in a world a few shades different from the one we’re used to, things happen, and heaven - the part of heaven comprised of gods just powerful enough to make trouble and inclined to think very highly of themselves - panics, and holds meetings, and makes plans to ensure that any inconveniences required to prevent war with the demon realm fall upon shoulders other than their own.
it leads, eventually, to heaven deciding they need a marriage alliance with the demon realm and arguing at length over who to sacrifice to such a horrible fate.
it also leads to this:
xie lian slipping away to find his very dear friend san lang, who he has spent many happy days with, and who he knows perfectly well is secretly the demon lord hua cheng. he hasn't actually told san lang he knows yet; san lang seems to be enjoying the pretence and xie lian isn’t going to ruin it for him.
more accurately, he wasn’t. he’s going to now, but with good reason.
it leads to xie lian wrapping his arms around san lang and burying his face in his chest and just. laughing helplessly for long minutes before collecting himself enough to explain.
“ah, it seems that heaven has decided one of its officials needs to undergo the terrible, terrible sacrifice of marrying a demon. for politics, you see. we don’t need a war. so, I thought. it’s a bit soon, but.” he drops down on one knee, looks up at san lang and smiles
“hua cheng, will you marry me?”
and hua cheng freezes for so long he begins to add, haltingly “unless, you don’t want… if I was mistaken?”
and hua cheng unfreezes and throws himself at xie lian hard enough to send them both sprawling, closes his arms around him and holds him tight and whispers “yes, yes, gege yes.”
then, mildly accusing “you know. how long have you known?”
as best he can while horizontal and covered in demon lord, xie lian shrugs. “since about a week after we met. you weren’t exactly trying very hard to hide it.”
“that’s true,” hua cheng concedes. “I wanted you to know me. I couldn’t help but be myself, in that case.”
it’s an understatement. xie lian’s joy bubbles up under his skin and leaves the world around him feeling brighter than it has for centuries. he likes san lang, likes hua cheng, likes the bright mischievousness of him, likes him clever and vicious and kind. he likes the way he can breathe easily when they’re together. it’s good, all of it.
concern stirs. they’re still learning each other, and xie lian treasures the slow way they’ve been growing into each other, the foundations they’re building for themselves. what if things change?
“san lang. once we’re married, will we still, like this…” he trails off, not sure how to phrase things without sounding as if he’s having second thoughts.
he’s not, not at all. he knows san lang well enough to be certain that this person above all others is the one he wants to spend his eternity with, it’s just...
hua cheng’s arms tighten reassuringly around him. “don’t worry. even though we’re getting married, we can still take our time with courtship.”
“you don’t mind?”
“gege,” hua cheng says seriously into xie lian’s hair. “I don’t just not mind. I have so many plans. I want to do everything with you.”
“every silly little thing couples do. I want to watch clouds with you. I want to watch the stars with you. I want to walk with you along the river. I want to walk with you beside the ocean. I want to take you to fairs and buy you street food and win prizes for you. I want to take you dancing. oh! now I’m not pretending to be human, we have to spar. gege would have fun with that. my calligraphy is terrible, gege should guide my brush and show me how to do better, and I will use it as an excuse to get you to touch me and not improve at all. I want to braid flowers into your hair. I want...”
xie lian doesn’t think first, he just tangles his fingers in hua cheng’s hair and pulls him down. presses a kiss to his lips, quick and shy. he ducks away with a blush blooming hot across his cheekbones and the feel of hua cheng’s mouth etched into his mind. “I want that too,” he answers, voice muffled against hua cheng’s very attractive chest. “all of that.”
so they return to heaven and announce their engagement
and people jump to the conclusion that xie lian got engaged hastily to avoid being married off to a demon.
mu qing and feng xin have meanwhile argued vehemently against using xie lian as political marriage material, but xie lian is conveniently low on the pecking order, so he’s one of the ones most at risk of it. xie lian appreciates them standing up for him and thinks it very sweet of them, and does them the courtesy of not embarrassing them by saying so, and hua cheng makes a mental note to not destroy these two. much.
(mu qing argued against using xie lian by claiming it would risk insulting the demon realm and causing the very war they’re trying to prevent to offer them the laughingstock of three realms in marriage. it was an effective argument, and feng xin fought him over it.)
“don’t worry,” xie lian tells them. “it really isn’t like that at all. this san lang, I really like him.”
and hua cheng beams at them, brightly insincere, and adds that they were heading in that direction in any case and heaven’s decisions merely precipitated things. he says nothing to actually clarify the situation, and so heaven continues to not catch on to the fact that he’s a demon.
“gege, please” he begs, leaning in close so only xie lian can hear, “can we not tell them? this is too much fun.”
it really is. xie lian can’t argue with that.
and so the politics continue unabated.
there is some bitterness over xie lian’s ploy to get himself out of the running by being already engaged, mostly because a handful of minor gods follow suit.
(mu qing approves of such practicality. feng xin retorts with “if you think it’s such a good idea, why don’t you do it?”
there’s a chance the two of them will end up engaged before this mess is resolved, with all the traditional marriage-of-convenience misunderstandings and pining that hua cheng and xie lian are having none of.
no. forget chance. it has to happen.
mu qing sneers at him. “don’t be ridiculous. who would I even marry? I don’t see you volunteering for the purpose.”
“well, what if I am?”
at some point, realising they’re getting nowhere, heaven moves on to discussing which demon lords they should approach. hua cheng’s name comes up almost immediately.
“no,” san lang says flatly. “hua cheng is already engaged. you won’t convince him.”
“how do you know that?
“I just do.”
“my san lang is very knowledgeable,” xie lian chimes in, utterly sincere. it has the intended effect of convincing them he’s too smitten to think straight.
he doesn’t need to be underestimated; it’s purely for recreational value at this point.
hua cheng swings their joined hands and beams.
“he xuan should marry shi qing xuan. two xuans. it could be destiny.”
“over my dead body,” shi wu du snaps, neatly crushing the idea.
“probably, yes” hua cheng mutters.
“did you say something?”
“no, no, carry on.” he waves a hand dismissively. “this is hilarious.”
“don’t worry, brother,” the windmaster says blithely, “even if they try to make me, I can just marry ming yi, here. right, ming-xiong?
shi qing xuan’s companion glares. “no. I refuse.”
“no. marry he xuan and suffer.”
shi qing xuan pouts.
next to xie lian, hua cheng folds over in silent, helpless laughter.
“bai wu xiang…”
“is dead. not happening.”
“dead is normal for demons, isn’t it? surely…”
“deader than that. the heavenly emperor killed him. that’s good for at least ten bonus death-points. he’s definitely dead.”
everyone looks to jun wu, who nods gravely. “I assure you, bai wu xiang will not be marrying anyone any time soon.”
“we’re trying not to start a war, remember?”
“do you think he bites? he seems like the bitey kind…”
“meeting adjourned,” ling wen cuts in flatly. “we can continue this tomorrow. don’t bother to show up unless you’re either prepared to marry someone or have come up with a viable alternative.” the way she holds her brush suggests too much time spent among martial gods whose preferred solution to problems is stabbing.
thus ends the discussion for the day.
later, alone with his demon lord fiance, xie lian considers putting them out of their misery. non-fatally. “san lang, do you think..?”
“let them worry,” hua cheng says heartlessly, pausing in his quest to bite kiss-marks very softly down the stretch of xie lian’s neck. “eventually they’ll realise the demon realm has no intention of attacking and calm down.”
“it’s still… ah!” xie lian gasps. wriggles a little to enjoy the weight of hua cheng’s body on his. “still mean to worry them like this.”
“mmm. I’m fine with that.”
truthfully, xie lian is too, or he wouldn’t have chosen now to bring it up. he admits as much, laughing. “how long do you think it will take mu qing and feng xin to admit they like each other?”
“years, probably,” hua cheng guesses, not caring. accepting the implied challenge, he devotes himself to driving the subject from xie lian’s mind completely.
and they all live happily ever after.