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Snow white past - blood red future

Chapter Text

Xie Lian moved routinely through the basement room of the small shop, working his way up the tight spiral staircase from the basement to the ground floor. He yawned, glancing out through the floor to ceiling display windows, seeing the city waking up outside of them. A couple of lone persons were working their way across the square before the small thrift shop, probably on their way to work. A few seemed to be making their way home, perhaps after having spent the night somewhere they didn’t mean to. A smile tugged at Xie Lian’s lips, before he turned his attention away from the window, and continued across the overcrowded shop. 

Along the walls there were different colored shelves, the color chipper in places, worn around the edges. They were filled to the brim with newly fixed lamps, old chinaware, newly polished silverware, chipped cups and plates. In one corner of the shop there hung mended clothes for all ages, sizes and secondary genders, washed in scent removing detergent. There were collars, cuffs and jewelry next to it, but also tablecloths, curtains and other fabric things, folded neatly on shelves. In another corner there was furniture, which Xie Lian had done his best to shape up. The whole place was full of things nobody wanted, but which could still hold value.

At least Xie Lian thought they could.

He placed his teacup on the counter next to the register, rolling up his sleeves as he approached the side door, unlocked it, and opened. It led to a small storage, which had one door to the square outside, and one to the store. It was there people could drop off the things they didn’t want anymore, but didn’t have the heart to throw away. Xie Lian could relate to that. Today there were two lamps, probably broken, a bag of clothes, a shoe rack which was crooked, one box of books, and one cardboard box with drinking glasses. They looked pretty whole, which surprised him. 

Xie Lian carried them all inside, bringing the handed in goods to the register. He decided that the shoe rack probably needed a little more love, and carried it down to the small scrub in which he could sand and paint it later that evening. He left the shoe rack there, making his way back up to the register. He looked over the haul, trying to decide where to start. 

Perhaps with the clothes. They clearly smelled of alpha, and it might be best to deal with first. He picked the bag up and walked down with that as well, moving into the bathroom, where in the corner there stood a small washing machine. It had been handed in as well, and it had taken Xie Lian several tires and an equal amount of shocks to fix, but it had held together for three years for him now. Xie Lian put the clothes into the machine and started it, and then made his way back up. He walked over to the shop door and unlocked it, turning the sign to signal that the store was open. He didn’t expect anyone to come in this early, but since he had a tendency to get lost in his work, there was a real risk that he’d just forget to open the shop at all if he didn’t do it now. 

His next focus was the lamps. Xie Lian dug into the cords and did his best to try to find what was wrong with them. One of them seemed completely dead, the other glitching. Xie Lian had no education in electricity, but since lamps were the most common broken thing he found in the storage, it had become his speciality to fix them. He had both of them done fairly quickly, only having given him two minor electrocutions. His scent spiked in the air when it did, camellia cinnamon and maple laced with distress. His nose twitched, and he shook his head, his fingers tingling from the shock. 

He had gotten halfway through pricing the box of books, having gotten lost in reading about ancient swords in one of them, when the door to the shop opened, the bell over the door jingling. A couple stepped inside, an alpha and an omega, arm in arm. Xie Lian greeted them with a smile, and the omega nodded in response, before they started making their way around the store. Xie Lian glanced up at the clock, blinking in surprise. He hadn’t realised it had gotten so late in the morning. He had completely forgotten to eat something. He would have to go down into his small room next to the bathroom in the basement when the couple had left, in search of breakfast.

Xie Lian never got the chance however. More people stepped into the store, and many more than usual asked his help looking for specific things, leaving Xie Lian’s stomach growling and empty. It was approaching lunch when the door swung open, and familiar bickering filled the small store. The group of teens which were looking through the jewelry looked up, giggling between themselves as two police officers stepped inside. The air filled with the scent of irritated alpha, and Xie Lian let out a fond, yet tired, sigh.

“If you hadn’t-”

“I didn’t! It was you who-”

“No, I didn’t!”

“Good day, Feng Xin and Mu Qing,” Xie Lian greeted with a smile, not sure whether he should laugh or cry at the familiar display. Both alphas looked up at him, and Feng Xin gave an awkward grin, while Mu Qing rolled his eyes. 

“We brought lunch,” Feng Xin said, stepping up around the counter to the side, and sitting down on one of the bar stools there. Mu Qing walked over too, his back straight as he put a bag down on the counter.

“Oh, you’re life-savers, I didn’t have any time to eat today,” Xie Lian said, taking a big step over the box of glasses which he had yet to unpack.

“You always do,” Mu Qing pointed out, starting to roll down the edges of the bag. It revealed steamed buns inside, and Xie Lian’s stomach growled again, his mouth watering at the smell. “Why are you so bad at taking care of yourself?”

“I would have eaten eventually,” Xie Lian shrugged, making his way back over the box to the register. “Do I owe you the usual?”

“It’s really-” Feng Xing started, but Xie Lian gave him a pointed look. Feng Xin sighed. “Fine. Yes, the usual.”

Xie Lian smiled gratefully, opening the register to pull out enough for his share. He deposited it in Mu Qing’s raised palm, before he reached into the bag to pull a bun out. He took a bite, humming in contentment as the flavour hit his tongue. Feng Xin and Mu Qing took out one each as well, digging in.

Five years ago Xie Lian had started working in the thrift store, the old omega who owned it before needing some help. She was a spunky old thing, matching Xie Lian in the amount of things she managed to tip over in a day. At least she had bad eyesight as an excuse. When she passed away, rather unexpectedly, Xie Lian found himself being the sole person inheriting from her. She didn’t have much, but she had the shop, and she had left it to him. Xie Lian had become quite stunned, but eagerly jumping at the opportunity. Since the fall of the criminal organisation he had grown up in, as well as the death of everyone he had held dear, it had not been easy. Being given a roof over his head as well as a business, it was more than Xie Lian could have ever dreamed of.

However, a year after he had taken over, a series of break ins had occurred. Nothing really went missing, at least not that Xie Lian had noticed...it was rather hard to know with how the place was overflowing with things, but regardless it was uncomfortable. So, Xie Lian had done what he had been taught during his entire upbringing never to do. 

He called the police.

Feng Xin and Mu Qing had come to investigate, bringing lunch from the police station across the square to eat by the counter as they took Xie Lian’s statement. Xie Lian, much like always, had forgotten to eat lunch, and Feng Xing took pity on him and shared his own. After that, they just kept coming back. Xie Lian wasn’t really sure why, but he had to admit he enjoyed the company. He was rather lonely and well…after having lost everyone close to him, it was time to try to make new friends. Even though Xie Lian was pretty sure his father would roll over in his grave if he knew the persons now closest to his son were two police officers. 

“Anything exciting happen today?” he asked, pulling himself out of his own mind. It was of no use after all. This embedded pain in his chest would probably always be there, but it was a shame to dwell on just now. He had enough time for that later when he was alone.

“Hm, we went out to Ghost City to try to catch some minor criminals, but it was calm out there,” Mu Qing started. Ghost City was like it’s own city outside of the capital, run completely by a criminal organisation. Xie Lian had not been there himself, he had stayed away because there were people he did not want to find him in that world, but he heard much about it still. His customers would speak of it, and Mu Qing and Feng Xin were out there often enough, trying to quell the organised crime which seemed to be thriving there. ”Then we went to check on a presumed fight out in an apartment complex, but it seemed to have calmed down when we arrived,” Mu Qing continued, taking a bite of the steamed bun. Feng Xin nodded beside him, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Yeah, I really fucking hate those. Feels so unfinished,” he said, mouth full of food. Xie Lian hummed in agreement, taking another bite of the bun in his hand. It was so good. He truly was hungry. 

“Can you please stop acting like a baboon and chew your food before you speak,” Mu Qing snapped, earning himself a glare from Feng Xin.

“Shut up,” he said, having taken another bite and thus, once again having his mouth full. Mu Qing rolled his eyes. Xie Lian didn’t know if he should laugh or cry. 

“Anything exciting happening in the afternoon then?” he asked, putting the last of the bun in his mouth. Both of the alpha’s groaned, and Xie Lian scrunched up his nose. “No?” 

“Hate traffic checks,” Mu Qing sighed, and Xie Lian hummed in understanding. This was something he had heard from them before after all.
“Everyone fucking hates traffic checks,” Feng Xing pointed out, which earned him an elbow in the ribs. Feng Xin’s eyes flashed with anger, and he reached over and shoved Mu Qing, who almost toppled over from his chair.

“What are you doing!?” 

“Please-” Xie Lian tried, but Mu Qing was already reaching forward to push back.

“Stop being such a smartass all the time!” Mu Qing countered, once again being shoved by his partner. The scent of agitated alpha started filling the air, and it was making Xie Lian’s nose sting. Mu Qing had to take a step back to steady himself. His back almost grazed against the display behind him. It was filled with porcelain vases. Panic flaried in Xie Lian’s chest.

“Careful!” Xie Lian called out, taking a hurried step forward to try to placate them. In his rush he completely forgot about the box with glasses before him, and tripped. 

A yelp fell from his lips, and he flailed as he grabbed for the edge of the counter as he fell. His hands slammed into it, before his knees hit the floor. Xie Lian hissed, pain shooting up his arms and through his knees. He caught himself on his hands, groaning. The air was now filled with the scent of angry alpha and hurt omega. Terrible combination. If anyone walked into the shop, who knew what they might think.

“Xie Lian!” Feng Xing exclaimed, rounding the counter to crouch down next to him. His scent quickly changed form agitated to worried, and Xie Lian let out an embarrassed laugh. 

“Aaaah,” he said, trying to get off the floor. His knees hurt, and so did his hands. Feng Xin grabbed his elbow to steady him, which was probably good because Xie Lian felt like he might topple over again as he stood, knees buckling from pain. 

“Are you okay?” Mu Qing asked, looking serious. Xie Lian laughed again, and waved his hands. 

“Yes, yes I’m- I’m okay,” he said, pulling his arms gently from Feng Xin’s grip. The alpha frowned and shuffled in place, still smelling worried. “Really, I was just startled.”

“Hm,” Mu Qing said, and then pushed the open bag towards him. “Take another, you need it.”

Usually Xie Lian would have declined, but felt like there was no use in arguing. So, he reached into the bag and pulled out another bun, leaning back against the counter as he bit into it. Feng Xin stepped over to the other side too, sitting down on the chair once again. 

“So…we just blabbered on about what we’re up to today. What about you?” Feng Xin asked. “Anything exciting happening here?”

“No,” Xie Lian said with a smile, shaking his head. “Nothing exciting happens here.”

“That’s good though,” Mu Qing said with a nod. “Better that, than you get into trouble. You do that well enough alone.”

“Mh,” Xie Lian said, looking out through the window. A figure caught his eyes, the man’s back turned towards the shop. He was tall, with a long dark ponytail swaying in the wind. He was in all black, and Xie Lian’s heart clenched in his chest. He wondered if that was how Wu Ming would look, if he was still alive. “You’re probably right,” Xie Lian agreed, his voice wavering a little. His old life, the one he had grown up in - exciting, full speed, dangerous - had only led to bloodspill, heartache and tears in the end. “It’s better I stay out of trouble.”

The alphas stayed for a little while longer, before they grumbling left to do traffic checks. Xie Lian cleaned up, and tended to the customers who came into the shop. He hung the clothes he had put in the washer, checked the storage again to see if anything else had been handed in. It was like any other day, routines moved through without much thought. He was just about to close up the shop, having swept the floor and dusted the shelves, when the door swung open behind him.

Xie Lian turned, a pleasant smile on his face.

“Hi! How can I-”

The words died in his throat. The duster in his hand slipped from his grip, his eyes growing wide.

“What’s up cuz?” Qi Rong said, a wide grin on his face. Xie Lian’s body went cold. “Can’t believe I finally found you!”

“Qi Rong,” Xie Lian said, breathless. He couldn’t believe it either. For seven years he had thought that everyone, his entire family and the organisation, were gone. His cousin standing before him now, Xie Lian felt like he was seeing a ghost. “I-”

Qi Rong laughed, sharp and loud. Xie Lian’s heart clenched. He had never gotten along well with his cousin, even though they had practically grown up as brothers. Qi Rong were vicious, and not in the way which Xie Lian had come to associate with the criminal organisation. There was always a hunger for power there, which Xie Lian had seen in Qi Rong as well. It wasn’t only that however. It was how much Qi Rong seemed to thrive on the fear of those below him. Still, hearing him laugh now, Xie Lian couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. 

“Come on dear cousin! Where’s the love! Aren’t you happy to see me?” Qi Rong asked, arms spread wide. One of them knocked into a low hanging lamp, and he hissed, glaring at it. “Fuck. Why do you have so much shit in here?”

“Ah, it’s a thrift shop, Qi Rong,” Xie Lian tried, rubbing his neck. “It’s sort of what it’s for.”

“Ah, fit you then,” he said, chuckling at his own joke. Xie Lian could only smile tiredly. “So what's going on? I just heard rumors that there was a Xie Lian that owned this shop so I had to come check it out! I thought you died with everyone else. I mean, wasn’t that they point?”

“Ah, yes well. I didn’t,” Xie Lian said, familiar guilt swelling up from his chest. “I didn’t… I didn’t think you made it either. I thought everyone…”

“Well, seems like it’s only you and me left then dear cousin,” Qi Rong said, taking a step closer. “Might have been best, it was all a fucking sinking ship in the end.”

Xie Lian didn’t know how to answer that, so he looked down at his worn shoes. He couldn’t agree that it might have been best… all that death and suffering and sacrifice. It had been a sinking ship however, but it had been Xie Lian’s fault so… 

He heard quick steps before him, and snapped his face up, just in time to see Qi Rong just a breath away. Something sharp stung into the scent gland on his neck, a pulsating pain lingering as Xie Lian shoved Qi Rong away.

“What are you doing?!” he gasped loudly, his hand coming up to his neck. His gaze fell to Qi Rong’s hand, seeing a short ampoule with three small thin syringes sticking out of it. Xie Lian snapped his eyes up to Qi Rong’s face, being met with a manic laughter. Xie Lian knew that laugh too. The nostalgia was gone now, pain and fear tastable in his mouth.

“How are you feeling, warm yet?” 

Dread filled Xie Lian’s gut. A head inducer. Qi Rong must have injected him with a heat inducer. Xie Lian’s heart started pounding, adrenaline sweet in his mouth. He turned to flee down into the basement. He needed to lock himself away. Hide from the dangers of being unpresented and in heat, and from whatever Qi Rong had planned. He only managed a step, and then he was grabbed tightly around the wrist, and tugged. Xie Lian turned, and swung a punch to Qi Rong’s jaw even as he was losing his balance. 

The alpha growled, his grip tightening even as Xie Lian’s fist collided with his jaw. “Fuck! Stop being so fucking stubborn!” Qi Rong yelled, kicking at Xie Lian’s legs. He was already feeling shaky, a cramp pulsating through his stomach. The drug was working fast. Xie Lian tried to ward off Qi Rong again, tugging his arm, trying to shake him away. The alpha held on tightly, Xie Lian’s limbs feeling like lead. “Come with me to the fucking car.” The words were spoken in an alpha command, and Xie Lian felt his body become rigid. 

He tried to hiss to stun Qi Rong, and really why hadn’t he thought of that earlier? The alpha simply twisted his wrist, a whimper spilling from Xie Lian’s lips instead of the hiss. Xie Lian’s knees were weak, as he was pulled out of the store and into a waiting car outside, which he hadn’t even noticed before. As soon as he was thrown into the trunk it was locked, leaving Xie Lian trapped inside like an animal. There was a steel grid between the trunk and the back seats, and Xie Lian had nowhere to go.

Qi Rong jumped into the driver seat and started the engine, as the scent of omega in preheat started filling the car. Cramps clenched Xie Lian’s stomach, and he rolled onto his side, gasping for breath through the pain. Qi Rong’s driving was as bad as it had ever been, and Xie Lian was thrown around in the back, his shoulders, knees and head banging against the interior. 

“W-why?” he managed to gasp out, trying to figure out what to do. He needed to do something, something which would help him get away. 

“Sorry cuz, I just need you to pay off a debt for me,” Qi Rong said, and Xie Lian could hear the grin in his voice. 

“How?” Xie Lian asked, because the more information the better. He had many ideas of what a person could be used for to pay off a debt, and omega in heat especially. It wasn’t as if Xie Lian hadn’t seen it before. 

“I’m giving you to that motherfucker Hua Cheng,” Qi Rong said, a growl in his voice. Xie Lian did not know that name, but probably someone in a criminal organisation. Someone Qi Rong owed money too. “Hopefully your pretty ass will be enough to lay off me. You’re not as much of a looker as you were, but maybe if I lie and say you’re younger, he’ll let you into his harem or something.”

Harem. Great. Well, that might be better than being sold. 

“Who is Hua Cheng?” Xie Lian asked. If he had a harem, he was probably an alpha higher up in an organisation… or a dealer. They must be on their way to Ghost City. Qi Rong laughed maniacally, and Xie Lian groaned from the painful clenching of his stomach. His senses were getting heightened too, his skin sensitive, his nose burning from the smell of godawful alpha. Really, he had never liked Qi Rong’s scent, and now it was almost unbearable, making nausea rise in his throat. 

Outside of the windows, the streetlights glowed red. 

“Oh dear cousin, if you thought Jun Wu was bad, this guy is a maniac,” Qi Rong said with another laugh, and Xie Lian clenched his eyes shut from just the sound of that name, the face of the alpha which had made the Xianle organisation crumble to pieces flashing before his mind. This Hua Cheng was worse than Jun Wu? Could that even be? Perhaps… but then again, Jun Wu had taken everything from Xie Lian that he held dear. What could there be for Hua Cheng to take?

“Qi Rong,” Xie Lian groaned, feeling the car slow down. The lights were still burning red, the street seemingly full of people. Xie Lian whimpered, pain shooting up his spine from his lower back. There were too many out there, and he was so exposed, weak.

“Shut up!” Qi Rong growled, his scent spiking with agitation. “God, I’m so sick of you talking, haven’t you heard that omegas should be seen and not heard. Fuck.” 

“Ah,” Xie Lian groaned, which came out more like a moan. Qi Rong crackled, and the car stopped. 

“Yeah, yeah, that’s perfect,” Qi Rong said, and then he was pushing the car door open. The trunk was opened too, and Xie Lian whimpered as he was yanked out. He did his best to try to ward Qi Rong off, but he felt so weak. There were too many scents all around him, and Xie Lian stumbled, as Qi Rong tugged him along. They approached a large building with manic scribbles over the door, too unclear for Xie Lian to make out. There were scents all around them, and it was too much, Xie Lian’s eyes watering as they walked inside.

The place was crowded, and Xie Lian twisted, trying to get loose. It seemed to be a gamblers den, tables with games setup, bets being made. They all seemed to paused as Qi Rong tugged Xie Lian through the crowd, watching them.

“Move you fucking filth, I’m here to see Hua Cheng,” Qi Rong growled.

“How do you dare talk about Lord Chengzhu so disrespectfully?” someone yelled, and soon others joined them, hackling Qi Rong as he continued to tug Xie Lian along with him. Xie Lian was struggling with everything he had, but he had no power in his body, and there were so many around him. His senses were screaming at him to run, to flee, but he could do nothing.

“Shut up you ugly idiots, I’m here to pay off a debt,”  Qi Rong said, and then seemed to walk with more purpose. People seemed to be following them now, as Qi Rong made a beeline for something. Xie Lian whimpered, wanting to curl up like a ball. His stomach hurt so bad, and everything felt unsettling. The crowd seemed to open up for something, and then Qi Rong stopped, still holding Xie Lian’s arm in a vice-like grip. Another cramp raced through his body, his own scent burning in his nose. 

“Hurts,” he gasped, unable to stop himself. Beside him, Qi Rong growled angrily. 

“Shut your fucking face, Xie Lian,” he snapped, having been pulled down a little by Xie Lian putting more weight on his arm. “Fucking needy omega. Hua Cheng!” Qi Rong yelled, and behind a red curtain before them, someone shifted.

Xie Lian felt the first spike of heat rush through his body as fear surged in his stomach. He gasped, his entire being feeling unsettled as his knees all but gave out. This was not a safe place to have a heat in, and his instincts were screaming for him to go back home, down into the basement and his nest. He longed so much for his nest. 

Everything quieted around them, stilling. 

Qi Rong laughed maniacally. “Hua Cheng, I’ve come to pay you back my friend,” Qi Rong said, shoving Xie Lian onto the floor. Xie Lian fell to his hands and knees, humiliated and unable to do anything to protect himself. The room wreaked with scents, alphas, betas, omegas, all unknown. Xie Lian wanted to collapse on the floor, wanted to curl up into a ball and scream and cry. Instead he snapped his face up to see what he was dealing with, trying to see the figure behind the red curtain. He was an alpha, Xie Lian was almost completely sure, tall with broad shoulders and a lithe waist, long dark hair. 

He said nothing. 

“Ah, so you like him, huh? I thought he would be a good payment, right?” Qi Rong said triumphantly. “Yeah, yeah, I see you like him aaaah. I was right.” He laughed, cold and loud. “He’s all ripe with heat for you, so you can just go on and defile him, or if you want to offer him as a prize for the highest-”

A shot rang out through the air, the sound sharp and known.

“Ah!” Qi Rong screamed, and Xie Lian’s eyes grew wide, fear only pared with the one he had felt when he had run through a burning building all those years ago, Wu Ming’s hand slipping from his own. Xie Lian turned, and saw Qi Rong grabbing for his shoulder, blood dripping between his fingers. The room erupted into screams, and Qi Rong disappeared from view, racing out from the building, swallowed by the crowd.

Xie Lian’s ears were ringing, and he snapped his head back, just in time to see the alpha rush out from behind the curtain. He still had his gun raised, a feral look in his eyes - one black, the other fully red, sclera and all. He aimed and then another shot rang through the air, prompting another wave of screams. Xie Lian pressed himself to the floor, forehead against the carpet as he trembled.

“Yin Yu, kill that motherfucking piece of shit,” Hua Cheng roared, and Xie Lian whimpered, biting down on his lower lip as hard as he could. He was growing too warm, too panicked. He had spent heats in bad places, but nothing had been like this. “I want to see his bloody corpse dragged back here so I can personally make sure his fucking face is so beaten up he can’t even be recognized,” Hua Cheng continued, still sounding furious. Xie Lian could see his shoes to his left, polished black, his legs covered by red suit pants. He stood close to Xie Lian, so close that if Xie Lian reached out just a little, he would touch him.

There was a hand on Xie Lian’s shoulder to the right, and Xie Lian jerked in panic, whining loudly as he pushed himself to the side. His back collided with Hua Cheng’s leg. Xie Lian starred up, seeing Hua Cheng point the gun at a man to Xie Lian’s other side, the one who had presumably touched him. 

“Get the fuck out of here He Xuan, or I’ll blow your fucking head off for touching him,” Hua Cheng spat. The man, He Xuan presumably, took a step back, hands raised. He didn’t look scared however, but seemed not to question the order. He disappeared from view, and soon all Xie Lian could see was Hua Cheng standing beside him, one arm stretched over him, gun still raised. Had he gone feral over Xie Lian’s heat scent? He might have, but then he hadn’t even touched Xie Lian yet so it didn’t make sense. Feral alphas went directly for the omega, and Hua Cheng didn’t even seem to have looked at him. 

“He’s been given a heat inducer,” someone said to Xie Lian’s side, out of view. Another heat cramp raced through his body, and he whimpered. “A bad one.”

“Fucking piece of fucking shit,” Hua Cheng cursed, and then he turned to the room. “Scram, get out!” The room seemed to erupt into activity, the crowd seeming to obey the order. “Get a car, now,” Hua Cheng said, seeming to be speaking to the person at Xie Lian’s side. No answer came, but Hua Cheng put his gun away, and then he looked down. The room was suddenly very quiet, and Xie Lian felt like he was holding his breath. Hua Cheng’s eyes found his,  and Xie Lian met his gaze, his heart hammering in his chest. Hua Cheng was beautiful, with sharp cheekbones and jaw, thin pink lips, dark wild hair. He was dressed in red, a high collar on his jacket. His gaze softened immediately when they locked eyes, but Xie Lian didn’t dare trust that.

“You’re safe,” Hua Cheng said, his voice so soft. He crouched down next to Xie Lian on the floor, and Xie Lian looked at him, eyes wide and scent panicked. He was growing aroused too, heat pounding in his veins. 

Hua Cheng had a good scent, sandalwood, maple, Xie Lian noticed as he came closer. There was a hint of something more there too, but Xie Lian couldn’t make it out from how much he was smelling of his own heat. Hua Cheng smelled enraged and worried, which Xie Lian couldn’t make sense of. He was so warm, he barely knew what to do with himself. He was growing hotter and hotter too, arousal pooling in his gut. He needed a safe place, or he would go insane.

The anger in Hua Cheng’s scent dispatched, and then the air was filled with calming pheromones instead, swirling around Xie Lian, relaxing him. His body was at war with itself. He was going into heat, he was terrified, but this alpha was pushing out so much of his pheromones, trying to convey safety and care. Xie Lian’s body didn’t know what to do with it, and he started to tremble.

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng breathed, and Xie Lian hadn’t been called that in so long. How did Hua Cheng know that name? Xie Lian looked up in shock, his eyes watery as he blinked to focus. Hua Cheng’s eyes met his again, intense but concerned. Xie Lian had no reason to trust him, and yet, in this moment, he felt like he could. It might simply be the pheromones however.

“Help,” he gasped, and Hua Cheng reached out in a second, arm wrapping around Xie Lian’s shoulders. Xie Lian tensed, but Hua Cheng pulled him closer, and Xie Lian’s lungs filled with the calming pheromones. The battle settled, some of the tension inside him releasing.

“Fucking peice of fucking trash,” Hua Cheng growled, his jaw clenched. He rearranged Xie Lian against him, and then slipped an arm under his legs. “I have you, Dianxia. It’s alright.” Hua Cheng stood, and lifted Xie Lian off the floor.

“No. No I-” Xie Lian protested. He didn’t want to go with Hua Cheng to his harem, even though he was growing needier for stimulation by the second. He was growing wet too, already hard. He didn’t want to do anything, however, he didn’t want to be touched in that way. He just wanted help. He wanted it to stop. He wanted to be somewhere safe. He wanted a nest.

“This lowly one isn’t going to do anything,” Hua Cheng promised, holding onto Xie Lian tight but without it being painful, as he walked them out. The street was empty, the red streetlights illuminating Hua Cheng’s pale skin as they stepped into the sidewalk. There was a car waiting for them on the curb, purring. “I’m just going to take you somewhere safe.”

“I don’t want to go to the harem,” Xie Lian whined, his eyes burning with tears. Only one person had touched him like that, and he didn’t want anyone else to do it, didn’t want Hua Cheng to take him and claim him. Hua Cheng’s scent spiked with anger. Xie Lian whined from how it burned in his nose. Would he shoot him now, now that Xie Lian had been so ungrateful and unwilling? Hua Cheng slipped into a car. The door closed behind them, and then they were moving, Xie Lian still held in Hua Cheng’s arms. 

“Dianxia is going to no harem,” Hua Cheng said with a clenched jaw. “I don’t know what that filth gave you, so I’m taking you somewhere safe to nest. I don’t dare to…” Hua Cheng trailed off, or maybe some of the words were lost on Xie Lian, as a wave of heat washed over him. The car moved, driving quickly. Xie Lian’s nausea returned, and he pushed his face into Hua Cheng’s chest. It felt odd, but he smelled so good, so safe, which Xie Lian logically understood was insane. 

“Mmmh,” Xie Lian moaned, so aroused now. God, this alpha smelled so good. So safe. Alphas usually didn’t smell this good. “Alpha. You smell like- You smell like-” Xie Lian just wanted to press his face into his neck and live there.

“What, Dianxia?” Hua Cheng asked, voice strained, and Xie Lian let out a deep breath.

Mine .”

It didn’t make sense, but Hua Cheng did. Xie Lian also had maple in his scent, their scent seemed to be mixing, with his Hua Cheng was smelling like cinnamon too. He smelled like he would if they were mated. Xie Lian sounded so possessive, which was odd. His head was so hazy too, he barely knew what to  do with himself. He needed to nest. He needed to be alone. He needed to be safe. He needed to be breeded. He needed, he just needed

The car stopped just as Hua Cheng let out a soft chuckle. Xie Lian whined again as the car door opened. Hua Cheng stood, cradling Xie Lian in his arms. “Of course,” Hua Cheng agreed, and Xie Lian had no idea what he was answering. He wasn’t even understanding himself right now. He should be terrified, and a part of him was incredibly scared. Still, there was something about Hua Cheng which made him think it was going to be okay. It was probably the pheromones. He was probably ticking Xie Lian, but there wasn’t much Xie Lian could do about that right now. 

“Hua Cheng?” he asked, pushing up to look at him. They were still walking, having stepped inside now. The alpha was moving with confident steps, holding Xie Lian in his arms. He turned around a corner and then started walking up a flight of stairs. Xie Lian had no idea where they were, but it looked nice. Really nice.

“Dianxia can call this one San Lang,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian hummed. Heat rolled through his body, and he moaned, and then whined from the lack of friction.  

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, just to see how it felt. 

“Mn,” Hua Cheng said with his jaws clenched, looking away from Xie Lian as his steps slowed. “Here we are.”
Another wave of heat rushed through Xie Lian’s body then, and he twisted in Hua Cheng’s grip. “Ah, hurst,” he gasped in pain, and Hua Cheng held him tighter. 

“I know. I’m sorry Dianxia,” he said, walking them into a cool room. It didn’t smell like anything, which Xie Lian’s sensitive nose appreciated. Still, it wasn’t home. It wasn’t his. “This San Lang will make that piece of useless trash pay, okay?”

“Mmmh,” Xie Lian agreed, even though he could hardly focus on anything other than the burning heat in his gut, the emptiness in the pit of his stomach. “San Lang.” 

Hua Cheng’s arms slipped from his body. “Yes, Dianxia?” he asked, and Xie Lian’s grip around his shoulders tightened, putting his nose against his collar-covered scent gland. “Oh,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian pushed in close, putting pressure against Hua Cheng’s neck as he kept Hua Cheng in his arms. “Fuck.”

“San Lang,” he whispered again, and heard the alpha groan as he twisted in his grip, pushing his nose into Xie Lian’s uncovered scent gland. Xie Lian bared his throat, showing submission. He had no idea what he was doing. He had never submitted like this before, but a part of him didn't want Hua Cheng to go, another wanted desperately to be alone. He didn’t want him in his bed, but he wanted to keep him close. Hua Cheng smelled so good, like an echo of a memory. 

“Fuck,” Hua Cheng cursed again. 

Another wave of heat rushed through Xie Lian’s body, and suddenly he was far too warm. He needed to get out of his clothes, he needed to be touched. His hands slipped from Hua Cheng’s neck, and he reached for his sweater, pulling it off. “Too hot, too hot.” 

Hua Cheng stepped back from the bed, and Xie Lian whined.

“Dianxia I- This San Lang isn’t… We’ll talk when you come out of it, alright?” he asked, and Xie Lian whined again, finally managing to get his shirt over his head. When he fell back into bed, he saw Hua Cheng had turned around, making it for the door.

“San Lang smells nice,” Xie Lian said to the room more than to the man himself. Xie Lian felt like he wasn’t making sense, but he missed Hua Cheng’s scent as it left him. He wanted to tuck his nose back into it, have the pheromones continue to soothe him. Hua Cheng turned to look at him over his shoulder, and then snapped his gaze back to the door.

“Here,” he said, his voice strained as he pulled off his suit jacket. “If Dianxia wants, he can have this,” he said, turning around to hand the jacket over. He didn’t look at Xie Lian as he did it. Xie Lian took the jacket, burying his nose into it immediately. He smelled so comforting. “This San Lang will make sure you’re safe.”

“Ha,” Xie Lian gasped, his hands reaching down to push his pants down. He was dimly aware of rushed steps disappearing, and the door closing. Xie Lian couldn’t focus on it, his body too hot, too empty. 

Hua Cheng’s suit jacket laid over his nose, as he took himself in hand.

Chapter Text

Xie Lian woke in a wonderfully soft, comfortable bed. He stretched, looking around curiously at the haphazard edges of the chaotic nest around him, taking in his own post-heat state. He looked a mess, tangled up and with various body fluids covering mostly his lower body. Xie Lian groaned, turning around to push his face into the pillow. His body felt exhausted and heavy, and so sticky. The memories from the past… how many days had gone by? Xie Lian usually had heats which lasted for five, but he had a hard time grasping the passage of time since he had arrived here at tims mansion? The memories of being carried in here were hazy, flicker of images and echo of pain soother by a comforting scent. Xie Lian sat up and looked around, and as he did he seemed to recall someone coming in between waves, a beta with an unthreatening scent, to give him food and something to wash up with, eyes averted. Xie Lian remembered having spent most of the heat in severe pain, aching for the safety of his own nest and a place he felt safe. Longing for someone who would never come back. Last time he had a heat this bad, it had been just after the fall of Xianle, similar feelings clawing in his chest.

Xie Lian let out a deep sigh in hopes of releasing some of the hollow ache in his chest, and looked around the room. It was neatly decorated, if he didn’t account for the mess he himself seemed to have made on the bed. The walls were painted white, with hand-painted golden decorations. There were three doors, two at the opposite end from the nestbed, and one which Xie Lian was fairly sure led out into the corridor he had been carried in from.

At the recollection of being carried Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush. He remembered glimpses of the alpha which he had been brought into Ghost City to be gifted too. He remembered his dark hair, and his sharp jaw and hard chest. The wildness of his expression. The sound of the gunshots. The blood dripping down Qi Rong’s hand. Xie Lian remembered the alpha’s strong arms as he carried Xie Lian. His beautiful eyes. His scent, familiar in a way Xie Lian didn’t want to, didn’t dare to acknowledge.

San Lang , he had been asked to be called. 

Xie Lian groaned, curling in on himself to hide his face in his knees. He only remembered strings of their conversation, all of it muddled and seemingly out of order. Xie Lian clearly remembered Qi Rong dragging him into the gamblers' den and throwing him onto the floor. He remembered the fury in Hua Cheng’s eyes, but after that it was all a bit of a blur.

Had Hua Cheng really called Xie Lian Dianxia ? No, that must be wrong. Xie Lian had not been called that in seven years, and most who used to were long gone. The rest Xie Lian never wanted to see again. The name must have been some type of heat induced hallucination. Xie Lian had never heard of anyone having anything like that, but surely it could be a thing.

Xie Lian peeled himself from the bed carefully, his body aching with each movement. He was bare, and he wanted to cover himself but… he was still close enough to his heat for it to feel wrong to dismantle his nest, even though it was an outright mess. Xie Lian usually made much neater nests than this, but he supposed it had been a bit of a rushed work, frantically assembled between heatwaves. Still, it made something inside Xie Lian twist, thinking of it  taken apart. He pushed out from the tangled sheets and walked over to the two doors on the far end instead, carefully opening the first door. It led into a bathroom, and Xie Lian sighed in relief. He hoped his host wouldn’t mind too much if he cleaned up. Surely it would be worse if he simply stepped out like he was now, smelling like miserable heat, and slick, and come.

Xie Lian took a warm shower, which felt lovely on his tired body and aching muscles. He didn’t dare touch the oils stored there, but he did take some soap to clean himself off and wash his hair. He combed his fingers through the long strands as he stepped out, drying himself on one of the incredibly fluffy towels. He kept it wrapped around himself as he stepped back out into the room. He regretfully moved over to the bed, and pulled his clothes free from the panicked nesting. The garments wreaked of the scent of heat, and Xie Lian sighed. He probably couldn’t walk out in them. Could he try to wash them in the bathroom? How long would it take until they were dry enough to wear? He glanced around, and then spotted a neat stack of clothes on a sideboard by the door, right by a plate of snacks 

Xie Lian’s brows raised, and he walked over slowly, picking the clothes up. They were very soft, and didn’t smell of anything. He looked around. It seemed they could be for him? It was better than nothing after all. Hua Cheng might not want him to walk around smelling like heat anyay. If Xie Lian was wrong and these weren’t for him, he would just have to wash and return them. He wasn’t fully sure what he would be getting himself into when walking out that door, but well… he hadn’t been treated unkindly so far. 

He was a lot more alert and prepared to defend himself now than he had when he arrived, and while it had been a while since he used his martial art skills, hopefully he’d be able to make it out alive. He had two… sort of friends on the police force. If it was needed, perhaps they could put him in a witness protection program or something. 

Xie Lian put on the clothes, the pants soft and perfectly fitting, the sweater large and warm. He smiled, reaching forward to grab a hand full of watermelon seeds from the plate of snacks. He sighed from the taste, reaching for a pineapple bun next. He bit into it as he did his best to gather his courage to walk out, his stomach groaning as he ate. With a final glance he looked back and decided he could deal with the mess of a nest later, and pushed out the door.

The decor of the hallway was starkly different from the room Xie Lian stepped out of. The floor was in dark wood, covered by a red carpet. The walls were red too, dark artwork in dark wooden frames hanging on the walls. Xie Lian stepped out carefully into the corridor, the door behind him falling closed quietly. Xie Lian couldn’t see anyone, and looked side to side, trying to figure out which way he should go. He couldn’t remember where he had come from, so really it was pure luck if he picked right.

Xie Lian didn’t have much luck.

He took a step to the right, starting to walk down the hallway. Xie Lian had gotten about halfway from his room to where the corridor twisted, when he heard steps behind him, and swiftly turned. Walking quickly towards him was a beta, dressed in an impeccable black suit, his dark hair falling slightly over his face. Part of it was pulled back into a low ponytail. He looked handsome, but rather forgettable. His scent was clean, controlled. 

He stopped, and to Xie Lian’s shock, he bowed deeply.

“Xie Lian,” he greeted, and Xie Lian was growing more surprised by the second. How did he know his name? “My name is Yin Yu. I work for Lord Chengzhu. Would you please follow me to him.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, lacing his own fingers together as worry swelled in his chest. “Of course.”

“Thank you,” Yin Yu said, only then straightening. He turned on his heel without another look at Xie Lian, and then started walking the opposite direction. Xie Lian followed a couple of steps behind. He tried  to think of what to say to thank Hua Cheng for taking care of him, and what he needed to do to get Hua Cheng to let him leave. The alpha had been very courteous in regards to Xie Lian’s situation when he arrived, but he had no idea what his plan was going forward. 

They turned a corner, and then Yin Yu stopped, opening a pair of large, dark double doors. Xie Lian nodded in greeting, and Yin Yu bowed once more. 

It was truly odd. Why was he bowing so much to Xie Lian?

“Thank you,” he said regardless, and then stepped into what revealed itself to be an office. It was red as well, darker than the hallway had been. The furniture within it was dark, a large black divan in one corner, shelves with an impressive collection of different weapons displayed on the other. Opposite the door there was a large mahogany desk, a chair on each side. The one closest to Xie Lian was empty, and in the other sat a handsome man in a dark suit. His gaze caught Xie Lian’s immediately, one eye black, one red. The alpha who had carried him to the bedroom the night before, the one Qi Rong had gifted him too.

Hua Cheng.

“Good day Gege,” he said, and Xie Lian’s brows raised from his familiar tone. A handsome smirk played on his lips as he put his phone down. “Are you feeling better?”

“Ah, yes,” Xie Lian said, bowing his head, and then his back. “Thank you so much, Lord Chengzhu, for ensuring my safety and your immense hospitality.” Xie Lian raised his head, meeting the alpha’s stricken expression. It was gone in a second, exchanged by an easy smile.

“Gege doesn’t have to be so formal. San Lang is fine,” Hua Cheng said with a dismissive wave, gesturing towards the chair before him. He looked mischievous, dangerous even. It suited him. It gave his handsome features something wild. 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian echoed, recalling that this was the second time he had been asked to call him that.

“Gege has nothing to say thank you for, it was my pleasure,” Hua Cheng continued, standing from his chair. “Please sit.”

“Alright,” Xie Lian agreed, walking further into the room towards the desk. When he got close enough Hua Cheng’s scent filled his nose, and Xie Lian’s knees buckled a little. The maple, sandalwood and cinnamon was laced with the pheromones of rut.

Xie Lian took a deep breath, feeling his heart beat a little faster from the intensity of it. It was a very, very nice scent, deep and consuming. It was making Xie Lian a little dizzy, because the mix made Hua Cheng smell like… no Xie Lian could not think it. 

“This San Lang wanted to ask if Gege wanted me to call a doctor to look you over, after the drug?” Hua Cheng asked, as Xie Lian sat down. Xie Lian snapped out of his daze, blinking in surprise.

“Uhm,” Xie Lian said, not sure what to say. This was probably the last thing he had expected. “I feel alright… San Lang doesn’t have to trouble himself.”
“No trouble,” he said, leaning forward on his elbows on the desk. Xie Lian’s gaze fell to his hands, and the tattoos that peeked out under the sleeves. He hadn’t noticed them before. “I only want to make sure Gege is comfortable, but I won’t push if he doesn’t want to.”

Xie Lian didn’t think it was very necessary. He felt alright now. Qi Rong could have given him anything, but if he started feeling strange he could contact a doctor in the city. If he made it there. “San Lang is very considerate,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng’s lips quirked up into a smile. 

“Not at all, I have to make sure my guests are taken care of after all,” Hua Cheng said. His gaze was intense on Xie Lian, and it felt heavily but not really in a bad way. It had been a very long time since anyone who looked at Xie Lian seemed to see him. “Is there anything else Gege needs? Does he have any questions?”

“Oh uhm, can I ask what kind of organization does San Lang manage?” Xie Lian asked, his heart beating a little quicker in his chest. This was approaching dangerous territory. 

“Oh, of course! Gege can ask anything he wants,” Hua Cheng said, a grin spreading on his face. Xie Lian had not expected him to be so easy about it. “It’s nothing special really, just me making sure things are kept in order, dealing with those who need to be dealt with.”

“San Lang runs this all by himself?” Xie Lian asked, noticing how Hua Cheng had avoided actually answering the question. Hua Cheng nodded. He was young for such a position, handling such a large criminal organisation as Ghost City had to be. It wasn’t unheard of, but not common in Xie Lian’s experience. He must be very skilled.

“It’s nothing much,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug. “Would Gege like to see more of it?”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, blinking in surprise as Hua Cheng stood. He wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t say he wasn’t curious. “Yes. I-”

Hua Cheng stopped by the edge of the desk, leaning in. Xie Lian’s nose filled with the scent of him, clear interest mixed with the lingering rut pheromones.  “Unless Gege wants to leave of course?” Hua Cheng asked, his voice lower.  Xie Lian’s brows rose.

“I can?” he asked in surprise, and Hua Cheng frowned, before he straightened. 

“Of course,” he said with a nod, crossing his arms over his chest. “Gege can go home whenever he pleases, but he’s welcome to stay if he wishes.”

“What about Qi Rong’s debt?” Xie Lian asked as he stood, and Hua Cheng’s jaw clenched, his scent spiking with anger. Xie Lian found it didn’t burn his nose, like angered alpha pheromones usually did. 

“That piece of fucking trash,” Hua Cheng tsked as he motioned towards the door. “I’m going to rip his windpipe out next time I see him. Hope it shuts him up.” Xie Lian couldn’t help but smile at that, following Hua Cheng back out into the hallway. They turned, approaching a staircase leading down. The corridor and hallway were empty, the manor seemingly quiet.

“So you don’t need more omegas for your harem?” Xie Lian asked, glancing up. He wasn’t fully sure why he asked. Perhaps because of Qi Rong’s comment the day before, perhaps because Hua Cheng smelled like rut… but Xie Lian couldn’t detect an additional scent on him. Maybe he simply didn’t want Xie Lian in his harem, surely he had much more beautiful omegas in it.

Hua Cheng stopped, blinking at him, before he burst out laughing. Xie Lian startled, looking at him curiously, as Hua Cheng’s lips remained in a wide grin. He leaned in towards Xie Lian, mischief dancing in his eyes. 

“Gege. There is no harem,” he said, keeping Xie Lian’s gaze. He truly was very handsome. Xie Lian had never seen eyes like his before. The dark black one reminded him of Wu Ming’s left one. The thought made his heart clench.

“Oh, really?” he asked, a little stunned. Most alphas in leading positions in criminal organisations, had some type of harem of omegas. Not all, but Xie Lian had seen a fair amount of them growing up.

“No,” Hua Cheng said, shaking his head. He tilted his head to the side, still leaned forward towards Xie Lian. “Gege will find this San Lang foolish, but he  believes in mates.”

“Hm,” Xie Lian said. He supposed it made sense, with how chivalrous Hua Cheng had been towards Xie Lian, and how he, from what Xie Lian could tell, had spent his rut alone. He must not have a mate then.

“Does Gege?” Hua Cheng asked, straightening. He started walking once again without waiting for Xie Lian’s answer, back turned. He had wide shoulders and a narrow waist, his long dark hair falling down his back. Xie Lian fell into step with him, moving down the stairs. The manor was still surprisingly empty. So far, Xie Lian hadn’t seen, smelled or heard a single person, except the two of them and Yin Yu. 

“Yes,” Xie Lian admitted, feeling his cheeks heat a little at his admission. “Yes, I do believe that being devoted to someone is much more rewarding than having a harem.” 

“See, Gege understands,” Hua Cheng said with a nod, and when Xie Lian glanced over there was a soft smile on his face. Xie Lian got a good look at his profile, the slope of his nose and the enticing red of his eye. “Come, this way to the armory.”

“Armory?” Xie Lian asked, his interest peaked. Hua Cheng grinned.

“Yes Gege, this way.”

Stepping into the armory made shivers race up Xie Lian’s arms. A mix of nostalgia and admiration filled his chest, as he looked around at the walls. Everything; swords, knives, pistols, rifles… everywhere Xie Lian looked there was one weapon more interesting than the other. Everything was well maintained, and organised, and Xie Lian’s finger itched to touch. 

“San Lang,” he breathed, turning around to look at the alpha, who grinned proudly. He should. This was truly an assortment of weapons to be proud of. “What a wonderful collection. Very impressive.”

“Does Gege like it?” he asked, approaching the first wall which held daggers. Hua Cheng pulled one down, and then spun it in his hand, before reaching it over with the handle towards Xie Lian. “He can come try them out if he wants.”

Xie Lian wasted no time at all in taking a step forward and carefully plucking the knife from Hua Cheng’s hand. When Xie Lian grew up, he had been trained in martial arts, in how to use blades, guns and other weapons. He had enjoyed it immensely, harbouring the skills of combat and defence. He had loved how it made him feel in control of his own body and its movements. The knowledge was important for his future survival as the heir to the Xianle organisation after his father. Xie Lian was good too, knowing how to outsmart most of the other trained members of the Xianle organisation.

Then he had presented as an omega, and hadn’t been allowed close to any combat or weapons anymore. 

Xie Lian wrapped his hand around the handle of the dager, feeling the balance of it. He studied it closely, and when he looked up, he caught Hua Cheng smiling softly as he watched. It was gone in a flicker of an eye, exchanged for a cocky grin. “Does Gege have any thoughts?” he asked, and Xie Lian took a deep breath, and spoke.

They made their way around the room, Hua Cheng encouraging Xie Lian to pick up the weapons to get a feel of them. Xie Lian felt giddy with it, pulling blades from sheets, feeling the weight and balance of them, stepping through a few motions. Hua Cheng truly had a beautiful collection, each item exquisite and unique. Xie Lian couldn’t help but ramble on about them, pointing out his own opinions. Hua Cheng didn’t seem to mind however, a wide smile on his lips as he prompted Xie Lian to say more, asking questions or adding his own views. 

By the time they had made it around the full room, Xie Lian’s cheeks hurt from smiling so much, his jaw sore from speaking. He had truly lost himself in rambling. He couldn’t remember the last time he had talked so much in one go, and to one person. “Thank you so much San Lang,” he said, looking around the room in awe once again when they had made it back to the door. 

“No trouble. Gege can have it all if he wishes,” Hua Cheng said casually with a shrug, and Xie Lian snapped his gaze to him, eyes wide. The corner of Hua Cheng’s lips quirked up.

Ah. 

“Ah, San Lang don’t tease!” he scolded, earning himself a chuckle from the alpha. It was odd. Xie Lian felt so comfortable around him. This day had been more fun than Xie Lian could remember having in a long time. “I would have no use for such things anymore.”

“Then Gege can come by whenever he wants, and use any of them,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian shook his head.

“Isn’t that dangerous San Lang?” he said, and Hua Cheng’s brows raised. 

“I’m sure Gege can handle himself.”

Xie Lian’s heart swelled, and he had to look away, feeling his cheeks heat as he gave a quiet hum in agreement. Hua Cheng said nothing for a moment, and Xie Lian tried to find anything to say, coughing into his hand. He was still a little overwhelmed by the declaration, feeling slightly silly.

“We spent a lot of time looking at the weapons. Would Gege like to stay to eat?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian looked at him, shaking his head.

“I don’t want to take advantage of San Lang’s hospitality,” he answered, feeling like he already had more than overstayed his welcome.

“Gege can go as he pleases of course,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug, taking a step backwards out of the armory into the hallway. “But he is welcome to eat before he leaves. I will have someone drive Gege home afterwards.”

Xie Lian felt like he shouldn’t, but he was enjoying himself, and couldn't help but step after the alpha. “Alright,” he agreed, and when he caught Hua Cheng’s eyes, they gleamed.

Hua Cheng brought Xie Lian to a large dining room, which was set for two at one of the ends. Xie Lian sat down in one of the chairs, and Hua Cheng sat down in the one opposite him. It didn’t take long until food was served, dish after dish grazing the table, served by quiet servants who didn’t look at him. Xie Lian felt it was all a bit excessive for just the two of them, but Hua Cheng just shrugged, urging Xie Lian to eat as much as he wished. 

The hour grew very late, before Xie Lian was full, having enjoyed a very interesting conversation with Hua Cheng as they dined. A part of him didn’t want to leave, but he was growing tired, and by now he had more than overstayed his welcome.

“I should get back to the shop,” Xie Lian said with an apologetic smile. “Who knows if there’s anything left of it now. I don’t even know how many days have passed.” Qi Rong had left the door unlocked when he dragged Xie Lian out, maybe even open. There was probably nothing left of the shop now, or at least a terrible mess.

“It’s been four days since Gege came to Paradise Manor.”

“Paradise Manor, is that the name of San Lang’s home?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng frowned.

“It is not a home, for it is hollow and empty, only criminals and bastards roam these halls,” he said, and Xie Lian laid his head to the side. What an interesting view. “A home is somewhere one lives with a family, a beloved.”

“A mate?” Xie Lian added.

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, emptying his wine glass. “Gege has a shop?”

“Yes, a thrift shop,” Xie Lian agreed with a nod. “It’s on the capital square, called Scrap collecting. I inherited it from an old omega who I worked for.” 

“Does Gege like it?” Hua Cheng asked, leaning his elbows on the table, his chin resting in his hand. His eyes sparkled. 

“Mn, it’s nice being able to give things that have been cast aside new life,” Xie Lian answered with a nod. Nerves rose in his chest, but he pushed on still, saying a little rushed: “San Lang is welcome to visit any time he wants.”

For a moment, Hua Cheng looked stunned. “Gege would want that?” he asked, and Xie Lian nodded enthusiastically.

“Yes, I’d be very happy to see San Lang again, if he would want to,” he admitted, and then felt a flush seep into his cheeks. What an embarrassing thing to say! Hua Cheng didn’t seem put off however. He grinned wider, leaning even further forward.

“This San Lang will make sure to stop by then,” Hua Cheng said. Xie Lian nodded, and stood from his seat before he said something more embarrassing.

“Hopefully not in too long?” he asked, and Hua Cheng’s brows rose as he too stood. His posture spoke of authority, but not control. Powerful but not commanding. Fascinating. 

“No, Gege of course. This San Lang won’t keep you waiting.”

“Good,” Xie Lian said with a smile. He doubted Hua Cheng would visit, but the thought was nice. Xie Lian had such a nice time after all.

“Good,” Hua Cheng echoed, mirroring his expression. “Now, let's see about getting you a car to take you back.”

A car was secured as Xie Lian scurried up to gather his clothes in the haphazard nest on the second floor. For a moment he looked at what must be Hua Cheng’s jacket, an itch swelling in his chest to bring it with him too. Xie Lian shook his head at himself, feeling incredibly silly because of the impulse. He turned and hurried back down instead, his own clothes pressed to his chest. Hua Cheng stood waiting by the front door, and if he noticed the scent of heat on the fabric bundle in Xie Lian’s arms, he graciously said nothing. Instead he walked with Xie Lian out to the car, which stood parked right outside of the front doors of the manor, waiting. 

“Ah, thank you San Lang, for taking such good care of me,” Xie Lian said as Hua Cheng reached out and opened the car door. The alpha paused, blinking a couple of times before a blush seeped into his cheeks. “I don’t know what I would have done with myself otherwise.”

“Gege has nothing to say thank you for,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug, looking away.

“I am grateful regardless,” Xie Lian said with a nod, before he slipped into the car. It felt odd, leaving, but truly he couldn’t stay any longer with good conscience. 

“I’ll see Gege soon,” Hua Cheng said, his gaze still locked to the side. Xie Lian smiled, feeling some of the nerves ease from his chest from the promise. 

“Soon,” Xie Lian agreed. Hua Cheng looked back then, and they shared a long look, before Hua Cheng cleared his throat, closing the car door. Xie Lian’s cheeks felt hot, and they didn’t fully cool until he arrived back at the shop, stepping out in front of it.

There he was greeted with much less chaos than he expected. There was police tape around the door, but everything was closed and nothing was shattered on the sidewalk. Xie Lian sighed at the sight of the cordon. He assumed it had been Feng Xin and Mu Qing who had become worried when he simply disappeared. He would have to reach out to the police in the morning and tell them he was alright. Xie Lian peered in through the windows, but even inside the shop looked to be in order. 

What a relief.

Xie Lian stepped into the storage to the side, pushing one of the boards by the door into the shop aside to pull out the spare key. He had hung it there since he assumed he would inevitably lose his key at some point. He hadn’t, surprisingly, but it was very handy now. The door opened easily, and Xie Lian stepped into the familiar space. Everything looked untouched. As if nothing had happened.

How odd. 

How did everything feel so different then, if nothing had changed?

Chapter Text

The following morning Xie Lian called the police station to tell them that he was no longer missing and that they could drop whatever investigation they were doing surrounding his shop. He had briefly considered informing them about the incident with Qi Rong, but had decided against it. If he did, he had to tell them about Hua Cheng and well, Xie Lian didn’t want to draw attention to him or give the police any reason for that. 

Xie Lian moved through his usual routine, more things than usual in the storage to pack into the shop. It felt odd being back, and not strange at all at the same time. It had been comforting to sink into the familiarity of his nest, even if the bed hadn’t been nearly as comfortable as the one he had spent his heat in. His mind kept wandering back, to the large red manor, the lively Ghost City and the alpha who ruled both. Xie Lian wondered what kind of criminal organisation Hua Cheng ran. Was it drugbased, weapons, or trafficking? All, neither? Clearly there was gambling. Had the crimes perhaps evolved since Xianle’s glory days seven years ago? Perhaps Hua Cheng were some expert hacker, using blackmail on CEOs of large companies, like some type of vigilante. The thought made Xie Lian giggle as he was polishing silverware. The manor had been empty enough for it to work. 

Xie Lian smiled as he thought of the alpha, recollecting their conversations the day before. Hua Cheng had been so interesting to speak to, and above all… Xie Lian had felt listened to. He hadn’t realised how long it had been since someone actually asked him questions, and then let him ramble on for as long as he wanted while he answered.

It felt like a luxury.

He sighed and shook his head, as he worked his way through the handed in goods. He was being silly. Xie Lian had so much, with the shop and his sort of friends who cared for him. Things could have been much worse, and he should not linger on the feeling he had experienced the day before. He had offered Hua Cheng to come visit, but Xie Lian doubted he would. Surely he had much more important things to worry about, and he had done too much for Xie Lian already. If Hua Cheng got some time to visit, Xie Lian would be thrilled, but perhaps it was best not to hope for it, or he would end up disappointed.

He did his best to focus on his work instead, humming along to tunes played through the cracked speakers of the shop radio. Xie Lian found himself wondering what the alpha was up to over and over. He felt rather silly about it really, as if he was missing him.

That was a dangerous thought, so he quickly disregarded it. 

He opened the shop early, unlocking as usual one of the times he passed by the door, stepping out to remove the police tape. Then he walked back to the counter to dig out another box of assorted goods. The box itself had gotten stuck, so he grabbed it tighter, trying to yank it free. He was folded over, trying to wiggle the box loose, when the bell over the door rang.

Startled, Xie Lian straightened, blinking rapidly as he looked at the door.

“Hi, welcome to-” 

Once again, the words died in his mouth.

“Gege!” Hua Cheng cheered, and Xie Lian wondered if his heart was going to jump up into his throat. Sure enough, there Hua Cheng was, looking very handsome and very casual as opposed to how formal he had looked at Paradise Manor. He was in a pair of black jeans, a soft looking red sweater with a high collar, and a black eyepatch covering his red eye. A shame, it was really so handsome. Then again, perhaps it was too telling. Xie Lian did not know how known Hua Cheng was, but perhaps it was best to stay hidden if possible. He had heard Feng Xin and Mu Qing complain about Ghost City multiple times, so clearly the criminal ties were well known to the police force.

“San Lang,” he said, feeling a wide smile spread on his face. He had not dared to hope that Hua Cheng would come visit at all, and had never thought it would be this soon! “You’re here!”

“I promised I would not keep Gege waiting, and I wanted to see the shop for myself,” he said, walking inside with an air of someone who belonged in banquet halls and important corporate meetings. “So, here I am.” 

“I did not think…” Xie Lian started, but then trailed off, shaking his head. Hua Cheng stepped up to him, his lovely scent filling Xie Lian’s nose. He took a deep breath of it instinctively, and then turned away, hoping he hadn’t been caught. “Ah, I mean. Welcome, San Lang. This place isn’t really anything special.” He looked at the worn floor and the over-crowded shelves and felt like it all looked very overwhelming, as opposed to Hua Cheng’s sleek, empty home. “It’s a good place though.”

“It’s really nice Gege! Looking just like this type of shop should,” he said, and Xie Lian glanced back at him, trying to judge if he was being mocked. Hua Cheng looked sincere however, looking around the shop with a small smile. “Gege must work very hard to keep it in order.”

“Ah, no no, I try my best but I’m sure I could do more,” Xie Lian said, rubbing his neck sheepishly. He saw Hua Cheng follow his movement, and Xie Lian swallowed as he saw his gaze dart to Xie Lian’s uncovered neck. Xie Lian knew he appeared to be unmated, and it was rare for unmated omegas to have their necks exposed. He bore no mating bite after all. Still, he didn’t feel unmated and therefore, it felt wrong to wear a collar. Many had questioned it, been scandalised even, but Xie Lian had always brushed them off. He prepared to do so now as well.

“Gege is being modest,” Hua Cheng said, his gaze meeting Xie Lian’s with a smile. “Will Gege show me around? If he’s busy, I can look around myself.”

“I’d love to show San Lang,” Xie Lian assured, a little surprised by the lack of reaction. He stepped over the labyrinth of boxes behind the counter. “No one comes in here for at least another hour anyway, sometimes even more.”

“Mn, seems I have Gege all to myself then,” he said, his tone dark. Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat, and he rubbed at them, embarrassed. Truly, he could not remember the last time he was so easily flustered. 

“Ah, San Lang, already teasing,” Xie Lian said, turning to the side to start showing off the shop to change the subject. San Lang trailed happily after him, showing great interest in each item Xie Lian showed him. It felt almost like it had the day before, when they made their way around Hua Cheng’s armory. Mosty, the alpha showed interest in how Xie Lian fixed everything, and Xie Lian might have grown a little too eager about it, bringing Hua Cheng with him down to his small workshop to show him. 

“Gege is so talented,” Hua Cheng said, and there were no traces of mockery in his voice this time either. Xie Lian smiled softly, ducking his head. 

“Ah, San Lang, it really is nothing special,” he said, as they stepped out into the area next to his locked bedroom, the bathroom and the workshop. It was where all the books stood, and Hua Cheng looked over them, gaze flickering over the frayed backs. Xie Lian watched, leaning against the lower bookshelves in the middle. “I just do what I have to do. It’s always fun to see something fixed, and even more so to have someone buy it and make use of it.”

“Gege sells himself short,” Hua Cheng said, pausing to pull out a book. Xie Lian watched, as his long graceful fingers flipped through the pages. “He should be proud of his accomplishments.”

“I don’t know if they’re accomplishments,” he said with a shrug, his eyes following the movement of Hua Cheng’s graceful fingers. “I just inherited this shop and tried to take care of it.”

“Mh,” Hua Cheng said, looking up at him through lowered lashes. “Gege still takes good care of the shop, and all the goods in it. He’s handy, fixing things others have thrown away. I think that’s an accomplishment.”
“San Lang you can’t spoil me with compliments like that,” Xie Lian said with a shake of his head. He could feel his cheeks heat, and looked away. “Anyway, I think San Lang is the accomplished one between us, is he not?”

“Oh, why would Gege say so?” Hua Cheng said, closing the book with a snap. He turned fully towards him, and then he leaned on the bookcases too, on the opposite side of Xie Lian. 

“San Lang manages a city,” Xie Lian said, even if he didn’t know what Hua Cheng’s organisation did, it was quite a feat taking care of such a large system. Xie Lian should know, and Xianle had never been as big as Ghost City. 

“Gege, that’s hardly anything, I simply keep some lowlife thugs in place,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug. “They’re all idiots anyway.”

Xie Lian shook his head fondly, looking up to meet Hua Cheng’s gaze. He wanted to ask why he had come. Surely it hadn’t been simply because he had promised Xie Lian he would. He had seen Hua Cheng shoot Qi Rong just barely a week ago. Surely he didn’t do things he didn’t want to do. Hua Cheng smelled content, so Xie Lian supposed he wasn’t in too big of a hurry to go. He hoped Hua Cheng wasn’t worried about Xie Lian reporting him, because he had no intention to.

They spoke a little more about the books, and then slipped into conversation about what Xie Lian usually did to fix the broken lamps which were handed into the shop. Xie Lien grew excited again, and they drifted upstairs, where Xie Lian invited Hua Cheng into the chaos behind the register counter, so he could show him.

“So, when the damage looks like this,” Xie Lian explained, pointing at a cord which had been torn. “I look at which color the protective plastic have, and then-”

The door to the shop slammed open so hard the bell fell off, and Xie Lian startled, his scent spiking with instinctive fear. Hua Cheng put a hand on the counter and stepped before him and turned towards the door. Xie Lian saw his hand draw to his back. 

"Xie Lian!” a familiar voice yelled, and Xie Lian let out a soft sigh, placing a hand on Hua Cheng’s arm. The alpha relaxed, just a little, his hand dropping from the counter.

“I’m sorry,” he managed, before two familiar faces appeared before the register counter. Feng Xin and Mu Qing paused, both of them blinking as they looked between them. It was only for a breath, and Xie Lian just managed to plaster a pleasant smile on his face, before the onslaught started.

“Who is that?!” Mu Qing questioned, stepping up close, his finger pointing accusingly at Hua Cheng. 

“What the fuck?” Feng Xin yelled, and Xie Lian sighed. This was not a great interaction, Xie Lian’s sort of police force friends and his new… criminal lord aquanitence, but Xie Lian could do his best to play aloof, and hope they would not find Hua Cheng too suspicious. 

“Good morning, Feng Xin and Mu Qing,” Xie Lian greeted, still smiling pleasantly. “You’re here much earlier than usual.”

“Step away from him, Xie Lian!” Feng Xin demanded, his hand at his hip, by his gun holster. Mu Qing had not reached for his weapon, but it looked like he was ready to do so any second. By his side, Hua Cheng had relaxed and turned towards them half a step behind Xie Lian now, his scent still as calm as before. 

“Why would I do that?” Xie Lian asked, frowning. This was odd, even for them. Did they recognize Hua Cheng? The air was filled with strong alpha pheromones, and it was making Xie Lian a little queasy. 

“Xie Lian, how do you know this man?!” Feng Xin demanded, and Xie Lian nodded. 

“Oh, ah, San Lang is my… my friend,” Xie Lian said, glancing over at Hua Cheng, who suddenly pouted, taking a side step to end up behind Xie Lian, at least as best he could between all the boxes. 

“Gege,” he whined, glancing over Xie Lian’s shoulder. He was so close behind Xie Lian’s back, he could feel his warmth. “Please protect me from the mean police officers.”

“What are you saying? Step out from behind him!” Mu Qing demanded. Xie Lian did not know whether he should laugh or cry. 

“Perhaps we could all calm down a little,” he said, raising his hands, palms up. “Feng Xin, please stop reaching for your weapon.”

Feng Xin blinked, and then scrambled to stand properly. Mu Qing didn’t move, but his shoulders did relax, even if it was only a little. “Your friend?” Mu Qing asked slowly, eyes narrowing. “How do you know him? How did you meet?”
“Where have you been for the past week?” Feng Xin added, still sounding forceful. Xie Lian bit into his lip, and then cleared his throat.

“Me and Gege go a long way back, don’t we?” Hua Cheng said behind him, not sounding scared at all any more. Xie Lian hummed. 

“San Lang was just coming to visit the shop, and I was showing him around,” he said with a nod. The lie wasn’t too bad, he figured. It wasn’t that he wanted to lie, but it was probably bad to have his police friends find out about his new organized crime friend. At least if he wanted to keep all of them. 

“What do you want with Xie Lian?” Feng Xin said, his gaze locked on Hua Cheng. He still looked very wary. Xie Lian let out a sigh. 

“Gege, these fools seem to think they have something to say about who you hang out with,” Hua Cheng said coldly.

“Excuse me?!” Mu Qing snapped, scent angry. 

“Who are you and what the fuck are you doing here?!” Feng Xin snapped. Xie Lian raised his hands, trying to placate them once again.

“Please, please,” Xie Lian said, trying to calm them all down. With a glance at Hua Cheng however, he realised that the alpha didn’t seem agitated at all. Rather he looked mocking at the two police officers, as if they could never touch them. Even his scent was still calm. “I don’t want anything breaking.”

A low growl raised from Feng Xin’s chest, but both police officers relaxed slightly, still looking between the two of them. “I still don’t understand who he is,” Feng Xin mumbled, his growling slowly quieting. “You never spoke of a San Lang before, and then you disappear for almost a week! Without a trace, except leaving the shop unlocked!” 

“And then there’s simply a call from you to the station claiming you’re back and that it was all a mistake,” Mu Qing said, crossing his arms over his chest. “We’ve known you for years, and you’ve never closed the shop without telling us before.” His eyes narrowed, but he wasn’t looking at Xie Lian but to his side, at Hua Cheng. “It’s all very suspicious.” 

“I was ehhh,” Xie Lian started, and then let out a defeated sigh, looking to his side so he didn’t have to look at them. “Having some unexpected omega… problems.” He coughed, and then felt the pheromones in the shop dropping from angry to confused, only to turn embarrassed.

“Oh,” Feng Xin said, his voice high-pitched and panicked. “Right, right eeehm.” 

“Why weren’t you here though?” Mu Qing asked, clearly not as uncomfortable by this as Feng Xin was. Xie Lian glanced back. His cheeks were flushed, but he still met Xie Lian’s gaze. “Don’t you usually…” he trailed off, his cheeks growing even redder. 

“Isn’t that a very invasive question?” Hua Cheng asked, and two matching glares were instantly directed towards him. Xie Lian was very relieved by being brought out of the spotlight. He almost reached over to grab Hua Cheng’s hand, just to show him his gratitude, but stopped himself just in time. “Gege’s not accused of any crime. You can’t demand that he’s going to answer all of your questions.”

“What about you?” Feng Xin asked, eyes narrowing. “What are you doing here?”

“Completely unrelated,” Hua Cheng said, waving his hand dismissively. “I only came to Gege’s shop to catch up, see if he needed a hand.”

“Xie Lian can take care of himself,” Mu Qing mumbled, and Xie Lian’s heart softened.

“Alright, alright,” he said with a sigh, smiling. “Does anyone want something to drink, so maybe we can calm down?”

“I can fix it Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian turned to him and blinked.

“No, San Lang you don’t have to,” he hurried to say, but Hua Cheng was already stepping out from behind the counter, walking past the two police officers easily, as if he wasn’t the leader of a criminal organisation. As if he hadn’t offered to make something to drink so Xie Lian didn’t have to. He couldn’t remember the last time that happened. 

“It’s fine Gege, it’s down in your kitchen right?” he asked, and Xie Lian hummed as he nodded. Hua Cheng turned back and shot him a smirk, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat. 

“Call if you need anything,” Xie Lian urged, and Hua Cheng nodded, before he disappeared down into the basement. 

“I don’t like him,” Feng Xin said as soon as Hua Cheng was out of sight, which Xie Lian knew from experience did not mean out of hearing. 

“Feng Xin,” he said softly, as the alpha moved over to his usual chair, sitting down. He still looked wary, but more relaxed now. 

“I’m just saying,” he said, but didn’t elaborate. Instead, Mu Qing walked over and sat down next thim.

“I don’t like him either,” he echoed and Xie Lian raised his eyebrows, wondering if he should point out that this was the only time he had heard them agree on something that didn’t involve hating traffic checks.

“Well, it’s good he’s not your friend then,” Xie Lian said cheerily, bending down to pull up the box which he had been trying to lift when Hua Cheng arrived. He placed it on the counter, starting to pull out goods from it. 

“Be careful, alright?” Feng Xin said, and Xie Lian looked over, seeing both of their worried glances. He shouldn’t have said anything, but the question slipped out anyway.

“Why?”

“He reminds me of someone who’s bad news, like really bad news,” Mu Qing said, glancing towards the stairs. Oh? Did they actually recognise Hua Cheng? Had they met before? Probably not, but perhaps they had heard about what he looked like.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Xie Lian said, placing small ornaments on the counter from the box. “Don’t worry though, I’m sure that no one who’s anyone important would want anything with me. It’s not as if I would be valuable to them in any way.” 

The two alphas seemed to agree with this, because they didn’t argue anymore. The subject of Xie Lian going missing for five days wasn’t brought up again either. Instead Xie Lian did his best to steer the conversation to what they had been up to the last few days. It was easy once he got them going, and it wasn’t until Hua Cheng appeared in the stairs, that their conversation quieted. Hua Cheng was carrying two cups, and he didn’t even look at Mu Qing and Feng Xin as he stepped around and behind the counter, handing a cup of tea to Xie Lian, keeping the other himself.

“Thank you San Lang,” he said with a smile, bringing the steaming cup up to his nose. Strong, black, tea, just like he liked it. How did Hua Cheng know?

“Didn’t you bring any for us?” Mu Qing asked, and it was only then Xie Lian realised that Hua Cheng had jumped up on the counter, long legs dangling as he made himself comfortable. He was sipping his cup, but his brows furrowed from the question.

“Why would I do that?” he asked as soon as he pulled the cup from his lips. Xie Lian let out a sigh, as both Feng Xin and Mu Qing sputtered and started yelling again. 

 


 

Xie Lian wondered, that evening when he was closing up the shop, Hua Cheng sweeping the floor as he dusted, if this had been a one time thing. If Hua Cheng had simply come to… check if he was alright? Maybe make sure Xie Lian wasn’t running to the police to tell on him? He wasn’t sure. What he did know was that Hua Cheng had stayed the full day at the shop, helped out in putting the bell back up and other little things around the shop, and was only now that Xie Lian was closing, indicating that he was going back to Paradise Manor. A dark sleek car was waiting for him outside, but Hua Cheng seemed to be in no hurry, humming sweetly as he worked. 

Xie Lian didn’t know why it made his heart ache.

“Thank you so much for today San Lang,” he said, putting away the duster. Hua Cheng hummed in answer, having just swept up the last of the dust and dirt from the floor. “I’m glad you came to visit.”
Hua Cheng met his gaze, and then his nose was turning pink, his scent spiking with something too complex to make out. It was gone in an instant, or perhaps Xie Lian was simply distracted by his smile. “I’m glad Gege! It was fun coming to visit the shop and see how you work. Gege really works so hard.”
“Ah, San Lang, it's nothing special,” Xie Lian assured. “I hope I haven’t taken up too much of your time. I know you must be busy.” 

“Not at all,” Hua Cheng assured, handing the broom over to Xie Lian. “It was good getting out of the house and away from those idiot criminals.” Xie Lian snorted. Hua Cheng made it sound like his house wasn’t a mansion, like it was a small group of petty thieves and not an entire city. “I hope Gege will think it’s okay if I stop by some other time too?”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, feeling his cheeks heat up. “Of course. I’d be thrilled if San Lang visited again.” His cheeks felt like they were on fire. “Only if San Lang wants to, of course.”

“Of course,” Hua Cheng said, and then simply held Xie Lian’s gaze. Xie Lian wanted to step forward and push the eyepatch off. Not because it wasn’t handsome on Hua Cheng. He just wanted to see both his eyes. “Well, I’ll be going.”

“Mn,” Xie Lian agreed, looking away as he took a tentative breath. “Safe travels back, San Lang.”

“Mh,” Hua Cheng echoed, and then made his way over to the door. He waved once before stepping out, and Xie Lian watched, wondering if he would even see him again. 

 


 

“Gege!” Hua Cheng called, and Xie Lian felt his lips spread into a wide smile, his chest achingly warm by the sound of Hua Cheng’s voice.

“Down here San Lang!” he called back, and immediately heard quick steps descending down the staircase to him. He looked up from the mess of books in front of him, and was met with Hua Cheng’s wide eyes taking the room in as he stopped at the last step. He was handsome today, in a pair of slacks and a fitted turtleneck sweater, all black. It suited him very nicely.

“Gege,” he said, a smile spreading on his lips as he took in the chaos. “What are you doing?”

“Ah, it’s a bit of a mess isn’t it?” Xie Lian laughed, and Hua Cheng laughed with him, bright and sweet. It took Xie Lian by surprise, even if this wasn’t the first time. “I’ve been meaning to reorganize, but I haven’t started because it felt too daunting but…” he looked around, and then scrunched up his nose. “I supposed I felt a little restless last night, so I kind of started and well…” he trailed off, his gaze moving over the books again. “It might have been a mistake.”

“Not at all,” Hua Cheng said, stepping over the piles to make his way over to Xie Lian who was sitting on the floor. “Gege is right to try to organise the books in the best manner. What is the new system?”

Xie Lian explained how he wanted to organise the books by type, but how hard it was to make the different types and stick to them. He also wanted them to be in letter order by the authors’ family name, so he needed to keep track of both things at the same time. 

“I’ve placed novels over there so far,” he said, pointing to one corner. “Each pile is a different genera.” Xie Lian turned to the other side, feeling Hua Cheng’s gaze follow. “Over there are self-help books, and over there,” he pointed to a closer stack. “Are baking and cookbooks.”

“Seems like Gege has a good system,” Hua Cheng mused, and Xie Lian wasn’t sure he agreed, but was happy to get some validation for his work. Chances were that this wouldn’t help anyone find anything regardless, but maybe it would help him when someone came in and asked specifically for a specific book. “Can San Lang help?”

“Of course,” Xie Lian agreed with a smile. “Work is always more fun when San Lang offers his assistance.”

Hua Cheng hummed, and sat down beside him. It was a little cramped in the crater Xie Lian had made for himself, but it was the only space which didn’t have a stack of books, so they would simply have to share. Their knees bushed, and Xie Lian tried not to think about how that made his heart jump a little in his chest. Hua Cheng didn’t seem to notice, reaching out for a book and holding it up. 

“Where does this go?” he asked, and Xie Lian moved his notebook to between them, looking over the list he had made. 

“Hm, I think it would be the biography stack,” he said, pointing to the pile containing others like it. Hua Cheng nodded, and then pushed up to reach over, placing it on top of the others. Their knees bushed again as he moved. They continued to work together, and time passed quickly as they did. It was nice with company. Xie Lian had realised that none really made him feel as comfortable as Hua Cheng.

The doorbell rang, and Xie Lian looked up, feeling almost startled. He had gotten used to their easy companionship, and had almost forgotten that the shop was open. He was about to rise to his feet, but Hua Cheng beat him to it.

“I’ll get it Gege, you focus on your system,” he said, and then hopped between the tall piles of books, making Xie Lian giggle as he went.

“San Lang, you look like a little fox bouncing between the book-stacks,” he said, unable to hide his giggle. Hua Cheng looked back, his one visible eye gleaming, as he gave out a little roar. Xie Lian giggled, shaking his head as Hua Cheng e disappeared up the stairs. The smile stayed on Xie Lian’s face, as he heard Hua Cheng greeting the customers who had entered.

Hua Cheng had been by almost every day in the two weeks since the alpha had first visited the shop. By now he could do most things Xie Lian did in terms of running the register and knowing in which direction to point someone who was looking for something specific. It was so easy to trust Hua Cheng. Maybe because he had helped Xie Lian when he was so vulnerable. Maybe because he kept coming back simply to hang out, when surely he had more important things to do. Maybe because he smelled like Xie Lian’s.

He pushed that thought far from his mind. It was silly. Hua Cheng did smell like Xie Lian, but surely that was just coincidence. It was just Xie Lian being overly possessive and letting his omega side overreact. He was ashamed of it too, because he couldn’t be Hua Cheng’s, even if the alpha might want to. Xie Lian had given his heart away before, and he had no plans to change that. The feeling of Wu Ming, his hands on Xie Lian’s hips, his face hidden behind a mask, his one dark eye visible in the slit of the eyes, still lived with him every day. He missed him. He missed him so much. He felt bad that the ache in his chest from missing him was lessened, just slightly, by Hua Cheng’s company.

XIe Lian was startled out of his thoughts by Hua Cheng’s steps down the staircase, and couldn’t help but smile as he came back into view, having to pause on the last step to take in the scene once again. He frowned, seeming to try to map out his route back to Xie Lian.

“How did it go?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng hummed, starting his hopping back.

“Well, they bought some vases and a lamp,” Hua Cheng said, pausing to turn before making two more hops, to reach Xie Lian’s circle of empty floor.

“Which lamp?” Xie Lian asked curiously, and something fond tugged at the corner of Hua Cheng’s mouth. 

“The green one, that looked like jade,” he said, sitting down in lotus-pose, their knees pressing together.

“Ah, that’s so nice. It’s a good one,” Xie Lian said with a smile. He was glad it had found a new home. Hua Cheng hummed, sounding thoughtful. Xie Lian looked up from the book in his lap, looking at him. He looked thoughtful. “San Lang?”

Hua Cheng frowned for a moment, and then he turned to Xie Lian, nervousness spiking in his scent. He shifted, coming to face Xie Lian on his knees. “Gege,” he said, and Xie Lian turned to him too, his heart beating a little faster in his chest. “I was wondering if maybe you would like to, after you’ve closed up the shop for the day, come with me back to Paradise Manor for dinner?”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, and then a smile spread over his face. “San Lang is so thoughtful. Of course I would!” Xie Lian said. Xie Lian couldn't remember the last time he was invited over to someone, and who better to spend time with than Hua Cheng! Hua Cheng’s expression shifted from tense to more relaxed, a smile crinkling at the corner of his eyes. 

“I was also thinking… if Gege would want, that maybe after dinner we could spar?”

Xie Lian’s heart paused for a moment, treacherous and vulnerable. “Spar?” he asked, his voice sounding a little odd around the word.

“Or before dinner if Gege prefers,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug, as if that was what Xie Lian should be considering. “I simply noticed that he seemed to have experience, last time he visited.” 

“San Lang wants to spar with me?” Xie Lian asked. No one had, not since his presentation. Xie Lian had begged, but everyone declared him too delicate.

“Yeah,” Hua Cheng said, a frown appearing on his handsome face. He looked like he didn’t understand how Xie Lian was having a bit of a moment here. “Only if Gege wants.”

“It doesn’t bother you that…” Xie Lian trailed off. It was silly. It didn’t matter to him, but it mattered to everyone else, especially in the crime world and well… Hua Cheng very muched belonged to it. 

Hua Cheng met his gaze, nothing but sincerity in his expression. “Nothing about Gege bothers me.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said breathlessly. “I would love to spar. I haven’t in a long while, so I might be rusty.”

“I’ll go easy on Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian didn’t like that at all. 

“Don’t you dare,” he said sternly, fixing Hua Cheng with his gaze.
Hua Cheng laughed, and Xie Lian felt himself break into a grin, unable to stop. “Alright, alright, Gege. I won’t.”

Chapter Text

Dinner was lovely. Xie Lian felt thoroughly spoiled getting fed dish after dish once again, each tasting better than the next. He himself had never fully gotten the hang of cooking. He did alright. He didn’t poison himself at least, and that was well enough. The food presented at Paradise Manor was so tasty however, that it was hard to stop eating even after he was full. It felt like a great luxury, getting to eat food someone else had cooked, without having to pay for it. Still, Xie Lian held back. He couldn’t be too full if they were going to spar after all. Hua Cheng still prompted him to eat more of course, but Xie Lian politely declined. Servants came and removed the leftover food quietly, and Xie Lian desperately hoped that it would be of use to someone else and not simply thrown away. He would have to ask Hua Cheng about it at another time. 

After they had tea they walked back towards the armoury, but instead of stepping into it Hua Cheng led him to the room beside it. It was open spaced, with a thin mat on the floor and hooks for clothes on the walls. Xie Lian shrugged out of his shirts, leaving his torso bare but still wearing a pair of soft pants which were easy to move in. Hua Cheng pulled off his sweater, but left on a tight tank-top with a turtleneck, covering his scent glands. His arms were filled with tattoos, swirling clouds and red ghosts. 

“Are you ready?” he asked, teasing laced into his voice. “I’ve been dying to see Gege’s moves.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, shaking his head, so happy about simply being allowed this. “I told you not to go easy on me.”

“I won’t,” Hua Cheng said, a dangerous smirk curling on his lips. He was far too handsome. “Come on Gege,” he said, taking a fighting stance as Xie Lian stepped up onto the mat. “Show me.”

They spared for a long while, until they were both panting, and sweaty and Xie Lian couldn’t continue because he was laughing so much. It was just so much fun! Hua Cheng, who was clearly stronger and faster, pushed up from the ground where he had pinned Xie Lian down with a wide grin, offering a hand to help him up.

“Gege has very good technique,” he said and Xie Lian let the laughter slowly die down, nodding. 

“Mn, San Lang is very fast and smart,” he praised, because it was true. “Strong too. A very good hand-to-hand fighter.”

“Gege just needs to get back into practice,” Hua Cheng said, his hand sliding out of Xie Lian’s. “I’m sure he’ll have me on my back on the mat in no time if we continue to do this.” Xie Lian wasn’t sure about that, but he would be damned if he didn’t try. 

When the car took Xie Lian back to the shop later that evening, his body was aching and he felt the bone-deep tiredness only earned after a job well done. There was a wide grin on his face, and a pleasant flutter at the pit of his stomach. It had been a long time since he felt this happy.

______________________________

 

The dinner at Paradise Manor and sparing afterwards became a new routine. Most days, Hua Cheng would show up at the shop early and help out, either by running the register or helping out fixing broken things which had been handed in. It meant that Xie Lian had more time in the evenings, since he didn’t have to spend them trying to make the goods donated sellable. Afterwards, when the customers had left and the shop had been cleaned, a dark car driven by Yin Yu appeared outside, which brought them back to Paradise Manor together. On days Hua Cheng didn’t come by, the car still appeared around the time it usually did when it was the both of them. The first time, a young man stepped out, and Xie Lian opened the door to greet him.

“Lord Xie Lian,” the young alpha greeted, bowing his head slightly. “Lord Chengzhu has asked for me to come, and ask if, even if he could not join you in the shop today, you would still like to come to dinner?”

“San L-” Xie Lian paused, feeling his cheeks heat slightly. “Hua Cheng asked for me to come?”

“Lord Chengzhu would be honored to have your company,” he said, and Xie Lian couldn’t help but smile.

“Alright, I would be honored to come,” he admitted. “Let me just close up uhm… I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“Pei Su,” the alpha said, and Xie Lian nodded, hurrying inside to make sure everything was in order before he locked up and stepped up to the car, the door held open. He had missed Hua Cheng’s company during the day, and was looking forward to meeting him. 

Pei Su was always the one who came and retrieved Xie Lian when Hua Cheng had not turned up during the day. If Hua Cheng could not see him at all, which had only happened thrice during the month since they had met, he sent a text. Xie Lian couldn’t deny that he missed him when he was not there, but he was very grateful for all the time Hua Cheng spent with him, and therefore did not complain about wanting more.

He was feeling greedy enough as if was.

It had been a fairly normal evening, the food delicious and the company as great as always when it was Hua Cheng. They were discussing trade routes, something which Hua Cheng seemed to be occupying some of his time with laying out recently, when the door to the dining room opened. Xie Lian looked away from Hua Cheng to the door, seeing Yin Yu stepped inside. The door closed quietly, and the bate stopped, and waited. Xie Lian looked to Hua Cheng.

“What?” Hua Cheng asked, looking away slowly from Xie Lian as if it pained him to acknowledge Yin Yu’s presence. Xie Lian looked over as well, and Yin Yu bowed deeply. 

“I am sorry to disturb, Lord Xie Lian, Lord Chengzhu,” he said, raising his back slowly but keeping his face lowered. 

“What is it?” Hua Cheng asked dryly, and Xie Lian shuffled a little in place. Yin Yu looked up, and Xie Lian gave him a reassuring smile. 

“There’s been inside information about a raid at ‘Pouring Wine’ tonight,” Yin Yu explained, and then a crease appeared between his brows as he continued. “Shi Qingxuan is…” he didn’t elaborate, but it didn’t seem he had to.

“Loud about it?” Hua Cheng supplied in a flat tone, and Yin Yu nodded. Hua Cheng groaned, and then looked away from Yin Yu over to Xie Lian. There was a pout on his face, and Xie Lian wanted to reach over and pat his hand in comfort. He was just so cute when he pouted.

“If San Lang has to attend business, I fully understand,” Xie Lian assured. He didn’t want to be in the way of Hua Cheng’s work. He never wanted to be a nuisance.

“But Gege I don’t want to,” Hua Cheng whined, and Xie Lian smiled fondly. “Stupid law-inforcement, ruining my precious time with Gege. I should burn them to the ground.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, meaning to be chidning but coming up fond. “I do not think Yin Yu would come to you in vain.” No one ever disturped their dinners or their spars. This was the only time anyone had spoken to either of them in all the evenings Xie Lian had spent at Paradise Manor. Surely a raid was something Hua Cheng wanted to do everything to avoid, or at least minimize the damage for. “Will it not be more trouble if you don’t deal with it now?”

“Mn. How loud is Shi Qingxuan being?” Hua Cheng asked, still looking at Xie Lian. Yin Yu’s brows pitched again. 

“He Xuan was the one to make the request I come see you,” Yin Yu said in explanation, and Hua Cheng let out another groan.

“Fuck,” he said flatly, and Xie Lian let out a soft laugh. That must have meant it was serious then.

“It’s alright San Lang, do not feel you cannot do your work simply because I am here,” Xie Lian assured. 

“Gege can come if he’d like?” Hua Cheng suggested, and Xie Lian’s brows rose in surprise. Hua Cheng had been opening up more and more about Ghost City and the organisation, and he frequently presented issues to Xie Lian with a request of Xie Lian’s advice. They always drove through Ghost City on their way to Paradise Manor, but they had never stopped there. Xie Lian had been curious about it, but didn’t want to ask something from Hua Cheng which he didn’t want to share. “It’s not much to see, but Gege hasn’t been down into Ghost City before, has he?”

“No not since… only in drugindiced heat,” Xie Lian reminded Hua Cheng as he scratched his cheek. Hua Cheng’s expression darkend, scowl on his face.

“That fucking reminds me,” he said darkly, and turned back to Yin Yu by the door. Hua Cheng leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Any news on the green filth?”

“No, Lord Chengzhu,” Yin Yu said with another bow, and Hua Cheng’s scowl deepened. “He seems to be laying low, or he’s under someone else's protection.”

“Useless,” Hua Cheng tsked, and then turned back to Xie Lian. His eyes started gleaming when their gazes met. “Does Gege want to come? I am sure his bright mind will help solve whatever Shi Qingxuan is whining about.”

“If San Lang does not mind?” Xie Lian asked. He did want to go down and explore Ghost City more, and he didn’t want their time together to be cut short. 

“Not at all. This San Lang would find the work much more enjoyable if Gege is by my side,” Hua Cheng assured with a wide smile, looking almost excited by the prospect. He turned back to Yin Yu, who was still standing by the door, waiting. “Get the car.” 

 

_________________________

 

“Lord Chengzhu!” 

An omega in white robes and a fan called as Xie Lian and Hua Cheng stepped into the establishment. It was a cozy place, with a low black stage at the front of the room, a bar in the back. Heavy curtains hung down the walls, and sheer ones divided the room. Personnel were moving around, seeming to prepare for the evening by cleaning tables and the floor, stocking up the bar. On stage, people of all secondary genders seemed to be preparing to perform. They were in various states of undress. Hua Cheng didn’t seem phased by this nor the yelling, but came to a stop half-way into the room. The omega stopped before them, fan open and fluttering. There was another man stepping up next to the omega, which Xie Lian thought looked familiar but wasn’t sure why. 

“Have you heard what they plan on doing to my lovely establishment, my home away from home, the safe haven of exploring-” the omega started, words falling quickly from his lips.

“Shi Qingxuan,” Hua Cheng said, flat and calm, cutting him off. “I have been told that there is to be a raid, nothing more. Where does the information come from?”

“Tian Sheng called,” Shi Qingxuan sighed, white fan with silver decorations fluttering before his face. “That boy is so good but I got so angry at him when he told me. I should call and apologise. It’s not his fault the police are terrible. He’s so good for spending time with them for all of us.”

“He’s our informer in the organised crime unit in the police force, Gege,” Hua Cheng said, turning to Xie Lian to explain. Xie Lian nodded. It made sense for Hua Cheng to have someone on the inside to inform him about things such as this. It made keeping Ghost City safe much easier, surely.

“Oh!” Shi Qingxuan said, eyes gleaming as he looked over to Xie Lian. A knowing smile spread on his face. “Is this Xie Lian?” he fluttered his fan as well as lashes. “Good evening, Lord Xie Lian.” He bowed, graceful and smooth, rising easily. “Welcome to ‘Poured Wine’, my very fine establishment for erotic dancing,”

“Good evening,” Xie Lian said with a bow of his head. “I am sorry to hear about your troubles.”

Shi Qingxuan sighed, placing his fan over his heart before he turned to Hua Cheng to Xie Lian’s side. “Lord Chengzhu, he truly is very gracious and beautiful,” he said, as if this was something which had been previously discussed. “Excellent bone structure, very graceful. Does Lord Xie Lian dance?” he asked, turning back to Xie Lian, who felt his cheeks heat. He hadn’t been embarrassed by the dancers on stage, but at the implication that he would dance he- no, no that was no good. 

“Shi Qingxuan,” Hua Cheng said darkly, and Shi Qingxuan laughed, pulling up his fan to cover the lower half of his face. 

“No, no,” Xie Lian hurried to say, waving his hands before himself dismissively. “I have no experience in dancing beyond formal dances.” He had been taught couples dances when he grew up, but he hadn’t practiced any of them in years.

“A shame, but it can be learned,” Shi Qingxuan assured, fluttering his lashes again now, eyes gleaming with mischief. Xie Lian felt his cheeks start heating once again, twisting uncomfortably under Shi Qingxuan’s attention. “If Lord Xie Lian ever wants-”

“What did Tian Sheng say?” Hua Cheng said sharply, and Shi QIngxuan startled, but then looked back to Hua Cheng with wide eyes, as if remembering the conversation and the problem at hand.

“Oh! Tian Sheng said it had been planned during a morning meeting, terrible. Tonight is burlesque night too!” Shi Qingxuan groaned, as if that made it especially annoying. 

“That is probably why,” Hua Cheng pointed out, one brow raised. “Did you advertise it?”

Shi Qingxuan hid the lower part of his face with his fan, fluttering it as his eyes gleamed. “Maybeeee,” Shi Qingxuan said, which Xie Lian assumed really meant yes. The man by Shi Qingxuan’s side snorted, previously having been completely still and quiet. Neither Shi Qingxuan nor Hua Cheng acknowledge him. “It won’t be any more naked than it usually is!” Shi Qingxuan said in his defence. “The police are just prudes!”

“Mhm,” Hua Cheng said flatly, and then turned away from Shi Qingxuan to look at Xie Lian, whose attention was instantly turned towards him. “Gege, any thoughts?”

Xie Lian kept his gaze as he considered. From all the time he spent with Feng Xin and Mu Qing, he knew little about the way the police operated. He wasn’t sure how to persuade them from doing a raid. Saving reputation to be able to erotocally dance another day might be the best way forward. “Could the event be cancelled, or moved?” Xie Lian mused, still looking at Hua Cheng. “I do not think the police will call off a raid if there isn’t any other crisis to deal with, but if there’s nothing to see they will perhaps leave quickly?” If there were no event to raid, surely the police would move on? 

“I don’t want to cancel,” Shi Qingxuan whined, and Xie Lian looked away from Hua Cheng to look at him instead. He was pouting, looking incredibly put off by the idea. “Can we create a diversion? Lord Chengzhu, surely there can be something to be done so attention is directed elsewhere?” Shi Qingxuan asked, seeming to consider for a breath, before continuing on. “Oh, could we bomb something? Something small maybe? I’m sure Banyue would be up for that!” An innocent smile spread on Shi QIngxuan’s face, which felt slightly odd after the sentence he had just uttered. 

Hua Cheng did not look impressed. 

“Could you not have it somewhere else?” Xie Lian suggested, in hopes of easing up the sourness in Hua Cheng’s scent. He had such a lovely scent. It was a shame to spoil it. 

“Gege is so clever,” Hua Cheng said, his tone softening as he looked over at Xie Lian. “Perhaps the dancers can undress themselves in He Xuan’s restaurant?” The last part was said to the man who still hadn’t spoken, who glared back at Hua Cheng as if he had just personally insulted him.

“Oh, He-xiong!” Shi Qingxuan exclaimed, looking delighted when presented by this new idea. He Xuan did not seem to share the enthusiasm. 

“No,” he said flatly, looking over at Shi Qingxuan, who proceeded to pout instantly, eyes wide and doe eyed.  

“He-xiong,” he whined loudly, reaching over to hang off He Xuan’s arm. “Pleeeeease.” He fluttered his lashes too, looking up into He Xuan’s eyes pleadingly. He Xuan didn’t seem phased, and XIe Lian got the feeling this was not uncommon. “Everyone will be terribly disappointed if the event is simply cancelled.” 

Xie Lian expected He Xuan to say no again, from how cold his expression was. Instead he sighed, seemingly resigned. “Fine,” he agreed, rolling his eyes. “Just this once,” he followed the acceptance with, his expression stern.

“Oh you’re the best He-xiong,” Shi Qingxuan beamed widely, leaning forward to press a kiss to his cheek. He Xuan flushed and looked incredibly uncomfortable, but didn’t shrug Shi Qingxuan off. Hua Cheng scoffed, and He Xuan glared towards him.

“He Xuan, you manage a restaurant?” Xie Lian asked, fascinated by what more could be hiding inside Ghost City. A restaurant sounded fairly normal, he thought. Erotic dancing were forbidden, so of course such a thing would be found in Ghost City.

“Yes,” He Xuan answered calmly. Shi Qingxuan pushed off his arm, and walked over to the dancers, perhaps to inform them about the new plan for the evening.
“Oh, how fascinating,” Xie Lian said, smiling in a way he hoped were pleasant. He Xuan’s expression was just as flat, so he wasn’t sure if he succeeded. “What type of food?”

“Generally things which aren’t allowed to be served in other restaurants,” He Xuan explained with a shrug. “Which a goddamn joke because there’s nothing dangeorus about them it’s just the fucking goverment being stuck up snobs wanting to dictate anything they can sink their claws into.” A scowl appeared on his face as he spoke, and Xie Lian had to push down his smile. He Xuan were clearly very passionate about this. 

“Do you have a menu?” Xie Lian asked, because he really wanted to know what type of food such a restaurant would be serving. 

“Eh?” He Xuan said, eyes wide and blinking. He looked truly stunned. Then he looked away, swallowing. “Uhm, yeah, sure.” 

Sensing He Xuan’s embarrassment, Xie Lian turned to Hua Cheng, who seemed to be watching them with amusement. “San Lang, could we visit He Xuan’s restaurants at one of our dinners?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng grinned.

“Would Gege want to?” he asked, leaning forward a little. “I must warn you, He Xuan is into some pretty weird stuff.”

“Yes! It sounds fascinating! He Xuan spoke so passionately about it too,” Xie Lian said, looking back at He Xuan who was frowning at him. 

“Passionately, huh?” Hua Cheng asked, his tone teasing. He grinned towards He Xuan, the corners of his mouth sharp. 

“Fuck off,” He Xuan said, and then turned and walked away from them. Shi Qingxuan was ordering people around further into the room. He Xuan stopped beside him, and when Shi Qingxuan leaned against his side, he wrapped an arm around his waist.
“Gege, that sounds like an excellent idea,” Hua Cheng called after him, before looking back to Xie Lian, his expression softening. “This San Lang will see to it,” he assured, and Xie Lian smiled. Hua Cheng indulged him so often. 

“Ah, San Lang spoils me,” Xie Lian pointed out, his heart beating a little quicker in his chest. Hua Cheng shook his head, leaning into Xie Lian’s space again. His scent filled Xie Lian’s nose, and he took a deep breath of it, letting it settle into his gut.

“No such thing when it comes to Gege,” Hua Cheng said with conviction. With his certainty, Xie Lian could almost believe it himself. “Would you like to go back to Paradise Manor. It’s growing late, but I don’t think it’s too late to spar, if Gege would wish to.” Hua Cheng straightened, turning towards the door. They started walking towards the door. Xie Lian glanced back over his shoulder, wondering how much of it would be left when the police kicked down the door hours later. “Or would Gege like to look around Ghost city some more?” Hua Cheng asked as they stepped out onto the sidewalk, bathed in red light from the street lamps. Yin Yu was standing there next to the car, pocketing his phone as they approached.

“Oh, we could do whichever San Lang is more comfortable with,” Xie Lian assured, and bowed his head in greeting to Yin Yu, who bowed even deeper. “I would like to see more of Ghost City, if San Lang does not mind.”

“There’s a market set up by the square,” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian blinked in surprise. He hadn’t heard Yin Yu speak so casually before. He smiled towards him, earning himself a small nod in return.

“A market?” Xie Lian echoed, hearing the excitement in his own voice. Hua Cheng had heard it too, a smile playing on his lips. 

“We can go if Gege wishes too,” he assured, and Xie Lian smiled.

“If San Lang comes too?” he confirmed, and Hua Cheng’s grin widened. 

“Of course,” he said, gesturing away from the car to further down the sidewalk. “This way Gege.”



Chapter Text

It was during one of the days when Hua Cheng had not turned up at the shop but hadn’t sent a text either, that Xie Lian found himself pacing the shop floor, his gaze drifting out the window. The car usually appeared between seven-thirty and seven-forty-five, and it was closing in on eight now. It felt silly. It wasn’t as if Hua Cheng had promised to pick him up but well… Xie Lian hadn’t gotten a text about them not meeting. He had been looking forward to it, hoping that his phone wouldn't beep with a message which told him it wasn’t a good day to come over. 

Xie Lian sighed. He could just call Hua Cheng and ask, but that felt presumptuous. HUa Cheng was surely busy. He hadn’t seemed any different when Xie Lian saw him yesterday, but things could change fast. Perhaps there had been another run-in with the police, or even with another criminal organisation. The thought made Xie Lian’s skin run cold, and he tried his best to shake it off as he continued to pace. He should probably just pack up the last of the shop and head down to his room. He could maybe go out for a walk or…

A dark car, different from the one that usually came to pick him up, stopped outside of the door. Xie Lian paused, his heart beating a little faster as he saw Yin Yu step out from the driver seat. Xie Lian dashed to the door, opening it in a jerky motion.

“Yin Yu.”

Yin Yu stopped and met his gaze, and then bowed, just as low as he had every time he had met Xie Lian. “Lord Chengzhu would be honored if Xie Lian wanted to join him at Paradise Manor,” Yin Yu said calmly, but Xie Lian felt like his voice was strained. Yin Yu rose, and Xie Lian knew that something was wrong, but didn’t know what, or even why he was so sure. 

“Of course,” Xie Lian said, seeing a second car coming driving up, stopping behind Yin Yu’s. Something was definitely wrong. Should Xie Lian not get into the car? “Let me just…” he trailed off, gesturing into the shop. He stepped inside, and then paused there, his heart pounding. Memories from before the fall of his father’s organisation, of worry and being unsure who to trust, rose in his mind.

Did Xie Lian trust Hua Cheng?

He knew as soon as he thought it that he did. Did he trust Yin Yu however? He glanced out as he walked over to the counter, grabbing his phone and his keys. Hua Cheng seemed to trust Yin Yu. More than anyone else in his organisation. Yin Yu seemed to be the only one allowed to enter Paradise Manor, except the servants. He was seemingly the only one who drove Hua Cheng, and the only one who had interrupted thim. Xie Lian would have to trust Hua Cheng’s judgement of him. He grabbed his phone tightly, and walked out. 

During the fall of Xianle, Xie Lian had trusted Wu Ming above all, and had not been betrayed. His father’s closest allies had not betrayed him either but had gone down with the Xianle organisation as it burned. Xie Lian would have to trust that Hua Cheng had a good sense of people, and that the ones closest to him would not betray him either.

“Ready,” Xie Lian said, as he locked and turned. Yin Yu was looking from side to side, keeping watch Xie Lian guessed, holding the car door open.

“Then we should go,” Yin Yu said, and Xie Lian hummed in agreement, slipping into the car. Yin Yu closed it, and then swiftly moved to the driver's seat, sitting down and driving away. Xie Lian caught him looking into the rearview mirror, and Xie Lian followed his gaze, seeing the car behind them follow close behind.

“Are they with us?” he asked, looking back towards Yin Yu.

“Yes,” Yin Yu answered, but didn’t elaborate. Xie Lian considered asking more, but wasn’t sure if Yin Yu would answer. He wasn’t sure if he was prepared for the answer either. His heart pounded roughly against his ribs as he exhaled slowly.

“Is San Lang alright?” Xie Lian asked, because it was the question buring in his mind since had seen Yin Yu step out instead of Pei Su. He must be, if they were coming to get Xie Lian. Right?

“Lord Chengzhu is alright,” Yin Yu assured, and Xie Lian let out a breath of relief, even if the tightness in his chest stayed. 

“Good,” Xie Lian said, letting his eyes drift outside the window. The drive seemed endlessly long, but Ghost City looked as lively as ever as they drove up towards Paradise Manor. Once they arrived, they didn’t stop at the front door like they usually did, but drove around back instead. They stopped close to the building, Hua Cheng stepping quickly towards the car from a back door. Xie Lian reached for the handle, but Hua Cheng got there first.

“Gege,” he said as soon as the door was opened, reaching his hand in for Xie Lian, who took it instantly. He looked alright, if a little tense. His scent was sharp with worry, but it was just a lingering undertone. Had Xie Lian not known him so well, he probably wouldn’t have noticed. Xie Lian wondered how good control Hua Cheng had over his scent, if he was masking his true feelings. 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, stepping out of the car with Hua Cheng’s hand still in his. “How are you? Have you been busy?”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, lacing their fingers as he walked toward the house, his grip tight. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come help Gege today.” Xie Lian followed him in through the back door, into a corridor, and then turned. Xie Lian lost track of their twists and turns, but they reached a staircase he hadn’t seen before, and started walking up. 

“It’s alright San Lang, you know you don’t owe me to come help,” he assured, moving with Hua Cheng up the stairs, hands still clasped. “I’m just happy to have you when you do.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng said again, and Xie Lian squeezed his hand in support, his chest tight with worry. It was rare that Hua Cheng was so few-worded. They reached the second floor, and Hua Cheng turned him left, and then down winding hallways, before they entered a room Xie Lian hadn’t seen before. It was red as well, with black velvet couches and a dark table. The curtains were heavy and black, and along two walls there were bookshelves, filled with scrolls. 

“Oh, this is so pretty San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng’s hand slipped from his as he turned to look at Xie Lian. He smiled, but there was a tension around the edges of his eyes. “Paradise Manor is really full of surprises.”

“I’m glad Gege likes it,” he said, and then sat down on one of the couches. Xie Lian followed, sitting down beside him. “I thought we could eat up here today.”

“Of course, whatever San Lang wants,” Xie Lian said, leaning his arm against the backrest. Hua Cheng still looked very tense, so clearly something was going on, his leg bounding up and down. Xie Lian hummed, and then launched into a trivial story about a customer who had been in the shop that day. He went into great detail about the meeting, even though it wasn’t a very interesting one. At the end, he could see Hua Cheng starting to relax just slightly, his side pressing into the plush backrest as he focused on Xie Lian. His scent became more relaxed too, his eyes truly smiling.

The door opened to reveal one of the servants, who placed a tray of food before them, bowing before he exited. Hua Cheng scoped the broth and noodles into a bowl and handed it over to Xie Lian, smiling softly.

“Gege should eat, if I know him he forgot to do so today, when this San Lang wasn’t there to remind him.”

Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush, because Hua Cheng was absolutely right. He dug into his bowl without a word, even as a knowing smile crept up on Hua Cheng’s face. He prepared a bowl of his own, and Xie Lian watched. He didn’t appear to be injured, so hopefully whatever he had been busy with, what had him so tense, had not led to a confrontation. They ate for a moment in silence, and when the bowls were emptied Hua Cheng poured them each a cup of tea.

“Did the idiots visit today?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian hummed around the edge of his cup.

“They did,” he confirmed once he had taken a sip and swallowed. “They didn’t want to tell me what they were working on today, but it seemed intense.” He smiled, shaking his head. “They asked about you too, which is new. Usually they don’t comment when you’re not there.”

Hua Cheng took a breath to answer, but the door opened, revealing a young woman. She had purple hair in a braid, dark clothes hanging off her small frame. She walked into the room with quick steps, and then fell to one knee, bowing her head. 

“I am sorry to disturb you, my lords,” she said, her voice raspy but even. Hua Cheng hadn’t moved since she stepped in, besides turning his face towards her. Xie Lian looked between them. This was new, someone from the organisation which wasn’t Yin Yu speaking to them inside Paradise Manor. “I simply wanted to inform Lord Chengzhu that the information we received earlier has been confirmed.”

“Hm,” Hua Cheng said slowly. His mouth tightened a little, swirling the tea in his cup. Xie Lian continued to look between them. This must have something to do with why Hua Cheng had not come to the shop, or so Xie Lian assumed. “Anything else, Banyue?” Hua Cheng asked, after a beat of silence, and Banyue raised her head, but stayed kneeling.

“Yes.” Hua Cheng’s grip on the cup tightened. She looked between the two of them, and Xie Lian gave her an easy smile. “Would Lord Chengzhu like for me to tell him, or leave my report in his office?”

“Where is Yin Yu?” Hua Cheng asked, and Banyue’s brows furrowed. 

“He hasn’t returned,” she explained, and that made Hua Cheng pinch his lips together as he nodded. His scent was sharpening.

“Mn,” he confirmed. Xie Lian wondered if he was worried. “Is it under control?”

“For now, yes,” Banyue agreed with a nod. 

“Good,” Hua Cheng said, taking a sip of the tea. He glanced back to Xie Lian, who tried to give him a comforting smile. “You can leave it on my desk. Tell Yin Yu to report when he’s back.”

“Of course,” Banyue said, and then stood. She turned to walk towards the door, but Hua Cheng called out to her again. 

“Is there anyone with him?”

Banyue turned towards them once more, back straight. “Yushi Huang and Quan Yizhen.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng said once again. “Go.”

Banyue did without another word, the door closing softly behind her. Xie Lian’s gaze slipped to Hua Cheng, whose brows were slightly furrowed. His scent was still sharp, and Xie Lian started letting out his own scent, almost unthinkingly. It had been a very long time since he used his pheromones for anything, but perhaps it could soothe Hua Cheng just a little. 

“San Lang looks worried,” he said softly, and Hua Cheng let out a sigh, turning his gaze towards him. There was something pained in his gaze, and Xie Lian had the impulse to reach out and take his hand in his and hold it again. 

“Gege,” he said, his voice so gentle. Xie Lian wished he would tell him what was going on, but he didn’t want to prod. “This might be very forward of me, but would you mind staying here for the night?”

Xie Lian blinked in surprise. “At Paradise Manor?”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng confirmed with a nod, turning fully towards him. There was a storm in his eyes. “Gege can have the room he had here last. I can send someone to retrieve his things, if he wishes.”

“Would it make San Lang feel better if I stayed?” Xie Lian asked, and the bride of Hua Cheng’s nose colored red. He laughed, but it sounded a bit hollow. Xie Lian frowned, swallowing around the lump in his throat. Hua Cheng looked back, and then seemed to consider.

“Gege I-” he started, and then bit into his lower lip. “Yes, it would.”

“Then I will,” Xie Lian said with certainty. He trusted Hua Cheng enough to know that if it wasn’t necessary, he wouldn’t have asked Xie Lian. It wasn’t as if he would be inconvenienced in any way regardless. If he remembered correctly, the room had a very soft bed and a shower with excellent water pressure. 

“Gege is too good to this San Lang,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian wanted to laugh, because Hua Cheng had just offered him time to spend with his favorite person. “Will the room you had here last be alright? Or would you like another?”

“No, that was a very nice room, San Lang,” Xie Lian said with a nod. He did like it. It reminded him of how his room had looked as he grew up. “If it would be most convenient, I’d be happy to stay there.”

“I’m glad,” Hua Cheng said, and the corners of his mouth quirked up, as if a little smug. There was still tension in his shoulders, and Xie Lian wished he could ease it. He wasn’t used to seeing him so tense. Usually he was all teasing and smiling, making Xie Lian blush at every turn. The change in mood made Xie Lian fidget.

“What Banyue came in to report before,” he said carefully, seeing one of Hua Cheng’s brows raise to prompt him to continue. “Is it dangerous?”

“Gege doesn’t have to worry,” Hua Cheng hurried to assure, but Xie Lian shook his head. He remembered the fear, slowly sinking into the Xianle organisation as the halls grew emptier. The smell of smoke rising, burning in his nose. 

“San Lang, I don’t want to seem…” Xie Lian let out a sigh, looking away from Hua Cheng’s gaze. He didn’t know how to tell him about his past. He didn’t know how to speak about it at all. He never had. Everyone he met when he grew up and known, and then there had been no one left, nothing to tell but so much to say. ”I do know more about these matters than I might let on,” he settled on. He looked up, and was surprised to see Hua Cheng’s tender gaze.

“I didn’t mean to make it sound like Gege isn’t knowledgeable,” he assured, and he sounded so sincere Xie Lian had to believe him. “I simply meant that I will protect you, no matter what.” 

Xie Lian didn’t like the sound of that, and frowned as he shook his head. He didn’t want anyone sacrificing themselves for him. He had not wanted it then, and he did not want it now. “Have you gotten yourself into trouble, San Lang?” he asked, trying to judge the situation. “Or is someone bothering you?”

“It’s alright Gege,” Hua Cheng assured again, a soft laughter in his voice. The mischievous gleam was back, and Xie Lian realised how much he had missed it. How much he adored that dancing light. “Nothing I can’t handle.” Hua Cheng leaned forward towards him, and his scent was so strong, possessiveness curling in it. It made Xie Lian’s stomach swoop dangerously. He was so easy to fall into. Xie Lian didn’t know how much longer he could resist his own feelings if it continued like this.

“Ah, San Lang,” he said, feeling his cheeks heat. He didn’t lean back however, as if pulled in like a magnet. “I know you are very capable, I just… I know how quickly things can turn, from feeling so safe and secure to… to ashes and I… I simply wish for San Lang to be safe.” The words, as they tumbled out of him, felt raw and a little too honest. Like digging up feelings he had buried deep down.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and he inched even closer, his scent soothing now. “I promise, okay? I won’t take unnecessary risks.”

“Good, that’s good,” Xie Lian said, closing his eyes to take a deep breath. “I don’t…” He trailed off. I don’t want to lose you too. I don’t want to lose you like I lost everyone else. I don’t want you to get hurt.  

“Gege?” Hua Cheng called, and Xie Lian opened his eyes slowly. Hua Cheng was so close now, and it made Xie Lian’s heart beat a little faster in his chest. He was truly so handsome, with his heterochromia eyes, his sharp cheekbones, and his thin lips.

“Ah, it’s nothing San Lang,” Xie Lian said, shaking his head. He couldn’t look away from him. “I’m being sentimental.”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng said, his dark lashes fluttering against his cheekbones as he leaned in closer. “About anything in particular?”

“I just… I very much enjoy having San Lang in my life,” Xie Lian admitted, heart wild in his chest. Surely, whatever he was feeling was seeping into his scent now, raw and too honest. “I do not wish to lose him.”

“Never,” Hua Cheng said with conviction, his eyes burning with certainty. Xie Lian wanted to believe him, he wanted desperately to. 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian sighed, barely a whisper. Everything was too much, and Xie Lian tried to reel it in, the sound of his voice, his scent, the feeling of Hua Cheng so close their noses were almost brushing. “You can’t promise such things.”

“I can,” Hua Cheng said, still sounding so sure. The want was so clear in his scent, it made Xie Lian’s stomach swoop. Hua Cheng wanted him. Xie Lian didn't understand why, but it was unmistakable. “I swear.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, weak, so weak. He wanted to kiss him, wanted to be pulled close, to be touched. “San Lang I-”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng sighed, and Xie Lian let his eyes slip closed, letting go of the tightly bound knot in the pit of his stomach.

“Please,” Xie Lian sighed, and the word had just barely left his mouth when he felt soft lips pressed against his own, warm and desperate. Xie Lian gasped, his hands coming up on their own accord to tangle into the hairs on the back of Hua Cheng’s neck, pulling him closer. 

Strong hands grabbed his hips, and then he was being pulled into Hua Cheng lap, following easily as his leg slung over his thighs. The kiss was wet, desperate, perfect. Xie Lian craved more and more and Hua Cheng kissed and kissed him, letting him have all he needed, giving it all back. Xie Lian had never been kissed before, and this kiss made it feel like he was coming home. It made something stab viciously at his heart, and he curled further into Hua Cheng, pressing his lips to the corner of Hua Cheng’s mouth, and then down to his jaw, sucking lightly. Hua Cheng groaned, head tipped back. The high collar he always wore slipped down a little.

“Gege,” he moaned, and Xie Lian was hot all over, as he pressed his mouth down the pale column of Hua Cheng’s throat, making his way down to where his scent was strongest. Xie Lian’s eyes fell closed, and he pushed the fabric down to give himself access. He licked over the swollen scent gland, the taste of Hua Cheng’s scent exploding in his mouth. Xie Lian hummed and pulled back.

“San Lang,” he sighed, sounding so lust drunk. He opened his eyes to look, and then felt himself grow cold with dread. On the gland where he had just shamelessly lapped, was the scar of teeth. 

A mark. 

An active bond mark. 

“Is-is that a bond mark?” he gasped in horror, his voice strained. He didn’t know why he asked. He could see that it was. Below him, Hua Cheng tensed. Oh no. “Oh god,” Xie Lian gasped, and then placed his hands on Hua Cheng’s chest to push himself off his lap. His mind was spinning, trying to make sense of what was happening.

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng called out, fear and desperation in his voice. Xie Lian froze.

“Wha-” he started, eyes wide and heart wild in his chest. Dianxia. Dianxia. Xie Lian had been sure he had imagined that Hua Cheng had called him that when they met but now… now he was looking at Xie Lian with panic in his eyes and his fingers trembling against Xie Lian’s hips.

“Please let me explain, please,” Hua Cheng pleaded, sounding so scared, so desperate. Xie Lian relaxed just a little, even as his heart hammered against his ribs with adrenaline. He trusted Hua Cheng, he knew he did, but he couldn’t make sense of any of this. “I’ve never been anyones but yours, please.”

“San Lang I don’t-” Xie Lian started, trying to understand, trying to grasp at treads which seemed to be dangling in front of him but he couldn’t match together. “I don’t understand.”

“Here,” Hua Cheng said, tipping his head far back, submission. His bondmark was exposed even more, and Xie Lian’s heart ached by the sight, jealous and possessive and panicked all at once. “What do you smell?”

“San Lang,” he said in a strained voice, but leaned forward anyway. Xie Lian pushed his nose into the gland, taking a long deep breath. “Maple, and sandalwood, and cinnamon, from camelia.”

“And what does that smell like, to you?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian felt tears spring to his eyes. It smelled like safety, like laughter, joy. Like home. 

Like Xie Lian himself.

“Like mine. Like your mine.” 

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng said again, and Xie Lian pushed his nose in deeper, taking another deep breath. “I’ve always been yours, even before…”

Suddenly, all at once, realization washed over him. Perhaps it was that he was now simply smelling, and not looking. Perhaps it was Hua Cheng’s words. Perhaps it was everything, all at once, which made the strings tie together. Xie Lian shot up, eyes wide as he locked gaze with Hua Cheng’s pained, pleading expression. 

“Wu Ming,” he breathed.

Chapter Text

When Xie Lian was ten, he found an eight year old boy on the street outside of his parents’ favorite restaurant. The boy’s head was covered in dirty bandages, his one visible eye dark and his fingers trembling. Xie Lian, who was in pristine white clothes fitting the role of crown prince to a criminal organisation, had walked over and knelt down beside the boy, who sat curled up, watching him with terrified eyes.
“Don’t be scared,” Xie Lian had said as softly as he could. “Are you lost?” The boy had shook his head, and Xie Lian had frowned. “Why don’t you go home?” 

“I don’t have one,” the boy said, and Xie Lian’s heart clenched. That was so sad! No home! Xie Lian loved his home! 

“I can get you a home,” he promised. Xie Lian could do anything! He looked back, seeing the guards standing between him and his parents, eyeing the boy closely. “Papa! Can’t we give…” He frowned, looking at his father, an alpha so many cowered for, seeing that he had his attention. When he was sure he did, Xie Lian looked back at the boy.

“What’s your name?” he asked, and the boy frowned. 

“I don’t have one,” he said, and Xie Lian gasped. No home and no name! How terrible. He looked up to see his father standing beside him.

“You don’t have a name?” his father asked, and the boy shook his head. “Will someone miss you, if you come with us?”

“No,” the boy said with certainty. Xie Lian frowned, and then looked up at his father, who gave one firm nod. 

“Then you can come,” he said. “We’ll call you Wu Ming from now on.”

Wu Ming grew up in the Xianle organization, and while Xie Lian didn’t see him that often, they played together from time to time. Xie Lian wasn’t sure who took care of him, but he later learned that Wu Ming had been raised by the members of the organisation, learning combat and assasination. He presented as an alpha at the age of fourteen, just after Xie Lian presented as an omega when he was sixteen. Then, instead of bandages covering his face, Wu Ming started wearing a white smiling mask, fitting for his name. 

The disappointment of Xie Lian’s presentation shook through the entire Xianle organisation. Xie Lian didn’t know how to handle it, the way his father now looked at him with displeasure and disappointment, the way his mother sighed tenderly and tried to give him comforting smiles, but to no avail. Qi Rong was quickly chosen to take his place as heir, as he was the only alpha blood relative there was. Xie Lian was not deemed to be allowed to move around on his own, and was given an alpha to protect him.

Wu Ming.

At first Xie Lian was angry, trying to dismiss Wu Ming at every instance. He didn’t need a bodyguard. His competence had not changed just because his body had. Wu Ming stayed by his side, through his rage, and Xie Lian quickly understood that while everyone else treated him differently, Wu Ming didn’t. In fact, he continued to praise Xie Lian’s skills, and as time passed, they grew closer and closer. Xie Lian’s feelings changed, deepened. He only realised when he spent his second heat curled into his nest, wishing for Wu Ming’s strong, graceful hands to hold onto him through it. 

Xie Lian never saw his face, only his one black eye.

Xie Lian was eighteen when an alpha from a rivaling organisation approached his father and asked for Xie Lian to become his mate. Xie Lian had met Jun Wu once at a party, found him odd, and had spent the majority of the evening talking to Wu Ming instead, hidden away in a corner of the garden. 

Xie Lian refused the offer immediately. 

It had been the wrong thing to do. Not because Xie Lian wanted to mate with the alpha. It had been wrong, because of how Xie Lian’s selfish, foolish choice had crumbled the Xianle organisation in its wake. Xie Lian’s selfish refusal, as innocent as it had been, had made the leader of the criminal organisation ‘The Heavenly Realm’ furious and obsessed. Apparently, no one said no to him. Jun Wu came at the Xianle organisation with everything he had, demanding for them to give him Xie Lian as a mate, or he would rip Xianle to shreds.

Xie Lian often wondered in the years after, if his father had wished in the end, that he would have simply handed Xie Lian over.

Instead of complying with Jun Wu’s demand, Xie Lian had opened his heart to Wu Ming, and as the organisation slowly disintegrated around them, Wu Ming had asked Xie Lian for only one thing: his mark on his neck. Xie Lian had wanted for him to bite him back, but he had been too scared to say - to ask Wu Ming to remove his mask and give that part of himself to Xie Lian. It had felt like asking for too much, from the person who had given him everything already. When Xie Lian finally did, pleading to complete the bond, it was too late. Their allies had turned against them, and Jun Wu had set fire to their stronghold, flames licking up the walls of the Xianle Palace, crumbling it to ash. 

Wu Ming had thrown Xie Lian out from the third floor into the river flowing behind it, the window crumbling down as he tried to climb after him out. Xie Lian had screamed in panic, so much that he almost sank. At the hospital, being treated for his broken bones and burns, Xie Lian was told he was the only one to survive. The whole manor had been turned to dust from the fire. Xie Lian’s parents, his cousin, the man he thought of as his mate, all gone. All dead because of his foolishness. 

Xie Lian fled, trying to hide from Jun Wu as best as he could in hopes of the alpha never finding him, never knowing he had lived. After two years of roaming, living off stray-jobs and the kindness of strangers, he had wandered into the scrap collecting thrift shop in the capital, miles and miles from where he had grown up. 

Now, the man he had loved since he was seventeen, was before him. The alpha who had saved him then, both from a mating Xie Lian did not want as well as from the fires which robbed Xie Lian of the life he had once had. The man who had saved him again, seven years later as his cousin dragged Xie Lian’s drugged body before him as an offering. Who had made sure Xie Lian knew, then as well as now, that he didn’t see Xie Lian as only his secondary gender. Who had helped Xie Lian sweep the floors of his silly little shop, who had spared with him, and fed him and was keeping him safe from whatever was currently lurking outside of Paradise Manor’s walls. 

San Lang.

His Wu Ming.

“Wu Ming,” Xie Lian breathed again, and Hua Cheng’s grip in his hips tightened, as tears welled up in Xie Lian’s eyes.

“Dianxia,” he answered again, and it was laced with so much tenderness it made Xie Lian let out a sob, his chest swelling with relief, and grief, and so much joy.

“You’re alive,” he said, his trembling fingers splaying wide over his chest, before caressing up  to touch Hua Cheng’s cheekbones. He moved down his jaw, tracing Hua Cheng’s features. Tears started rolling down Xie Lian’s cheeks, as his thumb moved under Hua Cheng’s lower lip. He had never seen his face. Why had he ever hid it, when he was so handsome? “San Lang.” 

“Yes, Dianxia,” Hua Cheng said again, and Xie Lian let out a laugh and a sob both as their eyes locked. Xie Lian tipped his head forward, and Hua Cheng met him, their foreheads resting against each other. 

“I missed you,” Xie Lian said, his hands moving down to Hua Cheng’s neck, fingers slowly caressing over his scent glands. It was too intimate, really, but Xie Lian couldn’t stop himself. This felt like a dream, like something which he wasn’t allowed to have but all at once did. “I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too, Gege,” Hua Cheng whispered, his voice so soft. Xie Lian let out another stuttering breath, their joint scent filling his nose. It felt so stupid now, how he hadn’t realised that Hua Cheng smelled like his , because he was. He hadn’t wanted to compare Hua Cheng to Wu MIng because it had felt so wrong. Maybe he would have realised sooner, if he had. “More than anything. I felt like I was going insane. They all said you were gone, that I was the only one left but your mark never faded so I knew. I knew you were still alive and I kept sensing you, all you felt and I just couldn’t find you.” 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, pushing back to look at him. “I’m here. You found me.” They locked eyes for a moment, and the swirling emotions in Hua Cheng’s eyes threatened to break him apart. Xie Lian leaned down, pressing his lips to Hua Cheng’s in a soft kiss. “I’m here, I’m here.” 

Hua Cheng’s mouth met his, sweet presses of lips and hands gripping bruisingly tightly. “Gege,” he breathed, his voice raw. Xie Lian kissed him again, and again, and again, until he ran out of air and had to push back to catch it. He looked down at Hua Cheng, his eyes still a storm, his cheeks flushed. 

“You’re so handsome,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng’s cheeks flushed even deeper red, his scent flaring in the air. 

“Dianxia,” he groaned, and then reached up to cover his face. Xie Lian let out a startled giggle, gently prying his hands away. 

“Don’t hide your pretty face from me San Lang,” he said, and Hua Cheng met his gaze with a sigh, his lower lip falling out into a pout.

“Dianxia can’t just say such things without warning. This San Lang wasn’t prepared.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, so incredibly happy he couldn’t help but grin. He let his fingers dance down Hua Cheng’s neck, touches light as he reached the scent gland. Hua Cheng let out a quiet moan, and Xie Lian swallowed, his fingers tracing the bitemark. He still remembered the taste of it, the overwhelming scent of Wu Ming and blood, of his instincts going crazy with the need to bear his own throat. 

“San Lang still has my mark… of course,” he said, following the scars made by his teeth slowly. A mark stayed until the one who had given it died. A lifelong commitment. 

“It is my most treasured gift,” Hua Cheng said, and when Xie Lian looked up his eyes fluttered open, red and black both. 

“San Lang doesn’t regret it?” Xie Lian asked softly. He should, Xie Lian thought. Xie Lian had left him, hadn’t searched for him, had assumed he was dead since everyone had told him no one had survived. Still, shouldn’t Xie Lian have known? Shouldn’t he have searched anyway? 

“Never, I pray Gege doesn’t either,” Hua Cheng said, a mix of hope and fear in his gaze. Xie Lian adored him so much he could hardly breathe.

“Never, San Lang. It was given with utmost sincerity,” he promised, and Hua Cheng pushed up to kiss him again. Xie Lian wrapped his arms around his shoulders and sank into him, letting himself get lost in the push and pull of his lips, of their bodies pressed together. He could feel the heat from before simmering under his skin, but it was less prominent now. There were too many emotions rushing in his chest to focus, too many questions to ask. 

Hua Cheng pulled back to kiss at his cheek, at his jaw and his nose, his lips curled into a smile. Xie Lian smiled too, eyes closed as he let himself simply feel, to breathe.

“San Lang,” he said, fingers tangling in Hua Cheng’s hair. “What happened? At the fire…”

“The roof had caught fire, and it made the window collapse,” Hua Cheng said, his lips still pressed to Xie Lian’s skin. “I couldn’t come after you that way, so I found a way around, through another window. I jumped. By then, the police, fire department and ambulance had all come. I broke my legs jumping out, and they took me to the hospital. I asked them to look for you, and make sure you were okay. They said they couldn’t find you.”
“Which hospital?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng pressed another series of kisses along his cheekbone. 

“Wyong,” he said. “Was Gege in the hospital too?”

“Mn, Yong’an,” he answered, tipping his head back to let Hua Cheng press his lips down his neck. “They said I was the only one who made it out. I’m so sorry.”

“Dianxia has nothing to be sorry for,” Hua Cheng said, pressing a tender kiss to Xie Lian’s scent gland. “You couldn’t have known.” Xie Lian’s hands clenched, and he let out a sigh.

“San Lang,” he called, feeling wrung out and full of energy all at once. 

“Yes, Dianxia?” Hua Cheng whispered, pressing another kiss to his scent gland. Xie Lian shivered. It felt like a promise. He wanted it to be.
“I don’t ever want to be apart from you again,” Xie Lian said, feeling shameless and greedy as he said it. Hua Cheng smiled against his neck, nipping carefully at the delicate skin over his scent gland.

“Good.”

______________________________ 

 

They were interrupted not much later by another knock, and Xie Lian just managed to slip from Hua Cheng’s lap, landing gracelessly half on his back on the couch, before the door opened. Yin Yu paused in the doorway, blinking as his nose clearly detected the scent of them, his eyes flickering between the two of them once. He took half a step back, seemingly considering to bolt back out of the room. Xie Lian blushed, looking away as he felt his face heat. 

“Yes?” Hua Cheng snapped as Yin Yu was still trying to make up his mind, and Xie Lian felt sheepish. Yin Yu didn’t even flush however, but looked very uncomfortable.

“Banyue told me to report to you as soon as I was back,” Yin Yu answered, and Hua Cheng hummed.

“And?” Hua Cheng asked, his hand still resting on Xie Lian’s side, his thumb caressing tenderly.

“We’re all back, scatter free,” Yin Yu informed. “They noticed us, but couldn’t catch up. The environment worked in our favour and well… Quan Yizhen was driving.”

Hua Cheng snorted, and Xie Lian smiled at the sound. Cute. He hadn’t met Qun Yizhen, but apparently there was a joke there about his driving. “Any intel?” Hua Cheng asked.

“They’re not many, and only underlings,” Yin Yu answered. “I would guess they’re following a tip here, but from who, we weren’t able to find out.”

“Get some rest,” Hua Cheng said, looking away from Xie Lian to look over at Yin Yu. “I have an idea, but we can discuss it in the morning. Make sure to trade out the guards. All of them.”

“Yes, Lord Chengzhu,” Yin Yu agreed, and left the room without another word. Xie Lian sighed, and Hua Cheng looked back at him with a question in his gaze.

“They seem to work hard,” he said, and Hua Cheng hummed, looking down to where his thumb was caressing Xie Lian’s hip. “I’m glad San Lang has such good people surrounding him.” 

“I had to make sure,” Hua Cheng said, looking back up to Xie Lian’s face, who slipped down against the couch. “I wanted to be certain, when I found you, that I could keep you safe. That what happened to Xianle wouldn’t happen here.” 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng pushed up to loom over him, making Xie Lian’s heart beat faster. “It can’t have been easy, doing it all on your own.”

“Low life idiots who don’t know their place had to be removed,” he said with a shrug, his voice cold. 

“San Lang has worked hard, building this from nothing,” Xie Lian said, his hands cradling his face. “So strong, so vicious, so powerful.” He pulled Hua Cheng down, and pressed a kiss to his cheek, and then his upper lip. 

“Gege,” Hua Cheng breathed, moving down to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s jaw, sucking lightly. “This San Lang will give you anything you want.”
“You,” Xie Lian said, head tipped back. “I just want you.”

Hua Cheng bit down, high on his neck, too far from Xie Lian’s scent gland. Xie Lian wanted it further down. He wanted to be Hua Cheng’s. He had longed for too long. “What else do you want?” Hua Cheng asked, licking over the bite. Xie Lian whimpered. 

“I want to make a nest for us,” he admitted, just the thought of it curling pleasantly in the pit of his stomach. “I want to sleep next to San Lang, and wake up next to San Lang, and see San Lang every day. I want, San Lang, I want to be yours, and I want everyone to know.”
“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng all but growled. He surged up to kiss Xie Lian again, and Xie Lian gasped, his mouth opening so easily to kiss him back, warm and wet. It was short, however, Hua Cheng pulling back far too quickly.

“San Lang?” Xie Lian asked in confusion, because then Hua Cheng was moving off him, off the couch entirely. He bent down as soon as he was standing, and then arms slipped under Xie Lian’s body. 

“Hold on Gege,” he said, and Xie Lian smiled, reaching up to wrap his arms around Hua Cheng’s neck. 

“I can walk,” Xie Lian pointed out, even as he let Hua Cheng lift him off the couch. 

“I know, but this San Lang want to carry you,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian sighed.

“Shameless, so shameless,” he scolded gently, pressing his face into the crook of Hua Cheng’s neck, next to the bond mark. “Where are we going?”

“So that Gege can make a nest,” Hua Cheng explained, stopping once he stepped out of the room into the corridor. “Does Gege want to go to his room, or would he rather nest in…” his words trailed off, his cheeks flushed. 

“My San Lang, so cute,” Xie Lian said, even if he was flushing too. “San Lang’s bed, if that’s alright?”

A pleased hum fell from Hua Cheng’s lips, and then he turned right, walking with sure steps around winding hallways. Xie Lian had no idea how anyone found their way around this place. He grew more confused about the layout each time he visited. Hua Cheng stopped before a set of dark double doors, pushing them open to enter. The room was red, with dark floors and doors, much like the rest of the manor. It was similar in design to the room Xie Lian had awoken in after his heat, with two doors to the side leading to presumably a bathroom as well as a wardrobe. Hua Cheng turned the other way however, moving towards the large four poster bed. He stopped at the foot of it, carefully setting Xie Lian down. He didn’t let go however, but wrapped his arms around Xie Lian’s waist, pressing his face into the crook of Xie Lian’s neck.

“What does Dianxia need to nest?” he asked, voice low and lips pressed to his throat. Xie Lian’s eyes slipped closed, heart hammering in his chest. 

“Mh,” he tried, far too distracted by all the touching. Even before the fall of Xianle they had never touched like this, not this much, and it felt like all too much all at once. It was good though, addictive. “Blankets, and pillows and, ah San Lang,” Xie Lian gasped, as Hua Cheng pushed his nose into Xie Lian’s sent gland and took a deep breath. Xie Lian ached into him, hands coming to grab at his arms. “Do you have any soft sweaters you’ve recently worn?” 

“Yeah,” Hua Cheng agreed, and then nipped playfully at Xie Lian’s scent gland, before his arms slipped from his waist. Xie Lian instantly felt cold, but he watched as Hua Cheng walked over to one of the doors behind them. It opened to a wardrobe, and soon Hua Cheng came back with a stack of comforters. Xie Lian smiled, leaning down to smell them. They didn’t smell of anything, and he frowned, pushing his sleeves up to start scenting them. Hua Cheng left again, only to return with a bunch of pillows, and then a pile of crumpled up sweaters, and Xie Lian flushed, as he asked if Hua Cheng could scent everything too. 

Xie Lian started crafting the nest as soon as the first comforter was done, and then continued to build the edges and getting the slope just right, as Hua Cheng continued to scent. It made something warm swirl in Xie Lian’s chest, smelling their mixed scent so clearly, where he was creating a safe place for them to rest. 

It took longer than it usually did. Xie Lian wasn’t used to having so much to work with, and a couple of times he had to take a part of the nest apart and rebuild, to get it just right. Before the fall of Xianle he had all the materials in the world. He had to make do with much less at the nest at the shop, but here the materials seemed endless.

“Ah, San Lang I don’t hope you find me too foolish,” Xie Lian said, feeling the tips of his ears burn as he worked Hua Cheng’s soft red sweaters into the nest. “I simply… I want it to be a good nest, you know?” 

For you. For us.

He looked back, and found Hua Cheng’s cheeks flushed, his eyes wide. “Gege,” he said, and then glanced back. “It’s beautiful.”

Xie Lian ducked his head, and then moved over to him, hiding his face in his chest. “Let’s get ready for bed, alright?” he asked in a whisper, and Hua Cheng held him close, nodding once.

Xie Lian went to get ready first, with Hua Cheng telling him he had to go look at what Banyue and Yin Yu had left on his desk before bed. Xie Lian didn’t spend too long in the bathroom, stripping out of his clothes but leaving his undershirt and underwear. When he stepped back into the bedroom Hua Cheng was just coming back. His smile turned sweet as their eyes met, but his scent was still laced with anger. 

“Come to the nest?” Xie Lian asked, moving back towards the bed. Hua Cheng moved to him instantly, but stopped as Xie Lian crawled inside. Xie Lian paused, his heart beating a little faster as he looked back at Hua Cheng. Did he not want to? Had he changed his mind?

“Dianxia will have to ask me again,” he said, and Xie Lian’s heart ached. 

“San Lang,” he said softly, sitting down in the middle of the nest. “Will you join me in our nest?”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng almost whined, and then he was stripping out of his own clothes, sweater and pants landing on the floor in careless heaps as he discarded them. It put all his tattoos on display, swirling up from his arms and onto his chest. He was so sexy. Xie Lian felt heat pool in his gut from the sight. Hua Cheng climbed in carefully, minding the edges, and then he was crawling towards Xie Lian, who felt his stomach flip as he drew closer. 

“San Lang is so handsome,” Xie Lian said, and then Hua Cheng was pushing some hair behind his ear, cradling his jaw softly. Xie Lian leaned back, and Hua Cheng followed, until they were both settled against the pillows, kissing slowly. Hua Cheng’s mouth was soft and sweet, and Xie Lian felt so safe here, in his arms. “I can’t believe I found you again,” he admitted in a whisper, pressing his face into Hua Cheng’s neck as Hua Cheng pulled the cover up over them. It felt like a dream, too good to be true.

“Me too, Gege,” he said, pressing a kiss to Xie Lian’s hair. “Thank you, for building such a good nest for us, beloved.”

Xie Lian hummed, and pressed as close as he could as his stomach flipped. A part of him wanted more. Wanted to kiss Hua Cheng again, and draw out that want which had been there before, but he didn’t dare too. He was so inexperienced, and he didn’t want to come on too strong. It was good to have Hua Cheng like this, better than Xie Lian had ever thought he would have again. He trailed his fingers over Hua Cheng’s bare chest instead, trying to keep his own want out of his scent.

“Good night, Gege,” Hua Cheng breathed, and Xie Lian hummed, pressing a kiss to the bond mark on his neck.

“Good night, San Lang. “

 

________________________________

 

Xie Lian woke, feeling disoriented and warm. It was still dark, and he blinked, feeling Hua Cheng’s warm breathing fan out over the crown of his head. His heartbeat was a steady drum in Xie Lian’s ear, and Xie Lian sighed, shuffling a little in place. The hand around his waist tightened, and Xie Lian blinked his eyes open, letting out a hum.

“Gege?”

Hua Cheng sounded like he was wide awake, and Xie Lian pushed himself from the comfort of sleep, humming again. “Mh, San Lang, are you awake?”

“Mh,” Hua Cheng answered, his fingertips dancing over Xie Lian’s hip. He smelled worried, but there was happiness in his scent too. Xie Lian wished they had a complete bond, so he could understand what he was feeling better.

“San Lang should rest,” he said, tipping his face up. Hua Cheng glanced down, and Xie Lian’s heart skipped a beat as their eyes met. “Tell me what to do to help.” 

Hua Cheng didn’t say anything for a moment, simply watching him. His hand came up to caress over Xie Lian’s cheekbone, and then down to Xie Lian’s scent gland. Xie Lian tipped his head back, submitting with a sigh. If only Hua Cheng would bite him. “Can I ask why Gege never wears collars?” he asked, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks color.

“Ah well,” he started, and then swallowed as he felt embarrassment rise in his chest. “Don’t laugh at me San Lang but… I never saw myself as unmated after we… I was always yours, so it didn’t feel right to act like I wasn’t… that I didn’t belong to someone.” Xie Lian’s face was burning now, cheeks too warm and heart hammering. It felt so silly. Hua Cheng might have given Xie Lian the gift of letting him mark Hua Cheng, but there was no mark on Xie Lian’s neck. He had never been Wu Ming’s in that sense, but he had always felt like he had been. 

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng breathed, and when Xie Lian looked up and met his gaze, his eyes were wet. It made Xie Lian’s heart clench. “Would you want to? Do you want my mark?”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, closing his eyes because it was easier to admit his desire that way. “So much.”

“I keep feeling like you’ll slip away,” Hua Cheng said, his lips suddenly on Xie Lian’s cheek. “I keep worrying that you’ll disappear if I close my eyes.” He pressed another kiss to the corner of Xie Lian’s mouth, and Xie Lian sighed, curling in towards him even further. 

“I won’t San Lang,” he said, pressing his lips to Hua Cheng’s mouth. “I won’t.”

“Gege,” he breathed, and now they were both turned fully towards each other, hands moving over sides and backs, exploring, assuring that the other was there. 

“I want to be yours San Lang,” Xie Lian pleaded. “I don’t want to go anywhere, I just want to be yours.”

“Fuck,” Hua Cheng groaned, and then he kissed Xie Lian deeply, licking into his mouth. Xie Lian whined, but held on tightly, his hands digging into Hua Cheng’s bare back. He felt the smooth skin under his hands, gripping tightly as their legs tangled together under the sheets. Hua Cheng’s hands found their way under his shirt, and Xie Lian gasped, arching into the touch. 

“San Lang,” he moaned, feeling want pool in his stomach. He pushed himself shamelessly closer, his hands tangling into Hua Cheng’s hair. “Please, please.” 

“Anything Dianxia wants,” Hua Cheng breathed, and then he was rolling them over, Xie Lian landing on his back in the large nest. Hua Cheng looked so beautiful above him, his long dark hair falling down, his black eye so dark, his red a storm. “Dianxia is so handsome, looks so good in our nest. He did so well, making it.”

“Mh,” Xie Lian whined, as Hua Cheng placed one knee between his legs, pushing his legs apart with the other. Xie Lian was growing aroused so fast, the scent of Hua Cheng’s need making him almost dizzy. Hua Cheng’s hands moved under his shirt, and Xie Lian pushed up, only to show how much he wanted him to remove it. Hua Cheng complied, and then Xie Lian fell down into the bed again, Hua Cheng kissing him instantly. 

Hua Cheng’s hands roamed his sides, and then up his chest, caressing teasingly over Xie Lian’s nipples. He gasped, head thrown back as he clenched around nothing. He was growing wet, his cock filling quickly. Hua Cheng’s knees spread Xie Lian’s out wider, and Xie Lian felt pinned there, under Hua Cheng’s strong body. 

“Gege smells so good, like he wants this San Lang so much,” Hua Cheng said, lapping down his throat. Xie Lian shivered, hips bucking up but getting no friction. “This San Lang wants him so much too. More than anything, he wants to give Gege pleasure.”

“Mmh,” Xie Lian moaned, his hands moving down Hua Cheng’s back. They had only done this one time, before the fall of Xianle, and Xie Lian felt clumsy and inexperienced, as his fingertips dipped into the waistband of Hua Cheng’s underwear. “San Lang, please.”

He smelled so much like need, and Xie Lian was going crazy with it, didn’t know what to do if he couldn’t touch Hua Cheng or have the alpha touch him. His fingers moved along the elastic, coming to stop in the front. He could feel the fabric strain, and he swallowed before he moved closer, his fingers teasing over Hua Cheng’s erection. A punched out groan was pushed into the skin of Xie Lian’s neck, guttural and deep.

“Gege, Gege,” he moaned, and the sound made Xie Lian a little bolder, using one hand to push down the elastic, his fingers teasing Hua Cheng’s hot length. “Fuck, aaah Dianxia.”

“San Lang I longed so much for this,” Xie Lian said, feeling embarrassment burn in his chest along with his arousal. “Won’t you take pity on your omega, and fill him up?”

Hua Cheng surged up with a growl, and then they were kissing again, as Hua Cheng grabbed Xie Lian’s underwear with both hands, and tore it to shreds.

“San Lang!” Xie Lian gasped, but Hua Cheng only smirked, nipping at Xie Lian’s lower lip as he pulled the ruined fabric off, tossing it to the side. The air filled with the scent of Xie Lian’s slick, his need to clear. Xie Lian whimpered, wrapping a hand around Hua Cheng’s erection to distract himself. 

“Gege,” Hua Cheng groaned, his hands pushing down. He pulled away from Xie Lian’s lips, and then he was kissing down his body, his hands moving ever further down. “Gege’s being so bold.”

“San Lang please,” Xie Lian pleaded, and then gasped, as long graceful fingers wrapped around his length. Hua Cheng hummed against his sternum, and then moved to the side, his mouth hot and wet as it closed around a nipple. “Ah!” Xie Lian moanded, the pleasure only leaving him wanting more. It seemed like Hua Cheng understood, could surely feel it through the bond. His free hand moved further down, sliding between the slick which had started wetting Xie Lian thoroughly, before he pushed one finger inside him. “Ah, ah, aaah,” Xie Lian moaned, suspended between the three pleasure points. 

It felt so good to have Hua Cheng’s mouth on his chest, sucking and licking and nibbling. It sent waves of pleasure down to his groin, where one of Hua Cheng’s hands were slowly working over his cock, working pleasured gasps out of Xie Lian. The other hand was moving in and out of him, one, then two, and then three fingers, moving over that spot inside Xie Lian which made him clench his first in the sheets, made him gasp out ‘San Lang’ over and over until there was barely breath in his lungs. Only then did Hua Cheng push up from his chest, kneeling between Xie Lian’s spread legs.

“Can this lowly alpha serve Dianxia now?” he asked, his voice a low rumble. Xie Lian cracked his eyes open, letting them dip down to where Hua Cheng’s cock was standing between the alpha’s legs, hard and flushed. 

“Please,” he said, swallowing around his moans. “San Lang, please.” 

“Anything Gege wishes,” Hua Cheng said, his fingers slipping from Xie Lian’s wet hole, the other hand moving from his cock to spread Xie Lian open wider. He watched as Hua Cheng slicked up his cock with his hand which had just been inside Xie Lian. Then he was moving forward, one comforting hand on his hip, the other guiding his cock to Xie Lian’s body.

The stretch was a lot, and Xie Lian felt like he couldn’t breathe as Hua Cheng’s length pushed inside. He remembered this, had ached for this, and now a sob pushed from his mouth, as Hua Cheng pushed further inside.

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng called, leaning down to rest on his elbows over Xie Lian. Their gazes caught, and Xie Lian let out a soft laugh at how worried he looked. 

“I missed this, I missed San Lang so much,” he explained, tilting his hips up to take even more of him in. “So big San Lang. So mmmh.”

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng moaned, and then they were kissing again, deep and wet, as Hua Cheng pushed into him further. “So good around me, so wet.”

“Mmmh,” Xie Lian moaned, and then sighed as Hua Cheng became fully seated inside him. It felt so good, so right. “Yes.”

Hua Cheng pulled back, and the fucked in, and Xie Lian moaned loudly, his cheeks burning with embarrassment. He barely had time to think about it, because then Hua Cheng did it again, and again, and again, until all Xie Lian could do was gasp and wither in the sheets, his fingers digging into Hua Cheng’s back.

“Gege’s so good, so tight, so perfect,” Hua Cheng kept moaning against his lips, and Xie Lian wrapped his legs around him to urge him faster. Hua Cheng complied, and soon Xie Lian felt his knot swell at the base. “I want to fill him up so bad, make sure he knows this San Lang lives to serve him.”

“Ah, ah,” Xie Lian moaned, dizzy with want. “Please, knot, alpha, please,” Xie Lian begged, and Hua Cheng groaned, giving a particularly hard thrust. “Ah!”

“Bite me again,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian blinked up at him, tears in the corners of his eyes. Everything was so good, felt so good, so right. “On the other side.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian whined, and Hua Cheng kissed him again. “Yes, of course. Anything my- my San Lang wants.” Hua Cheng groaned, and the fucked into him faster, until the knot pushed fully inside, filling Xie Lian completely. 

“Ha!” Xie Lian moaned, and then he was coming, his whole body convulsing around Hua Cheng as pleasure was wrung out of him, spurting over both of their chests. Hua Cheng groaned, and then he offered the unmarked scent gland on the other side of his neck. Xie Lian pushed up and opened his mouth, his lips closing over the gland. His teeth dug in, sharp and sure, and the scent of them, already laced into Hua Cheng’s body, filled his mouth. Xie Lian tasted blood next, and bit down a little harder on instinct, before he opened his mouth and collapsed down into bed. Hua Cheng looked down on him, and Xie Lian felt his chest swell with pride at the sight of the pale mark on one side of his neck, and the violently red one on the other side.

His San Lang.

Xie Lian worlessly submitted, neck bared fully for his alpha. A low growl rumbled from Hua Cheng’s chest, and then he leaned down to press a sweet kiss to his scent gland, before he opened his mouth and bit down - hard.

“Ah!” Xie Lian gasped, but it didn’t hurt. Pleasure surged through his body again, and as Hua Cheng’s teeth sunk even deeper Xie Lian came once more, the bond lacing into his core. Xie Lian felt everything turn hazy around him, and the last thing he saw before he slipped under was Hua Cheng’s blood red mouth. 

Chapter Text

A vibrant joy swirled in Xie Lian’s chest, waking him up. The joy felt, tangible, red and smooth like silk in his mind. Xie Lian sighed under it, a smile spreading on his face. The sensation was in a way foreigh, and Xie Lian tried to understand why, until his own happiness laced into it, like two strings twisting together, braided together tightly. Xie Lian let out a gasp, his eyes snapping open to stare at the ceiling, as he simply felt. His heart was beating quickly in his chest, and the sensations mixing was overwhelming in intensity. It was Hua Cheng’s feelings, lacing together with his own. Hua Cheng was feeling so happy. Bone deep. 

It left Xie Lian breathless, tears welling up in his eyes but didn’t spill. Hua Cheng was so happy and Xie Lian could feel it in his own chest, because they were mates. The bite on his neck stung a little, but it was nothing compared to the intensity of happiness soaking Xie Lian through and through. He hadn’t turned to see if Hua Cheng was awake yet, but Xie Lian guessed he was, from the way his fingers were dancing over his bare abdomen. It felt nice, the way his fingers danced over Xie Lian’s skin.

Hua Cheng was happy. He had bonded with Xie Lian, had sunk his teeth deep into Xie Lian’s scent gland, like Xie Lian had longed for for so many years but never thought he would have. Hua Cheng had wanted to bond, and now afterwards he was so happy. 

The sensation became almost too much, and Xie Lian closed his eyes in fear of tears spilling, letting out a sling slow breath.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng whispered beside him, and Xie Lian nodded, reaching down to lace their fingers together on top of his stomach. He brought them up to his lips, pressing kisses along the lines of Hua Cheng’s long fingers. His cheeks burned from how wide he was smiling, but it didn’t matter. He felt Hua Cheng’s breath hitch, and then he was pressing his forehead to Xie Lian’s bare shoulder, his breath damp down his upper arm.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian whispered. “My San Lang.” The words made something heavy and lovely curl at the pit of his stomach. He pressed another kiss to Hua Cheng’s hand, and then felt his fingers slip away from his own, cupping Xie Lian’s cheek instead. 

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, as if it was as easy as breathing. Xie Lian’s smile widened, and he rolled over to his side. “Did Gege sleep well?”

Xie Lian opened his eyes again, and met Hua Cheng’s gaze. He looked so soft like this, bathing in warm morning glow. His dark hair was wild, his gaze tender. The bond bite on his neck was violently red. He was so beautiful. Hua Cheng leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Xie Lian’s forehead, and then down the bride of his nose. It was odd, Xie Lian should probably feel weird about being touched like this. No one had really touched him since the fall of Xianle, and even before that, the only one who did was Wu Ming and well… the mask had prevented any type of kissing. It didn’t feel odd though. It felt right, as it should be. As if Xie Lian wanted nothing in the world more than Hua Cheng’s lips pressed to his skin, his hair, his lips. Hua Cheng moved down, and then pressed his lovely lips to Xie Lian’s, making his world spin. Joy, like bubbly uncontained champaign, swirled through the bond.

“It’s already morning?” Xie Lian asked in a whisper, lips still to Hua Cheng’s. “I fell asleep on you, right after bonding?” Xie Lian felt ashamed suddenly, pushing back to meet Hua Cheng’s gaze. How rude of him! Hua Cheng had clearly taken care of him, since he was all dry and cleaned. 

“Mn, Gege did,” Hua Cheng said, a satisfied smirk on his lips. Too handsome, too mischievous. Xie Lian blushed. “It seems I tired him out.” He grinned wider, and his expression made Xie Lian’s stomach swoop, even as his cheek burned.

“San Lang! So shameless,” Xie Lian protested, shaking his head as he tried to hide in his hands. Hua Cheng laughed, and it was warm and sweet. Xie Lian couldn’t help but smile behind his hiding place, even if he did feel ashamed by his own behavior. “I feel very rude.” The words became muffled into his palms. Dry lips pressed against the back of his hands, trembling from laughter, before warm fingers pried Xie Lian’s hands from his face.

“Gege shouldn’t,” Hua Cheng said, still looking very smug. How could he wear it so well? Xie Lian had never seen anyone else do. “Apparently it's a sign of a strong bond, if the omega can relax enough to let their alpha take care of them.” Hua Cheng’s fingers danced down his wrist.

“Oh?” Xie Lian said, his breath stuttering as Hua Cheng brought his wrist up to his face. He pressed his nose into the scent gland, and Xie Lian let out a sigh, followed by another as Hua Cheng pressed a kiss to it.  “San Lang is so knowledgeable.”

Hua Cheng hummed, and then lifted Xie Lian’s other wrist to give it the same treatment. “I did a lot of reading on omegas when I was Dianxia’s bodyguard,” he explained, his fingers moving down Xie Lian’s arms, caresses teasing. “I wanted to be prepared for anything and… when our relationship changed I wanted to be prepared for that too.”

He was too good. Xie Lian shivered, his heart suddenly aching. A frown immediately appeared between Hua Cheng’s brows, and his hands moved down to Xie Lian’s chest, resting his palm over his heart.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, letting the familiar ache of mourning someone who he now knew had never been gone swell and then ebb away. “Ah.” He rested his hands on Hua Cheng’s body, one on his hip and one curling around his neck, the side with the old bondmark. 

“Dianxia?” Hua Cheng asked, his voice so soft, but worried and questioning. Xie Lian did not deserve him. “Are you alright?”

“Mn, I am San Lang,” Xie Lian promised, the pain subduing under the wonderful sensation of Hua Cheng’s care. “I’ve just. I missed you for so long. I’m so happy to have you back, I simply… it still hurts, thinking about it.” He was sure it would ease with time. Now it almost felt like a phantom ache. It was still there however, as if the memories connected to Wu Ming held a painful edge which he struggled to scrub off, even as he laid in Xie Lian’s arms. Wu Ming; alive, safe and happy. His San Lang.

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng breathed, tipping his forehead forward to rest against Xie Lian’s. Xie Lian felt Hua Cheng’s pain now too, swelling and swelling in Xie Lian’s chest as well. “This lowly one is so sorry for not finding you sooner. I-”

“No,” Xie Lian pleaded, cutting him off gently. He pulled back, only so their eyes could meet. “San Lang can’t talk about my mate like that. He’s far too precious to me for anyone to say anything bad about him.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and now there was fondness, and Xie Lian had no more words for the moment, but instead had to simply kiss him. Hua Cheng let out a soft sigh as their lips met, and Xie Lian pulled himself as close as he could, wanting to know he was there. To feel him against his skin.

“I mean it,” Xie Lian said, lips caressing over Hua Cheng’s with each word. “Thank you, for being mine.”

“Always yours,” Hua Cheng said as it was as certain as the sun rising each morning. Hua Cheng rolled them over, pressing Xie Lian down into the soft nest. Xie Lian followed with a gasp, feeling something hot curl at the pit of his stomach as they kissed deeply. It was his own desire, but it was more intense too, feeling Hua Cheng’s need for him. It made Xie Lian’s blood burn, his own arousal increasing at the knowledge of how much Hua Cheng truly desired him too.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian gasped, his hips rolling up shamelessly in search of friction as his cock hardened. “Oh, ha, you- mmh, you want me this much?”

“Ah, Gege,” Hua Cheng said, withdrawing from the kiss to press his lips to Xie Lian’s chin, and then under his jaw, making a trail of kisses down his throat. “I want you so much I feel like I’m burning with it.” He sucked a mark at the hollow of Xie Lian’s throat, making him gasp as his eyes fluttered closed. “I’ve dreamed so much about this,” he continued, marking his way down Xie Lian’s chest, his large hands wrapped around Xie Lian’s ribs. “How I’d make Gege feel so good if he ever gave me the honor of serving him like this again.”

“Ah San Lang,” Xie Lian moaned, his head swimming with arousal. Hua Cheng’s mouth was so filthy, his touches making Xie Lian sigh and squirm in want. Hua Cheng smirked against his skin, and then dipped his tongue into Xie Lian’s bellybutton. Xie Lian gasped, back arching, but Hua Cheng had already continued down, his hands spreading Xie Lian’s legs apart as he settled between them.

“Dianxia smells so good, already so wet,” he said, nipping at the soft skin of Xie Lian’s stomach, next to where his cock lay hard and aching. Xie Lian whined. He wanted Hua Cheng to touch him, to stop teasing, but he couldn’t get his mouth to form words, too caught up in the arousal rushing through the bond like a loop. 

Hua Cheng’s hand continued down, caressing through the slick between Xie Lian’s cheeks. Xie Lian whined again, back arching as he chased the sensation. Hua Cheng’s mot breath danced over his erection, and then  he opened his mouth to lick a wet stripe up the length of Xie Lian’s cock. As he did, he pushed one finger into Xie Lian’s hole, slick making the slide easy. 

“Ah! San Lang!” Xie Lian cried out, and Hua Cheng hummed, as if Xie Lian was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted. He moved the finger in and out of Xie Lian slowly. It was maddening, the way he licked over Xie Lian, the way his finger teased. “Please, please I-”

“Anything San Lang’s mate wants,” Hua Cheng growled, and then he pushed two fingers into Xie Lian, as he took the head of Xie Lian’s cock into his mouth, and sucked. 

“Ah!” Xie Lian cried out, and then he mewled as Hua Cheng sank down on him, slowly enveloping his erection in slick wetness. The fingers inside him stretched, just slightly, and the double sensation was so good it made Xie Lian squirm. He had never experienced anything like this. Before, the time they had laid together had been rushed and fumbly, but now it seemed like Hua Cheng meant to take his time, drawing out gasps and whines from Xie Lian’s mouth as Hua Cheng explored his body.

Xie Lian felt like he was floating in pleasure, being kept right there in it, but without falling over into ecstasy. Hua Cheng’s fingers moved over his prostate every now and then, but it was like Hua Cheng was teasing him on purpose, keeping Xie Lian on the edge with his fingers and mouth. He looked so smug, his red and black eyes dancing with mirth and satisfaction as he looked up at Xie Lian.

“So beautiful,” Xie Lian gasped, lips moving before he had fully decided he was going to say something. “San Lang, my aaah, my San Lang so beautiful mmh.” Xie Lian’s heart was hammering so hard in his chest, each beat painful. “Please, please I-”

“Mmh,” Hua Cheng moaned, and the sensation was excruciating. Xie Lian’s hands came down to tangle in his hair, holding on tightly. He wanted to push his hips up into Hua Cheng’s mouth, but he also wanted to roll his hips back against his fingers, and it was impossible to do anything but lie there and feel the sensation of pleasure swelling and swelling and…

Hua Cheng took him deep into his throat, and as he pushed his fingers against Xie Lian’s prostate, he swallowed.

“Haaaa!” Xie Lian screamed, back arching off the bed as pleasure shot up his spine, making him tingle from his lips, out into his fingertips, his toes curling. Hua Chneg’s pleasure filled his chest too, overwhelming in intensity as it matched Xie Lian’s own. He felt Hua Cheng swallow and swallow, taking all of Xie Lian’s come as he continued to fuck his fingers into Xie Lian’s body. He shook and trembled, body over sensitive.

“Ah, San- San Lang did you…” Xie Lian asked, trailing off as the words became too embarrassing to word. Hua Cheng slowly pulled his mouth off, Xie Lian’s spent cock landing on his stomach.

“Gege, take pity on your mate,” Hua Cheng said, sounding horse and breathless and Xie Lian whined because he sounded like that because he had taken Xie Lian so deep down. “How is an alpha to resist, when his omega is so pleasured?” He kissed the inside of Xie Lian’s thigh, causing Xie Lian to yelp in surprise. He was so shameless! He smelled smug though, and Xie Lian sighed, debating if he should try to turn around and hide in the pillows, or if he should pull Hua Cheng up into a kiss. 

“San Laaaang,” he whined, and hit his face in his hands, his heart thundering. Hua Cheng chuckled, and then Xie Lian felt him shift over him, before soft kisses were being pressed to the back of his hands. Xie Lian peaked out between his fingers, and Hua Cheng grinned. He was too handsome. Xie Lian adored him far too much. 

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, and gently pried Xie Lian’s hands from his face. “Don’t hide this handsome face from San Lang, hm?”

Xie Lian wanted to hide again after such a comment, shaking his head and closing his eyes in another attempt to hide. “San Lang liked it?” he asked, and swallowed because he couldn’t believe he just asked that. Tenderness swelled over the bond, and Xie Lian dared to open his eyes, meeting hua Cheng’s sweet ones.

“So much,” he said softly, pressing a kiss to Xie Lian’s hot cheek. “It felt like a dream, to wake up here in Gege’s nest, with my mark on his neck.” Hua Cheng’s gaze slipped to it, and Xie Lian hummed, smiling sweetly. 

“You are so good San Lang,” he said, raising his hands to caress over Hua Cheng’s cheekbones and into his hair. “So good.”

“Gege is good,” Hua Cheng said, leaning down to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s brow. “The best.” Another one to Xie Lian’s nose. “The very, very best.” 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian giggled, and was just about to pull Hua Cheng down into another kiss, when there was a sharp knock on the door. Xie Lian froze, suddenly feeling very exposed. Would someone walk in? Was the door locked? A loud growl started in Hua Cheng’s chest, his teeth bared as he looked towards the door. Xie Lian really hoped they weren’t about to walk in, whoever it was. 

“What?!” Hua Cheng snapped, his body tense. Xie Lian automatically let out soothing pheromones, pressing his hands into Hua Cheng’s shoulders in an attempt to calm the tension there. 

“Lord Chengzhu,” a voice called, and Xie Lian was pretty sure it was Yin Yu. He relaxed sighly. Yin Yu was safe, even if Xie Lian didn’t want him in there. “There’s been a development on…” he trailed off, and Hua Cheng growled once more. “They’ve found the shop.”

The shop. It could be any shop, but Xie Lian instantly thought of his own. Was there a threat towards his shop? Was that why Hua Cheng had wanted him to stay here for the night? He looked up at Hua Cheng, seeing his gaze flash with anger. The growl grew louder. 

“Fuck,” Hua Cheng said between clenched teeth. “Scram!”

“Yes Lord Chengzhu,” Yin Yu said, and then Hua Cheng laid down on top of him, pushing his face into the crook of Xie Lian’s neck. Xie Lian cooed softly, his hands running down his back in an attempt to soothe the anger which was viciously burning in Hua Cheng’s chest. 

“It’s okay, we’re okay,” Xie Lian tried, hoping to be calming even though he didn’t know why Hua Cheng was so upset.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng sighed, and pressed himself even further into his scent gland. Xie Lian hummed. He wanted to help, but without knowing more he couldn’t. He didn’t want to pry into Hua Cheng’s business if the alpha didn’t want to, but they were mates now and… Xie Lian wanted to be of use, to help.

“San Lang?” he called softly, continuing to caress his fingers up and down the alpha’s back. He hummed in answer. “Let us go take a shower together, alright?” 

“Gege should eat,” Hua Cheng said, his lips grazing over Xie Lian’s scent gland as they formed the words. Xie Lian shivered.

“I can make it through a shower, I’ve gone days without eating after…” Xie Lian trailed off, as he felt hurt and sadness curl in the pit of his stomach from the bond. Oh. “Ah, San Lang, it was a long time ago. You’ve made sure I’ve eaten so well lately. “

“Gege should alway eat well,” Hua Cheng said stubbornly. “I’ll make sure he has his favorites every day if….” he trailed off, and then took a deep breath. Xie Lian waited, a little anxious but excited too. 

“If what, my San Lang?” he asked, and Hua Cheng let out a sigh, pushing up to look at him. Xie Lian smiled, unable to stop himself when faced with Hua Cheng’s handsome face.

“Gege can turn this San Lang down of course,” Hua Cheng said slowly, and Xie Lian furrowed his brows, but waited. “He is under no obligation to abide by any of San Lang’s requests, ever, but…” Hua Cheng reached up and caressed a lock of hair behind Xie Lian’s ear, smiling. “Would Gege consider moving here?”

“To Paradise Manor?” Xie Lian asked, blinking in surprise. His heart started beating a little faster in his chest. 

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed. “We could live at the shop too, this San Lang don’t mind.”

“The shop is far too small, San Lang,” Xie Lian argued. “I couldn't possibly ask you to exchange such a place as Paradise Manor for a closet with a single bed like I have.”

“If Gege wishes it, this alpha would be happy to share a cardboard box under an open sky,” Hua Cheng said, a soft smile on his face. “However, Paradise Manor would be safer. It’s been built to make sure that no intruders can come close… but whatever Dianxia wants. We can have guards at the shop too. I can build a moat too.”

“San Lang!” Xie Lian exclaimed, but then he was laughing. Incredible. He was so funny, his alpha. “You truly are one of a kind, my San Lang,” he managed once he had stopped giggling, meeting Hua Cheng’s gleaming gaze. 

“It is a gift to feel your happiness,” he said, and Xie Lian’s breath stuttered. He swallowed, throat thick with feeling. 

“Will you tell me why Paradise Manor makes you feel safer to live at?” Xie Lian asked softly. “Is it the general threat of your position? I do want to stay here, to live here with you, in our nest but…” he let out a sigh, fingers dancing along Hua Cheng’s jaw.  “Will you tell me what’s going on?”

Hua Cheng nodded, tilting his head to the side to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s palm. “Let’s get up, Gege, and we can have breakfast in my office,” Hua Cheng suggested, and Xie Lian hummed.

“Mn,” he agreed. “Shower first.”

“Alright,” Hua Cheng said, and then he pushed off the bed in a rush. Xie Lian didn’t even get a chance to protest before he was being lifted off the bed, and carried towards the bathroom.

“San Lang!” he exclaimed, but Hua Cheng only held him tighter to his chest, laughter bouncing between the walls. Apparently Xie Lian wasn’t allowed to walk anywhere anymore.

 

__________________________________

 

“Gegeeee,” Hua Cheng whined, pulling Xie Lian to his side as he tried to move towards one of the arm chairs. “Where are you going?” Xie Lian meant to settle on the chair on the opposite side of Hua Cheng’s desk, like he had the last time he was in his office.

“Uhm, the chair?” Xie Lian said, and then Hua Cheng impossibly pouted even more. 

“But Gege that’s so far away,” he said, and Xie Lian couldn’t help but let out a startled laugh, letting himself be tugged into Hua Cheng’s lap instead. This was terribly shameless. Xie Lian’s cheeks flushed deep red. If someone came in and saw them. No, Xie Lian couldn’t think about it. Hopefully no one would come in. Yin Yu had thankfully been gone when they stepped out, so they had been able to move to Hua Cheng’s office without meeting anyone. Xie Lian had put on his own pants, but Hua Cheng had offered one of his own shirts and well… how was Xie Lian supposed to say no to that?

On the desk there was a stack of papers with neat handwriting. Next to it stood a plate filled with food, as well as two steaming cups of tea. Xie Lian peered curiously at the papers, but Hua Cheng reached over to the plate first, handing a bun over to Xie Lian. He smiled gratefully and took it, biting into the steamed dough. 

“Mmh,” Xie Lian sighed, settling back against Hua Cheng’s chest. “San Lang there’s always such good food here.”

“I’m glad Gege likes it,” he said, pressing a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek. He reached out for one as well, and took a large bite, as he brought the papers forward. Xie Lian nibbled on his own, glancing between Hua Cheng and the paper. He felt nerves swell in the pit of his stomach, and swallowed down the last of the bun. 

“San Lang, will you tell me what’s going on?” he asked, and Hua Cheng’s brows furrowed. Xie Lian could feel the uneasiness through the bond. “You don’t have to-”

“No,” Hua Cheng said, and then let out a deep sigh. “I want to. Gege should know.”

“Okay,” Xie Lian agreed, retching for a cup and wrapping his hands around it. “The shop Yin Yu mentioned, was it mine?”

“Mn,” Hua Cheng agreed, hsi gaze softening. “Gege is always so perceptive.” 

“Well, since you wanted me to stay here, and with how Yin Yu acted yesterday…” Xie Lian trailed off, and Hua Cheng nodded. Xie Lian took a deep breath. “Am I being targeted, or are you?”

“I don’t think it’s because Gege has been spending more time with me,” Hua Cheng said, his brows still furrowed. “It’s- It’s Gege they’ve been looking for.”

“Alright,” Xie Lian said, feeling his heart clench. “I can really only think of one person who would be looking for me,” he admitted, and Hua Cheng’s gaze was so pained. Xie Lian hated it. “Jun Wu?” he asked, even though he knew.

“Yes,” Hua Cheng confirmed. “It seems he didn’t know that you were still alive. At least this San Lang’s intel had perceived it as such. He had thought you died in the fire, in the fall of Xianle. I fuled those rumors, to keep him from looking. The news said there was only one survivor from the fire.”

“Yes I remember,” Xie Lian agreed, taking a sip of his tea. “I assumed it was me.”

“And I let the criminal world assume it was me,” Hua Cheng admitted. “I knew Gege wasn’t gone because of the bond, and while I was looking for you I didn’t want anyone else to. So… I made it known that I had made it out, and the criminal world accepted it. It made sense, since Jun Wu had wanted to…” he trailed off, and a familiar ache in Xie Lian’s chest made itself known. Xie Lian felt Hua Cheng’s worry through the bond, and smiled, leaning down to press a kiss to Hua Cheng’s temple. 

“But now he found me?” Xie Lian asked quietly, and Hua Cheng nodded. Xie Lian placed his cup back on the desk. “And he visited the shop?”

“Jun Wu hasn’t come himself,” Hua Cheng said. “His filth has been sent to do the dirty work. My source in the Heavenly Realm says that Jun Wu received information from a source which was close to you that you were alive, and gave the capital as the location.” 

“Do you know who it was?” Xie Lian asked. 

“I’m not sure,” Hua Cheng said, even if his gaze said something else. “My source couldn’t confirm but… my best guess would be Qi Rong.”

“Of course,” Xie Lian said with a sigh. Qi Rong had always been good at playing into the cards of the person he would assume would work best in his own favour. He had clearly shown that he had no regard for Xie Lian’s life anyway. Hua Cheng had shot him too, and then put a target on his back. Perhaps he had gone to Jun Wu for protection.

“I’ll strangle that fucking rat the next time I smell him,” Hua Cheng growled, and Xie Lian hummed. “I should have done so long ago.”

“We can do it together,” Xie Lian offered, and Hua Cheng blinked, and then his lips spread into a wide grin.

“Gege is so sexy when he speaks so violently,” he said, his arms wrapped around Xie Lian’s waist. He pressed a kiss to Xie Lian’s jaw, and Xie Lian’ shuddered. He was too much. His scent made Xie Lian all dizzy. 

“San Lang is sexy all the time, so it’s a good trade,” he pointed out, and Hua Cheng’s nose flushed pink. Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat up, and he groaned, hiding his face in his hands. 

“Gegeee is so flirty, this San Lang will perish,” Hua Cheng laughed, and Xie Lian swatted at him with one had, shaking his head. 

“San Lang stop making me so embarrassed,” Xie Lian said, trying to be stern but failing miserably. He swallowed, and with cheeks still burning let his hands fall from his face. “Why does San Lang have informants in the Heavenly Realm?” Xie Lian changed the subject. Hua Cheng reached out and took another bun, handing it over to Xie Lian. 

“I’ve been looking into the organisation for a while, slowly turning the members of it,” he admitted. “I want to break it to pieces, to bring Jun Wu to his knees, crawling. I want to break the stupid grin on his face, and then crush his skull..maybe put a bullet through it.” He looked up at Xie Lian, who’s heart was pounding in his chest. “I want him to bleed for what he did to you, suffer for what he thought he had the right to take from you.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathed, and then wrapped one hand around his neck, leaning down to press a hot kiss to his lips. Hua Cheng’s hands wrapped around his hips, holding on tight. Hua Cheng moaned against his mouth, and Xie Lian tightened his grip, just for a moment before he pulled back. 

Hua Cheng looked dazed as he met Xie Lian’s gaze, and Xie Lian’s heart fluttered helplessly in his chest. This alpha, who had already done so much for him, had spent so much time working to avenge him too. “Dianxia,” Hua Cheng whispered, and Xie Lian hummed. 

“Let me help?” he asked, and Hua Cheng’s brows rose. “I want to help San Lang.”

“Of course,” Hua Cheng agreed, a wide smile curling on his face. “Anything my mate wants.”

Chapter Text

Hua Cheng explained about what he’s been doing for the last seven years to get an understanding of how Jun Wu’s organisation worked, how he had spent years building Ghost City, while making sure to have informants in all the places which mattered. He Xuan had spent a long time as the informant in The Heavenly Realm, under a different name, but had been ‘killed’ in an altercation between the Heavenly Realm and another much smaller criminal group. Suspicion had been growing, and it had been easiest to pull him out before it was too late. Now, another member of Ghost City, Yushi Huang, held the position of infiltrator. She had been doing alright so far, and had yet been pushed in a direction which meant she needed to be pulled back.

“She’s a lot more subtle than He Xuan will ever learn to be,” Hua Cheng had explained with a snort. “She’s keeping on the outside of things, in Jun Wu’s peripheral, but gathering strength around her. It’s good. They trust her.”

Xie Lian listened, in awe over the work Hua Cheng had been doing. He knew who was closest to Jun Wu, and Xie Lian didn’t know if he should laugh or cry when he learned it was the man who had once been one of his fathers closest allies, Mei Nianqing, one of the first who had betrayed Xie Lian’s family. Xie Lian knew of course, even then he had known. It still hurt to think about, how someone who had helped raise him had turned with the snap of a finger and helped kill everyone Mei Nianqing had previously worked to protect. 

“There was history there,” Hua Cheng explained, Xie Lian’s chest aching. “He knew Jun Wu’s father, and Mei Nianqing helped raise him too.” Xie Lian nodded, wishing it would make the betrayal hurt less. It didn’t. 

“Jun Wu really thought I was dead all this time?” Xie Lian asked to change the subject, and Hua Cheng nodded, arm wrapped around Xie Lian’s waist. It felt comfortable, safe, even with his heart feeling like it was beating out of pace. Even after all this time, the thought of Jun Wu still terrified him.

“Mn, he really did,” Hua Cheng said, pressing closer. Xie Lian let out a sigh. “I made sure he did. Everyone did. It was for the best, so no one other than me and my most trusted were searching for Dianxia.”

“You and Yin Yu, then?” Xie Lian asked, teasing. Hua Cheng looked at him, a smirk on his lips. 

“Gege is so perceptive,” he said, pressing a kiss to the corner of Xie Lian’s mouth. “Yin Yu and He Xuan, since I wanted him to make sure Jun Wu wasn’t searching.”

Morning spilled into noon, and a servant came with more food for them as they continued to speak. Hua Cheng answered all Xie Lian’s questions, and talked about the infiltration he had in the police force, in the lower levels all the way to the organised crime unit. Tian Sheng seemed to be the one most undercover, working directly for Hua Cheng while in the police force. Others were simply informants who enjoyed being able to come to Ghost City to do what the current law didn’t allow - such as gambling, eating illegal food, enjoy druguse, buy banned video games, books and movies, or watch erotic dancing.

It was darkening outside, when Hua Cheng’s phone lit up. He frowned down at it, and then let out a sigh. Xie Lian’s pulse quickened, and Hua Cheng instantly looked up.

“Gege?” he asked, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat, embarrassed. 

“Oh, don’t worry about me San Lang I- has something happened?” he asked, nodding towards Hua Cheng’s phone. Hua Cheng’s brows drew together, and then sighed.

“Nothing surrounding Jun Wu, though his subordinates seem to still be in the capital. There’s business to deal with at the Gamblers Den.” He looked up, and then smirked, leaning on closer.  “Let's go out for a bit, Gege, stretch our legs.” There was something possessive curling in Xie Lian chest, not his own. 

His cheeks flushed, and his gaze darted to Hua Cheng’s bondmark, the fresh one. He wasn’t wearing a high collar today, which was a first because before there had always been something covering the mark. Was he planning on covering it up if they went out, or was he meaning to show it. 

Xie Lian wanted him too.

“Alright,” Xie Lian agreed, a little breathless. He looked up from Hua Cheng’s neck and looked into his eyes, and was met with a mischievous expression. “I might have to change though.” He was in Hua Cheng’s sweater, which was very comfortable but also big on him, as well as Hua Cheng’s pants, which were even bigger. “I think my clothes should be back in your bedroom-”

“Our bedroom,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian felt his chest swell, a sappy smile curling on his lips.

“Our bedroom,” he echoed, leaning forward to press a kiss to Hua Cheng’s mouth. He could feel the alpha smiling against his lips, his scent filled with joy. “I think my clothes that I brought are woven into the nest.” 

“Don’t worry Gege,” Hua Cheng said, looking even more mischievous than before. “I have something for him to wear.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, chiding even before he knew what the outfit was. Hua Cheng was grinning, his arm hooked with Xie Lian as he led them out of the office. 

“Don’t worry Gege,” he assured, and Xie Lian tired too, even if he were still slightly nervous.

 


 

The outfit was not so bad, even if it reminded him a little more of the clothes he used to wear as the heir to Xianle than he did now. It made sense however. He was now the mate of Lord Chengzhu, of course he should look nice. Hua Cheng always looked impeccable, as did he now, dressed in a set of traditional red robes, his neck exposed to show off both bond marks. It made something possessive and embarrassed curl at the pit of Xie Lian’s stomach all at once.

Xie Lian were in traditional robes too, one layer of lace and two of fine silk, embroidered with silver butterflies. Xie Lian had worn white for most of his life, and did so still even if it were inconvenient. Hua Cheng had presented a set of white robes to him as well, along with the current set Xie Lian was wearing.

Maple red. 

Xie Lian had felt something hot in the pit of his stomach as he saw the robes, the color now associated with Hua Cheng, with Paradise Manor and Ghost City. Xie Lian had found he wanted to wear it. Wanted to be dressed in Hua Cheng’s colors as he greeted Hua Cheng’s people. As they stood side by side.

Hua Cheng did not cover his scent glands, and neither did Xie Lian. Yin Yu appeared with the car as they stepped out of Paradise Manor, and then they drove down, fingers laced together during the short drive. Hua Cheng kept looking at him. Xie Lian could feel his eyes leaving heavy trails down it body, and it made him flush and ache all at once.

“Gege looks so beautiful,” Hua Cheng whispered, just as they pulled to a stop outside of the Gamblers’ Den. Xie Lian looked over, lashes lowered. It was hard to look at Hua Cheng fully when he said such shameless things.

“Ah, San Lang is the handsome one,” he said, pulling his lower lip in between his teeth. He could feel Hua Cheng’s adoration rush through the bond, lacing insistently with need. “Come, let's get inside so San Lang can have his business done.”

“Oh, does Gege want to have me all to himself already?” Hua Cheng asked, a smirk on his face as he leaned closer. “Even after having almost a full day? This San Lang was sure Gege would tire of him by now.”
“Never,” Xie Lian said, leaning in too. He pressed a kiss to the corner of Hua Cheng’s mouth, feeling his heart hammed in his chest. “I wish to spend all my days by San Lang’s side.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng breathed, and then he pressed forward in a rush, his hand coming to curl around Xie Lian’s neck. Their lips crashed together, and Xie Lian let out a gasp, the rush of breath an invitation to deepen the kiss. Hua Cheng did, and Xie Lian melted into him, heart pounding and hands grabbing into Hua Cheng’s robes. Hua Cheng’s breath trembed, and Xie Lian pulled back just so he could look at him, take in his flushed nose and the darkening of his eyes. 

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng sighed, leaning forward to press a kiss to the still tender bond mark. Xie Lian let out a soft whimper, his grip tightening.

“Should we go back?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian sighed, so tempted. 

“No, let's just- I can wait,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng growled.

“Maybe I can’t,” he said, and Xie Lian was melting, want spreading through his body rapidly. “This San Lang has waited so long, Dianxia,” he said, and it made Xie Lian ache and need all at once. “I want you so fucking much.”

“Mmh,” Xie Lian breathed, head tipped back fully. Hua Cheng lapped at the scent gland, and Xie Lian gave out a small mew. “Ah.”

Hua Cheng pulled back from his skin, but just enough to speak. “Drive us back, Yin Yu,” he said, voice firm. “Tell them I’ll deal with it tomorrow.”

“Yes Lord Chengzhu,” Yin Yu agreed, and turned the car back towards Paradise Manor.  Xie Lian felt his cheeks burn hot with embarrassment, but as Hua Cheng kissed him again Xie Lian forgot about his shame from the heat surging in his body. The car moved quickly back to Paradise Manor, as they kissed deeply. As soon as the car stopped Hua Cheng pulled back from his mouth. He opened the car door and hurried inside, holding onto Xie Lian’s hand. 

The front door had just fallen closed behind them when Hua Cheng pressed Xie Lian up against it, and Xie Lian let out a deep whine, urgency rushing in his veins. Hua Cheng groaned against his lips, and Xie Lian pressed himself closer, hooking one leg around Hua Cheng’s hip. His robe slipped up, and Hua Cheng reached out to grab his thigh. Another moan fell from his lips as his finger sunk into Xie Lian’s skin, pushing his groin into Xie Lian’s more instantly.

“Gege,” he moaned, and Xie Lian trembled, fingers tangled into Hua Cheng’s hair. “Gege, you're not even wearing pants. Fuck.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian whined, feeling himself grow wet. “San Lang, San Lang please.”

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng moaned, his hand moving even further up Xie Lian’s thigh. Xie Lian rutted helplessly against him, his cock so hard. Hua Cheng pressed his lips to his neck, sucking marks there. His other hand started parting Xie Lian’s robes, belt quickly untied. “I want Dianxia so much, I’m going crazy.”

“Have me,” Xie Lian panted, head tipped back for Hua Cheng to mark him even more. “San Lang please.”

Hua Cheng growled, his teeth nipping at Xie Lian’s skin. His other hand moved into the robes, caressing over Xie Lian’s heated skin. Xie Lian’s hands grabbed for Hua Cheng’s robes too, hands trembling as he untied the sash. Hua Cheng’s hand found his nipple, and Xie Lian moaned again, hips rutting helplessly to gain some friction. The bond was filled with need, and so were their scents, filling the air around them.

“San Lang aaah,” Xie Lian moaned, and then even louder, as Hua Cheng started pushing his underwear to the side. “Please, please.”

“Gege is so wet for me,” Hua Cheng breathed, wonder in his voice. One of Hua Cheng’s fingers sunk into him, and Xie Lian rutted against it, pulling Hua Cheng’s face back up to his own and licking into his mouth. Hua Cheng stretched him, one finger becoming two, and then three. Xie Lian pushed Hua Cheng’s pants down, and then Hua Cheng’s fingers slipped from him, before he lifted Xie Lian off the floor, pressing him against the door.

“This San Lang going to fuck his mate now,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian’s cheeks were so red, his heart hammering hard.

“San Lang aaaah,” Xie Lian moaned, because Hua Cheng was pushing into him, and Xie Lian was stretched even further, to the point of feeling breathless. Hua Cheng filled him so well, and the bond sang with how perfect it was to be connected like this. 

“Gege feels so good, so wet and so tight aaah,” Hua Cheng moaned, sharp thrusts into Xie Lian’s body. Xie Lian scrambled, nails digging into Hua Cheng’s shoulders where the robes had slipped off his shoulders. He was holding Xie Lian up, pinning him to the door.

“Ha, ha,” Xie Lian moaned, Hua Cheng’s cock hitting just right with each roll of his hips. Xie Lian wrapped his thighs tightly around him. Hua Cheng was gripping him hard, fingers sinking into his things. Xie Lian was sure there would be marks in the morning. “San Lang.”

“Dianxia is so good to this lowly servant, so good,” Hua Cheng moaned, his lips finding Xie Lian’s once more.

“Mmh,” Xie Lian moaned, and lost himself in the pleasure of their bodies. 

“Touch yourself Gege,” Hua Cheng urged, and Xie Lian reached down, wrapping his hand around himself as the other tangled in Hua Cheng’s hair. He could feel Hua Cheng’s knot swelling at the base, and he was sure he was close. “Yes, yes like that.”

“San Lang aaah,” Xie Lian moaned, and Hua Cheng fucked him even faster, knot pressing against his rim. Xie Lian moaned, pleasure increasing and increasing, and then he fell over the edge, spurting come between them. Hua Cheng groaned, and then he was coming too, his come filling Xie Lian. It made warmth swirl in Xie Lian’s stomach, but he soon realised that Hua Cheng hadn’t knotted him. He frowned as he pulled back, meeting Hua Cheng’s gaze.

“No knot?” Xie Lian asked in what was almost a whine, and Hua Cheng chuckled.

“Don’t look so offended Gege,” he said, pressing a kiss to Xie Lian’s cheek. “It was just so I can carry you to bed, and knot you there.”

“Oh,” Xie Lian said, and felt arousal spike again. His cheeks flushed with embarrassment, and Hua Cheng laughed, pulling Xie Lian away from the door to fulfill his promise.

 


 

The next day Xie Lian and Hua Cheng were seated in yet another room of Paradise Manor which Xie Lian hadn’t seen before. There seemed to be an endless supply of them. He should really ask how many rooms there were. This one looked like a conference room, with a large table, surrounded by chairs. Hua Cheng was seated at the head, as was customary, but Xie Lian was sitting right beside him, looking out over the group before them. It reminded Xie Lian of his life before his presentation, when his father expected him to sit in on the meetings and learn, so he’d know how to handle everything when Xie Lian took over. 

The faces around the table now were growing familiar. They had become more and more known to him, since he had started coming to Ghost City, even if he had most seen Yin Yu and Pei Su when doing so. 

The morning had been spent with Hua Cheng showing Xie Lian around Paradise Manor and asking if he wanted to change anything about it. He was too sweet. Xie Lian’s heart swelled more and more as the bond settled and he grew more in tune with the nuances of Hua Cheng’s feelings. How fondness blossomed every time he looked at Xie Lian, the anger rising whenever news came of Jun Wu, annoyance when any work disturbed them.

Paradise Manor still felt as empty as it had when Xie Lian had first set foot there, but more and more people were making themselves known. Hua Cheng only let his most trusted members into the manor, which actually expanded beyond just Yin Yu. The ones currently sitting before them. 

Yin Yu, Banyue, Pei Su, Shi QIngxuan and He Xuan, who Xie Lian had met before, but also Yushi Huang, who he met for the first time today. Xie Lian didn’t know much about her except that she was the current infiltrator in the Heavenly Realm. The mere thought of it made Xie Lian’s stomach swirl with nerves.

“I’ve had confirmed that he’s going to send the group which were snooping around Xie Lian’s shop to Nacheok, and that Jun Wu means go there as well,” Yushi Huang explained. “The official intel in the Heavenly Realm is that he’s looking for Lord Chengzhu to strike a deal about territories.” 

They were discussing strategy in taking Jun Wu’s and the Heavenly Realm down, something which Xie Lian had understood to be an ongoing discussion with the members of the table. He wasn’t sure, but he got the feeling that since he and Hua Cheng had mated, the alpha had become more adamant to make sure it was done soon. Perhaps the fact that he had come close enough to find Xie Lian’s shop played a role as well. Xie Lian hadn’t been back yet, but he hoped to be able to soon.

“What did they do when they were here?” Hua Cheng asked, looking incredibly bored. Xie Lian squeezed his hand under the table.

“They asked around here when they visited the capital, and the fact that Dianxia was missing for a week a couple of months ago seems to have thrown them off a bit,” Yushi Hunag explained. “There has been an informater, but I don’t know who. Perhaps Qi Rong went to Jun Wu and mentioned Dianxia, and that he gave him to Lord Chengzhu before being shot?” She looked over at Xie Lian with a soft smile, and Xie Lian nodded. It was possible. 

“We don’t think he did right away?” he asked, and some nodded, while He Xuan shook his head.

“I think he’d try not to, simply to avoid getting on Lord Chengzhu’s bad side even more,” he said, leaning back in his chest. “If he didn’t know Hua Cheng was important for this, he might have tried to hide that he gave you to Lord Chengzhu, since Jun Wu would not like that.”

“That’s true,” Xie Lian agreed. He could feel Hua Cheng’s unsettled feeling through the bond, and tightened his grip on his hand. He wanted him to know that Xie Lian was there. That he was fine.
“We’ve continued to push out information about you going to the residence in Nacheok,” Banyue said. “So hopefully they think you left and took Dianxia there.” 

“We might have suggested you took the harem in our rumors,” Shi Qingxuan said, winking towards them. Beside her, He Xuan rolled his eyes. “Just to make sure.”

“The harem,” Xie Lian echoed, feeling his cheeks flush. He turned back to his mate, who was looking slightly annoyed. “Is that me, San Lang? Am I the harem?”

“No,” Hua Cheng said with finality. He turned away from the table, leaning into Xie Lian’s space. “You’re my soul, my light, the only reason to keep breathing.” His eyes were gleaming, the back and red so intense. Xie Lian’s breath stuttered.

“San Lang,” he whispered, trying to steady his racing heart. Hua Cheng was just too much. He was so handsome, and he had such a way with words. It left Xie Lian’s mind spinning.

“Aaaw,” Shi Qingxuan cooed, snapping Xie Lian out of his daze. His cheeks flushed bright red. “They’re so cute He-xiong.”

“Disgusting,” He Xuan mumbled, and Xie Lian felt Hua Cheng’s attention leave him, his mood souring. 

“Every time you say anything remotely rude, I’ll add to your debt,” he said sharply, and Xie Lian glanced up to see He Xuan let out a deep sigh, before he looked over at Shi Qingxuan.

“So cute, A-Xuan,” he agreed flatly, and Xie Lian had to cover his mouth with his free hand to hide his giggle. Shi Qingxuan didn’t seem like he was prepared for the nickname, and his cheeks flushed red too. 

“Anyway,” Yin Yu said, clearing his throat. “We might do best to go to Nacheok, and see if we can handle him there. He’ll have less power, since it will be out of his jurisdiction.”

“It’s out of our major territory too, even if it is ours,” Hua Cheng said slowly, and the members around the table hummed. “Gege, what do you think?”

“About what?” Xie Lian asked. “Going to Nacheok and facing off with Jun Wu there? Would he go there if he thought there might be a risk? I don’t think he could.”

“He probably thinks Hua Cheng has you in his harem, or that Lord Chengzhu sold you,” Pei Su said, and a shiver raced down Xie Lian’s spine. Hua Cheng’s grip on his hand tightened. “So chances are he plans to bargain with Lord Chengzhu for you.”

“I agree,” Yushi Huang said. “From my sources, Jun Wu doesn’t seem to have noticed that we’ve been hollowing out the Heavenly Realm little by little. His focus seems to be fully on making this deal with Lord Chengzhu currently. His focus has been much more single minded than before.”

“So, we go to Nacheok?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng glanced over with a look that made him pause. “No?”

“Either they go,” Hua Cheng said, motioning to the table. Xie Lian’s gaze swept over them, and then back to Hua Cheng. “Or I go with them, and leave some for Gege’s protection. Gege can come of course but…”

“If Jun Wu’s there, it’s a security risk,” Xie Lian said, and Hua Cheng hummed as he nodded. Xie Lian frowned. He fully understood this. He really didn’t want to part from Hua Cheng, and he didn’t want to send all of those who were so loyal towards his mate into bloody battle, but what could he do? Hua Cheng was right. Keeping Xie Lian away from Jun Wu would ensure there would be no risk of him managing to take Xie Lian. Still Xie Lian didn’t like the idea of sacrificing others for himself. So many had already died trying to keep him away from Jun Wu. Xie Lian didn’t want there to be any more. He looked over at Hua Cheng and his heart ached. He knew that Hua Cheng would risk it all to retrieve him if he were taken.

It was as frightening as it was wonderful. 

“What does San Lang want to do?” Xie Lian asked, turning fully towards him. Hua Cheng did the same, and soon the rest of the world seemed to melt away. 

“I want to be the one to put a fucking bullet through his head,” Hua Cheng said, a low growl in his voice. “I want to make sure he knows he should have never fucked with me, or thought he could be good enough for someone as gracious, as beautiful as Dianxia. I want to keep Dianxia safe. I don’t want to go.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said with a sigh, and leaned forward to kiss him. How could he not, when he said such beautiful things? Hua Cheng kissed him back, the growl still vibrating through his chest. Xie Lian placed a hand over it, just to feel it too.

A cough interrupted them, and Xie Lian pulled back with a gasp, eyes wide as he looked sheepishly back over at the table quickly, before staring down at his lap. “Sorry,” he said, unable to hold back the smile curling on his face. Hopefully no one saw.

“A group of us could go,” Yin Yu suggested. “You’ve just- just bonded and well it makes sense that you don’t want to be apart. Me, Banyue and He Xuan can take a group.”

An echo of agreements came from around the table, and Xie Lian looked back at Hua Cheng to see what he decided. “What does Dianxia want?” Hua Cheng asked again, and Xie Lian leaned forward to caress a piece of hair behind his ear. “Does he want to put a bullet in Jun Wu’s throat? I’d happily watch.”

“I want to make him pay too,” Xie Lian admitted. He had known this to be true for a long while. “I want to hurt him, because of how he hurt you.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, looking like he was going to kiss him again, and maybe order everyone out of the room so he could have Xie Lian on the table. They were useless in each other's presence. If they went to Nacheok and continued like this, they would surely get killed. Xie Lian wasn’t sure if they would be of much use separated either.

“Perhaps they should go,” Xie Lian suggested, because he realised that they were getting nowhere like this. “And if need be, we’ll go too?”

Hua Cheng gave one nod, and then turned back to the table to give the order. 

 


 

“What the fuck is that?”

Feng Xin sounded slightly faint, but his usual brand of anger was shining through as well. His scent was confused, and slightly embarrassed, maybe? Xie Lian wasn’t sure. He was on the other side of the register after all, and Hua Cheng was standing much closer, his scent, their scent , filling Xie Lian’s nose. Hua Cheng smelled very smug. Xie Lian resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the blatant possessive behaviour. He was pretty sure Hua Cheng was exposing his neck, where the new bondmark was still healing. Since they bonded Hua Cheng had worn the two marks proudly, open for anyone to see. It made sweet possessiveness curl in Xie Lian’s chest. It did so now too. 

Feng Xin’s jaws were clenched, and his gaze flickered between the two of them, as if hoping that if he looked long enough, something before him would change. Xie Lian was in one of Hua Cheng’s turtlenecks, and he pulled it down to show the mark. Feng Xin’s eyes widened, his face turning more and more flushed too. He wasn’t shouting, so Xie Lian wasn’t too worried. It was worse with Mu Qing, who looked about as pale as a ghost. His eyes were locked to Xie Lian’s neck. Xie Lian buried his face into the turtleneck. It just smelled so comforting, having Hua Cheng’s scent on him this way too.

“Have the idiots never seen a bond mark before?” Hua Cheng asked, slinging his arm over Xie Lian’s shoulder, pulling him back against his chest. Xie Lian felt his heart start to beat faster. This was the first day back at the shop since they bonded. The group from Ghost City had left for Nacheok the night before, and Xie Lian had felt anxious all night. Hua Cheng had suggested going to the shop to keep busy, and Xie Lian had happily agreed.

“Of course we fucking have!” Feng Xin shouted, and from the corner of his eye Xie Lian saw another customer startle, and then hurry out the door. Xie Lian’s business really wasn’t benefited by having angry police officers in his shop this often. 

“Didn’t we say you should stay away from him?” Mu Qing said, and he sounded just as angry as Feng Xin, even if he wasn’t screaming. He seemed to have composed himself enough for now, even if he kept his arms crossed, his expression sour. 

“Ah, guys,” Xie Lian said, raising his hands in a placating movement. “It’s fine. San Lang is the sweetest. I couldn’t be safer.” It was true too. He was probably much safer now than he had been before meeting Hua Cheng again, with how Jun Wu was still out there searching for him. He wasn’t going to tell his cop friends about his mate’s criminal organisation however, or the freaky stalker which had been obsessed with him for almost a decade. 

“I still don’t trust him,” Mu Qing said, and Xie Lian nodded in understanding.

“I don’t trust you either,” Hua Cheng said with a shrug, and Xie Lian could hear the smugness in his voice.

“Like I care?!” Mu Qing sputtered, heat rising in his face too. Feng Xin was gritting his teeth loudly, and soon the entire shop was going to smell like angry alpha. Xie Lian really needed to stock up on scent neutralizer if this was going to continue. 

“Like I care if you trust me or not,” Hua Cheng said, sounding nonchalant. “The only opinion that matters is Gege’s.” He held Xie Lian tighter at that, and Xie Lian rested back fully against him. It was nice. He was so warm, and solid behind him. 

“Clearly he has terrible judgment,” Mu Qing mumbled, and Xie Lian let out a deep sigh. Feng Xin nodded in agreement. Well, Xie Lian did not like that at all. 

“I don’t,” he said. The words weren’t sharp, but they were said with determination. “It’s alright if you don’t like San Lang, but don’t say that it was bad judgment on my part to become his mate. He’s a wonderful alpha, and I’m very lucky to be his.”
“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng breathed, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush bright red, turning to look at him.

“Ah, was that embarrassing? I’m so sorry San Lang, I spoke too much.” Xie Lian always did this, letting his mouth run away from him and then he just kept blabbering and saying such shameless embarrassing things. Terrible. 

“No, Gege is so cute, so sweet to this San Lang,” Hua Cheng said, and then pressed a kiss to the bridge of Xie Lian’s nose. Xie Lian relaxed a little, smiling up at him.

“Oh, god,” Mu Qing groaned, followed by gagging noises. Xie Lian was pretty sure he was rolling his eyes too. “Why are you calling him Dianxia?”

“Because he’s royalty,” Hua Cheng said easily, as if that was a real answer to anything.

“No he isn’t?!” Feng Xin said, but Hua Cheng wasn’t even looking at them. He was looking at Xie Lian with a tender gaze on his face. 

“Hm,” he said, as if considering. “Uneducated idiots.”

“Excuse me?!” Mu Qing gasped, clearly offended. Xie Lian let out a sigh, and then turned back to them.

“Alright,” he said, clapping his hand to get everyones’ attention back to him. Hua Cheng was as relaxed behind him, but Mu Qing and Feng Xin looked as tense as ever. “Mu Qing, Feng Xin. San Lang is my mate, and I would appreciate it if you were kind to him. He makes me very happy.”

For a moment no one said anything. Mu Qing glared, and Feng Xin scowled, but Xie Lian kept their gaze, waiting. After a moment, they both faltered. 

“Fine,” Feng Xin said with a grumble.

“Fine,” Mu Qing echoed with another roll of his eyes.

Well. That was probably as good as it was going to get, Xie Lian assumed. 

“Good,” he said with a smile, seeming to have thawed the frosty mood slightly. “Now, how have you guys been? Any interesting work?”

Just then, Hua Cheng’s phone got a notification. Xie Lian felt him tense, and glanced over at his mate, as Hua Cheng pulled his phone out of his pocket. Feng Xin was speaking about what they had been working on, but Xie Lian was only half paying attention, even if his gaze turned back to the alphas before him. Hua Cheng seemed to be reading something, scrolling quickly. 

“Fuck.”

“San Lang?” Xie Lian asked, turning from Feng Xin and Mu Qing, who were now bickering as usual. Hua Cheng’s gaze was dark, his jaw clenched.

“I have to go,” he said, looking back up into Xie Lian’s eyes. Xie Lian nodded slowly. He suddenly wished that there weren't two police officers sitting right beside them, so they could talk more freely. 

“What’s-” he started, but didn’t know how to continue without exposing them. He licked his lips, shuffling on his feet. “San Lang,”

“He’s at Ghost City,” he said, pressing a kiss to Xie Lian’s brow. Xie Lian’s hands came up to curl around his hips instinctively, as if he could keep him there. “It will be alright, beloved. This San Lang is strong.”

“Mn,” Xie Lian agreed. He knew he was. It didn’t mean he wouldn’t worry.  “You want me to come?” Hua Cheng paused, and looked like it was physically painful for him to say what he was thinking. Xie Lian felt it too, the ache and the disappointment. He wasn’t sure what was worse.

“I think it’s safer here,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian swallowed.

“San Lang,” he said, even though he wanted to say that he felt safest with Hua Cheng, no matter where they were. 

“You’re my everything,” Hua Cheng said in answer, and Xie Lian adored him so much he barely knew what to do with himself.  

“You’re my everything too,” Xie Lian said, looking at him pointedly. “Please remember that.”

“Yes,” Hua Cheng said with a nod, and then pressed a kiss to Xie Lian’s lips. “Of course, Dianxia.” He slipped from Xie Lian’s arms then, and hurried out the door.

“What was that about?” Feng Xin asked, and Xie Lian startled, letting out an embarrassed little laugh.

“Ah, just a family emergency, nothing to worry about,” Xie Lian assured, fighting the impulse to turn and look after Hua Cheng again. Through the bond he could feel the stress and anger rising in Hua Cheng, and he wished he could be beside him. 

“You guys are too much,” Mu Qing said with a pointed glare. “It’s not like he’s going off to war or something.” Xie Lian laughed at that again, trying to come off as aloof as his heart clenched violently in his chest with worry. 

Feng Xin and Mu Qing stayed for a while to chat, but after just a few minutes they got a call on the radio about a disturbance and had to leave. Xie Lian waved them off, and then felt incredibly restless. Pei Su came soon after Mu Qing and Feng Xin left, but he had no answers for Xie Lian, seemingly as anxious as he was. They paced around the shop together, pausing to speak a little before both of them seemed to get lost in thought. 

Pei Su stepped down stairs to use the bathroom, and Xie Lian walked to his phone behind the register, just to see if Hua Cheng had sent him anything. The bell over the door chimed, and Xie Lian looked up, his nose filling with the scent of an alpha. He was wide shouldered, moving gracefully. A charming smile curled on his lips, and Xie Lian straightened.

“Hi can I-”

“Well, I can see what the fuss is all about,” he said, coming to a stop before the desk. Xie Lian blinked, a frown forming on his face. “You’re gorgeous.” 

“Fuss?” Xie Lian asked, and the man continued to grin. He looked over Xie Lian approvingly, and Xie Lian took half a step back. He was feeling uncomfortable, his senses on edge.

“See, I need you to come with me,” the alpha said, resting his elbows on the counter, eyes fixated on Xie Lian. “I wasn’t expecting for you to truly be here, so I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.”

“I’m sorry?” Xie Lian asked, still very perplexed. Was this some type of flirting technique? It wasn’t very good if it was. “Are you here to look at something at the shop, otherwise I would have to ask you to leave.”

“Sweetheart, don’t be so cold,” the alpha said, grinning as he straightened. “We can do this the easy way or-”

The sound of the safety of a gun clicking cut the alpha off, and Xie Lian snapped his head towards the sound, seeing Pei Su standing there with his gun raised. The alpha straightened, the grin falling off his face. Xie Lian’s heart was hammering, the discomfort in his chest having turned to fear now. Pei Su must know the alpha, or he wouldn’t have pulled his gun out so carelessly. It was the middle of the day. Anyone could walk in.

“I think we prefer the hard way,” Pei Su said coldly, his expression more serious than Xie Lian had ever seen it before. It only made the fear worse. Xie Lian swallowed, looking between the two slowly. 

Think, think of something. 

“Cousin,” the alpha said, and Pei Su’s expression tightened even more. Okay, so they knew each other personally. Was this a personal grudge then? “So he had not been left unguarded then.”

“It was a diversion? At Ghost City?” Pei Su asked, gun still raised. Xie Lian looked over the alpha, who was still standing very relaxed before him. He was turned towards Pei Su instead of the counter, but he hadn’t stepped away from it. If he were in organised crime too, surely he was armed as well.

“I wouldn’t say so,” the alpha said, waving his hand dismissively. “More like, we really thought that Dianxia would be at Ghost City, but we wanted to cover all our bases and low and behold, here he is all alone…” the alpha looked over to Xie Lian and grinned again.  “Or almost anyway.”

“Pei Su,” Xie Lian said, still looking at the alpha before him. He wanted answers. He needed them to be able to think, to try to plan for what to do next.

“My Lord this is Pei Ming, he works for Jun Wu, he’s my cousin,” Pei Su explained.

“My Lord?” Pei Ming echoed, looking between Pei Su and Xie Lian. “What a formal way to address a concubine.” 

“Pei Ming,” Pei Su all but growled, and Xie Lian let out a slow breath. So the attack which Hua Cheng had left to face had been real. His mate was truly in danger, with surely more of Jun Wu’s people than Xie Lian were currently facing. Had Nacheok only been a diversion? Was Jun Wu sending no one there?

“You know, Jun Wu sent Ken Mo to Nacheok, because he heard that Banyue went with the group there,” Pei Ming said to Pei Su, as if answering Xie Lian’s internal questions. So there were attacks on three fronts then. Jun Wu really wanted to find him, it seemed. “I’m sure they’ll be happy to reconnect.”

“Fuck off,” Pei Su snapped, and Pei Ming let out a sigh. Xie Lian took a step closer to the counter. If Pei Ming noticed, he showed no signs of it.

“Let’s just,” Pei Ming said, his voice suddenly much softer. Xie Lian reached below the desk, grabbing his phone and keeping it and his hands out of sight. “Pei Su just come back to the Heavenly Realm. Let her go and come back. She’s just one omega.”

“No,” Pei Su said immediately, as Xie Lian unlocked his phone and opened Hua Cheng’s contact, starting to type out a message. His eyes darted up from his phone every now and then, watching them. Pei Su tilted his head to the side, showing off a fully healed bondmark. Pei Ming sighed.

“So you really did it,” he said, shaking his head. Xie Lian glanced down to his phone again, fingers moving quickly over the screen. He wasn’t sure if Hua Cheng would have time to look at his phone, but he had to do something. 

“I’m not like you,” Pei Su snapped. “I love her. I can’t- I know you wanted something else for me but…”

“I can see it’s a lost cause,” Pei Ming sighed, and Xie Lian glanced down at his phone at the messages sent, trying to figure out what to do next. 

 

Me

Alpha at the shop

Works for JW

Pei Ming

You okay?

 

San Lang

Fuck

I’m on my way

Gege please stay safe

I’ll be there as soon as I can okay

 

“Nothing more to be done then I guess,” Pei Ming said with another sigh, and then he pulled out a gun, seemingly tucked into his pants behind his jacket. The movements were quick and smooth, and Xie Lian felt fear rush up into his throat. He couldn’t let Pei Su be injured because of him. He couldn’t. Xie Lian acted on instinct, his old training as well as the training with Hua Cheng had clearly strengthened his reflexes. A hiss left his lips before he had time to think, his hand on the counter as he pushed himself over. Both alphas froze, and Xie Lian had just enough time to push a knee into Pei Ming’s gut, catching him as the air rushed out of his lungs. Xie Lian kicked his legs out from under him, threw the gun away, and gripped Pei Ming’s hands behind his back, knee pressed between his shoulder blades.

“Fucking shit!” Pei Ming cursed, voice muffled against the carpet. Xie Lian didn’t dare look up, his full focus turned down.

“Pei Su are you okay?” he asked, his muscles straining from how he was trying to keep Pei Ming down. Pei Su was by his side a second later, grabbing a hold of Pei Ming’s hands to help Xie Lian keep him down. 

“Good work,” Pei Su said, and Xie Lian hummed, feeling himself relax slightly now that they were both holding onto Pei Ming. He still kept seated on him, he didn’t want to risk anything.

“What do we do now?” Xie Lian asked, adrenaline rushing in his veins. “I have- I have rope somewhere but one of us has to let him go to grab it.” 

“You go,” Pei Su urged. “I keep keep him down like this for a moment and you know where the rope-”

The bell over the door chimed, quick steps rushing into the shop. Xie Lian didn’t even have time to look up before a shot rang through the air. Xie Lian looked up to see Pei Su’s eyes widen, before he slumped to the side with a groan. Xie Lian snapped his gaze from him to the door, and felt his heart pound up into his throat.

The sight of him was familiar, as if he hadn’t aged at all in the past seven years. Xie Lian felt anger, and fear and so tired all at once. 

“Dianxia,” Mei Nianqing greeted. Suddenly the world was turning, Pei Ming pushing Xie Lian to the side. In an instant Xie Lian was on his back, his hands grabbed and a hand over his mouth. All the fight returned to him as his back hit the floor, but it was too late, Pei Ming’s grip vice like. Xie Lian bit down on his hand, and Pei Ming clenched his jaw, but didn’t let go.

“A lot of fight in this one,” Pei Ming grunted between clenched teeth, and Xie Lian could hear Mei Nianqing stepping closer. He tried to turn to look at him, or to Pei Su to the side, but Pei Ming held him still. Xie Lian wanted to know how Pei Su was doing, wanted to see if he was still alive. He had to be. Xie Lian couldn’t bear it if he wasn’t. 

“I told you,” Mei Nianqing said, and then he appeared above Pei Ming, peering down at Xie Lian. “Dianxia was always incredibly resourceful and strong.” 

Xie Lian glared at him, trashing under Pei Ming’s

“I can tell,” Pei Ming said, looking down at Xie Lian. He could feel Hua Cheng’s anger through the bond, a rage he had never experienced before himself. There was fear there too, and Xie Lian didn’t know what to do. He wanted to soothe him, but he didn’t want him to think everything was resolved. “He’s very beautiful. I just didn’t think a fighter was the Emperor's type.”

“We should not discuss such things,” Mei Nianqing said, looking at Xie Lian for a moment longer before looking away. “Get him off the floor and let us go to the car.” 

Pei Ming nodded, and then glanced to the side. Xie Lian’s heart ached. He hadn’t heard Pei Su make a sound since he fell over, and that was in no way a good sign. 

“What about…” Pei Ming trailed off. A pause followed, and Xie Lian thrashed in the grip again. Pei Ming cursed, grip tightening.

“Leave him,” Mei Nianqing said finally. Xie Lian wanted to cry. Pei Ming only sighed and stood, his grip on Xie Lian’s wrist tight as he pulled him up. His hand were around Xie Lian’s mouth as he was pulled out of the shop, and pushed into a sleek white car. 

Chapter Text

They placed Xie Lian in the backseat of the large car, hands tied behind his back and a piece of tape over his mouth. Mei Nianqing and Pei Ming both sat in the front, exchanging quiet conversation between them. Xie Lian couldn’t hear much, but Mei Nianqing made a phone call to inform Jun Wu about having retrieved him. Mei Nianqing then told Pei Ming that Jun Wu had pulled back his people from Ghost City because of it. Xie Lian was relieved by it, even if he couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Jun Wu had made it out alive. Had Jun Wu been at Ghost City at all?

Xie Lian at least knew that Hua Cheng was alive and safe. The bond was like an open line of feelings, large and intense to the point of feeling overwhelming. Hua Cheng’s rage kept clawing at Xie Lian’s chest, vicious like a predator startled. There was guilt too, and immense fear. It was too much. Tears sprung to Xie Lian’s eyes under the intensity of it, flowing down his cheeks as he simply sat there and felt all Hua Cheng was feeling. Xie Lian was useless like this, could do nothing to soothe his mate, his love, as he raged. Xie Lian wanted to be by his side. He wished to be there, with Hua Cheng’s hand in his own, Hua Cheng’s scent surrounding him. Xie Lian buried his nose into the collar of the turtleneck and breathed in the scent of Hua Cheng as he wept, and wept, the feelings in his chest only growing.

He had put Hua Cheng through so much. He had waited for Xie Lian for so long, and they had only had a few days to truly be together before Xie Lian ended up captured and taken away, one of Hua Cheng’s closest severely injured or possibly killed. Hua Cheng, who had been his mate for so long, who must have felt Xie Lian go through all the fear and pain and sorrow after the fall of Xianle through the bond, unable to do anything about it. A sob pushed itself up his throat, and the conversation in the front seat quieted. 

Fuck.

“Dianxia,” Mei Nianqing called, turning back to look at him. Xie Lian closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. He needed to get it together. He needed to focus. “Are you hurt?”

Xie Lian looked promptly away, tears streaming down his face as he tried to swallow them down. He couldn’t speak regardless, but he had no intention to tell them anything, especially to this traitor. 

“Should we stop?” Pei Ming asked, his tone worried. “Perhaps there’s something with the restraints?” 

“I don’t know if we should,” Mei Nianqing said slowly. From the corner of his eye, Xie Lian could see that he was still looking back at Xie Lian. “Dianxia is very clever. He could try to get free.”

“I don’t think Jun Wu will be very happy if he finds out he was hurt,” Pei Ming pointed out, and Xie Lian wanted to snort a laugh. If Jun Wu didn’t want Xie Lian to be hurt, he could try leaving Xie Lian alone. 

“Dianxia,” Mei Nianqing called again, and Xie Lian looked over and glared. The tears had stopped streaming down his cheeks, but they were still wet, his eyes burning. Mei Nianqing held his gaze for a moment, and then shook his head. “Stubborn still, aren’t you?”

Xie Lian didn’t respond, merely looked at him. In his chest, Hua Cheng’s anger swelled again, almost choking him.

“Are you injured? In pain?” Pei Ming asked, shuffling in his seat. Mei Nianqing kept looking at him, but Xie Lian looked away again, deciding there was nothing he could do. He could pretend to be injured, but if he managed to get loose, where would he go? They were in the middle of a large road, with an open landscape around them. If he ran, would they simply shoot him? Probably. He needed to think of something else.

The drive took ages, and Xie Lian’s body was sore and aching by the time they drove up to a large white stone mansion, gold pillars and window frames decorating it. It reminded Xie Lian of Xianle’s headquarters, before it fell, even if this was more gaudy. It made him miss Paradise Manor terribly. 

The car stopped before the large double doors, which opened for them. Pei Ming and Mei Nianqing stepped out, and Pei Ming came around and opened his door, and Xie Lian glared at him, which only caused the alpha to smirk.

“Behave,” he said in a teasing tone, and Xie Lian made sure to step hard on his foot as he was pulled out to the car, stumbling a little on the gravel. 

The manor was cold, their steps echoing against the stone floors. There were many people moving around in there, the lower floor seemingly an open space. There was a small stage in the back, with a throne, and Xie Lian wanted to throw up from how ridiculous it looked. A couple of people nodded in greeting to Pei Ming and Mei Nianqing as they passed, looking curiously at Xie Lian before they continued. None tried to help, which wasn’t surprising.

“What’s up cousin!” a familiar voice called, and Xie Lian wondered if this day could get any worse. Qi Rong came strutting over, and Xie Lian felt Pei Ming let out a deep sigh. “Had I known Jun Wu wanted you so badly I would have taken you straight here! No use in giving you to that fucker Hua Cheng, only earned me a gunshot wound.” Qi Rong proclaimed loudly, his voice bouncing off the walls. 

“I am terribly sorry about this welcoming committee, Dianxia, it’s not very welcoming,” Pei Ming said, and Xie Lian hummed in agreement behind the tape. Qi Rong scowled at Pei Ming, and Pei Ming looked down in disgust. Well, perhaps he had some taste then.

“You look like a gagged dog,” Qi Rong snarled as he looked back at Xie Lian, and Xie Lian simply looked at him, holding back the urge to vomit. “Serves you right. You can’t hiss at people and punch them in the face tied up like this.”

“Qi Rong,” Mei Nianqing said calmly, and Qi Rong looked away from Xie Lian to him instead. Xie Lian wondered for a moment how far he’d get if he tried to barrel out the door. “Has the Emperor returned?” 

Xie Lian felt a shiver race down his spine. As uncomfortable as it had been to meet Mei Nianqing, seeing Jun Wu would be much worse. Xie Lian didn’t want to do it. He wanted to go home.

“Huh?” Qi Rong asked, blinking for a moment before shaking his head. “Nah, not yet.”

Mei Nianqing hummed, and then turned to Pei Ming, his eyes glancing over Xie Lian for a second before his gaze met the alpha’s. “Take Dianxia up to the chambers prepared for him, please Pei Ming,” he said, and Pei Ming nodded, his grip on Xie Lian’s arm tightening just a little as they started stepping forward. 

Pei Ming led him through the large open space, to a staircase to the side in the back. Xie Lian walked in front of him, Pei Ming’s hand on the binds around his arms. The decoration of the manor stayed white and gold, most of it in stone or metal. It felt cold, hollow. They reached the second floor, but Pei Ming urged him up a second flight of stairs, and then another, until they reached the fourth floor. There Xie Lian was guided to the side, through a corridor and into a room. 

It was a bedroom, with a large nesting bed, stacks of nesting material on top of it. There was a sitting bench below a window, which Xie Lian quickly judged to be unopenable. Outside, the sun was almost completely set. A small sitting group stood on the opposite side of the bed, but otherwise the room was bare. 

“Home sweet home,” Pei Ming said, and Xie Lian looked over to him, and glared. Pei Ming sighed, and then stepped forward to start untying the binds from his arms. When Xie Lian was free he shook his hands and arms, trying to get rid of the aching feeling in them. He turned, and saw that Pei Ming had taken a step back. “I’ll leave you now, Dianxia. I’m sure the Emperor will come visit as soon as he arrives.”

Xie Lian reached up and pulled the tape from his face, licking his lips instinctively. “I’m going to guess that the door will be locked?”

“For tonight, but not in the morning,” Pei Ming said, and Xie Lian’s brows rose. “The Emperor has asked for Dianxia to have a guard as he moves around the Heavenly Realms headquarters.”

“A guard?” Xie Lian asked, blinking in surprise. This was unexpected. A guard was more easily swayed than a locked door and an openable window on the fourth floor. “Who might that be?”

“I guess you’ll have to learn to like me, Dianxia,” Pei Ming said, and Xie Lian narrowed his eyes. “We’ll be spending some time together.”

“Do you enjoy keeping people against their will for the sake of an obsessive alpha?” Xie Lian asked, and Pei Ming frowned.

“The Emperor is clever and resourceful,” Pei Ming said, and Xie Lian raised his eyebrows. “He will take care of you.”

“I do not want to be taken care of by him. I want-” Xie Lian paused, swallowing down his words. It seemed they had yet to notice Xie Lian was mated, or at least they hadn’t pointed it out. He let out a sigh instead, turning to walk deeper into the room. It was quiet for a moment, and then Pei Ming let out a deep sigh.

“Please make yourself comfortable,” Pei Ming said, and Xie Lian turned as he sat down on the bench under the window. “I am sure the Emperor would be very glad to see you resting in a nest.”

“He can dream the fuck on,” Xie Lian said, curling up on the bench and fixating his gaze out the window. Hua Cheng’s rage was still clawing inside his chest, and Xie Lian placed a hand over it, wishing to soothe him. Pei Ming sighed, and then left, the door clicking as it locked. Xie Lian looked around. The room was so bare, save for the large nest bed. There was nothing on the white walls, no curtains, no rugs, just stone and emptiness. Xie Lian was exhausted, and keyed up, and he had no idea how he was going to get out of his. 

 


 

Xie Lian startled awake, still sitting on the bench under the window, but slumped now. He blinked to orient himself, and then felt his body tense with fear from the sight before him. 

“Hello, Dianxia,” Jun Wu said calmly, seemingly having just stepped into the room. He looked almost the same as he had seven years ago, his long dark hair let out, his white and gold suit impeccable. A smile curled on his lips, dangerous and sharp. His gaze was cold, even as his smile warmed. Xie Lian despised him. 

“Jun Wu,” Xie Lian acknowledged, straightening his back, chin pointed down. He had no plans on submitting, or showing any kind of respect or weakness. Jun Wu’s smug expression slipped, and he clenched his jaw, his eyes still piercing. “God, still as insufferably stubborn.” Jun Wu took a step closer, and Xie Lian pushed himself back against the window, feeling the cold of it seep into his back. “Why can’t you just submit?” he said, as if Xie Lian owed him that, as if it was something Jun Wu expected of him.
“Never,” Xie Lian said calmly, even as his heart was racing. The rage in his chest had calmed and was now enhanced by fear. Surely Hua Cheng must have noticed Xie Lian’s own fear from seeing Jun Wu. Xie Lian wondered what he was doing, hoping everyone was okay. Hoping Pei Su was okay. 

“One would think that living out in the cold world, instead of the pampered spoiled life your parents had made for you, would have ridded you of such tiresome behaviour.” Jun Wu’s tone was flat, unimpressed. Xie Lian swallowed, memories of his parents flashing before his eyes. Parents who had died, because this alpha had set their home on fire, just because Xie Lian said no . Xie Lian glared, which prompted Jun Wu to sigh, as if he was dealing with an unruly child. “Aren’t you tired of continuously fighting, Xie Lian?” he asked, his voice sweet and soft as honey. He was almost fully by the bench now. “Why won’t you just…. submit .” The last word was laced with an alpha command. Xie Lian felt it slamming into his body, trying to make him follow the order. Jun Wu was a strong alpha, and had Xie Lian not been mated, he had been chanceless to disobey. Xie Lian felt how it didn’t take, as if gazing at his dynamic instinct, and just missing. 

“Ah,” Xie Lian said, holding back a gasp. “I won’t.”

Jun Wu’s eyes narrowed, his brows furrowing in frustration. His scent flaried with anger, and it stung in Xie Lian’s nose. Jun Wu had probably never had an alpha command miss before. “How can you resist the command?” he asked, his eyes sharp, and Xie Lian shook his head.
“Leave me alone you pathetic old fart,” Xie Lian snapped, and Jun Wu growled. 

Be quiet ,” he said, and that too was laced with a command. Xie Lian swallowed around it. This was more powerful, and Xie Lian had to really fight it not to let it take root. “Why can’t you just behave, hm? Even now you’re struggling against the command so much it’s almost like…” Jun Wu’s gaze narrowed, and Xie Lian felt his heart start to beat faster. Jun Wu’s gaze slipped to Xie Lian’s still covered neck. Jun Wu reached out, and hooked a finger into the turtle neck, pushing it down. “No,” Jun Wu breathed, his eyes widening as he stared at the barely healed mark. Xie Lian’s heart raced. “Who?” Jun Wu demanded, his scent overpowering with anger. 

“Fuck off,” Xie Lian answered, clenching his teeth against the naucia rising in his throat from Jun Wu’s scent and pheromones. 

“Xie Lian,” he said, slowly and full of rage. “ Who?!

That command took, and Xie Lian was helpless to speak, even as he tried not to.

“Hua Cheng.”

For a moment Jun Wu said nothing, and then he let go of the turtleneck collar, taking a step back. “Fucking rascall, always in my way.” Jun Wu was growling, his scent filled with anger. “I’ve never even met him and he’s always causing trouble.” Xie Lian’s brows raised. Oh, had they never met? Didn’t Jun Wu know Hua Cheng was Wu Ming? Perhaps he had never paid Wu Ming any mind in the first place. “I never thought he would, even after Qi Rong had so carelessly given you to him. I thought…” Jun Wu stopped, taking a deep calming breath as he looked over to Xie Lian, something like hope gleaming in his eyes. Xie Lian didn’t like it. “Did he force you? I can help you, my Dianxia, get you free.”

“Leave me the fuck alone,” Xie Lian spat. The thought of Jun Wu thinking he could be some sort of savior made Xie Lian want to vomit more than Qi Rong did. “You can’t have me now.”

“Oh I can’t?” Jun Wu said, his smile sharp. Xie Lian despised it. He even liked it better when Jun Wu was angry. “Dianxia. Of course I can. I can have everything I want.” He turned, pacing a few steps back before turning to look at Xie Lian again. He looked manic, still smiling. “I’ll just have to kill him.”

Xie Lian’s stomach dropped in fear.

“No!”

“Yes,” Jun Wu said easily, shrugging his shoulders. “It’s a bit of a nuisance, but not too bad. I thought I had lost you forever, that you had died, and now you’ve come back to me.” He looked at Xie Lian, and his eyes gleamed. “I can wait a little longer to sink my teeth into you.”

“Fuck you,” Xie Lian snapped, his own rage clawing up his throat now. “Fuck you so much why won’t you just leave me the fuck alone?”

“Because I said so,” Jun Wu said calmly, and Xie Lian narrowed his eyes. “And I always get what I want, Dianxia.”

“I don’t want you,” Xie Lian said, just to be perfectly clear. “I never will, I never did.”
“You’ll learn,” Jun Wu said, his tone soft now. It was disgusting. “You’ll see.” He stepped closer again, and reached out for Xie Lian’s cheek. Xie Lian pushed himself as far back as he could, but Jun Wu’s fingers still grazed over his skin, cool to the touch. “You simply do not know what is best for you. I do.”

“Eat shit,” Xie Lian spat, and Jun Wu laughed, pulling his hand away.

“Such a dirty mouth,” he chided, and Xie Lian looked away. He didn’t want to see his stupid face anymore. “I will show you, Dianxia. You can go wherever you want, I won’t stop you.”

“I can leave?” Xie Lian asked, knowing it was too good to be true but still needing to push anyway.

“Well no, we can’t have that,” Jun Wu tutted, and Xie Lian looked promptly out the window. “I just found you.” He sounded triumphant, and Xie Lian considered how far he would get if he simply beat Jun Wu to the ground and made a run for it. “You can go wherever you want with me, or when I’m not available, Pei Ming.” 

“And how far can I go?” Xie Lian asked, still not looking at him. He didn’t want to. He didn’t want to see his stupid face ever again.

“Anywhere inside the house,” Jun Wu said, sounding cheerily, as if he were giving Xie Lian a gift.

“Sounds like a prison to me,” Xie Lian said, glancing over. “Why not simply keep me in this room?”

“I want you to be happy,” Jun Wu said, and Xie Lian snorted. “You’ll see, when you get to know the organisation. This was where you belonged in the first place.”

“Eat shit,” Xie Lian said again, and Jun Wu sighed, shaking his head. 

“So juvenile,” Jun Wu chided, and Xie Lian hoped he was really getting on Jun Wu’s nerves. “Have a good night Dianxia. I look forward to seeing you in the morning.”

Xie Lian watched as he left, the door once again locking. He sighed, sliding down to lay on the window bench. He stayed there, staring up at the ceiling as Hua Cheng’s worry swirled in his chest. Xie Lian closed his eyes, and he thought of Hua Cheng’s warm hands, of his smirk, of his voice. He had hoped that it would soothe him, so that Hua Cheng didn’t have to feel Xie Lian’s hurt. Instead it only made things worse, and soon tears were springing to Xie Lian’s eyes again, rushing down the sides of his face. 

Xie Lian placed his hands over his eyes and breathed, trying to quell the sadness, the guilt, the helplessness. He cried harder, and harder, his sobs echoing against the cold hard walls. 

 


 

The next morning Pei Ming came and woke him up. He had a new set of clothes with him, white and gold, which Xie Lian promptly refused to put on. Instead he buried his nose into the collar of the red turtleneck, breathing in the lingering scent of Hua Cheng. It would be gone soon, he assumed, and he wanted to savor it as long as he could. 

“Alright, I can’t force you,” Pei Ming sighed, placing the clothes on the table by the sitting group, looking over to the still unmade nest bed, and then back at Xie Lian. Apparently, Xie Lian’s expression made him pause. “What?”

“Can’t force me?” Xie Lian asked, brow raised. “Is that not what this whole situation is about?”

Pei Ming looked a little taken aback by the question, but quickly straightened, a charming smile on his face. “The Emperor has requested Dianxia’s presence at breakfast,” he said, holding the door open. Xie Lian didn’t want to eat with Jun Wu, but he figured he’d be better off complying. 

Pei Ming guided Xie Lian down the hallways and into a large dining room, where Jun Wu was already seated. He stood as they entered, his smile slipping as his gaze moved over Xie Lian’s clothes.

“In yesterday's clothes still?” Jun Wu asked, gaze moving from Xie Lian to Pei Ming and back.

“They are my mates, they give me comfort,” Xie Lian said, and saw Pei Ming tense by his side. Jun Wu’s gaze darkened. 

“Dianxia will change after breakfast,” he said firmly, and Xie Lian wasn’t sure if it was said to him, or to Pei Ming. His gaze was sharp, but then softened as he gestured to the seat beside him. “For now, let us eat.”

Xie Lian sat, and Jun Wu dismissed Pei Ming, who looked thoughtful as he exited the room. Xie Lian ate in silence as Jun Wu spoke. He only quieted when he asked Xie Lian a question, and Xie Lian answered tentatively. He wanted to learn more about whatever plan Jun Wu had for killing Hua Cheng, but Jun Wu mentioned nothing about it. Hua Cheng’s feelings were more settled today, focused. Xie Lian hoped it was a good thing. 

After breakfast Jun Wu guided him to his room and promptly told him to change. Xie Lian didn’t want to, but he figured it would be better for him to be able to roam around than locked in his room, even if it meant having to hang out with Jun Wu. He stepped inside and regretfully stripped out of his clothes, folding them neatly and placing them on the bench below the window. He then put on the white shirt with gold embroidery and the white pants. It left him feeling cold, the cool temperature of the room seeping into his skin.

He stepped out, and Jun Wu looked so pleased, until his gaze landed on Xie Lian’s now bare neck, the mating bite clear on his throat. It was healing nicely, but still a little sore.

“We should get Dianxia a collar,” Jun Wu said, turning down the hall to start walking. That Xie Lian was to follow him was understood. He did, half a pace behind Jun Wu who walked them to the stairs.

“I do not see any use for it,” Xie Lian said calmly. “It’s unnecessary to protect my scent glands from an unwanted bite, because I’m already mated.” 

“Stubborn,” Jun Wu sighed, and shook his head.

“Out of the two of us, I am pretty sure that you are the stubborn one,” Xie Lian pointed out. 

The rest of the day Xie Lian spent by Jun Wu’s side as he went about his work. Xie Lian was surprised to see that Jun Wu seemingly didn’t try to hide anything from him, but let Xie Lian sit in on every meeting and stay for every interaction. Shipping routes, company deals, informants in the police, everyone were named before Xie Lian’s face, as if Xie Lian wasn’t the mate of a rivaling criminal organisation’s head. 

The members of the Heavenly Realm all seemed to know him, greeting him with a slight bow and a ‘Dianxia’. Everyone’s gaze lingered on the bondmark, but none said anything. Jun Wu clearly noticed, a spike of anger in his scent each time. Perhaps it was the reason why no one dared to mention it.

It was late in the afternoon, Jun Wu sitting on his throne and Xie Lian sitting on a chair beside him, when Mei Nianqing approached. He bowed to Jun Wu, and then to Xie Lian. The action brought back memories of before Xianle fell, and Xie Lian had to look away from how it made his stomach turn.

“Emperor,” Mei Nianqing said calmly, having turned back to Jun Wu. “We have an update on the current most pressing business.” 

“Good,” Jun Wu said, his voice chipper. “Call Pei Ming here to keep Dianxia company.”

“Of course,” Mei Nianqing said, bowing once more before he disappeared. Jun Wu ginned widely for a moment, and Xie Lian decided it was a look he didn’t enjoy at all.

“Will you be alright without me?” Jun Wu asked, and Xie Lian scoffed and looked away. “Don’t try any tricks on Pei Ming.”

Mei Nianqing and Pei Ming appeared soon after, and Jun Wu stood. Xie Lian did as well, and Jun Wu turned to him, giving him a soft smile. “Do not miss me too much,” he said, and Xie Lian simply looked away, his gaze landing on Pei Ming. The alpha were looking down at Xie Lian’s neck, to the bondmark. His brows were furrowed, jaws clenched for a moment, before he looked up to meet Xie Lian’s gaze, his expression breaking into a smile.

Jun Wu left with Mei Nianqing, and then Xie Lian and Pei Ming were left standing there in the middle of the open plan space. It was calmer now then it had been when Xie Lian arrived the day before, only a few people moving around between desks and tables.

“Good evening Dianxia,” Pei Ming greeted, and Xie Lian had to hold back a chuckle.

“Good evening,” he greeted back, and started walking. Pei Ming soon fell into step with him, as Xie Lian walked down the expanse of the room. He mostly did it to see if Pei Ming were going to stop him, but he didn’t. 

“Have you had a nice day?” Pei Ming asked, as they walked down one wall. Xie Lian turned to him and plastered a fake smile to his lips.

“The worst in a long time actually,” he answered, keeping Pei Ming’s gaze “Worse than when I was living on the street after Jun WU had burned down my home and killed my family.”

“Is that so,” Pei Ming said, his smile still charming, but his eyes seemed tense. Xie Lian hummed, turning to walk them down the next wall. “I’m sad to hear it.”

Xie Lian wasn’t sure if he believed him, but he found no use in arguing. “How has your day been?” he asked instead, pausing to look around, before he started walking towards what looked like a corridor in the back. 

“As usual,” Pei Ming answered, walking beside Xie Lian, seeming to let him wander wherever he wished. “There are many good people here, Dianxia, but many are terribly rude.” This was said with a laugh, and Xie Lian glanced over, his brows raising in surprise. They reached the corridor and walked down it, passing what seemed like private offices. 

“Is that so? Have you known them for long?” Xie Lian asked, glancing over. He was trying to gain some more information about Pei Ming, or the others who were close enough to Jun Wu so information about them might be useful against Jun Wu later.

“Yes I- Oh!” Pei Ming exclaimed, his cheeks coloring as he came to a stop. Xie Lian frowned, and then turned to look ahead. His heart paused, and then started racing in at an alarming pace. His mouth dried, and he hoped that his shock hadn’t seeped into his scent. “Good day, Rain master.” 

Before them stood Yushi Huang, a pleasant smile on her face. Xie Lian had all but forgotten about her being an infiltrator in the Heavenly Realm. Beside her stood a handsome man, scent masked, with short dark hair and two dark eyes. He looked impassive, eyes on Pei Ming. Xie Lian’s heart rushed in his chest, fingers tingling as he tried not to stare. “Good day, Pei Ming,” she said, bowing to the alpha beside Xie Lian, who was definitely flustered.

“And who is this? Not a boyfriend I hope?” Pei Ming said, gesturing to the man beside Yushi Huang, leaning forward a little. Yushi Huang’s smile widened, shaking her head. “I don’t need any competition.” 

“No, no,” she assured, gesturing to the man by her side. “Hua Xie is just starting out in the organisation. I’m showing him around.”

“Hey,” the man said, nodding in greeting. Xie Lian did his best not to stare at him. He focused on keeping his scent in control instead, deep breaths in through his nose and out.

“Nice to meet you,” Pei Ming said, but only spared him a glance, before turning back to Yushi Huang. Xie Lian wondered if he had completely forgotten Xie Lian was there. “So, how is the lovely Rain master today, coming here just to speak to me?”

“Actually, Shi Wudu was looking for you, he said it was urgent,” Yushi Huang said, a frown appearing between her brows, only for a moment. Pei Ming stiffened. 

Oh?

“Oh, I can’t go to him right now, I’m watching…. I’m keeping Dianxia company,” Pei Ming said, and oh so he did remember Xie Lian after all.

“He wanted you to come immediately,” Yushi Huang said clearly. “I can keep Dianxia company,” she said after a moment, turning to look at Xie Lian for just a moment, before looking back at Pei Ming.

“Really?” Pei Ming asked, brows raised, and then he frowned. “Have you been cleared?” he looked sceptical, and Yushi Huang frowned for a moment, the silence hanging between them.

“Of course,” she said after having stretched the silence out to the point where Pei Ming started to squirm. “I wouldn’t offer otherwise.”

“Of course!” Pei Ming hurried to say, looking even more flustered. “I will be right back,” he assured, looking back towards where they came from. “Dianxia, you are in very capable hands. Rain master is one of the good people I spoke about.”

“I look forward to seeing it for myself then,” Xie Lian said, his heart pounding, pounding. He bowed to Pei Ming. “I will see you later.”

“Rain master, simply show him around and be nice to him,” Pei Ming said, having turned back to Yushi Huang, smiling widely. 

“Of course, Pei Ming,” she agreed, and Pei Ming bowed to them all once again, before hurrying off. Xie Lian stared for a moment, before he looked back. Dark eyes met his, one familiar, one not. Xie Lian had to fight every impulse not to fling himself into those strong familiar arms. “Dianxia,” Yushi Huang said calmly, sounding just as she had when Pei Ming stood there. If anyone overheard them, they could never have expected them to know each other. “How could I assist you?”

“Is there perhaps some outdoor space we could go to?” Xie Lian suggested, trying to sound neutral as well. “I’m feeling very cramped.”

“Of course,” Yushi Huang said, gesturing further down the hall. “This way, Dianxia.”

They started walking, Yushi Huang a step ahead, Xie Lian and Hua Cheng falling into pace next to each other. Warm fingers brushed against his own, and Xie Lian felt his heart clench as he fought the impulse to reach out and lace their fingers together. In his chest, Hua Cheng’s feelings were a mess - happy, worried, on edge. Xie Lian’s were something similar.

“How is Dianxia today?” Hua Cheng asked, and Xie Lian kept his gaze forward, even though he wanted to look at him so badly. “Has he been treated well?”

“Like a caged bird,” Xie Lian answered, and felt a spike of anger flare through the bond. “I would be happy to spread my wings a little.”

“Birds should be allowed to fly free,” Hua Cheng said, his tone still as impressive as it had been before. They passed a small group as they excited the corridor, moving towards a back door. Yushi Huang nodded to them, and they nodded back. Xie Lian’s heart started beating faster. 

“I hope Hua Xie has had a pleasant day?” Xie Lian asked, and as they passed another group Yushi Huang nodded in greeting, not slowing her pace, but not increasing either. Xie Lian felt his palms tingle with nerves, trying not to tremble. Hua Cheng’s fingers brushed his own again. 

“It has improved since it started,” Hua Cheng answered. “I am hoping for more improvement soon as well.”

They came closer and closer to the back door, Yushi Huang leading the way. Xie Lian’s stomach were in knots, and he could hear the blood rushing in his ears. So close, so close. Yushi Hunga had just reached the back door, pushing it open to what looked like a large driveway filled with white cars, when someone called out behind them.

“Hua Cheng you fucker!” Qi Rong bellowed, and Xie Lian’s heart sankt to his feet. “What the fuck are you doing here?!”

Fuck.

“Run,” Hua Cheng urged, and Xie Lian’s feet moved on instinct. Yushi Huang pushed out forward in a rush, and Xie Lian and Hua Cheng followed, breaking into a sprint as soon as they were out. 

“Dianxia, if you please,” Yushi Huang said, pressing a gun into Xie Lian’s hand as they continued to run towards the cars. Yushi Huang dartedin  between them, criss crossing her way forward. 

“Fucking piece of shit,” Hua Cheng spat, eyes darting over his shoulder. Xie Lian followed Yushi Huang as he ran, putting his full trust in them knowing where they were going. The door behind them slammed open, and Xie Lian turned to see someone come rushing out after them, gun raised.

“San Lang,” he called out, pulling Hua Cheng down to crouch behind a car. The sound of a gun firing followed. Xie Lian squeezed his eyes shut, his hand clenching around Hua Cheng’s. Xie Lian was breathless, prying his eyes open as the gunfire continued. He looked into Hua Cheng’s eyes, searching his face.

“We have a car at the end of the driveway, we just have to get there,” Hua Cheng said in explanation, and Xie Lian nodded.

“Okay,” Xie Lian said, and then reached out to lace their fingers for a moment, squeezing tightly. It felt odd to see Hua Cheng like this, with short hair and with two dark eyes. He was so used to the red, or the eyepatch. Still, it was his Hua Cheng, his love, and he was so relieved to see him, to feel him in his hand. “I missed you.”
“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng breathed, squeezing his hand again. “Let’s get you home.”

“Home,” Xie Lian agreed, and thought of the large nestbed in their bedroom, of red walls and of Hua Cheng’s scent filling his nose with each breath. 

Xie Lian heard how more people spilled from the building, and they untangled their fingers to start making their way down the driveway behind the cars. Xie Lian heard them follow, running between the cars in search of them. Xie Lian and Hua Cheng picked up the pace, long since having lost track of Yushi Huang. Hua Cheng pointed Xie Lian towards where they were going, and they continued to move, Xie Lian being able to taste the adrenaline on his tongue.

“Dianxia!” 

Jun Wu’s voice bellowed over the driveway, and Xie Lian felt his heart pound even harder in his chest from fear. Rage spiked through the bond, and Xie Lian saw how Hua Cheng tensed. Something new rushed through the bond, dangerous and intense. Xie Lian turned, and saw Hua Cheng growl. 

Oh no.

Was he going feral?

“I’ll kill him,” Hua Cheng said, and then turned back towards where they had just escaped, before he stood with his gun raised. Xie Lian felt his stomach drop from fear.

“San Lang!” he called, drowned out by the sound of Hua Cheng shooting. Cries rang out from around them, and then there were more gunfire aimed towards them. Hua Cheng ducked down, but emerged soon again, shooting once more. Xie Lian’s heart was beating so fast. He was just a few paces away, still crouched down, staring at Hua Cheng in fear. 

“Hua Cheng you fucking undeserving toad,” Jun Wu spat, as more shots were fired. “How dare you taint what is mine? Do you have no shame?”

Xie Lian felt anger rise in his throat. How dared he say such a thing? Hua Cheng, who Xie Lian would give everything he had and more. Hua Cheng who treated Xie Lian with so much tenderness and respect. Hua Cheng who Xie Lian adored more than anything in this world. He couldn’t stand it. Xie Lian raced a few cars down the driveway, and then stood. He only had a moment to see Hua Cheng stand once again too, before he pushed himself up as well. Hua Cheng fired, and a couple of Heavenly Realm members dropped.

Jun Wu had his gun raised to Hua Cheng, and Xie Lian barely had time to think. He raised his arms on instinct, took aim, and then fired.

Pang, pang, pang.

Everything went quiet, as Jun Wu dropped to the ground.

Hua Cheng’s hand was in his a breath later, and then he was tugging Xie Lian along, both of them running upright down the driveway once again. There was a car at the end, one back door opened, already on. Hua Cheng pushed Xie Lian in first, and then climbed in himself. The door hadn’t even closed as they drove away in a rush. Xie Lian panted, glancing through the back window as they turned out on a large road, speeding. No one seemed to be following them.

“You good?” Yushi Huang asked, and Xie Lian looked to the front, seeing Quan Yizhen in the driver seat. “No injuries?”
“Gege shot him,” Hua Cheng answered, and Xie Lian looked at him, heart still racing manically. Hua Cheng reached up and pushed his hands through his own hair, the short haired wig coming loose, his long hair falling down his back. He threw it in the back, before he reached out to cup Xie Lian’s face.

“Who?” Yushi Huang asked, turning in her seat. Quan Yizhen guided them onto an even bigger road, pace increasing. Xie Lian glanced back, seeing that there were still no one following them.

“Jun Wu,” Hua Cheng answered, and when Xie Lian looked back he was grinning proudly. Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat, moving closer to press his face into the crook of Hua Cheng’s neck. Hua Cheng’s fingers found their way into his hair, and started carding through it carefully. Xie Lian could feel himself trembling, and he pressed closer, so happy to be back in Hua Cheng’s arms.

“You got him?” Quan Yizhen asked, and Xie Lian hummed, turning his head slightly. 

“It was a hit, yes,” he said. He wasn’t sure how many, but he was sure that at least one had taken to the chest. Perhaps even more. 

“Lethal,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian let out a sigh. “Gege,” Hua Cheng cooed softly, and Xie Lian pressed a kiss to his jaw, before straightening to look into Hua Cheng’s eyes. He really wanted him to take that contact lens out. 

“He was going to kill you,” Xie Lian said, feeling fear rise in his chest again. “I couldn’t even think. I just-” he said, and then swallowed. “San Lang.”
“I’m here,” Hua Cheng said, leaning forward to press a kiss to Xie Lian’s lips, sweet and lingering. Xie Lian clung to him, pressing closer. “Beloved,” he breathed, and Xie Lian gasped, pulling back. Hua Cheng met his gaze with a smirk, and Xie Lian felt relieved, and still filled with adrenaline, and so tired all at once.

“You really think he’s dead?” Xie Lian asked, and Hua Cheng hummed, caressing some hair from Xie Lian’s shoulder, fingers caressing over the bondmark.

“Gege was very sexy with a gun,” he said cheekily, and Xie Lian felt himself flush.

“Not in the car!” Yushi Huang warned, and Hua Cheng only grinned wider. He was Xie Lian’s everything. He had looked very sexy too, shooting down those who had come to separate them once again.

“I can’t believe you two simply walked in there and got me,” Xie Lian said, shaking his head in disbelief. What an insane plan. What an insane cocky plan. He couldn’t believe it had worked… almost flawlessly. Had Qi Rong not recognized Hua Cheng, they probably wouldn’t have been noticed at all, and had walked out without any fuss. The altercation would have happened at some point regardless, Xie Lian was sure. Jun Wu would have been furious. He had been. Xie Lian had seen it, as he fired his gun. 

“It was insane enough to work,” Yushi Huang admitted, as Hua Cheng started pressing kisses to Xie Lian’s neck. 

“It was nothing,” Hua Cheng breathed, and Xie Lian shivered. The heaviness over his heart had slowly started easing, and Xie Lian turned to press his nose to the crown of Hua Cheng’s hair. “Anything, for Dianxia.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian said, pressing a kiss to his hair. “Anything, for my beloved too.”

Chapter Text

“Xie Lian!” Feng Xin called as he and Mu Qing stepped into the shop, and Xie Lian smiled, looking up to see his two friends coming up to the counter. They were in their uniforms, looking as if the morning had been pleasant. There wasn’t even a scowl on Mu Qing’s face.

“Hi,” he said, his eyes darting down to the bags in their hands. “Lunch?”

“You forgot to have breakfast again?” Mu Qing asked, sitting down on his usual chair. He opened his bag as Feng Xin sat down as well, and Xie Lian danced over the clutter on the floor behind the desk, taking out his share for the food. 

“Nope, I had some with San Lang before coming here, but I didn’t bring lunch because I hoped you’d come in,” Xie Lian admitted, his smile widening as Feng Xin started opening his bag as well. Xie Lian handed Mu Qing the money, and peered down into the bags. It was dumplings today. Mu Qing reached in and started unpacking the boxes, and Feng Xin handed Xie Lian a pair of chopsticks. 

“No San Lang today?” Mu Qing asked, and Xie Lian hummed, opening his box to dig in.

“He was here this morning, but then he had some business,” Xie Lian answered, putting a dumpling into his mouth. He chewed, enjoying the salty and umami flavor. “Mmh!”

“We still don’t know what your San Lang works with,” Mu Qing pointed out, making sure to point at Xie Lian to accent his point. Xie Lian hummed, smiling pleasantly. He was well aware of this, and it was of course completely on purpose. This wasn’t the first time it had been brought up, but it was the first time Mu Qing had asked Xie Lian, and not Hua Cheng directly.

“It’s classified,” Xie Lian answered simply, looking up to smile at them. Mu Qing rolled his eyes as Feng Xin frowned.

“In what way?” Feng Xing asked, looking very skeptical. He still hadn’t opened his dumpling box.

“I couldn’t possibly say,” Xie Lian said with a shrug, picking up another dumpling. He could. Hua Cheng would never stop him, but Xie Lian didn’t want to, so he didn't. 

“Did he make you sign something or something?” Mu Qing asked, and Xie Lian laughed and shook his head. “Like a confidentiality agreement?”

“I couldn’t say that either,” Xie Lian teased, and Mu Qing rolled his eyes again, but started eating at least. Xie Lian figured it was best to change the subject. “How was your day so far?”

“It’s been alright,” Feng Xin said with a shrug, and Mu Qing hummed in agreement. “Things have been pretty calm lately.”

“Yeah,” Mu Qing agreed with a snort. “Let’s just be glad we don’t work at the police station in Wyong.” 

“Oh?” Xie Lian asked, feeling his heart rate pick up. He could guess what the reason for Mu Qing’s comment was, but he wasn’t supposed to know that. Wyong was the city the Heavenly Realm had it’s jurisdiction after all, and Xie Lian was a little more invested in that then he wanted his police officer friends to know. Still, it was good to see what the police knew, if they were willing to tell him. “How so?”

“There’s been, like, internal struggles in the organised crime there. There’s been a big organisation that’s been super hard to do anything about for over a decade,” Mu Qing answered, lookin around the shop. There was no one there, so he continued, leaning forward a little. “The leader was supposedly killed by a rivaling gang, and of course there was a rush to fight over who was going to become the new leader. It seems they all just decided to try to kill each other off.”

“Oh, that sounds very violent,” Xie Lian said with a hum and a frown. Hua Cheng had said something similar. They didn’t have anyone in the Heavenly Realm any more, but Pei Ming had said as much. 

After Jun Wu died, Qi Rong had tried to gain control over the Heavenly Realm, but had supposedly been chased away with his tail between his legs. Xie Lian didn’t think he had been killed, but it wasn’t really known. Mei Nianqing had gone missing after Jun Wu’s death, and no one had heard from him since, supposedly. Someone called Shi Wudu had tried to take over next, he was Shi Qingxuan’s brother apparently. Truly, the criminal world was too tangled up. From the information they got however, Shi Wudu was killed through internal battles… or perhaps He Xuan had. Hua Cheng joked about it fairly often recently, and Xie Lian were starting to wonder if perhaps it wasn’t a joke at all.

Xie Lian wasn’t sure if he wanted to know, honestly. Shi Qingxuan didn’t seem any less inclined to hang off He Xuan’s arm, but Xie Lian wasn’t sure if that proved anything. He had not asked.

Yushi Huang had gone back to Wyong to grab Pei Ming and had brought him to Ghost City. Hua Cheng had been tentative at first, not keen on letting someone who had been so close to Jun Wu into the Ghost City organisation. Xie Lian didn’t think it helped that Pei Ming had been the one to kidnap Xie Lian either. In the end, Hua Cheng and Yushi Huang had agreed that Pei Ming could join, but had to show his loyalty to earn trust.

They were still working on that.

“Yeah, at least Ghost City is stable,” Feng Xin said, and Xie Lian felt himself tense from the mention of his home. Neither of the alphas seemed to notice, however, focused on their food. “That Hua Cheng seems like he controls it with an iron fist, but there’s been no reports of internal battles or something.”

“Apparently he mated,” Mu Qing said with a shrug, taking another bite of his food. “Maybe that’s what's keeping him calm.”

Xie Lian felt his cheeks heat, and he had to reach into his box to grab another dumpling and stuff it into his own mouth so he wouldn’t touch his healed bond mark.
“Hey, I don’t like what he’s doing there, but if a mate keeps him calm I’m all for it,” Feng Xin said, and Xie Lian smiled to himself.

“Yeah whatever,” Mu Qing said, poking around at his food. He looked up, and met Xie Lian’s gaze. “Have you gotten any fun stuff handed in here? I need a gift for my mom.”

 


 

The warmth of the Gamblers Den seeped into Xie Lian’s skin as he stepped through the first room, his goal clear. The patrons paused as he passed, some bowing in greeting. Xie Lian answered them with a smile and a nod, but didn’t stop when they called out for him. He was not there to socialize, and as much as he didn’t want to be rude, he had a mission. He had missed his mate all day, ever since Hua Cheng had left the shop that morning, and Xie Lian needed to have him within his vision, his hands on his skin, his scent in his nose.

Xie Lian rounded the corner to approach the inner room of the Gamblers Dan. Someone was yelling in there, the voice loud and pitched. Ah, so that was what was keeping his mate. Xie Lian sighed. He had felt Hua Cheng’s growing annoyance through the bond for a while now, and now Xie Lian fully understood why. 

He stepped into the room, and finally saw the scene. There was as usual a large betting table in the middle of the room, with several people sitting there. A game seemed to have recently ended, and Xie Lian could only assume that the screaming man had lost. The beta wasn't screaming directly at Hua Cheng, sitting behind the sheer red curtain which he had been behind when Xie Lian had first been taken here by Qi Rong. No one would dare scream directly at Hua Cheng. Xie Lian was surprised that Hua Cheng was letting someone scream at even the staff this way. The courier looked very annoyed by the beta’s behaviour, but didn’t seem upset. Xie Lian breezed past them, taking the two steps up to the curtain and pushed it to the side so he could step inside. His mate came into full view, and Xie Lian felt relief filling his chest, his own as well as Hua Cheng’s, as they locked eyes.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng said, reaching out.

“Good evening San Lang,” Xie Lian said, and took a step closer, easily finding his way into Hua Cheng’s lap. He placed his arms around his torso, pressing his face into his neck. Hua Cheng let out a content sigh, as Xie Lian slung his feet over the armrest, sitting between Hua Cheng’s spread legs.

“This San Lang missed his Dianxia,” Hua Cheng whispered against Xie Lian’s hair, and Xie Lian sighed, his heart skipping a beat. 

“I missed my San Lang,” Xie Lian answered, tilting his head up to press a kiss to the underside of Hua Cheng’s jaw. Hua Cheng let out a breathy sigh, and it made heat stir in Xie Lian’s stomach. “Why didn’t you come home? Paradise Manor was all empty.”

“I didn’t expect Gege back yet,” Hua Cheng said, and Xie Lian hummed. He had closed a little early, because he missed Hua Cheng so much. “This game was interesting too, until this idiot started yelling.” 

“Why haven’t you stopped him?”Xie Lian asked, mostly out of curiosity. The beta was still fuming, sputtering about injustice. Hua Cheng’s hand moved up Xie Lian’s thigh, and Xie Lian sighed, pressing his face into Hua Cheng’s neck again to suck a bruise there. Hua Cheng let out a deep moan, and the room fell quiet on the other side of the curtain. Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush bright red, as the beta once again started to sputter.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian whispered, and Hua Cheng hummed, his hand moving further up Xie Lian’s thigh. It left a trail of heat through his body, and Xie Lian had to bite back a moan of his own. “Let’s go home.”

“Whatever Gege wishes,” Hua Cheng said, and then wrapped his arms around Xie Lian’s body, lifting him up as he stood. Xie Lian wrapped his arms around Hua Cheng’s shoulders tightly, a squeal pressing from his lips into Hua Cheng’s neck. This happened so often that Xie Lian wasn't surprised anymore, even if it still did make his stomach swoop.

Hua Cheng easily parted the sheer red fabric and stepped out, his strides long but unhurried as he carried Xie Lian down the stairs and towards the door.

“Hello?!” the aggravated beta called, sounding outraged. Hua Cheng paused, but didn’t turn back. “Did you not hear any of my complaints?! The game was clearly rigged! I demand-”

“Scram or I’ll give them permission to shoot you,” Hua Cheng cut him off, and then started walking once again, moving towards the door.

“What!?” the beta screamed, equal parts horrified and outraged.

“Thank you Lord Chengzhu,” the currier called after them, and Xie Lian giggled, pressing his face into Hua Cheng’s shoulder to hide. There was a jumble of people greeting them as Hua Cheng continued to carry Xie Lian out of the Gamblers Den, but Hua Cheng didn’t even look at them, his focus on the door. 

They stepped into the cold night air, and Xie Lian heard a car door open. He pried himself from Hua Cheng’s shoulder, only to see Pei Su give them a knowing smirk, holding open the door.

“You didn’t have to wait,” Xie Lian said, as Hua Cheng crouched down to put him into the car. Pei Su had been the one to pick him up from the shop, and then had taken him from Paradise Manor to the Gamblers Den. Xie Lian had assumed Pei Su had left when he went inside, but apparently not. 

“No worries, I guessed this might happen,” Pei Su said knowingly, and Xie Lian felt his cheeks flush red hot. Hua Cheng followed Xie Lian into the backseat, laughing, as Pei Su shut the door behind them.

“San Lang we’re so shameless,” Xie Lian whined, and Hua Cheng grinned, his hand cupping Xie Lian’s cheek to pull him into a kiss. Xie Lian let out an approving hum and melted into it, shuffling closer so he could kiss Hua Cheng properly as the car started moving. Hua Cheng was still smiling, but his mouth soon became soft and pliant under Xie Lian’s, opening up to deepen the kiss. 

Kissing Hua Cheng was one of Xie Lian’s favorite things. Never had he thought he would like kissing so much, but it was almost addictive. Xie Lian craved Hua Cheng’s lips on him when they were apart, never wanting to stop whenever they were together. It was good that Hua Cheng seemed to like kissing too, because he indulged Xie Lian every time. The kisses often lead to more, and on several occasions they had locked the shop and just fallen into each other behind the register or in Xie Lian’s old nest, hands hot and  actions rushed.

Xie Lian could feel Hua Cheng’s need rising, his hands gripping Xie Lian tightly. He let out a sigh, pulling himself even closer. The drive to Paradise Manor wasn’t long, but in times like this it felt like it took ages driving up from Ghost City. Next time Xie Lian should simply ask Hua Cheng to close the Gamblers Den and kick everyone out, so they could have each other on Hua Cheng’s throne.

The idea made more need race through Xie Lian’s body, and he pushed a breathy moan into the kiss, all but crawling into Hua Cheng’s lap. Hua Cheng’s hands found their way under Xie Lian’s shirt, and Xie Lian wanted it off. He wanted Hua Cheng to touch him everywhere, to bite and suck and-

The car came to a stop.

“My Lords, we’re here,” Pei Su said, sounding unbothered and a little amused, which Xie Lian found mortifying. Hua Cheng didn’t say anything, simply opening the car door and tugging Xie Lian out. They did make it into the bedroom this time, but their clothes didn't. They had been left in a trail from the front door to their bedroom, sweaters and shirts and pants thrown off on their way. Last was their underwear, discarded on the bedroom floor, before Xie Lian found his back against the mattress of the nest, Hua Cheng’s beautiful bare body above him.

“San Lang,” he breathed, neck bared and leg slung over Hua Cheng’s hip. Hua Cheng lowered himself down over Xie Lian, sucking and biting his way down his neck and over his collarbones. Xie Lian moaned loudly, hips rolling up so their erections brushed together. They both moaned at that, Hua Cheng’s pressed into Xie Lian’s skin. He moved his mouth further down, finding Xie Lian’s nipples with his tongue.

“Dianxia is so beautiful, so good for this San Lang,” Hua Cheng breathed, and then licked over Xie Lian’s nipple, tongue swirling about the bud. Xie Lian whined, his hands tangling into Hua Cheng’s hair to press him closer. Hua Cheng sucked, and Xie Lian arched, voice loud as he moaned.

“Ah, ah!” It was impossible to be quiet, to even try. Xie Lian always felt mortified afterwards, but in the moment every touch felt so good. It didn’t help how much Hua Cheng seemed to love his sounds too, doing everything he could to draw them out of him.

Hua Cheng moved over to the other nipple, as his hand caressed down Xie Lian’s side. His fingers teased the skin around Xie Lian’s erection as his mouth continued to teased his chest, before Hua Cheng wrapped his hand around the base of Xie Lian’s cock, and stroked up. “San Lang!” Xie Lian cried out, and Hua Cheng grinned against his chest, before he continued. 

His mouth left marks all over Xie Lian’s chest and sides, sucking dark bruises into his skin, biting down hard enough to mark but without breaking his skin. Hua Cheng’s hand continued to stroke him, firm sure movements. Xie Lian’s fingers tangled even further into his hair, and then Hua Cheng lowered himself far enough to wrap his lips around the head of Xie Lian’s cock and suck.

“Ha!” Xie Lian gasped, back arched and vision swimming. Hua Cheng hummed and sunk down further, his hand slipping from Xie Lian’s cock. He gripped Xie Lian’s thighs instead, pulling them apart as he continued to bob his head up and down Xie Lian’s erection. Xie Lian pried his eyes open, glancing down. Hua Cheng’s lips were stretched around his cock, lashes lowered. He was so handsome, so sexy. Xie Lian couldn’t believe he got to have this, that this wonderful, perfect alpha wanted to be with him like this. 

Xie Lian felt Hua Cheng’s finger start to circle his rim, and it left him almost sobbing.

“Please, alpha,” he begged, closing his eyes to simply feel. “I’m so empty, please.” 

“Mmmh,” Hua Cheng moaned, and pushed a finger inside him, sliding easily from how wet Xie Lian were. Hua Cheng continued to bob his head up and down Xie Lian’s cock, moaning as he stretched him open on his fingers. Xie Lian felt so good, rolling his hips in small motions to get more. 

After a moment Xie Lian could barely take it anymore. He pulled Hua Cheng off his cock and guided him up over him, Hua Cheng’s fingers sliding from his hole as he did. As soon as he was close enough Xie Lian surged up and kissed him, feeling breathless and needy and so empty he could hardly breathe.

“Gege feels so good,” Hua Cheng breathed against his lips, and Xie Lian whined. “I love having his cock in my mouth, tasting him, smelling him, feeling him grow so wet for me.”

Xie Lian couldn’t take it anymore. He hooked his leg around Hua Cheng’s hip and then turned them over in one smooth movement. Hua Cheng went easily, a bubbly laugh falling from his lips even if he looked a little surprised.

“Gege’s being so bold!” he said, hand around Xie Lian’s neck as he pushed up to kiss him once more. “This San Lang is so lucky.”

“I need you,” Xie Lian declared, and then reached back, curling his hand around Hua Cheng’s deliciously thick, long cock. He stroked up slowly, and Hua Cheng groaned, head tipped back and eyes slipping closed in pleasure. It made Xie Lian dizzy, getting to see his own impact on Hua Cheng, to feel it through the bond. Xie Lian stroked again, and then he lined himself up, making sure to hold onto Hua Cheng’s erection, before pushing himself down.

“Fuuuuck,” Hua Cheng moaned, feet planted on the bed as Xie Lian took him in. Xie Lian’s fingers curled on Hua Cheng’s bare chest, feeling like he was being split open in the best way. Hua Cheng’s cock filled him so well and Xie Lian whimpered as he sank all the way down, feeling Hua Cheng pushed fully inside him.

“San Lang so big,” he gasped, rolling his hips forward, both of them moaning. “Ah, ha.”

“Gege, gege fuck so good. You feel so good aaah,” Hua Cheng moaned, hips jerking up to match Xie Lian’s pace. “You’re so tight, you fit perfectly around me. Like you were made just for me, all mine.”
“Haaa,” Xie Lian moaned, feeling his flush spill down his chest as he continued to move. Hua Cheng was so deep inside him, and it felt perfect. “San Lang, San Lang, mine, all mine.”
“Yes, all yours,” Hua Cheng moaned, snapping his hips up sharply. Xie Lian cried out, falling forward to press his lips desperately to Hua Cheng’s. Hua Cheng moaned, and then grabbed him tightly, holding him to his body as he started thrusting into Xie Lian’s body relentlessly. Xie Lian moaned, Hua Cheng’s cock pressing so perfectly inside him.

“Ha, haaa haaaa,” Xie Lian whimpered, fingers digging into Hua Cheng’s sides. Hua Cheng only held him firmer, kissing him deeper. Xie Lian felt almost dizzy with it all, and then Hua Cheng was rolling them over again, still pressed inside. He pulled up to grab Xie Lian’s legs, placing them over his shoulders, before he leaned back down again. The angle made Hua Cheng’s cock push more up, and Xie Lian mewed, eyes rolling back in pleasure as Hua Cheng started up a relentless pace once again.

“Gege feels- mmmh, so wet, so tight,” Hua Cheng moaned, and Xie Lian could only whine in answer. “Does Gege like when I stuff him so full? Does Gege want to be filled completely?”

“Yes, yes,” Xie Lian whined. “I want you to come inside me, please.”

“Does Gege want this San Lang’s knot?” he asked, and Xie Lian pushed up to meet his hips, fingers flexing around Hua Cheng’s arms. He was so close, so close.

“Pleas, please,” Xie Lian begged, and Hua Cheng swore, and then started snapping his hips in with purpose. Xie Lian felt Hua Cheng’s knot pushing at his rim, and then with a particularly sharp thirst, sunk in. 

Xie Lian tensed, and then spasmed, his entire body convulsing under the pleasure of being filled completely, come spurting from his cock. Hua Cheng growled, and then he was coming too, pumping Xie Lian so full, just like Xie Lian wanted. Xie Lian gave another moan, and felt himself come again, gasping and trembling. It felt like the entire world was spinning, and the only thing worth holding onto was Hua Cheng, flushed against him, locked inside Xie Lian. 

“Gege,” Hua Cheng breathed, still sounding breathless and a little hoarse. Xie Lian hummed, pressing his face against Hua Cheng’s cheek, still trying to catch his breath. “Wow.”

“Mh,” Xie Lian agreed, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “San Lang is so talented.”

“Gege is too,” Hua Cheng said, turning so he could kiss Xie Lian properly. “This alpha is so lucky.”

Xie Lian shook his head a little, but kissed him deeper. Xie Lian was the lucky one, to have found his way back to Hua Cheng, to be able to lay here safely, tucked into his arms and filled to the brim with adoration coursing through the bond.

“San Lang is my everything,” he said against Hua Cheng’s lips instead, and Hua Cheng grinned widely, and kissed him again.