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The Kissing Game*

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“There goes that idea then,” Xie Lian laments in a sigh as he lifts the curtain to glance outside. The dark sky has gotten bleak and the dirt roads have started to turn speckled with dark spots as raindrops begin to fall to the earth. He sighs again, letting the dark red curtain fall as he shifts away. “I was really looking forward to finally being able to go outside for a night walk for once.”

The weather has been nothing but its current rotten state for the better half of two weeks. Of course, a little rain has never stopped him before, but the torrential downpours as of late are really nothing to dismiss. Heavy flooding is expected, not to mention the frequency of prayers he’s received at hastily erected temples seem to be wavering as well. With little need for his help, the villagers are able to go about their days and handle the rains without any divine interference for the time being. Needless to say His Royal Highness the Crown Prince has gotten a little stir crazy. It isn’t all bad though; not by a long shot. Not now that he has what he waited for what feels like a hundred, thousand lifetimes for. He’s not alone. He won’t ever be alone again.

“I’m more than happy to hold my umbrella up for Gege,” Hua Cheng’s voice comes not a moment later. It’s feathery and warm just like the pile of comfortable blankets he lazily lounges on. His bright eye sparkles in the low light of the lamp while a smile curls the corners of his coquettish lips. “It would be an honor to do so.”

Xie Lian makes a befuddled face before slowly blinking an incredulous look at Hua Cheng before completely dismissing the idea with a wave of his slender hand. “No, no,” he says as sternly as he can—which, grant it, isn’t very stern at all when it comes to Hua Cheng; especially now. In fact, one could even say he's quite soft on him lately...to the point of spoiling the Ghost King. “You’ll without a doubt tilt the umbrella too far my way and end up practically drowned.”

Hua Cheng’s eyebrows raise, lips going a bit tight; an easily deciphered expression that lets Xie Lian know he is 110% correct in his assumption. In the end, Hua Cheng simply shrugs and rests back further on his rather outrageous cushion and blanket throne. He slips his pale hands under his head, linking fingers together as he settles his soft gaze at Xie Lian.

Xie Lian is busy looking around the interior for a moment before his own gaze connects with Hua Cheng’s. A bit startled, his eyes widen and he feels his heart clench in that same way it is wont to do lately. It isn’t a bad feeling, no. Quite the opposite; if not a little worrisome at its frequency. “W-what? What is it?”

“Hn?” Hua Cheng’s smile simply grows and he speaks in that tone that may or may not have something to do with the aforementioned heart predicament. “Just thinking,” he comments calmly. His uncovered eye seemingly gleams with that curious eternally replenished youth.

“Of what?” It’s an innocent enough question. Xie Lian has to look away from that warm smile and soft gaze lest he fear melting. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m afraid if I tell, Gege will be troubled.”

Saying something like that so bluntly yet somehow still so inconceivably cryptic is definitely a talent none other than the Ghost King can possess. Xie Lian is no fledgling in the orate puzzles from his red-robed love however, so he steels himself with a flick of his white sleeves. “If you say it like that, what other choice do I have but to be troubled?” he utters cleverly as he finally steps away from the curtain and rounds the small working table. “I thought we were at a level where we could tell each other anything? Do you not trust me?” He kneels down in one smooth movement, pinning a glance sideways at a slightly surprised Hua Cheng lying beside him. Only moments pass before Hua Cheng lets out a small defeated sigh. Xie Lian internally pats himself on the back for landing a good play.

“Gege, you really shouldn’t be so sly with words like that,” Hua Cheng complains, but not really. Xie Lian can clearly see the smile on his face when he glances over again before pouring some tea into delicately painted cups he’d received from townsfolk upon his return. “Okay. Do you really want to know?”

Xia Lian pours a second cup and places it beside his and waits. He does not answer him again.

He hears Hua Cheng shift to his side, blankets shuffling a bit as he moves his large figure to sit snuggly next to Xie Lian. Xie Lian can feel the cold emanating from his form yet even though chilled to the touch, he can’t help but feel that and be warm, secure. And maybe a little...

No. None of that.

Calm yourself, he internally scorns.

“Every day is like a dream,” Hua Cheng says after moments of silence. His eyes flit downward, looking thoughtfully at the red string tied securely around his pale finger. “Every moment like a walking painting of things I’ve desired for so long they feel like a part of me.”

“San Lang…” Xie Lian in an instant feels close to melting again; a twinge of embarrassment flutter within his chest. He slowly lifts his hand and cradles it along Hua Cheng’s defined jaw, thumb trailing over the nearly translucent skin.

“Just now,” Hua Cheng continues with another inward smile, as if seeing a memory flit before his eyes; a memory Xie Lian so very much longs to be a part of. “In particular, seeing you surrounded in red, glancing back at me, reminds me very much of something I did actually paint.”

Xie Lian’s lips parted silently at that, blinking quickly.

He…

He had forgotten all about those murals.

Well, not so much as forgot but simply put to the back of his mind.

What he hadn’t buried however, is how desperately avid Hua Cheng had been about not disclosing the contents of said murals. His hand against Hua Cheng’s cheek retracts ever so slightly; the smallest of movements that no one could truly notice. But of course Hua Cheng notices, and within a blink he lifts his own hand to cover Xie Lian’s.

“You’ve wondered about it haven’t you, Gege?” he asks and after a moment he turns a little to face Xie Lian. “I’ll tell you.”

“No—well, yes. A-at first a little. I…Only if you’re ready to tell me,” Xie Lian stutters out his response right away; a seriousness to his tone that catches neither of them off guard. “It’s been so long…Well, I mean not terribly too long if you think about it respectively but—but, regardless. I don’t need to know if you don’t want to—”

“How about we play a game?” Hua Cheng suddenly blurts. His cold hand over Xie Lian’s grips harder and there’s a sparkle of something once again youthful and perhaps a bit mischievous in his eye.

“A…game?”

Hua Cheng nods and places Xie Lian’s hand down gently into his lap before turning and reaching into the depths of his blanket throne. “Since Gege wants to know so badly, why don’t we play some dice and wager how much I tell you.”

I don’t really want to know all that much… Xie Lian thinks this despite giving Hua Cheng a kind, if not slightly confused, smile. He brushes the thought aside for now and indulges his love for the time being—why not let him have a little fun? It’s the least Xie Lian can do. So, he scoots over and makes himself a bit more comfortable as Hua Cheng rights himself again. He opens his palm to Xie Lian to reveal that same tricky pair of dice.

Xie Lian eyes them for a moment before smiling back up at Hua Cheng with a slight tilt of his head. “So, what are the rules?”

“We each toss and the higher number wins. Winner gets to ask anything of the other.”

Xie Lian’s eyes widen and he holds up his hand, a quick action that makes Hua Cheng’s face tighten in surprise. “Wait just a minute!” Xie Lian says. “Aren’t those rules a little too vague? And besides, rolling against you? San Lang, I’m bound to lose every round.”

After the initial shock, Hua Cheng’s expression softens yet again as Xie Lian complains. Hua Cheng doesn’t seem the least bit phased by this logic however, and simply places one die on the table in front of each of them as he says coolly, “Gege’s luck isn’t nearly as bad as it once was, remember?”

Xie Lian’s brow furrows, unconvinced to say the least.

“Alright, how about we confuse the fates then?” Hua Cheng lifts his pale hand and points toward the curtain. Through a slit you can see the dark sky, a short flash of light from the storm flickers into their dimly lit abode. “When we toss, if it thunders we go with the higher roll. If we see lightning, then it’s low.”

Xie Lian blinks slowly, expression and shoulders going a little slack for a moment before saying, “That’s so unnecessarily confusing…”

Hua Cheng, however, doesn’t seem to be disheartened in the least. He simply laughs with mirth and picks up his die. “Please Gege?” he asks sweetly.

As if Ruoye itself had wrapped around Xie Lian’s heart, he feels his chest tighten and before he has a second thought, he’s agreeing to this ridiculous game.

The two sit next to each other, the same side of the table, and toss their first roll. As soon as the dice bounce atop the wooden surface a dark rumble billows in through the walls from the rain outside. Xie Lian holds his breath for a moment before the two of them glance down at the dice revealing one dot versus six.

Xie Lian’s shoulders positively deflate. It’s not as if he expected anything else than this sort of outcome. “See?” he says with a taught gesture toward the dice for emphasis. “I told you I’d lose, San Lang.”

“But Gege,” Hua Cheng’s voice comes a moment later, placid and smooth as always. “If we had seen lightning then I’d be the one to lose this round.”

Xie Lian nods in spite of his trepidation and shifts his hand to gesture toward his sly lover now. “Alright, alright. You win.”

“Yes, I win. So I get to ask anything of Gege this round,” Hua Cheng says with a smile that forces Xie Lian to look away, ears burning and the sound of rushing water like an ocean starts to fill his head. Xie Lian knows Hua Cheng so well at this point. It’s obvious to tell this silly game of his is just another way to tease him or get him to do something…embarrassing. His shoulders tense a little when he hears Hua Cheng open his mouth. “Have you ever wanted a puppy?”

..

.

What.

“What what? It’s a question!” Hua Cheng responds somewhat offended to what Xie Lian thought he had said in his brain but evidently had spoken out loud. "I won so I get to ask anything of Gege!"

Xie Lian blinks rapidly, as if restarting his brain before looking over at Hua Cheng with an unreadable expression. A complicated set of emotions, one of them prominently suspicion, start to gurgle in his nervous gut but he relents. “There was a time when I was…four? Maybe five? I recall begging my mother countless times for a dog. I think I’d seen one of the courtiers’ children walking theirs so I immediately wanted to have one too. I gave up after a week or so.”

Judging from Hua Cheng’s pleased expression he’s satisfied with Xie Lian’s answer. His warm smile has not left his lips since they first tossed, and it doesn’t waver when he reaches over and grabs their dice again. “Round two,” he calls happily.

Xie Lian takes the cold die in his hand and closes his fist around it, shaking his hand for good measure as the two of them toss again. Just as the dice bounce onto the table again another rumbling thunder filters into the room from outdoors. They both lean over and glance down at the dice to see, unsurprisingly, an exact replica of the first toss.

“I win, Gege,” Hua Cheng speaks serenely and Xie Lian doesn’t even have to look at him to see the grin.

“Claim your prize,” Xie Lian responds almost despondently as he leans back a little, resting his hands in his lap.

In that instant, Xie Lian swears he hears the words I plan to in Hua Cheng’s voice inside his head. But when he looks over, he merely sees him reach over innocently to grab his tea and take a sip. After a moment, Hua Cheng lightly licks his lips--an action that Xie Lian stares at quite intently-- and asks, “Have you ever eaten a sea snail?”

Again, the question throws Xie Lian off. It’s not what he expects from the usually playful Ghost King. He feels his brain stutter for a moment or two before he’s finally able to process the uncharacteristically normal question. “I, I guess I haven’t,” he answers with a slight inquisitive tone.

Hua Cheng nods then, lifts the tea cup to his lips once more, and takes another savory sip. “They’re quite good, Gege. I’ll take you to the sea sometime. I’ll go diving and catch some for you!”

Xie Lian finds himself smiling despite his rampant confusion and...whatever it is that's currently jumbling his insides like some kind of gymnastics routine. “I’d like that very much,” he says warmly and grabs for his own cup. As he does this, he can’t fight back the curiosity that creeps up from the pit of his belly, crawling upward on his spine and taking hold of the base of his skull. Why isn’t Hua Cheng being his usual sneaky self? What is he up to?! And…what was the point of this game again? A question of his own finally lingers, and when they take their dice again for a third round, Xie Lian finds himself wishing for a bolt of lightning.

Much to Xie Lian’s surprise (and if Hua Cheng is surprised too, he does a very good job at hiding it) as soon as they release the dice, a flash from outside fills the room momentarily before flickering away.

“I win!” Xie Lian blurts without much thought and looks out toward the curtain, silently thanking the sky for cooperating just this once. He sees the tail end of the flash; a flicker of silvery white against the dark sky.

What he doesn’t see is Hua Cheng leaning over and quickly switching the position of their dice—shuffling Xie Lian’s six with his one, effectively transforming the Crown Prince’s absolute failure into absolute victory. He removes his hands from the table just in time for Xie Lian to look back at him. He rests his hand against his cheek, smiling smoothly, not the least bit suspicious, and says, “Congratulations Gege. You rolled the lowest during a lightning strike. You win this round.”

Xie Lian smiles wider, a little bit of pride swelling his ignorant chest as he leans back on his hands. “Finally my turn, huh?” he muses. “Looks like I can learn about those murals now.”

“Ask away,” Hua Cheng replies calmly.

Xie Lian studies him a moment, carefully forming his question. “What exactly did you paint in those murals? Why didn’t you want me to see them?”

“That’s two questions, Gege.”

“It’s one with an addendum!

Hua Cheng grins again, the corner of his eye crinkling with its birth. “Alright,” he says and goes quiet once more. The storm rages on, the wind picking up a bit of speed that the trees from outside rustle and creak against the shrine walls. It’s a good long pause; effectively tugging on the invisible thread weaved through Xie Lian’s spine making him sit up straight, attentive...impatient.

Xie Lian holds his breath when Hua Cheng finally speaks.

“They are some of my most detailed work, I admit,” he says so casually it’s almost laughable. Xie Lian’s eyes widen a bit and Hua Cheng continues. “But they were created in a fit of weakness; perhaps delusion? I easily caved into my desires back then.”

If the storm had decided to blow down their entire abode, Xie Lian isn’t too confident he’d notice at this point. He stares at Hua Cheng, eyes growing even wider as his heart leaps and his stomach does more strange…acrobatics. He’d always had his suspicions about what was on those murals—it didn’t take a genius to connect the dots really. But hearing it now in those words, albeit a bit fancily laced, Xie Lian began to feel a tickle of something inexplicable thrill through him. Although, to say that this thrill started just now would be a blatant lie. It's been there, for a while now, growing beyond the surface. It's gotten a bit too strong to ignore as of late.

Seeing Xia Lian is without response, Hua Cheng sits up a little, spine going straight as he lifts his hands out in a placating gesture. “But please don’t worry about it, Your Highness. I respect your cultivation methods. I’m beyond that now.”

Beyond that.

Beyond that.

Beyond WHAT.

Xie Lian hadn’t noticed how dry his throat was until he tried speaking only to find nothing but desert within his mouth. He takes in a shallow breath just then and their eyes meet, and it’s...powerful. Xie Lian feels a warmth spread from his chest up to his neck and ears, burning under his skin like lava replacing his blood.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng’s voice is lower now in that tone that’s so gentle and sweet but deep within it lies something fierce and aching. Xie Lian knows it’s a sound specifically for him; no barriers, no guard, only his San Lang.

Xie Lian finds himself licking his lower lip just a bit before answering, “Yes?”

There’s another pause; heavy and thick with something that used to frighten Xie Lian but…when was it that he’d gotten used to it? Welcomed it? Maybe even craved it?

“It’s time to roll dice again,” Hua Cheng says and like a bubble bursting, Xie Lian blinks back to reality.

“Yes, right,” he replies in a daze. With robotic movements, he grabs his die to begin another round.

Was that just my imagination? Xie Lian wonders with a faint blush painting his cheekbones. Could I be the only one thinking about…that…right now? He peers up at Hua Cheng, seemingly oblivious to Xie Lian’s curious ogling. His eyes scan Hua Cheng slowly, taking in his frame that lies relaxed against the tumbling blankets of his comfortable throne. San Lang really can allude to these things with such a straight face? He takes in the deep reds of his robes, the sharp and smooth lines of his chest, throat, and jaw. All the way up to his red lips; smooth and light. Xie Lian doesn’t realize how long he’d been staring until those lips slowly stretch into a mischievous grin.

“Are you alright?” Hua Cheng asks, pillowing his cheek against his fist as he leans forward slowly to rest his elbow on the low table.

“What?” Xie Lian responds immediately before realizing he had actually heard him. He quickly follows up. “Yes, I’m fine. Let’s play, San Lang!”

“You dropped your die.” Hua Cheng points to Xie Lian’s lap to reveal that he had indeed let the game piece slip from his fingers. Hua Cheng leans over then, reaching into Xie Lian’s lap and grabbing the die. He pauses there and looks up at the Crown Prince, through those long dark lashes. His gaze doesn't leave Xie Lian’s face, even when he reaches with his other hand, wrapping it gently around his wrist and places the smooth die in his open palm.

Xie Lian actively avoids Hua Cheng’s unwavering stare, face betraying him by starting to burn. He has to actively hold in a sigh of relief when Hua Cheng finally slips away, letting distance fill between them once again. Then they toss their dice once more.

The storm is a bit delayed this time so the two of them glance down at their numbers, both rather low. Xie Lian tossed a two and interestingly enough Hua Cheng’s die landed with only four dots facing upward.

There’s a pause.

They look at their dice, then up at one another.

Another pause.

The silence is finally broken with a rather loud crack in the sky; thunder clapping into the night with a fierce echo. As if on cue, Xie Lian and Hua Cheng both look down once more to double check their numbers.

“I win,” Hua Cheng states confidently. “So I get to ask Gege anything again. Definitely my lucky day.”

“When is it ever an unlucky day for you?” Xie Lian retorts only to receive that same glinting, secretive smile from the Ghost King.

Hua Cheng leans back then, fingers coming up to the red pearl tied in his obsidian hair. He fiddles with it carefully for a second or two before seemingly coming to a decision. He flicks the braid over his shoulder and sits up straight.

“This one might be a bit difficult,” he admits with a slow nod. “You might not be able to answer it truthfully.”

Xie Lian, despite everything inside of him telling him otherwise, lets himself feel intrigued. He lifts a hand and swipes it under his long hair, shifting and combing his fingers through it for a moment for lack of anything better to do with his hands. “I’ll answer it, San Lang. Go on.”

“As expected, Gege is true to his word and keeps his promises,” he answers with another nod. “Alright, please forgive my bluntness, but has Gege ever disliked any of the dishes I’ve made?”

Again. Another mind-numbingly boring question!

Xie Lian doesn’t know if he wants to laugh or cry, as he is wont to feel in these sorts of situations, but whatever it is that his heart is doing behind his rib cage is definitely unnatural. Before he has any time to think rationally his voice escapes him. “That’s it?”

Hua Cheng’s expression proves he obviously wasn’t expecting that response. His brow furrows a little but somehow that only makes things worse for Xie Lian’s thumping heart. “What do you mean?”

“This game…it’s, you haven’t been…You’ve won so many times now and yet you continue asking such trivial questions!” Xie Lian feels like an overflowing barrel at this point, words spilling out of him like dribbling water. “You were the one who suggested it after telling me about the murals! I thought maybe…you were going to try something, something…” his voice trails off now, uncertain of exactly what it is he’s trying to say. “You brought up those things so I…I…I don’t know what I thought. Just, not this.” With a pink face, his heart leaps within him, breath going a little erratic. It’s quite a bit before he can calm himself down enough to look up at Hua Cheng again.

The silence that fills the room is only softened by the slow rumbling of thunder outside. The storm seems to be slowly coming to an end; wind and rain steadily decreasing. Hua Cheng’s soft lips are parted in slight surprise, handsome features highlighted elegantly in the faint light of the lamp. A flash of lightning outside washes over his already snow white skin, giving it an almost ethereal glow for only a blink of a second.

“Well,” Hua Cheng finally says to break the tight silence. “If you wanted to play that kind of game, Gege, you should’ve just said so!”

Xie Lian has never swallowed his tongue before, but now it certainly feels like he has. His eyes go wide, face instantly aflame. His mouth gapes wordlessly while his heart clenches almost painfully. His current rough status doesn’t seem to be as concerning for Hua Cheng as it is for him, seeing as Hua Cheng sits up onto his knees with a delightful grin.

“I’ll play any game you ask me to,” Hua Cheng states dutifully, hand over his heart. His uncovered eye suddenly goes dark with something quite piercing, and his voice drops an octave, enough to send chills down anyone’s spine; as if a thunder bolt suddenly had a voice. “Your Highness.”

 

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Xie Lian has no one to blame but himself. He waltzed right into this without logic or thought. He sits across from Hua Cheng who looks quite pleased with himself; almost to a suspicious extent.

“Do you understand the rules?” Hua Cheng asks gleefully, practically giddy, and Xie Lian has half the heart to tell him to knock that off.

But of course he doesn’t.

Because Hua Cheng really is rather cute when he’s like this.

With a bit of a pout, as his own stubbornness doesn’t seem to want to subside this evening, Xie Lian folds his arms across his chest and sighs. “I still think it’s an unfair wager. You saw for yourself just how many rounds of dice rolling I lost!”

“But you won too!” Hua Cheng cleverly retorts without so much as a blink. “That proves Gege’s luck has indeed changed!”

Xie Lian opens his mouth to retort but stays silent, only puffing out another sigh. He pretends he’s fighting a losing battle; lies to himself saying that there’s no way he’d be able to convince Hua Cheng otherwise; as if Hua Cheng wouldn’t immediately stop everything if Xie Lian asked it of him.

Xie Lian acts as if he’s being forced into this, but he isn’t. He really, really isn’t.

“Let’s just play already,” he says and tosses his die onto the table. Hua Cheng does the same. The two smooth game pieces bounce and crackle against the hard top before coming to a standstill.

One and two!!

So close?!

Xie Lian’s eyes widen, surprise catching his breath, and he looks up to Hua Cheng. There’s a knowing pause between the two of them before Xie Lian clears his throat, coughing behind his fist. “Two…Ok, I have to give two…two….”

Hua Cheng sits back, smiling as ever, and waits.

“Two,” Xie Lian repeats again. Another pause and he tries again, “Two…”

Then he decides enough is enough and sits up onto his knees and hobbles over quickly. He places his slender hands on Hua Cheng’s shoulders and leans in quickly. He presses his lips to Hua Cheng’s soft cheeks. They’re cold and smooth, sending a bit of a shock through Xie Lian’s body as he pecks one and two on either side.

Hua Cheng’s head tilts into the tender kisses, trailing after Xie Lian a little bit after the second kiss lands and Xie Lian pulls away.

He doesn’t even have time to be embarrassed because as soon as he looks at Hua Cheng again, he’s already eagerly clenching his fist around his own die, ready to toss again for another round.

And suffice it to say, the game goes on like this for quite some time.

Over and over.

Loss after loss.

Xie Lian peppers the handsome Ghost King with kisses until the skin on his own face has gone completely red; almost matching the maple tones of Hua Cheng’s robes. His lips have been overworked to the point where they tingle now, a little pleasantly.

It isn’t until the lamp's oil begins to flicker, reaching near its end, that Xie Lian tosses a rogue die. It bounces roughly on the tabletop once before darting off somewhere into the dark.

“Ah, sorry!” Xie Lian blurts quickly before making a move to fetch it.

“Please, sit,” Hua Cheng is quicker than him and is already up and off to the shadows to retrieve the die.

Xie Lian laughs a bit, feeling light and airy and…well, something else that's been lasting the better half of the night that he can’t quite figure out. He doesn’t really care what number he’s rolled because it’s bound to be lower than Hua Cheng’s, since he’s rolled a six. He’ll have to get creative now with six kisses in a row… He finds himself smiling giddily at the prospect.

“Oh! Interesting,” Hua Cheng says in a low tone, almost as if talking to himself. He turns to face Xie Lian, holding the smooth die between his thumb and index fingers. “Gege, we tied.”

Xie Lian blinked. “Tied? What was the rule if we tied again?”

“It means you win,” Hua Cheng says clearly but in a softened tone, one that barely lifts over the soft pitter patter of the dying rain outside.

“I won?” Xie Lian’s mind feels fuzzy still, from what he can’t say, but he comes too his senses quickly and repeats. “I won!” He lets out two short ha ha’s and raises a fist.

Hua Cheng chuckles quietly and sits down on his blanket throne. He crosses his arms and shakes his head with mock pity. “How unfortunate! I’ve finally lost. I was really enjoying this game quite a lot.”

Xie Lian lowers his fist onto his own lap and glances over curiously at Hua Cheng. Now that Xie Lian’s won, it does indeed mean the game has finished. That was the rule they decided before and at first Xie Lian had begged all the fates and perhaps some immortal gods with free time to lend him some luck to gain a speedy victory, but as time went on, he found that he’d quickly forgotten his desire to win.

The two are quiet again then. The storm outside finally ends and nothing but reawakened insects of the night fill the silence. The hour must be terribly late at this point; their game having lasted for a long while and the two hadn’t really paid any mind to it.

Xie Lian waits a moment before he comes to a decision he’d rather not spend too long deliberating. He moves silently toward Hua Cheng; robes shuffling with his movement. Hua Cheng watches him carefully and equally as silent. His glistening eye follows Xie Lian until he takes his seat directly next to him on his throne of comfortable blankets.

Hua Cheng rests his chin in his hand, waiting and watching while Xie Lian looks forward; posture regal and proud and so, so beautiful. Hua Cheng could stare at him all night if His Highness would let him. It would be enough. Truly.

Without looking Hua Cheng’s way, Xie Lian says, “I won.”

“Congratulations Gege.”

“No,” Xie Lian replies firmly but not unkind. “I won.”

“…Yes?”

“It doesn’t really seem fair that my only prize is the game ending.”

Hua Cheng’s eyebrow quirks cleverly; that telltale smirk pricking at the corner of his red lips. “Ah. You do have a point there.”

“Would it be agreeable to change the rules one last time?”

“Of course,” Hua Cheng replies honestly, voice velvety and calm.

“Combining our first game’s rules with this one,” Xie Lian begins. He still has not glanced Hua Cheng’s way, but even in the dim light Hua Cheng can see just how red his ears are turning again. “Since I won, the game is over, but I get one last benefit. I get to ask anything of you.”

“That’s more than agreeable, Gege. Please, ask away.”

Without missing a beat, Xie Lian blurts, “Tell me in detail what’s on one of those murals.”

“…”

Hua Cheng’s silence is a bit off putting, and Xie Lian finally breaks his demeanor to glance his way. Hua Cheng’s uncovered eye gazes down at his hands, thumb trailing lightly over the knotted red string.

“Can’t you?” Xie Lian asks hesitantly; uncertainty suddenly starting to bubble uncomfortably in his stomach.

Truth be told, this sort of situation happens often as of late. Since Hua Cheng’s return they’ve spent their days in an almost too-good-to-be-true delight. They’re side by side, day in and out, passing the nights next to each other in comfortable closeness.

But what goes on beyond that is however…

Well, an unspoken tension, if you will.

Perhaps at one point during their rather playful game, Xie Lian had a change of heart. A change that finally revealed that once indescribable pull he’s been feeling since Hua Cheng’s return.

“Your Highness,” Hua Cheng replies just as softly. His gaze flits up, pinning Xie Lian’s in a way only he is able to pull off. “You understand what you’re asking, right?”

Xie Lian’s breath catches for only a moment before he tightens his lips and nods curtly. “En.”

Then there’s a shift in the air. It’s not dramatic, but it’s noticeable to say the least.

“Why don’t you lie down, Gege?” Hua Cheng asks after a beat. If one knew any better, one could say his voice sounded a little...off; perhaps a bit shaky. Nerves maybe?

Without a word, Xie Lian nods once again and slowly lowers himself down. He lies next to Hua Cheng, shifting and snuggling comfortably onto the blankets. Xie Lian can see why Hua Cheng insisted on having such an eyesore in their abode. It is really rather nice, if not a bit overboard.

It isn’t the first time they’ve gotten close like this, so the act of doing so isn’t necessarily a strain on Xie Lian’s heart. His side presses gently against Hua Cheng’s, warm to cold, and so very perfect.

After a short beat of quiet, comfortable and calm, Hua Cheng wraps a strong arm around Xie Lian’s shoulders, tugging him in closer to his large frame.

“The first one is in three parts,” he says in a low voice; a trebled whisper, one that carries a gentle rumble that Xie Lian feels in his chest. “I’m holding you in my arms just like this.”

Hua Cheng tilts his head in close, leaning in just enough so his voice whispers like a promise against Xie Lian’s ear and neck. The chill raises goosebumps along Xie Lian’s skin and each time Hua Cheng speaks a small tickle vibrates in his side and lower back; a pleasant if not curious sensation.

“My hands are free to roam where they please,” he continues in that same sweet tone, like molten honey now dripping into Xie Lian's very core. And as his words denoted, Hua Cheng’s hands slip around him, palms flattening against his chest, fanning his fingers as he slips them down the front of Xie Lian’s torso.

Xie Lian’s breath catches in his throat, heart skipping enough beats to cause alarm. But he’s anything but alarmed. If anything, a slight race thrills up his spine, one that causes his toes to suddenly curl.

Then Hua Cheng smoothly shifts them around, guiding Xie Lian to lie on his back on the pile of comfortable blankets while he himself slips away, going up onto his hands and knees. Some strands of ebony hair slip down over his shoulders, like black rivulets against a crimson horizon. The single braid adorned with the red pearl glints in the last remnants of light flickering from the lantern perched across the room.

“The center of the first piece looks more like this,” he says casually.

Xie Lian blinks up at him slowly, lips parted ever so slightly as he takes in the view above him. It’s nothing new that his beloved San Lang has looks that could stop time itself, but something about the way he appears now, with an expression softened with adoration, it positively melts Xie Lian’s heart. He reaches up, cupping his palm to Hua Cheng’s porcelain cheek, feeling the chill of it. Hua Cheng smiles, tilting his head into the intimate touch as he slowly moves over, lifting a knee up and over Xie Lian’s waist. He stays there, hovering above Xie Lian, for just a moment before curling forward. He presses his hands just to the side of Xie Lian’s head, causing a slight dip against one of the plush pillows.

“How did Gege know this was the exact pose?” Hua Cheng almost coos the words. “Are you sure you haven’t seen them?”

Xie Lian shakes his head. “You know I haven’t. You told me not to look, so I didn’t. As much as I wanted to…”

Hua Cheng chuckles at that before he shifts his hand atop Xie Lian’s, guiding it down to his chest. He presses Xie Lian’s warm palm against his red robes. “If my heart had a beat, it’d be going crazy right now, Gege.”

Another stuttered breath escapes Xie Lian and a short moment of uncertainty passes. Conflicting emotions tremble within him for a while before he can think of what to say. In the end, he goes with, “What else did you paint?”

Another pause.

“Does His Highness really want to know?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian does not hesitate. “Tell me.”

“Ok, I’ll tell you.”

“No, I mean,” Xie Lian adds quickly, which catches Hua Cheng’s attention—as if he hadn’t already had it; he always has it. Hua Cheng sits back a little, weight just barely there against Xie Lian’s thighs. Xie Lian swallows and says, “Show me.”

 

 

::::

 

 

Hesitant but curious hands roam the dips and planes of Xie Lian’s body. Hua Cheng’s fingers are nimble, precise, yet so, so delicate as they slowly unfold the fabrics of robes. The outer robe slips off, placed gently to the side. Then the light inner robe too.

That delicate chain holding the silver ring glints in the dim light of the room. It’s precious glare reflects lovingly in Hua Cheng’s eye as he gently brushes his finger pads against it before pressing his palms to XIe Lian’s chest.

Skin against skin, warm to cold; sensations that send sparks behind one’s eyes.

Hua Cheng leans down but pauses briefly. A fleeting conflicted look passes his gentle gaze; as if wondering if this is really, truly good; If passing this barrier isn’t the wrong path to choose. He’d been content for almost a millennia with simply observing on the sidelines—protecting, worshiping, adoring; all with no expectations of reciprocity. He returned like he promised he would to be by his beloved’s side. Is crossing this bridge now really the right thing to do? He worries about this for a moment or two. But those worries seem to flutter away like his silver butterflies as he gently presses his lips to Xie Lian’s chest.

He kisses him over and over; deliberately and delicately, as if handling an intricate snowflake whose unique patterns could fade away at any moment. He knows Xie Lian is anything but delicate though. He’s stronger than any force nature can conjure; more resilient than any spiritual array. He knows all of this, but that doesn’t do anything to stop his almost maddening desire to worship him as if he were light, energy, and air itself.

Hua Cheng slowly moves down Xie Lian’s torso, kissing trails along the dips and valleys of Xie Lian’s abdomen. He brings his hands to Xie Lian’s sides too, fingers ghosting along his rib cage, sliding gently in barely there touches as his finger pads brush over a beauty mark or faded scar here and there.

Suddenly Xie Lian’s stomach shies away from a particularly gentle touch, breath leaving him in a short gasp.

“Gege?” Hua Cheng’s voice rises with an unspoken question. He parts his lips from Xie Lian’s warm, soft skin, pulling away on instinct.

Xie Lian shakes his head; a bit dizzy but smiling nonetheless. “Just ticklish,” is all he needs to reply.

Hua Cheng laughs quietly before pressing another, more confident peck onto Xie Lian’s belly. He sits up again now, back on his haunches as he lifts a hand to his hair. He presses his palm against his hair, brushing it back. His shoulders seem to slump then, a bit of a sigh escaping him.

“Tired already, San Lang?” Xie Lian says teasingly; a shock to Hua Cheng if he’s ever heard one.

To emphasize this, his brows shoot up and his widened gaze darts to Xie Lian who’s own heavy lidded gaze stares up at him; milky skin brushed a beautiful, faint pink.

“If you’re sleepy, we can stop,” Xie Lian adds.

Hua Cheng blinks a moment, synapses firing belatedly, before he shakes his head almost too enthusiastically. “I’m not tired! I’m, I’m…not.”

“Hmm, is that so? Just from this you already seem beat. Do you know how many times I kissed you? I thought you’d have more stamina than that, San Lang.”

Hua Cheng’s mouth practically gapes, but he’s quick on the recovery. “Gege, you have no idea what you do to me, do you?”

It’s Xie Lian’s turn to blink and he tilts his head a little, almost puppy-like. “What I…do to you?”

Hua Cheng can only hold back the soft moan in his throat for so long before he finally relents. It filters out of him like a childish whine. His cool-guy act resolutely crumbles and it’s all this man’s fault. Hua Cheng drops his head to Xie Lian’s chest, pressing his forehead to the hard muscle. His hands, admittedly a bit shaky, come to either side of Xie Lian’s slender hips. His fingers dip under the waistband of the trousers, slipping in quickly before tugging the fabric down a little.

“Ah!” Xie Lian’s startled voice pierces the quiet room like a hot knife; his exposed skin tingling at the rush of cool, humid air. His hips stutter; body going a bit tense before he relaxes once more. Between his legs, however, is a whole different story. A blush blooms across his entire body as he blurts, “S-San Lang!?”

Gege,” Hua Cheng mutters with his forehead still pressed resolutely against Xie Lian’s chest. His mind goes fuzzy; bleary with love for His Royal Highness the Crown Prince. He’s been so lucky tonight, being able to touch him as he pleases; being kissed by Xie Lian for the better half of an hour. He’s practically a pile of leaves at this point, easily blown away by the softly growing winds outside. “Please let me touch you more. Please.”

“More?”

“Please…” Hua Cheng’s fingers grip the waistband even tighter, tugging a little without actually pulling the fabric any further than he already has. He wouldn’t dare do that. Not without permission. “Let me taste you,” he almost whimpers.

Somewhere outside, the soft pitter patter of raindrops begins again. Drip. Drop. One after another like the ticking passage of time. And soon enough, the rushing sound of heavy rainfall filters into their quiet abode. Xie Lian doesn’t respond until the first rumble of thunder echoes loudly.

“I’ve never…” his voice trails off a moment and he waits. Hua Cheng catches the nonverbal cue immediately and lifts his head, looking up at Xie Lian’s flushed face through his long raven lashes. Xie Lian blinks in surprise at how serious Hua Cheng looks at him and his ears burn a little redder. He looks away and continues, “You know I’ve never done this.”

Hua Cheng listens silently, gaze unwavering. The storm outside comes back with a vengeance, louder this time and with thunder that cracks and rumbles the ground itself. The wind is strong, but not alarmingly so. The trees outside bend and twist to its whim.

Similarly, a storm rages inside of the Crown Prince; one of gurgling emotions both exciting and terrifying all at once. Xie Lian seemingly reaches his limit then and he suddenly brings his hands up to cover his face with a soft smack. He speaks muffled into his palms. “I know I was sounding confident earlier, but that was just an act. I’m…I’m so nervous I might puke.”

Hua Cheng bolts up as if sitting on a tack, practically leaping off of Xie Lian’s lap. He doesn’t leave him though. Instead, he hovers over Xie Lian’s waist once again as he presses his hand to his forehead. “Gege, if you felt unwell you should’ve said something!”

The gesture makes Xie Lian’s face warm again and he shivers awkwardly as the situation between his legs curiously reacts to Hua Cheng’s weight suddenly disappearing. “N-no,” he swats away Hua Cheng’s hand. “I’m not feeling unwell. Like I said, I…I’m just nervous. That’s all.”

“I’m sorry,” Hua Cheng says gently; shoulders deflating. “I’ve made you uncomfortable.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian replies a bit firmly. “You’ve done no such thing.”

“But you’re nervous…”

“And?! So what if I’m nervous! I told you I…” Xie Lian’s tone gets harsh again and he catches himself, not wanting to ruin the nice mood. Just because his heart clenches with embarrassment and he feels like his brain is in the clouds, doesn’t mean he should take it out on Hua Cheng. Hua Cheng has done nothing wrong. He's going about their evening like his usual self, while Xie Lian is...

He closes his lips tightly, making a small wincing noise before summoning some semblance of calm once more. “Forgive me San Lang. I, I’m just a little overwhelmed…” He lifts a hand to his forehead, still cool from Hua Cheng’s precious touch. “I’m behaving so odd tonight. I shouldn’t let you seem something so humiliating.”

“Nothing Gege does could ever offend me,” Hua Cheng replies as he slowly lowers himself atop of Xie Lian once more. Xie Lian almost finds himself sighing with relief of the weight pressing down onto him again; like a comfort blanket, cold yet warming him to the bone.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian speaks after a moment and smiles at the quiet affirming noise he gets in return. “I want you to continue.”

“Is it really okay?”

“I’d tell you if it wasn’t.”

Hua Cheng’s smile reaches a new level at that very moment. It’s different than his others; often softly subdued with an air of mystery. This time it’s bright, pearly teeth cutting across his expression as pure delight emanates from him.

“Gege, you’re perfect.”

Xie Lian can’t stop his surprised laugh leave him in a short huff. “Please don’t say that.”

“It’s true.” Hua Cheng slips his fingers below Xie Lian’s waistband again. He pulls down the fabric in one smooth, expert movement. “You’re able to speak your mind in ways I could never even try.”

Hua Cheng’s gentle touch slowly guides Xie Lian’s ankles up, bending his legs towards his chest a little to slip the fabric off completely.

“You’re the one who was narrating your paintings earlier,” Xie Lian retorts, head turned away. His heartbeat is in his ears, loud and abrasive and his face feel aflame. “Isn’t that speaking exactly like speaking your mind?”

“Only because Gege wanted me to.”

“You’re the one who brought them up!”

Hua Cheng laughs and Xie Lian’s expression loosens in surprise for a moment before he smiles too, shaking his head at the absurdity of his words and actions tonight.

“This isn’t going very well is it?” he asks quietly, eyebrows arching a bit sheepishly.

“Hm? What do you mean?” Hua Cheng scoots back and in an instant his hands are on Xie Lian’s thighs, rubbing small, sweet circles along the firm muscle. His thumbs knead into them delicately before tracing along the protruding lines of his hips. “This seems to be going rather well if you ask me.”

Xie Lian’s breath hitches for what feels far from the last time this evening. It’s only then that the realization hits him like a crashing wave. His entire naked body lies before Hua Cheng; thighs and chest flushed red. His skin is like white snow against the plush fabrics beneath him. Between his legs, his dick swells; half hard and flushed in its own right.

Glancing down at himself, Xie Lian sucks in his lower lip, chewing on it briefly before glancing back at Hua Cheng. “What you asked before…to, uhm, taste…”

Hua Cheng’s hands pause in their rhythmic massaging. His uncovered eye darts down between Xie Lian’s legs—an action that causes Xie Lian to squirm a bit—before slowly rising back up to Xie Lian’s glassy gaze. He doesn’t say anything, and Xie Lian finds his own words caught in his throat now. It’s a long time coming—hours, days, months, years, of that nonverbal pull. The inexplicable siren call that burrowed its way deep into Xie Lian’s chest; spreading like blooming vines until it was too much to ignore. He’s long since given up on finding a name for it. Instead, he simply basks in the feeling.

Being next to Hua Cheng, staying by his side, is the only truth that matters.

Everything else is just…words. Superfluous. Unnecessary.

They don’t need to say it. They feel it. That’s what matters.

Xie Lian nods slowly, keeping his eyes trained on Hua Cheng.

In a moment, a movement of black and red shifts in the dim light and Hua Cheng slips down; planting butterfly soft kisses along the way.

Xie Lian finds his body reacting as if on instinct. His hips stutter again, back arching into the light touches. And when he feels a slick wetness slide a single stripe along the side of his cock, his whole body lights up like a pulse of electricity jolting through him. His hands slap to either side of himself, gripping the blankets and pillows with sudden intensity.

“A-ah!” he gasps at the sensation; foreign and new, yet somehow so incredibly full of relief. “Oh, th-that’s, uhm…”

Hua Cheng’s raven hair slips over his shoulder again, trailing ghost-like touches along Xie Lian’s naked skin before he quickly moves it away. He gathers it up in his hand and shifts it to one side behind his neck. All the while, his heavy lidded gaze stays trained straight forward. His mouth opens further, pink tongue slipping out as he glides it along Xie Lian’s cock once again. He feels his beloved shiver beneath him; and that alone sends a thrill up his spine as well. It swells hot and stiff under his teasing tongue; the tip leaking and dribbling with such inexperience it’s really rather cute.

He’d never dream of saying this out loud, lest he risk a slap of retaliation from one embarrassed Crown Prince. Instead, he relishes in the soft breathy noises Xie Lian makes with every intricate swirl and flick of his agile tongue.

“Perfect,” Hua Cheng mumbles instead. His tone is soft, a barely there whisper as if talking to himself, and pretty soon he takes Xie Lian into his already dripping mouth.

As if the new sensation were too much, Xie Lian’s back arches higher than before; hips bucking with sudden fervor that Hua Cheng actually has to brace his firm hands on either side of his hips to hold him down. His mouth works slowly, hand sliding over, slick with sweat to grip what he can’t fit in his mouth. Of course, he could fit it all in an instant if only Xie Lian says the word. For now, he focuses on the slow, languid rhythm of his tongue; hollowing out his cheeks as he slips that heavy cock in and out.

“San Lang…” Xie Lian breathes his name and it’s intoxicating the way it sounds; breath coated with sweetness like a sugary treat. “I’m…I don’t know what’s…hahh.

Hua Cheng hums and judging from the shivering reaction he receives he believes it is the right thing to do. With ignited motivation; one that thrills down his own spine, excitement  grows between his legs. His cock pricks to life and presses against the inside of his dark trousers. Hua Cheng bobs his head now, letting the wet noises filter up into the quiet room, combating the rumbling thunder and thrashing rain.

Even with this quickened pace, Xie lian doesn’t make much noise; save for the soft breaths that barely linger on gasping moans which practically send Hua Cheng off a cliff with desire. Hua Cheng swears he sees stars when he suddenly feels Xie Lian’s warm hands on the top of his head. With newfound rigor, Hua Cheng decides to forgo permission and swallow down Xie Lian even further. His uncovered eye closes tightly as he takes him in; all the way until his nose presses up against the curly dark hair; warm and intimate.

“Ah, aah,” Xie Lian gasps again, voice carrying on each breath. A whole-body shiver wracks through him and without thinking he grasps harder onto those raven locks. “San Lang, wait. I, I think I’m…” He can’t for the life of him speak; head spinning as pleasure spirals through him in growing intensity.

A few moments later, Xie Lian’s entire body tenses. His voice catches in his throat, cut off and taught before it melts into a weak, airy moan.

Hua Cheng shivers too when that warmth fills his mouth, slipping down his throat without so much as a hiccup. If his eyes were open, one would see how the sensation dripping in his mouth and throat have his eyes going crossed—body shivering once again as his own cock weeps wetly under his black clothes; begging for friction as he rolls them forward secretly once against a pillow beneath him. Xie Lian’s cock twitches in his mouth for a moment or two before Xie Lian himself goes entirely slack.

The Crown Prince’s chest heaves, breath escaping him in soft pants. For a moment, all thought has left him and he simply lies there; wide eyes staring up at the ceiling. And for this same moment, Xie Lian finds himself wondering if it really was worth it to wait all this time for something so, so…

“Hmm,” Xie Lian practically purrs contently before coming to a sudden realization. He lifts his head up quickly, glancing down at Hua Cheng who’s still lying between his legs; mouth full. “A-ah, San Lang! Okay, okay. It’s enough.”

 Hua Cheng hums one last time and swirls his tongue along the underside, savoring the salty taste before he finally, slowly glides out. It’s all wet now, messy and slick, and his lips part from the pink head with a lewd pop.

“Are you okay, Gege?” he has the audacity to smack his lips lightly as he asks this with a small tilt of his head. He rests his chin gingerly atop Xie Lian’s warm thigh, gaze steady on his finger swirling small circles along his hard stomach. He raises his eyebrows when he hears the airy, almost exasperated laugh come from Xie Lian.

“What kind of…” He still hasn’t quite caught his breath; chest rising and falling slowly and glistening ever so slightly with an almost unfairly perfect sheen of sweat.  “question is that…?”

“I just want to make sure, is all.” Hua Cheng pauses a moment to plant a kiss to the inside of his thigh. With his wet lips pressed against that warm, smooth skin, he can’t help but smile. Nothing will ever top this feeling, he decides.  “You’re not uncomfortable? Nothing strange?”

“You ask that as if the roles were reversed right now. You’re the one who’s…I mean, doesn’t that…” Xie Lian’s voice suddenly trails off.

Hua Cheng hums inquisitively; a slight nudge for his beloved to speak.

“It doesn’t taste, um…weird?”

“Nothing from Gege could possibly taste weird.” And he’s absolutely, 100% serious as he says this.

Xie Lian’s already flushed face blooms a deeper red, but before he can fully succumb to embarrassment, Hua Cheng’s movement catches his eye. He advances smoothly as always, practically gliding up Xie Lian’s body until he’s flush with it; lying atop Xie Lian without a care in the world.

Hua Cheng tilts his head forward, leaning in until his lips press against Xie LIan’s. It’s chaste, but lingering; slow and meaningful. They both close their eyes for just a moment before their soft lips audibly part. Then they hold each other’s gazes for a while; taking in one other as if it were the only thing left to do in this world. The frozen spell doesn’t last for very long, however, and the two of them press in again. They tilt into the kiss, lips pressing languidly against each other in slow rhythmic movements.

Xie Lian’s warm tongue is the first to slip in. It presses gently, as if needing an invitation. Hua Cheng is more than happy to oblige; humming softly, low and deep in his throat. Their tongues work against each other in slick, slow movements, tasting and exploring; warm breath billowing against soft skin. Airy moans filter into the air when lips part in periodic moments.

After a short while, Xie Lian begins to squirm again. His body reacts selfishly, hips canting forward ever so slightly against Hua Cheng’s strong form without much thought. His entire being ignites again when he feels that hard warmth press against his hip beneath Hua Cheng’s layered robes. His hands begin to roam freely too; trailing up Hua Cheng’s sides, catching the fabric with his fingertips, tugging ever so slightly. Just as he does this however, Hua Cheng parts from the kiss. Xie Lian’s hands find themselves hovering in air as Hua Cheng moves away.

“See?” Hua Cheng says through a grin. “Tastes just fine, right?”

“San Lang…” Xie Lian mutters.

“Hm?”

“Why am I the only one without clothes?”

“Why would I need to be without mine?”

“…”

“…”

“San Lang.” Xie Lian darts his eyes down between Hua Cheng’s tented trousers.

“Oh.”

“…”

“…”

“San Lang.”

“You don’t need to worry about me, Gege,” he finally responds somewhat tensely—if he could blush he would, but perhaps Xie Lian can see just a hint of blue behind his pure, ghostly white skin. A curious if not titillating discovery. “I just want you to feel—”

“That’s a bit one-sided, isn’t it?”

Hua Cheng simply furrows his brow and Xie Lian continues, “If we’re going to continue, then your robes are coming off.”

There’s a short pause—heavy at first, but it breaks eventually when Hua Cheng’s grin grow like a mischievous scheme across his handsome face.

“So Gege wants to continue then?”

 

::::

 

 

“W-where did you even get this stuff?” Xie Lian’s voice breaks on the last word, a hiccupped sob following it. His whole body shivers with pleasure rushing through his veins like a drug. He lets out a surprised gasp when a third digit is pressed in; curling and stretching with a slight burn that aches yet satisfies at the same time. He’s on his back, arm swung over his eyes, not bearing to look down to see the absolute dripping mess he’s become.

The slick, lewd noises are enough to burn his ears and he unconsciously flinches when he feels more of that slippery oil drip on him; everywhere, every sensitive nook and cranny. It tingles oddly, like a mix of cold and hot and it’s nothing like he’s ever felt before. The aroma is almost sickening at how loose and light it makes him feel. And not only that, but Hua Cheng’s cold but firm grasp on his burning cock, slowly stoking in time with the experimental nudges of his fingers is all too maddening. The oil slips down lower, and he can feel some of the excess pooling just under his ass against the nice blankets beneath him. He hopes whatever this stuff is, it doesn’t stain. He’s inclined to believe that it’s some strange product from Ghost City—sold in some dark back alley with promises of grandeur. Promises of enhancement or enlightened senses or unnatural but delicious taste?

Well, it wouldn’t be that bad of a purchase if that were the case.

“Would His Highness be embarrassed if I told him I’ve had it for quite some time?” Hua Cheng answers after a moment.

Xie Lian’s voice catches in his throat before he can respond. Hua Cheng’s fingers press firmly into him knuckle deep; rubbing up against his inner walls and sending waves of pleasure that has his cock dripping and twitching with almost unbearable need. He finds his voice eventually however, and through some panting breaths he whimpers, “San Lang…It’s enough…I’m…”

Hua Cheng stops moving his hand instantly and after a short pause slips his fingers out. The sensation sends a curious chill down Xie Lian’s spine; leaving him feeling slightly empty. It’s a new experience to say the least. He isn’t given any time to dwell on this fact however, because before he can move his arm to glance at Hua Cheng, he feels those strong, comforting hands gently grab his waist and turn him over onto his stomach.

Wait. What?

Hua Cheng slips his hands under Xie Lian, hoisting his ass up slowly and carefully, a cool palm pressing flat against his lower back; a small gesture of affection.

Xie Lian’s eyes go wide, face exploding with that pesky, unwavering heat that comes and goes in waves during this whole ordeal. With his face pressed into those plush blankets that have been warmed by his body for the past hour, he hears Hua Cheng shuffle behind him; the sounds of robes slipping off and dropping next to them. His heart thuds like a drum as he lifts himself up onto his elbows, hands gripping those blankets tight. “W-why did you flip me!?” he asks with a tone that’s bordering on hysterical.

“’Why?’” Hua Cheng responds sincerely (as if he were capable of doing elsewise.) “This position is much more comfortable.” And then after a short pause he adds, “From what I’ve read.”

Xie Lian looks over his shoulder, the action a bit difficult in this current position so he stops midway. He decides to stare at his own shoulder—and would you look at that, it’s possible to blush on your shoulders too.

“This isn’t comfortable, San Lang!” he complains and maybe lies a little bit too. “This is embarrassing. No. No, no. No, this won’t do.”

“But,” Hua Cheng responds and he sounds…genuinely concerned, almost desperate. “I only want you to be able to relax, Gege.”

“There’s absolutely no way I can relax like this.”

There’s a heavy pause; not a mood breaker, but definitely riding on the edge of something touchy. Xie Lian can hear rushing water in his burning ears again. His entire body hot and sweaty and dripping all sorts of unthinkable things. Not only did Xie Lian fail to get Hua Cheng undressed…adding this, this, face down position like some sort of animal would simply push him past his limit. One can only have so much pride tampered with before one completely crumbles.

Xie Lian feels Hua Cheng’s kind touch on his lower back again. “As you wish,” he says softly and Xie Lian can hear the defeated smile on those lips. “Would you flip back over for me?”

With a relieved sigh and perhaps a slight swell of victory in his chest, Xie Lian relaxes and then turns around once more. He adjusts himself onto his back, shifting in the blankets, placing a pillow beneath his hips and looks up to see…

“Oh!” he blurts in a whisper.

Oh no.

Oh no.

Oh, this is much worse.

Before him is a kneeling Hua Cheng, naked upperhalf cut like marble with that uncovered, beautiful eye gazing back at Xie Lian like he’s the only thing he sees. Perhaps that’s true.

“Please open your legs a little for me, Gege.” Hua Cheng says quietly, voice like honey that drips slow and languid but it falls on deaf ears.

Xie Lian’s own gaze, and  with brain filled with white noise like a roaring river, flits over his lover’s body. The dips and curves of each perfectly accentuated muscle, the raised edges of scars, the illegible tattoo of his own name; all of it. He takes it in with a heart outrageously unprepared for such a sight. He swallows dryly, lip quivering a bit before he tries at some semblance of calm. “You finally took your robes off for me, huh?”

Hua Cheng’s brows shoot up and he suddenly moves a hand to his other arm, gripping his elbow gently. If Xie Lian didn’t know any better he’d say that it’s an embarrassed gesture. His theory is confirmed, and subsequently heart destroyed, when he sees that shy smile cross Hua Cheng’s lips.

“I apologize for my appearance,” Hua Cheng says this with such direct honesty that it catches Xie Lian off guard. He has to bring himself back to reality, open his drooping eyes once again that had been staring at the hard lines of Hua Cheng’s hips—two trails that dip beneath his trousers that hang low on his waist. “Injuries I sustained don’t necessarily heal as nicely as Gege’s.”

Xie Lian blinks hard, shaking his head slightly to literally pull himself from the delusion he thinks he’s having. “San Lang? What…” he stops himself then and suddenly sits up, faster than Hua Cheng can react, and wraps his arms around him in a warm embrace. He presses him against his chest hard and sinks his face into the crevice of his neck, breathing in deeply and holding it in his lungs. He feels Hua Cheng’s own arms slip around his waist, hugging him back tightly and securely like always.

Hua Cheng dips his head low too, nose pressed to Xie Lian’s soft, chestnut hair. He plants a few kisses upon his crown.

“What reason could you possibly have to apologize, San Lang?” Xie Lian speaks muffled into Hua Cheng’s neck, lifting his own lips to chilled skin and planting small pecks along Hua Cheng’s throat.

“I just want to be perfect for you, Your Highness.”

Xie Lian chuckles. “Perfect?” he says with a bit of sass, though not unkind. He pulls away from the embrace, just enough to get a good look at his beloved, and not nearly far enough to break away—if he could stay connected to him like this, in his arms, for the rest of eternity that would be enough. He pats Hua Cheng’s arms. “And where exactly are these imperfections, oh powerful Ghost Demon King, Scourge of Heaven, capable of trampling mountains and sinking oceans? Who all ghosts and underdwelling creatures alike fear and love?”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says weakly. He stares into Xie Lian’s unwavering gaze before he lets out another whimper, not unlike the one from earlier. He melts in Xie Lian’s hands, head dropping to Xie Lian’s shoulder, pressing his forehead against it to hide his face just like before too. “You’re complimenting me too much…”

“I’m merely asking!” Xie Lian fakes ignorance. He wraps his arms around Hua Cheng once again, cradling his head in his hand. “Please point out the imperfections so I, the thrice ascended immortal god, shall deal upon them great judgement!”

“…”

Without a response, Xie Lian decides to take the task upon himself. “Could it be here?” He smooths his hand down Hua Cheng’s silky raven hair, carding his fingers through it with little to no resistance. He slips his hand, palm flat against smooth skin, down between Hua Cheng’s shoulder blades. “Or maybe here?” He slides both hands across Hua Cheng’s back, feeling the ridges and dips of scars but not for a single moment stopping on any of them. He slips his fingers delicately over every inch of him before shifting to his front. Hua Cheng follows suit, lifting his head from his sanctuary of Xie Lian’s shoulder and straightening his back again.

His uncovered eye is cast down, dark lashes kisses his cheekbones like black brushes against white porcelain.

“Oh, this has got to be it right?” Xie Lian, giddy with this new sense of control he’s somehow naturally obtained, brings his hands along Hua Cheng’s front. His hands massage over his strong pectorals; finger pads grazing lightly over his nipples, circling them gently before pressing his hands downward along his abdomen. “Hmm. No. That’s not it. This too is perfect.” As soon as his hands dip, he leans forward and presses his lips to the center of Hua Cheng’s chest. He feels Hua Cheng shiver beneath his touch and he can’t help but smile against his chilly skin. “This is quite the challenge, San Lang!” he says. “I just can’t seem to find those imperfections you were so worried about!”

“Gege…”

Xie Lian glances up to see Hua Cheng’s desperate expression staring down at him. He smiles despite this, planting one last kiss on his chest before straightening up again. As he does his, his hands lower, walking his fingers along Hua Cheng’s sides before reaching the hem of his trousers. He dips his fingers in, rubbing along the inside of the waistband, feeling the creases and folds of the fabric.

He holds Hua Cheng’s gaze with his own, eyes steady and expression set as Xie Lian dips his hands beneath the fabric. Xie Lian holds back the thrill of excitement that rushes through him like a drug when he sees how Hua Cheng’s lips part as soon as his warm hand wraps around his hard cock, already wet and leaking; untouched until now. How tragic, Xie Lian suddenly finds himself thinking. He then sucks in his lower lip for a second, licking it unconsciously as he curls his wrist and slowly begins to stroke. Xie Lian’s never done this before—that much is certain—but even with his slightly inelegant method, Hua Cheng’s usually steely expression falters.

Xie Lian likes the way Hua Cheng’s slim eyebrows bend and furrow; the way his posture seems to want to collapse beneath Xie Lian’s touch. And when Hua Cheng’s hands lift to Xie Lian’s arms, holding them gently as the first of what Xie Lian hopes is many unhinged moans escapes his lips, something inside Xie Lian snaps.

Just as the second wave of stormy weather picks up outside, so too does the undulating mood inside. Thunder rumbles and storm clouds curl and tumble in the sky as rain pelts down onto the earth. It slams against the roof of their abode, surrounding the two inside with calming white noise. The state of the weather is far from either of their concerns of course. And when lightning flashes, filling the room with whitewashed light, the two fall back onto their throne of blankets.

Hua Cheng crashes his lips against Xie Lian’s as Xie Lian quickly unties the trousers’ draw string and tugs the barricading fabric off with one swift movement.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian breathes his name in a gasp when their lips part for air; hovering close to each other. “San Lang.”

“You’re so good to me,” Hua Cheng responds in a low voice, close to Xie Lian’s ear and its treble sends pleasant shivers up and down Xie Lian’s spine. His whole body wants—aching and calling out for more. “Truly how did I get so lucky?”

“I should be the one saying that,” Xie Lian says back as he tilts his head, letting Hua Cheng kiss the exposed skin.

“Perhaps we can discuss that matter later then.”

“Later.” Xie Lian’s breath picks up again, heart leaping into his throat when Hua Cheng’s hands grip under his thighs and gently, slowly spread his legs. “Later is good.”

“Gege…”

Xie Lian peers up at Hua Cheng. Lying at his back like this, knees bent and legs spread, certainly the embarrassment from before hasn’t quite left him but for some reason he simply can’t be bothered to care at this moment. If it were anyone else, any other time, Xie Lian would be scared out of his mind. He'd never in 800 years dreamed of doing something like this, but now. Now it just seems so natural. And with Hua Cheng here, he can't feel anything but safe, loved, worshiped. His eyes follow Hua Cheng’s movement carefully, watching his skilled hands slick themselves with oil, stroking himself a few more times in a way that makes Xie Lian’s mouth water uncontrollably.

Without any more words, Hua Cheng leans forward. He braces a hand just to the side of Xie Lian, his cock in his other. Xie Lian lifts his hips up as much as he can, and when he feels that first pressure against him his heart almost stops.

It’s slippery and wet and a bit odd, but after just a few tantalizingly hesitant prods against his entrance, Hua Cheng slowly presses in. Xie Lian’s mouth drops open in a silent cry, breath catching in his throat for only a second before he lets it out amidst a syrupy moan. The pressure is too much and he feels full and a little uncomfortable, but it isn’t painful. At least not enough to even think about saying stop. His mind doesn’t know how to make sense of it all, really, and with little else left to do, he simply lifts his arms up.

Xie Lian is happy, relieved, to find that this nonverbal request is fulfilled immediately. Hua Cheng returns to his embrace, the closeness pushing his hot, slick cock deeper into Xie Lian.

Then they stay like this for a while; feeling each other in the most intimate way. Perhaps it’s more as if they bask in the feeling—of finally breaching that final barrier between them; finally allowing that pull, that desire, that’s been sunken within both of them for so, so long, achingly long to finally give. Neither can say for sure how much time passed before Hua Cheng slowly starts to cant his hips. He pulls out slowly, dragging himself along his beloved’s inner walls in a way that drives not only Xie Lian, but himself close to madness.

A desperate and edging on the verge of a sobbing groan rips from Hua Cheng’s throat, unbeknownst to himself, and just as he’s pulled almost entirely out, he pushes back in with shivering precision. He repeats this motion slowly and carefully, over and over, until the two of them fall into this rhythm and are lost in their own gasps and moans.

Xie Lian’s body begins to move on its own accord, pressing into Hua Cheng’s thrusts to meet him with stronger pressure. His toes curl and he closes his eyes tight, letting the sensations completely engulf him, take over, falling into the steady pleasure.

“A-ahn, S-san Lang,” Xie Lian’s voice isn’t loud as he moans, but it’s enough to send Hua Cheng’s mind into disarray. “Haa, ahh. San Lang. Kiss…” He doesn’t finish the request since Hua Cheng’s lips press to his, tongue slipping in and swiping the inside of his mouth, tasting it like he’s desperate for it. Xie Lian despite all things considered, is a bit surprised at the intensity of it. His breath hitches and his mouth opens languidly, a bit overwhelmed but incredibly willing to accept the enthusiastic kiss. His tongue meets Hua Cheng’s wet and dexterous, and it’s a series of dizzying senses in his mouth when suddenly Hua Cheng’s dick rubs against the most sensitive spot of all.

Xie Lian gasps, but his mouth is still very much attached to Hua Cheng’s, and the feeling is almost suffocating—unable to let out the surprised breath at the sudden intense shivers of pleasure crawling up through him from his lower half. Without any other choice, he lets out a loud moan into Hua Cheng’s mouth, the sound muffled for a moment until it explodes between them when they part; lips slick with drool that drips between them like a lifeline.

“San Lang, ah, Hahh, nnh!” He can’t stop his voice now even if he tired—not that he wants to, the thought of that just seems silly at this point because every time he lets out a sweet noise, Hua Cheng seems to react inside of him. Hua Cheng’s thick cock twitches, hips stuttering when Xie Lian lets out a rather drawn out noise; one that rises at the very end like a question. And the feeling it gives Xie Lian is simply addicting. Every time Hua Cheng thrusts in he hits that same spot over and over, growing in speed and strength in all the right ways. “There! Keep…keep…going there! Ah!” His dick pressed between them is weeping onto his own stomach, mixing with the dripping sweat and oil.

“Gege…You’re so good to me.” Hua Cheng says again. His voice is wrecked, more so than Xie Lian’s. His whole body shivers terribly, arms shaking as he starts to loose strength in holding himself up. “What should I do? I’m…I’m, a-ah,” he whimpers, hips moving quicker, slapping up into Xie Lian with intensity but delicacy that only he could ever master. “I’m so happy. Gege. Gege. You feel so good.”

Hua Cheng’s voice is desperate, soaked with sweet pleasure in a way Xie Lian has never heard before and it’s intoxicating. He wants to see what kind of face his beloved San Lang would make while having such a lovely voice. So for the first time in a while, Xie Lian opens his eyes. He looks up at Hua Cheng who has lifted away from their embrace, head tilted back, lost in bliss that Xie Lian has given him. This fact alone is enough to send Xie Lian over the edge. And it does. He brings his hands up to his mouth, covering it before his telling moan can escape. Hua Cheng’s cock slams into him, hitting his prostate, and he cums hard. A whole body shiver wracks through him and he feels his hot spend drip onto his sweaty stomach. His eyes are bleary, sight going foggy with sudden tears that drip over and fall down the side of his temples. Hua Cheng’s movements continue to shift and shake Xie Lian, waves of pleasure riding through him with a lasting effect that has his eyes practically going crossed.

Hua Cheng feels the way Xie Lian clenches around him and just as he tilts his head back down, catching Xie Lian’s blissfully teary gaze with his own, he comes undone.

Gege!” Hua Cheng moans the affectionate name once before his whole body tenses. The rhythmic thrusts of his hips stutter and break before he stills all together. His voice catches, leaving him with nothing but a long, overstimulated breath.

With hands still covering his mouth, Xie Lian’s eyes widen. He feels himself fill and his breath leaves him through his nose unsteady and hot over his fingers.

The two come down slowly from the high, panting and frozen in their position until their brains can function once again.

Hua Cheng is the first to move. His own expression goes taught, uncovered eye widening as he slips out of Xie Lian. The mess he leaves behind dribbles out, leaking down the pale smooth skin of Xie Lian’s ass. He stares at it in disbelief before shifting to gaze back at Xie Lie who lies there with heavy lids staring back, breath slowly calming--completely and utterly wrecked.

“Your Highness,” Hua Cheng says suddenly in a panic. “I-I apologize. I didn’t…I got carried away. I shouldn’t have done that. I’ll fix this right—”

Before he can bolt away in search of water and a rag, Xie Lian’s strong grip clasps his wrist and holds him there. Hua Cheng blinks for a moment before his warm smile returns to his features. He lets Xie Lian tug him down next to him; bodies flush and limbs intertwining, sticky and sweaty, and it’s all so perfect.

Xie Lian’s most sensitive areas, inexperienced with this sort of attention, still tingle and perhaps feel a little numb even as the strange dripping sensation slips out of him...but he wouldn’t say the feeling is unpleasant nor unwelcomed. In fact, he takes in a deep breath, sighing contently as he turns onto his side to face Hua Cheng who lies on his back next to him.

Hua Cheng looks at him with love softening his sharp features, sweat beaded on his forehead glistens in the final light of the lamp before it goes completely dark. The storm outside provides temporary light, flashes of each other’s loving gazes in the warm, dark confines of their sanctuary. Xie Lian lifts a hand to Hua Cheng’s face, cupping it gently and he smiles when he feels Hua Cheng lean into his touch like always.

 

::::

 

“I’m inclined to believe this was entirely your plan from the beginning,” Xie Lian says resolutely after some few peaceful minutes of snuggling. Hua Cheng insisted on helping Xie Lian clean up, as embarrassing as it was, but it was also intimate in a way Xie Lian hadn’t expected. They laid down next to each other after that, drifting on the edge of sleep.

Hua Cheng goes a little stiff, if only for a practically unnoticeable moment, but Xie Lian notices. Hua Cheng lets out a soft laugh. “That’s quite a high expectation of me, Gege. But I’m not entirely sure I know what you mean.”

In that moment, Xie Lian rolls over, crawling purposefully awkwardly and clumsily atop of Hua Cheng, lying flat on his stomach and letting out a huff of air. Hua Cheng’s arms immediately wrap around him, resting comfortably on his lower back.

“I knew you’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Because I have too,” Xie Lian explains a moment later. He reaches up and brushes a beautiful obsidian lock away from Hua Cheng’s face, tucking it behind his ear. His fingers slip lower then, delicately feeling the small braid and fiddling with that red pearl.  “You know you didn’t have to come up with some elaborate plan to do this, right?”

“What plan is that, Gege?”

“Talking about the murals? The,” he waves his hand listlessly. “The whatever dice game that was. Acting all shy about undressing. That was all a ploy wasn’t it?”

Hua Cheng doesn’t respond, but that genuine fox-like grin grows on his lips the more Xie Lian speaks.

“You wanted to frustrate me! You, you wanted to drive me mad with some kind of dangerous combo of being curious and, and…”

“Horny?”

“Horny!” Xie Lian repeats without thinking and as soon as the word leaves his lips he freezes, brain short circuiting. His face blooms pink instantly. “H-hor--?!” He can’t repeat it; embarrassment snatching his voice away.

Hua Cheng’s smile opens even further, pearly whites flashing in the dark like the demonic king he is. His hands snake around Xie Lian tighter, holding him in a warm embrace before kissing his forehead, long and strong. When his lips part, he glances down at Xie Lian who’s own lips are tightened into a small, thin line; brows furrowed—an effective pout.

“I’m sorry, Gege,” Hua Cheng relents. “I’m afraid I really can’t live up to your expectations.”

“Huh?”

“I’m not the scheming mastermind you’ve made me out to be. You see,” his fingers begin to trace small patterns on Xie Lian’s back. “I really was thinking about how being here with you, living like this, is nothing I could’ve come up with in my wildest dreams. You’re better than any desire-driven painting could ever be.”

Xie Lian feels himself blush again despite…well, everything that’s happened tonight.

“I truly wasn’t manipulating Gege into fulfilling some kind of fantasy or anything. Honest!”

Xie Lian narrows his eyes. “…You really weren’t purposefully making me think about…sex…and dangling the idea in front of me like a carrot to a donkey?”

Hua Cheng’s eyebrows raise, lips parting in slight surprise before he tilts his head back and lets out a hearty laugh. Xie Lian bounces atop of him from the mirth, blushing even further if not getting embarrassingly excited all over again at the close skinship.

“Your Highness,” Hua Cheng says after finally calming down. He wipes away the tear that budded in the corner of his eye. “I said it once earlier didn’t I?”

Xie Lian tilts his head. “What’s that?”

“You truly don’t know what you do to me. You’re everything to me. I would turn this world and the next upside down just to get a glimpse at your smile. Do you really think I could be so bold as to selfishly tempt His Highness with something as unsightly as this?” He gestures to himself. Their bodies are naked and pressed against each other.

“San Lang…” says with a tone of warning, but its laced with concern and love.

“You misunderstand,” Hua Cheng interrupts softly. “I’ve wanted it. For so, so long. But I always told myself it wouldn’t be appropriate—that it wasn’t allowed. But tonight, you…Gege looked so beautiful, really I wasn’t lying when I said you reminded me of one of my paintings. I suppose at first I got a little carried away, and I admit got a little nervous. So I dialed back quite a bit--decided on the first dice game to sort of distract myself.”

“You’re saying that you weren’t…”

“I’m saying I wasn’t planning on taking the lead. I wasn’t going to do a single thing without Gege’s permission. I wouldn’t move a muscle if Gege demanded it.”

“But I…”

“But you never once stopped me. You did ask about the murals,” Hua Cheng continues for him and suddenly he sits up, situating Xie Lian in his lap, wrapping Xie Lian’s legs around his waist. “And you brought up the more provocative dice game.”

“Th-that was your idea!”

“Let’s call it 50-50.”

“…”

“Are you upset?”

Xie Lian holds his breath a moment and looks down between them. Their bodies are flush again, touching intimately yet so comfortably, like this sort of closeness is the most natural thing in the world to them. And perhaps it is. At least from now on.

“I’m not upset,” Xie Lian finally says and he can almost feel Hua Cheng relax against him. “I would never be upset with you over something like this San Lang.” He looks back up at Hua Cheng, smiling at him. “You really do think about me quite a lot don’t you?”

 “Of course.”

“If I had said no, at any point in time during all of this, you would’ve stopped everything?”

Hua Cheng seems surprised at this. He shakes his head a little as he says resolutely, “Without question.”

“You’re usually so assertive with kissing though.”

“That’s because Gege has given me permission. We’ve established barriers. I understand I’m allowed to do it.”

Xie Lian chuckles a bit at that. “And everything else?”

“I…we never spoke about it before, so I wasn’t certain what Gege wanted. I realize that my way of opening up conversation this evening was a bit unconventional.”

“And the…not wanting to get undressed thing?”

Hua Cheng’s gaze darts away as if unable to continue looking. “Can you blame a lowly worshiper for having a bit of insecurities when presented with such a situation?”

Xie Lian’s smile returns, a bit lopsided, and he bites his bottom lip for a moment. “It’s a bit different than I expected, I admit.”

“Oh? What is?”

“Who knew that the Ghost King would be such a shy boy.”

“Gege…” Hua Cheng says quietly. “Don’t bully me.”

“I’m not, I’m not.” Xie Lian wraps his arms around him tight, squeezing him determinedly. “It’s cute. I’m happy to accept every bit of you San Lang. I’m happy to kiss and touch every inch of your perfect self until you see it the way I do.”

“That’s very kind of you, Your Highness.”

“I’m so happy to be loved by someone so thoughtful.”

“And I do.”

Xie Lian loosens his embrace a little, lifting a hand under Hua Cheng’s chin.

“You do?” Xie Lian repeats.

“Love you.”

Xie Lian smiles, and it’s a wide expression across his face, that touches his soft, caring eyes. He leans in and plants a lingering kiss on Hua Cheng’s lips.

The next morning the two come to the realization that an entire tree had fallen during the storm last night, but due to...cirumstances neither of them had heard it.