"By the way, San Lang, what was it that you wanted to tell me earlier?"
Inadvertently, their eyes met. Hua Cheng still had Xie Lian's right shoulder in his grasp, never having let go, as if he was holding him in his embrace. Looking from the outside, only two overlapping silhouettes could be seen within the veils of that step litter, curled up together, inseparable. Within the red curtains, Hua Cheng smiled,
"Ge ge, want to get married?"
Perhaps it's because Xie Lian is still feeling restless from the scene with Shi Qing Xuan. Perhaps it's because he can still hear Hua Cheng saying beloved over and over in his head, beloved, beloved, to see your beloved trampled and ridiculed and yet unable to do anything, and beloved again , uncharacteristically serious, handsome and grim in the light of the fire. Perhaps it's because he's tired and Hua Cheng's spiritual energy is rattling around his body like a lightning strike, making his fingers tingle and his hair stand up.
Whatever the reason, Xie Lian thickens his face and teases back, "Aren't we already married?"
Hua Cheng blinks at him, shocked and pleased that he's playing along. "Oh?"
"Sure," Xie Lian says. He counts on his fingers: "We've stayed the night together several times. I spend more time with you than with anyone else. You gave me this lovely ring. You held my hand and led me from a bridal sedan, even." He pauses to think, then adds bravely, "You k-kissed me. Several times. And anyway you're my San Lang, right? I think we're married."
"Eh!" Hua Cheng says, eye wide, looking a little overwhelmed. Xie Lian wonders if he's said too much. He can practically see the gears turning in Hua Cheng's head. His cute pointed ears are turning steadily redder. "No," he decides after a moment, "I know we're not married."
His voice is carefully light, so Xie Lian parrots "Oh?" back at him.
"Yes, if we were married you'd let me do the dishes," Hua Cheng declares. Xie Lian laughs at him, charmed.
"That's true, I suppose," he allows. "If we were married I'd make dinner for you every day until I was actually good at cooking."
"You are good at cooking!" Hua Cheng protests. "If we were married I'd do all your laundry. And it would turn pink because I'd wash it with my tunics like a fool."
Xie Lian snickers and tries to think of some chore Hua Cheng probably doesn't like doing. "If we were married I'd polish your sword for you," he decides. He thinks E-Ming is probably a big weenie about being polished.
Hua Cheng raises his eyebrows and the corner of his mouth twitches with some repressed expression. When he doesn't say anything, Xie Lian squints at him. "Ah," Xie Lian says, realizing. "You're thinking some sort of vulgar joke, aren't you."
Hua Cheng cracks and hides his laughter in Xie Lian's shoulder. "Yeah I definitely am," he admits through childish giggles.
"Sorry!" he says, "sorry, sorry! You just set it up so perfectly!"
"If you can't keep your mind out of the gutter I won't play with you!" Xie Lian admonishes him, although he's trying not to laugh himself.
"Nooooo," Hua Cheng whines. "Ge ge, our romantic tension! I was having fun, weren't you having fun?"
Xie Lian grins helplessly, warmth spreading abruptly through his chest at the easy acknowledgement of their flirtation. "Maybe a little," he admits.
Hua Cheng lifts his face from Xie Lian's shoulder to peer up at him through dark eyelashes, his mouth a handsome red curve. "If we were married I'd start elaborate games with you all the time just to get you to admit you liked me," he says.
Xie Lian raises his eyebrows at him. "If we were married I'd tell you I liked you all the time anyway," he points out.
Hua Cheng nods in agreement, faking an expression of thoughtfulness. "Oh, same, same. If we were married I'd tell you whenever you did something cute and charming, which would be frequently."
Xie Lian reaches out with an almost-shaking hand and gives Hua Cheng's hair a little tug. "If we were married," he says, "I'd tell you whenever you were looking particularly handsome. Which would be frequently."
"Hmm," Hua Cheng says, eye narrowed in smug pleasure. "If we were married, I'd kiss you whenever you wanted," he says quietly. He reaches up to pull his left hand gently through Xie Lian's hair. "And I'd pet your hair every night until you fell asleep."
Xie Lian's heart stutters dumbly in his chest. Suddenly he feels he can barely look at Hua Cheng; he knows he's blushing horribly. He closes his eyes and tips his forehead into Hua Cheng's and says, "If we were married I'd make sure that the first thing you'd hear every morning would be me saying, Good morning San Lang, I love— I love you." Damn, he almost got through that without stuttering.
Hua Cheng inhales sharply. "Ge ge," he breathes. He slides his forehead down to hide his face again, this time in the juncture between Xie Lian's neck and collarbone. Xie Lian is certain Hua Cheng must be able to hear his heart pounding. "Ge ge," he says again, voice very quiet, "are you still playing?"
Xie Lian tilts his chin into the crown of Hua Cheng's perfect head. The subtle sway of the step litter makes them rock into each other. "I haven't really been playing at all," he admits.
"I'm in love with you," Hua Cheng says abruptly, raising his head again to look intently at Xie Lian. "I'm in love with you. — Aahhh, I can't believe you said it before I did!!" he adds in a wail.
Xie Lian laughs breathlessly, and Hua Cheng joins in. Xie Lian wraps his arms around Hua Cheng's shoulders, pulls him closer, shaking fingers knotted in his tunic. Hua Cheng leans his forehead against Xie Lian's again, giggling nervously still as he strokes his hair again.
"Ask me again," Xie Lian tells him.
"Ask me again, San Lang."
Hua Cheng blinks as he realizes what he's asking. Then he clears his throat and says, "Ge ge. Wanna get married?"
"Yes," Xie Lian tells him, and then he tilts his head up to cover the last couple inches and presses their mouths together. Hua Cheng inhales sharply through his nose and shifts a little. The angle is better, but somehow Xie Lian feels a little… physically underwhelmed. Isn't kissing supposed to feel… really good?
After a long moment Hua Cheng pulls away to murmur, "Hey, hey. Relax a little. Follow my lead?"
"Mn," Xie Lian agrees, heart pounding. Hua Cheng cups his face in his hands, strokes his thumbs along Xie Lian's mouth. Xie Lian closes his eyes and lets his lips open a little, and then Hua Cheng ducks back in and presses his mouth to Xie Lian's again, lips soft and cool and a little wet. He moves his lips in a way that, perhaps a little embarrassingly, reminds Xie Lian of the way horses do when they're eating out of your hand, soft but insistent. Xie Lian reciprocates, tilting his head a little, and Hua Cheng presses closer and curls his fingers under Xie Lian's jaw, and Oh.
So this is what all the fuss is about, Xie Lian thinks dizzily, as it starts to make sense, the rhythm of their closed lips moving together. He hears himself make a little desperate sound in his mouth, and Hua Cheng laughs into his mouth, a puff of cool air. Xie Lian clutches at his shoulders and seals their lips together again, tries to kiss his mouth open. Hua Cheng makes an appreciative sound and lets it happen, smiles into his mouth when their teeth click together gently. "You're a quick study," Hua Cheng praises quietly. Xie Lian opens his eyes to see Hua Cheng's eye glittering in what he realizes now is fondness.
"San Lang," he breathes, "San Lang, San Lang. Can I—" He can't quite bring himself to say sit in your lap, so he settles for tugging wordlessly on Hua Cheng's shoulders until he gets the idea. Hua Cheng laughs in surprise and drops his hands to Xie Lian's waist to pull him up to sit sideways across his legs, the way the step litter is designed to make them sit anyway. From this new vantage point Xie Lian hugs Hua Cheng's head into his chest, presses kiss after kiss into his fine black hair. His heart pounds with an affection that makes his hands tremble. Hua Cheng hums into his collar and wraps his arms around Xie Lian's waist.
"Love you," Hua Cheng whispers into his throat, "love you, oh, god, I love you," so Xie Lian guides his head back up and kisses him again, wet and open-mouthed. Hua Cheng lets their tongues brush together and Xie Lian's whole mind goes very quiet, shocked and intrigued by the new sensation. He has a split second to be kind of instinctively grossed out by the whole thing, and then he's overwhelmed by a wave of possessive want, this deep desire to be as close to Hua Cheng as possible, and he presses their tongues together and moans. Hua Cheng's fingers curl into claws at his back. They find a rhythm, tongues thrusting slick and wet against each other, strangely obscene, both of them sucking and biting at each other's lips, their breaths coming sharp and fast through their noses. Xie Lian wants to consume him.
He twists his hands into Hua Cheng's wild hair, pulls away to stare wide-eyed at his wet reddened mouth, to watch him pant. "San Lang," he gasps again.
"Nnghahh," Hua Cheng manages, before he ducks forward to press his tongue to Xie Lian's jugular. He kisses and licks his way up Xie Lian's throat to just under his jaw.
"Ah," Xie Lian breathes. "Ah, San Lang, yes— yes." He twists in Hua Cheng's lap to tuck his face into Hua Cheng's neck too, his desire to kiss Hua Cheng like that suddenly stronger than his desire to get kissed, and sucks a kiss into the delicate skin there. Hua Cheng's hands on his waist tighten.
"You can leave marks," Hua Cheng murmurs, his voice low and gravelled with arousal. Xie Lian opens his mouth and bites gently in acquiescence, and Hua Cheng moans. Xie Lian bites again, rolls the skin carefully between his teeth and hums. Hua Cheng's breath comes short and shallow by his ear, little almost-vocalized ah-ah-ahs that have Xie Lian sucking harder. When he pulls away to look at his handiwork, Hua Cheng's pretty white throat is bruised purple and pink, looking like a summer thunderhead. Xie Lian presses a gentle kiss to the center of one rosette and Hua Cheng sighs in pleasure, tilts his head back, looks at Xie Lian from under his eyelashes again.
"So beautiful," Xie Lian murmurs, leaning up to kiss his red mouth. "You're so lovely, San Lang. I miss you when you're not around."
Hua Cheng inhales shakily and hugs his waist, kisses him again, pulls his long fingers through Xie Lian's hair. "When we're married," he whispers, "I'll be around whenever you want."
Xie Lian's heart is a field of wildflowers. He leans forward again, and they meet in the middle.