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warmer than sunlight

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Hua Cheng can wear many faces and appearances, each of them flawless, each more beautiful in Xie Lian’s eyes than the last (although he does prefer his true form). He is powerful, elegant, playful and tender, every side of him making Xie Lian ache with love and fondness with each blessed day they spend together.

However, no matter what the fierce demon king looks like outwardly, Xie Lian can always tell if something is not well with him.

 

“San Lang”, Xie Lian says softly, reaching out to touch his husband’s arm, “is everything okay?”

Hua Cheng stops and turns to look at him. Instantly, his face lights up with a genuine smile, as if he is utterly delighted to see Xie Lian again after simply not looking at him for a while as they walk side by side.

“Of course”, Hua Cheng replies. “Why does gege ask? Is something bothering you?”

Xie Lian steps a bit closer to him, shifting the bundle of flowers he has been gathering. Yes, he thinks, the way my San Lang looks so tired today.

Hua Cheng has, naturally, tried to not show it — it’s a thing they’re still very much working on, his tendency to brush his own wellbeing aside in favour of taking care of Xie Lian — but Xie Lian is never fooled by him. He can tell his husband’s fatigue by the smallest signs: the subtle change in the look in that single dark eye, the smallest shift of his spiritual energy, even the way Hua Cheng has been more quiet than usually. His silence alone is not surprising, though — he often keeps quiet simply because he loves to hear Xie Lian talk — but Xie Lian can tell there is a difference.

Xie Lian hopes there will be a day sooner rather than later when he can hear Hua Cheng openly admitting whenever he is in need of comfort, but for now, he is happy to just be there for him.

“Gege?” Hua Cheng raises his brow, still waiting for Xie Lian’s answer.

Xie Lian smiles. “Actually”, he says, “I thought of something just now… San Lang, look at that meadow over there. It looks so beautiful, and the stream next to it too. Could we stay here to take a small break? I would love to admire the view for a while.” He indicates the area close by — the meadow is bathed in sunlight, making a wonderful picture of idyllic peace. It truly looks like the perfect place to take a rest.

Hua Cheng turns to look where Xie Lian is pointing at, and Xie Lian grabs his hand with enthusiasm. “Look at that big tree, too — it would give us a nice shade from the sun. Please, San Lang?”

There is the briefest moment of hesitant silence, but then Hua Cheng turns back towards Xie Lian and returns his smile. “If gege wants to rest”, he says, “of course we can stay here for a bit.”

 

They sit down next to the large tree — just like Xie Lian expected, it provides them with a pleasant shelter from the sun’s bright heat, casting a comforting shadow over them as they settle next to each other.

Xie Lian sets aside the flowers he spotted alongside the path and picked up on a sudden whim, laying them down with care before turning to Hua Cheng. “Let’s lie down for a while?” Xie Lian suggests. “It’s so beautiful and quiet here, it feels like the entire place is just waiting for someone to stop by and rest.”

“Mm… if gege wants to”, Hua Cheng says.

Eager — and secretly happy that his plan to get his husband to finally rest is working so well — Xie Lian lies down and pulls Hua Cheng along. At first, there is a hint of reluctance, as if Hua Cheng feels like he should guard Xie Lian rather than taking it easy; but as Xie Lian runs a soothing hand along his arm, he finally allows himself to settle down next to his husband.

Xie Lian starts stroking Hua Cheng’s back, delighted to feel him relaxing under his gentle touches. “San Lang ah”, he says. “Should we take a nap? It’s such a peaceful spot. The ripple of the creek is making me sleepy, too…”

Hua Cheng raises his head, and despite the intent attention he pays to Xie Lian’s words — as he always does — it also looks like he is trying to fight back a bout of sleepiness. “Gege, we shouldn’t sleep in a place like this. We haven’t visited this area before. What if there’s something dangerous…?”

“Ssh… my San Lang”, Xie Lian murmurs, pressing a soft kiss on Hua Cheng’s lips as if to put a gentle stop to his protests. “Don’t worry. Ruoye can keep watch and alert us if something approaches — can’t you, Ruoye?”

Hearing its name, Ruoye peeks out from Xie Lian’s sleeve, wiggling itself joyfully as it sees its master. It nods in excited agreement, obviously eager to protect Xie Lian and Hua Cheng.

“See? We have nothing to worry about when Ruoye is around.” Xie Lian laughs gently as Ruoye reaches out to nuzzle him, tickling his cheek before turning to Hua Cheng and nuzzling him too. Then, the loyal silk slips out of Xie Lian’s sleeve, heading a bit further from the tree to keep guard while its master and his husband are resting.

Before Ruoye has gotten very far, Xie Lian hears a familiar noise from very close. Xie Lian smiles as he reaches out to pet E’Ming, who is rattling in his scabbard. “Sure, sure, you can go with Ruoye too, E’Ming. With both of you protecting us, we won’t have to worry about anything!”

“Stop making a ruckus, E’Ming”, Hua Cheng says as he lets E’Ming out, but the note of annoyance in his voice is more for show than genuine irritation. Xie Lian smiles and gives E’Ming an affectionate pat on the hilt before the enthusiastic scimitar hurries to assist Ruoye in patrolling around the area.

 When the spiritual weapons are gone, Xie Lian lies down again and reaches out to caress Hua Cheng’s face gently. “Let’s rest, San Lang”, he says.

This time, Hua Cheng lies down next to him without a word of protest or hesitation. He lays his head on Xie Lian’s chest and lets out a deep breath, and hearing the quiet sound of his sigh warms Xie Lian’s heart. Hua Cheng doesn’t need to breathe, but whenever he does, it’s usually because he feels comfortable and content — mostly around Xie Lian, who admittedly finds great joy in knowing it.

“Rest, my San Lang”, Xie Lian whispers as he starts stroking Hua Cheng’s head, brushing his fingers through the night-black hair. He lets his fingertips massage Hua Cheng’s scalp gently, and he can feel Hua Cheng relaxing in his care, all tension seeping out of him.

“My sweet San Lang, my beloved San Lang”, Xie Lian keeps murmuring, and it takes barely any time before Hua Cheng is sound asleep in his arms, his breathing even deeper and slower than previously.

Xie Lian’s heart softens as he smiles at the sight of his slumbering husband. He loves quiet moments like this, loves getting to see Hua Cheng’s most vulnerable side bared only for Xie Lian to see; he relishes the way the ghost king’s immense strength and confidence turn into warm contentment as he enjoys Xie Lian’s caresses, a tender look softening his features.

Hua Cheng is so peaceful in sleep — so precious — it makes Xie Lian’s heart ache in the sweetest way, like countless times before. He hopes, and knows, that he will never get enough of the intimacy and love that washes over him whenever he holds and is held by Hua Cheng.

“San Lang, beloved”, Xie Lian whispers once more, almost inaudible to not disturb Hua Cheng’s sleep. With one more kiss to Hua Cheng’s forehead, Xie Lian closes his eyes and lets himself doze off, joining his husband’s well-deserved nap.

Still asleep, Hua Cheng snuggles closer to Xie Lian, wrapping an arm around him and nuzzling his chest. Xie Lian sighs and basks in the warmth of their embrace, willingly letting everything but Hua Cheng’s comforting closeness fade from his mind; they have all the time in the world… and even if they had a thousand tasks waiting, Xie Lian knows he would still have made the same choice to stop and enjoy the peaceful moment.

After all, nothing in all three realms could ever be more urgent than making sure his hardworking, beloved husband gets his rest.