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The Pearl

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The first time someone approaches Xie Lian with the question is when he’s cultivating in Puji Village. 

 

Xie Lian enjoys spending his time peacefully there, meditating in the shadows of the surrounding woods, watching leaves and flowers swirl and twirl through the sky before they land softly on the ground. He likes passing through the village markets, hearing fisherwives call out the catch of the day, and watching stall owners and customers haggle over the prices of useless trinkets. 

 

It is as he’s collecting scraps –– this time, a worn out but lovely table, a perfect addition to Puji Shrine –– that one of the villagers he is acquainted with approaches him. A wizened old man, soft-spoken and kind, who is now looking at Xie Lian as if with new eyes. 

 

Daozhang, daozhang, if I may, I’d like to say something. Pray I don’t offend daozhang.” 

 

Xie Lian smiles and nods. “Please don’t be afraid to tell me anything, sir.” 

 

The old man squints at him once again. Though Xie Lian smiles, he asks himself why the old man is suddenly looking at him as if he’s never seen him before. 

 

“It’s just that, daozhang, and please don’t take this the wrong way, since the months daozhang has spent in our village have passed, daozhang’s skin seems to have become, well, shinier, if this one may be permitted to say.” 

 

Whatever response Xie Lian would have given dies in his throat. “I–– what do you mean, sir?” 

 

But the old man bows deeply and walks away as quickly as his feet will allow him, leaving a bewildered Xie Lian standing stock-still, a table in his arms. 

 

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Two other villagers tell Xie Lian something similar. An old lady who lives close to Puji Shrine and sometimes drops off peaches (“for dhaozang and his handsome young man”) remarks that, while he’s always been a pretty boy, Xie Lian’s skin looks exceedingly beautiful in a way it hadn’t before. Xie Lian had blushed so deeply when she told him that he resembled the flushed pink tones of the peaches she’d give him. The other villager was a little boy who, while running through the fields the villagers farmed on, claimed that Xie Lian’s face reminds him of the moon. 

 

Xie Lian is too embarrassed to bring this up with Hua Cheng. For one thing, he probably cannot bear all the teasing his San Lang would put him through. For another, he truly doesn’t understand what the villagers are talking about. Xie Lian may have once been the jewel of the Kingdom of Xian Le, an unblemished, polished piece of jade, but 800 years have passed since then. He has slept in caves, on the streets, and in shacks, eaten food off the floor and gone hungry more days than not, lost more hours of sleep than he can count, borne indelible scars all over his ancient, aching body. Perhaps the villagers are confused. After all, Xie Lian spends his time around an entity as blinding and elegant as Hua Cheng, which may leave the villagers reeling in his wake, confusing a ghost king’s brilliance with a scrap god’s mediocrity. And he is certainly not arrogant enough to march up to a man he’d never dreamed could love him and claim that he’s being complimented on his beauty. 

 

Xie Lian does not shine anymore, and he is content with that. He is happy to be as flat and dull as dirt, so long as he can continue on his path unfettered, with the strength of Hua Cheng’s love keeping him anchored to the earth. 

 

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Of course, Xie Lian has become used to life refusing to conform to his own beliefs. He’s dealt with this problem on multiple occasions, only this specific one is unprecedented for him, and he is left unmoored in how to deal with it. 

 

Because it is one thing for Xie Lian to wave off the statements of some odd but well-meaning villagers; it’s another for Xie Lian to confront joyfully lustful and provocative ghosts who swarm him as soon as he enters Ghost City. 

 

Hua Cheng, he knows, is off dealing with Ghost City business. A “young” upstart of a ghost wreaking havoc in an isolated territory deep in the northern hinterlands prompted a very reluctant Hua Cheng to kiss Xie Lian on his forehead, sigh, and promise to come back soon. 

 

Still, Xie Lian comes to Ghost City to drop something off at Paradise Manor for his San Lang. Though he can’t match Hua Cheng’s lavish gifts and his bold displays of wealth, he still wants to spoil him in every way he can. This time, Xie Lian has found a new set of calligraphy brushes. They may not come close to the elegant quality of his gold-enameled ones, but perhaps he won’t break these brushes in frustration, ones given by Xie Lian’s own hands. 

 

At Paradise Manor, he smiles at the ladies who work in the mansion, laughing at the ghost soldiers and informants who flit and slither about the place yelling greetings at him. He narrowly avoids bumping into the ghost of a broom sweeping the place and makes his way to his and Hua Cheng’s shared personal quarters, leaving the calligraphy brushes on one of his many lacquered desks. 

 

On his way out, Xie Lian notices the ghost of the broom tapping agitatedly on the floor when he sees him, and the ladies giggling to each other and whispering behind their veiled faces and dainty hands. An awkward interaction with Yin Yu, in which the other man had peered at him as if seeing him for the first time, leaves him a tad unsettled. 

 

The weirdest moment occurs, however, when back in the city proper, Xie Lian runs into one of the stall owners who is always begging for him to try his newest concoctions, potions and creams that are meant to enhance one’s beauty and youthful appearance. The stall owner, an emaciated ghost with half his bones peeking through his ragged clothing, argues that because Xie Lian looks 20 at 800 years old, he is the perfect person to advertise the efficacy of his products. (Never mind that Xie Lian has neither tried the products, nor has Hua Cheng let the stall owner come near him with them). 

 

“Ah, dianxia, it is good to see you again!” 

 

Xie Lian grimaces inwardly. He had been hoping to avoid this particular ghost, but he is not one for being impolite without cause. “It’s good to see you too, sir.” 

 

The stall owner gazes at him almost suspiciously. “Dianxia, you haven’t been using my competitor’s products, have you? Don’t bother, don’t bother! He claims his creams are made from the crushed blood diamonds of a serpent’s nest but they’re all lies. I have seen for myself how faulty his products are.” 

 

Xie Lian blinks twice. “Fear not, my friend. I haven’t had the opportunity to try.” Nor would he be taking any such opportunities in the future. 

 

The stall owner scratches his head sheepishly. “No matter, dianxia! Your skin is merely gleaming like the luster of the pearls found deep beneath the sea. I have been trying hard to collect them for my own business, but to no avail.” 

 

Xie Lian blinks three times. “Pearls? You think my skin looks like deep sea pearls? I’m flattered, my friend, but perhaps you’re mistaken. I may be looking more pale than usual,” he counters, a hint of genuine self-deprecation covered up with a gentle smile. 

 

The stall owner excitedly walks closer to him, but Xie Lian does not move back, because he knows he is safe here. “Please, dianxia! Don’t get me wrong! Though your skin has always been marvelous, there is a light to you that I have not seen until now! You are glowing, dianxia, simply glowing!” 

 

Flustered beyond belief, Xie Lian stammers out a goodbye and hurries out of Ghost City. 

 

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The ghost of the skincare stall owner kneels fearfully at Hua Cheng’s feet. 

 

Hua Cheng, reclining on his throne, looks at him disdainfully. “So? Can you explain why my beloved was seen running out of my city after speaking with you?” 

 

The ghost slams his head down three times. “My lord Chengzu! It was not my intention to offend or scare dianxia! This lowly subject will kowtow for the rest of eternity if he must!” 

 

Hua Cheng sighs, lazily looking down at the ghost, with his face propped on one fist. “I don’t doubt your ability to lay yourself at my feet,” he sneers, “but I want an explanation rather than this pathetic display. Answer me.” 

 

Trembling, the ghost stall owner replies, “I… this lowly one was conversing with dianxia as he has audaciously done numerous times. Forgive me, my lord, for this lowly one understands that he crossed a line.” 

 

Hua Cheng says nothing, so the ghost hesitantly continues. “I had merely asked his highness if he’d been buying products from my competitor––” 

 

He stops when he hears the scimitar, E-ming, being unsheathed. “My lord! My lord Chengzu, please! I will never again dare to presume that dianxia would taint himself with the filthy products I or my competitor peddle.” 

 

The sound of E-ming being sheathed back into place urges the ghost to keep speaking. “This lowly one, in a grand moment of utter stupidity, committed the great sin of forgetting his station. This lowly one deigned to comment on dianxia's beauty, comparing the shine of his skin to the deep-sea pearls found in the caves of the oldest sea demons.” 

 

Hua Cheng’s head stills. The ghost continues babbling, kowtowing so hard his bones teeter on the edge of breaking. While Yin Yu listens to his nonsense, Hua Cheng understands at once why his beloved has been acting odd lately, and smiles wickedly to himself. This idiotic and fearful ghost has given him a great gift. 

 

Hua Cheng holds up a hand to stop the stall owner’s cries. “That’s enough. My beloved is meant to feel comfortable at all times in my city. This territory is as much his as it is mine. Out of respect for my beloved, who would object to any brutal punishment, I will allow you to go home painlessly.”

 

“Many thanks my lord, many thanks!” 

 

“However, from this moment forward, you and your competitor are required to merge stalls. The portion of your revenue that you owe will increase by 20%. This is a city, not a charity house, and I will not have you or your competitor wreaking havoc with silly rivalries.” 

 

The ghost of the stall owner has at least enough common sense not to protest having to work with his dreaded rival or decrease his profits. The glint of malice twinkles from the scimitar, E-ming, reflected in the feral gaze of his lord. 

 

The ghost nods, relieved, unaware that his well-meaning stupidity has borne fruit. 

 

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For Xie Lian, things always become more complicated when Heaven is involved. 

 

Xie Lian has to fidget through occasional meetings in the Heavenly Realm, meetings that he is still required to attend even though he’s happily embraced his title as a scrap god. He pays attention, though, and strives to take note of every issue discussed in the meetings, because he wants to help the people. 

 

And he does feel bad for Ling Wen, left to handle Heaven’s Affairs primarily on her own as her eternal punishment. But he’d rather go through these meetings without having to hear Ling Wen remark that ever since he “took up with Crimson Rain”, his skin has been looking “eerily ethereal”, “translucent and sheer like pearls”. Again, the comparison to pearls out of all things is lost on him. At least he can handle Ling Wen telling him this, because she says it very matter-of-factly, and moves on, giving him a wonderful reprieve. 

 

Quan Yizhen makes it worse. When he comes, as usual, to drop off gold bars at the Shrine and inquire after Yin Yu (the poor child being unaware of his own love for the god-turned-ghost), he squints at Xie Lian (everyone is squinting at him nowadays and it makes Xie Lian squirm) and makes the outstanding observation that Xie Lian looks like he’s glowing like the pearls some of his followers have tried to gift him. He leaves in a flurry before Xie Lian can give him a proper response. 

 

He decides to visit the Rainmaster, Yushi Huang, at her farm house, because neither heaven nor the ghost realm’s oddities can ruin the serenity and quiescence of her territory. She is calm like still water, and carries on about her business with no thought to the pettiness of heaven or the chaos of the ghost realm. 

 

Visiting Yushi Huang one day, he brings with him a basket of fruits and seeds to plant, and decides to spend the afternoon tilling the land alongside her. 

 

His quiet is ruined by Pei Ming’s presence, one that is becoming increasingly visible by Yushi Huang’s side. He does not deign to question the Princess on her association with him, because he can see for himself the flower of romance growing between them, and would rather not trample over it with invasive questions. 

 

Pei Ming has no such regard for Xie Lian. “Ah, dianxia, I see the rumors about your skin shining like the pearls I used to give my lovers is true.” 

 

Xie Lian blanches at being compared, even indirectly, to one of Pei Ming’s past lovers. “Whatever rumors you’ve heard, General, I’d suggest discounting them. Rumors do no one any good, as you yourself are aware.” 

 

Pei Ming laughs, booming and joyful. “Don’t take it as an insult. I can see that whatever Crimson Rain is doing every night has been helping.” 

 

Inadvertently, Xie Lian turns pink, images of a tender and passionate Hua Cheng flashing through his mind. Hua Cheng is always so gentle. 

 

Yushi Huang lovingly swats him on his forehead, a nonverbal gesture that immediately silences Pei Ming’s lascivious attempt at getting the explicit details of Hua Cheng and Xie Lian’s nightly activities

 

She does, however, stroll up to Xie Lian, smiling sweetly at him. “Boorish though he may be, the General is not wrong, dianxia.” 

 

Xie Lian looks at her questioningly. “What do you mean, Rainmaster?” 

 

She plucks a damp grass from the ground and places it in his hand. “Do you see the dew hanging from the tip of this grass? For the greenery around us, dianxia, you are the morning dew itself.” 

 

For once, Xie Lian is stunned into silence. 

 

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After these incidents, Xie Lian encounters odd requests at his Shrine. In addition to the usual pleas for help of all kinds, he comes across followers begging for him to share his secret to otherworldly beauty. Some send him letters asking him how they too can transform themselves into pearls. 

 

He pinches the bridge of his nose as he reads the latest letter from a follower, imploring him for his help. This particular follower would like Xie Lian’s blessings for diving into a lake in which a serpent demon lives, a serpent demon said to guard one of the largest pearls across the three realms. 

 

No doubt word must have spread, from Puji Shrine to Ghost City, from Quan Yizhen’s mouth to the ears of distant followers. 

 

He knows this must be true the day someone leaves a large quantity of pearls at Qiandeng Temple. No doubt one of his richer followers––for he has them now, ready to receive the blessings of the scrap god, the Ghost King’s bride––left this basket of pearls. Xie Lian reads the letter attached to the basket with chagrin. As he suspected, one of his wealthy worshippers came up with the idea of sending real pearls as an offering to him, hoping to be blessed with pearl-like skin for his daughters in return. 

 

He has not told Hua Cheng about any of this, about the comments, the looks, and the incidents. And he does not know what to tell him, or how to even begin explaining why people are giving him pearls. Nor does he want to set a wrathful Hua Cheng loose on well-meaning, if confused, strangers. 

 

He picks up the basket of pearls, noting that despite his own strength, the basket is not actually light. Right as he picks the basket up, one pearl falls out. Xie Lian stoops down to pick it up, but as his luck would have it, the rest of the pearls come pouring out of the basket, falling to the floor like rain. 

 

This is how Hua Cheng finds him, frantically picking up scattered pearls on the Temple’s floor. 

 

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Xie Lian sits at the altar, red-faced, while a kneeling Hua Cheng grins and coaxes the whole story out of him. He refuses to move his hands from his face, his agonized retelling of the whole thing coming out muffled. He is strong enough that not even Hua Cheng can move his hands away. 

 

"Gege, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Even these dimwitted fools can tell how beautiful you are.” 

 

Xie Lian peeks at him through his fingers. “They’re not fools, San Lang,” he chides. 

 

“Qi Ying and Pei Ming are abrasive idiots who don’t know how to speak when a flower is placed in front of them. But gege is right that the Rainmaster is no fool. Though to merely compare you to morning dew doesn’t cover how ethereal gege truly is.” 

 

Xie Lian flushes a brighter red at Hua Cheng’s silver tongue, the praise that flows from him so effortlessly that it hurts. “I think everyone is just confused, San Lang.” 

 

Hua Cheng raises his eyebrows. “Confused? About what? Surely gege is not denying his beauty.” 

 

Xie Lian finally moves his hands from his face and looks stubbornly at Hua Cheng. This is a battle they’ve fought often, with no clear winner. “I am a scrap god, a martial god, a god of bad luck. I was not made to be called beautiful.” 

 

Hua Cheng lowers his head bashfully and kisses Xie Lian’s hands. “Forgive this lowly servant of yours for disagreeing, gege. You were made to create and destroy worlds, you were made to defy heaven itself. But you are the essence of all beauty in this world and beyond, and no one can compare.” 

 

Xie Lian looks away from Hua Cheng. “Have you seen me, San Lang? Even the others have said that I’ve only started looking different after you gave me your love.” 

 

“The others are pathetic morons who could not identify a diamond sitting in front of them. I should rip their entrails out for daring to speak to you in that manner.” 

 

Xie Lian thumps Hua Cheng on the back of his head. “San Lang! That’s unnecessary of you. They’re not wrong.” 

 

Hua Cheng kneels at Xie Lian’s feet, and takes his hands once again, forcing Xie Lian’s eyes to settle on his worshipful stance. “Will you not believe this San Lang of yours? Has this San Lang ever lied to you?” 

 

Xie Lian blushes and his expression softens. He takes Hua Cheng’s face in his hands and kisses the tip of his nose. “My silly San Lang. I will always believe you.” 

 

Hua Cheng smiles tenderly up at him, and Xie Lian’s foolish, childish heart thumps wildly, as it always does. He does not know what he did to win such a gorgeous, loving man’s heart. “Then will gege permit this San Lang to explain to you why you are a pearl, a treasure the likes of which the world has not seen?” 

 

Xie Lian nods. “Show me, San Lang.” 

 

He knows how Hua Cheng will show him, in the way he knows best: a clever tongue will map a wordless explanation all along his body, elegant hands and long, wicked fingers will make him tremble, and his very ardor will make all thoughts flee from his head, until nothing but Hua Cheng’s name is left on his lips. 

 

And he trusts him to show him all the way, thoroughly, in a way no one else could ever hope, or dare to. 

 

Silently, Hua Cheng stands up and shifts Xie Lian into his arms, cradling him, watching him, claiming him with a fierce gaze as he takes them to Paradise Manor. 

 

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Somehow, Hua Cheng has already cleared the mansion of the ladies, ghosts, and servants who usually potter about the place busily. Distantly, Xie Lian registers that Yin Yu has disappeared somewhere. The mansion is bare, but for two people who stumble in blindly, feeling nothing but each other. 

Hua Cheng pushes Xie Lian up against the door to their shared bedroom, a lavish, large space pockmarked by the signs of a life well lived. Xie Lian’s hands are happily trapped on Hua Cheng’s broad, powerful chest. He does not want to be anywhere else. 

 

Hua Cheng kisses Xie Lian, softly at first, before Xie Lian surges against his lips and demands, with his teeth. Hua Cheng chuckles into his mouth. “I’ll kiss you the way you were made to be kissed, gege.” 

 

So he does, his fangs catching on Xie Lian’s bottom lip, pleasure singing through Xie Lian’s veins. Hua Cheng leans in and takes Xie Lian’s mouth, possessively, lovingly, selfishly, as he always does, overwhelming Xie Lian with his powerful and single-minded attention. Xie Lian tries to move his hands up Hua Cheng’s chest, to tangle them in his hair, but Hua Cheng, a mischievous opportunist, seizes his wrists and holds them together in one large hand, pressing them against the door. Xie Lian moans into Hua Cheng’s mouth. 

 

They both know that Xie Lian is stronger than Hua Cheng. They both know that if he desired, he could overpower Hua Cheng and free his wrists. That Xie Lian lets him hold his wrists together, that he allows Hua Cheng to press him against the door as if to trap him between the door and his body, lights a fire in them both. It is a fire that Hua Cheng stokes every time he kisses Xie Lian. 

 

Kissing becomes an act of devouring when Hua Cheng is involved. He gives Xie Lian no reprieve. His forked tongue invades Xie Lian’s mouth, caressing inside. Xie Lian’s ears turn pink from the obscene sounds their mouths are already making, the smack of lips, the shared breath, Hua Cheng’s low growls and Xie Lian’s panting moans. Held against the door, Xie Lian can only take what’s being done to him, and he revels in it, the feeling of being surrounded by Hua Cheng’s very presence. 

 

Hua Cheng’s tongue wrecks Xie Lian’s mouth, his fangs sinking into his lips, thrilling him, devouring him. “Ah,” he mewls, pulling away from Hua Cheng as he gasps for breath. “I––” 

 

Hua Cheng, dastardly and devastating, has no need to breathe. He dives back in, kissing Xie Lian into silence, and Xie Lian whimpers once again. Xie Lian begins rutting against Hua Cheng’s thigh, as Hua Cheng gives him no recourse, continuing to kiss him against the blasted door, with no sign of going any further. 

 

Hua Cheng chuckles. The feeling of those lips curved in a smirk against his own makes Xie Lian snap with hunger. He frees one of his hands and pushes it against Hua Cheng’s chest. 

 

“You said–– ah! ––you said you would show me why I’m a pearl, San Lang,” Xie Lian indignantly gasps out, his petulant plea punctuated by the moans Hua Cheng steals from him. His mischievous, frustrating San Lang seems to be set on teasing him into insanity, so he must seize the ecstasy being denied to him. He sweeps his hands from Hua Cheng’s firm chest down to his torso, moving past his hips… to grasp the weapon Hua Cheng wields perhaps most successfully. He takes it in his hands and strokes it desperately, moving his hand up and down the bulge in Hua Cheng’s pants, his moans growing louder as his strokes become more powerful. 

 

Hua Cheng does not move to stop him, as Xie Lian strokes his fingers over his clothed cock while he continues rutting against him. His eyes glint with a danger that makes Xie Lian mewl desperately. He craves that danger, longs for it every day and every night, in daylight and in his dreams. “Show me. Show me with this inside me,” he demands, though his demand comes out as more of a breathless whine. 

 

Hua Cheng finally stills Xie Lian’s hands and once again grasps his wrists with one palm. Though his grip is gentle, it is also unyielding. His other hand stops the movement of Xie Lian’s hips. “You enjoy playing dangerous games with this San Lang, gege.” 

 

“It’s not a game,” Xie Lian moans indignantly. “San Lang likes bullying me mercilessly.” 

 

“Forgive this one for saying so but San Lang only does what he knows gege will scream for every night.” 

 

“It’s because of you,” Xie Lian sobs out, struggling to move, but to no avail. “You made me like this, and you refuse to take responsibility.” 

 

Hua Cheng laughs boyishly, and amidst the maelstrom of lust storming inside him, Xie Lian preens, grateful that he can be the one who makes Hua Cheng laugh in such a manner. 

 

Hua Cheng finally takes Xie Lian’s hand and leads him to their bed, softly laying him down before looming above him. Xie Lian can’t help but blush and look away from his worshipful gaze, as it roams from the top of his head all the way down his body. Hua Cheng’s gaze is a symbol of what he will do to him, how he will set him on fire and let him burn with his love. 

 

“Look at me, gege,” Hua Cheng murmurs. Xie Lian cannot deny him. Xie Lian strives to obey every one of Hua Cheng’s wishes. 

 

He looks at Hua Cheng as Hua Cheng strips him of his clothing, taking his boots off one by one, followed by his socks. His pants fall to the ground, forgotten. Xie Lian sits up and removes Hua Cheng’s silver vambraces, and helps him out of his boots as well. It is in this moment of pause and silence that their hands on each other are soft, roaming not with intent but with gratitude, a moment of rest before they fall deeper into the sensuousness of the night. 

 

Finally, they are both bare, clad in nothing but the skin they bare in vulnerability to each other’s eyes. 

 

Hua Cheng leans down to nuzzle Xie Lian’s throat. Xie Lian’s hand curls around Hua Cheng’s head to keep him there, just as intent on trapping him by his side. 

 

Gege,” Hua Cheng begins as he laves biting kisses over Xie Lian’s throat, “do you know how a pearl is made?” 

 

Xie Lian shudders and twists as Hua Cheng’s fangs sink into his skin, leaving marks that he will press later, throbbing with arousal again over the slow-burning possessiveness with which Hua Cheng claims him. “I’m, ah, I’m not familiar with the process.” 

 

Hua Cheng continues mapping a path down Xie Lian’s body, moving from his collarbones to his chest. One hand pinches and twists one of his nipples while the other rests possessively on his waist. Xie Lian is left flailing and arching his back from the sensations, barely hanging on to lucidity by a thread. “Gege is familiar with the mussels and oysters I sometimes cook, yes?” 

 

How can Hua Cheng expect Xie Lian to respond seriously when he’s traversing his body with his wicked tongue? How can Xie Lian utter anything but whines and moans while Hua Cheng’s clever fingers twist his nipples? Distantly, Xie Lian registers himself nodding. Anything to end the exquisite torture. 

 

Hua Cheng is not swayed, of course. Before he continues his explanation, his mouth latches on to one nipple, biting and sucking. “Ah, ah, ah, San Lang––” 

 

Annoyingly, Hua Cheng removes his mouth. “Gege is feeling good… but with my mouth occupied, I will fail to explain to him how a pearl is created.” 

 

He knows how to make my body sing underneath his hands and he revels in it, Xie Lian thinks desperately. He inadvertently arches his chest, a mistake that bares his nipples to his loving predator’s hungry teeth and tongue. Hua Cheng swoops down and rakes his teeth against his nipples. He does not let up this time, soothing bites with his tongue, pinching one nipple between sharp nails while sucking on the other. 

 

Xie Lian is helpless to lie there and move his hips against Hua Cheng’s while his chest is bitten, played with, teased beyond recognition. Pleading does not work with Hua Cheng; once his target is fixed, he will wreck Xie Lian into holy helplessness and leave him pliant, tempered, and reborn all at once. 

 

Hua Cheng occasionally removes his mouth to whisper filthy, sweet nothings into his skin, soliloquies about how well Xie Lian is doing, how beautiful he looks abandoned to such pleasure, how he was made to be laid out on a bed and ravished. The thought of being reduced to nothing but a vessel of lust and desire excites Xie Lian beyond belief. 

 

“You look gorgeous when you look like this,” Hua Cheng says into Xie Lian’s ear as he continues wrecking him. “You were meant to be held against a bed like this, trapped with me, nothing to do but take the pleasure I give you.” 

 

The dark ownership in his tone is what finally pushes Xie Lian over the edge and he comes, shattering, his back arching, his screams permeating the air, while Hua Cheng works him through the first of his orgasms. 

 

He lays, shuddering, trying to collect his breath as Hua Cheng kisses him slowly, helping him to calm himself and regroup before the ravishing continues. 

 

Xie Lian turns to his side after a few moments and traces patterns on Hua Cheng’s chest. “You stopped midway through your explanation, my San Lang,” he says, kissing the divots of Hua Cheng’s firm abdomen. 

 

Hua Cheng lays a soothing hand in Xie Lian’s hair, admiringly running his fingers through the locks. “A thousand apologies, gege,” he says, laughing when Xie Lian jokingly smacks him on the chest for his cheeky behavior. 

 

“The shelled creatures that live deep in the sea are surrounded by dangers from outside, and dangers within.” As he speaks, Hua Cheng shifts down and begins nosing at Xie Lian’s body, from his stomach to his waist. The feeling tickles, but Xie Lian is determined to listen. 

 

“For example, a parasite may find its way inside the shell of an oyster. In such an instance the oyster will create a sac sealing off the invasion, and thus, over time, a pearl is born.” 

 

Xie Lian is, as always, in awe of the beauty Hua Cheng can spin out of the seemingly mundane realities of nature and life. He knows Hua Cheng can craft ugliness and violence as well, but with Xie Lian he is always creating perfection. And Xie Lian does not know what he’s done to deserve him. 

 

Hua Cheng nips adoring marks over Xie Lian’s hips, determined to claim all of him. “Does gege not resonate with this story? Gege is a transcendental beauty, a god above gods and men, yet he has invited a parasite such as this lowly one into his bed.” 

 

Xie Lian frowns. “If I am truly to be a pearl, as San Lang so heartfully proclaims, then I can only be one because my San Lang’s presence helps me shine.” 

 

Hua Cheng is rendered silent. For once, he has no witty rejoinder, or filthy praise, or grand remark to make Xie Lian tremble or blush or moan. He sits up and looks at Xie Lian for a long time, and they take each other in, their souls intertwined, grateful to share the space with each other, living in their own world within a world. 

 

Xie Lian seizes the moment to continue. He will not be the only one praised by his beloved. “I can be beautiful because you’re by my side, San Lang, because you support me and uplift me, because whatever beauty you see in me, it is something you brought out.” 

 

Xie Lian lifts his head and cradles Hua Cheng’s face in his hands, laying kisses all over his precious face, before meeting his lips and leaving a soft kiss upon them. It is as if Hua Cheng is paralyzed, unable to move or speak or respond, which does not surprise Xie Lian. His San Lang is not accustomed to praise, and is as bad at dealing with it as Xie Lian himself is. 

 

Hua Cheng finally moves, coming to hover directly over him. He looms above him like a great and lovely beast setting his rapacious sight on the prey before him, and Xie Lian feels himself hardening again from his gaze alone.

 

“You don’t know what you do to me, gege.” He suddenly seizes Xie Lian’s hand and places it on the hard cock that juts out like a warning from between his legs. Xie Lian moans and moves his hands over Hua Cheng, feeling the shape of him, craving it inside, wondering when Hua Cheng will give them both what they want. 

 

“Oh, San Lang, what I said is the truth––” he utters before he moans again, this time because Hua Cheng grinds his length against his hand. Xie Lian feels shameless and filthy. 

 

Gege enjoys playing dangerous games with the monster under his bed.” 

 

Xie Lian strokes him more fiercely. “I enjoy what you do to me. I love it and cannot bear to go without it.” 

 

Hua Cheng, it seems, has reached his limit. A part of Xie Lian is gleeful at being able to tease Hua Cheng just as much as Hua Cheng has teased him. 

 

He leans down and invades Xie Lian’s mouth with no preamble, his tongue sweeping inside, searching for the spots that make Xie Lian crumble. They make shameless noises as they kiss, Xie Lian mewling into Hua Cheng’s mouth over and over again as Hua Cheng prods, plunders, and soothes with his lips, all at the same time. He bites Xie Lian’s neck, making Xie Lian clutch him again, helpless but to cry out for absolution. 

 

As Xie Lian is occupied with Hua Cheng’s mouth on him, he does not notice Hua Cheng conjuring jasmine oil from the bedside table, or slicking his fingers. Hua Cheng is so skilled that he can kiss Xie Lian into distraction and disorientation, such that Xie Lian becomes blind to everything around him, focused merely on Hua Cheng sucking stubbornly on the same spot on his neck, that spot, the one that leaves him keening. 

 

He does notice when Hua Cheng strokes one finger down from his back to the top of his mounds, stopping right before his entrance. 

 

Keep going!” Xie Lian cries out desperately, wrapping his arms around Hua Cheng. 

 

Hua Cheng’s finger moves around his entrance at first, testing, teasing, circling it. Xie Lian has half a mind to boldly take Hua Cheng’s fingers and plunge them in all at once while Hua Cheng circles his hole. Before he can do so, Hua Cheng inserts one finger in, slowly, and Xie Lian gasps. 

 

“Ah, yes, that feels good,” Xie Lian moans out, so Hua Cheng continues, moving just one finger in and out. After a minute, he adds a second finger, taking his time with moving them inside him, before taking them out, his eyes entranced by the sight before him. Xie Lian feels no embarrassment, just pure desire thrumming through his veins as he grinds down on Hua Cheng’s long fingers plunging in and out of him. 

 

“You look so good, gege. Fucking yourself on my fingers like you were born for them,” Hua Cheng croons. He scissors his fingers inside Xie Lian, searching for the spot that is always guaranteed to make him come, no matter how fucked out he is. 

 

“Hua Cheng is too talented,” Xie Lian gasps out, determined on chasing his own pleasure, bearing down on the wicked fingers inside him. He will keep Hua Cheng trapped inside if need be.

 

Gege should give this San Lang the honor of preparing himself in front of him.” 

 

Xie Lian turns crimson, prompting Hua Cheng’s thrusts to turn from languid to vicious. He whines, clutching at Hua Cheng while swiveling his hips, desperate to make the feeling of Hua Cheng’s fingers imitate the reach of his cock. 

 

“San Lang is spoiled and has no shame,” Xie Lian chides back as best as he can. He knows he has no ground to stand upon, what with the obsequious way he gives in to Hua Cheng’s desires. 

 

“Only because gege has enabled me,” Hua Cheng says, delightfully echoing Xie Lian’s thoughts. His thrusts grow more precise as he adds a third finger, hitting that wonderful bundle of nerves inside him that, when targeted, makes him pliant and left to Hua Cheng’s devices. 

 

Xie Lian’s moans are reaching a fever pitch, his hips undulating, back arching, Hua Cheng’s fingers hitting him inside just right each time. “Gege looks so beautiful like this,” Hua Cheng opines, “spread out on the bed, coming undone.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Xie Lian cries out. 

 

“Next time I’ll have gege fucking himself on his fingers like this. Perhaps in my Gambling Den, where gege can put on as much of a show as he likes. The sight of gege grinding on his own fingers and moaning like a whore will be enough to drive my filthy citizens crazy with desire, mad with lust for your beauty. This San Lang will show that useless rabble that gege belongs to him. I’ll fuck gege right there on my throne and make him come all over himself.” 

 

The sheer possessiveness, the dark dominance of Hua Cheng’s tone, the glint of ownership in his eye, the feral gaze with which he sweeps his eyes over Xie Lian’s body, and the ferocious movement of his fingers fucking inside him make Xie Lian come a second time, back arching with violence. Xie Lian screams again while Hua Cheng slows the movement of his fingers, keeping them inside to ground him and soothe him. 

 

Xie Lian is given no reprieve to recover from his second orgasm. He lays ruined on their bed, spread out and wrecked, panting, with no ability to stop Hua Cheng from lifting his hips and spreading his legs around his waist. Nor does he particularly want him to stop. If he stops now, Xie Lian may die. 

 

Hua Cheng carefully guides his pulsing cock to Xie Lian’s entrance. Xie Lian whines as soon as he feels that cock, large and already dripping, breaching him. He claws at Hua Cheng’s back, a signal Hua Cheng accurately takes as permission to keep going. Hua Cheng enters him slowly, still caught up in ensuring Xie Lian’s lack of pain. (Hua Cheng will never allow Xie Lian to feel pain unless Xie Lian asks for it, a fact Hua Cheng is all too aware of). 

 

Xie Lian is tired of the carefulness of it all. He wants to be fucked by his husband, and he wants it now. Determinedly, he grinds down on Hua Cheng’s cock, pushing him in further, moaning in frustration and pleasure both. He wants that cock deep inside him, reshaping him from within. 

 

Something in Hua Cheng snaps. He takes his cock out before brutally plunging in and immediately hitting that wonderful bundle of nerves inside Xie Lian. 

 

“Ah! Yes, San Lang! Yes!” Xie Lian cries out. 

 

Hua Cheng takes up a rapid pace, his hips banging against Xie Lian’s mercilessly. He grinds his cock inside Xie Lian to the point that Xie Lian’s mouth hangs open, saliva coating his lips. His moans pour out, echoing around the room, bringing a blush to his cheeks. 

 

Hua Cheng grunts and lifts Xie Lian’s hips higher, aiming his cock more precisely so that every thrust hits him just so, such that Xie Lian’s eyes roll back in his head every time. 

 

“Ah, ah, slow down, please San Lang,” Xie Lian pleads. 

 

Hua Cheng leans down and bites Xie Lian’s neck as he snaps his hips. The force of his thrusts is banging the bed against the wall, and each thud of the bed only makes Xie Lian keen louder. He is utterly reduced to being Hua Cheng’s plaything, wantonly writhing under him, and Xie Lian does not want to be anywhere else. 

 

Unbidden, reactive tears of pleasure begin leaking out of Xie Lian. He knows his tears drive Hua Cheng insane. 

 

“Fuck, gege. You look like my pretty little slut. Your tears are collecting on your eyelashes like morning dew. You’re pink and sweet all over. Your hole is so tight and so welcoming.” 

 

Xie Lian has no idea how Hua Cheng can sound so put together and spew such praise while pounding him into the mattress. He can only respond with an obscene, disgusting moan that comes out of his open mouth. 

 

Cursing under his breath at Xie Lian’s debauched form, Hua Cheng viciously shifts them so that Xie Lian is sitting on Hua Cheng’s engorged cock, his back to Hua Cheng’s sweat-ridden chest. Xie Lian takes the cue and begins moving himself up and down that gorgeous cock, chasing his own pleasure. He is nothing if not a martial god, after all. Hua Cheng groans and grabs Xie Lian’s hips to help him, his grip no doubt leaving purpling bruises on Xie Lian’s pale skin that he will later press to recreate the feeling. 

 

Xie Lian rides Hua Cheng’s cock like a natural born equestrian. He lifts himself up and slams back down, over and over again, rocking like a boat on the sea, confident that Hua Cheng will keep him anchored. His moans and sighs pour out of him uncontrollably, merging with Hua Cheng’s groans and grunts of exertion, creating a song only they can hear. 

 

Between Hua Cheng’s brute strength and Xie Lian’s unending stamina, Xie Lian knows they can go on like this for hours without tiring. Sweat drips down his back, landing on Hua Cheng’s body. He likes that they are molding together in this very moment, sharing not just breath and space but each other’s essence as well. 

 

Hua Cheng wraps his arms around Xie Lian and traps him within the cage of his embrace. He folds his hands on the bulge in Xie Lian’s stomach, moving his hands up and down as if to emphasize how full Xie Lian is. Xie Lian whines at the ownership of it all, and wishes he could see how stuffed he is. 

 

Gege, permit this one to show you something,” Hua Cheng says into his ear as he fucks into him. 

 

What could Hua Cheng possibly have hidden up his sleeve now? His clever husband is always inventive, especially between the sheets. “Yes, San Lang,” Xie Lian pants out. 

 

The air is calm at first, which is why Xie Lian knows that something is stirring, about to break the stillness. He sees a glint of silver in front of him before it vanishes and he gasps, his hole tightening on the cock he is impaled on, because he knows what’s coming, and could not fathom that Hua Cheng could be so shameless. He has a lot left to learn about his husband, it seems.

 

The flash of silver reappears and builds in front of his eyes until it transforms into a sea of silver, a wall of Hua Cheng’s silver butterflies coming together before him, amalgamating into one entity, a mirror of sorts. Later, Xie Lian will ask Hua Cheng what kind of sorcery he used to make his butterflies transform into a mirror. It is a fluid mirror, shifting in the air, and transparent, but the image it reflects is clear and sharp as day, leaving no room to hide. 

 

The mirror assaults Xie Lian with a devastating image. He is wantonly spread on Hua Cheng’s large cock as Hua Cheng single mindedly thrusts in and out of him. Xie Lian is drooling, his mouth hanging open, a blush staining his entire body, sweat dripping down his chest. He’s clutching at Hua Cheng like his life depends on it, and his hips are swiveling without abandon. Xie Lian looks as if he has been savaged by a beast, bite marks littered across his neck and chest, the grip marks on his thighs, his nipples raw, bruised fruits. 

 

He feels humiliated and ruined, which only serves to make him more aroused as he slams himself down on Hua Cheng’s cock as punishment. Xie Lian wants to look away but Hua Cheng grabs his chin and forces him to look in the mirror, and Xie Lian cries out.

 

Gege has to look at what he does to me every day and every night,” Hua Cheng growls in his ear. Xie Lian will never feel scared around him, but a thrill runs down his back at the reminder that Hua Cheng is truly dangerous. “Look at you, gege. Look at what happens when you’re in my arms.” 

 

Xie Lian is watching and though embarrassed, he is utterly unsurprised by the sight. “I can–-ah, ah, please!––I can see it, San Lang. San Lang is the only one I would ever allow to do this to me, the only one who can mess me up like this.” 

 

As if possessed, Hua Cheng moves Xie Lian off his cock. Before he can protest, Hua Cheng moves Xie Lian on to his hands and knees and immediately begins pounding into him again. Only this time, the angle is worse (better), as Hua Cheng is shoving himself deeper and farther than he was before. Unbidden, Xie Lian’s hand moves to the bulge in his stomach, and he screams. 

 

Hua Cheng lovingly punishes him for his scream by pulling gently on his hair. 

 

Harder, ” Xie Lian wails, wanting to feel the pain of his hair being pulled and the feeling of being pushed onto that cock. And of course, Hua Cheng follows through, wrapping his hands in Xie Lian’s hair and pulling harshly. Now, each time Hua Cheng thrusts inside, he pulls Xie Lian’s hair as well. The sound of Hua Cheng’s hips slapping against Xie Lian’s ass makes Xie Lian’s cock dribble. 

 

“Does gege see why he is so beautiful, now? Does gege know why us lesser beings compare him to a pearl?” 

 

Xie Lian’s tears are rolling down his face now but he still shakes his head. Hua Cheng gentles the force of his thrusts as he continues to speak, his hands lovingly cradling Xie Lian’s face, wiping away his tears. “Gege is a pearl because of his strength and his kindness, because he exudes beauty from within. Gege reshaped himself and withstood the harshness of this world over and over again, and no matter what, gege stayed true to himself. This is why gege is so beautiful. Like a pearl, gege refuses to allow the world to change him, standing strong and firm no matter the cost.”

 

Openly crying now, the tenderness and love in Hua Cheng’s words drive Xie Lian over his peak, and he comes a third time, trembling and shaking, his knees almost giving out. Hua Cheng fucks him through his aftershocks, slowing his hips before his thrusts stop. 

 

 “I want to see your face, San Lang,” he whispers brokenly. 

 

And how can Hua Cheng deny him? Overwhelmed with feeling, the butterfly mirror disappears, fading into the air soundlessly as the butterflies return from whence they came. He eases out of Xie Lian before placing Xie Lian in his lap once more, this time so that they are facing each other.

 

Xie Lian takes Hua Cheng’s face in his hands and kisses his brow, his eyelashes, his nose, all over his face. Hua Cheng hugs Xie Lian to him, one arm around his shoulders, another cradling his waist. He hides in Xie Lian’s neck and kisses the skin he can reach. 

 

“San Lang is so sweet and kind to me, always,” Xie Lian coos at him. He feels encompassed by the warmth of Hua Cheng’s love, safely ensconced in Hua Cheng’s arms. 

 

Gege, gege, you’re so good, so warm, you spoil your San Lang so much,” Hua Cheng croons. Xie Lian can feel how hard he still is, how his cock is throbbing and pulsating, and is nearly tempted to begin riding him again. But he has a better idea.

 

Xie Lian gets off his lap and moves off the bed. “Gege? Are you alright––” Hua Cheng’s confusion dies in his throat as he sees his god, his prince, getting on his knees and cupping his hands in front of him. He swears and stands up.

 

Gege should not kneel before anyone, least of all this lowly subject,” Hua Cheng angrily growls as he moves to straighten Xie Lian. But his beloved will not budge, Hua Cheng looks at him shocked. 

 

Xie Lian is entirely unashamed at his wanton behavior. He wants to be good for Hua Cheng, wants to give him everything and get everything in return, an endless cycle of push and pull. “I want San Lang to decorate me in a necklace of his pearls,” Xie Lian says, knowing that he is bargaining with fire. 

 

Hua Cheng refuses. “I cannot deny gege any of his desires, but I must deny him this one.” 

 

“You said I was a pearl, San Lang. Help me look the part. Please?” 

 

Xie Lian knows Hua Cheng is gone for him with his pleading. Hua Cheng curses as he fists his cock, tugging on it, stroking it as Xie Lian stroked him when they began. He makes obscene grunts while touching himself that make Xie Lian wish he was being filled at that very moment, but Xie Lian remains patient, because he wants to be covered in Hua Cheng’s love every way possible. He can see Hua Cheng nearly stripping his cock raw, his hands rapidly moving up and down the length.

 

Hua Cheng murmurs filth and praises as he comes closer to his peak. “Gege is so good, so beautiful, gege was made to be fucked and loved, this one will make love to gege every day and every night for the rest of our lives––” is interspersed with his pants and groans. 

 

“Come for me, San Lang,” Xie Lian commands sweetly, and so he does, moving his hand off his cock as he finally releases, his come bathing Xie Lian’s face in shades of white and cream, some of it dripping down his neck and onto his chest, or landing in Xie Lian’s cupped hands. Xie Lian moans and thanks him for the gift, his mouth hanging open. He swipes some of the come onto his fingers and sucks them into his mouth, whining at how good the taste is. Hua Cheng falls to his knees, unable to stand at the sight of such debauched beauty. 

 

“Look, San Lang, I’m your pearl,” Xie Lian says. “Now San Lang has to fill me up with his pearls, for I want to wear them on every orifice.” 

 

So Hua Cheng picks him up, places him on the bed, and obliges him the whole night through. 

 

{.}

 

When Pei Ming and Yushi Huang come to visit Xie Lian at Puji Shrine, Hua Cheng is there too, standing at the stove and cooking a stew of salted beef and vegetables. Meanwhile, Xie Lian, Hua Cheng, and Pei Ming are drinking tea at the table and exchanging their latest stories. 

 

“I was right by the way, wasn’t I?” says Pei Ming all of a sudden.

 

“Right about what, General?” asks Xie Lian.

 

“Your skin looks like that because Crimson Rain’s been giving it to you all night––” 

 

Pei Ming is interrupted when E-ming whizzes past him and nails himself to the wall. Everyone turns to face Hua Cheng, who is looking at Pei Ming with a characteristic shine of malice in his eye. 

 

“Keep your filthy mouth shut about gege, and there won’t be any problems, General,” Hua Cheng says, coming over to retrieve E-ming. 

 

Xie Lian laughs joyfully as he stands up from the table, moving to hug Hua Cheng. He turns to face his guests. 

 

“Forgive San Lang for his temper. He likes to overreact sometimes.” 

 

Pei Ming waves it away with a roar of laughter of his own, and Yushi Huang smiles. 

 

And no one but Hua Cheng notices the pink of Xie Lian’s ears, or the lovely shiver of his back.