he had been thrown out on the streets. It felt like an eternity and a heartbeat ago. “ Xie Lian, best known as Xianle from Flower Crowned Gods, FCG, has been suspended in his collaboration by the label White No Face-Entertainment after attacking the label owner Jun Wu. Xianle, who just two days ago was on stage with Crimson Rain Sought Flower from Calamity during a charity event, came back to the label under the influence of drugs, aggressive. Members of the label have said that he became violent and destroyed the dorm he shared with his group members. The label owner Jun Wu who has always had a good relation with Xianle and was called in to try to help calm him down, but was instead assaulted by the popstar.

It is truly so unfortunate that this happened ,” Jun Wu’s voice came through the speakers, and Xie Lian dropped the tray he was holding into the sink, his fingers trembling. It was just as smooth and calm as it always was, displaying none of the sharpness it had held the night before. “ Xianle has been struggling with drugs for a while now, and we have done our best to help him. I have done my best. I thought he was on the right path after much hard work, but this collaboration with Crimson Rain Sought Flower seems to have pulled him down into the addiction once more. I only wish he would come back and listen to me, and do as I say. Everything would be alright if he did.

Xianle has struggled so long with getting high you know ,” the familiar voice of Qi Rong said, and Xie Lian gripped the edge of the counter hard as he clenched his teeth. “ Cousin was always easily swayed by things like that. I’m sure Crimson Rain Sought Flower pulled him down into the dirt again. He’s a real fucking dog. I really worry about the group now you know? It’s so selfish of my cousin to just treat them like this.

The future of the group FCG is now uncertain, and none of the remaining members have wanted to make an announcement on the incident. After lashing out towards record label owner Jun Wu, Xianle stole precious belongings from his group members, before running away. None has seen him since ,” the radio host continued. “ If anyone sees him, please report to us.

Xie Lian felt as though he couldn’t breathe. Suddenly it felt like Jun Wu’s hand was back around his throat, pushing him back down into that couch. He couldn’t help but reach up and touch it, feeling his sore skin. He clenched his jaw, and tried to calm his trembling body. He was exhausted, and it was as if this had pushed the last of  his energy away. For Jun Wu to do such a thing, to lie to everyone about what had happened, to use San Lang as well. Xie Lian suddenly felt revealed that he hadn’t been able to reach San Lang. He didn’t want to drag him down even further. Now he must hate him, with all the foul attention he was surely getting. What if Hua Cheng got angry at San Lang too, and believed these accusations? What if he too lost his job? 

Xie Lian swallowed thickly. He could easily imagine what things had disappeared from their room. The broach from Mu Qing’s mother, the photobooks Lang Qianqiu held most dear, the philosophy books Quan Yizhen had been given by the friend he always spoke of, who Xie Lian was pretty sure he was actually in love with, and Feing Xin’s grandmother’s engagement ring. Xie Lian would never steal them, not even now when he was desperate for food. To even suggest he would, made nausea roll in Xie Lian’s stomach. It might just be the hunger too. Did they all believe he had? 

He let out a sigh, and then picked up the tray again. He didn’t have time to break apart. He didn’t have the luxury. He needed to get this done. Yajuan Yang had been kind enough to give him this opportunity, and he had to take it so he got something to eat.

He could break apart later.

With added determination, he continued to work his way through the dishes, with tears burning in his eyes. 

“How are you- oh!” Yajuan Yang said as she returned, a smile spreading on her face. “You’re done! Great!”

“I hope it’s okay,” Xie Lian said, and she nodded enthusiastically. 

“It’s great, now I can go home early,” she said with a nod. “Come to the front, and I’ll give you something to eat.”
“Yes please,” Xie Lian said, and hurried after her. She had a bag ready for him on the counter, and as he picked it up he almost groaned in happiness as he felt the weight of it. Then he turned, feeling his heart beat a little too roughly. “Its- It’s so much.”

“It looked like you needed it,” Yajuan Yang said with a smile, and Xie Lian felt tears rush to his eyes again. “Now now, don’t cry. You could come back tomorrow? At the same time, for the same deal?”

“Yes!” Xie Lian agreed with an eager nod. If he could have somewhere to return to as well as get food, he would happily continue. “Thank you, so much.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Yajuan Yang said with a nod, and then followed him to the door to let him out. Xie Lian thanked her again, and then took his bag with him as he moved down the sidewalk. He tried to keep track of where he was so he would be able to find his way back tomorrow, and pulled a bun from the bag as he walked. There were seven different things in the bag, and he decided that he would only eat two now, and save the rest for tomorrow. It was only after he had settled for the night in a basement staircase, the cold seeping in, that he allowed himself to think about what had been said on the radio again, what was being spread across the world about him now. 

Would it help if he tried to explain what had actually happened? 

He looked down at himself, dirty and trembling, and let out a shaky laugh as tears started running down his cheeks. Of course it wouldn’t. He was nothing. Jun Wu had so much power, and Xie Lian had seen him throw out artists like this before, only for them to disappear into nothingness. When the world believed you were a star, you were a star, when the world believed you were nothing, you were nothing. Xie Lian was no one special. He was nothing. He had nothing. 

A painful sob rattled through his throat, and he tipped his head forward and wept until there were no more tears to cry.

 

___________________________

 

“You’re getting the hang of this,” Yajuan Yang said with a smile as she took a stack of plates and walked out of the dishroom. Xie Lian smiled, feeling a sense of pride swell in his chest. This was the third evening in a row Xie Lian had found his way into the small bakery just as it was closing, ready to earn something to eat. It was really all he had going for him now, even though the dishing made his body ache and the wounds in the palm of his hands throb under the dish gloves. It didn’t matter at the moment. He had somewhere to go, someone to talk to, something

“Ah, I’m glad you think so,” Xie Lian said, loading the last of the dishes into the machine. “I haven’t done anything like it before, so it’s good to learn.”

“You can leave the final bit to me,” she said as he appeared in the door again, motioning towards the door. Xie Lian nodded, and took off the apron, hanging it on the hook next to the bench. When he stepped out into the hallway he saw Yajuan Yang had paused, her gaze locked forward. 

“Oh my,” she said, and Xie Lian frowned as he stepped closer. There seemed to be a gathering of people outside of the bakery, which felt a bit odd. There hadn’t been any other evening. One of the people standing there seemed to notice them, and pulled a big black camera up and took a photo, the flash sharp. Xie Lian startled, and then felt panic surge in his chest as the sound from outside became almost deafening in a heartbeat.

“Xianle!” they shouted, and Xie Lian ducked behind the counter, seeing more flashes illuminate the otherwise dim light of the shop. His heart pounded as his heart grew heavy. How had they found him?

“Xianle, is it true you work here?”

“Xianle what did you do with the other FCG’s belongings?” 

“Is this a drug cartel?”

“Oh god,” Yajuan Yang said, crouching down beside him. “That’s not good.”

“I’m so sorry,” Xie Lian said, turning to her with panicked eyes. He felt so bad. Just because he had been seen here, they were surely going to come up with all kinds of rumours about Yajuan Yang’s bakery, that she in no way deserved! 

“Well,” she said with a sigh and shook her head. “Nothing to do about it now. I have to get home, but I’m guessing you don’t want to go out there?”

“No,” Xie Lian said with a voice that felt so small, shaking his head. The bakery didn’t have a backdoor, so if he were to leave it had to be through all of those photographers and reporters. He couldn’t do it. They would hunt him down, and he had nowhere to go after this. 

“Alright,” she said with a determined nod. “You stay here tonight then, and sleep in the office. There’s a couch there. It’s not very comfortable but-”

“I’m sure it’s better than the concrete I’ve been sleeping on the past few nights,” Xie Lian assured, and her smile turned sad.

“Yes, I suppose it will be,” she agreed. “So, stay until morning, and I’m sure that by the time I get back, they will have left.” 

“Okay,” Xie Lian said with a nod. She was probably right. They couldn’t stay out there forever, and at some point they would move on to someone else.

“Good,” she said, and then she stood. The action brought another wave of flashes through the bakery, sharp like lightning. Xie Lian closed his eyes so he didn’t have to see it, but then opened them again as he felt something tap against his arm. Yajuan Yang smiled at him, holding the paper bag with the leftover pastries in her hand. “Make sure you eat up,” she said and Xie Lian smiled a little at her and took it. 

“Thank you so much for all of this,” he said, and she shrugged as if it was nothing.

“We all go through things at times that we don’t know how to handle alone,” she said. “We just need help to put a little more ground under our feet.”

“Okay,” Xie Lian said, and Yajuan Yang nodded once more, before heading for the opening in the counter. Xie Lian could hear the roar of the crowd grow louder and louder, and as she opened the door it became unbearable. He placed his hands over his ears and pressed his forehead to his knees, happy as the door fell shut and locked. Xie Lian let out a long slow breath, and under the still flashing lights from the other side of the counter he crawled on the floor to the opening leading to the office, just so not to be seen.

 

_________________________

 

“I’m really sorry,” Yajuan Yang said two days later, her eyes sympathetic but her expression tired. Xie Lian had known it was coming, and had considered suggesting it himself. He just didn’t dare to. He wasn’t strong enough, clearly. “I can’t keep open like this.”

“I understand,” he said with a grave nod. The reporters were still barricaded outside, blocking all customers from entering. They were also posting stories about the bakery being a drug front, and the police had already been there twice to check it out. Xie Lian was only doing damage staying here, and he knew it.

He was just so frightened.

“Here,” Yajuan Yang said, reaching a stack of money out towards him. It wasn’t a lot, but it was a lot more than Xie Lian deserved. He blinked down at them, and then looked up at her with wide eyes. “Take these,” she urged, shaking them a bit.

“No I-,” Xie Lian instantly said as he shook his head. “Why?”

“You’ve worked for more than those few pastries I gave you,” she insisted, and Xie Lian didn’t believe her for a second. “It’s only right.”

“Oh,” he said, and then reached out and took them. He shouldn’t. He had to remember to pay her back if he ever managed to earn any money ever again. He clutched the money in his hand, and then stuffed them into his front pocket. “Thank you.”

“Maybe get on a train or bus, to get away from them?” she suggested, and Xie Lian nodded. He had thought the same thing last night, when he realised that they were probably not relenting anytime soon. “Go somewhere else, and start again.”

“Okay,” he said with a nod. “Where is the bus station?” 

Yajuan Yang gave a quick description, and Xie Lian did his best to remember the twists and turns he would need to take. “It’ll be easier to get work surely, now that the bruise on your neck isn’t as prominent,” she said, and Xie Lian’s eyes went wide as he reached up almost absent mindedly to touch his throat. He hadn’t looked himself in the mirror since he ran away from Jun Wu’s apartment, not even lingering at the sight of himself in a window. He couldn’t bring himself too. 

“Oh,”he said, his breath trembling as the memories of that evening came rushing back. He clenched his jaw tightly, and shook his head. “I didn’t-”

“Xianle,” Yajuan Yang said, and he jumped. This was the first time she had said it, and it burned in his chest. “I hope you find your way, alright?”

“Yes,” he said, and then mustered up a smile. “Thank you so much, for everything. You’ve done more than I could ever-”

“I’m sorry I have to let you go like this,” she said with a shake of her head, but Xie Lian shook his head in response. 

“No, I understand,” he said again, because he really did. Yajuan Yang had no responsibility to him, and he needed to move on so she could too. He had damaged her business enough as it was. He let out one more breath, and smiled. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye,” she said, and then Xie Lian turned and walked towards the door. It took a moment before the reportes noticed this time, but as soon as they did the flashes and shouting started once more. Xie Lian didn’t pause and didn’t linger. He pulled the door open, pushed himself though the crowd with rough hands, and then ran as fast as he could.

 

_________________________

 

It turned out that stumbling upon anyone with an as kind and generous heart as Yajuan Yang was not easily done. Xie Lian had jumped the first bus he could see when he reached the station, and then jumped off in a small town which felt almost deserted when he stepped off the bus. It was late when he arrived, but he managed to ask around enough to find a motel which took too much of the small stack of cash he had, but it did give him a bed to sleep on and a shower to clean himself in. The next day he went out and looked for where he could work, but found nothing. The citizens of the city did not seem to be very welcoming to strangers, and a couple even spit after him after he approached and asked if he could work in exchange for food or money. 

The white clothes he had been wearing for almost a week were completely soiled now, but it wasn’t as if he had anything to change them with. He did his best to try to wash them in the motel sink before the day he had paid for was over, but all it left him with was oddly stained clothes, which were still damp when he pulled them on. It made cold creep into his bones as he walked down the small empty streets, wondering what he was going to do next. He had some money left, but it wasn’t much. Perhaps he could take another bus, and see if he was more fortunate somewhere else. He was just starting to try to find his way back to the bus station when a group of men turned up on the main road sidewalk, approaching him. Xie Lian felt nerves twist in his stomach, but turned his face down and continued to walk. He heard their laughter echoing between the walls of the buildings around them, and tried to make himself as small as possible as he passed, all of them stretching out as wide as possible. One of the men’s shoulders bumped into his, and Xie Lian stumbled, but kept on walking.

“Hey!” one of them called, and Xie Lian slowed, but didn’t turn back. “Hey, don’t you say sorry when you bump into someone?”

“Sorry,” Xie Lian called back, but didn’t turn. He heard quick steps approach, and that made him turn, eyes wide as he came face to face with one of the men, who grabbed the shoulder of his shirt roughly. Xie Lian recoiled, but then heard the seams rip. The man stepped with him, still holding on. He squinted as he looked at Xie Lian, and then his eyes filled with realisation.

“You’re the famous one,” he said, leaning closer. Xie Lian took a step back, his heart hammering in his chest from fear. He considered using the self-defense he had been taught by the label, but there were five of them and one of him. Xie Lian had never been in a fight before, if you didn’t count being thrown out of White No Face-Entertainment. Just look how well that turned out.

“Oh shit it is,” one of the other men said, stepping closer. “Didn’t you steal a bunch of shit?”

“Let me go,” Xie Lian said, trying the struggle free. The shirt tore even more, but the man holding him only pulled him in closer. Xie Lian turned his face away, feeling the man’s damp breath fan out over his cheek. 

“Does he have any cash?” one of the one’s still standing a little bit further away called, and the man who had approached started groping Xie Lian’s body. The sensation of the man’s hands sent nausea rising in Xie Lian’s throat and he kicked out as panic surged up in his body. 

“Don’t touch me,” he threatened, and then the men before him laughed. The one with his hands searching Xie Lian’s body quirked an eyebrow up, as if challenged. 

“Or what?” he asked mockingly, his hand moving to Xie Lian’s ass to squeeze. Xie Lian kicked out again, almost hitting this time. It didn’t seem to face either of them. “You’re defenseless.” 

“Let the fuck go of me,” Xie Lian shouted, the man holding him tugged him closer. 

“Shut your fucking mouth, you nobody,” he said, gritting his teeth. “We heard about you, coming here and asking around for work.”

“Found it,” the groping man said, pulling the last of the money Xie Lian had from his pocket. “What the fuck, this is nothing?” 

“We don’t want you here,” the man holding him said, and Xie Lian tried to push him away.

“I’m trying to leave but you’re kind of stopping me,” he pointed out. The man pushed him away then, and Xie Lian stumbled backwards, just managing to stop before he tumbled to the ground. He looked down and saw his shirt ripped, exposing his clavicle and part of his chest. “I need the money to go,” he argued, and the man who had taken them scoffed, and then dropped them to the ground. 

“Be a good dog and pick them up then,” he said, and Xie Lian straightened his shoulders, before he took two steps forward and then bent down to pick them up. His fingers had just grasped them, when the first punch hit his back. Xie Lian mentally cursed as he fell onto his hands and knees to catch himself. He should have expected this. Next came a kick to his stomach, and the air went out of Xie Lian’s lungs in a rush, as he fell to the side and clutched his stomach. Laughter rang through the air, and by his side he heard someone step closer. The man who had dropped the money bent down and picked them up again, and then smirked as he caught Xie Lian’s eyes. 

“Dog,” he said, and then spit in Xie Lian’s face, before he stood and walked away, still laughing. The other seemed to follow, and all Xie Lian could do was lay there and gasp, furiously trying to wipe the disgusting spit from his face. He stumbled up on his legs, and managed to find a fountain just a couple of meters away where he washed his face. When he was done he sat down heavily on the edge and sighed. He really couldn’t stay here, not for a second longer. 

On shaky legs he stood, and then followed the main road out. He didn’t care how long he had to walk, he just had to get out of there right away. 

 

______________________________

 

The next town, once he reached it the following day, was better. Xie Lian had stopped to sleep in a forest grove, and woke up feeling just as dirty as he had before he had washed himself in the motel. The town was similar in size as the one he had just left, but on the first try asking for work he stumbled into a woman who said that if he helped her carry some things from her top floor to the basement, she would give him a meal as well as some cash. Xie Lian wasn’t sure if she simply took pity on him, because when he was done she offered him to use the basement shower, and when he got out she had left a stack of clothes for him, laying on the sink. He couldn’t find his old ones where he had left them on the floor, and because of it decided to pull the new ones on. They were clearly worn, and rather unfashionable, but comfortable. They were in dim colors, and Xie Lian looked down at his body for a long moment in them. It didn’t look like him, but then again, the white didn’t feel right anymore either.

“I don’t think you can wear the other clothes any more dear,” the old woman said when Xie Lian came back upstairs from the basement, her old eyes kind. “They were dirty and ruined. I considered trying to mend them, but my sight is not what it used to be.”

“Who’s were these?” Xie Lian asked as he gestured to the clothes, as she motioned him to sit down. 

“My husbands,” she said with a nod. “It was a long time ago, but I still had a couple of his things. You looked to be the same size, so you can have them, and another set if you’d like?”

“Can I do something more for you then?” Xie Lian asked, and she shook her head as she served him a big bowl of stew. “It feels like too much.”
“You can help me change the curtains too if you’d like,” she said and Xie Lian instantly agreed. He left her later in the evening with his stomach full, and with a backpack with two extra sets of clothes as well as a small sum of money. He found a small hostel for a small fee, and paid for two nights. He fell into bed feeling a little better, even if the sight of his own name on the headlines when he had passed a news stand still burned in his mind. He hadn’t looked too closely, but he had gotten the sentiment of it. Apparently the men from the night before had filmed beating him up, and now it was making rounds online. 

Perfect. 

The two days paid for at the hostel passed and were extended, and Xie Lian worked  some stray jobs here and there during them. Soon he got recommendations from people he had helped to be able to walk around from place to place to help out with minor tasks. Some were kinder than others, and some gave more or less than others. Xie Lian tried not to take too much. These were hard working people, and he didn’t feel right to take more than he was worth. It wasn’t much these days. 

It worked for a couple of weeks. Xie Lian was able to send some money back to Yajuan Yang, which made him feel much better about all he had put her through. Hopefully it hadn’t been too damaging to her. One day he walked past a book shop, and spotted a notebook with a red camelia. He paused as memories of San Lang flooded his mind, his chest tight. The ghost of San Lang’s touch danced over Xie Lian’s cheek, and he closed his eyes as he took a deep breath to ward it off. The last people who had touched him had done so so violently, and Xie Lian couldn’t shake the feeling of it. Longing for that sweet caress and that tender gaze bloomed in his chest, even though he knew it was impossible. He shouldn’t let himself get caught in it. It would only hurt more to think of what could never be. 

Recklessly Xie Lian plucked the notebook from the stand and stepped into the shop to buy it and a pen. He wasn’t fully sure what he would do with it, but as he settled down on the hostel bed that evening a he brought the notebook with him, and wrote out;

Look who's digging their own grave

That is what they all say; you'll drink yourself to death

Look who makes their own bed, lies right down within it

And what will you have left?

 

Standing on the cliff face, highest fall you'll ever grace

It scares me half to death

Look out to the future, but it tells you nothing

So take another breath

 

Xie Lian looked at the words, and then let out a sigh. He flipped to the back of the book next, and wrote down the people who had given him money and their addresses, before he closed the notebook and tucked it under his pillow. Someday, maybe he would be able to pay them back.

He had been in the city for almost three weeks when he was offered a month-long job cleaning out weeds for the municipality, when the media caught up with him once more. Xie Lian wasn’t sure how they had found him, but when he woke up on the fourth day of his long term job the front of the hostel was flooded with press. Xie Lian knew by now that there was no use in waiting them out. With a heavy heart he borrowed the phone in the reception to call into the municipality office to tell them he wouldn’t be able to make it, and then snuck out through the back door and through back streets to the train station. It felt like losing the small footing he had been starting to build, and once again he was left with almost nothing but the clothes on his back when the small stability he ached so for was once again pulled out from under him. During the train ride the man beside him left a magazine on the table as he stepped off, which showed five familiar faces on the cover. There was something deeply wrong about the picture though.

Qi Rong, Xianle’s cousin, takes his place in Flower Crowned Gods, the headline read, and Xie Lian blinked down at it, wondering what a horrible nightmare this was...and when he would wake up. 

 

____________________________

 

In the coming month’s history seemed to repeat itself over and over. Xie Lian came to a city and did his best to find shelter and work, and stayed as long as he was able. It was either aggressive citizens or the media who drove him out. He tried to earn money by taking stray jobs mostly, but when the hunger got too big he used the only true skills he had. He sang and danced. It was a short term solution however, because even if it usually earned him a small sum, whenever he did put on any type of performance in a park or a street corner, he knew the media would find him the next day. Ripping up shallow roots hurt over and over, but Xie Lian could feel himself start to grow cold against his own pain. It didn’t hurt as much as it had done the first time, and it scared him in a way. He did his best in trying to stay warm towards others, and when he had the chance he did his best to help or give back. He only kept the money he needed, and sent the rest back to those who had helped him in the past. He continued to keep track of them in the back of his book, as he wrote lines of thoughts and lyrics he came up with from the front. 

In one city he was robbed in a hostel with shared dorms. His clothes had been thrown about the room in a mess, a couple of pages ripped from his notebook, and all the money gone. Xie Lian had gathered it all, and then walked with a heavy heart to answer an ad he had seen when he had arrived but had pushed to the back of his mind. He knew it was vain, and silly. This would even help him become less recognizable. He couldn’t help but feel heavy hearted however, when the hairdresser pulled his long brown hair into a tight ponytail, and cut it off. 

The money kept him fed for a week in a new city, until the media found him once more. It seemed the new hairdo hadn’t helped much at all. The short hair tickled his jawline as he tried to sneak out from the room he had rented for a small fee, only to have to sprint away from them once more. The notebook’s pages slowly saw ink, and on a train ride from a known city to an unknown one Xie Lian wrote out a set of new thoughts, words running on repeat in his mind.

 

Pitch black, pale blue, There was a stained glass, variation of the truth

And I felt empty handed

You let me set sail, With cheap wood

So I patched up every leak that I could, 'Til the blame grew too heavy

Stitch by stitch I tear apart, If brokenness is a form of art

I must be a poster child prodigy

Thread by thread I come apart, If brokenness is a work of art

Surely this must be my masterpiece

I'm only honest when it rains, If I time it right, the thunder breaks

When I open my mouth

 

______________________

 

Eight months after he had been pushed out on the street of White No Face-Entertainment, Xie Lian had found a city big enough to blend in but not so big it felt overwhelming. Xie Lian often wondered how he could have lived in such a big city before, but it wasn’t like he had spent much time outside of the Heavenly Realm when he was there. Here, he had found a place to start to build something. He had managed to get a job as a music teacher, where he got to spend his days around music, but teaching instead of performing. It ached in his chest, but in a way it was a good ache. It reminded him of the guitar courses he had held before he was signed to White No Face-Entertainment, when he had been a scrawny teen with nothing but a good skill in guitar teaching bright eyed children gazing up at him. He had enjoyed teaching then, and he enjoyed it now. 

The students were bright, and fun. Xie Lian enjoyed showing them how to build melodies on the piano and the guitar. The music school supplied the instruments, and Xie Lian even managed to rent out a small basement apartment not far from it. A part of him felt like he could find a place here. He still felt heavy, but being around music and feeling stable lightened him. He took those in need into the apartment if he found them on the street, sharing his food and shelter as best as he could. He was even able to pay back everyone he had been given money from which had been jolted down into his notebook. Everything was pretty good. 

It couldn’t last.

Xie Lian should have known it couldn’t, and yet he had hoped.

“Xie Lian,” the principal of the music school called one day once Xie Lian was done with the day’s lessons. Xie Lian looked away from the children skipping out of the entrance after a fruitful lesson, glancing back at him. 

“Yes?” he asked, and the principal nodded towards the music room and then walked into it. Xie Lian followed, and closed the door behind him. The principal turned, and his expression was grave.

“It has come to my attention that you’ve been keeping your past from us,” he said, and Xie Lian felt a shiver race down his spine.

“I’m-” he started, but the principal held up his hand to silence him. Xie Lian closed his mouth, but kept his shoulders straight and his eyes locked forward.
“I can’t have someone who had an addiction, past or present, close to these children,” he said, and Xie Lian’s eyes grew wide as he shook his head.

“No I never-” he started, but the principal spoke again, cutting him off.

“It’s all over the media. You were kicked out of your label, were violent, stole as well as were repeatedly intoxicated,” he said, and Xie Lian shook his head again because this wasn’t fair. “There are videos of you in fights that date back less than a year. I can’t have someone like that associated with us, no matter how famous you once were.”

Xie Lian felt the small foundation crack and crumble, but said nothing. It was understandable after all.

“Okay,” he said, and then handed in his keys and retrieved his things. He walked home with heavy steps, feeling like there would never be any place he would be welcome. He greeted the three boarders who were staying with him as he walked in, but curled up on his bed soon after. He couldn’t face anyone right now. He couldn’t even face himself. 

Maybe he hadn’t been able to for a long time.

Still he brought out that notebook from under his pillow, and wrote down one line with a trembling hand.

Redemption never came

 

He must have fallen asleep at some point, because he woke up from a sharp pain in his side, and a hand over his mouth. Panic surged up in Xie Lian’s system, as familiar eyes met his own. It was one of the borders, her eyes glossed over, clearly high. Xie Lian wanted to scream, from pain and from fear. The pain from his side increased as something was pulled out, and tears sprung to his eyes from the intensity of it. 

The pain in Xie Lian’s side was excruciating, and he reached over for it, his hand coming back red with blood.

 

____________________________

 

Xie Lian woke in a brightly lit room, the ceiling above him white and the lamps cold. He sucked in a breath, feeling disoriented and dizzy. Something sharp pinched his side as he moved, and Xie Lian groaned, trying to arrange his mind. He had a vague memory of glossed over eyes, and from shouting, and so much blood. There had been stumbling up the stairs of the basement apartment, and then his knees hitting the pavement. Xie Lian remembered the ambulance, and the nurses with quick but kind hands, soothing voices. He groaned, moving his hands to his head to try to ease the fuzziness. 

“Xianle is awake,” the warm voice of Jun Wu said, and Xie Lian startled away from the sound of it, to the point of having fallen out of bed if there hadn’t been a bed rail in the way. He tried to focus his eyes, but only managed to hurt himself even more as he scrambled against the sheets, his heart racing. He blinked and blinked, and then finally Jun Wu came into sharper view. He was sitting in an armchair to the side, wearing a white suit with gold details, like he always did. His legs were crossed casually, and he looked calm and composed. 

“Get out,” Xie Lian said, his voice hoarse. Jun Wu tutted, as if Xie Lian was an insolent child. Maybe to him, he was. “I don’t want you here. What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to help you of course,” Jun Wu said, still so calm and smooth. “Xianle has been struggling so since leaving me. Look at the state of you.”

“I don’t want to talk to you,” Xie Lian said, laying back down in the hospital bed. He looked up at the ceiling, but the bright light only made his head throb, so he closed them. “Get out! Get away from me you old, evil man.”

“I just want what’s best for you,” Jun Wu said calmly, warmth laced into his voice. Xie Lian felt nauseous. “I know what is best for you Xianle, you know I do. It makes me nervous to see you this way.”

“Fuck off, I never want anything to do with you,” Xie Lian said furiously, and Jun Wu sighed. 

“Very well,” Jun Wu answered, and Xie Lian fought the impulse to look over at him. Did he really mean it? Would he leave now? Xie Lian’s body ached, and he felt defenseless lying here with someone he had once trusted, but now resented and feared. He wanted Jun Wu to be as far away from him as possible. “Let me tell you a story, Xianle.”

“No,” Xie Lian said sharply, shaking his head. “I don’t want anything from you, I want you to leave.”

“Really?” Jun Wu said, sounding so smug. “You don’t want to hear of what happened to the woman who took you in first, what was her name, Yajuan Yang?”

Xie Lian felt his heart clench. He did want to know, but with the way Jun Wu said it, nothing good could come from knowing. Still, he needed to be certain. She had been so incredibly kind to him, so generous and thoughtful. He wasn’t sure how he would have even managed, if she hadn’t given him a chance.

“What?” Xie Lian asked, turning to look at Jun Wu, who’s eyes were locked on him. A smirk curled on his lips, and Xie Lian’s heart sank in his chest. Oh no.

“You ruined her life of course,” Jun Wu said, and Xie Lian’s heart clenched painfully. “Since you bordered yourself up there, the police came to check the place out twice. The drug rumors ran deep after such a thing, and after that no one wanted to buy any pastries from her. The bakery slowly fell into debt as she borrowed money, hoping the tide would turn, but it didn’t. The bakery went bankrupt, and she had to sell her house and take her kids and move away. That bakery was her dream, she had spent all her savings for it just two years before you turned up, and now she has nothing.”

“No,” Xie Lian said, shaking his head. He didn’t want to believe it. Had he really done that to her, who had been so sweet to him? “You’re lying.”

Jun Wu’s smile turned sharper, and he leaned forward. He was still far away from the bed, but Xie Lian leaned back nonetheless. “I am not,” Jun Wu vowed, and then went on to describe how every one that Xie Lian had written up in his book, everyone he had managed to finally pay back, had no need for his small restitution, since his influence had ruined something for them completely. By the end of it, Xie Lian was trembling, holding back tears which burned in his eyes. His heart hurt more than the wound in his side now, and all he wanted was to disappear, so he couldn’t hurt anyone ever again. Everything he had touched since he had been on his own had crumbled to ashes.

“I will make it all alright, if you just admit that you were wrong and come back to me,” Jun Wu said, as Xie Lian blinked against the burning tears. “It will all be alright if you’re with me, Xianle. You can make music again, dance again. I still own all of your creativity, but you can soar once more. Just come to me. It pains me so to see you this way.”

“Never,” Xie Lian sobbed, even though he held the tears back from falling. “Never, never.”

“So stubborn, even now when you see all the pain you cause by roaming around on your own?” Jun Wu said, and Xie Lian looked away. He had to find a way to make this right, to try… but he had nothing. Still, he couldn’t go back. Since being kicked out, Xie Lian had realised how empty life had been then, in White No Face-Entertainment. He wasn’t happy now, but he knew he could never be happy there either. “You keep disappointing everyone. How do you think Feng Xin feels? Mu Qing, Lang Qianqiu and Quan Yizhen? Your behaviour has wounded them greatly. They never understood you Xianle, but now they resent you. Only I understand you. Only I can take care of you.”

“Leave me alone,” Xie Lian said, turning away from him as the lump in his throat grew. He couldn't look at him anymore. He never wanted to see him ever again. 

“Think on it Xianle,” Jun Wu said, and Xie Lian heard him rise and step closer to the bed. Xie Lian clenched his eyes shut. Maybe he could punch him, regardless of his pain in his side. However, Jun Wu stopped before coming too close. “I’ll be back tomorrow, and we can talk about it some more.”

Xie Lian didn’t answer, but squeezed his eyes shut tighter. So many lives ruined by his selfishness. He should have left Yajuan Yang earlier. He should have been more considerate and less reckless. He didn’t know what to do, but he needed to keep going, and be better. 

That evening the TV-which the nurses had turned on showed the news. When they reached the entertainment segments, a clip from the exact room Xie Lian was laying in was shown, shot from the door. It showed Xie Lian and Jun Wu, and the start of their conversation when Jun Wu’s voice was sweet as honey, and Xie Lian’s body language was jerky and his voice hoarse and sharp. 

He looked unwell, crazy even.

Xie Lian groaned, and pushed up from the bed. He retrieved his things put away in a closet to the side, every movement tugging painfully on his side. He tried to be careful, nothing good would come from pulling a stitch. Xie Lian knew what would follow after this, and he did not want to face the media in this state. He didn’t want the nurses to have to either. He also didn’t want to face Jun Wu in the morning. Xie Lian’s side hurt awfully, but hopefully the stitches would hold. 

The last line he had written before had been joined by others, fleshed out by the pounding words in his mind.

I'm a beautiful disaster, a reckoning

You wonder how I got this way

You think I'm someone to be saved, someone to clean up and tame

Some things never change

You think I would look pretty on your arm

Once you cover up my bruises and battle scars

But it always ends the same

Can't bear the things I've had to face

Got you crying on your knees in pain

Some things never change

You'll break your back to make me feel again

Suffocate to make me breathe again

Lose your mind from endless praying

Somethings never change

Redemption never came

 

The hospital corridor was dim as he left the room, quiet as he slipped down it and into the elevator so not to be noticed. 

___________________________

 

Yin Yu was exhausted. He felt like if he laid down on the stained floor of the coffee shop, he would definitely fall right asleep. He needed it, but there was no use in even dreaming of rest for several hours. Yin Yu knew that there was no chance for real rest until they finally found Xie Lian. Yin Yu had been doing this for a year now, a crazy goosechase with loose clues from social media and gossip magazines, chasing around the country in search of a man who Yin Yu had started to wonder if he was a ghost living only in his boss’ mind. He could still so vividly remember the expression on Hua Cheng’s face when those first news of Xie Lian being kicked out by the label came, the shock and the anger. Even more vividly was the memory of the rage in Hua Cheng’s face when the first photos of Xie Lian with a stark bruise around his neck made its way around the gossip columns. 

Yin Yu sighed, and squirmed in his place to try to keep himself awake as he waited for his turn in the line. He drove all night to get here on the loose rumor that Xie Lian had been spotted working in a restaurant in this city, but Yin Yu didn’t hold much hope of it being true. He had chased after far too many of these empty leads. It had amounted to nothing, and most of the time Yin Yu was sure they had been completely false. When any more real threads of evidence came about Xie Lian’s whereabouts, Yin Yu only reached it when it was too late and Xie Lian was already gone, scattered in the wind. 

He sighed. He wondered how much longer Hua Cheng would hold up before going completely mad. The news five months ago about Xie Lian being stabbed had almost driven Hua Cheng completely crazy, and even more so when he had reached the hospital the next day to find Xie Lian’s bed left empty, even though not even a day had passed since he was admitted.

They had both been searching constantly ever since. 

The person in front of him in line retrieved their order, and Yin Yu stepped up to the counter, moving his gaze from the board of coffee orders available, deciding to just ask for whatever had the most caffeine in it. 

Golden eyes met his, paired with a pleasant smile. Brown hair reached down to his shoulders, longer now then in the last photos Yin Yu had seen of him, but much shorter then it had been when this manhunt had started. He didn’t seem to take any special notice of Yin Yu, but Yin Yu knew him perfectly even though they had never met before.

“Hi,” the man said pleasantly. “What can I get you?”

Xianle.

No way. 

Chapter Text

The man before him looked at Xie Lian with that wide eyed gaze that Xie Lian had grown slightly accustomed to by now. It wasn’t the adoration which often filled fans' gaze when he met them during signings or fan events, nor was it the jealousy which was sometimes prominent in the expressions of the other artists at White No Face-Entertainment. It was more like shock, and disbelief. It made nervousness crawl in Xie Lian’s chest regardless, but not as violently as it once did. A person could get accustomed to anything, he’d realized. Xie Lian smiled, hoping to be able to talk himself out of this. He really didn’t want to move again. Things had finally settled a bit here, Xie Lian would hate to pack up already. He knew he wouldn’t be able to stay here forever, but just a little longer. Running was getting incredibly tiresome. 

“Holy shit,” the man before him said, and Xie Lian laughed, trying to sound aloof. 

“What can I get you?” he asked again, and the man blinked, and then blinked again. Xie Lian squirmed. The man was the last in line for now, but this was a pretty busy part of the day, so soon more customers would follow. “Are you okay?” Xie Lian asked, next, because the man was still staring at him like he had seen a ghost. “Do you need to sit down for a bit?”

“I- I-,” the man stuttered, still seeming in shock. Then he pushed his hands together, and bowed his head low. Xie Lian startled, looking at him with wide eyes. “Please excuse me!” 

“Ah, what?” Xie Lian said, blinking rapidly. The staff behind him mumbled in question, but Xie Lian ignored them for now. He leaned forward instead, speaking softly so as not to draw any more attention to them.  “Please, I don’t understand.”

“My name is Yin Yu,” the man said with his head still bowed, and Xie Lian frowned. He couldn’t remember anyone with that name, but perhaps he had met him at some point? There was something about it which was familiar, like he was someone someone else knew. His memory had been really flaky recently. “I’m supposed to take you to Hua Cheng.”

That made Xie Lian’s heart sink to the floor. Hua Cheng, the owner of Scrap Collecting Immortals Record Label, San Lang’s label. The memory of San Lang, the sweet soft memories which had kept Xie Lian going for the past year, made Xie Lian’s heart twist in pain. He pushed it down. He couldn't feel. He had to push all feelings away.

“Hua Cheng? What does he want with me?” Xie Lian asked casually. Nothing good, he guessed. Xie Lian supposed that it had to be about the collaboration San Lang and he did a year ago, which had then led to San Lang being accused of dragging Xie Lian down into addiction. Yin Yu raised his bowed head and met his gaze again, and Xie Lian frowned as a sympathetic but complicated expression filled Yin Yu’s face.

“I think it’s best if he explains that himself,” Yin Yu answered, and Xie Lian swallowed. He didn’t know what to think. Such an answer, surely that only confirmed Xie Lian’s suspicions? 

“I don’t-” he started, but Yin Yu surged forwards as if desperate, his hands landing on the counter with a loud pang.

“It’s nothing bad, I promise. He’s not like that,” he said almost frantically, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise. He didn’t understand any of this. 

“Okay, is he angry at me?” Xie Lian asked, and Yin Yu frowned as he shook his head furiously, pulling back to stand straight before the counter once again.

“What for?” he asked, and Xie Lian shook his head. It hurt so much to think about this. Xie Lian had managed to sever himself from so many emotions, but when it came to San Lang it seemed impossible. He hadn’t managed yet anyway. 

“The performance with San Lang? Ah, with Crimson Rain Sought Flower?” he tried to explain, but Yin Yu’s frown only grew deeper. 

“He would never be angry with you for that,” Yin Yu said, and suddenly there was a gleam in his eyes, as if something about it was funny. It was gone the next time he blinked. Xie Lian was now more confused than ever. 

“I don’t understand,” he said, and Yin Yu let out a sigh before he met Xie Lian’s gaze head on.

“I understand that. I just- We’ve been looking for you for so long. Please, would you come with me?” he asked, almost pleading. Xie Lian bit into his lower lip. He didn’t know what he should do.

“I still have to finish my shift,” he said as an excuse, and Yin Yu nodded in understanding. That would give Xie Lian an hour to consider at least. 

“Alright, when are you off?” Yin Yu asked, and Xie Lian answered him. He then took Yin Yu’s order, and then moved on to the next customer as the other barista prepared it. Yin Yu stayed in the shop during the rest of Xie Lian’s shift, sipping his extremely caffeinated drink. He looked very tired, Xie Lian thought, as he stole glances at him. What did he mean by them having looked for him? Who were they ? Yin Yu and Hua Cheng? Could San Lang have been looking for Xie Lian too? Was he angry about what Jun Wu had said about him and the drugs? Surely he was. He must think Xie Lian was the one to tell them that. Still, Yin Yu had said it wasn’t anything bad, and that Hua Cheng wasn’t angry… Maybe he should go then. He wasn’t fully sure why he wanted to go, but perhaps it was that trill that raced up his spine as he thought of San Lang. He had no hopes of anything coming from it, but still. It was the only thing he truly felt these days. If he met him, he would have the chance to apologize at least.

His shift ended, and he told Yin Yu to wait as he retrieved his things from the back. After having been robbed so many times, he’s realised that carrying with him his most important possessions was the best way to keep them safe. He grabbed the backpack from his hook in the back, and pulled it on over his barista outfit. Yin Yu stood out in the shop when he came out, and Xie Lian said goodbye to the other staff before he followed Yin Yu out. They stopped on the sidewalk outside of the shop, and Yin Yu looked nervously at him. 

How odd.

“I’ll come with you,” Xie Lian said, and Yin Yu let out a deep sigh of relief before a smile broke out on his lips. “I have a couple of days off now, and usually I go looking for stray jobs, but I had nothing lined up for the coming two days.”

“Great!” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian held back a laugh. It wasn’t great for him missing two days of possible work when he could be earning some extra money, but he supposed it had worked out in a way. Scrap Collecting Immortals Record Label was fairly far away after all. Xie Lian had been avoiding coming too close to the city it was in. “Good, good. I’m so glad,” Yin Yu said, picking up his phone to make a couple of very fast paced taps.  “Do we need to get anything of yours? I’m guessing you’ll spend at least one night.”

“No, I have all I own here,” Xie Lian said, shrugging his shoulders to motion to his backpack. Yin Yu frowned in that way most did when Xie Lian said something like this, but nodded without commenting. 

“The car is over here,” he said, motioning to further down the road. He walked over to a sleek black car, and Xie Lian walked over to the passenger side of it. He was just about to step in, when Yin Yu’s phone started ringing. He pulled it up from his pocket, and instantly answered.

“Hello sir,” he said, his gaze lingering down the road. “Yes. Yes. No, I would never joke about that.”

Xie Lian frowned, wondering what the conversation was about. Yin Yu sounded polite and professional, but not cold. Xie Lian felt a little bad listening in, and reached out for the door handle to sit in the car to wait. The door was locked however, so all he could do was stand there and pretend not to eavesdrop. He looked down the road towards the coffee shop. It was a nice place, and the owners were sweet. He’d be back there soon enough. He just hoped he had enough money for the bus to get back in time. It would be too bad to lose this job.

“Yes, of course,” Yin Yu continued, and then a smile curled on his lips. “As soon as possible. Yes sir.”

He ended the call, and then turned back to Xie Lian. “Sorry about that,” he said, unlocking the car and opening the door on his side. “Please get in, we have a bit of a drive ahead of us.”

 

_______________________

 

The car drove into a basement garage with ease, but as they descended Xie Lian felt his nerves rise. Yin Yu had been nothing but pleasant during their drive, but he kept dodging the subject on why Hua Cheng wanted to meet Xie Lian, saying it was better Hua Cheng explained himself, before changing the subject completely. Instead they spoke about more generic things, but every now and then Yin Yu would become quiet as Xie Lian answered, his expression complicated. Xie Lian really didn’t understand it, but it wasn’t uncommon. He was used to making people uncomfortable. 

It was dark outside, but the garage was well illuminated even though the walls and ceiling were painted black. Yin Yu parked the car, and then gave Xie Lian an easy smile. He looked almost relieved. Xie Lian smiled back, trying not to show his nerves. 

“Welcome to Ghost City recording studio,” Yin Yu said, unbuckling and opening the door. Xie Lian followed, trying to will down the slight tremble in his hands. He wasn’t sure why this was affecting him so. He had grown so numb lately, and not even news about him on the front pages or hearing FCG’s songs hurt anymore. Why was this making him so shaken up then?

Xie Lian knew why, even though he didn’t really want to acknowledge it. During this past year, his memories with San Lang were those he had kept closest to his heart. The freedom he had felt when they were together, the encouragement, the tenderness. He knew that all of that was out of his reach now, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t think of it so warmly, when all else was cold.

This was San Lang’s label. He could be here. Xie Lian could run into him, if he was still signed here that was. What would he say? Would San Lang be angry at him? He should. 

“This way,” Yin Yu said, motioning towards a bright red elevator doors at the end of the garage. Xie Lian felt his heart clench. The red against the black also reminded him of San Lang. There was no avoiding it here it seemed, better get used to it. Xie Lian had gotten better at handling the pain now. “We’ll go up here, and then I’ll take you to Hua Cheng’s office.”

“Okay,” Xie Lian said as he followed, stepping into the red elevator. Soft music played within, a melody he recognized but couldn’t place. “I don’t- I don’t know what to expect.”

“Yeah well,” Yin Yu said, looking up at the numbers climbing slowly above the door. “I don’t know either.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, and then looked forwards at the doors. Not much to do about it then. All he could do was wait. 

The ride wasn’t long, and when they stopped on the fifth floor Xie Lian blinked in surprise. He had expected them to go much farther up, but then again he hadn’t gotten a good look at the building, so he wasn’t sure how tall it was. He had simply expected something like White No Face-Entertainment, with the label owner’s office at the very top. 

“Here we are,” Yin Yu said, stepping out into a corridor which was lined with floor to ceiling windows, and immediately turning to the right. Xie Lian stepped after, but found Yin Yu had stopped in his steps, gaze locked forward.

“What?” Xie Lian asked, and then looked down the hall to follow Yin Yu’s gaze, only to come face to face with someone very familiar. His long dark hair was braided into a loose plait, making it look wild yet composed. He was in a red shirt with tight black trousers, silver chains hanging over his chest. Over his right eye rested the black eyepatch, but the other eye, familiar black which had met Xie Lian in so many dreams, was wide in surprise.

San Lang.

He was just as handsome as Xie Lian remembered.

Xie Lian’s heart ached again, as fear rose from the pit of his stomach.

“Well, I guess I’ll leave you here,” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian couldn't turn away, even though he felt confusion rise in his mind. Wasn’t Yin Yu supposed to take him to Hua Cheng? Why would he leave him here then?

San Lang took a step towards them, and from the corner of his eye Xie Lian saw Yin Yu step away. Xie Lian should turn and thank him, but it was impossible to look away from San Lang as his steps quickened towards him. Xie Lian’s heart pounded in his chest, painfully hard. He didn’t dare move. He didn’t dare breathe.
He wondered if hearing how much San Lang resented him would finally break him apart.

San Lang stopped before him, just shy of touching distance. His gaze dropped to Xie Lian’s clothes, and then back to his face, seeming in search of something. Xie Lian must look very different from the man San Lang stood on stage with a year ago, with his hair then long, his disposition much more carefree, in expensive clothing. San Lang reached his hand out, and Xie Lian watched it unblinkingly, but then San Lang dropped it to his side, the emotions in his eye conflicted.  

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed quietly, and saw a shiver race down San Lang’s spine. “I’m so sorry.”

San Lang’s eye grew ever wider, and Xie Lian had to look away from him, the pain in his chest rising. He swallowed roughly around the lump in his throat.

“Gege has nothing to apologize for to this lowly, undeserving San Lang,” San Lang said, his voice hard. Xie Lian was startled by his words, and he turned back with wide eyes, blinking.

“What?” he asked, searching San Lang’s face for answers. San Lang’s jaw was tightly clenched, and he looked to the side. His entire frame was tense, hands balled into fists. 

“It is this lowly one who should apologize to Gege,” he continued, and only then did Xie Lian realise that this anger was directed at San Lang himself. “I didn’t answer when Gege called. When Gege-” Xie Lian stepped forward in a rush, but paused when he realised how close they got. 

“San Lang didn’t know,” Xie Lian hurried to say, his heart pounding in his chest. Had he carried this guilt all this time? Had he worried? Xie Lian had never considered the possibility of this. “It’s not San Lang’s fault, not at all.”

“Gege,” San Lang said, and it was filled with so much pain Xie Lian had to bite into the inside of his own cheek so it wouldn’t overwhelm him. 

“San Lang don’t look so heartbroken,” Xie Lian commented, and then looked down because it felt too honest to say. He shook his head. He was doing a terrible job of consoling him. “It’s alright,” he said, because it was. It hadn’t been easy, but it was okay. 

“Yes, now it will all be alright,” San Lang said with conviction, and Xie Lian had to look back at him then. Their gazes caught, and Xie Lian smiled just a little, as if he couldn’t stop himself. He was just so happy San Lang wasn’t angry at him, even if he still felt that he should. Perhaps they could talk about it later.

“Ah, I really don’t want to go,” Xie Lian said, and San Lang’s brows rose in surprise, fear flashing by in his gaze. “But perhaps you can help me, San Lang?”

“Anything Gege wishes, this San Lang will help with,” San Lang said with a nod, even if he still looked pensive. “What…does Gege need to go so soon?”

Xie Lian smiled, his heart feeling a little lighter. It sounded as if San Lang had missed him, which was a very silly notion. It did make him realise however, that he had missed San Lang even more than he had understood. 

“Yin Yu was supposed to take me to Hua Cheng, but he left and I- San Lang I don’t know what he wants but I shouldn’t keep him waiting I think,” Xie Lian said, frowning a bit. He still wasn’t sure what Hua Cheng brought him here for, or ever where to find him. San Lang probably knew where he was however, or could point Xie Lian in the right direction. 

San Lang laughed, a soft chuckle which was so pleasant to the ears that Xie Lian had to smile. “No worries Gege, you have not kept Hua Cheng waiting.”

“Ah, of course I am sure he’s very busy and has many things to concern himself with,” Xie Lian said. It was very understandable after all. Still, he didn’t want to be rude, in case it would somehow reflect on San Lang. 

“No, Gege,” San Lang said, a mischievous gleam in his eyes. Oh that was far too becoming on him. Xie Lian had not forgotten it, but he had bellitted its effect on him. “You already found him.” 

“Huh?” Xie Lian said, looking up at him in shock. San Lang smiled, and then realisation rushed over Xie Lian all at once. “Oh,” he said, and then couldn’t help but laugh. “San Lang!”

“Sorry, Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian shook his head even if he couldn’t help but giggle a little at how long it had taken for him to piece it all together. 

“No, no I can understand it,” he assured, feeling mostly relieved that it had been San Lang all along. “I should have known. San Lang is so wise and talented after all.”

“Gege should not spoil me with such compliments so after just having met me again,” Hua Cheng said, a wide smile on his face, as if proud. “It will go to my head.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said with a shake of his head. He was sure Hua Cheng knew how accomplished he was. He ought to, after how much he had managed at such a young age. He truly was remarkable. 

Hua Cheng smiled at him, and for a moment Xie Lian stayed in this feeling of warmth. It was scary, but he clung to it for just a minute, to be able to feel like he could breathe. 

“Has Gege eaten?” Hua Cheng asked suddenly and Xie Lian was broken out from tracing Hua Cheng’s handsome features with his gaze.

“Hm? No,” he admitted. He had a small lunch at work, but nothing since. It was several hours ago, but Xie Lian had grown accustomed to hunger, he barely noticed it much anymore.

“Would Gege mind going back to my place, and this San Lang can cook for Gege?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian looked at him with wide eyes. 

“Oh, San Lang that is far too much,” he assured, because surely Hua Cheng had better things to do than to cook for him. “What did- what did San Lang want to talk to me about?”

“Let’s do it over dinner?” Hua Cheng asked, ducking his head a little with a boyish smile. Ah, he was too pretty, he knew how to use it too. “Only if Gege is comfortable of course.”

“Ah! Yes, it’s not-, I simply don’t want San Lang to go through too much trouble for me,” Xie Lian clarified, and Hua Cheng frowned for a moment, before he shrugged. 

“No trouble,” he assured. “I would prefer it. I had you come all the way here after all. The least I can do is offer Gege some food.”

“Then I would be very grateful to taste San Lang’s cooking,” Xie Lian said with a smile, feeling a little spoiled by the prospect of someone cooking for him. He couldn’t remember anyone doing that since before he was signed with White No Face-Entertainment.

“Perfect,” Hua Cheng said with a nod, before he motioned further down the hall towards a door at the end of it. “Let me just grab my things.”

Xie Lian nodded, and then followed Hua Cheng down the corridor. The floor to ceiling windows opened up to a forest just a couple of meters away, dense and dark. It made one feel like they were walking along the tree tops almost, the dark sky peeking up just in sight.

“Is this the label too?” Xie Lian asked as they reached the office, painted dark red with black furniture and silver. It was sparsely decorated, but didn’t feel empty or cold. Xie Lian suddenly realised that there was no receptionist outside of Hua Cheng’s office, not even a waiting area. Huh. “Yin Yu said it was the recording studio, but he used a different name.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, walking over to the desk to pick up his phone, wallet and car keys. “This is the building for the studio connected to the label, so we just keep it all here. It’s named after what the label was called first, before I started signing other’s then just Calamities.” He looked back up at Xie Lian, and once again something complicated came over his expression.

“San Lang is so accomplished,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng’s expression tensed even more. 

“There is much more I could do,” Hua Cheng said as he walked towards him, keeping his gaze. “This isn’t anything to be proud of really, not when I can be so powerless in other aspects.”

“I’m sure San Lang can do whatever he puts his mind to,” Xie Lian assured, and Hua Cheng shook his head. Xie Lian had to hold back from reaching out and lay his hand on his arm. He really wanted to comfort him, to bring back the mischief and pride instead, but he didn’t think Hua Cheng would want him to touch him.  

“Not everything,” Hua Cheng said with another shake of his head. “I’m done Gege, we can go,” he continued, and Xie Lian nodded, wondering what Hua Cheng felt he hadn’t managed. 

“Is it recording studios, or something more?” Xie Lian asked to change the subject, as they once again stepped into the corridor and started walking back to the elevator. 

“A few rooms to sleep over in, kitchens and changing rooms and things like that,” Hua Cheng mused. “Those are on the fourth floor, just below the offices on this fifth floor.” They reached the elevator, and Hua Cheng pressed the button. It opened immediately, and they stepped inside. “On the third and second floor there’s dance studios and the recording studio, as well as some lounge areas. The younger artists like hanging out there. What else…. we have a performance area down on the ground floor.”

“With a stage?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Chneg hummed as he nodded. “Ah, San Lang, that's so clever.”

Hua Cheng broke into a grin then, and Xie Lian smiled back, very happy he had decided to come here simply to get to see such a genuine smile. They stepped out into the garage, and Hua Cheng guided him to a sleek red sports car which stood out against the dark walls. Hua Cheng opened the door for him, and Xie Lian slipped into the comfortable seat and put his backpack beside his feet, turning to see Hua Cheng sit down too. Their gazes caught, and for a breath neither of them said anything. 

“Is Gege ready?” Hua Cheng asked after a moment, and Xie Lian nodded, turning to put his seat belt on. 

“Mn, ready whenever San Lang is,” he said, feeling the car roar to life as he settled in. 

 

_________________________

 

The drive wasn’t too far, but instead of what Xie Lian might have expected, they turned and drove into the forest behind the label instead of towards the city. The winding road moved up and up, until they came to a clearing which opened up on a hill. There, a large red house stood, with one main building and two smaller extensions connected on each side. The house had dark ceilings, but almost no windows in the front. The front door was also black, but instead of heading towards it they drove to a side building, and parked in a garage which opened as they came closer. They drove in next to two other cars, the garage neat and clean. 

“San Lang has a beautiful home,” Xie Lian said as they stepped out of the car, Xie Lian following San Lang towards the door.

“Thank you Gege,” he said with a soft smile as he opened the door to the house and stepped inside. “I don’t consider it a home, but it’s a good place to live in.”

Xie Lian was just about to ask what he meant by it not being a home, when a loud mew cut him off. Xie Lian truend and all at once he remembered with excitement that Hua Cheng had a cat!

“E’ming,” Xie Lian said, as a black fluffy thing came skidding around the corner. There he stopped, looking up at Xie Lian with his one black eye. 

“Gege remembers?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian was just about to answer when E’ming rushed forward and lunged himself at Xie Lian, who startled but caught him. He wondered if the cat thought he was an intruder and was attacking, but rather than being met with claws and teeth, E’ming curled up in his arms, and purred. Xie Lian cooed, and scratched the black cat behind his ears. 

“So cute,” Xie Lian said, and E’ming purred even louder. He had always liked animals and longed for a pet, but his parents hadn’t, and in the dorms they weren’t permitted. He looked up at Hua Cheng who looked perplexed. “What?”

“Nothing Gege,” he said with a shake of his head. “E’ming usually doesn’t like people. I’m just surprised at all.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, looking down at the sleeping cat in his arms. “I’m glad he liked me then.”

“Clearly he has better taste than I thought,” Hua Cheng said, and then walked over to them. “Does Gege want help to take off the backpack?”

“Oh, yes,” he said with a nod, realising that it might be hard when cradling the floof ball. Hua Cheng stepped over and together they managed to get it off, and Hua Cheng hung it on one of the hooks by the door without having touched Xie Lian once. Then, he knelt down, and reached for Xie Lian’s foot.

“San Lang!” he exclaimed, but Hua Cheng simply looked up with a smirk, untying the lace and pulled Xie Lian’s shoe carefully off. 

“This San Lang is only helping,” Hua Cheng said with a grin, and Xie Lian shook his head but offered the other foot, pretty sure he was being teased. 

“San Lang is teasing me,” Xie Lian pointed out, and Hua Cheng laughed as he removed the second shoe too, and then placed them neatly by the door before taking off his own. Xie Lian continued to pet E’ming, who laid warm and soft on his arm. Such a cutie. 

“This way Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and they walked further into the house. It was big and beautifully decorated, but a little empty. Large arts hung on the walls, but other than that the rooms they passed were void of decoration. They reached the kitchen, which opened up with large windows towards a green back yard, surrounded by the forest. It created a sheltered feeling, and Xie Lian was instantly drawn to it, stepping up to the view.

“San Lang this is beautiful,” he said. Even in the dark, the soft light from the house illuminated the trees. It made Xie Lian want to step out into it, but he held back. Instead he turned away from the view and looked at Hua Cheng, who was pulling out things from the fridge to cook.

“I’m glad Gege thinks so,” he said, and Xie Lian hummed, walking over to the counter. 

“Did San Lang build it?” he asked, and now it was Hua Cheng who hummed in answer as he continued to pull out ingredients. He rolled up his sleeves, and Xie Lian saw the tattoo on his arm once again. He still couldn’t make it out fully, and had never dared to ask what it was. “San Lang has excellent taste then.” 

That made Hua Cheng grin, and Xie Lian felt proud for having caused it. “Sit down Gege and I’ll get you something to drink as I cook.”

“Alright,” Xie Lian said, sitting down on the pillowed bench which ran next to one of the windows, but still gave him a view of the kitchen as Hua Cheng worked. He was soon presented with a cup of tea, and carefully put E’ming down on the bench beside him to hold the cup between his hands. “Thank you San Lang,” he said, bringing it to his mouth to take a sip. “Do you want me to help?”

“No, Gege just sit back and relax as this San Lang cooks,” Hua Cheng answered, and Xie Lian hummed and sipped his tea. San Lang was efficient and clean when working in the kitchen, very different from how it usually looked when Xie Lian tried to make anything. It usually turned out alright, Xie Lian thought, but the kitchen was usually a mess afterwards. 

San Lang hummed a melody as he worked, and Xie Lian couldn’t help but smile at the sound. He had missed music since he had been fired from the job at the music school, and San Lang had such a lovely voice.

Something was weighing on Xie Lian’s mind however, and even though it made nerves rise in his chest he took another sip of his tea and willed it down, looking into the cup as he spoke.

“Why did San Lang want me to come?” he asked, and heard Hua Cheng pause. He looked up then, and was met with a questioning gaze. “Here, to meet you. Yin Yu said you had been looking for me. Why?”

San Lang seemed to understand what Xie Lian was referring to better now, because he hummed and nodded, and went back to cooking. “This San Lang was very worried about Gege,” he said, and Xie Lian didn’t know what to make of that information. It felt like too much to think about Hua Cheng having looked for him for so long, because he was worried. Xie Lian didn’t understand it. Why was he worried? Xie Lian had only caused him trouble.

“Oh,” he said, taking another sip of his tea to try to calm the feelings swirling in his chest. “I didn’t mean to worry San Lang.” It felt easier to say than to ask why Hua Cheng had looked for thim, what purpose he had for such a thing. 

“San Lang knows,” Hua Cheng said with a nod, and Xie Lian’s gaze followed his hands as he worked. Hua Cheng had such nice hands, long fingers which were perfect for playing instruments, his nails painted black. “So often there were reports about Gege in the news, but they were never good.”

“I tried to keep away from them but the media kept finding me,” Xie Lian said, looking out at the garden again. It had really been the driving force in his nomading, trying to get away from the attention. It had let up recently, but every now and then it stormed up once more. He had a second reason too. It felt like if he continued to move, Jun Wu wouldn’t be able to find him again. He wasn’t sure if that was true, but it was still a reassurance. 

“I just wanted to make sure Gege was alright,” Hua Cheng said, and the sentiment in that was so profound that Xie Lian could barely take it in. No one had cared in such a way for him, and he felt solely undeserving of it.

“I am very sorry San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng looked up from his cooking with a questioning gaze. “It can’t have been easy for you either, with what Jun Wu said about you. I didn’t tell him that.”

Pft ,” Hua Cheng said, his expression growing cold and angry. “Yes the media tried their best to spin that story, but I confronted them, and then it blew over. They don’t dare come especially close.”

“Do you intimidate them, San Lang?” Xie Lian asked, and a wicked smirk spread on Hua Cheng’s face. Xie Lian didn’t know anyone who wore it so well as him. 

“I teach them about decency, something it seems they have nothing of,” he said, and Xie Lian could fully see it, Hua Cheng putting a journalist in their place to the extent that they cowered away and ran with their tail between their legs. “Gege does not need to worry about it. It only created minor troubles for me. It was you they were ruthless towards.”

“San Lang should know that it wasn't true,” Xie Lian said, looking down into his cup. “I wasn’t high when I came back to the label.”

“It’s alright Gege, I know,” he said, and Xie Lian let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. It was so nice to be believed. Xie Lian looked up, and Hua Cheng smiled towards him, soft. “Would you- Gege can tell me what happened, if he’d like.” He looked away then, and focused on the cooking once more. Xie Lian followed the lines of his body, the slope of his nose, the sharpness of his jaw, the broadness of his shoulders. Then he looked away, into the darkness of the forest. He had never told anyone about it, he had never voiced it, regardless of having re-lived that moment over and over in his mind. 

“I came back there,” Xie Lian started tightening his grip on the cup. “And they asked me to go lay down the tracks for the new album, so I went into the studio and did that.”

“Wait what?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian looked up at him imploringly. Hua Cheng had paused again, looking at him in confusion. “I’m sorry for interrupting you, Gege but…you did that when you came back that night you recorded them?”

“Yes, why?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng’s jaws clenched. 

“All of them?” he asked, and Xie Lian nodded in agreement. He had been exhausted, but he had pushed through it. “They use those tracks,” Hua Cheng said, and now it was Xie Lian’s turn to be surprised.

“What?” he asked, not understanding what Hua Cheng meant. How could they be using those tracks? Why?

“I was so sure that you said that you hadn’t recorded the album yet,” Hua Cheng said, returning to cooking. “You had just come back from tour when we did the charity event, so when FCG released the new album and it was played, I was furious because I knew that it was Gege’s voice. I thought that maybe I was mistaken about the time it was recorded. They made you record it right away?”

“Yes, I spent several hours in the studio,” Xie Lian said, still trying to process what Hua Cheng meant. “I assumed they were scraped.”

“No, they use them for Qi Rong’s voice,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian felt his eyes grow wide. 

“What?!” he exclaimed in shock, before slumping back against the cushions. Hua Cheng looked back at him, and then placed the utensils on the counter before stepping over to Xie Lian, kneeling down by the bench. 

“I’m so sorry Gege,” he said, his expression determined. Xie Lian shook his head, and let out a sigh. 

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. He was still shocked, and angry, but there was nothing to be done about it. From all he knew, the label owned so much of him that they had every right to do it. Hua Cheng frowned, and Xie Lian shook his head. “Really San Lang. I don’t know why I’m even surprised.”

“They’re lowly dogs, not even worthy of listening to Gege’s voice, let alone use it for something so filthy,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian had to fight so hard not to reach out to push a stray hair behind his ear. He was too kind.

“I can’t say I’d ever want my voice to be associated with Qi Rong,” Xie Lian said with a hollow laugh, and Hua Cheng shook his head again, standing up and walking over to the kitchen counter once more. 

“He spoke about you, to the media after,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian hummed. “Did Gege follow the news?”

“Only accidentally,” he admitted. “I caught a few of the reports, but I did my best to try to stay away.”

“It was probably for the best,” Hua Cheng said. “They only told lies and heartbreak Gege, they’re nothing to care about. They deserve to burn.”

“Hn,” Xie Lian agreed. Before, he had a pretty good relationship with the media. Now, they had done nothing but chase him for a year. “They were only doing their job.” Hua Cheng didn’t seem to agree, but he didn’t express it any further.

“What happened after Gege had recorded the songs?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian let out a deep sigh. He looked back down into his cup, swirling the cooling tea slowly. 

“Jun Wu wanted to speak to me,” Xie Lian said, feeling a lump grow in his throat. “I expected that we were going to go to his office, but he pressed the elevator button for his apartment.” Xie Lian was aware of how his voice wavered a little, as well as how Hua Cheng had grown still. He didn’t look up however, but instead continued on. “He was displeased, about our performance, about how I had presented myself. He made assumptions... about me and San Lang.”
“What kind of assumptions?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian hummed. It was difficult to think about this clearly. It didn’t hurt, but it made the fear rise in his body once again. 

“He called me your… ah anyway,” Xie Lian said, unable to utter the word. “He felt that if I had ruined my image so, he said he would ruin it for real, I think that’s what he said at least.” It felt like more than a year had passed, the memory choppy and panicked as he looked back.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said slowly, and Xie Lian hummed in answer. “What did he do?”

“He didn’t- I mean he tried but I- you see they have us take self-defence lessons, so I used some of the moves we had been taught there, and I got away,” Xie Lian babbled. Hua Cheng looked calm, but his expression was void of the warmth which had been there earlier. Xie Lian looked away.

“But he… he tried to?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian nodded as he took another sip of his tea. “Is that where the bruise came from?”

“The bruise?” Xie Lian asked, frowning as he looked back. 

“Around Gege’s neck.”
“Oh,” Xie Lian said, nodding once again. He had almost forgotten about that. He had never seen it himself, not until it was more yellowish and almost gone. “Yes.”

“Xie Lian,” Hua Cheng said, and it was the first time Xie Lian had heard him use his name. He let out a slow breath, and he turned to smile softly towards him.

“It was a long time ago San Lang,” he said, keeping Hua Cheng’s gaze. “After that, I was kicked out of the label. I didn’t trash any rooms or steal anything. I wasn’t even allowed back to the dorm.”
“So they threw Gege out when he had nothing?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian nodded. “When did Gege call me?”

“In the elevator, just after I had gotten out of Jun Wu’s apartment,” Xie Lian answered, and Hua Cheng’s jaw clenched. Xie Lian didn’t like this. He didn’t like talking about it, he realised. It didn’t make him feel better, and now he had hurt Hua Cheng once more. “The guard took my phone when you called me back.”

Hua Cheng only let out a long slow breath, and Xie Lian didn’t know what he should say next. They stayed silent for a moment, and then Hua Cheng looked at him again, his expression was filled with pain.

“This San Lang is incredibly sorry, Gege,” he said, and Xie Lian shook his head. 

“San Lang has nothing to be sorry for,” Xie Lian said determinately. “I’m only happy San Lang isn’t angry at me, and that he wants to spend time with me like this.”

“San Lang feels very fortunate to have Gege in his home,” Hua Cheng said and Xie Lian smiled. “The food is ready now Gege.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, and stood from the bench to walk over. The food looked as delicious as it smelled. Xie Lian felt his stomach clench from hunger, and happily accepted a plate to start piling up food. They sat down at the lavish dining table, but with Hua Cheng at one of the ends, t and Xie Lian right beside him. Their conversation moved to less painful topics, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks start to hurt from smiling so much. Hua Cheng spoke proudly of his label, and Xie Lian asked more and more questions about it. He found it so fascinating, how it seemed to function so very differently from how White No Face-Entertainment did. 

“Gege, would you like to come with me to the label tomorrow?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian tilted his head to the side in question. “Just to see more of it?”

“Oh, of course if San Lang wants me to,” he said, smiling. There was something far too lovely about Hua Cheng wanting him close the next day too. Xie Lian probably needed to start looking into getting back, but for now it was so nice to simply stay here in the now. He also really wanted to see the label, and meet some of the people that Hua Cheng had spoken about. 

Hua Cheng grinned widely, and then picked up the empty plates from the table. Xie Lian was about to stand to go help him with the dishes, but Hua Cheng threw a gaze over his shoulder and shook his head. Xie Lian sat promptly down.

“San Laaaang,” he complained. “Let me help.”

“No,” he said with finality. “I’m just putting these away, and then I’m getting Gege ice cream.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, hiding his widening smile behind his hand. He couldn’t remember the last time he had ice cream. 

 

Xie Lian was warm and clean later that evening, when he settled down in the guest room Hua Cheng had insisted on him sleeping in. The room had its own bathroom, and XIe Lian had very much enjoyed the warm shower, as well as the very plush bed he was now settling into. Xie Lian brought out his red and black notebook from the backpack resting by the bed. It was almost full with notes now, lyrics and thoughts filling the pages. He leaned back, and opened one of the few empty pages, writing with as small letters as possible to not take too much space.

 

I knock the ice from my bones

Try not to feel the cold

Caught in the thought of that time

When everything was fine, everything was mine

Everything was fine, everything was mine

All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put me back together again

All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put me back together again

Run with my hands on my eyes

Blind, but I'm still alive

Free to go back on my own

But is it still a home when you're all alone

Is it still a home when you're all alone

Chapter Text

Xie Lian woke up feeling more rested than he could remember feeling in a long time. Everything was just so soft. The mattress made him sink down just enough to feel comfortable, and the sheets felt smooth against his skin. Xie Lian had decided to go to bed only in his underwear, because all his clothes were fairly dirty and could use a good wash, so now he could fully appreciate the smoothness around him. He should ask Hua Cheng if he could use his washing machine, if he had one, so he could get those clothes clean. The comforter was just the right weight on top of him, and the room had been just the right temperature, making him easily slip into pleasant dreams as soon as he laid down. Xie Lian couldn’t help but smile. What a luxury this was. 

He stretched his arms out and made a sound that reminded him of a content cat, which made him giggle. He pushed up to sit, looking over to where the window was covered by drapes. A light shone in through the cracks behind the blinds, letting the daylight in. Xie Lian wondered what time it was. He didn’t have a phone, and there was no clock in the room. He tried to strain his hearing, but there were no sounds outside of the guest room door, at least not that he could make out. 

He should probably get up, he guessed. They hadn’t decided when they were going to be going to the label, but surely Hua Cheng had much to get done and wanted to be there early. Xie Lian shouldn’t hold him back. It was just so very hard to leave such a comfortable spot. He looked over at the notebook resting on the nightstand, and reached for it. He read over the lines he had written out last night, and for an unknown reason he something different today than he usually did, so he added:

There is a reason I'm still standing

I never knew if I'd be landing

And I will run fast, outlast

 

He left the lines hanging there, like thoughts plucked from his mind without fully finding meaning yet. He flipped to the beginning of the notebook instead, slowly working his way through the old notes he had made since he had bought it. They were strings of thoughts which had kept him company, somewhere to place all the contemplations he had no one to share with. 

 

Wrapped myself up in all the tattered pages; a forlorn fable

Faded lines, my message in a bottle is shattering now and sinking down

I'm growing to know time as it goes

Everything's changing

Break me with that truth

 

Reading them always made Xie Lian’s heart ache a little, but not solely in a bad way. It was sometimes the only thing keeping him from drowning in thoughts, loud and vicious. Xie Lian flipped to the next page, his eyes roaming over the known words.

 

It's two steps forward, three steps back again

I'll turn my face against it I won't run

'Cause courage and belief are my redeems

No one else can rescue me it seems

'Cause if I don't follow my heart this time

I'm gonna forget what this life is all about

I'm gonna take that path I'm going on my own

I'm gonna take that fear and wear it like a crown

 

He let out a sigh and closed the notebook, tucking it safely into his backpack which stood at the side of the bed. Xie Lian smiled, and let his feet slip from the covers to walk over to the bathroom to get ready. Everything in the house was so beautifully made. Xie Lian repeatedly became awed over the detail and finery. He had the night before as well, when Hua Cheng showed him around the full expanse of his house. In one of the wings of the house there was a music room, with a large grand piano as well as several guitars hung up on the walls. Xie Lian had been in awe, walking around the room and looking at all the instruments. Then there was Hua Cheng’s bedroom, which was further down the hall from the guestroom Xie Lian was sleeping in. Other than that there was a home gym, and a very cosy TV-room, a stark difference to the more empty ones they had passed when coming from the garage. Those seemed to be more for hosting guests, while the rooms in the wings seemed more personal and lived in. 

It was nice, Xie Lian thought, to get to know Hua Cheng in this way, to see what he liked so intimately. Xie Lian pulled on one of his two sweaters, and the pair of too big jeans he had been given all those months ago, and walked out into the corridor. The door to Hua Cheng’s bedroom was closed, and Xie Lian considered for a moment if he should walk over to it. He decided against it, not wanting to invade Hua Cheng’s privacy. He was probably doing that too much already. Instead he walked out into the main part of the house, and was soon joined by E’ming who came and caressed against his leg. Xie Lian crunched down to pet him, feeling a smile curl on his lips. E’ming was just such a sweet little cat.

“Are you hungry, hm?” he asked, and E’ming meowed, making Xie Lian laugh. “I’ll try to make some breakfast for San Lang and me, you want to come?”

E’ming answered with another enthusiastic meow, and Xie Lian scooped him up in his arms and petted him as they walked out into the kitchen. The garden looked beautiful in the morning light, the sun streaming between the threes creating an almost ethereal feeling. Xie Lian couldn’t help but step up to the doors and open them. The house was lined with black stones, but just one more step and Xie Lian was standing on the dewy grass, his toes sinking in. The air felt so fresh, and he took a deep breath of it as he looked into the warm shimmering light of the sun. 

It was incredibly pretty.

“Gege’s awake,” Hua Cheng called behind him, and Xie Lian turned back to look at him, smiling widely at the sound of his voice. His smile seemed to come so easily around Hua Cheng, who was standing leaning against the opening, looking carefree. His long hair was loose, with only a single braid hanging beside his face. He was in a black longsleeved teeshirt, stretching over his chest, and a pair of black slacks. He was truly breathtaking.

“Ah San Lang,” Xie Lian said, feeling his cheeks heat. He buried his hands into E’ming’s fur to distract himself. “Good morning.”

“Good morning Gege,” Hua Cheng answered. “Did Gege sleep well?” 

“Very well,” Xie Lian assured, stepping back towards the house. “I was planning to start breakfast for you, to treat you back from last night.”

“Let’s cook it together then Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian smiled and nodded, stepping in after him.

Cooking breakfast together was fun, and Xie Lian very much enjoyed spending time with Hua Cheng trying to figure it out. They made steamed buns with bean filling, and even though they became a little oddly shaped and slightly overcooked, Hua Cheng didn’t seem to mind. They ate them sitting side by side in the kitchen, E’ming having curled up on the bench after having eaten his own breakfast. 

“San Lang, I wanted to ask if there was any possibility for me to wash my clothes?” Xie Lian asked as Hua Cheng insisted on doing the dishes again. Xie Lian leaned his elbows on the counter, hands cupped around a cup of tea. “I don’t know if you think I’ll come back here after we go to the label, but it would really help me out if I could.”

“Gege is welcome to stay as long as he wants with San Lang,” Hua Cheng said casually, and Xie Lian felt something dangerously close to want fill his chest.

“What?” he asked, straightening. Hua Cheng turned, his sleeves rolled up now as he was washing up from their cooking. Xie Lian’s gaze dropped to the tattoo again, but still couldn’t make it out. It looked like letters. He looked up quickly, so as not to be caught staring.

“Mn,” Hua Cheng said with a nod, looking far too carefree for someone who had just offered Xie Lian a place to… live? No that couldn't have been what he meant, could it? “Gege is always welcome here.”

“Oh, I don’t want to impose,” Xie Lian insisted. “I don’t know what I’d do here.”

“Gege can use the washing machine here,” Hua Cheng said with a nod, drying his hands on a dish towel. “We can sort it out later.”

“Thank you San Lang,” Xie Lian said, jumping down from the stool. He was joined by Hua Cheng, and together they stepped from the kitchen. 

“Does Gege need to borrow some clothes in the meantime?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian blinked up at him.

“I could?” he asked. That would be very considerate of Hua Cheng, but it would help him out to be able to wear something else so he could wash it all.

“Of course,” Hua Cheng said, and turned them down towards his own bedroom.
“Ah, San Lang, that would help,” Xie Lian said. “Then I could clean all of it in one go.”

“Let’s get Gege some good clothes then,” Hua Cheng answered, and then guided Xie Lian to his closet, where he pulled out a crimson red longsleeved teeshirt, as well as a pair of black jeans. “I’m sorry Gege, the color scheme in this closet is limited.”

“Not at all!” Xie Lian cheered, and instantly pulled the sweater he was wearing over his head to pull on the other. Hua Cheng swiftly turned away, and only then did Xie Lian realise that perhaps it was odd to start undressing so suddenly. He had simply gotten used to having to change in front of people, not only as an artist when costume changes happened wherever it was quickest, but in the various jobs he had since then.

“Ah, s-sorry San Lang,” he said, pushing down his pants and pulling on the new ones in a hurry. He felt his cheeks burn in embarrassment. “I’m almost done.”
“Gege can take as long as he needs,” Hua Cheng said, his voice sounding strained. Ah, Xie Lian had really made him uncomfortable then. He hurried to finish dressing, smiling at the sensation of the comfortable clothes. 

“They’re so soft!” he cheered, and Hua Cheng turned tentatively back. Xie Lian beamed at him, and was met with a slightly wide eyed gaze, Hua Cheng’s cheeks coloring. “Thank you San Lang!”

“I’m glad Gege feels comfortable,” he said, and Xie Lian nodded as he ran his hands over the clothing. They really were so soft. “He looks very handsome.”

“Ah, San Lang,” Xie Lian said, ducking his head as he pushed some hair behind his ear. It reached just below his shoulders now. It was nice. He felt more like himself the longer it grew. He could wear it half-up, half-down now too, which he was doing now. “San Lang is too kind.”

“This way to the washing machine,” Hua Cheng said, and they stopped by the guestroom to pick up Xie Lian’s other clothes, including the barista outfit, before putting them in the washing machine.

After that they walked back to the garage and drove down to Ghost City record studio, light conversation between them. Hua Cheng was so easy to be around. Xie Lian almost regretted it when the drive was over and they were once again parked in the garage of the record studio, only for the reason that they’re conversation had to end. Hua Cheng seemed to… no, Xie Lian couldn’t think of such things. It would hurt too much, later, if he did. 

“So, what was it that San lang wanted to show me?” Xie Lian said as they stepped into the elevator, and Hua Cheng looked over at him, resting against the wall. 

“I just think there are a few here that would like to see Gege, and maybe Gege would like to see them too,” Hua Cheng said as they ascended up to the fifth floor.  

“Mn,” Xie Lian said, wondering who would ever want to meet him. He didn’t voice that however, but stepped with Hua Cheng out of the elevator and walked towards his office. Resting against the wall just outside of it stood Yin Yu, who bowed his head to them as they came closer.

“Good day,” Yin Yu said as he rose, and Xie Lian smiled at him. 

“I thought I told you to take time off,” Hua Cheng said, his tone flat. Yin Yu hummed, but still followed them into the office.

“Yes well, I wanted to drop off the files you requested, if you would want to read them over,” Yin Yu said, glancing towards Xie Lian before handing over a large stack of papers to Hua Cheng. He looked back at Hua Cheng after just a moment, who motioned towards the desk. Yin Yu nodded, and placed them neatly in the center of it.

“I’ll go over them when I have the opportunity, and get back to you when I have,” Hua Cheng said, putting down his things on his desk. He looked up at Yin Yu then, his gaze stern. “Now scram.”

“Yes sir,” Yin Yu said, and bowed his head to both of them separately, before walking out of the room. Xie Lian followed him with his gaze, before he looked back to Hua Cheng who was eyeing the stack of papers with a complicated expression.

“If San Lang needs to work on that-”

“No,” Hua Cheng said, looking up from the papers and shaking his head. “Let's head down Gege.”

“Alright,” Xie Lian said with a nod, turning to follow Hua Cheng out. “Does San Lang usually help out with the artists?”

“If it’s needed,” he said with a shrug, pushing the button for the third floor. “I let them do mostly as they want. I signed them because I believe in them to handle themselves.”

“Sometimes some guidance can be helpful though,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng nodded.

“Gege is very right about that,” he agreed, as the elevator slowed. “They simply get to decide that for themselves. If they need voice coaches or choreographers, they can ask for help. They can take in who they need.” They excited the elevator to a large hallway, with several couch groups standing in the space. There was one corridor leading to the right and one to the left, and muffled music could be heard from the left. Hua Cheng turned them to the right, steps confident and easy.

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, frowning as he nodded. That was completely opposite from what he was used to after all. “That’s very fascinating. Does it work?”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed with a nod. “They’re capable adults. They know what’s best for their music. I just check in to make sure they’re able to create like they want to.”

“Fascinating,” Xie Lian said, cupping his chin as he considered. “San Lang wants them to find their own path?”

“Mn,” he said, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. “I can recommend people, if they're looking for something in particular. I don’t want them to feel abandoned. It’s a balancing act.”

“That’s- San Lang,” Xie Lian said, feeling a little overwhelmed. Hua Cheng paused and looked over at him, frowning a little.

“Gege?” he asked, and Xie Lian shook his head and pressed a smile onto his face. He wasn’t sure if he should laugh or cry. Had he felt different about his own music, if he had been given such opportunities as San Lang did? There was no need to dwell on it really, and yet Xie Lian couldn’t help but wonder. 

“Ah, it’s nothing San Lang,” he assured, shaking his head. “I think that’s a very good way to work, creatively.”

“I’m glad Gege thinks so,” Hua Cheng said with a smile, his expression softer now. “It’s worked out so far.” His grin turned sharper then, but not unkind. They had come to stop in front of a door, and from behind it Xie Lian could hear piano music. 

“Who’s playing?” he asked, and Hua Cheng’s smile grew. 

“Let’s go inside, and Gege can see for himself,” he said, and Xie Lian felt nerves rise in his stomach but still nodded. Hua Cheng reached for the door handle, and then stepped into the control room of a recording studio. The room was rather small, but with enough space for a control table as well as a couch, both looking out over the studio. It was neither big nor small, painted in a deep red color. 

“Hua Cheng,” the man behind the mixertable greeted, standing up. He was younger, in his early twenties probably. He had dark half long hair, with kind but sharp eyes. Hua Cheng hummed in greeting, and then the man looked over at Xie Lian and his eyes widened. “Wow,” he said, and Xie Lian laughed nervously. The man looked over at Hua Cheng next, and a smile grew on his face. “She’s going to freak out.”

“Gege, this is Pei Su,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian nodded in greeting. “He’s signed in a duet with Banyue, who’s the girl in the studio.”

At the mention of the name Xie Lian felt his eyes grow wider, and he looked into the studio. By the piano sat a girl with her slim fingers pushing down the keys. She looked so much like she had when she was younger but still so grown up. Her hair was longer, dark grey falling down her back. Her forehead was covered by a nearly cut fringe, and her purple eyes were focused forward, looking at the wall to the right of where Xie Lian and the others were standing. Suddenly, he remembered Pei Su too.

“Wha-” Xie Lian said, blinking as he looked at Pei Su who had sat down once again, and then at Hua Cheng. “You’re signed here, both of you?”

“Yeah,” Pei Su said with a smile, looking into the studio at Banyue as his gaze grew soft. “It’s been what, two years now?”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, nodding. He had sat down on the couch in the back, resting one leg over the other. His gaze gleamed with something, but Xie Lian was too caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts to fully be able to concentrate on what it meant. 

“Two years, that much have been right after…” Xie Lian said before he trailed off, but Pei Su didn’t seem to carry the weight of it the same way Xie Lian did.

“White No Face kicked us out?” Pei Su asked for clarification, and Xie Lian nodded. “Yeah, after they released our contract and booted us, I think it was only a week until Hua Cheng contacted us.” 

“San Lang, you reached out to them?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng met his gaze and nodded. Banyue had been a solo artist signed by White No Face-Entertainment. She was only thirteen when she was signed, and was seventeen when they released her contract. It was, as it always was, a big scandal within the Heavenly Realm, when the gossip of the newly signed cousin of Pei Ming, which was to be part of another boy group, and Banyue had been found out to have a secret relationship. Xie Lian had been on a photoshoot event alone when it happened, and had come home to hear that the girl he had been tutoring in singing had been tossed out along with the guys she supposedly had a relationship with. 

“Of course, they’re a good duo, I saw no reason not to,” Hua Cheng said as if it was the simplest thing in the world. Xie Lian didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. 

“We’ve released one EP and one album together since,” Pei Su said with a proud smile, and Xie Lian smiled back. That was amazing. Then, Pei Su’s expression fell slightly. “She was very worried, when- after everything that happened last year.”

“Ah, well,” Xie Lian said, unsure of what to say to that. He squirmed, and looked into the studio instead. The piece Banyue was playing seemed to be coming to an end, and he watched as she played out the last notes, closing her eyes as her fingers fell from the keys. A smile spread on her lips, and she turned to the control room with an excited expression. 

“Pei Su!” she cheered, and then her eyes grew wide as she spotted Xie Lian. It was as if she froze, unblinking. Xie Lian felt something tighten in his chest and without a second thought, and stepped through the door to the side, and the isolation lock, before stepping out into the studio. 

“Xianle,” she breathed as the door opened, standing from the piano stool. Xie Lian shook his head, pausing just inside the door.

“Not Xianle anymore, Banyue,” he said, and then saw tears spring to her eyes as she rushed over. Xie Lian caught her with a slight oof , as she collided into his chest. She was still so small, her face only reaching to the middle of his chest, where she buried it as she wept. Xie Lian was slightly startled, but then wrapped his arms around her too. “It’s okay,” he soothed, and she let out a mix of a sob and a laugh, pushing her face up to meet his gaze. “You played beautifully.”

Banyue smiled widely, and then stepped away to wipe her tears away. “I’m so happy to see you,” she said, letting out a long breath. “I worried, when everything happened and with the news and Hua Cheng couldn’t find you and I-” she shook her head, and let out a slow breath. “It’s very good to see you.”

“Likewise,” Xie Lian said, before letting out a slow breath. “I’m so sorry, that I wasn’t there when-”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Banyue said with a stubborn shake of her head. “I know you couldn’t have done anything and while it was… not good at the time, it’s better now. So much better now.”

“Yes, your Pei Su told me,” Xie Lian said with a smile. “I’m so glad. Will you play me something? I would love to hear something that you’ve made.”

Banyue nodded eagerly, and then turned towards the glass and grinned so widely. She looked so much happier now. Before, there had always been this tension in her shoulders, and anxiousness about the way she held herself. It wasn’t gone fully, but she looked comfortable here. Safe.

“Pei Su!” she called, and he laughed. “Come in and sing something with me.” 

Xie Lian looked too, and Pei Su soon disappeared from the window to come into the studio, Xie Lian traded placed with him, and instead sat down on the couch next to Hua Cheng

“I’m so glad San Lang took care of them,” Xie Lian said, his eyes on the glass and the couple behind it, who were trying to decide which song to play. “She looks so much happier.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng said. “They went through what all of them do as they come, the denial and the shame and the worry, but they’ve settled now. I’m sure that the third album will be as good as the previous ones, if not better.”

“San Lang is responsible for that,” Xie Lian said, looking at him as he felt warmth grow in his chest. “I’m so glad San Lang, that you helped them.”

“This San Lang is very happy he could make Gege glad with such a small action,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian wanted to argue that it was in no way small, but then Banyue started playing, the notes of the piano filling the space. Xie Lian looked away from Hua Cheng, and focused on the couple sitting on the stool in the studio. Banyue’s fingers pressed down the keys, and Pei Su started singing. 

 

Sick of sleeping with the light on, Chasing shadows

We're the brokenhearted, Running out of fools to hide from

But you always see the truth

Yours is the hand that I hold, You're all I need

 

Walk With Me

I'm a million miles away, From who I wanna be

Don't give up on me

I know I've made mistakes, Just promise that you'll stay

Walk With Me

And tell me that I'm never alone

Never alone

Tell me

'Cause I'm tired of walking alone

 

Pei Su smiled, looking so fond it made Xie Lian’s heart ache. To think that it had all turned out like this. A smile spread on his lips. They truly had wonderful chemistry together, even performing like this. Jun Wu had missed out on something genuine and tender here, something beautiful. Relationships weren’t allowed, not within the label and not outside of it. Banuye sang the next verse and chorus, her eyes locked with Pei Su’s as she sang. Her voice had improved too, even if Xie Lian could still hear his own influence there as well.

 

And even though the road is so long

I know you'll take me back to where it started

It seems as though I only go wrong, But you always see the truth

Yours is the hand that I hold, You're all I need

 

Walk With Me

I'm a million miles away, From who I wanna be

Don't give up on me

I know I've made mistakes, Just promise that you'll stay

Walk With Me

And tell me that I'm never alone

Never alone

Tell me

'Cause I'm tired of walking alone

 

They sang the rest of the song together, their voices harmonizing accompanied by the piano. Xie Lian smiled widely, just as they did, and when the song ended he couldn't help but stand and clap. Banyue looked over at him, and her cheeks pinked but her purple eyes were shining. 

“What did you think?” she asked, and Xie Lian held two thumbs up. 

“It was beautiful,” he said. “Your voices work very well together, you’ve grown vocally too, Banyue.”

“Ah,” she said, and then hid her face in Pei Su’s shoulder, which only caused him to laugh. Xie Lian turned to look at Hua Cheng, finding him already looking at him. 

“Is this one of the new ones?” he asked, and Hua Cheng hummed. “It’s very good. Did they write it?”

“Yes, they had some help from another artist here on the label, but most of it is theirs,” Hua Cheng said, before he stood. “I would like to introduce Gege to someone else too, if Gege doesn’t mind.”

“Oh, of course,” Xie Lian said with a nod, looking back into the studio. He paused, and then turned back to Hua Cheng. “Let me just- I want to say goodbye to her.”
“Gege can take as much time as he needs,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian nodded, heading into the studio again. It felt a little silly. He hadn’t thought too much about Banyue since he came back from that photoshoot and heard the news. Every now and then she would cross his mind, but so many were kicked out of the label for something they weren’t allowed to do, or not being good enough. He supposed he had gotten used to it. How horrible.

They were both on their feet as he entered, and Xie Lian gave some more feedback to the song and the performance, before he said he had to go. Banyue’s gaze drifted to the glass, before she looked back to him. She nodded, and leaned against Pei Su.

“I will see you later, Xie Lian,” she said, and Xie Lian smiled. It was nice to hear her say his name like that.

“See you later, Banyue,” he agreed, even though he wasn’t at all sure if it was true. For all he knew, he would be heading back tomorrow or even later that night, and he wouldn’t see her at all, maybe ever. Still, he waived and walked back. He threw one last gaze into the studio before they walked back into the corridor, and was granted the view of Banyue talking excitedly, her arms moving as fast as he lips. Pei Su only smiled and watched her, the image of smitten. 

Xie Lian’s heart swelled, and another brick was added to the wall of stones where Jun Wu’s teachings had proved to be wrong. He had not expected to be met with it in this way.

“Was it alright Gege?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian humed in question as he looked up at him. “It wasn’t too much, seeing them? I knew you had history, and I knew she would want to see you.”

“No, I was very happy to meet her again, San Lang,” Xie Lian assured. “It was a little ah… surprising, but I’m very happy to. I’m so very grateful to San Lang, for having helped her achieve so many wonderful things.”

“I hardly did anything,” Hua Cheng said, guiding Xie Lian down the left side of the hallway. “It’s not like I don’t benefit from it too.”

“Of course,” Xie Lian said with a nod. He still thought it was a very good way to have acted, and couldn’t help but feel a little struck by the difference between the two labels. “Who was it that San Lang wanted to introduce me to?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng’s grin turned a little wicked. 

“Gege will meet them later, but for now I have to do this,” he said, stopping in front of another door. “This San Lang is  sorry about this.” 

“Wha-” Xie Lian started, but Hua Cheng pushed the door open in a rush, the handle bangging against the wall as he walked inside. Xie Lian followed, as a loud shriek and a groan followed. 

“Aaaaah!” a person lying on the floor shouted, scrambling to pull a… was that a blanket? or some other type of fabric over their at least half naked body. Xie Lian didn’t let his eyes linger long enough to be sure, but averted them up to the ceiling. There had been a second person there too, Xie Lian was fairly sure. He didn’t dare look back down to confirm however.

“Oh god,” Xie Lian said, as a deeper voice groaned loudly.

“Hua Cheng!” the deep voice complained, and Xie Lian wanted to look down to try to see who it was but he didn’t dare too. 

“Oh my god,” the other, lighter, voice said, and there was more scrambling. “Oh my god, Hua Cheng!”

“Don’t say my name like that when you’re half dressed,” Hua Cheng said, his voice flat.

“Why don’t you knock?!” the shrieking person accused, and Xie Lian dared to look to the side where Hua Cheng stood, his arms casually crossed before him. His brow was arched, a gleam of mischief in his eye. How was he constantly so handsome?

“This is my label. I do whatever I want,” he pointed out, and a deep sigh fell from one of the persons who may or may not still be on the floor. Hua Cheng looked over at Xie Lian then, and smirked. 

“Are they dressed yet?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng’s expression softened.

“I’m sorry Gege, I didn’t expect them to be quite so naked in an unlocked dance studio,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian nodded. He had not expected it either. He did realise however, that Hua Cheng must have expected them to be somewhat naked, and couldn’t help but wonder if this was a common occurrence or if Hua Cheng had x-ray vision. 

“We’re decent now, Xianle,” the lighter voice said, and Xie Lian frowned from the title, but didn’t dare look. Hua Cheng did however, snorting.

“There is nothing decent about either of you,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian dared to look back slowly. 

“Aw,” the person with the lighter voice said, their brown hair tied up in a bun on their head. They were in a light green and white sweater, which hugged their curves closely. A blanket was covering their legs, but one shin was sticking out, bare. Their looks were adronogyous, and Xie Lian had a sensation that they might have met before. Beside them sat another man, with long black hair up in a ponytail, tied with something golden. He was in full black clothing, rumpled. He looked incredibly annoyed. They sat close together, and the man in black was leaning in towards the person in white a little, and Xie Lian was fairly sure their legs were tangled together under the blanket.

“Do you enjoy walking in on people, you pervert?” the one in black asked, his face turned to Hua Cheng, who looked moderately annoyed. 

“I enjoy embarrassing you,” he said, and Xie Lian shook his head as a smile crept up on his face. He wasn’t supposed to think something like that was cute, was he? “I wanted you to meet Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian looked away from Hua Cheng to smile at the two men sitting on the floor, waving. “I’m regretting it now though.”

“Hi!” Xie Lian said, and the one which seemed to have a bit more cheerful disposition smiled back. The man in black only raised an eyebrow at him.

“Hello Xianle,” the person with lighter hair said. “It’s nice to see you again.” 

“Xianle,” the man in black said, and Xie Lian waved his hands dismissively as he let out an embarrassed laugh. 

“Ah, Xie Lian, please,” he said, before he swallowed and looked down at his hands. “I am not…  not anymore.”
“Hm, well I can understand that,” the person in white said, and Xie Lian looked up at them. They had said they had met before. Xie Lian might recognize them now that he thought about it, but he wasn't sure from where. “I’m Shi Qingxuan! We met when I was under a different name and gender though. The Wind Master.”

“Oh!” Xie Lian exclaimed, a very different person emerging from his memory. Without breasts. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t recognize you!” How embarrassing. Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat.

“It’s very fine,” Shi Qingxuan said with a smile, giggling a little. “It makes me a little happy even. This is He Xuan.” They turned to the man beside him, who was looking just as sulky as before. 

“He’s Black Water Sinking Ships, in Calamities,” Hua Cheng added, and Xie Lian’s brows rose.

“Oh!” he said again. Today was truly a day of surprises. “Hello. I am a big fan of your music. I listened to a lot of it before I collaborated with San Lang last year. You’re very talented.” Shi Qingxuan smiled brightly, as if it was them who had been given a complement, and leaned into He Xuan a little, who seemed unfazed by their behavior, not acknowledging nor rejecting it. If anything, he leaned in a little closer too. 

They were cute.

“San Lang?” He Xuan asked, looking over at Hua Cheng with a questioning gaze. Ah. Was Xie Lian perhaps not supposed to call him that anymore? He hadn’t even asked!

“Mn,” Hua Cheng simply said, offering no further explanation.

“You let him give you a nickname?” He Xuan asked, sounding beyond confused. 

“San Lang told me to use it,” Xie Lian hurried to say, and then turned to Hua Cheng with wide eyes. “Do you want me to stop?” He really had not meant to offend Hua Cheng, the name Hua Cheng had given him when they met had simply continued coming as he spoke to him.

“I prefer if Gege calls me San Lang, but he can call me whatever he wants,” Hua Cheng said with a soft smile, and Xie Lian let out a relieved sigh. 

“If San Lang wants me to call him San Lang, then I will,” he agreed easily, and saw a smile spread on Hua Cheng’s lips.
“Wow,” Shi Qingxuan said from the floor. “Facintating.”

“It’s grose,” He Xuan said, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush, looking away. Was he so obvious? Surely Hua Cheng must find him terribly silly, if his ogeling was so visible. 

“He-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan gasped, slapping He Xuan on the arm. He Xuan frowned and looked at them, and Shi Qingxuan’s frown instantly became soft instead. Xie Lian had never been close with Shi Qingxuan when they were signed as The Wind Master at White No Face-Entertainment, he only knew he was a sibling to Shi Wudu, from The Three Tumors. Xie Lian wasn’t even sure why Shi Qingxuan had left the label. He was sure he had been told at some point, but it seemed he had not memorised it. It made him feel a little bad. 

“Gege we should go,” Hua Cheng said to his side, and Xie Lien looked at him.

“Oh?” he asked, and Hua Cheng nodded.

“Mn, the ones I wanted you to meet have started practicing on floor two now,” he explained, and Xie Lian nodded. He wondered what the next room would hold. They had all surprised him so far. 

“Alright,” Xie Lian said, turning to nod to Shi Qingxuan and He Xuan. “It was very nice to meet both of you. Sorry for interrupting.” Xie Lian blushed at his last words, looking away. It made Shi Qingxuan laugh. 

“Nice to meet you Xie Lian!” they said, and when Xie Lian looked back they were beaming. “We’ll see you soon.”

“Ah,” Xie Lian said, unsure how to answer that. “Goodbye.”

They exited the dancing studio, and Xie Lian and Hua Cheng walked side by side back to the elevator and down to the second floor.

“How long has Shi Qingxuan been here?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng hummed as he tapped his lips with his fingers.

“They started coming with He Xuan almost four years ago, but I didn’t sign them until about a year and a half ago,” Hua Cheng said.

“Oh, they’re a performer here too?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng nodded as they stepped out on the second floor. The layout seemed similar to the floor above, and Hua Cheng motioned for them to walk to the left. 

“Mn, they are. They wanted to be done with transitioning first,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian nodded in understanding. He couldn’t know how one wanted to go through such a process, but perhaps it felt better to do so out of the media's eye if possible. “Here we are.”

“What will we meet in here San Lang?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng paused opening the door and turned to him. “Another ghost from my past?” It was meant to be teasing, but Xie Lian felt his heart sink as he saw Hua Cheng’s smile fall.

“Ah, Gege I’m sorry, this San Lang never meant-”

“Oh, no San Lang I’m only- this Gege is only teasing, really,” Xie Lian said, shaking his head as he felt his cheeks heat. “It’s only been nice surprises, just a little odd. I wasn’t expecting it.”

“Mn, I will inform Gege better in the future,” Hua Cheng promised. “This is a group, I thought perhaps Gege would like to sit in for a bit on their dance practice.”

“You have groups that dance signed as well?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng nodded. 

“If they’re good enough, why not sign them?” he asked, and then smiled, and ducked his head a little. “Would Gege like to see?”

“Yes, please,” Xie Lian agreed. “It’s been a long time since I saw dancing.”

Hua Cheng smiled, and then pushed the door open. The pop music from inside filled Xie Lian’s ears, and he immediately saw a group of four boys standing before a mirror wall, dancing along to a song. They were singing along as well, even if there were lyrics recorded, and they all continued even as Hua Cheng and Xie Lian entered. There was a couch on the same wall as the door, and Hua Cheng led them over to sit on it. There was a woman sitting on it, and she nodded in acknowledgement as they sat down.

“Gege, this is their manager, Xiao Yi You,” Hua Cheng introduced, Xie Lian bowed his head in greeting.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, his gaze drifting to the mirror to watch the group. They were good, both vocally and in rhythm. The number screamed potential, and yet… no, Xie Lian shouldn’t think about it. 

“It’s an honor Xie Lian,” Xiao Yi You said, and Xie Lian looked back at her, feeling his cheeks heat. It was odd. For a year now, no one had treated him with such respect, but in every room they stepped into no one was anything but pleasant and kind. He didn’t really know what to make of it. It was probably just because he was with Hua Cheng. “The boys will be thrilled to see you.”

“I’m very happy to get to sit in on their practice too,” Xie Lian assured, and rested back to watch them with rapt attention. 

 

_________________________

 

They stayed to see the group rehearse three full run-throughs of their choreography, with a pause between the first and the second where there was a lot of screaming and asking for photos with Xie Lian, which mostly left him flustered. They were very sweet boys, but Xie Lian was hardly used to such a thing anymore. After the third run through Hua Cheng announced that they needed to go, and Xie Lian thanked them for letting him sit in, before leaving with Hua Cheng. They walked down to the main entrance, and then out into the street, Hua Cheng guiding Xie Lian to his favorite lunch place. Xie Lian realised he had left all the money he had at Hua Cheng’s house, only now realising that he had left his backpack there as well, which he had been so careful about keeping with him at all times otherwise. How odd.

Hua Cheng only smiled when Xie Lian admitted to having forgotten his money, and announced that he was going to pay anyway. Xie Lian wasn’t sure how he was ever going to pay Hua Cheng back, but he kept in mind the meal cost, and made a mental note to write it down in his book later. 

After a very pleasant and tasty lunch, they walked back to the label. They had just stepped into an empty dance studio on floor three when Hua Cheng’s phone rang. Hua Cheng frowned, and then sighed as he looked up and met Xie Lian’s gaze.

“San Lang should not let me prevent him from doing his job,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Chen pouted. Oh. Far too cute. “I will be alright.”

“San Lang will be right back,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian smiled and nodded, before he stepped out into the corridor. Xie Lien let out a sigh, and turned to look at himself in the mirror, feeling a little surprised in what he saw. He usually kept away from mirrors now, since it made him feel… empty. Now however, he couldn’t help but smile, seeing himself in Hua Cheng’s too big clothing. He looked more like a street dancer or a rapper then how he was used to seeing himself in these places. Xie Lian shook his head, and took a tentative dance step, and then another, laughing a little. It seemed like his body didn’t want to stop however, and Xie Lian let it move. His knee had healed it seemed, or at least it didn’t cause him any pain now, so he continued. It was only strings of different old choreographies at first, but it didn’t take too long before Xie Lian started to mimic what he had seen that morning, just before lunch.

The choreography was good, but there was something missing to make it great. Xie Lian moved through the parts he remembered, over and over, trying out something new here, and then something different there. He didn’t even notice Hua Cheng coming back, until he finished a runthrough of it, and met his gaze in the mirror behind him. Hua Cheng’s expression was bright, his eyes gleaming as he started to slow-clap. Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat, and he looked away, rubbing at his neck in embarrassment.

“Gege is truly a powerful dancer,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian let out a nervous laugh as he shook his head. He turned from the mirror to face him properly, seeing Hua Cheng resting back against the wall.  “Is this what we saw earlier?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian admitted. “I didn’t mean to copy them or anything I just- I wanted to try it.”

“Gege only saw it a couple of times,” Hua Cheng pointed out, and now it was Xie Lian’s turn to frown.

“Yeah well, that’s all you got most of the time,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng’s mouth twisted for just a moment, but then he nodded.

“Okay,” he said, and then his expression softened. “Would Gege dance it again, and San Lang could watch?” he asked, and Xie Lian felt nerves rise in his chest. Still he nodded.

“Yes, of course,” he agreed, and moved over to the middle of the dance floor to get into position, and then danced. 



“Did you enjoy it?” Hua Cheng asked when Xie Lian was finished. He had sat down on the floor now, his back still resting against the wall.

“Mn, I love dancing,” Xie Lian admitted with a smile, sitting down on the dance floor facing San Lang, with the mirror behind him. Hua Cheng looked pensive, his eye moving over Xie Lian’s face as if searching for something. Xie Lian was just about to ask, when Hua Cheng spoke up.

“Gege, instead of going back tomorrow… if he would want, Gege could stay?” he asked, and Xie Lian felt his mind screach to a halt.

“What?” he asked, blinking. Something inside him instantly screamed yes, but it wasn’t practical. He had no job here, no home. He had enjoyed these days with Hua Cheng so much but he didn’t understand why Hua Cheng would want him to stay.

“To choreograph? Or to write, whatever Gege wants to do at the label, this San Lang would be very fortunate for his help,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian shook his head in disbelief. He wasn’t good enough for that, and with his luck he would burn Hua Cheng’s label to the ground, like he had with so many lives he had ruined before this. He could still hear Jun Wu’s voice from the hospital in his mind, describing everything Xie Lian had destroyed.

“San Lang I…“ Xie Lian said, trailing off. He didn’t know what to say, it felt like his mind was at war with itself, and he was lost in what to do.

“Only if Gege wants to of course,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug, but his black eye kept Xie Lian’s gaze. “It would be a job. Gege would get paid.”

“I have no place to stay,” Xie Lian weakly argued, because Hua Cheng had penetrated the first point of Xie Lian’s excuses to say no. 

“Gege can stay with me, he can borrow one of the cars and come and go as he pleases,” Hua Cheng said, as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Xie Lian shook his head. It was too much. He couldn’t understand why Hua Cheng was doing this.

“Ah, I don’t drive San Lang,” Xie Lian said. None of the artists had been permitted to learn… or at least he hadn’t. Hua Cheng shrugged.

“Then San Lang will take you, or one of the label staff if Gege would prefer,” he said, and Xie Lian almost wanted to laugh at the thought of Hua Cheng becoming his personal driver. It was beyond silly. Still, he wanted to stay so much it made his chest ache. There was one very big obstacle however. “Or, Gege can stay until he has the means to rent somewhere.”

“I’m not sure I can stay,” he said again, and Hua Cheng’s brows furrowed as he nodded slowly, looking down on the floor.

“Can’t? It’s okay if Gege doesn’t want to,” he said, sounding almost hurt. Xie Lian inched closer, but refrained from crawling over to him even though he wanted to. He was very aware of them not having touched since they met again, and Xie Lian wasn't sure why he was keeping track, but somehow he was.

“No San Lang I- I very much do… it’s just that White No Face-Entertainment sort of owns me, creatively,” Xie Lian admitted, and Hua Cheng’s gaze grew wide as he snapped his face up to meet Xie Lian’s again. 

“What does Gege mean by that?” he asked, and Xie Lian let out a sigh, leaning his elbow on his knee and his chin in his hand.

“The contracts,” he said in explanation. “White No Face-Entertainment still owns my voice and dancing, at least. I don’t know what more.” 

“Didn’t they break the contracts when they kicked Gege out?” Hua Cheng asked, looking very confused. Xie Lian shook his head.

“Oh no, Jun Wu still wants me to come back,” he explained, and that made Hua Cheng look even more shocked. “At least that’s what he says when he manages to find me.”

“Gege is most talented, of course he does,” he still said, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat as he shook his head. He wasn’t talented. He was nothing. “Has he approached Gege since a year ago?”

“Yes he’s made it clear that I’m not allowed to make music or dance anywhere else,” Xie Lian explained, trying not to think too much about that hospital bed, and the fear, and the pleading of him coming to Jun Wu’s side. “I don’t know if it’s true, but I don’t have any means to have something like that looked into. It hasn’t mattered much before either.”

“Would Gege permit this San Lang to look into this?” Hua Cheng asked. He pushed up on his hands and knees, crawling across the floor towards XIe Lian. He was graceful like this, Xie Lian thought. Like a cat or a fox moving towards him.

“Of course, but I might not be of much use,” Xie Lian argued. “I don’t want to waste San Lang’s time or money.” He would feel terrible, if Hua Cheng used his means, opening up his home to Xie Lian, only to find that Xie Lian couldn’t help him with anything at all. 

“It won’t take too long, and in the meantime we can call it un-credited consulting, and Gege can get paid for that,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian felt a thrill race up his spine. He should say no. He would only bring trouble here, to this place which was so filled with warmth. He should say no, but instead found himself saying: 

“San Lang is too good to me.”

Hua Cheng came to sit down right before him, a knowing grin spreading on his face, as if he already knew what Xie Lian would say next. Maybe he did. “So Gege will stay?” he asked, and Xie Lian nodded, hoping he wasn’t making a terrible mistake. 

“Yes, if San Lang will have me,” he said, and Hua Cheng’s smile spread even wider. 

Chapter Text

Xie Lian woke the next day, unsure of what to think. Had Hua Cheng really offered him a job yesterday? Had Xie Lian really accepted it? It felt like a dream. Just a week ago something like this had seemed impossible, completely out of his grasp and now… now he could create music again? Maybe… Xie Lian sighed and rolled over to his side, looking towards the window. Hua Cheng wanted to look into his contracts, if they would permit him to choreograph. He had even brought up writing songs. Xie Lian’s eyes strayed to the notebook to his side. He had placed it on the nightstand the night before after writing in it, instead of putting it into the backpack. He wasn’t sure why. He had been adamant about putting it in the bag since that night when he had been stabbed, because he almost lost it then. 

There was just something about this room, about this house, about E’ming purring at the end of the bed, of knowing Hua Cheng was sleeping just down the hall. It felt… safe.

Xie Lien squeezed his eyes shut. That thought was too scary. It was too fast, and he shouldn’t trust it. If Hua Cheng’s lawyers found Xie Lian couldn’t work creatively - if he was of now value for Hua Cheng - wouldn’t he be kicked out? Tears sprung to Xie Lian’s eyes as he considered it, but pushed it down. Everything surrounding Hua Cheng seemed to pull all his emotions to the surface, unlike anything else did. Interlacing that with the possibility to create again. It was all too good to pass up. Xie Lian had called the coffee shop last night and quit his job, and had called the landlord to give up the room he had rented. It felt so easy, even though he shouldn’t have been. 

A part of him was desperate to ask Hua Cheng why. Why was he willing to do this for Xie Lian? Another part didn’t dare to ask. He wanted to stay here, in this feeling of safety. He had gotten better at being in the moment, enjoying the good things now, and that was what he was going to do. Enjoy this, until it was ripped from under his feet.

With a sigh he pulled himself from bed, and with a flush coloring his cheeks he pulled on the clothes Hua Cheng had lent him the day before. His own were still hanging to dry, so he could indulge in these for a little while longer. They really were much more comfortable, even if they were just as ill fitting. E’ming wasn’t roused from Xie Lian leaving, so he let him sleep, stepping out into the hallway. 

He moved quietly over to one of the large empty rooms in the middle of the house, and sat down to stretch. It was familiar movements, even though he hadn’t done them in a long time, at least not like this. It was methodological but comforting, and the movement soon turned faster, warming his body up. His feet were light on the floor, and he moved into the choreography from the day before. He felt out of his depth giving feedback when he himself had never choreographed something that FCG had used, but still he really wanted this. The ideas he had the day before felt good, and he hoped he could be of use for the group.

Soft footsteps behind him brought Xie Lian out of his musings, and he spun around to see Hua Cheng standing there. He was in a pair of black pajama pants that hung low on his hips, with a red robe resting over his shoulders, untied. Xie Lian’s brain short circuited, and he quickly snapped his gaze up to Hua Cheng’s face so he wouldn’t get stuck looking at his pecs. He had forgotten about Hua Cheng’s habit of being partly or fully shirtless.

“Morning Gege,” Hua Cheng said, looking amused by Xie Lian’s reaction. Did Xie Lian seem flustered? He hoped not, even though he certainly felt it.

“Good morning San Lang,” he answered a little too quickly, swallowing thickly before continuing. “Did you sleep well?”

“Much better than in a long time,” Hua Cheng answered, and Xie Lian frowned.

“Oh,” he answered, worry swirling in his chest. “Does San Lang usually not sleep well?”

“It’s nothing to worry about Gege,” Hua Cheng assured with a dismissive wave of his hand, even as his gaze turned soft. “I see Gege woke up inspired.”

“Mn,” Xie Lian agreed with a nod. “I’m excited about today, but I really want to stay true to San Lang’s philosophy with his artist. I want to give them a fair chance to think about it and say no if they don’t feel like it would be a good fit. I know that working with me might bring them unwanted publicity, and that’s the last thing I want for them.”

“Gege doesn’t need to worry about that,” Hua Cheng assured, and Xie Lian shook his head. He didn’t mean to be rude, it was just that Hua Cheng couldn’t know what it might be like for the boys when it became known that Xie Lian had worked with them. He really didn’t want them to have to deal with what Xie Lian had dealt with in the past year.

“San Lang,” he said, fidgeting in place a little before he looked down at his hands. “I know you’re very good at handling the press, and I very much respect that… it’s just that in the past year they’ve been… I just don’t want them to have to face anything close to what I did, especially not because of me.”

“Gege has the kindest heart,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian glanced back up at him. “We will ask them today then, and see what they say?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian agreed, a smile spreading on his face. Hua Cheng was so good at that, to respect Xie Lian’s wishes. It was a little dizzying. 

The group immediately said yes. Xie Lian felt a little stunned how it tumbled out of all of them in a rush, the boys almost jumping over each other in excitement. He still urged them to talk it over together as a group, and even presented the downsides about working with him. Hua Cheng seemed less pleased about that, standing by the door with his arms folded over his chest. When Xie Lian returned in the afternoon the decision from the group still stood firm, and with that Xie Lian was invited to the floor to dance with them. They were in awe over him already knowing the choreography, and Xie Lian spent the entire afternoon dancing alongside them, and showing ways he thought the choreography could be improved. Hua Cheng went with him initially, but left after the group had accepted Xie Lian’s help to attend label business. Xie Lian wasn’t surprised. Hua Cheng owned a successful record company after all. Of course he had much to do. 

It didn’t mean Xie Lian didn’t miss him, which he firmly decided not to acknowledge any further than the treacherous whisper in the back of his mind. 

The group called it a day at a decent hour for dinner with plans of meeting back the next day to continue to work. Xie Lian felt excitement grow in his chest. He had missed this, but he hadn’t known it, or perhaps he hadn’t let himself fully acknowledge it. 

He found Hua Cheng in his office, leaning over a stack of papers with a deep frown on his face. He was far too handsome, really. Xie Lian paused in the open door for a moment to simply look at him, the shape of his jaw and the slope of his nose. Hua Cheng noticed of course, and then looked up and met his gaze. As soon as he saw that it was Xie Lian, his indifferent glare turned into a smile, which made Xie Lian’s heart jump in his chest. 

They left together soon after, driving into the city to buy take-out before going back up to Hua Cheng’s house. Xie Lian’s body ached, but it was a familiar and good ache. It felt like Xie Lian couldn’t stop smiling as they drove, sharing what the hours apart had contained. The conversation continued flowing easily even as they stepped into the house. There Xie Lian paused, almost dropping the bag of food he was carrying. In the open space where Xie Lian had danced that morning there was now a wall separating it from the open plan space, as well as a set of glass doors. Through them Xie Lian saw a mirror and he felt his breath stutter.

“Wha-” he started, walking over to the doors slowly. He heard a chuckle leave Hua Cheng’s lips, and light footsteps followed Xie Lian as he walked over.

“Gege can go in if he wants,” Hua Cheng urged, and Xie Lian turned to blink up at him with wide eyes. “The walls might not be fully dried yet though, so be careful not to get paint on yourself.”
Xie Lian turned back to the door and stepped in carefully, looking at the newly built dance studio. The wall before him were covered in mirrors, the other previously red walls painted a soft white. The floor was in light wood, polished. There were even speakers put up on the roof, with a player in one of the corners. 

It was beautiful. 

“San Lang didn’t-” Xie Lian started, turning around to look at Hua Cheng, who only smirked. “San Lang!”

“Gege needs a good place to dance in,” Hua Cheng proclaimed, and Xie Lian’s heart clenched violently in his chest. “I wasn’t using this space for anything anyway.” 

“This is too much,” Xie Lian argued, shaking his head. Hua Cheng lowered his brows, his expression turning serious. 

“It is not,” he voiced, determined. “Not if it makes Gege happy.”

“It does,” Xie Lian said, because it did but it was also so overwhelming. Hua Cheng had built him a dance studio, in the span of a day! “Thank you, San Lang.”

“I’m glad Gege likes it. Let’s go eat now,” Hua Cheng said in answer, a proud smile on his lips. “You must be starving after having worked so hard today.”

Xie Lian followed him out, glancing back at the glass door as he walked out as if to make sure the room was still there even when he turned his back. It was. He turned to look at Hua Cheng’s retreating back then, hurrying after so as not to lose sight of him. 

 


 

“Xieeeeee Liiiaaaaaaan,” Shi Qingxuan’s voice echoed through the room, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise, looking up from his stretching position on Hua Cheng’s office floor. He had been working with the group all morning, and had after a quick lunch settled on the floor of Hua Cheng’s office to stretch. It felt a little silly, because he could do that anywhere, but he wanted to be close to Hua Cheng. Later that afternoon they were meeting with a lawyer who had looked into Xie Lian’s contract, and it was making him feel anxious and restless.  Maybe they would say there was nothing to be done, and Xie Lian would have to leave. He supposed he just wanted to spend as much time with Hua Cheng as possible if it was soon over, even if it was in silence as Hua Cheng worked. Xie Lian wasn’t sure how much he was getting done though. Every time he tried to sneak a glance he always found Hua Cheng already looking at him, a flush covering his cheekbones. 

“Shi Qingxuan,” Xie Lian greeted, blinking up at them. “How are you?”

“Good, good!” they said, waving a hand before them, before they looked down at Xie Lian on the floor with a frown. “What are you doing down there?”

“Uhm, stretching?” Xie Lian said, not really meaning for it to sound like a question but somehow did anyway. A smile spread on Shi Qingxuan’s face, and they turned to Hua Cheng. 

“Stretching! Would you look at that, Hua Cheng,” they said, his voice very excited. “Xie Lian stretching on your office floor. How does it feel?”

“What do you want?” Hua Cheng asked, sounding incredibly bored. Xie Lian looked over at him, and saw his face look completely blank. It was so odd to see him like that, the way he seemed to look when around most. When he looked at Xie Lian, he instantly became so animated. 

“I want to take Xie Lian out for boba!” they proclaimed, looking over at Xie Lian now. “My treat!”

“Oh!” Xie Lian said, feeling surprised. He had not expected that. “That’s very kind of you.”

“Of course!” Shi Qingxuan said excitedly. “I am very generous. I want to get to know you too, if Hua Cheng permits of course.”

“Gege can do whatever he wants,” Hua Cheng said slowly, looking over from Shi Qingxuan to Xie Lian. “And that includes saying no if you don’t want to.”

“Of course he wants to, I’m amazing,” Shi Qingxuan said, stepping further into the room and offering a hand to pull Xie Lian up. For a moment Xie Lian looked at it, and then slowly reached out and took it. He had wanted to stay close to Hua Cheng, but perhaps he needed some breathing room from Xie Lian. Shi Qingxuan smiled, and pulled and then Xie Lian was on his feet beside him.

“I will see you later, San Lang?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng nodded slowly. “When was the lawyer coming?” he asked, even though he knew the answer.

“Four,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian nodded. 

“I’ll make sure I’ll be back till then,” he promised, but still lingered for a moment longer. It was silly. He had nothing more to say, nothing to add. Instead he smiled, and was rewarded with Hua Cheng smiling back. “Bye San Lang.”

“Bye Gege,” he answered, and then it seemed Shi Qingxuan had tired of waiting, since they grabbed Xie Lian’s arm and tugged him out of the door.

“It’s so cute,” they squealed as soon as they were out in the hallway, and Xie Lian looked at him questioningly. “ San Lang, San Lang , I’ve never heard anyone call him that. He seems to love it too. So cute. I wonder if he would rip my head off if I called him San Lang.” 

“Ah,” Xie Lian said, feeling his cheeks heat. “It was just the name he told me a year ago during the collaboration. I think it was just to cover up his identity.”

“Sure,” Shi Qingxuan said, stepping into the elevator. “I’ve never heard him call anyone Gege either, but you know.” Shi Qingxuan winked, and Xie Lian shook his head. They rode the elevator down to the first floor, and then stepped out of the label into the street. They walked side by side, and Shi Qingxuan spoke about the different shops they passed, what was good and what wasn’t. They were very vocal about his opinions, but most were very positive and energetic. Xie Lian found he really enjoyed their company. He wondered why they had never gotten to know each other at White No Face- entertainment. Xie Lian didn’t hang out much with anyone outside of FCG, he had come to realise.

They got boba at “the best place in the city” according to Shi Qingxuan, and then walked over to a park to sit down on the grass and drink it. The sun was warm, and the cool drink was refreshing. Xie Lian sighed happily as he leaned back on one hand, his face turned up to the sun.

“So, when is the album coming?” Shi Qingxuan asked, and Xie Lian hummed in question, looking over at them.

“Album?” he asked, and Shi Qingxuan hummed in answer, slurping on his boba.

“Yes yours,” they explained, and Xie Lian felt unease twist in his stomach. Was that what the people working at the label thought, that Xie Lian had been signed? It was an understandable assumption.

“Oh,” he said, looking down at his drink “I’m only here to uhm… I don’t really know what I’m doing,” he admitted with a shallow little laugh. “Anyway, White No Face-Entertainment still owns my creativity, sort of.”

“What?” Shi Qingxuan asked, sounding genuinely surprised. They leaned forwards towards Xie Lian, studying his face. “They didn’t end your contract?”

“No,” Xie Lian answered honestly, taking another sip of his drink.

“Oh,” Shi Qingxuan said, seeming genuinely surprised by this. “Weird.”

“Why is that weird?” Xie Lian asked. He had never considered it weird… hurtful yes, but it didn’t seem like that was something Jun Wu cared about regardless. Rather, that seemed sort of the point. 

“I mean we’re quite a lot of people from White No Face at Scrap Collecting Immortals, and none were tied to their contracts after being thrown out,” Shi Qingxuan explained. “It’s always seemed to me like Jun Wu is like - okay fine I don’t want you but I won’t like, ruin your career because of it.”

There was so much in that explanation that made Xie Lian’s head spin. He blinked for a moment, trying to decide what to ask first. He started with the most surprising one.

“What do you mean ‘quite a lot of people’?” he asked, because of course he had noticed that Banyue, Pei Su and Shi Qingxuan were from White No Face-Entertainment, but apparently there were more… why? 

“I think like half the people hired and signed here have had something to do with White No Face and Jun Wu,” Shi Qingxuan confirmed. Xie Lian wasn't sure how many artists and groups Hua Cheng had signed, but there were obviously more than the ones Xie Lian had met. “We’ve all been cast aside, for not fitting. It’s where the label name comes from.”

“Scrap collecting…” Xie Lian mused, and then it clicked. Collecting the scrap from the major labels, the ones which weren’t wanted by them. It was so obvious, and clever, and a little sad. “Oh,” he said, and Shi Qingxuan giggled, clearly finding the whole thing more amusing than anything.

“Fun, right?” they asked with a wide smile “It’s so good to see people who have been rejected for not fitting the norm be recognized, and then go on to be successful.”

“I think it’s a lovely label,” Xie Lian admitted, a smile creeping up on his face. Hua Cheng had created such a different space to be creative with one's music.

“San Lang is very smart.”

“That he is,” Shi Qingxuan agreed, and Xie Lian smiled. He wasn’t sure why, but it felt important that others also understood that Hua Cheng was accomplished. “I know no one else who has the ability to pluck those who have been cast aside and give them an opportunity to prove themselves, but who is also capable of making thirty-three gossip papers burn to the ground and wallow in shame.”

“What?” Xie Lian asked, blinking with wide eyes. “What did you- Has San Lang done that?”

“Yes!” Shi Qingxuan cheered, leaning forward towards Xie Lian. “How did you miss that? It was all over the news.”

“Ah, I try to stay away from the news,” Xie Lian admitted, looking away in embarrassment. He didn’t have the means to keep up really, and he never knew when the news would suddenly be about him… so it was better to just stay away. Shi Qingxuan plucked their phone from his pocket.

“Well, you can read it here,” they said, handing over their phone with an open article. “But basically Hua Cheng set after a bunch of magazines and accused them of slander, of making up news, as well as taking bribes. He supplied the police with witnesses, and even things from the inside of the magazines too I think. I don’t fully remember. The police investigated and found that it was all true! I don’t think they ever proved who had bribed many of them, but it was clear that someone promoted them to write certain ‘news’. The trial ended just like three weeks ago, but as soon as it started unfolding most of the magazines were so slandered that companies pulled back their funding, and I think most just went bankrupt. It was like watching a house just burn to the ground.”

Xie Lian blinked, his eyes moving over the screen. It was as Shi Qingxuan had said. Thirty-three magazines had been brought to court for posting known lies as well as taking bribes. They had all been convicted, but the magazines had all gone out of business before the sentence fell. “Why would San Lang do that?” Xie Lian asked, looking up from Shi Qingxuan’s phone. He had only read about half of it, but he understood the bottom line. He handed the phone back, watching as Shi Qingxuan shrugged.

“I think he thought they deserved it, for being assholes,” they said, as if it wasn’t a big deal. “It’s nice regardless.”

“Mn,” Xie Lian said, looking down at his drink. Was that why he had experienced less media attention lately? Why it had taken them longer and longer to find him?

They headed back after that, and Xie Lian’s head swam with this new information, both about the broken contracts and about the trial with the magazines. Shi Qingxuan kept in good spirits, and while Xie Lian felt a little stuck in his own mind about everything he had learned, he enjoyed their energetic company.

“Well I’ll head home now,” Shi Qingxuan said as they reached the label, smiling back at Xie Lian. “Thank you for keeping me company!”

“Thank you for taking me out for boba, it was really nice,” Xie Lian said, and Shi Qingxuan smiled brightly. 

“I’ll still hold out for that album,” Shi Qingxuan said, winking. “Let me know if you want to collab!” With that they turned and walked away while waving, and Xie Lian looked after him as his brows furrowed. He shook his head as he saw Shi Qingxuan disappear around the corner, and then turned to walk back into the label. He took the elevator up to Hua Cheng’s office, and found him and another familiar face there. Yin Yu was sitting on the couch, a stack of papers in his lap as he stared into nothingness. When Xie Lian entered, they both looked at him. Hua Cheng’s face spread into a smile.

“Welcome back Gege,” he said, and Xie Lian smiled as he felt his cheeks color.

“Hello San Lang,” he greeted, and then turned towards the couch. “Good afternoon Yin Yu.”

“Good afternoon Xie Lian,” Yin Yu greeted in return, standing up to bow.

“Did you have business with San Lang? I could leave if you do,” Xie Lian offered, seeing Hua Cheng stand up as well.

“No, I’m here to speak to you,” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise. 

“Gege, Yin Yu is the lawyer,” Hua Cheng said, and now Xie Lian was even more surprised. 

“What?” he asked, twisting to look between them. He had never suspected Yin Yu to be a lawyer. In truth, he had seemed more like an assistant. Xie Lian wasn’t sure if he should laugh or cry about his own assumptions.

“Yes,” Yin Yu confirmed with a nod, seeing unfazed by Xie Lian feeling so embarrassed. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I thought…” Xie Lian started, unsure of what to continue with. Nothing good could follow that sentence. 

“I do whatever he tells me to,” Yin Yu said earnestly, and Xie Lian let out an embarrassed little laugh. Hua Cheng said nothing, only nodded in agreement.

“Ah,” Xie Lian said, and then a silence fell over the room. 

“Should we sit in one of the conference rooms?” Yin Yu asked, and Xie Lian nodded. “Are you joining us?” he asked this to Hua Cheng, and Xie Lian turned to look at him, only to find him looking back.

“How do you feel Gege?” he asked, and Xie Lian considered this for a moment, even though the answer was simple. 

“I would like to have San Lang with me if he has the time,” he said, and Hua Cheng nodded in agreement as a smile tugged at his lips. They walked out of the office and over to one of the conference rooms further down the corridor, and settled at the table, Xie Lian seated in the middle of the other two. Yin Yu placed his stack of papers on the table, and then started to flip through them.

“So,” he said, pulling the first marked paper out. “Like most contracts issued by White No Face-Entertainment, the label benefits greatly from the contracts while the artist doesn’t.”

“Do you have a lot of experience with the contracts from White No Face-entertainment?” Xie Lian asked. “I heard that they usually release the artists from the contracts when they drop them.”

“I used to be a lawyer there,” Yin Yu answered, and Xie Lian blinked. 

“Oh,” he said, and then swallowed. It seemed it wasn’t just artists that Scrap Collecting Immortals had picked up from those kicked out… if Yin Yu had been kicked out that was. Xie Lian felt like it might be better if he didn’t ask. 

“So, it is stated here that you will only get five percent of the money you make, but that they can pull the costs of the living arrangements, hotel rooms on tour, food, clothing and so on from that salary, which basically leaves you with nothing,” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian let out a deep breath. He didn’t really care about the money he had once made, or rather help the label make… but it did sound deeply unfair. So many signed these contracts, and like himself probably didn’t know the impact of what they were signing.

“Gege, how old were you when you signed that contract?” Hua Cheng asked to his side, and when Xie Lian looked back at him, he saw that same expression on his face which he had seen that first evening in Hua Cheng’s house, the clenched jaw and the restrained anger. Something warm spread in Xie Lian’s chest. 

“Fourteen for the first,” he said, trying to remember what it was like back then. His parents had been there with him, he knew, but mostly he was just so excited. He had no idea what he signed, not really. “We did additional signings when the group was formed, and then another one when I was…hmm, twenty-two maybe?” Xie Lian offered, and Yin Yu nodded, spreading the three signed papers before them. 

“That seems to be correct, yes,” Yin Yu agred. “From the records I managed to access; it's one for signing you to the label, one to sign you to the group and one to extend the contract. They all have the same contract as a base however, so the one you signed at fourteen, a little over a decade ago, is the one that still stands.”

“So what does that mean now?” Xie Lian asked, twisting in his chair a little. Yin Yu hummed, and flipped through the papers to pull out a new one, this one also marked. 

“This says that since the signing you last did, that you would supply the label with at least four albums. I tried to do the math, and from what I gather that means you’ve done two so far, if I’m counting the one where they used your voice but said to be Qi Rong’s. You’re not listed as a contributor anywhere, but if someone would testify that could be counted in.”

“So I owe them two to three albums?” Xie Lian asked to clarify, and Yin Yu nodded. Xie Lian felt his heart sink. He could never do that. He could never go back there and work for Jun Wu like that.

“What about restrictions?” Hua Cheng asked, and Yin Yu hummed again, bringing forth another stack of papers from the larger pile. 

“In short the contract states that Xianle can’t record and release music from another label then White No Face-Entertainment, and cannot perform - vocally or with dance - without White No Face-Entertainment’s permission,” Yin Yu explained. “It does however neglect to say anything about writing music, producing music, or making choreography. It is stated in the two first contracts, but those points are not in the latest one, almost like they forgot them or thought you’d never bring something like that up.”

“So that means that I could work as a choreographer here, for San Lang?” Xie Lian asked just to make sure. His heart was pounding now, hope treacherously growing up his spine. 

“Yes, you can write music for others, lyrics and composition, and choreograph routines and stage shows,” Yin Yu said with a small smile, which fell a little as he continued. “You just can’t perform them yourself.” 

“I can’t be on a stage, basically?” Xie Lian asked, and Yin Yu hummed as he shook his head. “No?”

“Not necessarily, it's a bit of a grey zone but you can’t perform musically,” he said, and Xie Lian nodded in understanding, and then smiled. 

“Thank you so much Yin Yu, for all your hard work,” Xie Lian said, bowing towards Yin Yu in gratitude. When he looked up, Yin Yu was looking at him with wide eyes, but then hastily looked away. 

“That was great news San Lang,” Xie Lian said, smiling even wider as he turned to face Hua Cheng. “I can work here!”

“Yes. Well Gege could anyway. We would have found a way,” Hua Cheng said with a chuckle, even if he did seem very pleased. Xie Lian was too. He had been so worried, but now he could stay here and continue to work with the group and be close to Hua Cheng for at least a little while longer. He could even write music, if he wanted. “But now we know more, and what we can do for now.”

“There is one more thing I found in the contracts that might be good to know,” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian felt his stomach drop out of fear that this happiness would be crushed. “There is a miss, or rather what could be something that we could use to file for discrediting the contract.”

Oh.

Xie Lian had never thought of that. He didn’t even know it was possible. 

“Which one?” he asked, and Yin Yu pulled forward the most recent contract, the one that claimed Xie Lian needed to make at least two more albums for White No Face-Entertainment.

“The newest one,” he confirmed, pointing to Xie Lian’s signature. “You signed it, so that sort of makes it difficult since your signature is the same on all documents…however, they didn’t make it out to you. They made it out to Xianle.” Yin Yu’s finger slipped down, and under the signed line was the single word Xianle, Xie Lian’s stage name, and the date it had been signed.

“Does that matter?” Xie Lian asked, and Yin Yu hummed as he shrugged.

“Xianle isn’t your legal name, so in a way, the contract is only for your stage name,” he explained. “One could say that as long as you make music in another name, they couldn’t do anything about it.”

“You think they would let it go?” Xie Lian asked, and Yin Yu shook his head. 

“No, I think they would take it to court and it would have to be settled there,” he admitted. “Another option is of course for us to take it to court and try to get the contract revoked, since it’s not in your name and you don’t go by that name any more.”

“But it would be a legal process? A public one?” Xie Lian asked, feeling nerves rise in the pit of his stomach from just the thought of it. What would that mean? Would it mean discussing what was happening inside the Heavenly realm, what had happened between him and Jun Wu? Would it somehow come back to hurt the other members of FCG?

“Yes,” Yin Yu said, leaving it at that.

“Mn,” Xie Lian said, letting out a slow breath. This was a lot to think about. His notebook with lyrics suddenly came to mind, but he had never really considered he would record or perform them. They seemed almost too personal to be played in large arenas or people’s cars. Then again, he could write them for someone else it seemed. Did he want that?

“You don’t have to make any decisions right now,” Yin Yu said, pulling all the documents together in a neat pile before placing them before Xie Lian. “But now you know all the options.”

“Thank you,” Xie Lian said, and Yin Yu nodded, before he stood. Xie Lian did too, and Hua Cheng followed, and after they said their goodbyes it was only the two of them left in the conference room. Xie Lian turned back to Hua Cheng who seemed to be studying him, his black eye roaming over Xie Lian’s expression.

“How does Gege feel about all of this?” he asked, and Xie Lian shifted his head from side to side. 

“It has been a day for information,” he offered, and Hua Cheng hummed, still looking slightly pensive. Xie Lian smiled. “I’m simply happy I can stay by San Lang’s side, if I am permitted?”

“Of course!” Hua Cheng answered, the bridge of his nose pinkening. “Gege can stay with San Lang as long as he wants.”

“I might be of use this way at least,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng frowned. 

“Gege could have stayed regardless of what the contracts said,” he argued, and Xie Lian laughed and shook his head. Hua Cheng could be very silly sometimes. “Perhaps we should make an official contract for Gege then, to read through, for salary and such.” 

“Mn,” Xie Lian agreed with a nod, and then tilted his head to the side. “Could we do it tomorrow?” His head felt very full, and he wasn’t sure he would be able to fit any more in it right now. He was quite tired of contracts at the moment. He still understood that it needed to be done, but it would wait just a little. Hua Cheng nodded, and walked over towards him.

“Let’s head out then,” he said, and then a smirk spread on his lips. “I’ll have to cook Gege a celebratory dinner.”

“What are we celebrating?” Xie Lian asked as they walked out, falling into pace with each other. 

“I’m celebrating,” Hua Cheng said, turning to Xie Lian to wink. “I get to keep Gege by my side too.”

Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush brightly, and had to hide his face in his hands as they stepped into the elevator, the sound of Hua Cheng’s laugh bouncing against the walls.

 


 

Xie Lian continued to work with the boy group, while Yin Yu’s words laid heavy on his mind. Did he want to perform again? There was an urge to write, to take the stings of thought he had scribbled down in the camellia clad notebook and create melodies for them, but something held him back. He could write them for someone else, and maybe he should. It would be the easiest way, or so it seemed. Something inside him still seemed to ache for the stage again, to be able to stand there like he once had, or maybe in a new way. A truer way. He needed answers, so when he had been at Scrap Collecting Immortals for two weeks he sought out Banyue, finding her alone in the same recording studio where he was reunited with her. She was by the piano, and Xie Lian’s fingers ached a little for the urge to place his hands on the keys. He didn’t. Instead, he asked her for a favour.

“Do you know if the performance San Lang and I did for the charity event was ever posted online?” he asked, and Banyue blinked, and then nodded.

“Yes, there’s a full video of it,” she said, turning fully towards him. 

“Could you show it to me?” he asked, feeling a little embarrassed. He still didn’t have a phone, and he felt too embarrassed to ask Hua Cheng, even if he was sure that Hua Cheng would help him if he asked. It simply felt too embarrassing to watch that together, at least if it went as Xie Lian remembered it.

“Of course!” Banyue agreed, pulling her phone from her pocket. She easily searched it out, and placed the phone in Xie Lian’s hand. The screen was black for a moment, but then the song started, as the light simultaneously lit up Hua Cheng. Xie Lian lost his breath a little, watching Hua Cheng singing and playing. He had such a presence on stage, which bleed into everyday life as well. Xie Lian had thought he looked so handsome that day… then again he always was.

Next the video showed Xie Lian himself, in dark clothes and with a guitar resting on his shoulder. His long hair fell freely behind him, and his nails as well as eyes were painted dark. It wasn’t what caught Xie Lian’s attention however. There was a spark in his eyes. A fire. It stayed there, and even grew as he and Hua Cheng started interacting more on stage. A smile spread on the face of Xie Lian on the screen as Hua Cheng smirked, and the Xie Lian watching felt his own lips stretch into a smile as well. He looked like he was having fun, like he was right where he wanted to be. The song swirled in his mind, and he remembered how much he enjoyed it, how proud he was that they had created it together. 

When the video ended, he started it again. Banyue said nothing, but sat by his side as he looked through it fully one more time before he handed the phone back, too many emotions swirling in his chest. 

“Thank you,” Xie Lian said, and she smiled as she pocketed her phone again. 

“Did you find what you were looking for?” she asked, and Xie Lian let out a little laugh, and shook his head.

“I don’t know,” he admitted, and Banyue hummed, placing her fingers on the keys to start playing scales. Xie Lian smiled. There was a comfort in hearing her play them, the notes filling the silence of the room. 

“Let me know if you need to see it again,” she said after a moment, and Xie Lian nodded, staying for a while simply to listen to her play. 

 


 

It was late one evening when Xie Lian was just getting ready for bed, as he heard the familiar notes of a guitar. He paused, realising that it must be Hua Cheng playing. Xie Lian knew that he should give him privacy, but the music tugged at his chest, willing him to come closer. There was just something soothing about hearing live music, so Xie Lian gave himself permission to move a little closer. The sound seemed to come from the kitchen, and when Xie Lian reached it he saw Hua Cheng sitting there, with the door open to the garden. He was sitting in the opening, his long dark hair falling over his back freely as he played. The melody looped, and then he took a deep breath and started singing. 

 

I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, Breathing in your dust

I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust

If you like your coffee hot, Let me be your coffee pot

You call the shots, babe, I just wanna be yours

Secrets I have held in my heart, Are harder to hide than I thought

Maybe I just wanna be yours

 

I wanna be yours, I wanna be yours

Wanna be yours, Wanna be yours

Wanna be yours

 

Xie Lian felt breathless, his heart beating a little too hard against his ribs. Hua Cheng’s voice was beautiful, and the lyrics were filled with so much longing. He could relate to that as well. There was something inside Xie Lian that longed desperately for Hua Cheng, for what it felt like they had been on the verge of a year ago. It had grown deeper now, since Xie Lian came to live here. It was terrifying. Hua Cheng could never want him like that now, could he? Sometimes when he looked at Xie Lian, he could almost make himself believe that Hua Cheng did, and it spread hope through his chest. Dangerous, treacherous hope.

Had Xie Lian not learned not to hope in the past year?

It seemed he was simply a fool. 

A fool in love. 

 

Let me be your 'leccy meter, And I'll never run out

Let me be the portable heater, That you'll get cold without

I wanna be your setting lotion, Hold your hair in deep devotion

At least as deep as the Pacific Ocean

Now I wanna be yours

Secrets I have held in my heart, Are harder to hide than I thought

Maybe I just wanna be yours

 

I wanna be yours, I wanna be yours

Wanna be yours, Wanna be yours

Wanna be yours, Wanna be yours

Wanna be yours, Wanna be yours

Wanna be yours, Wanna be yours

 

I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, Breathing in your dust

I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust

I just wanna be yours, I just wanna be yours

I just wanna be yours

 

Hua Cheng stopped singing then, his voice mellowing down into hum. For a moment Xie Lian stood there and wondered who the song could be about, and how lucky that person would be to have Hua Cheng’s love. Xie Lian couldn’t stay in the shadows, but stepped over and sat down next to him. Hua Cheng looked over, his fingers continuing to move over the strings, continuing the melody for a little while longer, before letting it fade out. 

“Good evening Gege,” he said, leaning his arm on the guitar before leaning his cheek in his palm. His dark eye met Xie Lian’s, looking soft. “I hope I didn’t wake you.”

“No,” Xie Lian admitted, licking his lips before daring to ask: “Was that a new song?”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed. “It’s not fully done yet.”

“I didn’t mean to bother San Lang,” Xie Lian assured, but Hua Cheng simply shook his head.

“Gege never bothers me,” he said, a smile tugging at his lips. He was too much. Xie Lian’s heart could barely take it. Hua Cheng shifted again, as if he couldn’t help himself, and he started plucking the strings again. It was another melody, and soon Xie Lian recognised it to be Wolves Without Teeth, the one they had written a year ago. He smiled, and curled up a little, resting the side of his head on his knees. 

“Where did San Lang learn to play?” he asked, and Hua Cheng lowered his gaze, a soft smile tugging at his lips. 

“Someone was gracious enough to let me borrow their guitar to practice. We were only teens, and he taught me,” he said, something nostalgic filling his gaze. Clearly he held this person in very high regards. “He held a class for a bunch of younger kids. I was the oldest by several years, but I couldn’t afford to go to music school. He was the only one- he’s the only reason I know how to do this.”

“I’m so glad he decided to teach you,” Xie Lian said, thinking about coincidences and opportunities. Had any of his students continued to play? Were any of them an artist today? “San Lang has such talent.” It would have been a terrible loss to the music world, if that person had not given Hua Cheng the means to learn.

“He said so too,” Hua Cheng agreed with a nod. “He said, ‘Music is not about money, it’s about making yourself or someone feel something. It’s about showing someone that ‘Hey I’ve felt it too.’” 

Xie Lian felt his heart pause in his chest, and he raised his head as it started to race violently. Hua Cheng looked over and then he smiled even as he looked nervous, as Xie Lian’s fingers tingled. “I still have that guitar you gave me, when you got signed.” He looked down, and Xie Lian recognized it then, looking much more worn but well taken care of. The image of a boy, just a year or so younger than Xie Lian, with bandages covering his right eye, starved and so filled with talent, swam before Xie Lian’s eyes.

“Oh San Lang,” he breathed, too many emotions swirling in his chest. Happiness, pride, embarrassment, joy. “I didn’t-, I feel so foolish. I never would have imagined that San Lang was Hong’er. I should have recognized you!”

“Gege remembers me?” Hua Cheng asked, his eyes growing wide in surprise. Xie Lian let out a laugh, uncurling a little further from his folded together position. 

“Of course!” he said, and over the bridge of Hua Cheng’s nose a flush spread. “I think you were the only one who actually wanted to learn how to play.”

“Gege helped me so much, when no one else did,” Hua Cheng said, a hint of urgency in his voice. He had stopped playing now, turning towards Xie Lian. “I never forgot.”

“I didn’t do anything special,” Xie Lian argued, looking down at his hands for a moment before managing to meet Hua Cheng’s gaze once more.

“You did,” Hua Cheng insisted, and it did funny things with Xie Lian’s heart when he was so determined, yet soft. “Gege believed in this San Lang, and you gave me somewhere to express myself. Gege even put in a good word for me at White No Face, when you started there, do you remember?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian did, because now that he mentioned it, Xie Lian had given Hong’er’s name when they signed him. “They asked us to recommend others… did you go?”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, and then let out a deep sigh and shook his head. “I was not wanted.”

“What?!” Xie Lian exclaimed, because that was preposterous. Still he wasn’t too surprised. White No Face-Entertainment had a template they wanted everyone to fall into. Hua Cheng did not.

“It’s alright Gege, I think it was for the best,” he said with a laugh. “They did try to recruit me later, but then I told them to go fuck themselves.”

“That was very wise of San Lang,” Xie Lian said with a determined nod. If they could’t see the talent in him as Hong’er, they did not deserve him as Crimson Rain Sought Flower. “They are truly fools if they could not see San Lang’s talent and beauty.”

Hua Cheng smirked. Then he glanced over at Xie Lian, and pulled the guitar from his lap.

“How about Gege?” Hua Cheng asked, holding the guitar out towards Xie Lian. He looked at the instrument, feeling nerves stir in his stomach. “Does Gege have something he would like to play?”

“I-” Xie Lian started, prepared to refuse. Didn’t he though? Didn’t he have a notebook filled with songs which were almost bursting out of him. He only needed to be brave enough to share it, and no one made him feel as safe as Hua Cheng. “Yes.” He reached out and took the guitar, and placed it in his lap.

“Can this San Lang stay?” Hua Cheng asked, leaning back against the door frame. Xie Lian placed his fingers on the strings, carefully trying the melody out.

“Yes,” he said, continuing to focus on getting the feeling of the accords back. It didn’t take long until a melody started forming under his fingers. “I’ve… When I was kicked out I wasn’t allowed to bring anything, so all the lyrics I had on my phone were gone. I bought a notebook though, where I started writing things down. I must have lyrics to at least ten songs in there, even though I don’t know if they’re any good.”

“San Lang would be honored to hear Gege play something,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian smiled and nodded. They fell silent then, and Xie Lian repeated the melody once, before he decided to start singing. 

 

Pitch black, pale blue

There was a stained glass, variation of the truth

And I felt empty handed

You let me set sail With cheap wood

So I patched up every leak that I could

'Til the blame grew too heavy

 

Xie Lian felt emotions swirl in his chest. It was different writing something, thinking it for himself. Now he was laying his emotions before Hua Cheng, his vulnerabilities. 

 

Stitch by stitch I tear apart

If brokenness is a form of art

I must be a poster child prodigy

Thread by thread I come apart

If brokenness is a work of art

Surely this must be my masterpiece

 

I'm only honest when it rains

If I time it right, the thunder breaks

When I open my mouth

I wanna tell you but I don't know how

I'm only honest when it rains

An open book, with a torn out page

And my inks run out

 

It was impulsive. He hadn’t written it down with the other lines, but it came out unbidden, the love he held for the man sitting beside him that he couldn’t name, couldn’t admit, didn’t dare to dream to ever have in his grasp. He didn’t dare look at Hua Cheng, didn’t dare to find out if the admittance was understood or not. 

 

I wanna love you but I don't know how

I don't know how

No I don't know how

I don't know how

I wanna love you but I don't know how

I don't know how

I wanna love you but I don't know how

I wanna love you but I don't know how

I wanna love you

 

Pitch black, pale blue

These wild oceans shake what's left of me loose

Just to hear me cry mercy

The strong wind at my back

So I'll lift up

The only sail that I have

This tired white flag

 

Memories from the past year swirled in Xie Lian’s mind, scrubbing him raw, making him tremble. It fed him too, his voice growing clearer and stronger. He wanted to be heard in his own words. He wanted to be understood.

 

I'm only honest when it rains

If I time it right, the thunder breaks

When I open my mouth

I wanna tell you but I don't know how

I'm only honest when it rains

An open book, with a torn out page

And my inks run out

 

I wanna love you but I don't know how

Know how

I'm only honest when it rains

If I time it right, the thunder breaks

When I open my mouth

I wanna tell you but I don't know how

Know how

I'm only honest when it rains

An open book, with a torn out page

And my inks run out

 

It was painful, but a relief to say it. These were words he hadn’t even dared to write yet. Here in the shelter of the woods, with Hua Cheng’s warm house at his back, the presence of someone who he had met so long ago, who had searched for him when all others had only beaten and forgotten, he felt safe. 

 

I wanna love you but I don't know how

I don't know how

I don't know how

I don't know how

I wanna love you but I don't know how

I don't know how

I wanna love you but I don't know how

I wanna love you but I don't know how

I wanna love you

 

Xie Lian’s voice trembled at the final line, and because of it he played the melody once more. His fingers moved easily over the strings now, as if it was as it should be. He adored this, to feel the music through his body, to create emotions through his words and his melodies. Maybe he needed to know how it would feel, for the world to hear them too. 

“That was beautiful, Gege,” Hua Cheng said. Xie Lian let the final notes play out, but didn’t dare to look back at him. It was quiet for a moment before Hua Cheng asked: “Does Gege want to make music?”

Xie Lian looked over, finding Hua Cheng’s handsome face turned fully towards him. It took his breath away a little, and he sighed as he pulled the guitar a little closer to his chest.

“I can’t perform it,” he argued, and Hua Cheng shook his head.

“That wasn’t my question,” he pointed out, and Xie Lian knew that it wasn’t. He had purposefully avoided it. “Does Gege want to make music, to sing this song? The others he wrote?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian admitted, even though it terrified him. “Yes I do.”

“Then I will do everything in my power to make sure you can again. I’ll sign Gege,” Hua Cheng said, leaning forward towards him. Determination flared in his gaze, and Xie Lian found it deeply attractive. “I’ll draw up a contract which you can read and leave suggested alterations for.”

“I’m still contracted to another label,” Xie Lian said again, and Hua Cheng narrowed his eye.

“And we’ll sue him for it,” he said firmly, and Xie Lian gasped loudly.

“What?” he said, shaking his head. “San Lang, that will be far too expensive!” Xie Lian wasn't worth it, especially when it might come to nothing. Xie Lian was probably not even good enough. 

“No,” Hua Cheng said, and then his expression turned from sharp to pleading. “Please Gege.”

“Are you sure?” Xie Lian asked, not wanting to ask for too much. “I don’t- I don’t want San Lang to get hurt by this, by… by me.” Xie Lian feared it deeply, that Hua Cheng would become one in the long line of the persons Xie Lian had broken.

“I am sure,” Hua Cheng said with a nod. Something settled in Xie Lian’s chest at the words, and he placed the guitar to the side on the kitchen floor. He summoned up as much courage as he could, and leaned in towards Hua Cheng. Xie Lian wrapped both his arms around his broad shoulders and pulled him close, holding him tight. Hua Cheng tensed for a moment, and then his arms came to wrap around Xie Lian’s waist to pull him even closer. 

Chapter Text

The contract was beyond fair… or rather Xie Lian thought it wasn’t really fair to Hua Cheng at all. He had to negotiate heavily, before they managed to settle on something they could both agree on. At one point Xie Lian worried Yin Yu might go mad in trying to heed to both of their requests, but in the end Xie Lian signed a contract with a monthly salary he felt was too high but Hua Cheng too low, and with full benefits. Xie Lian vowed immediately, if only to himself, that he would make sure to pay a fair amount to Hua Cheng in rent and pay for half the food, which he proclaimed as soon as he had the first paycheck in hand. Hua Cheng argued against it at first, but soon relented, and accepted Xie Lian’s money. It made something settle in Xie Lian’s chest. The rest he placed in the backpack he had been given so many months ago, which now hung in the closet in the guest room, along with the clothes he had been given along with it. 

Xie Lian hadn’t worn them since he arrived at Hua Cheng’s. 

In truth, they’re not very practical to dance in, which Hua Cheng had pointed out. Xie Lian had therefore taken him up on the offer of borrowing Hua Cheng’s clothes for the time being, until he could buy something of his own. Xie Lian realised that he should use this money to do so, but somehow he was scared to spend it. He couldn’t imagine Hua Cheng throwing him out with nothing, but it still felt good to know he had something saved. 

It felt surreal that he had been living with Hua Cheng for one month. It was longer than he had lived anywhere since he had been thrown out from White No Face-Entertainment. It felt monumental, and especially since Xie Lian really wanted to stay. This wasn’t simply a place he could be, it was where he desperately wanted to be. 

He had continued to help out with the boys choreography, making good use of Hua Cheng’s newly built dance studio. Since Xie Lian had admitted to wanting to write he had been continuing to make the scribbled notes in his notebook into songs as well. He had written four full ones in the past two weeks, feeling inspiration tingle in his fingers. Xie Lian was having a lot of fun, and he had played them all for Hua Cheng. He continued to expect rejection, but it never came. Hua Cheng seemed to love them all, praising Xie Lian endlessly. It made the drive to continue even greater. 

He had planned to continue working on his music that day, the boys having a well deserved day off. Xie Lian was just picking up his cup of tea after having shared breakfast with Hua Cheng to head into the music room, when Hua Cheng spoke up from the other side of the kitchen counter.

“Is Gege heading to the piano?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian hummed and nodded, taking a sip of his tea. 

“I was planning to refine Neptune a little,” he admitted, referring to the song he had played for Hua Cheng sitting in this kitchen two weeks ago. Hua Cheng hummed, and then leaned his elbows on the counter, his black eye meeting Xie Lian’s gaze. 

“Gege has been working very hard lately,” he commented, and Xie Lian frowned. He didn’t feel like he had. “I think he’s due for a day off.”
“Huh?” he asked, feeling genuinely surprised. “Oh no, San Lang don’t worry about me! I haven’t been working full days, and really I don’t want to waste your time now that you’ve signed me.”

“Gege’s been working at least nine hours every day,” Hua Cheng pointed out, as if it would clarify why he felt Xie Lian needed a break. In Xie Lian’s experience it wasn’t about hours, it was about finishing something. Only then were you allowed to rest.

“Yeah but we sleep in so long, I only come in to the label mid-morning, and then we usually leave before dinner!” he argued, because really he felt like he was being pampered at times, getting to sleep in and not rush in the morning. Hua Cheng didn’t seem to want to rush in the morning either, so Xie Lian hadn’t felt too bad about it. They often left to go back to the house and have dinner together too, and not too late either. 

“That’s a full work day,” Hua Cheng said, tilting his head to the side. His dark fringe fell away from his face, exposing his eye patch a little more. He was truly so handsome. It was almost hard to look at him at times. “And before we go to the label you work on your songs here, or on the choreography.” 

“Oh,” Xie Lian said. He had never considered how long a regular work day was. “Before we usually worked from seven to around ten in the evenings. Sometimes longer…”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng said, straightening from his slumped over position. “This San Lang thinks Gege has worked hard enough in the past month. Let’s take a day off.”
“Would San Lang take a day off with me?” Xie Lian asked, suddenly feeling better about a day off. He always enjoyed spending time with Hua Cheng after all, and in truth Xie Lian felt Hua Cheng worked very hard. He deserved a break too, and if he would take one with Xie Lian, then Xie Lian would never complain about it.

“Of course!” Hua Cheng said with a smile, before his gaze turned quizzical. “If Gege doesn’t want some time alone?”

“No, no I would feel honored by San Lang’s company,” Xie Lian admitted with a smile, feeling excitement grow in his chest. “What would San Lang want to do?”

“What does Gege want to do?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian should have anticipated that. He was just about to point out that he asked first, when Hua Cheng continued. “What did Gege do on his last day off?”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, looking away as he considered. He couldn’t come up with anything. He blinked and then frowned, before looking back at Hua Cheng. “I can’t remember… help out at the label, probably.” 

“Is there anything Gege has always wanted to do, but hasn't been able to?” Hua Cheng asked instead, and Xie Lian felt like he was a child being handed a bag of candy, unsure where to begin. There was just so much that he would like to experience which he had never had the chance to!

“I’ve always liked amusement parks, like water slides, but I don’t think I would like to deal with the press… it’s been so nice that they haven’t found me yet,” Xie Lian considered. He had always enjoyed amusement parks when he was younger at least, and he would love to visit one again. It was bound to be crowded however, and Xie Lian didn’t want to take any risks. 

“I don’t think Gege will have as much problem with them any more,” Hua Cheng pointed out and Xie Lian hummed and took another sip of his tea.

“Because San Lang had so many of them exposed for being unethical and corrupt?” Xie Lian asked. Hua Cheng blinked in surprise, and then rounded the counter to step closer. He looked a little smug, even if he still seemed surprised. 

“I didn’t know Gege heard of it?” he asked, and Xie Lian hummed, craning his face up a little as Hua Cheng stepped closer. It always made his heart race a little to be so close to him. It made Xie Lian greedily want

“Shi Qingxuan told me,” he explained, and Hua Cheng’s lips spread into a smirk. 

“Mn,” he nodded, stopping just a meter from Xie Lian. If he wanted, he could reach out and place his hand on Hua Cheng’s chest, but he didn’t. Since that hug two weeks ago, Xie Lian felt like he was craving Hua Cheng’s touch. He had taken liberties with that hug however, and he didn’t want to overstep. “Well if Gege wants to avoid attention, we could go to the beach?” Hua Cheng changed the subject, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise, and then his lips spread into a smile.

“The beach?” he asked, biting into his lower lip to try to hold back his excitement. “I haven’t been in so long!” He had a shoot with FCG at a beach once, but just going for fun… it must be over a decade since. “I don’t have a swimsuit though.” 

“Gege can borrow from me,” Hua Cheng offered, like he offered everything to Xie Lian without so much as blinking. It was a little dizzying. “Or we could go buy one on the way.”

“Okay,” Xie Lian agreed, because now he did have some money and he didn’t have a reason to not spend it on something he needed. 

With that the plan was settled. They packed up some towels, and then headed into town to a mall to pick up what they needed. Xie Lian pulled his black mask up over his mouth and nose, a pair of dark sunglasses perched on his nose. Hua Cheng was in a cap and sunglasses, making them at least difficult to recognize. They took care of buying swimwear for Xie Lian first, finding a pair of dark blue shorts for a decent price. Hua Cheng found a large sunhat by the register, and insisted on buying it for Xie Lian.  Next they headed into a convenience store, where they bought sun lotion, a stack of cards as well as something to eat and drink while at the beach. They packed it all into the trunk of Hua Cheng’s car, and then drove out. It wasn’t too far, and on their way they passed a public beach, which was filled with bathers, but continued on. Hua Cheng only slowed as they drove into a private area restricted by a high fence and a gate. Hua Cheng pushed a code in, and the gate easily opened for them.

“He Xuan’s place,” Hua Cheng explained as they drove in, parking along the forest line. The water stretched from the beginning of the plot all the way out to a pier where a black house stood, but was otherwise bare. 

“He must really like water,” Xie Lian commented, and Hua Cheng snorted and nodded. 

“He does,” he said, pulling their packing from the trunk. Xie Lian reached out, and Hua Cheng answered by placing the sunhat on his head before walking on, carrying all the panicking.

“Should we go say hi?” Xie Lian asked, glancing towards the house as he jogged up to Hua Cheng. It didn’t look very inviting, but it felt rude to just hang out on his beach without at least greeting him.

“No,” Hua Cheng said flatly, and when Xie Lian looked over at him with a raised brow, mischief danced in his eyes. “He’s not home.”

“Does he know that we're here?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng’s lips pulled into a smirk. “San Lang!”

“I’ve told him Gege, don’t worry,” Hua Cheng assured, and Xie Lian frowned.

“But you didn’t ask?” he clarified and Hua Cheng shrugged. They reached the sand, and Hua Cheng spread the blanket they had brought out, placing the cooling bag with their food and drinks in the shade some rocks a couple of steps away. Xie Lian huffed, and then they both turned away from each other to change. Xie Lian was done first, and settled on the blanket and looked out at the ocean, the waves slowly crashing against the sand. Hua Cheng soon joined him but then Xie Lian stood. 

“Want to race?” he asked, and Hua Cheng’s expression turned to surprise to Xie Lian’s delight. He couldn’t help but let out a giggle, and then dashed forward towards the water.

“Hey!” Hua Cheng called, but Xie Lian was sure he followed. He reached the water in a heartbeat, his feet digging into the wet sand as he continued to run. The water splashed around him, and Xie Lian let out a laugh as he heard more splashing behind him. Hua Cheng had longer legs and easily caught up in the soft waves, but Xie Lian didn’t give up, only raced until the water got so high that the only choice was to dive in. The water rushed over him, and Xie Lien swam up, finding footing in the smooth sand. He turned, and spotted Hua Cheng swimming towards him, a wide grin on his face. Xie Lian smiled too, lowering himself a little in the water. 

“Gege cheated,” Hua Cheng claimed, and Xie Lian giggled and shook his head. 

“You have to always be ready, San Lang,” he claimed, and Hua Cheng’s eye gleamed. He hadn’t dived in fully, probably to preserve the eye patch.

“I’ll keep it in mind,” Hua Cheng answered, and Xie Lian smiled. They swam around for a while, and then headed back to the beach and the blanket. They toweled off before settling, Hua Cheng having brought over a drink for them each. Xie Lian pulled the sun lotion out, and made sure to cover as much as he could on his own. Hua Cheng helped with his back, and Xie Lian closed his eyes as his strong hands moved over his skin, trying not to enjoy it too much. He helped Hua Cheng next, his hands moving over Hua Cheng’s sculpted back all the way up to his neck, his long braid pushed over his shoulder. After that they settled side by side, Hua Cheng on his back with a pair of sunglasses resting on his nose and his hands behind his head, while Xie Lian put on his sunhat and looked out over the ocean. 

He glanced over to He Xuan’s house, and wondered where he was. Probably with Shi Qingxuan. They never seemed to be separated if they could help it. The conversation they had about the gossip magazines came back to Xie Lian’s mind, and he glanced over at Hua Cheng, who turned to look at him.

“Gege,” he said, and Xie Lian smiled. He loved how Hua Cheng said that, it sounded so intimate. It might just be Xie Lian’s wistful thinking… but what if it wasn’t?

“San Lang,” Xie Lian answered, folding one of his legs down to turn towards Hua Cheng. His chest was so sculpted. He wondered what it would be like to lay his head on it. “Why did you do it?” he asked, and then licked his lips to continue to explain. “Help the police with the evidence for the trial about the gossip magazines.” 

Hua Cheng didn’t say anything for a moment, and Xie Lian considered telling him that he didn’t need to answer. Just when he was about to, Hua Cheng spoke. “Gege means a lot to me,” he said, and it made Xie Lian’s heart tremble. “They were slandering you, haunting you and the people who helped you. There was no way I could let them continue.” 

“The bribing, how did you find out about it?” Xie Lian asked, because all of those words were so big that he needed a moment to process them. Xie Lian still had a hard time fully feeling how much Hua Cheng truly cared for him. 

“I have many contacts which can acquire such information,” Hua Cheng said with a wink, and Xie Lian felt himself flush. At least Xie Lian thought it was a wink. It was hard to tell with the eyepatch. “Gege must have noticed that many at Scrap Collecting have ties to White No Face.”

Realisation fell over Xie Lian all at once.

Ah. 

“Jun Wu bribed them?” he asked, and Hua Cheng nodded, pushing up to sit. He faced Xie Lian, but looked to the side to run his fingers through the sand. Xie Lian followed their movements, letting the information sink in.

“I don’t think it was him directly, but probably by proxy in some way,” Hua Cheng admitted. Then his hands clenched into a fist, and Xie Lian looked up to see his dark expression. “I couldn’t have him hurt you anymore. I wish I could have done more-”

“San Lang does too much for me,” Xie Lian said, meaning every word. He found it deeply attractive, the anger Hua Cheng felt for the things that Xie Lian had faced. He knew he probably shouldn’t, but he did. 

“Gege does so much for me,” Hua Cheng argued, and Xie Lian reached over to pry Hua Cheng’s hand open, caressing his fingers over his palm. Hua Cheng paused, but after a moment continued. “This San Lang is very happy, to be honored to see Gege create, to be a part of it.” 

“I’m very grateful too,” Xie Lian said, slotting their fingers together for a moment. He pulled his fingers back before Hua Cheng curled his fingers around Xie Lian’s, pulling them back into his own lap with his heart racing. “To be given a voice again.”

“Have Gege thought any more about it?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian looked up to meet his gaze with a questioning hum. “Releasing Redemption when the lawsuit is handed in?”

Oh. Well, Xie Lian had thought about it. Redemption was the second song he had written, and perhaps the most raw. It touched very little on where he was now, but rather how he felt after Jun Wu had found him when he had been stabbed. Much of it were words Jun WU had said to him at that time, words that still rang in his ears. Xie Lian had been so filled with anger, fear, disappointment. He carried so much regret still. 

“Mn,” he admitted, nodding as he kept Hua Cheng’s gaze. “I can’t though, can I? I’m not allowed to sing it.”
“Maybe we could play the music, and simply show the lyrics?” Hua Cheng offered. “We can make a video, and show it?” 

Xie Lian nodded. It was a good idea. He didn’t think it would be as powerful without the song however, and he bit into the inside of his cheek. If he couldn't sing it… maybe someone else could?

“Would San Lang sing it for me?” he asked quietly. Hua Cheng’s eye grew wide, unblinking. “Be my voice, when I don’t have one?”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng breathed, as if he couldn’t believe the words coming out of Xie Lian’s mouth.

“There’s no one else-” Xie Lian rushed out, and then realised that he probably shouldn’t say that. “Ah, I understand if San Lang doesn’t want to. It’s a very…pained song.”

“Gege would want me to sing it?” Hua Cheng asked, as if needing confirmation. Xie Lian nodded, his chest filled with butterflies.

“Mn,” he said, feeling his cheeks flush. “There’s no one else I would want to sing it, really.”

“This San Lang would be honored. I’m not in any way worthy,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian wanted to laugh, because no one was more worthy than Hua Chneg. It was really Xie Lian who wasn’t worthy. “Gege can use this lowly servant's voice as he pleases.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, feeling his heart beat a little too fast in his chest. The urge to lean forward and press their bodies together, to taste Hua Cheng’s lips, grew. He pushed it down however, and simply smiled. Hua Cheng gave him so much, Xie Lian had no right to take more. “Thank you.”

“Anything Gege desires,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian scrunched up his nose.

“Maybe lunch?” he joked, and Hua Cheng let out a chuckle, before he nodded. 

 


 

They came home late, and Xie Lian’s body felt drained from all the swimming and sun exposure. His mind was restless however, and after he took a shower he plucked his notebook from the nightstand and carried it with him over to the music room. He closed the door behind him, hoping to keep as much sound out as possible. He didn’t want to disturb Hua Cheng, but the conversations they had shared during the day were burning in his chest, and he needed to get them out. 

It seemed lately that music was the only way he could do so. 

He sat down at the piano, looking up at the dark woods outside. His fingers landed on the keys, and Xie Lian let out a sigh before he closed his eyes and started to play. The melody was new, but it had partly emerged through the car ride back. Now Xie Lian played it, and sang a phrase, pausing to write it down, before continuing. It didn’t take long until a full song was resting under his fingers, and Xie Lian played it in full, his voice clear as it echoed against the walls of the room. The forest was his only audience, but Xie Lian imagined singing it to Hua Cheng, wondering how he would react. 

 

I left the nest When I was far too young

Never set My flight for the sun

Are you worth getting lost over love

If I offer myself, will you lift me up?

Are you worth letting into my heart?

If I go and get caught will I fall too far?

 

Xie Lian wanted to let Hua Cheng in, to open his chest fully and embrace all of him. He was so beautiful, so strong, determined, devoted. It made Xie Lian’s body tingle, and yet he was scared. He had never felt like this for anyone before, and he couldn’t be sure that Hua Cheng felt the same.

 

Will I find my home, will I find my home

My home in you, home in you?

Will I find my home, will I find my home

My home in you, home in you?

 

Hua Cheng was the closest thing to home Xie Lian had felt, maybe ever. His parents have never understood his want, the drive for music. At White No Face, Xie Lian had been sculpted and shaped - told how to be, what to wear and how to perform - who to be. Perhaps it was only in Hua Cheng’s company he had been encouraged to be himself, whoever that might be. 

 

Icarus, Thought he'd find his place a little higher

It's curious, The flame of the fire

Is it worth getting lost over love?

If I offer myself, will it lift me up?

Is it worth letting into my heart?

If I go and get caught, will I fall too far?

 

Xie Lian feared getting burned from the fire burning in Hua Cheng’s chest. He was warm in a way that made Xie Lian want to curl up into his embrace, to press closer and claim his lips, claim his everything. He had already been given so much and still he wanted more. It made him feel greedy and selfish.

 

Will I find my home, will I find my home

My home in you, home in you?

Will I find my home, will I find my home

My home in you, home in you?

 

Leave my place to lend when I'm tired

When my feathers are burnt by the fire

I surrender myself to your arms, Just hold me tighter

 

What would happen if Xie Lian pushed out of the room right now and walked into Hua Cheng’s bedroom? Could he crawl in under the covers and pull him close? Would he be accepted or cast aside? His heart trembled by the mere thought of doing it. He wanted to. He ached to know.

 

Will I find my home, will I find my home

My home in you, home in you?

Will I find my home, will I find my home

My home in you, home in you?

Will I find my home, will I find my home

My home in you, home in you

Will I find my home, will I find my home

My home in you, home in you?

 

Xie Lian stood in a rush, hurrying out of the room and walked with sure steps towards the corridor where the bedrooms were. He passed the guest room and approached the door at the end of the hallway, pausing when he was just outside of it. His heart pounded as he reached for the door handle, seeing his own fingers tremble. XIe Lian let out a long slow breath, trying to organize his thoughts.

No.

No he couldn’t.

He took a step back and swallowed.

This was asking too much. Acting like this was impulsive and unfair to Hua Cheng, invading his private space. Xie Lian took another step back and then turned to hurry into his own room. He closed the door, and then sank to the floor, placing his hand over his heart as he tried to calm his racing mind and battered breath.

 


 

“Do you think she’ll like it?” Xie Lian fretted, his hands playing with the string wrapped around the gift. He took the steps of the stairs up towards the apartment one by one. Behind him Hua Cheng walked, a steady presence. 

“I’m sure she will,” he assured, and Xie Lian nodded, still feeling a bit anxious. He had been very excited to be invited to celebrate Banyue’s birthday, but when trying to find a good gift he had lost all confidence. It was rare that he had bought anyone outside of FCG gifts, and he lived with them for years so he knew almost exactly what to get them. This was unknown territory, and he had spent far too long trekking up and down the lines of many stores, Hua Cheng a patient presence by his side, before he decided to buy her a book that looked interesting, as well as some tea. He still didn’t feel fully right about it, but hopefully she would like it. She would probably get better gifts by others, like her boyfriend.

“I hope she will,” Xie Lian nodded, slowing his pace as they reached the floor on which Banyue and Pei Su lived. He pressed the gift a little tighter at his chest. “Do you know who will be there?” 

“Probably some people form the label,” Hua Cheng mused as they stepped over to the door. There they paused and Xie Lian turned towards him. “I don’t usually go to these things so I don’t know.” That wasn’t too surprising. Hua Cheng didn’t seem like the socialising type. To be honest, Xie Lian hadn’t seen him hang out with anyone since he had come there, except himself of course. He didn’t feel like Yin Yu sitting in Hua Cheng’s office staring into nothingness counted as hanging out, even if it happened somewhat regularly. 

“Oh, San Lang, you don’t think Pei Su’s cousin will be there, right?” Xie Lian asked, suddenly realising that there was a possibility to run into one of the Three Tumors. Thinking about it, Pei Ming might be preferable to running into Shi Wudu. Xie Lian would have to remember that if Shi Qingxuan ever invited him over for their birthday.  

“I don’t know,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug, meeting Xie Lian’s eyes. “I don’t think they’re that close.”

“Hm,” Xie Lian answered, letting out some tension from his shoulders. That was probably true. He had never heard Pei Ming or Pei Su talk about each other. Xie Lian wasn’t very close with either of them, so he couldn’t know.

“Would Gege prefer not to meet him?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian let out a sigh and slowly nodded.

“I don’t know if I want to meet anyone from White No Face,” he admitted, and Hua Cheng hummed, his expression becoming darker.

“Then Gege shouldn’t,” he proclaimed. “They don’t deserve to even look at Gege anyway.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said with a sigh which turned into a smile, feeling warmth spread through his chest by such a statement. He didn’t agree, but he appreciated it regardless. “It’s good they’re on the other side of the country.” 

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, and then Xie Lian let out a sigh and knocked. The door opened quickly, the sound of chatter and soft music spilling from the opening. Pei Su stood there, a smile on his face as he saw who it was.

“Xie Lian, Hua Cheng, good to see you,” he greeted, stepping to the side to let them in. “We’re all in the living room.”

“Thank you for inviting us,” Xie Lian said, feeling anxiousness stir in his chest. He hung back a little until he was sure Hua Cheng was following, and then followed Pei Su further into the apartment. Pei Su disappeared into the small crowd as they reached the room, and Xie Lian suddenly felt a little stunned. There were many unknown faces there, and he didn’t know what to do, or how to act. There weren't that many guests really, he just wasn’t used to seeing so many people. He felt Hua Cheng’s shoulder caress against his own as he was on his way in, and Xie Lian impulsively reached out and grabbed his hand. Hua Cheng stopped and looked back, and Xie Lian looked up and met his eye, and then looked away. 

How silly. 

He was acting so silly. He should just let Hua Cheng go and act like a normal person that didn’t just grab people and-

Hua Cheng shifted his hand, lacing their fingers together, and Xie Lian’s heart leapt up into his throat. He looked over at Hua Cheng again, and met his steady gaze, noticing the flush over his nose.

“Does Gege want to leave?” he asked quietly, and Xie Lian squeezed his hand as he shook his head.

“I feel a little better now,” he said, and Hua Cheng nodded, his thumb caressing over Xie Lian’s knuckles. It sent a shiver up Xie Lian’s arm. “I want to see Banyue. She really wanted me to come.”

“Let’s go find her then,” Hua Cheng said, but stood still. “And then Gege can just say the word and we’ll go.” 

“Thank you San Lang,” Xie Lian said, letting out a slow breath. Hua Cheng nodded, holding on to Xie Lian’s hand as Xie Lian took a step forward. 

“Did I mention now handsome Gege is today?” Hua Cheng asked as they walked, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush. 

“Ah San Lang,” he said, shaking his head. Hua Cheng should not say such things, not when he was always the most handsome person in any room. 

“It’s true Gege!” Hua Cheng argued, a smirk on his lips. “Not that I don’t enjoy seeing Gege in my clothes, he’s permitted to continue to wear them as much as he likes. It’s just nice to see you in something you chose.”

“Well, it was on sale,” Xie Lian said, looking down at the new pastel purple sweater and blue overalls. Earlier that day they had gone shopping for part of their outfits for the Redemption video, and when Xie Lian saw the overalls he felt like he was being pulled towards them. He had worn white for so long, that colors seemed to just call to him now. 

“Gege looks like a piece of candy,” Hua Cheng said, mischief dancing in his eyes. “He’ll have to watch out so I don’t eat him.”

Xie Lian’s cheeks flushed bright red, but he really didn’t think it fair for Hua Cheng to tease him like that! Not when he himself was looking like he was, in his fitting pants which stretched very nicely over his butt, and with his red shirt open just enough so that Xie Lian felt a little indecent every time his eyes dipped down. He squared Hua Cheng with a firm look, trying to keep the waiver out of his voice. 

“San Lang should not tease about such things, when he’s looking like a snack himself,” Xie Lian proclaimed, and then got to see Hua Cheng’s jaw all but drop. Xie Lian felt his own cheeks burn even brighter, the flush spanning all the way up to his ears. He coughed, and then looked away.

He was being so embarrassing. 

He spotted Banyue, and then tugged on Hua Cheng’s hand as he made a beeline for her. She was standing with a group Xie Lian didn’t know, but broke away from it when she saw them.

“Xie Lian!” she cheered, and Xie Lian smiled at her, stopping as they reached each other. Banyue looked to the side, nodding respectfully. “Hua Cheng.”

“Happy Birthday!” Xie Lian said, holding the gift out. He knew he should hand over the gift with both hands, but he didn’t want to let go of Hua Cheng. Luckily Banyue didn’t seem to mind, and happily accepted the small package with a wide smile.

“Thank you!” she said, holding it close. “I’m so happy you came! Did Pei Su let you in? Did he show you the way to the cake?”

“Ah, yes and no,” Xie Lian answered, and Banyue nodded, and walked them with determined steps over to a table which held several cakes with purple decorations. 

“This one is blackberries, this one is blueberries, and that one is black currant,” she explained, and then handed a plate to them each. “I have to go say hi to some more people who just arrived.”

She left then, and Xie Lian let out a sigh, and looked back to Hua Cheng. “Which kind do you want?” he asked, and Hua Cheng frowned. 

“All, obviously,” he said as if Xie Lian’s question was preposterous. “Gege should taste them all too.” 

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, looking them over. “I can?”

“Of course,” Hua Cheng said, reaching out to place his plate on the table, before taking Xie Lian’s to place next to his own. He cut quite large pieces of all three cakes for both of them, without letting go of Xie Lian’s hand. He gave Xie Lian’s plate back, and then picked up his own. Xie Lian smiled at him, and Hua Cheng smiled back. 

Xie Lian loved when he smiled. 

“Where do you want to sit?” he asked, and Hua Cheng hummed and looked around the room. The next day they were going to record the video, and Xie Lian was incredibly nervous, but with Hua Cheng by his side he might manage it. 

 


 

The routine felt like the ghost of familiarity. The makeup artist moved carefully over Xie Lian’s expression, the brushstrokes bringing him back to so many times before where he had been treated similarly. The difference now was that instead of someone else deciding what he would look like, he decided it himself. The brush left his face, and the makeup artist told him to open his eyes to look. 

Xie Lian blinked, and was met with his own reflection. His hair had been pulled into his signature hairstyle, a bun holding up the top half of his hair, the rest falling freely down his shoulders. He was getting some length back, falling just below his shoulders now. His face looked bare compared to how it had looked before in situations like this. There was simple highlighting and shading, but no color other than some brown marking his eyes. Xie Lian stood, and thanked the makeup artist before he headed towards the stylist. 

To his side the set was being put up, the white background stark. There were cameramen and lighting crew, and Hua Cheng, standing in the middle and directing it all. He was already styled, and Xie Lian’s heart jumped a little at the sight of him. He looked to the floor so they wouldn’t get eye contact. Not yet. Xie Lian needed to prepare. He knew this wouldn’t be easy, not with this many people around. 

“Good day Xie Lian,” the stylist greeted, and Xie Lian smiled at her, and then retrieved the hanger from her with the costume before stepping behind the screen wall. He slipped out of Hua Cheng’s oversized sweatshirt and his own jeans, hanging them up on the hooks. He pulled the new tight black jeans on, as well as the black sneakers. Next came the black cut off crop top with silver writing on the chest. Xie Lian looked himself over in the mirror, adjusting his hair a little, before deciding to head out. 

He was surprised to find the set emptier than when he had stepped behind the screen, only seeing Hua Cheng, a cameraman and Yin Yu still left. Xie Lian felt a sense of calm settle over him, and he walked over, stopping when he reached Hua Cheng’s side. He turned to look at Xie Lian, and then he smiled. 

“Gege looks beautiful, are you ready?” he asked, and Xie Lian nodded. “Are you feeling good?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian said, stepping up onto the set. “Thank you, for clearing out all the people.”

“Of course,” Hua Cheng said with a nod, stepping after him. “So, we’ll go with the plan, we’ll do two run-throughs with just you, and then we’ll change the set and we’ll do it together?” 

“Yes,” Xie Lian agreed, and then rolled his shoulders. “Do you have the choker?”

“Yes,” Hua Cheng answered, reaching into his pocket to pull out the box. Xie Lian turned, and then felt the familiar weight of a choker wrap around his neck. This one was wider than the golden ones he had worn before, uneven. It was still comfortable, Hua Cheng had seen to it that it was.  

It didn’t mean it didn’t feel like a shackle. 

Hua Cheng’s hands smoothed out the fabric over Xie Lian’s shoulders, a warm grounding weight. Xie Lian smiled a little too himself, and then turned to face him. Hua Cheng’s gaze dropped to his neck, and his jaw clenched. Then he looked up into Xie Lian’s eyes, and a sad smile grazed his lips. 

“Let’s do it,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng nodded. “You’ll be by the camera?”

“Yes, Gege can look at me the entire time. Yin Yu will handle the sound and the screens,” Hua Cheng promised, and Xie Lian nodded. He took a step back to stand on the mark, and Hua Cheng lingered for a moment, before stepping off. 

“Ready?” the cameraman called, and Xie Lian gave a thumbs up, licking his lips. 

“Three, two, one,” Yin Yu called, and then the familiar song started. Xie Lian had recorded it a week ago with the help of one of the sound producers who had transformed it from a simple piano piece into something more sinister. It fitted perfectly. Hua Cheng had such talented people at his label.

Xie Lian sang the song along with the track, keeping his eyes forward. He didn’t look at Hua Cheng, but instead kept his eyes on the light right above the camera. He stood firm, no movements. He wasn’t allowed to dance after all. 

The choker felt more and more constraining, but Xie Lian pushed through it. After two takes the cameraman was happy, and so was Hua Cheng and Yin Yu, both claiming he acted just as planned. Hua Cheng took him to the side as they changed the set to a black background. A makeup artist came to touch up both of their faces, before leaving again.

“Here Gege,” Hua Cheng said, handing over an apple. Xie Lian smiled and took it, biting into the fruit.

“Thank you San Lang,” he said, munching on the apple. When he was done he was presented with a bottle of his favourite drink, and he felt warmth spread through his chest. He drank it all before handing it back, holding back from collapsing forward to bury his face into Hua Cheng’s chest. That would ruin his makeup and probably Hua Cheng’s outfit. 

“We’re ready!” the set designer called, and Hua Cheng nodded, before reaching his hand out to Xie Lian after disposing of the drink. Xie Lian took his hand with a smile, and as the last people left they stepped up together on the markings on the set.

“We’ll run the full song, even though this will only cover after the chorus,” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian nodded. He placed himself before Hua Cheng who stood behind him. “Which version are we playing?”

“San Lang’s,” Xie Lian answered, and felt Hua Cheng squeeze his hand before pulling it away from Xie Lian’s. His hand landed on his hip instead, his thumb caressing over the exposed skin there. Xie Lian’s breath hitched. 

“Okay, is everyone ready?” the cameraman called, and Xie Lian gave a thumbs up, and from the corner of his eye he saw Hua Cheng do the same.

“Three, two, one,” Yin Yu called, and then started the second version of the song, Hua Cheng’s deeper voice filling the space. Xie Lian still sang, and next to his ear he heard Hua Cheng do so as well. He felt his heart expand, and then tighten. The choker pressed against his neck, feeling like it was really constricting him. Xie Lian breathed harshly, his heart pounding erratically in his chest. He sang with all he had, pushed all he felt out towards the camera. 

The song looped, and they did it again. He felt Hua Cheng move behind him, his hands moving up Xie Lian’s chest towards the choker, only to move back down. His other hand held him tenderly, as if keeping him up. It felt almost like he did. Xie Lian leaned heavier back against him this time, needing the support. 

Needing him. 

Xie Lian had never wanted anyone the way he wanted Hua Cheng. No one made him feel so safe, so cared for. He wanted to stay by his side as long as he was permitted.

He was greedy too. 

He wanted more. He loved the way Hua Cheng’s hands moved over his body now, and he wanted it to be real, for it to be an everyday occurrence. He wanted to twist around and claim his lips, to be free from the shackle and push his fingers into Hua Cheng’s hair and pull him down to kiss. 

He turned impulsively to look at him, unable to hold back. Hua Cheng met his gaze. Xie Lian’s heart pounded. This was not scripted, but Xie Lian couldn’t look away from him now. He saw Hua Cheng’s gaze soften, and then his heart paused in his chest. What would happen, if he kissed him now? Would Xie Lian be rejected? Would Hua Cheng kiss him back? He felt Hua Cheng’s hand move to his neck, and then the clasp loosened, the shackle falling to the floor as he kept his gaze. It was as if a weight was released from Xie Lian’s heart, and it made him bold and careless.

Xie Lian turned in a rush, feeling as if air rushed back into his lungs. His hands found their way into Hua Cheng’s hair, and as he pushed up on his toes Hua Cheng leaned down to meet him. Xie Lian felt like his heart was going to explode, as he felt Hua Cheng’s breath fan out over his lips. He licked them, and then his eyes slipped shut as he closed the distance between them to press their lips together. Hua Cheng gasped, and then his arms wound around Xie Lian’s waist to pull him closer and kiss him deeper. Xie Lian’s body was tingling, feeling like he was floating in all his emotions. Tears sprang to his eyes, and when he opened them, he was met with Hua Cheng’s equally wet gaze.

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, feeling dizzy. “I’m sorry San Lang, I should have asked first.”

“Gege never needs to ask this San Lang permission to kiss him,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian let out a breathy laugh. He felt so light.

“Oh,” Xie Lian answered softly, and then pushed up to kiss him again, a long lingering one this time. Hua Cheng’s lips were soft and pliant under his own, and Xie Lian couldn’t help but smile against them, pulling back to try to calm his racing heart. 

“Gege is being so bold,” Hua Cheng said, caressing his cheek. “I like it.”

“Ah!” Xie Lian exclaimed, suddenly remembering that there were others than just them in the room. He swirled around in Hua Cheng’s arms, but found the room to be empty. He let out an embarrassed groan, and then covered his face with his hands. Behind him, Hua Cheng let out a laugh, pulling him closer to his chest.

“Let’s go home Gege,” he whispered into his ear, and Xie Lian sighed, turning around to look at him. He was far too handsome, even with all the mischief dancing in his eye.

“I thought San Lang said it wasn't a home,” he pointed out, and Hua Cheng frowned for a second, before leaning in to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek.

“With Gege living there it is,” he said against his skin, and Xie Lian felt his knees go a little weak. 

“Oh,” he said, feeling his chest fill with warmth. “Let’s go home then, San Lang.”

 


 

[Breaking News: Scrap Collecting Immortals sues White No Face-Entertainment for Xie Lian, previously Xianle of Flower Crowned Gods, contract - See the Music Video here!]

 

Xie Lian stood before a white background, looking into the camera. He began singing right away, but it wasn’t his voice, even if he was alone before the camera. The only thing visible being him from the shoulders up. His face was simply done, making him look bare. His hair pulled away from his face creating a vulnerable feeling. The shirt resting on his shoulders was black, and around his pale neck rested a black choker, formed in figures that looked like a curse shackle. 

 

You say I make you nervous, a tragedy

I'm a beautiful disaster, a reckoning

You wonder how I got this way 

You think I'm someone to be saved, someone to clean up and tame

Oh some things never change, never change

 

Xie Lian stood perfectly still, the only thing moving being his lips and eyes, his head swaying slightly as he sang. His golden eyes pierced the camera, earnest and true. 

 

You think I would look pretty on your arm

Once you cover up my bruises and battle scars

But it always ends the same

Can't bear the things I've had to face

Got you crying on your knees in pain

Oh some things never change, never change

 

The camera cut, and when it returned now the background was black. Xie Lian stood in the same spot, still singing. However, behind him there was now another man, singing along with him even if there was just that same one voice. The dark hair fell over his eye patch, the red of his half one buttoned up shirt stark against the black background. His black eye met the camera too, his expression much more sinister than Xie Lian.

 

You'll break your back to make me feel again

Suffocate to make me breathe again

Lose your mind from endless praying

Somethings never change, never change

Redemption never came

 

The camera zoomed out, and only stopped when Xie Lian was visible from the waist up. There was a silver text over his chest, the word REDEMPTION written in block letters. Crimson Rain Sought Flower’s hand rested protectively around him, his hand just where a sliver of Xie Lian’s skin was visible.

 

I stopped asking for forgiveness 'cause you should know

Only fools tread where the angels fear to go

But you keep trying to get too close

Saved myself by turning into stone

So save your judgment 'cause you just don't know

But somethings never change, never change

 

Crimson Rain Sought Flower’s other hand moved up Xie Lian’s chest, both of them still singing even though there was only one voice being heard. He reached for the shackle, finger fingers grazing it. Xie Lian tilted his head back as he continued to sing, looking into the camera. He looked more and more distressed, as the song continued. 

 

They say I should feel guilty and change my ways

Leaving crumpled bodies in my wake

Swear I didn't mean to make them break

But they're so delicate and so mundane

And they keep coming like a moth to flame

Oh some things never change, never change

 

You'll break your back to make me feel again

Suffocate to make me breathe again

Lose your mind from endless praying

Somethings never change, never change, oh

 

Xie Lian turned, looking up at Crimson Rain Sought Flower, who’s gaze softened instantly. Xie Lian seemed to relax too, a calm settling over his features. Crimson Rain Sought Flower’s hand traveled along the shackle to Xie Lian’s neck, keeping Xie Lian’s gaze. Xie Lian was still looking up at him too, as if the camera wasn’t there at all.

 

Redemption never came

 

The curse shackle fell from Xie Lian’s neck to the floor, leaving his pale neck bare. The screen turned black, and as the music quieted a sharp intake of breath echoed out, before the video ended. 

Chapter Text

Hua Cheng’s fingers laid laced with his own over the dash between the front seats of the car. Xie Lian kept stealing glances at them, having a hard time looking up into Hua Cheng’s face but still needing reassurance that this was real. His heart was beating too roughly in his chest, and it was making him a little breathless. The memory of Hua Cheng’s lips pressed against his own kept replaying in his mind, and Xie Lian worried that he wouldn’t be able to hold back if he looked up and met Hua Cheng’s eye.

Xie Lian had kissed him. 

Xie Lian had kissed him and Hua Cheng had kissed him back and then said Xie Lian could kiss him any time and called Xie Lian his home . It was almost too much to comprehend. He had thought that it was a vain hope whenever he thought Hua Cheng looked at him in a way that made Xie Lian think that perhaps there was something more than friendship between them. Now that hope was exploding in his chest, spreading like vines through his system. He didn’t dare consider how deep Hua Cheng’s feelings ran because the thought alone made his mind spin, but it was getting impossible to disregard all the things Hua Cheng had done for him that he didn’t seem to do for others.

Tentatively Xie Lian looked over at Hua Cheng, feeling a little breathless all over again. He was just so beautiful, and Xie Lian couldn’t understand why he would feel something like this for him . Hua Cheng seemed to notice being watched, and a smile curled on his lips. He turned to look at Xie Lian, his eye so filled with adoration it made Xie Lian a little breathless. Hua Cheng looked back to the road just a moment later, he didn’t say anything, but slowly brought their joined hands up. Xie Lian’s heart skipped a beat as he pressed a soft kiss to the back of Xie Lian’s hand, before placing them back on the console. It was so tender Xie Lian wondered if his heart was going to burst. He could feel the imprint of Hua Cheng’s lips on his skin, tingling.

“Gege did very well today,” Hua Cheng said after a moment, when Xie Lian had yet to catch his breath. “You’re such a natural performer. This San Lang is so fortunate to get to watch.”

“It felt better with San Lang there with me,” Xie Lian admitted, and Hua Cheng let out a slow breath, squeezing his hand. “I’m so very happy to have San Lang in my life.”

“This San Lang feels very grateful too,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian had to look away from him, leaning down over their joined hands. He pressed his lips to the side of Hua Cheng’s hand, before resting his forehead against them. It was probably a bit odd. There was just so much swirling in his chest, and he needed a moment to calm his mind. “Is Gege alright?”

“Mn,” Xie Lian agreed with a nod. “I look forward to being home.”

“Home,” Hua Cheng said, and then squeezed his hand again. Then, his voice took a mischievous note. “What does Gege look forward to do, when we get home?”

Xie Lian snapped up, blinking as he gasped. “San Lang!” he exclaimed, and Hua Cheng laughed, making Xie Lian shake his head as his cheek burned.

“I just want to make sure that Gege heard me, when I said that Gege can kiss me whenever he wants,” he said, and Xie Lian pulled his knees up, placing his feet on the seat to hide his face. He still held on to Hua Cheng’s hand however, because he was not letting go of that anytime soon. “If he wants to of course.”

“Of course I want to,” Xie Lian said, the words muffled because of his position. How could Hua Cheng just say things like that? Didn’t he get embarrassed? Xie Lian knew he didn’t, but still! He took a deep breath and turned his face out from hiding, leaning his temple against his knees. “San Lang… San Lang can kiss me too, whenever he wants to.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, glancing over again. “We’ll never get anything done ever again, if Gege gives me such permission,” he said, and Xie Lian groaned and hid his face in his knees again. Hua Cheng laughed, and after a moment Xie Lian felt the car slow. He glanced up, expecting to see Hua Cheng’s garage. Instead they were pulling over, stopping on the side of the road. Xie Lian blinked and then looked over at Hua Cheng as his brows furrowed. 

“San Lang, is something wrong?” he asked, as the car came to a full stop. Hua Cheng turned off the engine, and then he turned fully to face Xie Lian. His free hand came up to cup Xie Lian’s cheek, pulling Xie Lian’s attention fully to his expression.

“No, I’m just taking Gege up on his offer,” Hua Cheng shamelessly said, and Xie Lian felt his chest explode with butterflies. 

“San Lang!” he exclaimed breathlessly, and Hua Cheng chuckled, his thumb caressing over Xie Lian’s cheekbone.

“Does Gege mind?” he asked, his voice lowering as he leaned in closer. Xie Lian wondered if his heart was going to explode, but Hua Cheng’s lips were so close and he wanted so much to feel them against his again. Xie Lian shook his head, his eyes falling closed as he leaned in to meet him. Hua Cheng’s lips pressed against his own, and in the kiss he could feel him smiling. 

 

_____________________________

 

A weeks ago the music world was shocked to learn that Xianle, or rather Xie Lian, who were the previous star of the all boys pop group Flower Crowned Gods, had not disappeared into nothingness, but found his way to the other coast, and to Scrap Collecting Immortal Record label ,” the voice of Wong Min came through the kitchen radio. “ During the past year we’ve seen a lot of media coverage of Xie Lian, the press documenting his fall from grace. This of course came to a stop when the gossip magazines, which were most adamant about following Xie Lian, were drawn into a legal process in which they all came out as the big losers. Now we seem to have another legal process in which Xie Lian is the main focus.

Yes, in the last process it wasn’t Xie Lian himself who was vocal, he wasn’t even at the trial and his knowledge of the process is unknown. However, in this new process he’s the main character. Scrap Collecting Immortal Record Company, the company of Crimson Rain Sought Flower, the artist Xie Lian did a collaboration and who was claimed to be part of the reason for Xie Lian being banished from his previous label, is suing White No Face-entertainment for Xie Lian’s contracts, claiming them to be invalid ,” the second radio host, Xu Jing proclaimed, excitement in her voice.  

Yes! ” Wong Min exclaimed. “ The reasoning the Scrap Collecting Immortal’s lawyers are driving is that it is not Xie Lian’s name in the final contract, but rather his old stage name, Xianle.

Now, we don’t know much about the legal process and how that might progress, so we look forward to seeing how this plays out ,” Xu Jing continued. “ However, we would like to talk about the video which was released the same hour as the lawsuit was handed into the court .”

“And what a video is it! ” Wong Min said. “ At first glance it might look simple. For those of you who have not seen it, please do, but for the sake of conversation, I will explain it.

“Y eah and like you said, it looks simple, ” Xu Jing agreed.

It does! It starts with Xie Lian standing alone with a white background. He’s styled very plainly, and really there are only two things to focus on here. One, he’s wearing a black sweater. Xie Lian who is known only to wear white, only before seen in black in the performance with Crimson Rain Sought Flower, once again in black. The second being a large shackle around his neck, right where he used to wear his signature golden chokers, ” Wong Min explained.

It’s really eye-catching, and one instantly gets a very different image of Xie Lian than the one we have seen before. The music too, is very different from what we have seen from the pop-star previously, ” Xu Jing said. 

The interesting thing about it though is that it is not Xie Lian that’s singing, ” Wong Min said, sounding conspiratory.

It is not! ” Xu Jing exclaimed. 

Even though it is only him on screen at first, it is someone else singing as he lip syncs, ” Wong Min exclaimed. 

Yes, and this is because the contracts Xie Lian is still tied to, the contracts now sued for, stops Xie Lian from singing himself, ” Xu Jing explained. “ He needs someone to be his voice .

“So, the song continues, and after the first chorus of this dark song which we can only assume is supposed to say something about Xie Lian’s previous career and the year since being kicked out form his former label, we finally get an answer to who is singing, ” Wong Min said. 

Yes, Crimson Rain Sought Flower appears behind Xie Lian, and the closeness we saw in their performance last year is still there, ” Xu Jing said. “ It’s even progressed!

Yes, Crimson Rain Sough Flower looks possessive if you ask me, looking into the camera as he curls himself around Xie Lian, ” Wong Min continued, sounding almost scandalized but with a laugh in her voice.

At the end they break away from looking at the camera to look at each other, and if no one else has said it yet, I will! The way Crimson Rain Sought Flower looks at Xie Lian is unpaired with anything I’ve seen. I have never seen anyone look so smitten ,” Xu Jing exclaimed, followed by a laugh. “ I ship it.

The video ends with the shackle falling from Xie Lian’s neck, followed by a sharp intake of breath once the screen turns black, and it immediately makes one think of Xie Lian being silenced by his current contracts ,” Wong Min ends the explanation of the video. 

Yeah, there’s really no other way to view it in my opinion ,” Xu Jing agreed. “ What a comeback.”  

Xie Lian didn’t just come back, the video was like seeing an angel with a shotgun ,” Wong Min expressed with force. “ Released with the lawsuit, it’s a clear message. Xie Lian and Scrap Collecting Immortals didn’t come to settle, they came to start a war.

“Angel with a shotgun,” Xie Lian said, a laugh falling from his lips as he put the dried plate to the side. Hua Cheng handed him another wet plate, and Xie Lian took it and started to dry it with the towel as well. “It sounds like a song title.”

“Is the attention making Gege inspired?” Hua Cheng asked, his graceful hands moving over a plate as he cleaned it. 

“Hm,” Xie Lian agreed, feeling a smile tug at his lips. He couldn’t quite explain it. He had done his best to stay away from the press in the past year, and he wasn’t very keen on talking to them even now, but hearing them talk about him and Hua Cheng together was really nice. “Don’t you think it could be fitting, maybe for Calamities?” he asked, and Hua Cheng smirked, handing the plate over to Xie Lian.

“How would it go, Gege?” he asked, and Xie Lian considered for a moment, then he started to sing. 

I’m an angel with a shotgun, fighting till the wars won, I don’t care if heaven won’t take me back ,” Xie Lian sang, and then hummed a little, before he continued. “ I'll throw away my faith, babe, just to keep you safe. Don't you know you're everything I have?” He looked over at Hua Cheng then, who turned to smile at him, before he swooped down and lifted Xie Lian off the floor. Xie Lian yelped, feeling joy bubble up in his chest as he grabbed Hua Cheng’s shoulders tightly. 

“San Lang!” he exclaimed, meaning to sound chiding but coming off delighted instead in the way laughter was spilling into his voice as he dropped the dish towel. His chest felt like it was filled with butterflies. He had forgotten how it was to be so overwhelmingly happy. 

“If Gege would write a song for Calamities, it would be the greatest honor,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian laughed, leaning forward to press his lips to Hua Cheng’s softly.

“It would be fun to try,” he admitted. “Something different from what I’ve been writing so far.”

“Would Gege sing it with us?” Hua Cheng asked, his eye gleaming as he slowly placed him on the ground. Xie Lian frowned. He wanted to, being on stage with Hua Cheng had been so much fun but...

“Ah, San Lang you know I’m not allowed to,” Xie Lian said with a sigh, but Hua Cheng’s hand curled gently around his chin, guiding his face back to look at him. Xie Lian followed, squeezing Hua Cheng’s hip.

“You will be,” he assured, full of confidence. “Soon.”

“Mn,” Xie Lian agreed, going up on his toes to peck at his lips sweetly before placing both feet flat on the ground again. Hua Cheng followed him down for another, pressing his lips against Xie Lian’s once more.

“Is Gege nervous?” he asked, and Xie Lian let out a slow breath as he nodded. Hua Cheng straightened, and met his gaze. 

“Yes,” Xie Lian admitted, because he was. He didn’t want to see Jun Wu again, and he really didn’t want to face losing this negotiation. He had no hope of this first meeting going well. Still, it had to be done. “I don’t know how it will feel, to see him.” Hua Cheng frowned, his eye growing dark. 

“I wish I could be in there with Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian nodded. He had wanted that too, but for this initial meeting he wasn’t allowed to. There was to be only Jun Wu, White No Face-Entertainment lawyers, as well as Xie Lian and his legal representation. If this continued and was brought before a judge, Hua Cheng could be permitted to join. The hope was of course that Jun Wu would agree to release the contract immediately, but Xie Lian had no hopes for it. This was just a step they needed to pass before truly having an opportunity to have the contract discredited. 

“Mn, that would have been nice,” Xie Lian agreed, his hands moving up Hua Cheng’s back slowly.  “I’ll be alright San Lang. I won’t be alone.”

“No, that’s true,” Hua Cheng agreed with a nod, even if he still didn't look fully happy. Xie Lian wished he didn’t have to bring him this worry. It was just as bad to watch as it was to feel his own. “I will be close by, just not in the room.” Xie Lian looked him in the eye for a long time, trying to store the safety he felt in this embrace in his chest to bring into that meeting. Hua Cheng didn’t say anything, his finger slipping into Xie Lian’s hair at his nape.

“Is it time to go?” Xie Lian asked, far too soon but knowing they were probably already late.

“Yes,” Hua Cheng agreed, and Xie Lian nodded as he stepped back from the safety of his arms. Hua Chengs stepped with him, and then pulled him even closer. Xie Lian held him close too, and tried not to fall apart under the nerves.

They had to separate at some point, and then walked together out to the car and drove down to the courthouse. Xie Lian was happy that they could have this negotiation here at least. Since it had been handed in in the city Scrap Collecting Immortals was situated, it was customary for the negotiations to start there. However, if this were to go on before a judge, the case had to be settled in the city the contract was written in - where White No Face had it’s base. 

Yin Yu was picked up at the label, and then they drove in silence over to the courthouse. Yin Yu looked sharp in his grey suit, and Hua Cheng had dressed up in a black suit with a red shirt under, a couple of buttons open. Xie Lian however had pulled on a large black sweatshirt he had snagged from Hua Cheng’s closet that still smelled like him, as well as the dark jeans he had worn in the redemption video. He had asked Hua Cheng if he should have put on something more proper, even if he didn’t own any suit or anything. Hua Cheng had smirked and told him he looked perfect, and Xie Lian trusted that at least he wasn’t breaking any rules. He had never stepped into a courtroom after all. 

They stepped out of the car, and Hua Cheng’s hand found Xie Lian’s immediately. They walked after Yin Yu towards the entrance, and as soon as they stepped off the asphalt of the parking lot up on the path leading towards the entrance, they were met with the media. Cameras were directed at them, flashes going off as an onslaught of questions were yelled in their direction. Xie Lian felt himself fold in on himself, but soon the press quieted, their shouting stopping after one sharp look from Hua Cheng. They weren’t the only ones there however.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, squeezing his hand as his gaze focused forward. Further towards the courthouse there were people without large cameras or microphones, but instead held large signs with his name - his real name - or the word ‘redemption’ in silver or black on them. It made Xie Lian’s heart pause.

“Gege has a lot of fans who care about him and his career,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian couldn't help but smile at that. He never thought… no he hadn’t even considered that something like this might happen. That people would come out and show support for him. He waved at them, and wished he could have stayed to talk to them. He knew he couldn't however, they were already cutting it close with time. 

“Thank you,” he called out towards them at least, and the crowd erupted into cheers, making Xie Lian duck his head to hide his flush. Yin Yu held up the door, and then they stepped into the very quiet courthouse. It was a stark difference from the noise outside, and Xie Lian felt nerves shoot up his spine. He squeezed Hua Cheng’s hand as an attendant greeted them and started showing them to the negotiation room. Hua Cheng squeezed back. 

“I’ll be right outside Gege,” he promised, and Xie Lian nodded. “Gege is strong, and powerful, and he is just an obsessed lowlife who doesn’t even deserve to speak your name.”

“San Lang is so brave,” Xie Lian said, looking up at him. “I will try to be, too.” Xie Lian really hoped he would be able to, but he didn’t know how he would. He could only do his best, but he knew it would be difficult. Jun Wu had known him for so long, and looking back now Xie Lian could see that he knew exactly what to say to make Xie Lian bend and form as he wanted. The incident when Jun Wu attacked him was almost out of character from his other manipulation, for its suddenness. Xie Lian wondered what had been driving him then, but then again, Xie Lian didn’t really want to know.

They came to the opened door of the negotiation room, and paused. Hua Cheng leaned forward to press his lips to Xie Lian’s temple, and Xie Lian closed his eyes for a moment to simply feel this comfort. He let out a sigh and he squeezed Hua Chengs’ hand one last time, and then let their hands slip apart as he stepped after Yin Yin into the room. 

The door fell shut behind them, and Xie Lian made a point of not looking up to meet the other mens’ gaze. Instead he followed Yin Yu, who pulled out a chair for him to sit. Xie Lian did, and only when Yin Yu was seated beside him did he look up. From the other side of the table Jun Wu’s calm and collected gaze met his, and Xie Lian tried to push down the shiver racing down his spine as their eyes met. Jun Wu was in a white suit as always, gold details embroidered into the fine fabric. Beside him on each side sat a lawyer, unassuming in black suits. Xie Lian was fairly sure he had never seen either of them before.

“Xianle,” Jun Wu said in greeting, in the same way he had said it so many times before. His lips quirked up into a sharp smile which Xie Lian wasn’t used to however, and suddenly he was ricocheted back to that night in Jun Wu’s penthouse apartment, his words ringing in Xie Lian’s ears. 

I own you, your voice, your dance, everything. 

You’re nothing without me, have nothing without me.

Xie Lian set his jaw. He had no intention to play along in his game ever again. He kept Jun Wu’s gaze, keeping his expression neutral.

“I do not think there’s anyone in this room with that name,” he pointed out, and saw surprise flash in Jun Wu’s eyes. It was gone in a second, replaced by calm control. Xie Lian had seen it though… the crack. 

“Of course there is,” Jun Wu said, his voice gentle as he leaned forward. The tone was so soft, as if speaking to an insolent child. Hadn’t he called Xie Lian that before too? “You are Xianle,” he continued, and Xie Lian held back a snort. 

“No,” he said calmly but with determination. “You wanted me to be Xianle, but I’m not. I’m just Xie Lian.”

“Mn,” Jun Wu said, leaning back in his chair. His attention shifted from Xie Lian then, keeping him suspended mid-conversation. He focused on Yin Yu instead, and Xie Lian saw him stiffen in the corner of his eye. “Yin Yu, it was a surprise to see you connected to such a label as Scrap Collecting Immortals. I hope Hua Cheng is treating you fairly.”

“Yes-” Yin Yu started, but was cut off by Jun Wu before he had the opportunity to elaborate. 

“Qi Ying is well, as I am sure you have supposed from his success,” Jun Wu continued, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise from hearing Quan Yizhen’s stage name brought up. It seemed he and Yin Yu had a history Xie Lian wasn’t aware of. “I am sure you don’t have much contact now,” Jun Wu added with a sympathetic gaze, and Xie Lian saw Yin Yu’s fingers tremble slightly. It made anger swell in his chest. It was so obvious now, the manipulation Jun Wu laced into each word. 

“No I-,” Yin Yu started, but Jun Wu started talking over him once more, silencing Yin Yu who still seemed to be reeling from the mention of Quan Yizhen. 

“He has of course been struggling, along with the other’s from Flower Crowned Gods, since Xianle left them,” Jun Wu said, his attention once again moving to Xie Lian. “They all miss you greatly, Xianle.”

“Oh, do they?” Xie Lian asked, feeling anger swirl in his chest. It tasted bitter on his tongue. He had told himself he wasn’t going to become affected, but it was so hard when Jun Wu was pushing against all his buttons. “Even though you tricked them into thinking I stole from them and ruined their belongings?”

“All can be forgiven,” Jun Wu said calmly, moving his hand smoothly as if dismissing Xie Lian’s statement, but didn’t contradict him. “I am sure their possessions will be found and returned, and friendships can once again blossom after an earnest apology.”

“An apology?” Xie Lian asked, taking a slow breath as he tried to calm himself. “By who?”

“Perhaps we should steer this conversation to the subject of this meeting,” Yin Yu called, and Xie Lian nodded as he leaned back, very grateful for Yin Yu’s interference. Xie Lian was getting too riled up, and it wouldn’t help him in the long run. 

“Yes of course,” one of White No Face-entertainment lawyers agreed. Jun Wu’s gaze didn’t leave Xie Lian’s, but Xie Lian had regained some purpose and looked away from his piercing gaze to look at the lawyers. “So, we received the appeal to release Xianle from his contracts because of this so-called error with his name. White No Face-entertainment still perceive him as Xianle, and therefore have no intention to release him from his current contract,” the lawyer said, and Xie Lian let out a soft sigh. This was expected, but a sliver of hope had still burned in Xie Lian’s heart that they would simply agree. Wouldn’t it be simpler for all of them?

“Alright, then we will take our leave and we will meet you with a judge next time,” Yin Yu said, pushing up to stand.

“Hold on,” Jun Wu said, and Yin Yu paused. Xie Lian looked over at him in surprise, meeting a far too smug expression. 

Oh no. 

“Yes?” Yin Yu asked, sitting down slowly. Xie Lian felt his heart start to pound faster in his chest, worry spreading through his veins with each beat. Jun Wu gestured to the lawyer once more, and Xie Lian looked away from his far too smug expression to the lawyer’s calm one instead.

“Since the appeal was handed in, White No Face-entertainment’s legal department under the encouragement from Jun Wu have gone over the contracts for all members of Flower Crowned God’s, including Xianle’s. It has been discovered that other major groups, such as the Three Tumors, have more beneficial contracts. It has therefore been decided that should Xianle come back home and uphold his end of the withstanding contract, all FCG members would receive beneficial contractual changes to their current agreements.” 

Xie Lian felt his blood run cold. They of course knew that Xie Lian must now know about the disadvantages of a contract at White No Face-entertainment as opposed to other labels, but also that his old group members probably didn’t. Xie Lian didn’t need White No Face anymore, and Jun Wu knew it. Mu Qing, Feng Xin, Quan Yizhen and Lang Qianqiu however, did. Xie Lian still carried so much guilt for how everything had turned out towards them, and now he was being handed a way to help them on a silver platter he didn’t want. Xie Lian knew he shouldn't ask, but he couldn’t help but do so. “What changes?” 

“Ten percent of the income made by the individual, a clear upstep from three, as well as two weeks off after every album as well as tour is finished,” the lawyer explained, and Xie Lian’s heart started to ache. That money could help Mu Qing’s mother, and ensure that all of them could start saving up if they wanted to leave the label, so they wouldn’t have to suffer through what Xie Lian had. The time off would also ensure they could all see their families more. It was just what Xie Lian knew they all wanted and needed. 

“That is not all,” Jun Wu said, and Xie Lian refused to look at him, because he might want to headbutt him again if he saw his satisfied expression. Maybe this time he would break his nose properly. Xie Lian was sure that his own emotions were very visible on his face, but it couldn’t be helped. He hadn’t expected Jun Wu to come with counter negotiations. How naive of him. 

“The members of Flower Crowned God’s would receive their own apartment within the Heavenly Realm, with a joined kitchen and living area, but with each getting a separate bedroom. Qi Rong would also be removed from the group,” the lawyer continued, and now Xie Lian wanted to cry. He clenched his jaws tightly, and felt nausea roll in his stomach. A part of him desperately wanted to accept. He wanted all of them to have that - the privacy, the recognition, being freed from the plague that was his cousin. “All you need to do is sign here,” the lawyer continued, pushing a pile of papers towards Xie Lian, the line which required a signature marked. Below it, the name Xianle, stood. It made Xie Lian’s heart burn with anger, and he looked over at Jun Wu to fixate him with a cold stare.  

“No,” he said, and Jun Wu frowned as he tilted his head to the side.

“No?” he asked calmly, and Xie Lian shook his head. “How very selfish Xianle.” 

“I can’t,” Xie Lian said, and Jun Wu blinked in surprise.

“Oh? Can’t?” he asked, leaning forward as he placed his elbows on the table. “Or won’t? Selfishness is not becoming, Xianle. I am sure I have taught you better than acting in this way when being given something so gracious.”

“I am already contracted to Scrap Collecting Immortals Record label,” Xie Lian said, drawing back his shoulders as he met Jun Wu’s eyes. “I can therefore not accept your offer.”

“That’s a contract breach,” the White No Face lawyer said, and Jun Wu seemed to try to gather himself from the shock. Clearly they had not expected this. Good. “This contract clearly states-”

“It’s not,” Yin Yu interrupted. “Xie Lian is contracted to Scrap Collecting Immortals Record label for other talents than what is stated in this contract.” Yin Yu tapped his pen at the stack of papers before the lawyer containing the old contract, who still looked stunned. “Besides, this contract is invalid. A judge will rule so when we meet in court. I am sure.”

The room fell quiet, and Xie Lian had to bite the inside of his cheek so as not to smile. It pained him greatly to turn down something that would help the ones he still cared for, but it was a great relief that he had the opportunity to look at Jun Wu and say no, and for him to have to respect it. 

It wasn’t as if he ever had before.

“Well, we will see you in court then,” the lawyer said, and then gathered his papers and stood. Jun Wu stood a little too abruptly too, and Xie Lian stayed seated and watched. Maybe someone else who didn’t know him as well wouldn’t have noticed, but Xie Lian had spent enough time around him to recognize when he wasn’t acting as calm and collected as he usually did. This conversion had not gone as Jun Wu expected nor wanted, and it was glorious to see. Jun Wu and his lawyers walked to the door, stepping through it. Xie Lian was just about to turn to Yin Yu and thank him, when he heard Jun Wu speak. 

“Hua Cheng,” Jun Wu greeted, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise. He must have seen Hua Cheng outside then. Xie Lian hadn’t expected him to know that Crimson Rain Sought Flower was Hua Cheng, however. He rose, but didn’t approach the door. “Standing outside the door and waiting, like a lap dog? How unbecoming.”

“A lap dog?” Hua Cheng asked, amusement laced into his voice. Xie Lian felt his heart skip a beat. Hua Cheng didn’t seem to be affected at all by Jun Wu’s attempt of rousing him and wounding his pride. “And who’s lap would that be?”

“Xianle of course,” Jun Wu said coldly, earning himself a low chuckle from Hua Cheng. 

“Anytime I’m permitted into Xie Lian’s lap is a divine and sacred moment,” Hua Cheng said smoothly, and Xie Lian felt blood rush up to his cheeks. “If I am his dog, I am a very dedicated one.”

“I beg your pardon?” Jun Wu asked, and Xie Lian had to place a hand over his mouth to hold back a giggle. He had never heard him so distraught before. Hua Cheng tsked, sounding bored. 

“You see, the difference between you and me is that you want him to crawl for you, which will never happen,” Hua Cheng said, his tone still as unbothered as if he was discussing the weather. “I, however, would happily lay down on the ground at Xie Lian’s feet and offer my belly if it meant there was an opportunity for scratches by his divine hands.”

“It seems he had deceived you,” Jun Wu said, pity in his tone even if his voice did waiver. “You poor soul.”

“I think you would do best to crawl back to your ivory and gold tower and lick your wounds, and enjoy all the pleasures you hold dear,” Hua Cheng said flatly. “I do not think you will have them for long.”

No more words were exchanged, and Xie Lian rushed to the open door as he heard footsteps moving away from the room. He was met in the door by Hua Cheng, who’s brows were drawn together slightly, his jaw imperceptibly set. Xie Lian reached up, caressing his fingers carefully along the sharp jawline. 

“Hello San Lang,” he said calmly, and Hua Cheng let out a slow breath. “Were you bored waiting?”

“Any time away from Gege is boring,” Hua Cheng answered, leaning a little firmer into Xie Lian’s palm. “I mostly feel sorry for Gege for having to spend time with such useless trash. How did it go?”

“They’re not releasing it,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng hummed and nodded, because it really was expected. 

“Let’s talk about it in private,” Yin Yu reminded, and Hua Cheng looked away from Xie Lian for a moment to look over his shoulder at Yin Yu, before he nodded and returned his gaze to Xie Lian. 

He reached out and curled his arm around Xie Lian’s shoulders, and Xie Lian leaned into him as they walked through the quiet corridors that opened up into the large main hallway. An attendant opened the door for them, and as soon as they stepped out they were met with an overwhelming wall of sound. Xie Lian could hear his name being called, and he blinked in the blinding light, waiving as he smiled. He could hear questions being called, but didn’t pause to answer them. Hua Cheng seemed unbothered, and Yin Yu only walked quietly behind them, not engaging. They had prepared an official statement in advance which would be released soon, and other than that no interviews would be held. Xie Lian didn’t want to.

They reached the car, and Hua Cheng opened the door for Xie Lian and let him slip in before sitting down himself in the driver seat. Yin Yu sat down in the back, and then they were off, making their way back to the label. Yin Yu gave a short summary of what had been discussed, and Hua Cheng sat quiet as he listened, his fingers laced with Xie Lian’s between the seats.

“Fucking bastard,” Hua Cheng said once Yin Yu and Xie Lian were done. “Of course he would try to guilt you into coming back, trying to appeal to Gege’s kind nature. Trash.”

“I really wanted to take it,” Xie Lian admitted, and felt Hua Cheng squeeze his hand. “Not because I want to be there, or work with him… I just want them to have it better. All four of them, no…really all the artists there deserve better.”

“They do,” Yin Yu agreed with a sigh. “Hopefully they’ll be better informed after the trial.”

“You think they’ll leave then?” Xie Lian asked, turning back to look at Yin Yu who shrugged.

“They might,” Hua Cheng answered, and Xie Lian looked back at him. “Some might, others might feel even more stuck when they realise the gravity of the contracts they’ve signed.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, letting out a tired sigh. “It’s all so messed up.”

“It really is,” Yin Yu agreed, and Xie Lian glanced back at him, seeing him look out the window. The comment made by Jun Wu about Quan Yizhen returned to his memory, and he decided that he would ask Yin Yu about it when he had the opportunity. Now didn’t seem like a good time however. 

“Let's go back to the label and release the statement,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian hummed in agreement. “Then we can discuss going on with presenting this to a judge.” 

 

_______________________

 

Xie Lian woke that same night from the sound of a piano melody being played. He blinked awake, and for a moment simply laid there and simply listened. He had never heard Hua Cheng play piano before, but it didn’t surprise him that he knew how. He was so talented after all. Xie Lian pushed out of bed, grabbing the black sweatshirt he had been wearing that day and pulled it on. His bare feet moved soundlessly over wooden floors over to the music room as if called by the melody. Hua Cheng noticed him as soon as he appeared in the door, and a soft smile curled on his lips. He was only in his pajama pants, his long dark hair falling freely down his bare back. Xie Lian took a step closer, and Hua Cheng wordlessly made room on the piano stool. Xie Lian straddled it, pressing close to Hua Cheng’s side.

“Couldn't sleep?” he asked, and Hua Cheng shook his head, his fingers moving slowly over the keys. “I’m sorry.”

“I didn’t mean to wake Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian shook his head, meeting Hua Cheng’s gaze. His dark eye met Xie Lian’s, who smiled softly. 

“Play for me, San Lang?” he asked, and Hua Cheng nodded, his long slender fingers changing the melody of the song he was playing to something different. Xie Lian looked down at his fingers moving, a soft smile spreading on his lips. Then, Hua Cheng surprised him by starting to sing. 

 

Sweetheart, you look a little tired, When did you last eat?

Come in and make yourself right at home, Stay as long as you need

Tell me, is something wrong? If something's wrong you can count on me

You know I'll take my heart clean apart, If it helps yours beat

 

Xie Lian felt his breath leave his lungs. Hua Cheng looked over at him, earnestness painting his expression. It made Xie Lian ache, all the love he felt for this wonderful man expanding in his chest. 

 

It's okay if you can't find the words, Let me take your coat and this weight off of your shoulders

Like a force to be reckoned with, A mighty ocean or a gentle kiss

I will love you with every single thing I have

Like a tidal wave, we'll make a mess, Calm waters, if that serves you best

I will love you without any strings attached

 

Hua Cheng continued to look at him, and Xie Lian curled himself closer, craving contact. He wanted to be as close to Hua Cheng as he was allowed to. His arm wrapped around Hua Cheng’s back, the other landing high on his thigh. Hua Cheng glanced at the keys, his eye falling sut for a moment as he continued to sing, before opening once again to meet Xie Lian’s once more. 

 

It's okay if you can't catch your breath, You can take the oxygen straight out of my own chest

I know exactly how your rule goes, Put my mask on first

No, I don't want to talk about myself, Tell me where it hurts

I just want to build you up, build you up, 'Til you're good as new

And maybe one day, I'll get around, To fixing myself, too

 

Xie Lian pressed his lips to Hua Cheng’s bare shoulder, trailing kisses along cool smooth skin as his heart pounded. It felt surreal, to be loved like this, to be carefored. Xie Lian wanted to stay by his side, always, as long as Hua Cheng wanted him there. He gave him so much happiness, so much safety and so much joy. Facing fragments of his own life today had only solidified that. 

 

I don't even know where to start, Already tired of trying to recall when it all fell apart

I just want to love you, to love you, to love you, and

I just want to learn how to somehow be loved myself

Like a force to be reckoned with, A mighty ocean or a gentle kiss

I will love you without any strings attached

 

He wanted to be attached. He wanted to tie himself to Hua Cheng, to give him his everything. Time and time again he supported and encouraged Xie Lian, and if that wasn’t something to build a life on, Xie Lian didn’t know what was. He wanted to give it all back, and wanted to give Hua Cheng everything.

 

What a privilege it is to love, A great honor to hold you up

Like a force to be reckoned with, A mighty ocean or a gentle kiss

I will love you with every single thing I have

 

Xie Lian felt his fingers trembling, and he pressed the bend where his nose met his forehead against the curve of Hua Cheng’s shoulder to simply breathe. The song was so beautiful, self sacrificing and filled with adoration. Xie Lian let out a slow breath, and hung on each syllable. He wasn’t worthy of this devotion, but he craved it.

 

Like a tidal wave, we'll make a mess, Calm waters, if that serves you best

I will love you without any strings attached

I will love you without a single string attached

 

The song came to an end, Xie Lian pulled himself from the comfort of hiding his face against Hua Cheng’s skin to meet his gaze. Hua Cheng looked at him, his hand leaving the keys to stroke some of Xie Lian’s hair behind his ear.

“Attach them,” Xie Lian said in a trembling whisper, and Hua Cheng blinked.

“What?” he asked, his tone matching Xie Lian’s, as if words too loud would shatter and crumble. Xie Lian smiled, feeling terrified but calm all at once. He knew Hua Chneg would never purposefully hurt him, but even still he feared rejection. 

“I want the strings attached,” Xie Lian admitted, and Hua Cheng let out a trembling breath. 

“Gege,” he whispered, and Xie Lian pressed another kiss to his shoulder.

“I want, desperately even, to be yours,” he admitted, keeping his gaze on Hua Cheng’s neck for a moment, before summoning up the courage to meet his gaze. “Can I?”

“Yes,” Hua Cheng rushed out, turning to face him more directly. His arm curled around Xie Lian’s shoulder, his other hand finding Xie Lian’s on his thigh and lacing their fingers together. “I’m Gege’s too, I’ve always been,” he proclaimed, and then turned his own arm over to show Xie Lian. “See this, can you read it?”

“Ah, San Lang, that is really unfair,” Xie Lian said, feeling himself blush as he tried to make out the characters inked into Hua Cheng’s skin. “What is it?” Xie Lian asked as he looked over the written letters, tracing his fingers over the black ink.

“It’s my handwriting,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat. Ah. 

“Oh,” he said, but Hua Cheng didn’t seem to mind the rudeness of Xie Lian’s earlier comments right now. Instead he took his own hand, and traced over the words.

“Look here,” he said, wording the characters out as he traced them. “Xie Lian.” 

Xie Lian felt his mind go blank, his heart pounding roughly against his chest as he let the meaning of the ink on Hua Cheng’s arm sink in. He had tattooed Xie Lian’s name into his skin, having it resting there for who knows how long. Xie Lian felt warmth spread through his chest, tears filling his eyes as he tried to catch his breath. 

“Does Gege mind?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian realised then that he hadn’t said anything yet! He looked up and blinked the tears away, shaking his head.

“No,” he answered, smiling widely. “San Lang I could never mind.” He leaned down and pressed his lips to the inked skin, trailing kisses along the lines. “Thank you,” he said, straightening to look Hua Cheng in the eye once more.

“It is this San Lang who should say thank you to Gege,” Hua Cheng said, shaking his head as if in disbelief. Xie Lian cupped his cheeks, caressing over his cheekbones. He loved touching Hua Cheng.

“Can we attach the strings then?” he asked, his voice trembling slightly. “Or does San Lang mind?”

“No,” Hua Cheng answered, laughter pearling his voice as he shook his head. “Gege makes me the happiest man on this planet.”

“I am San Lang’s then,” Xie Lian proclaimed, a wide smile spreading on his lips from the proclamation. Hua Cheng looked at him in disbelief, and then leaned forward to press their lips together.

“My beloved,” he whispered into Xie Lian’s lips once, parting only to speak before pressing them together again. “My Xie Lian,” he continued, followed by another kiss. It was making Xie Lian light headed. Hua Cheng pulled back, and laughed again. When Xie Lian met his gaze, mischief danced in Hua Cheng’s eye. “Ah, Gege, that's going to go to my head.” 

“My San Lang,” Xie Lian said, pressing a kiss to the tip of his nose. “My Hua Cheng.” Joy was bubbling in his chest, and for a moment they simply sat there and basked in the happiness. It was as if a weight had lifted from Xie Lian’s shoulders. He didn’t know why or how, but somehow Hua Cheng felt the same. What an honor.

After a while the late hour caught up with him, and Xie Lian let out a yawn. He felt his cheeks flush, but Hua Cheng only laughed, pressing his lips to each of Xie Lian’s warm cheeks.

“Should we go to bed?” he asked, and Xie Lian nodded in agreement, feeling a little too bold and high on happiness as he asked:

“Could I come with San Lang?” Hua Cheng was half way to standing, his face snapping to Xie Lian’s once again as soon as the words had left his mouth. 

“Oh,” Hua Cheng said, pausing in pulling Xie Lian up from the stool. Xie Lian stood, feeling nerves swirl in his stomach.

“Only if San Lang wants to of course,” he assured, and Hua Cheng stepped closer to cup his cheek, leaning in for a long tender kiss.

“Yes,” he said breathlessly against Xie Lian’s lips, and Xie Lian chased Hua Cheng’s mouth as he pulled back. “This San Lang would feel honored to sleep next to Gege.”

“Mn,” Xie Lian agreed, and then let Hua Cheng step out of the embrace. Their hands linked, and then they walked hand in hand back to Hua Cheng’s bedroom. The bed was unmade, as if Hua Cheng had stepped out of it to walk over to the music room to play. He probably had. 

“Which side does Gege want?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian shrugged, simply picking one to crawl from and sat down. He reached for the hem of his sweatshirt, only to realise that he would be almost naked in front of Hua Cheng if he removed it. Still, it would surely be far too warm to keep it on. He looked up to meet Hua Cheng’s gaze, seeing amusement in his features.

“Ah, San Lang don’t tease,” he said, putting his hands over his face to hide his embarrassment. Hua Cheng chuckled, and then Xie Lian felt the bed dip. He slowly parted his fingers, meeting Hua Cheng’s smiling eye. He had leaned forward, placing both hands on the mattress right in front of Xie Lian, but still standing on the floor.

“If Gege wants he can borrow a teeshirt?” he offered, and Xie Lian sighed and shook his head. He was being silly. It wasn’t something to be embarrassed about! Hua Cheng probably didn’t even care about seeing him naked. He wasn’t like Xie Lian, who got all flustered every time Hua Cheng walked around shirtless. He should have gotten used to it by now, with how often it happened. He hadn’t. Hua Cheng was just too attractive. 

“No, it’s alright,” he assured, and Hua Cheng pulled back as Xie Lian reached for the sweatshirt again, pulling it over his head and discarding it by throwing it into a chair to the side. He looked back over at Hua Cheng next, and was surprised to find his eye wide, a blush spreading over his cheeks.

Oh.

Had Xie Lian caused that?

“Gege is very beautiful,” Hua Cheng said, lifting the cover to crawl into bed. Xie Lian felt a thrill race up his spine, and laid down on his side to face Hua Cheng as he came closer but didn’t touch. Xie Lian felt a little breathless. Hua Cheng was simply too handsome. 

Xie Lian reached out, his hand coming up to caress along Hua Cheng’s cheek. Hua Cheng’s uncovered eye fell shut, a sigh of contentment leaving his lips. Xie Lian smiled, inching a little closer. His fingers grazed the black eyepatch, and Hua Cheng opened his other eye slowly. Xie Lian paused his movements, wondering if he had offended Hua Cheng by touching the eyepatch. Hua Cheng turned his face and pressed a kiss to Xie Lian’s palm, and then pushed up on one elbow.

“Does Gege mind if I take this off?” he asked, reaching for the eyepatch. He didn’t take it off however, but waited for Xie Lian’s answer. This felt monumental. They had known each other a long time now, but Hua Cheng had never mentioned his covered eye nor seemed comfortable showing it to Xie Lian. Even when they were young he had kept it covered. 

“No, I don’t mind at all,” Xie Lian assured. Hua Cheng hummed, his black eye meeting Xie Lian’s. He looked tentative, and Xie Lian wondered what could have happened in the past for him to act in such a way. Who had harmed him so? Xie Lian wanted to have a very serious conversation with them.

“It’s not very pretty,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian smiled in a way he hoped was reassuring.

“Every part of San Lang is very handsome to me,” he said, fully meaning it. “I want you to feel comfortable. Keep it on if you wish, but if San Lang sleeps better without it, please remove it.” Xie Lian couldn’t know what was behind the eyepatch, but he was sure that whatever it was, he would still find him just as beautiful. 

Hua Cheng let out a sigh, his fingers slipping under the patch to pull it off almost carlessly. He turned swiftly to put the eyepatch on the nightstand, as if to avoid Xie Lian’s attention. The right eyelid was closed, holding long dark lashes just like the left one. In the middle however there was a scar marring the lid and breaking the lash line, looking like stitches. 

Hua Cheng settled on his side beside Xie Lian once more with his gaze downcast. Xie Lian reached out and caressed his thumb along the lashes, before moving up to caress along the scar. Hua Cheng’s breath hitched, and Xie Lian leaned forward to press his lips to the closed lid. He felt Hua Cheng’s arm wrap around his waist to pull him close. Xie Lian followed easily, as Hua Cheng laid down on his back, bringing Xie Lian to rest on top of him.

“My San Lang is so handsome,” Xie Lian said, still pressing gentle kisses to Hua Cheng’s eyelid. He rose sighly, trying not to think about how good Hua Cheng’s bare chest felt against his own skin. They were so close like this, legs tangled under the covers. His heart pounded, but now was not the time to focus on such things. “Does San Lang want to tell me what happened?” He wouldn’t push if Hua Cheng didn’t want to, but he had been given a trust and he didn’t want to ignore it.

“My father, he… he was violent and well…” Hua Cheng trailed off with a shrug, meeting Xie Lian’s gaze. He didn’t elaborate, only caressed his fingers over Xie Lian’s hips. “It used to be red, not black like the other eye.”

“Oh?” Xie Lian said in curiosity. How fascinating. He hoped there was a photo somewhere, so he could see. “I bet it was beautiful San Lang.” He leaned down to press his lips to Hua Cheng’s lips softly, before coming up to meet Hua Cheng’s gaze. “It still is.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng breathed, one of his hands curling around Xie Lian’s neck to pull him down into a kiss. Xie Lian sighed, feeling heat swirl in his stomach, making him tingle. Hua Cheng’s hands were so warm, his breath so hot and the sensation of his tongue sliding into Xie Lian’s mouth so sensual. Xie Lian felt himself hardening in his underwear, under Hua Cheng’s touches, tentatively rolling his hips against Hua Cheng’s.

“Ah,” Hua Cheng moaned, deepening their kiss even further as he rocked his hips to meet Xie Lian. A trembling gasp left Xie Lian’s mouth as their hips rolled together. Xie Lian felt dizzy, reveling in the sensation of Hua Cheng’s erection pressing against his own. 

“San Lang,” he breathed in pleasure, the sensation of friction against his hard cock making more arousal burn through his veins. His lips left Hua Cheng’s, and instead he pressed his flushed face into the crook of Hua Cheng’s neck as he continued to roll his hips down. “Mmh, mmmh.”

“Mmmh, Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, his hands curling around Xie Lian’s hips to pull them closer together. “Is this alright?” he asked, and Xie Lian’s breath trembled. 

“Mmh,” he agreed with a nod, his hips continuing to move against Hua Cheng’s. It felt mind blowing, that he could have this effect on Hua Cheng, that he wanted Xie Lian this way. “Is- is it for San Lang?”

“Yes,” Hua Cheng sighed in pleasure, turning his head until their lips met again. Xie Lian hummed, only pulling back when he needed to catch his breath. He looked down and met Hua Cheng’s eye, which seemed impossibly darker with desire. His cheeks were flushed, and he looked beautiful. However, his hips stilled, his gaze searching as he looked up at Xie Lian. “This San Lang simply worries…because of what Gege has been exposed to before.”

“What?” Xie Lian asked, his hips stilling too. He frowned, trying to understand what Hua Cheng was referring to, then all of a sudden it rushed over him. Oh, he was thinking of what happened with Jun Wu. “Ah,” Xie Lian said as he frowned. He hadn’t even considered that.

“This San Lang simply wishes Gege to know that- Only if Gege want to,” Hua Cheng explained, and fondness filled Xie Lian’s chest. He smiled, and then leaned down to press a kiss to the corner of Hua Cheng’s mouth. 

“San Lang, I never think of him when I’m with you,” Xie Lian explained against his skin. There was no comparison. This situation was something significantly different in every way. “I feel safe with San Lang.”

“Oh,” Hua Cheng breathed,  and when Xie Lian pushed up he saw Hua Cheng’s eye fluttering closed. Xie Lian wanted to roll his hips down to continue this exploration, but since Hua Cheng had shown him such respect, Xie Lian should do the same. He was inexperienced in matters such as this, but he could learn. 

“But if San Lang isn’t comfortable,” he said, pushing up. Hua Cheng instantly grabbed him tighter to pull him down flush against his body again. Xie Lian gasped, as their erections once again pressed against each other. 

“Nope,” Hua Cheng said, playfulness having returned to his voice and expression. “I’m very happy Gege feels this way for me.” He nipped at Xie Lian’s jaw, and Xie Lian gasped at the sensation, rolling his hips down again instinctively. He was aching for friction, for anything.
“Mh,” he moaned, tilting his head back to allow Hua Cheng more access which was instantly accepted. “San Lang is so attractive, I feel hot all over.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, and his lips pressed against Xie Lian’s throat. Xie Lian shifted, his moans breathy as he straddled Hua Cheng’s hips. His moves became faster, being met with Hua Cheng’s rolling hips too. Hua Cheng’s lips wrapped around his skin and sucked, and Xie Lian’s hips bucked helplessly, pleasure rising and rising in his body as Hua Cheng left scattered marks over his throat and collar bones. Xie Lian’s hands curled into the hair’s at Hua Cheng’s nape to try to steady himself, the pleasure dizzying. Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian whimpered in answer to how lewd it sounded, his lips finding Hua Cheng’s once more. Hua Cheng’s fingers dug posessively into the skin of his hips, urging him on, urging Xie Lian to have what he wanted.

They were barely kissing now, their mouths simply pressed together as their breaths grew more labourded. Xie Lian could feel his orgasm approaching, feeling like a string pulled taught, ready to snap. Everything was Hua Cheng, the smell of the sheet, the warmth of his body under him, his moans filling the room. Hua Cheng’s lips on his own, his disheveled appearance as he laid under Xie Lian, his dark hair a halo around his head, his dark eye filled with desire. 

It made Xie Lian come apart, approaching the edge at a rapid speed. 

“Gege, Gege aaaah,” Hua Cheng moaned, and then his hips stuttered as he gripped Xie Lian’ tighter. His mouth fell open, pleasure washing over his features. Warm wetness pressed against Xie Lian’s erection, and feeling Hua Cheng come apart under him made Xie Lian fall over the edge too, feeling dizzy with want and adoration as his orgasm shook through his body. 

“San Lang!” he moaned, as he rolled his hips faster at first as his orgasm hit his peak, and then slower and slower as he came into his underwear, adding to the mess in Hua Cheng’s pajama pants. Xie Lian collapsed, pressed his face into Hua Cheng’s neck as he came down from the high, his entire body tingling and trembling. Hua Cheng’s hands caressed softly up and down Xie Lian’s back, his movements tender. Xie Lian flushed from the full realisation of what they had just done, and everything he himself had said! So shameless, so embarrassing. He still pressed a soft kiss to Hua Cheng’s neck, earning himself a soft chuckle.

“Did Gege enjoy that?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian could hear the smirk in his voice. He groaned, hiding his face even further in Hua Cheng’s neck. Hua Cheng laughed, and Xie Lian shook his head. He was an impossible tease! “This San Lang very much enjoyed himself.”

“Mmh,” Xie Lian agreed, sighing. There was no way he was going to answer that, even if it did make him very happy. Hua Cheng laughed again, and then gently rolled them over. Xie Lian let him, and once he was on his back had to face Hua Cheng’s smug expression. He tried to turn away, to hide the way his cheeks burned, but Hua Cheng started peppering his face with kisses, making it impossible for Xie Lian not to giggle. Hua Cheng looked proud as he pushed up, ending with a kiss on the tip of his nose.

“Gege might want to take those off,” Hua Cheng said as he rose, curling a finger into the elastic of Xie Lian’s underwear and releasing them with a snap. Xie Lian gasped, and then glared. “They’re a little soiled.”
“Who’s fault is that?” Xie Lian mumbled, and Hua Cheng laughed again. It was such a charming sound, Xie Lian couldn’t help but smile.

“It was a joint effort,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian laughed too and met his gaze with a nod. He guessed he had a point in that.

“It was very good teamwork, San Lang,” Xie Lian managed with a giggle, as Hua Cheng laughed once more as he pulled away to push down his soiled pajama pants and underwear. He shot Xie Lian an amused look, and Xie Lian tried not to blush even redder, when faced with Hua Cheng’s gorgeous bare body. Xie Lian reached down to remove his own underwear too, which Hua Cheng happily took to place along with his own in the hamper. He disappeared into the bathroom next, coming back with a warm wet cloth. He handed it to Xie Lian who used it to clean himself, before handing it to Hua Cheng again. He disappeared to the bathroom once more, but soon came back to crawl under the covers. He reached for Xie Lian, who carefully wrapped himself against Hua Cheng’s side, pillowed on his chest.

“I’ve never done anything like that before,” Xie Lian admitted after a moment, and Hua Cheng’s arm which lay under his shoulders pulled him even closer.

“I’m Gege’s first?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian nodded, wondering if Hua Cheng found that silly, for someone to be as old as Xie Lian to have no experience in matters such as this. 

“Mn,” Xie Lian admitted, burrowing himself firmer against Hua Cheng’s chest. He had a very good chest. “No one has ever caught my attention in this way, except San Lang.”

Xie Lian felt Hua Cheng smile against his hair, and his heart pounded a little faster under Xie Lian’s ear. 

“Gege is my first too,” Hua Cheng said, and that made Xie Lian startle, unfurling from his position to look up at him. Hua Cheng shifted so he was able to look down to meet his gaze, and Xie Lian swallowed thickly as he met his earnest gaze.

“I would have expected San Lang to be more experienced, being a rockstar and all,” he said, and Hua Cheng laughed, leaving a sweet peck on his nose. 

“Gege caught my attention when I was thirteen, of course no one has ever been able to measure up,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian had to hide again then, because a horribly embarrassing squeal pressed itself from his mouth. Hua Cheng laughed and held him close, and Xie Lian pressed a kiss to his chest, right over where his heart pounded, because he had no way to form words at the moment. 

“Sleep, Gege,” Hua Cheng said softly when the rumble of his chuckle quieted, and Xie Lian let out a sigh. He didn’t think he would be able to with all the feelings swirling in his chest. It didn’t matter though. This was a perfect place to rest until sleep finally set in.  

 

Chapter Text

Xie Lian was woken up by the feeling of an arm wrapping around his waist. He blinked his eyes open slowly, coming face to face with the man resting beside him. A trembling breath pushed itself from his lips, his heart expanding with fondness. Hua Cheng was resting there, his face turned towards Xie Lian. His dark hair rested around him, the comforter pushed down low around his waist, showing off his bare torso all the way down to his hip bone. Hua Cheng’s eyes were closed, puffy breaths pushing themselves from his pale pink lips. He was still asleep, having reached for Xie Lian regardless. It made Xie Lian smile, pressing his face into the soft pillow to let out a soft squeal, to release all the happy energy inside his chest, crawling up his throat up to his cheeks.

Had he ever been so happy before? It felt so easy, lying here beside Hua Cheng.

Xie Lian pushed himself up from his hiding place to look at him once more, shamelessly staring. He indulged in a way he barely dared to when Hua Cheng was awake and might see. Xie Lian mapped out all his features, getting familiar with the slope of his nose, the arch of his lips, the form of his dark brows. He looked so peaceful, quiet and still. Xie Lian reached out, almost despite himself, because the urge to feel him under his fingertips was growing too great.

Hua Cheng’s skin was cool and smooth under Xie Lian’s hands, as he placed them on his waist. Hua Cheng’s arm still laid slung over Xie Lian’s hip, and he inched closer only to be able to touch him better, sliding inexperienced hands up Hua Cheng’s chest. Xie Lian had never touched like this before, and in all honesty he had never had anyone he wanted to touch like this before. He had felt lonely at times, wondering what it would be like to have someone special in the way others had, but no one had ever made him want.

Hua Cheng made him crave.

Xie Lian ached with it, the pulsating desire to be close to him, to talk to him, to see him listening to Xie Lian’s every word, written note or lyric, as if he couldn’t get enough of Xie Lian.

What a selfish, thrilling, beautiful thought.

Xie Lian wanted endless mornings like this, waking up this close to Hua Cheng, to have him within his reach. He wanted to touch Hua Cheng, to run his fingers up his skin, taste it with his lips. He wanted to sigh against Hua Cheng’s mouth as Hua Cheng’s hands roamed everywhere on his body, touching him where no one else but himself ever had before. To give himself fully, to let go and simply be in this.

Xie Lian’s hand reached Hua Cheng’s jaw, and he traced the line of it with the tips of his fingers until he reached the bend. There he paused to cup his face, his thumb moving over the sharp cheekbone. Just over it rested the scared eyelid, and Xie Lian couldn’t help but push forward and softly kiss the scar once again. He felt so fortunate to have been allowed to see it, as if Hua Cheng had cracked open his chest and let Xie Lian in more than before, giving him a trust few were allowed. It felt like the greatest honor.

Hua Cheng stirred, and Xie Lain pulled back, feeling his cheeks flush after having taken such liberties. When he rested down on the pillow however, he was met with Hua Cheng’s sweet smile spreading on his lips, pausing the breath in his chest.

“Morning,” Hua Cheng said, his voice a little hoarse from sleep. He blinked his left eye open slowly, as his smile grew wider. His hand curled tighter around Xie Lian’s hip, prompting a gasp from Xie Lian’s mouth.

“Good morning,” Xie Lian greeted in a whisper, licking his lips which suddenly felt so dry. Hua Cheng seemed to follow the movement with his gaze, and Xie Lian felt a flush spread over his cheeks as memories of the night before flooded his mind. He felt heat pool in his gut, and he had to press the side of his face firmer into the pillow, even if he didn’t look away from Hua Cheng. He was just too handsome to look away from.

Hua Cheng grinned, and then stretched out as a content sound fell from his lips. Xie Lian watched, as lean muscles moved under his smooth skin. The heat in his stomach was only fueled by this, blood rushing down. He squirmed, and tried to push away the sensation of arousal building in his body. This was too much. Hua Cheng was going to think he was insatiable if he continued like this.

“Mh, this San Lang slept really well,” Hua Cheng said, reaching his arm around Xie Lian once more as he laid back down. He pulled Xie Lian closer, who followed so easily even as his heart pounded. “Gege should sleep here always.” Hua Cheng smirked as he leaned in closer to press a kiss to the underside of Xie Lian’s jaw. Xie Lian felt a thrill race up his spine, both at the kiss and the prospect of being able to sleep next to Hua Cheng like this always . He couldn’t fully believe it though, when Hua Cheng looked so mischievous as he rested back on his pillow.

“Don’t say things like that if you’re only joking,” Xie Lian said with a sigh, averting his gaze. He felt Hua Cheng’s lips grace his cheek next, and he looked back to meet Hua Cheng’s gaze, which had softened.

“Gege I’m not joking,” he said, pushing some of Xie Lian’s hair behind his ear. Xie Lian sighed at the sensation, goosebumps following his touch as Hua Cheng moved his hand over Xie Lian’s jaw, neck and then continued down his bare side. “I’d love to have you here beside me if you want to, or we can sleep in your room if you prefer.” Xie Lian smiled at the tenderness in such an offer, and leaned into Hua Cheng’s space to aim for his lips.

“I like San Lang’s room, and his bed,” Xie Lian said, before placing a soft kiss on his pretty lips. “I like sleeping next to San Lang too.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng hummed, pulling Xie Lian fully against him. Xie Lian gasped at the sensation of their bare bodies pressing against each other, his skin sliding against Hua Cheng’s. “Gege is so warm and lovely,” Hua Cheng hummed against his lips, and Xie Lian melted.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian sighed, his hands weaving into Hua Cheng’s hair. He pressed his lips more insistently against Hua Cheng’s who smiled against his mouth as he reciprocated, lips eager. Xie Lian felt more heat fill his gut, spreading out into his body. He could feel himself harden even more, his cheeks heating from embarrassment. Hua Cheng was just so sexy, and Xie Lian couldn’t push down the effect his touches had on him. Hua Cheng pressed closer, his leg slotting between Xie Lian’s legs. His thigh brushed against Xie Lian’s hardening cock, and Xie Lian gasped, feeling pleasure shoot up his spine from the friction.

“Beloved,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian whimpered, biting down on his lower lip to hide the embarrassing sound threatening to spill from his mouth. The pet name made him feel dizzy, the continued friction causing him breathlessness as he tried not to rut against Hua Cheng as he had the night before.

“San Lang I’m sorry,” Xie Lian said, hiding his face in Hua Cheng’s neck. “It just- you’re just-”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, amusement laced into his voice. Xie Lian wanted to shrink in on himself and disappear in shame, but instead found himself being rolled over onto his back. Hua Cheng pressed closer, and then Xie Lian gasped once more, as Hua Cheng’s erection rubbed against his own. Xie Lian’s eyes flew open, and his grip around Hua Cheng’s waist tightening as he looked up with wide eyes to meet Hua Cheng’s dark gaze.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian gasped, as Hua Cheng pressed his lips to Xie Lian’s jaw, and then down his neck. It made more arousal roar in his body, and he rolled his hips up to gain more friction against Hua Cheng’s now obvious arousal. Had Xie Lian caused this? Did Hua Cheng want him this much as well?

“Mn,” Hua Cheng moaned, biting down lightly on Xie Lian’s skin. “Gege is so enticing,” he said, and Xie Lian whined. “This San Lang feels very fortunate to get to touch him like this.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, spreading his legs to give Hua Cheng room as he started moving down his body. His hands moved up, marking their way in to Hua Cheng’s hair. “Don’t stop touching me.” It sounded like a plea, and maybe it was. Xie Lian had never experienced touch feeling like this, and it seemed almost addicting. The thought of losing it seemed almost unbearable.

“Mh,” Hua Cheng answered, pressing kisses to Xie Lian’s collarbones. He sucked gently, and Xie Lian’s back arched into it, craving more. “This San Lang woke up hungry today.” Hua Cheng sucked another mark along his collarbone, making Xie Lian let out a moan.  “He might want to taste Gege,” he said, his mouth moving down Xie Lian’s sternum.

“Ah,” he moaned, feeling absolutely shameless as he spread his legs even wider so Hua Cheng could continue to move. “San Lang.” Hua Cheng hummed, continuing to suck marks down Xie Lian’s skin. It felt so possessive, but Xie Lian found he craved them. He wanted to see them later and remember how Hua Cheng had taken his time to map him out, to taste him.

“Does Gege want to help saturate this starving San Lang’s hunger?” Hua Cheng asked, as he nipped at the skin right over Xie Lian’s belly button. Xie Lian gave a pitiful sound, doing his best not to rock his hips up. He was craving touch, and Hua Cheng’s mouth was so close to where Xie Lian’s cock rested on his stomach. He could even feel his breaths, skimming teasingly over his hard length.

“San Lang I- Ah, please,” Xie Lian begged shamelessly, biting down on his lower lip to stop the onslaught of embarrassing things spilling from his lips. It didn’t work. “San Lang can- mmh, have anything he wants.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, sounding breathless. Xie Lian let out a sigh, and looked down. He found Hua Cheng having settled between his legs, laying on his stomach. His cheek rested against Xie Lian’s thigh, and he turned his face to press a kiss there, making Xie Lian jump. His body felt so sensitive, as if filled with electricity. The sight was so lewd too, with Hua Cheng bare, his very nice back and ass on display, and then there was Xie Lian’s obvious arousal, so very close to Hua Cheng’s mouth. “I might devour you if you give such permission.”

Another whimper spilled from Xie Lian’s lips, and he tipped his head back to look away, the whole thing becoming almost too much. “P-please,” he begged, his free hand fisting in the sheet beside him. “I want to be only San Lang’s.”

“Fuck, Gege,” Hua Cheng breathed, and then bit down softly on the plushness of Xie Lian’s thigh. “You’ll have to let me know if you like it, alright? This San Lang only wants Gege to feel good.”

“Mmh,” Xie Lian agreed, eyes screwed shut as nerves rolled in his stomach. Hua Cheng pressed another kiss to his leg, and then another a little higher, coming closer and closer to Xie Lian’s groin. His other hand caressed up the other thigh, stopping only when it wrapped loosely around Xie Lian’s cock. “Ah!”

“Gege makes the prettiest sounds,” Hua Cheng said in a low voice, which made Xie Lian want to clench his jaws shut and not make another sound again. It was made impossible however, as Hua Cheng’s hand moved slowly up his length.

“Haaaa,” he moaned, head tipping back from pleasure shooting up his spine. “San Lang, San Lang aaah.”

“Yes, just like that,” Hua Cheng said, and then Xie Lian felt something wet and warm move from the base of his cock up to the head. He looked down, and saw Hua Cheng licking up and down his length, looking up at Xie Lian with a lust heavy gaze.

“Mmmh,” Xie Lian whimpered, the hand tangled in Hua Cheng’s hair trembling. Hua Cheng smirked, holding Xie Lian’s cock up with his hand as he licked over the head, dipping his tongue into the slit.

“Mmh, Gege tastes delicious,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks burn.

“San Lang you can’t just say that!” Xie Lian protested, hiding his face behind his hand which had left the sheet.

“It’s true,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian risked looking down at him from between his fingers. Hua Cheng smirked at him, placing a kiss on Xie Lian’s cock. “Does it feel good?”

“Teasing,” Xie Lian gasped, and Hua Cheng laughed, his grin devilishly handsome.

“My apologies Gege,” he said, tone dipping low again, so sensual. Xie Lian might melt from that alone. “This San Lang will get on with the devouring now.”

“Ah San Lang- oh!” Xie Lian started chiding, but then felt a moan push from his chest as Hua Cheng wrapped his lips around the tip and sucked. Pleasure swam in Xie Lian’s gut, and he gasped for air. Hua Cheng moaned as if he had just tasted a rare delicacy, and Xie Lian wondered if he truly did mean to devour him, just before he felt Hua Cheng sink down. Pleasure surged in Xie Lian’s veins, and he bit down on the meat of his hand to stop the truly embarrassing sound pressing from his lips as Hua Cheng’s hot mouth surrounded him. Hua Cheng pulled up slowly, and then sank down again, taking a little more in his mouth. Xie Lian felt breathless because of it, his heart pounding roughly against his ribs. His hand in Hua Cheng’s hair tightened, and Hua Cheng moaned again, sending wonderful vibrations through Xie Lian’s cock.

“Mmh,” he whimpered against his hand, and then felt Hua Cheng’s hand wrap loosely around his wrist to tug his hand from his mouth. Hua Cheng laced their fingers together, and Xie Lian now had nothing to muffle the sounds of pleasure falling from his lips, echoing against the walls of the bedroom.

“San Lang aaaah, San Lang mmm,” he moaned as Hua Cheng sank and rose on his erection. The pleasure was so good, and Xie Lian felt dizzy with it. He dared to look down, and felt his breath pushed out of his lungs at the sight of Hua Cheng’s thin pretty lips wrapped around his cock, his eye alight with lust. He was watching Xie Lian intently, as if he couldn’t get enough. As if he didn’t want to miss a single second. Xie Lian felt a surge of want fill his chest, wondering what it would feel like to have his own lips wrapped around Hua Cheng’s cock. He hoped he would be able to try it soon. He wanted Hua Cheng to feel this pleasured too.

Hua Cheng took Xie Lian’s cock in even further, and then the tip slipped down into something even tighter. Xie Lian gasped, feeling his body tremble with it. Hua Cheng pushed up and took a deep breath through his nose, and then sunk down even further. Xie Lian’s cock slipped even deeper down Hua Cheng’s throat, and the space was so tight and so warm and Xie Lian had to fight so not to fuck into it, searching for more.

Then, Hua Cheng swallowed.

“Aaaaah,” Xie Lian all but screamed, hanging on by a thin threat. Hua Cheng hummed again, and then started bobbing his head faster, making sparks of pleasure tingle Xie Lian’s entire body. He was so close now, his orgasm rushing towards him at a speed which couldn’t be stopped. “San Lang- I’m aaah, I’m going to- mmh.”

Hua Cheng only hummed, his dark eye glued to Xie Lian’s face, as if he wanted to see him fall apart. The thought made Xie Lian snap, and he felt his body convulsing, his come spilling out of him and down Hua Cheng’s throat. Xie Lian trembled as he came and came, his hands tightening their grip on Hua Cheng as he continued to spill. Then, when the pleasure all but ran out of him and left him boneless, he gasped, his now soft and sensitive cock falling from Hua Cheng’s lips. Xie Lian was still breathing heavily, as Hua Cheng crawled up his body and placed a kiss to the corner of his mouth.

“I hope my beloved enjoyed that as much as this San Lang did,” he said, and Xie Lian could hear the smile in his voice. He turned and sought out his lips, keeping his eyes closed because he wasn’t sure he was ready to face the world just yet. That had been so much, and so good, and he felt like he needed to piece himself together for a moment longer before being able to function again. Hua Cheng met him easily, his lips slow and tender as they pushed against Xie Lian’s.

“San Lang,” he breathed, wrapping his arms around Hua Cheng’s back to hold onto him. “San Lang.”

“Yes, Gege?” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian moved his hands slowly down, trying to piece his mind together from where Hua Cheng’s mouth had scattered it.

“That was,” Xie Lian started, pressing his lips to Hua Cheng’s in search of words. “I want to make San Lang feel like that,” he said, and he felt a rush of air leave Hua Cheng’s lips. Xie Lian moved his hands slowly down, and then his fingers reached Hua Cheng’s erection. Hua Cheng gasped, and Xie Lian swallowed it, feeling it vibrate through his chest. “Can I?”

“If Gege wants to?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian nodded eagerly. He still felt a little boneless from his orgasm, but the thought of his lips stretching around Hua Cheng’s cock made new energy fill his limbs. He pressed his lips to Hua Cheng’s once more, and then pulled back.

“Gege very much wants to,” he assured, feeling his cheeks heat. “T-turn around?”

Hua Cheng stifled a moan and then nodded, pressing in for another wet kiss before he did as asked. Xie Lian followed, meeting his gaze as Hua Cheng settled with his back against the headboard. It made nerves mixed with excitement fill Xie Lian’s chest, knowing he would be so much on display. He still leaned forward to press a kiss to Hua Cheng’s lips, before he moved down, kissing along Hua Cheng’s throat and chest. He felt Hua Cheng’s breaths vibrate through his body, and Xie Lian licked over his skin, only to go back to kissing as he slowly moved down and settled between Hua Cheng’s spread legs. Like this he came face to face with Hua Cheng’s erect cock, flushed red and the head slick with precome. It was big, both long and wide in girth. It made a thrill rush up Xie Lian’s spine. He looked up at Hua Cheng, who seemed to be watching him intently. His elegant fingers came to caress Xie Lian’s hair away, and Xie Lian smiled, nuzzling into Hua Cheng’s groin.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian flushed, before he pressed a kiss to the base of Hua Cheng’s cock. Hua Cheng moaned again, loud and shameless, and it made something like pride swell in Xie Lian’s chest.

“Tell me how to, San Lang?” Xie Lian said, mouthing up Hua Cheng’s cock, reveling in the way Hua Cheng’s eye fluttered close as he reached the head. “Like this?” he asked, and Hua Cheng nodded, his dark eye looking down into Xie Lian’s eyes.

“Gege is doing so well,” he said, sounding a little breathless. Xie Lian smiled, and then remembered that Hua Cheng had licked over his length. Xie Lian opened up, and then gripped the base of Hua Cheng’s cock to keep it steady before he swiped his tongue over the head. The flavour exploded over his tongue, a little salty and a little bitter, but not bad. He did it again, and then moved further down, wetting Hua Cheng’s cock thoroughly. When he was pleased with his job, he moved his hand up to pump slowly, the slippery slide making it easy.

Hua Cheng groaned, and Xie Lian watched as his chest rose and fell. He was so handsome, so arousing. Xie Lian felt want stir in his gut once again, and leaned down to open his mouth. He continued to stroke but let Hua Cheng’s cock rest against his lower lip, opening his mouth slightly. Hua Cheng looked dazed as he watched, his hands still woven into Xie Lian’s hair.

“Does it feel good?” he asked, swiping Hua Cheng’s cock over his lower lip.

“Fuck,” Hua Cheng groaned, and Xie Lian felt more arousal swirl in his gut at the sound. He moved down to press a kiss to the tip, before he opened his mouth again and took the head in between his lips. Hua Cheng was truly large, stretching his lips wide. Xie Lian breathed through his nose, as he sank down slowly. He pushed up, and then sunk down again, taking as much as he could into his mouth.

“Gege, mmmh,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian looked up at him from under his lashes. He sunk down again, until the head brushed against the back of Xie Lian’s throat. He felt himself gag a little, and pulled up again, only to sink down as far as he felt he could take. It seemed he would have to practice in taking more. Hopefully Hua Cheng would let him.

Instead he bobbed his head up and down Hua Cheng’s cock as far as he could manage, trying to move his hand over the rest of Hua Cheng’s length. Having his mouth filled like this felt so good, and Xie Lian felt himself grow hard again, listening to Hua Cheng’s deep moans. A flush spilled down his chest, his expression seeming lost in pleasure. It made Xie Lian feel powerful having such an effect on him, and he increased his efforts, bobbing his head faster as he felt Hua Cheng’s thighs tremble under his hands.

“Gege I’ll- fuck, fuck Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned. “I’m gonna come.”

“Mmh,” Xie Lian hummed, continuing to move his mouth up and down. He wanted to take it into his mouth. He wanted everything Hua Cheng would give him. Hua Cheng cursed again, and then his hips started rocking ever so slightly into Xie Lian’s mouth. Xie Lian moaned, and then they moved together, until Hua Cheng’s hips stuttered, and then he spilled into Xie Lian’s mouth.

“Aaaah,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian swallowed, and swallowed. He moved his mouth up and down a couple more times, but then let Hua Cheng’s softening cock slip from his lips. Some come landed on his lower lip, and Xie Lian licked over it on instinct, only meeting Hua Cheng’s gaze just after. Hua Cheng was staring at him with wide eyes, and Xie Lian felt himself flush. Was he not supposed to do that?

“Ah, sorry San Lang,” he said, and that seemed to snap Hua Cheng out of his staring, still breathless as he reached down for Xie Lian’s arm.

“Come up here,” he asked, and Xie Lian pushed up on his knees, crawling into Hua Cheng’s lap. Hua Cheng kissed him deeply, and Xie Lian melted, feeling want spark in his body again. How could he already be so hard again? It must be because Hua Cheng was so sexy! “Gege was perfect.”

“I’m glad San Lang liked it,” Xie Lian smiled, and felt Hua Cheng smile back. They pulled apart, and then Xie Lian saw Hua Cheng’s eyes dip down, seeing his erection. Xie Lian flushed, looking away as he moved to shield himself.

“Gege is hard again?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian looked down as he nodded. How embarrassing. Hua Cheng had pleasured him so well and now he was aroused all over again.

“Ah,” he said, scrunching up his nose. “Yes well- San Lang sounded so- and it felt so… being stretched like that.” The sentence was choppy and didn’t make a lot of sense, but Xie Lian couldn’t bring himself to say it. It was just too embarrassing. He wasn’t sure if he should laugh or cry.

“Fuck,” Hua Cheng breathed, and he didn’t sound mad at all. Xie Lian turned to him, and met his wide eyed gaze. His hand dipped lower on Xie Lian’s hip, making sparks of need rush to Xie Lian’s groin. “Gege, can I touch you?”

“Mn,” Xie Lian moaned, nodding. Hua Cheng wasted no time, and then his hand wrapped around Xie Lian’s length, making pleasure surge through his body. “Ah, San Lang.”

“Gege’s mouth was so hot around me,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian squeezed his eyes together, rocking his hips up to meet Hua Cheng’s grip. “He was so pretty too, with his mouth stretched around me.” Xie Lian gasped, feeling hot all over. He wanted to be wanted by Hua Cheng, wanted him to desire him. “This San Lang has never seen anything so sexy.”

“Ah,” Xie Lian moaned, opening his eyes to look him in the eye. Hua Cheng looked wild, and Xie Lian crumbled under it. “San- San Lang.”

“Gege looks so good, lost in pleasure,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian whimpered, gripping around his neck tightly to steady himself in the onslaught of desire. “It suits him.”

“Mmmh,” Xie Lian moaned, his mind becoming hazy with pleasure. “I- I-”

“I want to make Gege feel so good so often. This San Lang is so greedy,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian wanted him to be greedy. He wanted him to have everything he wanted. “I want everyone to see that Gege is my beloved.”

“Yes,” Xie Lian gasped loudly. He wanted that too. He wanted to be Hua Cheng’s and for everyone to see and know.

“Yes?” Hua Cheng asked, pressing his lips to Xie Lian’s neck. He nipped at the skin, and Xie Lian keened. “Does Gege like my marks?”

“Yeees,” he moaned, baring his throat even more as he rocked up in Hua Cheng’s hand, which was moving so fast now. He was so close, so very close.

“Fuck,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian whimpered in answered. Why was it so sexy when Hua Cheng cursed? “You’re everything, Gege is my everything.” He wrapped his lips around the skin of Xie Lian’s neck and sucked, and Xie Lian felt his body spasm, come spurting from his cock as his orgasm overtook him.

“San Lang!” he all but shouted, a loud moan following as he trembled apart in Hua Cheng’s arms. “Aaaaah!”

“My beloved is so sexy, so beautiful,” Hua Cheng cooed as Xie Lian gripped him, breathing heavily as he slumped against Hua Cheng’s chest.

“San Lang,” he breathed, pressing a kiss to Hua Cheng’s jaw. Xie Lian tried to catch his breath as he rested against Hua Cheng’s shoulder. He was sweaty and dirty, and yet he felt so incredibly content. A smile curled on his lips. It was much better to be soiled and so thoroughly touched, than pure and untouchable, if it meant being ruined by Hua Cheng’s devoted hands and mouth.

____________________________

They both seemed reluctant to leave that day, the bed as well as the house. They didn’t have to, so neither of them pushed for it. Hua Cheng managed to pull out of bed to go grab some leftovers from the fridge for them to eat, only half dressed in messy sheets. Food seemed to taste even better when had pressed to Hua Cheng’s side, even though it was slightly cold. It was late in the afternoon when they managed to move from the bed, Xie Lian walking over to his own room which felt very empty now, to take a shower and untangle the mess of his hair. He felt his face flush crimson as he spotted Hua Cheng’s marks all the way down… Xie Lian hurried into the shower, so as not to be completely overwhelmed by the sight.

He emerged into the kitchen after he had gotten cleaned up, his hair swept into a bun and in Hua Cheng’s large sweatshirt. He had snagged a new one, and this was crimson red. It was very cozy, and smelled just like him which made Xie Lian feel like he was constantly wrapped in his embrace. It wasn’t as good, but it was an almost thing. Hua Cheng was already there when he came in, seated on the bench with two cups of tea standing before him. Xie Lian felt fondness stir in his chest at the domestic sight, and sat down next to him, picking up the cup. Hua Cheng’s eyes were turned down to his phone, but as Xie Lian sat he put it down, leaning over to the side to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek.

“Thank you,” Xie Lian said, partly for the kiss and partly for the tea. Hua Cheng grinned, and Xie Lian tried not to let his eyes dip down to the marks on his chest. There weren’t as many as Xie Lian had covering his body, but it still made a thrill race up his spine. “Anything interesting happening in the world?” he asked to distract both of them, and Hua Cheng frowned, and then nodded as he picked up the phone. Xie Lian felt his stomach sink, gripping the cup tighter.

“Mn,” Hua Cheng answered, and then put his own cup down, grabbing his phone once more. He moved even closer to Xie Lian, their thighs pressed together as he held up his phone with his open email inbox. “The first is from Yin Yu, he’s secured a court date.”

“Already?” Xie Lian asked, blinking down at Hua Cheng’s phone. “I thought it would take months… in just a week?!” Xie Lian felt his heart beat rougher against his chest. He was sure he would have to wait for so long, since this was such a minor thing. He had despised the idea but pushed it down since there was not much he could do. Now it all seemed too soon. A week. It could all be over and done in a week.

It could all be lost in a week.

“Yin Yu apparently pulled some strings,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug. “He might still have some connections there, since it’s where he studied.”

“Yin Yu is very loyal,” Xie Lian commented as he looked away from the phone, watching Hua Cheng instead. Hua Cheng hummed, and then shrugged once more. Xie Lian could only assume Hua Cheng had done something similar for Yin Yu as he had for other artists at Scrap Collecting Immortals, but left it unsaid. Instead he pressed closer to Hua Cheng’s side, seeking comfort. Physicality like this wasn’t something he was used to, and he wondered if he was being terribly awkward about it. He just… it felt right. Hua Cheng didn’t pull away from it, but rather leaned into Xie Lian as well, as if accepting Xie Lian’s weight.

“We’ll have to go in just a couple of days, but if Gege feels comfortable this San Lang will make the arrangements with a discreet and private hotel. Does Gege want someone else to come, more than himself, Yin Yu and I?”

“No, as long as I have San Lang there I’ll feel much better,” Xie Lian admitted, feeling himself flush up to his ears. “I’m very glad San Lang gets to be with me in the courtroom this time.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed with a nod. “It’s only fair. I am the one suing after all.” Hua Cheng clicked back from the email, scrolling up in search of something else.

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, suddenly realising something. “San Lang, would that not mean exposing yourself as Hua Cheng? That Crimson Rain Sought Flower and Hua Cheng are the same, I mean.” Xie Lian hadn’t thought of it before this, but it would mean showing the world that they were truly one and the same. Hua Cheng had done so much to conceal who he was, it felt like a shame to crumble it for something like this.

“It does,” Hua Cheng said, his arm wrapping around Xie Lian’s waist as he rested back, against the window, taking Xie Lian with him. “Gege does not need to worry about that.”

“No?” Xie Lian asked, feeling his brows furrow. “But San Lang must have had a reason to conceal himself like that?”

“It was mostly for fun, for the mystery,” Hua Cheng admitted with a grin. “If it means I can stand by Gege’s side, to show the world that Gege feels this San Lang is worthy of calling Gege his beloved, there is nothing that would stop me.”

“Ah,” Xie Lian said, feeling butterflies rush in his chest. “San Lang is too good to me.”

“No such thing,” Hua Cheng said, pressing a kiss to the nape of Xie Lian’s neck. A pleasant shiver raced down Xie Lian’s spine, and he let out a sigh. It startled him, and he quickly turned to hide his face in Hua Cheng’s shoulder, so as not to have to face him. Hua Cheng laughed, deep and wonderful, and it only made Xie Lian’s ears burn with embarrassment.

“We’ll meet with Yin Yu next week, to go through it all?” Xie Lian asked, his forehead still pressed to Hua Cheng’s bare shoulder. Hua Cheng hummed in agreement.

“As many times as Gege wants,” he assured, and Xie Lian let out a deep sigh. He didn’t want them to have gone through all of this and then have him screw up inside the courtroom. “It won’t be too long, Yin Yu seemed to think we’d only be in there for a couple of hours, and then we’ll get the verdict the next day.”

“Mn, I saw,” Xie Lian agreed with a nod, tilting his face up to meet Hua Cheng’s. “I’ll do my best.”

“Gege is magnificent in everything he does,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian let out a laugh, shaking his head.

“My beloved has too much faith in me,” Xie Lian said, and then paused as he saw a blush spill over Hua Cheng’s cheeks as he blinked in surprise. His hand with his phone came to rest over his heart, a breath leaving his lips in a rush.

“Gege can’t spring things like that on this lowly San Lang, he might have a heart attack,” Hua Cheng said dramatically, and Xie Lian blinked, and then let out a little laugh.

“San Lang,” he said, fondness laced into each syllable. He pressed a kiss to Hua Cheng’s shoulder, and simply smiled. To think he could have such an effect on the calm and collected Hua Cheng. It was almost mind spinning. Hua Cheng dipped down, and Xie Lian tilted his face up, and for a moment they simply pressed their lips together tenderly, soft kisses and stolen breaths. Xie Lian left a little dizzy when he pulled back, but couldn’t stop the smile on his face.

Hua Cheng pressed another kiss to Xie Lian’s brow, and then rested back against the window once more. He picked up his phone, and opened another email. “There was another email, which came to me but was addressed to Gege,” he said, and Xie Lian hummed, looking down at the screen. “Yushi Huang, the magazine editor for the charity event we did for Yushiguo, wants an interview with Gege.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, blinking in surprise as uneasiness filled his chest. His first instinct was to say no. The press had brought him nothing good in the most recent history, but before he said so he paused. He had met Yushi Huang, and had only a very respectable impression of her. That could change of course, but perhaps it would be better to hear Hua Cheng out on this. “Why would she contact you for such a thing?”

“Yushi Huang we’re…,” Hua Cheng trailed off, his brows furrowing for a moment as he seemed to consider. “We hold mutual respect for each other. She’s one of the few people who knows Crimson Rain Sought Flower is Hua Cheng. She believed in Calamities long before anyone else did.”

“Oh, I didn’t know,” Xie Lian said, reaching forward to pick up his cup again, taking a sip of the tea. “It was a very lovely coincidence… to think that if she hadn’t paired us together for the charity event. Otherwise I wouldn't have met San Lang again.” The thought alone sat uncomfortable in Xie Lian’s chest.

“Gege, I must confess something,” Hua Cheng said, and then bit down on his lower lip. He looked almost sheepish, even if his eye gleamed with mischief.

“Hm?” Xie Lian asked, trying not to get lost in the darkness of his eye. “What is it?”

“The pairing for the event… might not have been very random, at least not when it came to us,” Hua Cheng said, and then his smile spread into a grin. Xie Lian gasped, blinking up at him.

“San Lang!” he said, feeling a mix of shock and joy race through his chest. Hua Cheng had the decency to try to look guilty, even if he didn’t really seem like it.

“Yushi Huang asked if I would do it, and I answered her that I would only do it if she paired me with you,” Hua Cheng admitted, his grin growing wider. “In my defense I never thought she would agree, nor get you to do it. Jun Wu’s claws were deeper in you than anyone else.”

“I never suspected it…” Xie Lian marveled, trying to remember how it had all gone down back then. “So they asked for just me because you had asked for me?”

Hua Cheng shrugged, his fingers dancing carefully over Xie Lian’s side. “I don’t know, I only know she called me back a couple of days before the event was to start, and told me she had managed to get you to agree. There was no way I was passing up such an opportunity.”

“San Lang was searching for me even then,” Xie Lian said, even if it had been a different type of searching. “Why?”

“This San Lang wanted to see Gege again,” Hua Cheng said, his expression softening. Xie Lian’s stomach fluttered, and he laid his hand on Hua Cheng’s thigh, leaning into him.

“San Lang didn’t tell me then he was Hong’er,” Xie Lian pointed out, and Hua Cheng sighed and nodded.

“I was scared that Gege wouldn’t remember… This San Lang also knew what was happening behind the closed gates of the Heavenly Realm. I couldn’t stand the idea of you being in there, if Gege was treated that way. When we met at the Yushiguo event though, it became somewhat clear how horribly that scum treated you.”

Hua Cheng’s fist clenched around his side, and Xie Lian looked up at him helplessly. Hua Cheng’s expression carried so much pain, so much worry. Xie Lian trailed his fingers along his jaw, and Hua Cheng set it tightly. “It’s alright, San Lang.”

“Had I known what he was going to do… I never would have let you go back. It had to be Gege’s decision to leave but I- This lowly one sent Gege back there and then he-,” Hua Cheng cut himself off, swallowing thickly. Xie Lian’s heart felt like it was breaking from the pain written over Hua Cheng’s face. “And I didn’t fucking answer the phone when you needed me. Gege had to bear it all alone-”

“You found me,” Xie Lian interrupted. His hand caressed up to cup Hua Cheng’s jaw, the other laying flat on his thigh. “You found me, and I’m safe now.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, his voice breaking as he looked at Xie Lian. It was overwhelming, this devotion. He didn’t feel like he deserved it, not for a breath. If Hua Cheng wanted to give it to him however, he would accept it all. It might be greedy and selfish, but Xie Lian couldn’t imagine ever walking away from this.

“He can’t hurt me now,” Xie Lian said, and knew it was true. Even if the contract couldn’t be broken, Jun Wu couldn’t manipulate him like that ever again.

“I’ll never let him,” Hua Cheng said, rage flaring in his eye. “I’ll rip him to pieces before he has the chance.”

Xie Lian smiled, trying to ignore the way his stomach swooped from the fierceness in Hua Cheng’s voice. He pushed up and claimed Hua Cheng’s lips, tender but devoted. Hua Cheng gripped him tightly and kissed him back, possessive and strong. Xie Lian lost his breath from it.

Later that night Xie Lian asked Hua Cheng to plan for an interview with Yushi Huang before the trial, and that evening Xie Lian slipped between the sheets of Hua Cheng’s bed without even considering his own, falling asleep peacefully with Hua Cheng curled around his body.

_______________________

“I wish to be free, and to be allowed to create as I wish”

- A conversation with Xie Lian

Last time I met Xie Lian was after a successful charity event hosted by the magazine. At the time, he was the star of one of the biggest c-pop groups, known by millions, having just finished one of the longest tours with most stops in pop history. Much is different now, when I meet him in a bright hotel room in the same city as he once called his home. Xie Lian’s hair is shorter, his smile softer, and his fingers are calloused from guitar playing. He’s here to break all ties with the label which he rose to fame with, and to move on to another label - much more obscure in the general population's eyes. Much is different, but one thing is the same - the man beside him.

We haven’t even started the interview, when the presence of Crimson Rain Sought Flower, star of the rock band Calamities, and as we are to reveal today - the owner of Scrap Collecting Immortals Record Label - Hua Cheng, becomes very noticeable. It is not that he intercepts the interview, it is simply because just like was evident last year at the charity show, Xie Lian and Hua Cheng cannot seem to take their eyes off each other.

“San Lang has been so gracious to me,” Xie Lian says as Hua Cheng sits down in the armchair beside him. Xie Lian is in a large pastel blue turtleneck, sitting curled up in his own armchair. Hua Cheng sits beside him, casually leaning back. His gaze go soft, when Xie Lian looks at him. “I have been very fortunate to have him in my life.”

“Gege is mistaken, it is this San Lang who is fortunate,” Hua Cheng says, as if they’re in a world of their own. Xie Lian flushes and smiles, looking over at me as if to excuse them.

“Would you tell me about how this collaboration came to be?” I ask, and Xie Lian laughs.

“I think you and San Lang know the details of that better than I do,” Xie Lian answers, tilting his head to the side. “But about a year after I was kicked out of White No Face, San Lang found me and suggested I come work at Scrap Collecting Immortals. I’ve been helping to choreograph, which has been fun,” Xie Lian continues. “Dancing has always been such a joy for me, so it’s been incredible to be given the opportunity to create.”

“Most of my time at Scrap Collecting Immortals has been focused on creating, and while it has been challenging and scary, it's been deeply satisfying as well.” Here, Xie Lian looks over at Hua Cheng, who smiles but doesn’t say anything. “It wasn’t something I had the opportunity to do before.”

When asked about what happened at White No Face-entertainment a year ago, Xie Lian isn’t as inclined to answer. “I would like to stress that it didn’t have anything to do with drugs, but what happened was very personal and it is something I wish not to discuss publicly.” He explains. “So much of the period after was made very public, and it put much strain on me. I wish not to dwell on it further right now.”

Xie Lian’s wish seems to be to put that part of his life behind him. He points out that he’s very proud of the work he did with FCG and that he still holds all the members very dear to his heart, but that he now hopes to move forward - without both the group as well as the label.

“I simply wish to be free, and to be allowed to create as I wish,” Xie Lian says, his brows furrowing as he speaks. “I want to be allowed to perform again, to be able to use my own words and movements to do so.”

Hua Cheng keeps by his side through the interview, but after Xie Lian having proclaimed this he reaches out and takes Xie Lian’s hand. Their fingers lace easily together, and neither of them say anything as they lock eyes. I ask Xie Lian about the video next, and his smile grows wider as he keeps Hua Cheng’s gaze for a moment longer, before looking back at me.

“San Lang was gracious enough to let me borrow his voice, since I cannot use my own,” Xie Lian explains and Hua Cheng ducks his head.

“It was my greatest honor, to be able to convey what Gege wanted to say,” Hua Cheng says easily. “Soon the world will have the utmost privilege to hear Redemption in Gege’s voice however, and I am sure it will be much more powerful.”

Hua Cheng is very confident in the face of the trial’s result being what they wish it seems, even if Xie Lian doesn’t seem as sure. “I only hope it’ll be favorable for what we have worked for.”

The trial will be held on Thursday with the results presented the following day. It is a small case, since the case will only surround the validity of the contract signed. One can only imagine what might happen if the trial announces Xie Lian’s freedom from the signed agreement with White No Face-Entertainment, not only for Xie Lian but for other artists tied to White No Face-entertainment as well.

___________________________

Xie Lian was trying not to let the nerves get to him the day before the trial, but it was proving difficult. Strings of thought which had appeared from talking to Yushi Huang kept tugging at his mind, leaving it scattered. He had been thinking more and more about the other members of FCG the closer to the trial they came, but even more so today. Jun Wu’s words to Yin Yu also rang in his ears, and when he found himself alone with Yin Yu during lunch as Hua Cheng stepped out for a phone call, Xie Lian couldn’t help but ask.

“Yin Yu,” Xie Lian called tentatively, breaking the silence which had fallen over the room. Yin Yu blinked up at him and Xie Lian smiled, feeling a new wave of nerves wash over him. It felt so invasive, asking something like this.

“Yes, Xie Lian,” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian let out a long breath to try to settle himself.

“Can I ask you… about Quan Yizhen?” he asked, and saw Yin Yu’s eyes grow wide as he seemed to pause.

“Oh,” he answered, looking deeply uncomfortable. Xie Lian squirmed, feeling incredibly bad right now.

“You do not have to, if you don’t want to!” Xie Lian pressed. “I simply- after what Jun Wu said I’ve been wondering and… did you give him a collection of philosophy books?”

“Yeah,” Yin Yu agreed, confusion written over his face. “How did you know?”

“He was always reading them,” Xie Lian explained. “He seemed to value them very highly, and always spoke very warmly of the person who had given them to him.”

“We grew up together, or rather we went to school together,” Yin Yu explained, biting into his lower lip. “I’m older, and he looked up to me a lot. I cared much for him… I still do but…. I let him down.”

“I don’t think he sees it that way,” Xie Lian said, not wanting to press on details if Yin Yu did not want to share them. “He valued those books above most things. We lived together for a long time, and there wasn’t much space, but those books were what he always carried with him and made sure to keep safe.”

“I don’t deserve such reverence,” Yin Yu sighed, shaking his head. His gaze was pained, but after a moment a smile tugged at his lips. “I am glad that he finds comfort in the gifts, at least.”

Hua Cheng stepped back into the room then, and they all moved back to talking about the trial and eating their food. It was only later, after Yin Yu had left to his own room, that Xie Lian brought up his thoughts about FCG to Hua Cheng.

“San Lang,” he called, pulling his legs up onto the couch. Hua Cheng hummed, looking over at him. “I’d like to see if I can reach out to the members of FCG.”

“Oh?” Hua Cheng said, blinking in surprise before walking over to sit down beside  him. “Any particular reason Gege wants to talk to them?”

“I mean, since we’re here, it wouldn’t be too hard to meet up, maybe?” Xie Lian tried to explain. “It would just feel nice to see them before the trial, or at least talk to them beforehand…” he continued, realising his mind was still a bit of a jumble when it came to this. He didn’t know how the others felt towards him, and chances were they really hated him. Still, it felt only right for Xie Lian to try to reach out and say something. “I haven’t seen them since before we did the collaboration last year.”

“If that’s what Gege wishes,” Hua Cheng said, reaching out to start playing with Xie Lian’s hair. Xie Lian smiled, and hummed. “Do you know how to get in contact with them?”

“No, I never learned their numbers, and I don’t know if I would even remember them now if I had,” Xie Lian admitted. “I had all of that in my phone and well…”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, his hand moving up to cup Xie Lian’s neck. “This San Lang might be able to get a hold of them, if Gege wishes?”

“Only if it isn’t too much trouble?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng shook his head, leaning forward to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek.

“Nothing is too much trouble if it’s for Gege,” Hua Cheng said, pressing another kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek. “Give this San Lang ten minutes.”

Eight minutes later Xie Lian had four names with four numbers on a note before him, the characters just barely readable. He smiled in fondness at the sight, and tried not to fiddle with the note. He accepted Hua Cheng’s phone when it was handed to him, and with a shaking hand entered the number in the middle of the note. In a way it had been difficult to choose, but in another it was easy. It didn’t mean Xie Lian’s heart wasn’t pounding like it was going to break in his chest as the first dial came through. He reached out almost unconsciously for Hua Cheng who slotted himself easily to his side, pressing close. It easied the sharpness in Xie Lian’s chest a little, even if it didn’t fully disappear.

“Yeah?” a very familiar voice answered, and Xie Lian let out a trembling breath as he pressed closer to Hua Cheng’s side.

“Hello, Feng Xin,” Xie Lian greeted, and closed his eyes to try to prepare himself for… what he wasn’t sure. For a moment, all was silent.

“Fuck,” Feng Xin breathed, and Xie Lian fought back a laugh mixed with tears at the familiarity of the curse. He wondered how many times he had heard it before. It felt so familiar, and Xie Lian was suddenly hit mercilessly hard with how much he had missed him. “Xie Lian?”

“Yeah,” Xie Lian breathed, keeping his eyes closed to hinder tears from spilling. He moved his head to the side, to press half his face awkwardly into Hua Cheng’s chest. “I hope- I hope you are well.”

“How they fuck can you say that!” Feng Xin exclaimed, and Xie Lian let out a shaky breath. So he was angry then. “Do you know how fucking worried I have been? How much I have tried to figure out what to do?”

Xie Lian felt relief was over him like a wave, gripping the phone tighter. “I’m so sorry,” he breathed, feeling Hua Cheng’s hand tighten around his waist. “I’m so- so-”

“Nope,” Feng Xin said, cutting him off. “What happened? I- Jun Wu and Mei Nianqing just told us you had gone berserk in the Heavenly Realm but when I asked people no one had seen it except Qi Rong and fuck knows I don’t trust him. The dorm was trashed and so much shit was missing but I know, I know Xie Lian, that you’d never touch that. Don’t say you’re sorry.”

“Feng Xin,” Xie Lian sobbed, his chest feeling like it was being ripped open. “It’s- It’s all so messed up and-”

“Did someone try to frame you?” he asked, and Xie Lian could hear him walking. He wondered where he was. He could be anywhere in the world really. Xie Lian hadn’t kept track. Maybe they were on tour. “The crazy thing is we were suddenly sent for a gig halfway across the world out of nowhere just a couple of days ago and then yesterday I read that the- the court process or whatever starts for you tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Xie Lian agreed, a stuttering breath falling from his lips as he tried to gather himself. It was so difficult, because Feng Xin wasn’t angry at him at all and Xie Lian didn’t know what to do. He must have worried him so much, and it was Xie Lian’s fault that their things had been trashed and stolen. Had he not- had Jun Wu not taken an interest in him like that this would never have happened and everything would be fine.

“So they are trying to keep us away from you,” Feng Xin said. “See, Mu Qing said something like this, and I can’t believe he was fucking right. I’ll never hear the end of this. Even Mei Nianqing came with us which is fucking odd? I don’t understand this. It’s all messed up.”

“Are you alright?” Xie Lian asked, trying to gather his mind. “All of you?”

“Qi Rong is a shit to deal with, and to live with I swear,” Feing Xin sighed. “Mu Qing is even more annoying because now he’s like, twice as angry. Quan Yizhen… I’m surprised he hasn’t like… beaten Qi Rong to death yet. Lang Qianqiu… yeah he’s not great. He’s pretty mad at you. I think he’s the one who believed this whole drug, stealing, thing the most.”

“I understand if you did,” Xie Lian said, pushing up from Hua Cheng’s chest a little to take a breath. He glanced up, and found Hua Cheng’s jaw clenched tight. He reached up to caress over it, before pushing up to seat himself in his lap instead, pressing their chests together as he rested his head on Hua Cheng’s shoulder. “It’s not like I’m innocent and- I just..”

“Just tell me what happened,” Feng Xin said, and Xie Lian shook his head as he felt his throat tighten.

“I can’t,” Xie Lian said, because he feared he might break apart right now if he tried. “Maybe one day but… right now I can’t.”

“Okay,” Feng Xin said, sounding a little put off. He let out another sigh, and Xie Lian pushed his forehead against Hua Cheng’s neck. Hua Cheng’s hands had started caressing carefully up and down his back, pleasant shivers breaking out in their wake. “Have you talked to the others?”

“No, I didn’t have a way to contact you at first, but San Lang managed to get your number and then I called,” Xie Lian explained, feeling as much as hearing Hua Cheng hum in answer.

“San Lang?” Feng Xin asked, and Xie Lian let out a little laugh. They had shared everything with each other for so many years, and now so much time had passed that his closest friends didn’t know about the most important person in his life.

“Hua Cheng,” Xie Lian tried to explain.

“Hua Cheng?” Feng Xin asked in an echo, and Xie Lian let out another laugh.

“Crimson Rain Sought Flower,” Xie Lian tried again, feeling Hua Cheng’s laughter against his cheek.

“Oh!” Feng Xin said, recognizing sinking in. “Wait, are they the same person?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian answered. It was a little confusing, he could imagine.

“Weird,” Feng Xin commented, and Xie Lian let out a little laugh. “Hey, do you want to talk to the others?”

“Not Qi Rong,” Xie Lian admitted, and Feng Xin hummed.

“Yeah I don’t want to talk to him either,” he admitted. “Give me a moment.”

Xie Lian didn’t have the opportunity to say anything more before he heard the sound of a door opening, and then a muffled voice in the background. There was shouting, sharp and harsh, from several people, before another door farther away this time, was closed harshly. This prompted Xie Lian to startle, and Hua Cheng shifted so they locked eyes.

“Is Gege alright?” he asked, and Xie Lian smiled.

“Yes, San Lang,” he said, straightening to press a kiss to his cheek. “I’m okay.”

“Alright I’m back,” Feng Xin proclaimed, and Xie Lian nodded as he focused back on the call. He saw Hua Cheng’s brows furrow a little, but he didn’t say anything. “We kicked Qi Rong out.”

“That went quickly,” Xie Lian commented, to which Feng Xin snorted.

“Yeah we have that sorted out by now,” he commented, and it made something feel oddly hollow in Xie Lian’s chest. They had carried so many inside jokes between them for so long, but this was something he couldn’t relate to. This was something they had gone through together, without him. “Do you want to- or should I?”

“What’s going on?” Mu Qing asked, sharpness in his voice. “Who are you talking to?” He sounded more on edge than he usually did.

“Either way,” Xie Lian said, knowing this wasn’t going to be easy regardless. He wasn’t sure he was ready however they did this.

“Okay,” Feng Xin said, and then sounded a little further away. “You’re on speaker now.”

Xie Lian let out a slow breath, and then swallowed. “Hi guys, it’s Xie Lian,” he greeted, and then the room fell quiet for a moment, before it exploded - three voices stumbling over each other.

“Xie Lian,” Mu Qing breathed, sounding more shocked than anything else.

“What?” Quan Yizhen said, sounding equally surprised.

“What?!” Lang Qianqiu asked, sounding more angry than the others. Xie Lian bit the inside of his cheek, trying not to crumble in on himself.

“Hi,” he said, hearing the weakness in his voice. “Feng Xin said you’re away for a gig, I hope it’ll be a good one.”

“Are you- are you home…for the trial?” Mu Qing asked. His voice was strained but he sounded calm. Maybe he was just too shocked.

“Yeah, it starts tomorrow so I’m at a hotel,” Xie Lian answered, his free hand moving patterns over Hua Cheng’s back.

“Where’s our stuff?” Lang Qianqiu asked sharply, and Xie Lian frowned. There was shuffling on the other side, and Xie Lian wondered what was happening. “Ow!” Lang Qianqiu gasped. Oh. Maybe Quan Yizhen hit him.

“I don’t have it,” Xie Lian said. “I’m so sorry-”

“Fuck this,” Lang Qianqiu said, and then Xie Lian could hear footsteps, moving away.

“Hey! At least listen to what he has to say!” Feng Xin called after him, but all Xie Lian could hear was a muffled answer called back, before the door was thrown shut again.

“Unbelievable,” Mu Qing sighed, and Xie Lian could imagine how he was rolling his eyes.

“You didn’t take them, right?” Quan Yizhen asked, as straightforward as always.

“I didn’t,” Xie Lian admitted. “I don’t know where they went… it is my fault they’re gone however.”

“What does that mean?” Mu Qing asked, and Xie Lian felt his throat tighten. He let out a slow breath, and tipped his forehead against Hua Cheng’s shoulder once more.

“It’s because of something I did, that the dorm was trashed and your things stolen,” Xie Lian tried to explain.

“What did you do?” Mu Qing asked, and Xie Lian bit the inside of his cheek. “Was it drugs?”

“No,” Xie Lian answered. “I never did drugs. You would have noticed. We lived basically on top of each other.”

“I told you,” Feng Xin reminded.

“Shut up Feng Xin. What was it then?” Mu Qing pressed, and Xie Lian twisted uncomfortably in Hua Cheng’s lap. He could tell them, but he worried they wouldn’t believe him. That memory was so painful too. Telling Hua Cheng about it had been enough. Trying to describe it like this, over speaker phone with Qi Rong who seemed to have been in on it all just outside of the door and Mei Nianqing who Xie Lian didn’t know how involved he had been,  made it feel impossible.

“I can’t-” Xie Lian breathed, and he heard Mu Qing tsk , clearly annoyed.

“Don’t you think we deserve to know?” he pressed, and yes Xie Lian did think they deserved an explanation. They had been so affected by this, by Xie Lian’s action, and still he couldn’t bring himself to speak about it. The images of Jun Wu’s eyes that night, the ghost sensation of the grip around his neck, made Xie Lian’s eyes burn with unshead tears.

“Yes I- I do. I just can’t- I don’t know if I can talk about it,” Xie Lian tried to explain, but found his own words inadequate. Mu Qing seemed to think so too.

“How are we supposed to believe you, when you can’t explain it to us,” Mu Qing sighed, and Xie Lian was pretty sure he was rolling his eyes again. It made Xie Lian’s chest swell with anxiety, and he pulled the phone from his ear to take a stuttering breath. He should be able to do this. He should be able to tell them but… He felt his phone being plucked from his grip, and when he looked up he saw Hua Cheng, with eyes burning with anger, press the speaker icon.

“Hey,” he said sharply, and Xie Lian blinked, sitting up straighter in his lap to blink with wide eyes.

“San Lang,” he breathed, and Hua Cheng pushed on, his irritation clear in his tense shoulders.

“When someone says no, you respect it,” he pointed out sharply. “It’s the kind of bullshit of not respecting people's boundaries, feeling entitled to things that aren’t yours, that brought on this situation.”

“Excuse me?!” Mu Qing snapped, and Xie Lian let out a sigh, feeling fondness swell in his chest. He laid his hand on Hua Cheng’s cheek, and smiled. The anxiety still roared in his chest, but it felt smaller now, in the face of Hua Cheng’s care for him.

“Mu Qing, that’s just-” Xie Lian started, but was cut off before he had an opportunity to explain.

“Who was that?” Mu Qing snapped, and Xie Lian let out a slow breath. Now he didn’t know whether he should laugh or cry.

“Hua Cheng, aka Crimson Rain Sought Flower,” Feng Xin explained.

“Isn’t he the one who got you into this mess?” Mu Qing asked sharply, and Xie Lian shook his head.

“No,” he said decidedly, because even if Jun Wu had wanted it to appear as such, Hua Cheng was very innocent. “I did that on my own.”

“It was not Gege’s fault,” Hua Cheng said with conviction, and Xie Lian smiled, leaning forward to press a kiss to the frown between Hua Cheng’s brows.

“San Lang,” he said softly. On the other side of the phone he could hear Mu Qing, Feng Xin arguing, clearly having continued without caring for what was happening on the other side of the phone.

“Alright,” Quan Yizen said instead, cutting the two others off. “Are you okay?” he asked, and Xie Lian felt a smile tug at his lips.

“Mn,” he answered, because in so many ways he was much better now than he had been in a long time. “Much better now. Are you?” he hoped they were. He wanted all of them to be happy.

“Things are weird at the label, and Mei Nianqing coming with us here is very suspicious,” Mu Qing said, seeming to have paused his argument with Feng Xin for the moment.

“Did you do this to get away from us?” Quan Yizhen asked, and Xie Lian's heart ached. He had missed this straightforwardness. He hadn't appreciated it enough in the past, he felt.

“No,” Xie Lian answered surely.“It was because of Jun Wu.”

“Oh,” Quan Yizhen said flatly. “Okay. I’m very happy you’re okay, Xie Lian.”

“Thank you,” Xie Lian answered, smiling. He looked at Hua Cheng, who still looked on edge, but a smile tugged at his lips as well as they locked eyes. “I want you all to be okay too.”

“Can you explain about the lawsuit then?” Mu Qing asked, and Xie Lian let out a breath of relief. This he could explain, and hopefully Mu Qing would accept that. “Why are you doing it, how does it work?”

An hour later Xie Lian had explained everything he could remember about the contracts, the unjust system White No Face dealt with their artists, about the name change, and about the hopes of making the agreement invalid. At the end of the conversation it was all much calmer, and Xie Lian promised to be in touch when he knew the results of the trial. He also promised to get his own phone so they could keep in touch easier. When they hung up, he was exhausted, but relieved. It had not gone entirely smoothly, but it didn’t seem like most of them hated him at least. It was much better than expected.

“My beloved is so gracious and noble,” Hua Cheng whispered into his ear, pressing a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek. “I wanted to hang up on them for being so rude.”

“They weren’t rude, San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng pulled back to look at him with a flat expression.

“Gege should always be treated with respect,” he pointed out, and once again Xie Lian felt fondness swell in his chest. “Anything else will always be considered rude by this San Lang.”

“Alright,” Xie Lian agreed, leaning forward to press a kiss to Hua Cheng’s lips. “San Lang is very gracious. Thank you for staying with me.”

“It was a privilege,” Hua Cheng said as he leaned forward to kiss Xie Lian again, and even though a treacherous part of Xie Lian still feared believing it, he could feel the sentiment of Hua Cheng’s love take deeper and deeper root in his heart.

Chapter Text

Hua Cheng’s hand was stable in his own, a welcomed weight as they walked towards the courthouse. The sidewalk and street was filled with press, but even more so with fans, holding up signs with Xie Lian’s name, shouting after him. It made him a little dizzy, and he waved in gratitude, squeezing Hua Cheng’s hand with his other hand. The press were shouting questions at them, but Xie Lian couldn’t make them out in the wall of sound directed towards them. They walked up the stairs to the courthouse without engaging, and Hua Cheng leaned over to whisper into Xie Lian’s ear as his arm wrapped around his waist. 

“Gege is so loved,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian shook his head, looking up at Hua Cheng as his cheeks flushed. It felt odd to think that he still had fans that cared so much for him, even after everything. “How is Gege feeling?” 

“Nervous,” Xie Lian admitted, and Hua Cheng hummed and squeezed his hip. “I’ll be happy when today is over.”

“Not tomorrow?” Hua Cheng asked, as they walked towards the courtroom they had been assigned. Yin Yu was walking before them, his steps light on polished stone floors. Xie Lian wondered if he was nervous too. He hoped not.

“No,” Xie Lian admitted. “I might be, then, but right now I just want to have this part over. Then it’s out of my hands.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng said, meeting Xie Lian’s gaze with his dark eye. “I’m sure this will work out, but otherwise we will find another way. Gege never has to go back there.”

“I know,” Xie Lian said, and then grabbed Hua Cheng’s hand with his own again. “I’ll stay by San Lang’s side, if he’ll permit me.”

“As long as Gege wants to, this San Lang is honored to be his,” Hua Cheng said, and then leaned in. Xie Lian met him, and smiled as Hua Cheng pressed a sweet kiss to the corner of his mouth. He saw as well as heard camera flashes going off, and sighed. Yin Yu turned, seemingly having noticed that something must have happened, and shook his head at them.

“In here,” he said, and gestured to Xie Lian and Hua Cheng to step inside the courtroom. They did so hand in hand, walking up to the front. All three of them sat down, and soon after the desk to their side were filled with the representatives from White No Face. It was the same group as last time, and Xie Lian took one look before he decided that he didn’t need to look at them any longer.

The room fell quiet as the doors were closed. There were press inside the room, but only journalists and no photographers. It was at least something. The judge and four jurymen stepped in through another door, taking a seat before them. Xie Lian refrained from the impulse of wanting to lean closer to Hua Cheng, but was very happy for his hand in his own under the desk. 

The trial started, with the judge presenting the case and those involved. It was a small case, so as soon as the presentations were over Yin Yu stood up and pleaded the case. Xie Lian had heard the speech before, and he felt he did it splendidly. Nothing was said after, but Yin Yu sat down as the head lawyer from White No Face got up to defend the contract. The speech was short and to the point. They claimed Xie Lian knew what he had signed and that it was addressed to him, and because of it, the contract should be valid. The lawyer got back into his seat, and then they all turned their gazes to the judge. Yin Yu said that it was possible that the trial would close after the pleading and the defense, but that the judge might ask them some questions. It seemed the judge had chosen  the latter in terms of how to proceed. 

“Since this case is rare, I would like to ask some follow up questions to the involved parties to gain a better insight,” the judge said, and Xie Lian sat up straighter. Hua Cheng kept his slumped posture, but his fingers caressed comfortingly over the back of Xie Lian’s hand. “Jun Wu,” the judge addressed, and Xie Lian kept his gaze forward. He didn’t want to look at him.

“Yes, your honor,” Jun Wu answered, smoothly and calmly. It made a shiver race down Xie Lian’s spine. He often sounded just like that, making it impossible to know what he was thinking.

“This contract, what is the reason for the label using a different name then the one Xie Lian actually has?” the judge asked, leaning forward slightly. 

“It is not I who write the contracts, we have legal teams for that,” Jun Wu answered, and by Xie Lian’s side, Hua Cheng gave a quiet scoff. 

“But you must have been aware of it?” the judge pushed, and Jun Wu hummed. “Or weren’t you?”

“The artists at White No Face-entertainment all receive stage names, it is a part of being an idol,” Jun Wu answered, clearly averting the question. The judge seemed to notice too, a frown appearing between his brows. “For Xianle there was nothing different.”
“So more contracts are created in this way still?” the judge questioned. 

“I would suppose so, as I said it is not I who write them, but the legal department,” Jun Wu answered, and Xie Lien shook his head as he held back a sigh. He was so slippery, like an eel. 

“Alright,” the judge said slowly, seeming not really pleased with the answers. Xie Lian squirmed. What does that mean? Is it good or bad? “As for the content of the contract, it is a very low salary, below minimum wage.”

“I beg your pardon your honor, but the content of the contract is not why we are here is it? It is only the signature, at least as far as I have been told?” Jun Wu pointed out, his voice still smooth and controlled. The judge frowned. 

“This is my courtroom, answer the question,” he said, sharper this time. Xie Lian wondered if Jun Wu was squirming, but knowing him he would never show such a thing. 

“At White No Face-entertainment we aim to take care of our artists. Xianle had nothing for a period in his life after his parents had passed away, and without White No Face-entertainment he would have been on the streets,” Jun Wu answered effortlessly, and Xie Lian felt a dull ached spread in his chest at the thought of his parents… they had never wanted him to go into music. If he hadn’t, had he been in the car when they crashed? A trembling breath left his lips at the thought. What did it matter of White No Face ‘took care of him’, he still ended up on the streets, didn’t he? He couldn’t imagine what his mother would say, how she would feel, if she knew what Xie Lian had gone through that year. Besides, had White No Face paid fairly, Xie Lian would never have had to worry about being on the street after FCG had released their first album.

Hua Cheng’s hand clenched in Xie Lian’s, and Xie Lian squeezed softly back, his thumb caressing over the side of his hand. He turned to look over at him, and Hua Cheng’s dark eye instantly met his own. Hua Cheng looked furious, but his gaze softened when it met Xie Lian’s. The ache in Xie Lian’s chest eased, and he suppresses the need to push his face into Hua Cheng’s chest and simply stay there and breathe him in. 

Later. 

“The services we offer an artist are extensive, caring. If we did not structure the label as we had, not many would be able to live in this way. It requires that even the groups that make more, earn as much as those who make little, so the business can continue,” Jun Wu pointed out, and Xie Lian felt his fingers tremble. He glanced back at the judge, who’s lips turned up in an almost smirk. 

“And you do not take out any profit from the earnings then?” he asked, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise. He had not expected that. Xie Lian turned to look at Yin Yu who looked stunned as well. He turned to look at Hua Cheng next, who merely smirked, looking much more pleased.

“I feel we have steered from the subject,” one of the White No Face attorneys pointed out, and the judge nodded as he leaned back in his chest.  

“Is there something more you would like to say, on the subject?” he asked, directed towards Jun Wu. 

“Xianle knew when he was signing the contract that it was for him. I am sure that there was no doubt in his mind, that he was Xianle and no one else. There had not been a mistake, this is an attempt at breaking a valid legal document,” Jun Wu said, keeping the line that the lawyers had been keeping. The jurymen made notes, and the judge nodded.

“Alright,” he answered, and then his gaze shifted towards them. His gaze met Xie Lian, who instinctively squeezed Hua Cheng’s hand. “Xie Lian?”

“Yes, your honor,” Xie Lian answered, lowering his head slowly in respect. 

“What would you say your name is?” the judge asked, and Xie Lian took a breath before answering. He was so nervous, so incredibly nervous to screw this up when Yin Yu and Hua Cheng had worked so hard.

“Xie Lian is the name that my parents gave me, and the one I go by,” he answered, fully confident in his reply. 

“And Xianle?” the judge asked, and Xie Lian smiled. 

“Is it a stage name,” he answered. It was. He had been called Xianle during his time with FCG, but it wasn’t who he was. 

“Is it a name you have gone by outside of the stage?” the judge asked, and Xie Lian tilted his head to the side as he considered. 

“There are those who have called me Xianle instead of Xie Lian, mainly White No Face-entertainment office staff, a few of the artists,” he answered earnestly. The judge’s brows raised. 

“Have you ever introduced yourself as Xianle?” he asked, and Xie Lian frowned.

“Not outside of my role in FCG,” Xie Lian said, because he truly didn’t think he had. So many years had passed since he had been given the name, it was hard to remember it all.

“Interesting,” the judge said, and Xie Lian blinked. He had not expected such a response. “Why do you want the contracts broken?”

“I would like to be free to create,” Xie Lian answered earnestly, feeling comforted in still having Hua Cheng’s hand in his own under the desk.

“If the contract is not broken, what will you do?” the judge asked. “Will you go back to White No Face-entertainment to fulfill the contract?”

“No, your honor I could not,” Xie Lian answered, shaking his head. The mere thought made his heart sink.

“How so?” the judge asked, and Xie Lian took a moment to gather his thoughts before he answered. “Do you not want to be an artist?”

“As a person others look up to, as I know many do with artists, I cannot continue creating and promoting the kind of environment White No Face supplies,” he said, a smile curling in his lips at the thought of how different Scrap Collecting Immortals was. “I do not want anyone to think that it is acceptable to be treated in such a way.”

“What type of environment would that be?” the judge asked, and Xie Lian heard mumbling from the other desk. He steeled his resolve, and said in a clear voice.

“Manipulative, exploiting, damaging even,” he admitted. It had become so clear, when meeting all the ‘scrap’ that White No Face had thrown out.

“Very well,” the judge said, and then turned his gaze from Xie Lian to the person next to him. “Hua Cheng.”

“Yes, your honor,” Hua Cheng answered, his tone casual as he looked at the judge and the jurymen.

“It is you who is suing for this contract,” the judge asked, and Hua Cheng hummed.

“It is,” he agreed, and Xie Lian looked at his very handsome face. He seemed unfazed by this, looking just as relaxed as he did this morning when they got ready. 

“How come?” the judge asked, and Xie Lian’s heart clenched. 

“I think Gege deserves his freedom,” Hua Cheng answered easily, even shrugging his shoulder. “No one should have to be tied to someone who abuses their power and position in the way that Jun Wu does.”

“I see,” the judge said with a nod. “And if an artist at your label would feel that you were abusive, would you let them go from their contract?”

“Absolutely,” Hua Cheng answered blankly. “I see no need to force others.” The judge didn’t look like he fully believed him, yet he still nodded. Xie Lian believed him. The judge leaned back once more, and looked over all of them.

“Alright,” he said, and then gave one final nod. “Thank you for your statements and thank you to the attorneys for laying their cases. A verdict will be handed into the legislation tomorrow morning, and it will be available at nine. Adjourned.” 

He stood, and then the jurymen did as well, stepping out of the courtroom as the rest of them rose to do the same. Xie Lian looked at Hua Cheng, who met his gaze.

“Gege did marvelously,” he said, and leaned forward to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek. A smile spread unbidden on Xie Lian’s lips.

“Thank goodness for San Lang by my side,” he whispered, and then turned to the side to press their lips together in a short kiss. When he pulled back he saw that Hua Cheng’s eye was a little wide, his nose dusting pink.

“Gege,” he said breathlessly, and Xie Lian tucked his chin down as he felt his cheeks flush. 

“Ready?” Yin Yu asked, and Xie Lian looked up and nodded, stepping with him out. Hua Cheng’s hand was still in his, where he walked behind him.

“Xianle,” Jun Wu’s voice called as they passed, but Xie Lian didn’t look up at him, he didn’t even pause.

“Lets go,” he simply said to Yin Yu, who gave one short nod before he continued walking. Xie Lian followed, closing his eyes as they were met with the onslaught of flashes from the cameras outside. Hua Cheng let out a sound behind him which could only be described as a growl, and suddenly the sutters stopped going off. Yin Yu’s pace increased before him, and soon they were stepping out of the courthouse, being met with the next wave of journalists and fans. Xie Lian looked up and waved again, and the cheering only increased then.

“Thank you so much for your support,” Xie Lian called, but was unsure if he could be heard from the deafening sound of all of them shouting back. They walked down the stairs and made their way towards the car, and Xie Lian could almost taste freedom, the relief tingling at his fingers, not yet ready to wash over him. They had almost reached the car, when someone called out behind them loudly.

“Xie Lian,” she said, and Xie Lian turned, his eyes growing wide as he came face to face with Yajuan Yang. Xie Lian’s heart clenched, and all the guilt he felt, the gratitude and the responsibility for damaging her business slammed into him as if he had run into a wall of bricks. She had been the first to care for him, to take him in and give him something to do, to earn food. Xie Lian had burnt her down. 

“Oh,” Xie Lian breathed, and then he fell to his knees before her. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so very sorry,” he rambled, feeling tears rush to his eyes. He bent down, but was soon grabbed and lifted off the ground.

“Gege!” Hua Cheng exclaimed, his eye wild as he looked at Xie Lian.

“Xie Lian please,” Yajuan Yang said, waving her hands desperately before herself as she took a step closer. “What are you apologizing for?”

“I ruined your business,” Xie Lian said, feeling his voice waiver. He had brought so much pain, he had hurt so many good people. “You had worked so hard and just because you helped me you lost everything.”

“Oh, but I got it back,” she said, a soft smile filling her expression as she met his gaze. 

“What?” Xie Lian asked. He found more footing under his feet, but he still leaned a little on Hua Cheng, because it felt much more stable than to trust his wobbly knees just now. 

“Yes,” she said with a sure nod. “After the trial with the media houses I was paid for damages, and then someone came in and helped with the rest.” Her gaze glanced towards Yin Yu, and Xie Lian felt his heart jump up in his throat. He looked over at Hua Cheng, who looked worriedly at him. Xie Lian smiled, and cupped his cheek.

“Really?” he asked, and turned back to look at her. 

“Yes, no need to worry at all,” she assured, and Xie Lian found himself smiling back at her, feeling a tight knot in his chest unfurl. “I came to see you! It is so good to see you doing well. I was so worried after you left. I hope the trial works out.” 

“Thank you,” Xie Lian answered, unable to find any other words. It felt too small. She had truly been the only one to take care of him in the beginning, and she had shown him that he could do work for his pay, earn food and shelter which he so desperately needed.

“I brought some buns, I know you enjoyed them then,” she said, handing over a familiar paper bag. Xie Lian laughed and reached out for them, curling his fingers around the top. The smell of them filled his nose, and he was almost overcome with the memories of that time.

“Thank you,” he said again, hugging the bag to his chest “You’re really alright?” he asked to confirm, thinking about what Jun Wu had said when Xie Lian was in the hospital, wondering if it really could be alright now. 

“Yes, I am,” Yajuan Yang assured with a firm nod. Xie Lian had no reason to doubt her. “Take care, alright?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian promised, and then thanked her two more times, still feeling like it wasn’t enough. “You too!”Hua Cheng guided Xie Lian towards the car then, and they slid into the backseat through the same door, Hua Cheng still keeping him close.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, meeting Hua Cheng’s gaze. “You helped her.” There was no doubt in his mind. Yin Yu was kind, but he mostly did Hua Cheng’s bidding. Xie Lian assumed it had been Yin Yu who had come with the money, even if Hua Cheng supplied it. He pulled a steamed bun out and handed it to Hua Cheng, who smiled and bit a piece of it from Xie Lian’s fingers. Xie Lian smiled, and placed it down to grab another to offer Yin Yu in the front seat. It was silently accepted.

“Of course,” Hua Cheng said as he chewed. Xie Lian took a bite too. Ah, it was just as good as back then. “She didn’t deserve what she got, after she had helped Gege. Jun Wu only wanted to hurt you, and he did so by harming others when he couldn’t reach you. It pissed me off.”

“San Lang has the kindest heart,” Xie Lian pointed out, and Hua Cheng’s thumb caressed over Xie Lian’s hip. Xie Lian reached the bun up, and Hua Cheng took another bite of it. He looked so cute when he chewed. Oh, Xie Lian was in deep, wasn’t he?

“Is Gege feeling alright?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian nodded, resting back against his shoulder as he too took a bite.

“I’m good,” he promised once he had swallowed. “I’m happy it’s done. I was surprised that he asked so many questions.” 

“It was probably because, as he said, they hadn’t seen a case like this before really,” Yin Yu explained, and Xie Lian frowned.

“What does that mean?” he asked, as the driver took them through traffic to the hotel. Xie Lian took the final bite from the bun, and then reached in to pull out another. 

“Like Yushi Huang indicated in her article, the trial could become a predicate for coming trials,” Hua Cheng answered. Xie Lian held up the new bun, and Hua Cheng took another bite, chewing as he looked at Xie Lian. He was so silly, having Xie Lian feed him. It made something very warm curl in Xie Lian’s chest.

“So if the trial clears the contract, others at White No Face could sue for the same thing and would probably be cleared too?” Xie Lian asked to confirm, and Hua Cheng nodded.

“Yes, the process might not even go to trial. They might simply need to hand in an appeal and it would be granted,” Hua Cheng answered, and Xie Lian felt hope swirl in his chest. He held out the bun for Hua Cheng to take another bite, which he did.

“I wish for it even more now,” Xie Lian admitted, and Hua Cheng chuckled. “I hope I answered alright.”

“Gege was perfect,” Hua Cheng assured, and Xie Lian let out a deep sigh. They finished the rest of the content before they arrived at the hotel, and smoothly made their way across the empty lobby. Truly, the security of the hotel was amazing, not a single member from the press in sight. They took the elevator up, and Yin Yu excused himself as they reached the floor, hurrying on to his own room. Xie Lian leaned heavily on Hua Cheng as they walked, arm wrapped around his waist. He wasn’t tired as he expected to, but he wanted to be close, as close as he could.

“Is Gege feeling okay?” Hua Cheng asked as they stepped through into the room, his arm slipping from Xie Lian’s waist as he moved further into the room as he kicked off his shoes. Xie Lian suddenly felt empty and cold without him pressed to his side, and he reached out and grabbed Hua Cheng’s hand. Hua Cheng looked over at him, surprise written over his face. “Gege?”

“Would San Lang kiss me?” Xie Lian asked, tugging gently. Hua Cheng followed easily, stepping in closer. His hand cupped Xie Lian’s face tenderly, and Xie Lian pushed up on his toes to meet him. His heart pounded a little rougher against his ribs. Xie Lian’s eyes fell closed, and then he felt Hua Cheng’s lips press against his own. They were soft and tender, and Xie Lian melted under them, wrapping his arms tightly around Hua Cheng’s shoulders to hold him close. 

“Gege,” Hua Cheng whispered, and Xie Lian hummed, pressing a kiss to his cheek, and then to his chin, before moving down to press them to Hua Cheng’s neck. He felt Hua Cheng’s breath hitch, and he gently sucked on the smooth skin. “Ah.” 

“I want San Lang as close as I can,” Xie Lian admitted, feeling terribly shameless but still in need of explaining himself. He pressed his lips to Hua Cheng’s neck again, his hands wandering down Hua Cheng’s chest. “I want to feel his skin against mine, feel his lips on mine.” He could feel Hua Cheng’s heart race under his palm. It still felt a little dizzying, that he could impact Hua Cheng in this way. “I want….” Xie Lian started, but couldn't finish. His cheeks heated, and he pressed his lips to Hua Cheng’s neck again, sucking a mark over his shirt collar.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian’s fingers fiddled with the buttons of the suit jacket and opened it, so he could wrap his hands around Hua Cheng’s sides. Hua Cheng’s hands wrapped tightly around Xie Lian’s hips in response.
“I want to be as close to San lang as I can,” Xie Lian said again, trying to get his point across. “I want to feel him.” Inside , he thought, but couldn’t voice. Hua Cheng seemed to understand anyway, his grip on Xie Lian tightening as a moan slipped from his lips. They had not done that yet. They had explored much with hands and mouths, which had been fun and exciting. Xie Lian craved something different now.

“Oh,” Hua Cheng breathed in realisation, and then moved one had up to pull Xie Lian in for a heated kiss. It made his knees a little weak, and he moved his hands up to push the suit jacket from Hua Cheng’s shoulders onto the floor. “Gege.”

“Please,” Xie Lian breathed against his lips. “If- if San Lang wants to of course.” Xie Lian added, because he could never force him. 

Hua Cheng bent down, his lips still pressed to Xie Lian’s when his strong hands wrapped around Xie Lian’s thighs and lifted him up. Xie Lian yelped, and his legs instinctively wrapped around Hua Cheng’s waist to cling to him. 

“This San Lang wants to,” Hua Cheng said in a dark tone, walking them over towards the bed as he kissed him again. Xie Lian moaned into it, his fingers caressing into Hua Cheng’s hair. “This San Lang wants to feel Gege close too, wants to please him.” Hua Cheng slowly lowered him, Xie Lian’s back landing softly against the mattress. “Make him feel exquisite.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, his hands cupping Hua Cheng’s neck to pull him down into the bed. “Come to me.”
“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, putting one knee on the bed before he slung the other leg over Xie Lian’s body, kneeling over him. They met in another kiss, hot and consuming. Xie Lian felt want start to drum in his veins. His hands moved down, and he carefully undid Hua Cheng’s tie, pulling it away and throwing it on the floor. Hua Cheng’s hands were roaming too, opening the buttons on Xie Lian’s suit jacket, and then the shirt. Xie Lian sat up as his own fingers moved over the buttons of Hua Cheng’s dress shirt, pulling it out of Hua Cheng’s pants. They discarded the loosened garments, tossing them onto the floor. Xie Lian’s hands found Hua Cheng’s smooth skin, and he tipped his face  up to kiss him again. Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian moved down, pressing tender kisses to Hua Cheng’s neck and then down his bare chest. He left marks in his wake too, red against the pale of Hua Cheng’s skin. They looked beautiful. 

“Lay down Gege,” Hua Cheng asked, and when Xie Lian looked up he was met with Hua Cheng’s dark gaze and flushed cheeks. Xie Lian tilted his face up for one more kiss, and then brought Hua Cheng with him as he laid down once again. Hua Cheng’s hands were everywhere, scorching hot against his skin.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, feeling himself grow hard under Hua Cheng’s touch. Hua Cheng moaned against his lips, his hands caressing tenderly down Xie Lian’s sides until they reached the hem of his pants. Xie Lian gasped, feeling his body tingle with anticipation as his cock filled even further. His hips rocked up, as Hua Cheng’s calloused fingers caressed teasing under his waistband. “Mmh,” he whimpered, feeling Hua Cheng smile against his lips.

“Gege is so sensitive to touch,” Hua Cheng pointed out, pressing his lips to Xie Lian’s jaw, and then to his neck. He bit down, and Xie Lian moaned. 

“It feels so good, when San Lang touches me,” Xie Lian admitted, another moan spilling from his lips as Hua Cheng pressed a kiss next to his nipple. “Haa, San- San Lang.” Hua Cheng licked over his nipple next, his hands working the fastening of Xie Lian’s pants open. He pushed them down next, pulling away from Xie Lian’s chest to discard them. His hand came to cup Xie Lian’s erection over his briefs, and Xie Lian whined, rutting up into the touch. “Ha haaa.”

“Gege looks magnificent,” Hua Cheng praised. “He’s so pretty, when he’s in pleasure.”

“Mmh,” Xie Lian moaned, his eyes closed as he gripped after Hua Cheng helplessly. He felt Hua Cheng lean down once more, his mouth closing over Xie Lian’s other nipple. His hand wandered into Xie Lian’s underwear, and with light fingers teased over his hard length. “San Lang please!”

“Alright,” Hua Cheng agreed with a low chuckle, pulling back from Xie Lian’s torso to hook his fingers into his underwear. Xie Lian lifted his hips eagerly, and then he was stripped fully bare, laid naked before Hua Cheng’s gaze. For a moment Hua Cheng simply looked, his gaze wandering over Xie Lian’s flushed skin, his marked chest, his hard cock. Xie Lian turned his face away, fighting the impulse to hide himself. 

“San Lang ah, please don’t look at me like that,” he pleaded, and Hua Cheng made a displeased noise in the back of his throat. 

“How can I not Gege?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian looked up to meet his gaze helplessly. Hua Cheng’s eye gleamed, and it knocked the breath a little from Xie Lian’s lungs. “Gege is so beautiful. This San Lang finds it impossible to look away.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian answered, his cheeks aflame but pushing up regardless, pressing their lips together. Hua Cheng met his mouth so easily, the kiss deep and tender. Xie Lian reached up carefully and pulled Hua Cheng’s eye patch off, continuing to kiss him as he placed it on the nightstand. He pressed his lips to Hua Cheng’s scarred eyelid, smiling, before he moved down to kiss his lips once more. 

“I find San Lang beautiful too,” Xie Lian said against his mouth, caressing down to the fastening of Hua Cheng’s pants to slowly open them. He could feel the swell of Hua Cheng’s cock under his hands, and it made his mouth go dry. “So handsome.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, as Xie Lian pressed the heel of his hand firmer to his cock. “Mmh, Gege that feels so nice.”

“Will San Lang let me have this?” he asked, wondering what was making him so bold. “I want it, I want to feel San Lang inside me.”
“Fuck, yes,” Hua Cheng moaned, and then pushed forward to lay Xie Lian down into the bed once again. He stood to push his pants off, before he moved with quick steps over to the bathroom. When he came back there was a bottle of lube in his hands, which he tossed onto the bed before he crawled on top of Xie Lian once more. Their lips met in a deep kiss, and Xie Lian hooked a leg over Hua Cheng’s hip, their bare cocks rubbing against each other. 

“Aaah,” Xie Lian moaned at the sensation, feeling and answering moan fall from Hua Cheng‘s mouth. “Mmh.”

“Does Gege want-” Hua Cheng started, interrupted by another moan as Xie Lian rolled his hips up once again. “Fuck. Does Gege want my fingers?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian answered, spreading his legs, shameless so shameless, to give Hua Cheng room. He loved Hua Cheng’s finger inside him, feeling the stretch, the sensation was they brushed over that sensitive spot inside him. “A-and then,” Xie Lian stuttered, as his hand reached down and wrapped around the base of Hua Cheng’s cock. It was hot and heavy on his grip, and Hua Cheng moaned as Xie Lian stroked up. He adored the way Hua Cheng’s breath trembled against his lips as pleasure rolled through his body. 

“Gege, aaah, Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian hummed as he continued to stroke.

“And then after San Lang’s fingers I want this,” he said. Hua Cheng moaned again, and then dipped down to bite into Xie Lian’s neck. Xie Lian moaned, his pace faltering as his back arched. Hua Cheng licked over the bite, and then pushed back enough to reach for the lube. Xie Lian’s hand fell from his cock, as Hua Cheng once again settled between his spread legs. 

“Is this okay, Gege?” Hua Cheng asked, leaning down to press a kiss to the inside of Xie Lian’s knee, making him jump. “This San Lang would like to see you.”

“Okay,” Xie Lian agreed, feeling a little breathless and nervous. Hua Cheng had pushed one finger inside him earlier when they were in bed, but he assumed he would need more if he was going to be prepared to take the girth of Hua Cheng cock. A thrill raced up his spine. “I trust San Lang.”

“It is the greatest treasure,” Hua Cheng said, and then he sucked a mark into Xie Lian’s thigh. Xie Lian gasped, his eyes drifting down to Hua Cheng resting between his legs. Hua Cheng reached over for the lube, and caught Xie Lian’s gaze as he started slicking up his fingers. A smirk curled on his lips, and Xie Lian felt his stomach swoop. “Gege will have to tell me if it feels good, yes?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian agreed, feeling a little dizzy from it all. “San Lang.” Hua Cheng hummed, and then he moved Xie Lian’s legs up on his shoulders. Xie Lian shuddered as his breath came closer, caressing over his length. Hua Cheng’s slick fingers caressed between his cheeks, and just as he felt Hua Cheng push his finger against his rim, Hua Cheng licked over his length as well. “Ah!” Xie Lian moaned, and then again as Hua Cheng took the head of his cock fully into his mouth. The finger slipped further inside him, and as it did Hua Cheng sunk down on his length. Xie Lian gasped, one of his hands tangling in Hua Cheng’s hair, the other lacing with the fingers of Hua Cheng’s free hand.

“Mmh,” Hua Cheng moaned, before he started bobbing his head up and down, his finger moving in tandem with his mouth. Xie Lian was gasping, grabbing Hua Cheng’s hand tightly as pleasure filled his body. 

“More, San Lang aah, more,” Xie Lian moaned, and Hua Cheng hummed around his length, sending delicious vibrations through his cock. Another finger pushed inside him, and Xie Lian arched, the stretch foreign but so good. He panted, his toes curling against Hua Cheng’s back as Hua Cheng’s finger moved in and out of him. He caressed over something inside Xie Lian which flushed pleasure through his vein, and Xie Lian gasped loudly, his body jerking form the sensation. He glanced down, and saw Hua Cheng smirking around his cock.

Xie Lian whined, and Hua Cheng moved his fingers over that spot over and over, working his mouth over Xie Lian’s cock. It was slow and tender, and Xie Lian’s breath felt stuck in his chest as Hua Cheng worked him open. A third finger was added, and Xie Lian’s legs trembled, feeling so sensitive but needing more. His grip in Hua Cheng’s hair tightened, and then he looked down to meet his dark eye. Hua Cheng’s lips were stretched around his cock, and it was so lewd, so beautiful. Xie Lian trembled, his mouth feeling dry.

“San Lang, San Lang pl-please aaah,” he moaned, trying to gather his mind. “San Lang I want- mmmh.”

Hua Cheng pulled slowly off his cock, licking his lips as he did. “What do you want, Gege?” he asked, his voice strained. Oh, oh that wasn’t fair. He was far too sexy. 

“Come kiss me,” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng’s gaze softened. He pushed Xie Lian’s trembling legs from his shoulders and crawled up. Xie Lian looked up at him, this beautiful, strong man who meant everything to him now, and smiled. He cupped his hands behind Hua Cheng’s neck and pulled him down, and then both moaned as their cock slid against each other. 

“Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian rocked his hips up. “Gege felt so good around my fingers, so warm and so tight.”

“San Lang, I want- I want to feel you,” Xie Lian said against his lips, spreading his legs a little wider. “I want San Lang to feel good too.”

“Gege always makes this San Lang feel so good,” Hua Cheng said, but pushed up a little. Xie Lian felt him move his cock between Xie Lian’s cheeks, and Xie Lian felt his breath stutter in his chest at the sensation. “But if Gege requests of this lowly servant such a privileged request,” he continued, and Xie Lian felt the head of his cock press against his rim. “Relax, beloved,” he breathed, and Xie Lian nodded, keeping Hua Cheng’s gaze as he let out a long slow breath. Hua Cheng pushed forward then, and Xie Lian felt him push inside. The stretch was so much, much more than Hua Cheng’s fingers had been. He felt so full, as Hua Cheng slowly pushed inside.

“San Lang, San Lang, San Lang,” he babbled, his voice a breath whisper as his fingers dug into Hua Cheng’s arm to try to ground himself. It felt so good, so incredibly good. “Yes, yesss.”

“Beloved,” Hua Cheng breathed, and then leaned forward, pressing their foreheads together. He sunk in even further, and Xie Lian whined, feeling stretched fully open. “Xie Lian.”
Hua Cheng’s eye was teary when it met Xie Lian’s, and it made his heart stutter in his chest. “San Lang?” he asked, caressing his thumbs over Hua Cheng’s cheeks. Hua Cheng smiled, and pressed a kiss to each palm.

“San Lang is so fortunate,” he said, meeting Xie Lian’s gaze again. “So lucky to be able to be with Gege like this.”

Xie Lian felt like his heart was going to overflow with affection. “San Lang is my everything, my most important person,” he said, and a tear fell from Hua Cheng’s cheek down on his own. Xie Lian pressed their lips together tenderly, before pulling back. “Move, beloved,” he asked. Hua Cheng let out a trembling breath, and then he pulled his hips back. His cock dragged along Xie Lian’s walls, and they both moaned at the sensation. Hua Cheng pushed in again, and Xie Lian whimpered. It was so good. 

“San Lang, mmmh,” Xie Lian moaned, and Hua Cheng tipped down to kiss him. Xie Lian opened up so easily, their bodies rocking together as the kiss deepened. Hua Cheng’s hips moved faster and faster, and pleasure drummed in Xie Lian’s veins, hot and burning. 

“Gege feels so good, so good, aaah,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian pulled one of his legs up along Hua Cheng’s side, changing the angle of the thrusts. 

“Ah, there, there San Lang,” Xie Lian moaned, as Hua Cheng’s cock pushed against that spot that his fingers had found before. 

“Haa,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian sought out his lips again, panting into his mouth. “I’m so close, Gege.”

“Yes, yes,” Xie Lian agreed, because he was too, his entire body tight as if he would snap any second. Hua Cheng’s hand moved down his body, and then it wrapped around Xie Lian’s leaking erection. Xie Lian shouted, pleasure rushing in his body. Hua Cheng stroked him, quick and in time with the thrust of his hips. Xie Lian felt like he was going to explode, it was all so good, so good-

“Gege,” Hua Cheng groaned, and then Xie Lian felt his hips stutter, before he felt a flood of something inside him. White hot pleasure filled him then, and he tipped his head back as he shouted, come spurting from his cock onto Hua Cheng’s hand and their chests, his entire body convulsing from the orgasm. He clenched down on Hua Cheng’s cock repeatedly, his body so sensitive and tingling. He came back to himself panting, Hua Cheng laying slumped on top of him. He was still inside him, even if he was softening, and the realisation made Xie Lian smile, and then flush. 

“Is my beloved alright?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian hummed, turning to press their lips together. 

“Did San Lang enjoy it?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng smiled against his lips. 

“Very, very much,” he said, and something unfurled in Xie Lian’s chest, and anxiety he hadn’t noticed sneaking in, dispatching. Thank goodness.

“How about Gege?” Hua Cheng asked, propping himself up on his elbows to look down at Xie Lian. “It sounded like he had a good time too.”

“Ah, San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and then had to cover his face with his hands as he felt embarrassment rush over him. He had been so loud, and said such dirty things! “Don’t tease.”

Hua Cheng laughed, and then started peppering kisses over Xie Lian’s hands and face. Xie Lian pried his hands away after a while, too weak for his wonderful person to resist. They kissed slowly for a moment, before Hua Cheng pulled away. He went to retrieve a towel, and came back to clean Xie Lian off, tenderly and gently. Afterwards he tucked himself close, curling around Xie Lian’s body. It was midday, and they should probably get up and eat or something, but this intimacy was just so sweet.

Hua Cheng caressed Xie Lian’s hair away from his neck, and pressed a kiss to his nape. Xie Lian hummed, his eyes fluttering closed for a moment. “What would Gege like to do, when we get home?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian hummed as a smile curled on his lips. He turned towards Hua Cheng, staying in his embrace but wanting to see him. 

“Mh, it always makes me so happy to hear San Lang call it home,” he admitted, and Hua Cheng smiled, a blush coloring his nose. So cute.

“Gege made it one,” he said, leaning down to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s nose.

“Do you mean right away as we come back, or in the future?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng hummed as he considered, pressing another kiss to his jaw.

“I would love to hear Gege’s plans for the future,” he said, resting back against the pillows “What does Gege want?”

Xie Lian let out a breath, and let his mind wander. He hadn’t thought in this way for so long, maybe years. At White No Face, everything was decided for him. Then, in the year that followed it had all been about making it through the day. Dreaming had only felt like a cruel way to wish for things that he would never have. Now, the future were warmer and brighter. Possible. “I want to help the boys finish their choreography, and to help Shi Qingxuan with their new album,” Xie Lian started, his fingers tracing over Hua Cheng’s ribs. “I look forward to hearing Banyue and Pei Su’s new EP as well.” 

“And for Gege’s music?” Hua Cheng asked, looking far too amused. Xie Lian drew a heart over Hua Cheng’s side. 

“I’d like to finish the album, and release it,” he admitted. It was almost done now, and Xie Lian wanted to show it to the world. He wanted there to be something out there that he had made along with people who had encouraged and supported him “So many fans have been so supportive, and I think it would be nice to give them something back. The songs mean so much to me too, they’re a part of me and the journey it took for me to get here.”

“That sounds like a good plan,” Hua Cheng agreed, his fingers tracing up and down Xie Lian’s spine. It tickled, but in a very good way. “Have you decided which songs?”

“Would San Lang record Wolves Without Teeth with me for it?” Xie Lian asked, feeling a little nervous suddenly. He had thought about it, but he hadn’t dared to voice it yet. Here, in the safety of Hua Cheng’s attention, it felt easier. 

“Of course,” Hua Cheng said, looking a little stunned but then softening. “This San Lang would be honored.” He leaned down to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s brow, smiling against his skin. Xie Lian smiled too. “Anything else?” he asked, and Xie Lian giggled. He wasn’t used to being asked for so much. Wasn’t all of this enough already?

“Mh, maybe a tour for them too? Although… I don’t want to be away from San Lang,” he mused, feeling very conflicted. He did want to show his gratitude to those who had been supporting him, but being away from Hua Cheng sounded awful. 

“That’s easy,” Hua Cheng laughed, pressing a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek. “I’ll come with Gege of course!”

“San Lang!” Xie Lian gasped, looking at him with wide eyes. Hua Cheng smiled at him, and he looked so happy it made Xie Lian’s heart ache. “You have a label to run!”

“Yin Yu can do it,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug, and Xie Lian sputtered. “If Gege wants me close, I can’t stay away.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, feeling embarrassed, and happy, and silly all at once. He buried his face in Hua Cheng’s chest, in an attempt to hide. Hua Cheng let him, his hand continuing to move slowly up and down Xie Lian’s spine. 

“Mh,” Hua Cheng hummed, as if truly content. “These are good plans. I like when Gege tells me what he wants. Anything more?”

Xie Lian had already asked for far too much, so he shook his head. “I’m so happy San Lang,” he said instead, pressing a kiss over Hua Cheng’s heart. “No matter what the trial comes to, I’m so happy that I met San Lang.”

Hua Cheng’s arms wrapped tightly around him, and he pressed his nose into Xie Lian’s hair. For a moment neither of them said anything, the warmth and comfort making Xie Lian sleepy. “Sleep for a bit Gege,” Hua Cheng said after Xie Lian let out a yawn. “I’ll order food and wake you when it comes up.” 

 




The administration part of the courthouse was swarming with press. Xie Lian squeezed his hand which rested at Hua Cheng’s side, pulling himself closer. Hua Cheng hummed, a quiet sound which probably only Xie Lian could hear in the bustle of the crowd. The press kept their distance as they moved inside, but Xie Lian knew why they were all there. He spotted the legal team from White No Face waiting next to the box where one could retrieve verdicts as they stepped closer, but was glad to see Jun Wu wasn’t there. The office was opening in ten minutes, at the same time as the verdict would be available to be retrieved. Hua Cheng pulled Xie Lian to the side, and Yin Yu walked up to the box, nodding in greeting to the White No Face attorneys. Xie Lian rested back against the wall, feeling shielded to the press by Hua Cheng leaning his arm on the wall next to him, his back turned towards the press. Xie Lian looked up and met Hua Cheng’s gaze, and his expression turned from annoyed to smiling. 

Xie Lian adored him.

Hua Cheng smirked, and then he leaned in closer to Xie Lian’s ear, and then started to sing. “ Like an animal, I want you to myself, come on take control. Yeah, can you hold me down -”

“San Lang!” Xie Lian cut him off with a gasp, feeling his cheeks flush deep red. Hua Cheng leaned back, his eyes shining with mischief. Xie Lian shook his head. To use such tricks! Then he let out a giggle, and then had to hide it in his hand, so no one would hear. Hua Cheng grinned proudly, as if that had been his intention all along. 

“Does Gege remember it?” he asked, and Xie Lian rubbed at his cheeks, willing the flush to go down. He looked up at Hua Cheng, and then he nodded. 

“I still want to dance to it,” he admitted, and Hua Cheng blinked at him with a raised brow. “San Lang could sing, and I could dance.”

“When this is done, we should plan for a concert,” Hua Cheng said, reaching forward to caress a strand of hair from Xie Lian’s face. “At the label stage.”

“Ah, San Lang, that's a great idea,” Xie Lian agreed, smiling widely at the prospect. “We could perform it together?”

“Yes, and Gege could perform Redemption too,” Hua Cheng suggested, a smirk curling on his lips. “It could be a teaser, before Gege announces the real tour.”

“Maybe I could do Fractions ? Do you think it could be a smaller tour, not too many stops?” Xie Lian asked. He did want to put on shows, but he remembered how drained he had been after the last tour with FCG. He liked his life back at Scrap Collecting Immortals, and he didn’t want to be away for too long. Hua Cheng raised an eyebrow. 

“It can be as many or as few as Gege wants to,” he pointed out as his expression grew serious, and Xie Lian smiled. He had forgotten. “Gege decides.” 

“Okay,” Xie Lian agreed with a wide grin. “We can plan it when we get back then.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, and then his attention turned to the crowd which had started moving. The administration seemed to have opened, and the attorneys for White No Face were first to approach. There was a brief discussion, and then the attendant handed out a stack of papers. Yin Yu approached next, and was much quicker in retrieving his own stack. He turned to walk towards Xie Lian and Hua Cheng immediately, flipping the pages over to come to the right page. Xie Lian gripped Hua Cheng’s side a little tighter, following Yin Yu’s eyes as they moved over the pages. He stopped once he reached them, and he looked up, a simple smile on his face. Xie Lian’s heart jumped.

“What does it say?” Hua Cheng asked, and Yin Yu turned the papers over to Xie Lian, who took them with trembling hands.

“There,” Yin Yu said, pointing to a line in the middle of it. “... which is why the court finds the contract to be invalid, and must not be upheld by the plaintiff.”

“We won?” Xie Lian asked, reading the line once, twice, before he looked up at Yin Yu, who smiled even wider now. 

“Yes,” he agreed simply, and Xie Lian turned to Hua Cheng who was grinning widely. Xie Lian let out a stuttering breath, and then he flung himself at Hua Cheng, wrapping his arms tightly around him. He pressed their lips together, and all around them camera flashes went off once more. Xie Lian found that at this moment, he didn’t care. 

 


 

The light in the room was dim, all eyes turned towards the stage. The crowd had been loud just moments ago, excitement clear in their voices. Now as the lights had been lowered, all attention had been turned towards the stage. On it stood a single divan, red against the dark background. Then, calm footsteps echoed out over the stage and a hush fell over the crowd. The person was wearing a suit, but it didn’t look like he was in a tie. He sat down in the middle of the divan, facing the crowd. 

He leaned forward, and then the music started as the light slowly rose, revealing Hua Cheng in a red suit with a black shirt, a couple of buttons opened. His hair looked wild, a red pearl dangling from a single braid. There was a headset mic resting around his ear, leaving his hands free. He looked out over the crowd, and a smirk formed on his lips as he started to sing while leaning backwards.

 

Dangerous, how we toe the line

Push it every time

My, my

Compromised from how you say my name

I see those golden eyes

And I, I

Want to be tied up in your bed

With your name carved deep into my chest

Harmless games went to my head

Now I want you breathing down my neck

 

Hua Cheng leaned forward, but stayed seated as his focus remained on the crowd, swelling smoothly back and forth as he rubbed his hands together. His gaze was intense, the smirk still on his lips.

 

Like an animal

I want you to myself, come on take control

Yeah, can you hold me down, smooth criminal

Yeah, you're rushing through my veins

Got me going half insane

Am feeling like an animal

 

The room went dark, and then a wall behind the stage lit up in white, pulsating slowly. It showed the contrast of the divan, but unlike before there were two figures on it. Hua Cheng was on his back, and on top of him there was a second person. He snaked his body down on top of Hua Cheng, who wrapped his arm around the other figure, rolling them around and pushing him down. Hua Cheng pushed up to create distance between them, and the figure rolled his body up against Hua Chneg’s once more. The second person wrapped his arms around Hua Cheng’s neck, and Hua Cheng grabbed his waist, pulling him up into his lap. The other man arched back, his long hair falling behind them. The room went dark again, and when the light rose again Hua Cheng was standing in the middle of the stage in front of the divan. On top of it stood Xie Lian, his identity now visible for the crowd, with his hands sliding down Hua Cheng’s front. He looked out at the crowd once, the top of his dark hair pulled back into a knot, the rest flowing freely. He was in all black, and around his neck, a shackle. Hua Cheng smirked, before he started singing again. 

 

You know now exactly what I like

And you give it to me every time

Racing past the point of no return

But I need you like I've never needed anyone

 

Xie Lian’s hands continued to wander over Hua Cheng’s torso, seeming uncaring about the crowd. He caressed his nose over Hua Cheng’s nape, before following it with his lips. Hua Cheng tilted his head to the side, giving Xie Lian as much room as he demanded. 

 

I Want to be tied up in your bed

With your name carved deep into my chest

Harmless games went to my head

Now I want you breathing down my neck

You have me tied up in my head

And your name's carved deep into my chest

Yeah, I'm all in, I must confess

Yeah, I have you breathing down my neck

Yeah, down my neck

Yeah, down my neck

Yeah, down my neck, yeah

 

Xie Lian grabbed the shirt with both hands, and tugged. Buttons scattered over the stage revealing Hua Cheng’s bare chest to the crowd, with Xie Lian written in black across it. The crowd went wild, and Hua Cheng grinned, as he sang the last verse. 

 

Like an animal

I want you to myself, come on take control

Yeah, can you hold me down, smooth criminal

Yeah, you're rushing through my veins

Got me going half insane

Am feeling like an animal

 

The lights fell again, revealing them only as contrasted shadows, the divan gone. Xie Lian danced, strong as he wrapped himself around Hua Cheng, before pushing up into a jump from Hua Cheng’s thigh, his arms wrapped around neck as he flung himself around. Hua Cheng caught him, and Xie Lian tipped far back, arching deeply as he hung safely in Hua Cheng’s grip. He only slid down from Hua Cheng’s body as the music ebbed away, and with one final pulsation it made it almost look like there was only one person still there before it all went black again.

The light came up once more, revealing Xie Lian standing before Hua Cheng. His eyes were closed, his outfit more visible now. He was in a black crop top, a pair of high waisted, tight pants and black sneakers, with a headset mic before his mouth. Around his pale neck rested a golden curse shackle. Hua Cheng stood behind him, and the familiar notes from Redemption started playing as Hua Cheng started to sing. 

 

You say I make you nervous, a tragedy

I'm a beautiful disaster, a reckoning

You wonder how I got this way 

You think I'm someone to be saved, someone to clean up and tame

Oh some things never change, never change

 

Xie Lian stood perfectly still, the only thing moving being his lips as he kept his eyes closed. Hua Cheng sang instead, and this time it was his hand which was wrapped around Xie Lian’s body. Xie Lian rested back against him, still as Hua Cheng sang.

 

You think I would look pretty on your arm

Once you cover up my bruises and battle scars

But it always ends the same

Can't bear the things I've had to face

Got you crying on your knees in pain

Oh some things never change, never change

 

You'll break your back to make me feel again

Suffocate to make me breathe again

Lose your mind from endless praying

Somethings never change, never change

Redemption never came

 

Xie Lian opened his eyes, as Hua Cheng reached up for the shackle. With a flick of his fingers it fell to the ground. The music faded, and another song started. Hua Cheng’s arms wrapped around his waist again. Xie Lian took a deep breath, and sang. 

 

Wrapped myself up in all the tattered pages, A forlorn fable

Faded lines, my message in a bottle is shattering now, And sinking down

I'm growing to know time as it goes, Everything's changing

Break me with that truth, Take all my fractions

Shaping something new, Out of the fragments

Light up this old soul, 

I was broken now I'm golden, Now I'm golden

 

As the chorus fell from his lips, a smile spread on Xie Lian’s lips, growing wider as he sang. Behind him, tears filled Hua Cheng’s eyes, but none fell. Xie Lian continued to sing, stepping away from Hua Cheng’s embrace to take his hand. 

 

Grasping out

Tell me that you hope to hear, The words resound

That growing to know, Time, as it goes, is life

Break me with that truth, Take all my fractions

Shaping something new, Out of the fragments

Light up this old soul

I was broken now I'm golden, Now I'm golden

 

They stepped closer to the edge of the stage, and Xie Lian looked out over the crowd. Xie Lian’s free hand splayed over his chest, and he kept singing, voice steady and clear. 

 

Open my eyes, This is life

Change comes with time, This is life

Break me with that truth, Break me with that truth

Break me with that truth, Take all my fractions

Shaping something new, Out of the fragments

Light up this old soul

I was broken now we're golden

Now we're golden

 

Xie Lian turned to look at Hua Cheng, and held his gaze as he sang the final lines, their fingers tangled together. 

 

I was broken, Now I'm golden

Now I'm golden

 

Xie Lian smiled, and then turned and wrapped his arms tightly around Hua Cheng who held him equally close, and under the roar of the crowd the lights fell as they sought out each other’s lips.

 

_______________________

 

Xie Lian gasped as his back hit the dressing room door, his hands winding into Hua Cheng’s hair as he pulled him close. Adrenaline was still rushing in his veins, the chanting of the crowd still hearable from behind the door. Xie Lian felt as though his body was tingling, too much energy about to make him grow frantic.

“San Lang,” he gasped, and then let out a whine as Hua Cheng bit down on his lower lip, before starting to trail kisses down Xie Lian’s jaw and neck. Xie Lian tipped his head up to give him more room, moaning as Hua Cheng sucked fresh marks to join old ones. Arousal was drumming in Xie Lian’s veins, his cock hardening as he let his hands roam over Hua Cheng’s still exposed chest. 

“Gege was magnificent,” Hua Cheng breathed into his skin, pushing his leg between Xie Lian’s. His thigh pressed against Xie Lian’s clothed erection, and he gasped, his hips instantly starting to rut against it. Pleasure shot up his spine, and he grew fully hard quickly, his hands having lowered to pause at Hua Cheng’s pants hem. “So sexy, ripping my shirt open for everyone so see.”

“Mmmh,” Xie Lian moaned, gasping as Hua Cheng’s hands started to unbutton his pants. This was so lewd. There were so many outside of the door, but Xie Lian craved this, craved Hua Cheng’s hand on him, the pleasure rushing in his veins. “San Lang, San Lang please.”

“What does Gege want?” Hua Cheng asked, biting down on Xie Lian’s neck. “He got me all riled up on stage, being so sexy.”

“Aah, I want- I want San Lang to feel good,” Xie Lian panted, his trembling fingers reaching down to open Hua Cheng’s pants as well. Hua Cheng reached into Xie Lian’s underwear and pulled out his hard cock, and Xie Lian arched off the door, a loud moan spilling from his lips.

“Fuck Gege look at you,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian pried his eyes open to look at Hua Cheng too. His hair was disheveled, his shirt still open, Xie Lian’s name still stark against his skin. He was too much. “This San Lang wants so badly to fuck you, but he didn’t bring lube.”

“Mmh,” Xie Lian moaned, rocking up into Hua Cheng’s grip. He wanted that too, but maybe something else could work for now. “My- my thighs San Lang,” he suggested, his cheeks flushing bright red from the suggestion. Hua Cheng’s hand on his cock stuttered, and then he looked up to meet Xie Lian’s gaze, his dark eye filled with want.

“Fuck,” he cursed, and then started stroking Xie Lian’s cock again. “Okay, okay, turn around.” 

Xie Lian nodded, and then turned to push his hands against the door, his forehead resting against the cool wood. He heard Hua Cheng push down his pants, and then he reached over to pull Xie Lian’s down too, getting stuck by his knees on their way down. He heard Hua Cheng spit in his hands, and then stroke, the wet sound ringing in Xie Lian’s ears. Anticipation drummed in his veins, and then he felt Hua Cheng’s hand wrap around his chest, sneaking in under his crop top to play with his nipples. 

“Gege is so warm,” Hua Cheng said, his slick cock coming to caress between Xie Lian’s thighs. “Squeeze them together for San Lang?”

“Mmh,” Xie Lian agreed, clenching his thighs together. Hua Cheng moaned, and started to rock his hips forward, his cock sliding between Xie Lian’s legs. Hua Cheng’s other hand came to wrap around Xie Lian’s cock, and then he stroked, his hand steady and sure. Xie Lian whined, Hua Cheng’s hand on his chest and around his cock sending waves of pleasure through his body. He looked down, and felt his cheeks grow fiery red from seeing Hua Cheng’s cock push between his legs, smearing precome on them. It was so lewd, so very hot and Xie Lian moaned, his eyes falling closed.

Hua Cheng pressed a kiss to his nape, and then he bit down, pleasure rushing through Xie Lian, snapping him over the edge. He spilled over Hua Cheng’s hand, his body trembling as Hua Cheng continued to stimulate him. 

“Fuck, fuck Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, and then he came too, spurting come over Xie Lian’s thighs and his pants with a loud groan. They both panted, as the pleasure ebbed away. Hua Cheng’s arm around his torso pulled him back against chest, and Xie Lian slumped, leaning his head on Hua Cheng’s shoulder.
“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, and Hua Cheng smiled, leaning forward to press a sweet kiss to Xie Lian’s nose, and then another to his lips. 

“Let's go home Gege, so this San Lang can worship you properly,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian eped , covering his face with his hands. Hua Cheng laughed, the sound rumbling against Xie Lian’s back as Hua Cheng pressed a kiss to his flaming cheek. Behind his hands, Xie Lian’s lips spread into a wide smile. 

Chapter Text

“Five, six, seven, eight,” Xie Lian counted, turning from the crowd towards the mirror. Behind him, the group of dancers which had been attending the dance workshop got into position. Xie Lian felt a wide smile spread on his face, and he met Quan Yizhen’s gaze in the mirror for a split second, seeing him grin back, just before the one came. “Let’s go!”

The dancers in the room moved, the dance steps rehearsed flowing through them. The beat was heavy, the lyrics dark. It wasn’t something Xie Lian har written, and neither had Hua Cheng. It was one of the newer artists at the label, and Xie Lian had felt his entire body tingling with the need to dance when he had heard the first single. Xie Lian had loved working with her on the choreography for the music video and stage performance as well. This was another choreography of course, which almost made it even more fun. It felt like a privilege to have the opportunity to be given so much creative playroom.

Xie Lian danced his heart out, trying to push his body to the limit within the choreography. The dance students behind him did as well. Quan Yizhen as always seemed to have even more energy than everyone else, despite them having danced all day. The song came to an end, and happy cheers were heard after the last notes rang out, applause echoing through the room. Xie Lian smiled, and wiped sweat from his brows as he turned towards them. Quan Yizen stepped over to the music player, readying the song for one last run through. 

“Okay, do it without us now!” Xie Lian called, stepping away from the mirror to stand beside Quad Yizhen. “This is the last time, so go for it!” 

Quad Yizen started the song once more, and Xie Lian nodded along with the beat, and then counted down once more: “Five, six, seven, eight,” he called, and the dancers moved once again. They were so good. He smiled as he watched them, their steps in sync, their focus clear. They had spent three full days at the label, dancing through most of their time there. This was the third time they had held a dance workshop, and it was one of Xie Lian’s favorite things they did at the label. It was just so much fun meeting new people who loved to dance, and devote themselves to that fully for a couple of days. 

Two years had passed since they won the court case against White No Face, granting Xie Lian creative freedom. Much had changed since then, and much had happened. Xie Lian had gone on tour for six months, with thirty-three stops world wide, with much time in between. It had almost felt like a vacation, with how much time he and Hua Cheng had spent sightseeing, eating funny food, and just enjoying themselves. When they had returned, Xie Lian had decided that he was going to pull back from performing for a while. It wasn’t that he hadn’t enjoyed the tour, but helping the other artists at the label was much more fun, and he had missed it when he was away. Hua Cheng had no objections. Instead they had started working with things like this. It was really a dream Xie Lian didn’t know he had, but that still came true. 

Most of the big names at White No Face left after the trial. It didn’t happen all at once, but FCG was one of the first groups to terminate their contracts, followed by the Three Tumors. Mei Nianqing took many artists with him and started his own label, with fairer contracts and better conditions. It also became known that he was the source of the leak from White No Face to Scrap Collecting Immortals. Xie Lian hadn’t seen him since he himself had left the label, he was very grateful to Mei Nianqing for being brave enough to have relayed what was happening from the inside. Xie Lian was still slightly conflicted towards him, but hopefully they would some day get a chance to meet and talk. The label quickly sunk in the general public's eye, and found it hard to recruit after more and more of the artists spoke out publicly about how the environment had been in there. Xie Lian wasn’t sure what happened to Jun Wu, and in truth, he rarely thought of him anymore.

“Well done!” he cheered as the song came to an end once more, and clapped along with the dancers. The dancers all started gathering their things, and Xie Lian thanked them, waiving them off as they left.

“They were a good group,” Quan Yizhen said as the last stepped out, and Xie Lian nodded while walking over to turn off the sound system. 

“I agree, they had a lot of energy, and spurred each other on,” he said, stepping around the room to do a check so nothing had been forgotten or left behind. 

“Do you need help cleaning up?” Quan Yizhen asked as he corrected his fluffy ponytail, and Xie Lian shook his head.

“No, I’m just doing a check, they’ll come clean in the morning,” he said with a smile. He always felt a little bad that others came in and cleaned, but he had to face the fact that he didn’t have time to clean all the label facilities. Tomorrow was a big day too, they all needed the rest.
“I’ll head out then,” Quan Yizhen said, raising a hand. “See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow!” Xie Lian called, “I’m picking them up early at the airport, so at the arena around nine,” he reminded him, and Quan Yizhen nodded, placing an earbud into his ear. “Tell Yin Yu I said hi!”

“Will do,” Quan Yizhen said as a soft smile spread on his lips. He waved once more before he stepped out, and Xie Lian smiled as he watched him go. 

After the trial Xie Lian had done as promised and gotten himself a phone, and one of the first text messages he had received was from Quan Yizhen, who asked why Yin Yu was his lawyer. After a short explanation from Xie Lian, Quan Yizhen was the first to terminate his contract with White No Face, and came straight over to Scrap Collecting Immortals. Yin Yu had become extremely pale when they first met, but Xie Lian had left them to sort it out. He didn’t know the details, only that now they were living together, Yin Yu smiled twice as often as he had before, and Quan Yizhen came on to help with dance choreographies and workshops at Scrap Collection Immortals when he was requested. Xie Lian was glad for it. It felt like lacing together his old life, the parts he did like, with his new.

There would be more of that tomorrow. 

Tomorrow they were doing a charity concert, with most of the bigger names at Scrap Collecting Immortals performing for it. Since getting back in touch with most of the members of FCG, they had spoken every now and then about doing a performance together. When planning the charity concert, Quan Yizhen had brought up the suggestion of asking the previous members of FCG to contribute, and Feng Xin and Mu Qing had agreed.

Xie Lian found the dance studio to be decent, and walked back to the stereo to make sure it was truly turned off. He turned to look over the room one last time, and then felt familiar arms wrap around his waist. Xie Lian smiled, and leaned back even as he squirmed.

“Noooo, San Lang I’m all sweaty!” he exclaimed, as Hua Cheng pressed a kiss to his crown, before moving down to press one to his nape, exposed by his ponytail.

“This San Lang does not mind at all, Gege,” Hua Cheng answered, biting down softly on Xie Lian’s shoulder. “It’s sexy.” 

“Ah,” Xie Lian gasped, and then turned to face Hua Cheng, cupping his cheeks. “San Lang is so mischievous,” he said, and Hua Cheng grinned proudly. So shameless! “What am I to do with such a husband?” Hua Cheng kept his gaze, and then his smirk turned into a pout.

“Beloved,” he almost whined, and Xie Lian held in a giggle. “This San Lang has been working so hard all day at the arena, making sure everything is perfect. He hasn’t seen his husband all day!” 

“This is true,” Xie Lian agreed, leaning in to press a sweet kiss to Hua Cheng’s lips. Hua Cheng smiled victoriously, pressing Xie Lian even closer. Hopeless, truly. Xie Lian indulged them both, pressing a little firmer into Hua Cheng's body. He pulled back after a moment, giggling as Hua Cheng chased his lips. “Did it go well?” 

“Yes, it is all set up now,” Hua Cheng answered, pulling Xie Lian in for a hug. “They were putting lights on Banyue and Pei Su’s performance when I left.”

“I’m glad,” Xie Lian said with a smile, feeling nerves fill his stomach at the thought of tomorrow, and what he had been planning for a while now. “Hopefully everyone will be able to get a good night's sleep and rest.”

“Gege is so thoughtful,” Hua Cheng said, wrapping his arm around XIe Lian’s shoulder to start learning him out of the dance studio. Xie Lian leaned on his side, reaching out to turn off the lights before they stepped through the door. “How is Gege feeling about tomorrow?”

“Good!” Xie Lian admitted with a nod which was a little too quick. He sighed. “A little nervous, I hope we’ll be able to get some practice in with Feng Xin and Mu Qing once they’ve arrive, but I think we’re all prepared.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, walking them towards the elevator. “I’m sure Gege will be amazing.”

“It’s been years since I stood on stage with someone other than you,” XIe Lian said, turning to look up at Hua Cheng with a smile. “It’s only been me, and us, then of course He Xuan when I’ve guest sung with Calamities.”

“Gege does it so well,” Hua Cheng said with a lovesick sigh, and Xie Lian laughed and hip bumped him, before they stepped into the elevator. 

“Ah, San Lang don’t flatter me,” he chided. He had enjoyed performing with Calamities the few times he had, even if it had only been a couple of songs. Getting to play guitar with a band was such a special feeling, compared to doing it on his own on stage. “Do you think it’ll be okay tomorrow? I don’t want there to be a fight.” Xie Lian didn’t think there would be, but he hadn’t met Feng Xin or Mu Qing since before he was kicked out. They texted, but seeing each other was a whole other thing. He didn’t want to ruin the concert everyone had been working so hard for. 

“If any of them is rude-” Hua Cheng started, as the elevator came to a stop. Xie Lian squeezed his hip, and shook his head. 

“Ah, I don’t think-” he started, but Hua Cheng looked down with a frown, pausing Xie Lian’s protest. 

“Then this San Lang will kick them out with their head first, and will show no mercy,” Hua Cheng continued, and Xie Lian couldn’t help but smile. He paused, pulling Hua Cheng to a stop too. Xie Lian pushed up and pressed their lips together in a tender kiss, lingering and sweet.

“I don’t think that will be necessary, San Lang,” he breathed as he sank down, and smiled tenderly. “Thank you, though.” There was something incredibly heartwarming about always having someone who wanted to protect him, that wanted to make sure he was safe. Xie Lian felt spoiled, but he loved it.

“Mh, anything for my beloved,” Hua Cheng said, his thumb coming to caress along Xie Lian’s lower lip. He leaned down, and Xie Lian met him half way, pressing their lips together once more. Xie Lian gasped a little, grabbing Hua Cheng’s hips tighter. Hua Cheng smirked, and when he pulled back he pressed his lips to Xie Lian’s nose. Xie Lian scrunched it up, and Hua Cheng laughed, and kissed it again. “What does Gege want to eat?” he asked, showing mercy. Xie Lian blinked in surprise.

“Oh,” he said, frowning as he considered. They started walking towards the car again, Xie Lian pulling away to walk over to the passenger side. “Do we have leftovers?”

“No, I gave them to Ruoye,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian lowered his gaze at him. Hua Cheng didn’t look at all apologetic, even though he was going to make that poor dog roll around in the house instead of walking, at this rate. Xie Lian had found him a year ago outside of the label one day, a small white thing, starving. There was no universe where Xie Lian would have been able to leave him. So, he became theirs. E’ming was surprisingly calm about it, the two often sleeping curled around each other in the warmth from the kitchen windows.

“San Lang spoils him,” Xie Lian pointed out, pulling the car door open, to step in. Hua Cheng followed, sitting down and smirking as he met Xie Lian’s gaze.

“Gege spoils the bastard cat,” Hua Cheng pointed out, and Xie Lian averted his eyes as his cheeks colored a little. It was true, he couldn’t deny it. E’ming was just so precious! How could he resist making cat toys and bake cat candy for him! It was impossible to resist. 

“I guess it evens out then,” Xie Lian agreed, and then glanced back at his husband. Hua Cheng had put on his seatbelt, and when he looked back at Xie Lian the customary smile spread on his lips. Xie Lian’s heart skipped a beat. “I missed San Lang today.”

Hua Cheng smiled even wider, leaning over the console to cup Xie Lian’s cheek. “This devoted husband missed his beloved too,” Hua Cheng said, pressing a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek, and then the corner of his mouth. “At least we have all day together tomorrow.”

“Yes, dealing with all the crises,” Xie Lian sighed, and then let out a little laugh as a smile spread on his lips. He was looking forward to it. He was looking forward to handling the bustle and the mishaps, and to do it with Hua Cheng by his side. “It’ll be fun though, having everyone together like that.”

“Mh, it was Gege’s excellent idea,” Hua Cheng agreed, and Xie Lian shook his head and turned his face to kiss him properly. 

 

____________________

 

“Okay,” Xie Lian said, looking around the small circle of familiar faces. They had stood like this countless times before, finding comfort and energy in each other's presence. It had been almost four years since they last faced each other in this way though. Mu Qing was standing to his side on the left, Quan Yizhen straight before him, Feng Xin to Xie Lian’s left. Lang Qianqiu had been invited but declined to participate. It did make it all a little bittersweet, but Xie Lian understood. He had reached out to all four of them after the trial, and now had continuous contact with three. Lang Qianqiu had never replied. “Uhm, go team?” Xie Lian said, not knowing if he should laugh or cry at his own awkwardness. He suddenly felt so tongue tied. He couldn’t find any words that he found fitting.

“Oh god,” Mu Qing sighed, and when Xie Lian looked over he rolled his eyes so hard he worried they might stick. Xie Lian let out an embarrassed laugh, but it was swallowed by the sound of Feng Xin exploding next to him.

“Don’t roll your eyes at him!” he snapped, and ah this felt very familiar, didn’t it? Mu Qing growled, leaning forward towards Feng Xin. They had managed to make nice through the practices, but it seemed the patience had run out. 

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Mu Qing said, crossing his arm over his chest. How these two ran a business together without strangling each other was and would forever be a mystery to Xie Lian. As long as they were happy, he didn’t mind. 

“Shut up,” Quan Yizhen said, and then punched them both on the upper arms simultaneously. Xie Lian was kind of impressed that he managed.

“Ow!” Mu Qing and Feng Xin exclaimed, rubbing at their arms as they both glared at Quan Yizhen, who looked completely unfaced. 

“Sorry! I can’t remember what we usually say?” Xie Lian said, rubbing his neck sheepishly. How silly. They must have pep-talked each other so hundred of times before, but now the words seemed to fail him. Mu Qing rolled his eyes again, but then they all seemed to pause as they considered. 

“Uhm,” Feng Xin said, rubbing his chin as he tried to remember as well. Xie Lian let out a slow breath, and then a smile curled on his lips. They had been spending several hours together that day practicing for this one performance, and he was very grateful that they wanted to come and do this with him. It had been fun reminiscing, reconnecting, and learning about each other again. 

Now, they were going to do this one more, together.

“Something about working hard, and doing a good job,” Mu Qing said, waving his hand dismissively, even if his expression did soften. 

“And that we always have each other out there,” Quan Yizhen added, and Xie Lian’s smile grew. He saw the same happen with Feng Xin, and when he looked over he saw Mu Qing’s lips tugging up as well. 

“Yes,” Mu Qing agreed with a nod. “We do, still.”

“And let's have fun, okay?” Xie Lian added as he looked around at them, and they all nodded as their gazes caught. They had grown up together, faced hardships, triumphs and separation. Now Xie Lian wanted to focus on the joys. They would never be what they once were, but then again he didn’t think any of them wanted that either.

“Yes, let’s have fun,” Feng Xin ageed, and then put all of their hands into the middle of the circle. They all shouted, and then they stepped up into the wings, viewing the last Shi Qingxuan’s performance currently on stage. Xie Lian looked to the side, and saw all of them exchanging glances. His excitement grew, and he knew they would be alright. Shi Qingxuan high fived him as they stepped up on stage, and then it was time. The chanting from the crowd was almost deafening, as they stepped up on stage, and Xie Lian got into position, correcting the headset mic. The music of their most played song started, and Mu Qing began singing. Xie Lian closed his eyes for a moment, and then joined in, joy drumming in his veins.

 

________________________

 

The performance ended, and Xie Lian hugged all three of them tightly before they waved to the crowd and stepped off. Xie Lian smiled, nerves filling his stomach at the knowledge of what was coming next. He turned to the crowd, and waved, the crowd continuing to cheer. He glanced once more at the wings, and saw that everything seemed to be set for his surprise.

“Hi guys!” Xie Lian said, turning towards the crowd which filled the stadium. They cheered loudly, and he laughed. From the corner of his eyes he saw Banyue approach, and she nodded towards him as she walked back. A piano had been pushed out on stage behind him, and Banuye sat down at it. Xie Lian was so grateful that she had worked with him on this. “Thank you all so much for coming out, it really means so much to me, and all of us, that you’ve come to support our cause.”

The crowd cheered again, and Xie Lian looked to the side, seeing his husband’s raised brows. This was not in the schedule… or at least not in the schedule that Hua Cheng knew about. In a way, Xie Lian was kind of hijacking the show a little.

“Now, as many of you know, a lot of things have changed for me in the past two years, but we won’t go over all of that again now. It was very trying, but in the end it led me to the most important person in my life, someone I would never want to be without. Someone who has supported me when I was weak, when I was strong, when I had nothing and when it felt like the world was at might feet. A person who has shown me that it is such a simple thing to be happy, when he is by my side.”

Xie Lian turned to the side again, feeling his stomach swoop violently as he looked at Hua Cheng, who was standing with crossed arms, a smirk on his face even though his eyes were soft. 

“So, San Lang, would you please join me on stage?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng’s brows both rose, but his arms fell from his chest and he walked out to join Xie Lian immediately. The crowd cheered once again, and Xie Lian smiled, biting into his lower lip as he met Hua Cheng’s gaze.

“Hi husband,” he said once Hua Cheng reached him, the crowd erupted into cheering once more. Hua Cheng curled an arm around Xie Lian’s waist, his full focus on Xie Lian. 

“Beloved,” Hua Cheng answered, and Xie Lian scrunched up his nose, because the butterflies in his stomach were growing too wild. He placed a hand on Hua Cheng’s chest, and let out a slow breath to ease some of his nerves. 

“I have written something, for you, about us, about how I feel,” Xie Lian said, looking up into that dark eye. “Banyue has helped me, she’s a treasure.”

“Mh,” Hua Cheng agreed, his gaze so intent. His gaze was so tender, and Xie Lian adored him more than he could describe… but he was going to try.

“I want to sing it to you now,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng squeezed his hip, and nodded. “Okay, ready Banyue?”

He turned his face to see her, and she gave a thumbs up towards them, placing his hands on the keys. Xie Lian smiled, and then focused on Hua Cheng once more, as the piano notes filled the stadium. He looked into Hua Cheng’s eye, his breath trembling a little, before he started to sing. 

 

I've waited a hundred years

But I'd wait a million more for you

Nothing prepared me for

What the privilege of being yours would do

 

Hua Cheng let out a stuttering breath that only Xie Lian felt, and Xie Lian splayed his hand wider over his heart, continuing to sing. He wanted Hua Cheng to know, he wanted the world to know, that there was no one who could ever enrapture him, like Hua Cheng did. No one who would have his heart like Hua Cheng. 

 

If I had only felt the warmth within your touch

If I had only seen how you smile when you blush

 

Xie Lian smiled too then, his thumb caressing over the corner of Hua Cheng’s mouth. Hua Cheng smiled, and Xie Lian smiled wider, as he continued to sing. Hua Cheng was still holding him close, his arm protective and safe around Xie Lian’s waist.

 

Or how you curl your lip when you concentrate enough

I would have known what I was living for all along

What I've been living for

 

Your love is my turning page

Where only the sweetest words remain

 

He saw Hua Cheng bite into his lower lip, ducking his gaze a little but finding Xie Lian’s soon again. Xie Lian felt his chest fill with adoration. Hua Cheng was looking at him with such tenderness, and Xie Lian cupped his cheek, tracing down his cheekbone. 

 

Every kiss is a cursive line

Every touch is a redefining phrase

I surrender who I've been for who you are

For nothing makes me stronger than your fragile heart

 

Xie Lian sang out all he had, his heart pounding. His hand found it’s way back to Hua Cheng’s chest, over his heart. Hua Cheng was so strong, but Xie Lian knew of his fragility too, his insecurities and worries. It made him want to be stronger for the both of them, and wanted to be able to support Hua Cheng whenever he needed someone to lean on. 

 

If I had only felt how it feels to be yours

Well, I would have known what I've been living for all along

What I've been living for

 

Xie Lian never wanted to be without Hua Cheng, didn’t want to be in a world where he didn’t belong to him, where they didn’t belong to each other. There was no place like his embrace, and money, fame, fortune could never rival the sense of home that Hua Cheng bestowed in Xie Lian’s heart. This was where he belonged, this was where he was headed all along. 

 

Though we're tethered to the story we must tell

When I saw you, well I knew we'd tell it well

With a whisper, we will tame the vicious seas

Like a feather, bringing kingdoms to their knees

 

The last notes of the song rang out, and Hua Cheng pushed the headset mic down from before Xie Lian’s lips, and then pushed in for a fierce kiss. Xie Lian gasped, opening his mouth against the onslaught of Hua Cheng’s mouth. Xie Lian gasped, and then felt the lights lower, leaving the stage dark. Hua Cheng’s arms wound tightly around his waist, and Xie Lian’s circled his shoulders, and then he was promptly lifted into the wings of the stage. As his feet touched the ground he reached up and tugged the headset mic that continued to poke them in the cheek off, Hua Cheng reaching back to tug the receiver out of Xie Lian’s pants.

It clattered to the floor, and Xie Lian kissed him deeper, feeling himself be guided back against the wall. Hua Cheng’s body covered his, and when he pulled back Xie Lian chased his lips, blinking up at him under the storm of his emotions. He was nervous, and excited, and happy, and a little embarrassed that they had just made out on stage like a couple of teenagers. 

“Gege,” Hua Cheng breathed, and Xie Lian pulled back to look at him. On stage another performance was being prepared, but Xie Lian was only dimly aware of it. He looked up into Hua Cheng’s eye, his heart pounding.

“Did San Lang like it?” he asked in a whisper, his lips feeling dry. He licked them, and saw Hua Cheng’s gaze dip to them, tracing the movement. He looked up and met Xie Lian’s eyes again, and Xie Lian gripped him tighter, holding back from pulling him down into another kiss. 

“Next to having you in my life,” Hua Cheng started, his hands finding their way under Xie Lian’s shirt to caress over his skin. “It is the most beautiful thing this San Lang has been given.”

Xie Lian let out a stuttering breath, some of his nervousness leaving him. He smiled, and then pushed up to tilt his forehead against Hua Cheng’s. 

“San Lang means everything to me,” he said, closing his eyes for a moment before looking at Hua Cheng once again. “I never want to be without him.”

“Never,” Hua Cheng promised, and Xie Lian felt a wide smile spread on his lips.

“Good,” he said, and then kissed him again.

 

_______________________________

 

Xie Lian smiled as his back hit the mattress of their bed, tilting his face up. Hua Cheng placed his hands on either side of Xie Lian’s head, and made himself at home between his stred legs. A smirk formed on his lips, and Xie Lian felt butterflies fill his stomach, as Hua Cheng leaned down to claim his lips. Xie Lian felt himself melt under it, his hands coming up to cup Hua Cheng’s cheeks. His body was a warm and familiar weight on top of Xie Lian’s body, driving his arousal forward. Hua Cheng rolled his hips down, and Xie Lian let out a gasp as he felt himself harden further, pushing back against Hua Cheng’s body. Hua Cheng used the opportunity to deepen the kiss, and Xie Lian welcomed it, his tongue sliding into Hua Cheng’s mouth to gain more.

Hua Cheng moaned, rolling his hips down again. Xie Lian whined at the sensation of his erection pressing down on his hip, and he reached for Hua Cheng’s shirt, pulling it up to expose his chest. Hua Cheng smirked against his lips, and then pulled back to kneel between Xie Lian’s legs. He reached for the crumpled up shirt and pulled it off, and Xie Lian’s heart raced at the sight. He was so beautiful with his wild dark hair, his kiss bruised lips, his broad shoulders and slender waist. Xie Lian pushed up to sit, running his hands up his husband’s now exposed torso. Hua Cheng leaned down to meet him, their lips slotting together once more. 

Xie Lian reached for the eyepatch and pulled it off, making a trail of kisses from Hua Cheng’s mouth to his eyelid. There he placed a sweet kiss, smiling as he pulled back. Hua Cheng’s gaze found his, and he smiled tenderly, making Xie Lian’s stomach swoop. 

“Gege is wearing too much clothes,” Hua Cheng said as his hands moved in under Xie Lian’s shirt. Xie Lian giggled, raising his arms. Hua Cheng pulled the shirt off, tossing it to the side. Xie Lian smiled, and continued to do so as Hua Cheng’s lips met his own once more, guiding him down on the bed. They ridded themselves of the rest of their clothes, throwing them away to join the others on the floor. Hua Cheng kissed Xie Lian everywhere, in the hollow of his throat, the dip below his sternum, the bend of his hips, the inside of his knee, both of his ankles. Xie Lian trembled, arousal rushing through his veins as Hua Cheng finally made his way back to his lips. Xie Lian kissed him fiercely, feeling breathless and so sensitive.

“San Lang,” he gasped, his hands roaming down Hua Cheng’s side, only to caress in towards his stomach and then down to his groin. Xie Lian teased his fingers over Hua Cheng’s length, and felt his husband’s breath stutter against his lips. Xie Lian wrapped his hand around the base, and then slowly stroked up.

“Ah, Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian smiled, keeping his grip firm but his pace slow. 

“I want San Lang inside me so bad,” Xie Lian breathed against his lips, and Hua Cheng let out a growl. “This husband has been thinking about it ever since the performance at the arena.” Xie Lian moaned too, as his hips jerked up in search of friction.

“I want that too Gege, so much,” Hua Cheng breathed, and Xie Lian nodded, kissing him deeply once more. Hua Cheng pulled away only to rummage through the nightstand drawer, pulling out a bottle of lube. Xie Lian had to let go of his cock then, spreading his legs for Hua Cheng to have more room. Hua Cheng smiled, and then dipped down to kiss Xie Lian once again, before slicking up his fingers. Hua Cheng rested one elbow to the side of Xie Lian’s head, and then his finger circled his rim, before pushing inside.

“Ah!” Xie Lian moaned, his back arching as Hua Cheng pushed his finger fully inside him. Hua Cheng hummed, leaning in to press hot kisses to Xie Lian’s throat. Xie Lian tilted his head back too, gripping at the sheets as Hua Cheng sucked marks into his neck while his finger worked him open. A second finger was added, Hua Cheng curling them over that spot inside Xie Lian which made him see stars. It was so good, so very good. Xie Lian adored the way Hua Cheng took care of him, how thorough he was in his love as well as in giving Xie Lian pleasure. 

A third finger was added, and along it a new string of marks around his neck, like pearls on a necklace. Xie Lian turned his face, and caught Hua Cheng’s lips with his own as he moved up. He was so aroused, need drumming in his veins.

“San Lang, San Lang please,” he pleaded, and Hua Cheng hummed as he nodded. He shifted, his fingers sliding out of Xie Lian’s body as he settled between Xie Lian’s spread legs. Hua Cheng slicked his cock up, and then leaned down for another kiss. Xie Lian licked into his mouth, feeling dizzy with want. He felt Hua Cheng press the head of his cock to Xie Lian’s hole, and then he slipped in, filling Xie Lian up so well.

“Haaaaa,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian whimpered, his nails digging into Hua Cheng’s back. “Gege, Gege mmm.”
“So big, San Lang, San Lang,” Xie Lian moaned, his mouth falling open at the feeling of Hua Cheng becoming fully seated inside him. He rolled his hips a little, to gain friction, and Hua Cheng groaned, biting down on his neck. “Ha!”

“Gege was so mesmerizing on stage today,” Hua Cheng moaned, his hips starting to move into Xie Lian. “So beautiful.”

“Mmmh, San Lang aaah,” Xie Lian moaned, moving his hips with Hua Cheng. It felt so good. He loved being stretched by him, loved feeling this connected. 

“My husband is so sexy,” Hua Cheng breathed, and Xie Lian bit down on his lower lip, swiping his tongue over to soothe it. 

“More, more San Lang,” Xie Lian moaned, rocking up to meet him. They rolled together, pleasure building and building. It wasn’t enough. Xie Lian wanted more, wanted Hua Cheng deeper inside him. He kissed Hua Cheng desperately, whining against his lips. Xie Lian wrapped his arms tightly around Hua Cheng’s shoulders and then pushed with his hips, guiding them around. Hua Cheng followed easily, his back landing on the mattress as his hands cupped Xie Lian’s hips to guide him in place. He was still inside him, and Xie Lian sighed as he sank back down fully, feeling Hua Cheng push even further inside him.

“Gege, fuck,” Hua Cheng groaned, and Xie Lian whimpered, rolling his hips down.

“Ah, San Lang, so deep, so deep,” Xie Lian said, moving his hand down to feel through his stomach where the tip of Hua Cheng’s cock pressed. Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian pried open his eyes, feeling even more want rush through him at the sight. Hua Cheng was so beautiful under him, with his black hair wild against the pillows, his dark eye half lidded and filled with desire. He was flushed, bare, and all Xie Lian’s.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian rolled his hips, both of them moaning again. “Gege feels so good, so tight and so good for this San Lang, stretched mmh- stretched around his cock.”

“Ha, haa,” Xie Lian moaned, continuing to roll his hips down. Hua Cheng started thrusting up, and Xie Lian let out a mix between a moan and a shout, folding forward. He pushed down on Hua Cheng’s cock over and over, feeling it slide to the tip and then back inside. It slid against Xie Lian’s prostate over and over, and Xie Lian curled his fingers on Hua Cheng’s chest, as pleasure rose in his body.

“Ah, close, close,” Xie Lian moaned, and Hua Chneg sought out his lips, both of them panting into each other's mouths as Hua Cheng wrapped his hand around XIe Lian’s cock. “Aaah, yes, yes aaaah.”

“Beloved, be- haaa,” Hua Cheng moaned, and then Xie Lian fell over the edge, spurting come over Hua Cheng’s chest and hand. He continued to bounce back on Hua Cheng’s erection as he trembled under his orgasm, and Hua Cheng’s hand on his hip tightened, before he pushed himself as deeply into Xie LIan as he could, and came. Xie Lian could feel his hot come inside him, and he sighed happily. He loved when Hua Cheng came inside him, and filled him even further. 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, before he collapsed onto Hua Cheng’s chest, panting heavily. Hua Cheng’s arms came to wrap around his waist to hold him close, and Xie Lian smiled, pressing a kiss to his sternum.

“This San Lang’s husband is so sexy, so talented in so many things,” Hua Cheng said,and Xie Lian fel his cheeks flush. “San Lang is so lucky.”

“Aaah, San Lang,” Xie Lian said, pushing his face into Hua Cheng’s chest. It was such a good chest, perfect for hiding in. 

“Mmh,” Hua Cheng sighed happily as his hand caressed through Xie Lian’s hair. It made Xie Lian’s heart fill with warmth. He was so incredibly happy to be here, to have found and built his place in this world. “Gege’s song tonight was more than this lowly husband deserves.”
“Never, Xie Lian said, pushing up to look into Hua Cheng’s gaze. “My husband deserves the world, everything. He brings me more happiness than I thought imaginable.”

“Beloved,” Hua Chneg said, a smile spreading in his lips as he leaned up. Xie Lian met him, and their lips slotted together in a sweet kiss. “Gege’s my everything.”

Xie Lian kissed him deeper, feeling incredibly fortunate to have Hua Cheng by his side, never to be parted.