Hua Cheng puts down the brush.
“...Gege, I’m wrong.”
A moment and Xie Lian drops to the ground laughing.
“‘Who’s the handsomest? Who’s the strongest? Who’s the richest? Who do you admire the most?’ Hahahaha…” his head dips down as laughter escapes his mouth.
Hua Cheng knows he’s being made fun of. Not like he actually believed his ruse wouldn’t have been seen through: not by Xie Lian, he knows just how intelligent and smart and shrewd His Highness is. Hua Cheng wants to ask him if it’s really that funny but…
But he can’t.
He just startles because…
His Highness’s laugh is beautiful.
The sight of him just laughing so easily, sitting there splitting his sides, looking so happy and not troubled for once, it’s the most beautiful in the world. And the sound rings in Hua Cheng’s ears, disarming him completely.
He remembers when this handsome face was scrunched up in agony, when the sounds Xie Lian was issuing were those of great pain, when his sweet, sweet Dianxia was almost driven into madness, his poor kind heart crumbling under such strain—Hua Cheng will never, ever forget it. But now, right now Xie Lian is laughing, easily, naturally, amusedly, and if Hua Cheng himself had a heart, it would probably burst of the wave of emotion it erupts in him.
Hua Cheng feels addicted to this laugh.
“...Is it really that funny?” he only says softly, in the end, absorbing the view, the sound; bathing in it, blessed.
Internally, he thinks, I love you so, so much. Please never stop laughing.
The day of work in the Ghost City leaves Hua Cheng crabby. Disturbances that needed to be settled, particularly annoying bettors at the gambling hall… He barks out orders, baring his teeth, making everyone in his way shrink back when he strides away, and not even spares them a glance.
It’s been a shitty day, but it can get better. Even from thinking he’s going to see Xie Lian his mood perks up a bit. It really doesn’t matter he hasn’t won him over yet; just seeing his kind face, hearing his sweet voice, being by his side is more than Hua Cheng could ever ask for, more than he deserves.
As he comes up to the door of the shrine, he hears banter and laughter. One of the voices unmistakably belongs to his Dianxia. Hua Cheng stops.
“Really, Wind Master? Something like this… But how did you get out?”
“Ah, Ming-xiong and I—” the other person—Shi Qing Xuan, Hua Cheng recognizes—runs on about his misadventures with He Xuan, and something in that story makes Xie Lian laugh again, and Hua Cheng stands there like a dunce, absolutely lovestruck. None of today’s tribulations are of any significance anymore; his crankiness is gone, replaced by the warmth inside his chest.
All those years he’d spent carving statues, statues with the same face, for it was the only one he wanted to see. He didn’t need other people; he only surrounded himself with one person so that wherever he looked, he saw Him. But those statues could never compare to the real man himself. They can’t talk, can’t tease back, and can’t laugh the most beautiful laugh on Earth.
He pushes the door open, entering. He Xuan frowns at him, Shi Qing Xuan says something, and his Dianxia…
Xie Lian shines at him with his bright smile, and Hua Cheng, weak, weak man, absolutely powerless before this smile and this person, can do nothing but return it.
He thinks, it was all worth it, all those years, even if they’ve all been just for this single moment.
Hua Cheng has an addiction. He’s addicted to seeing Xie Lian happy.
He knows His Highness’s habits: there is a nervous laugh, an embarrassed one, but Hua Cheng’s favorite is when Xie Lian laughs just because he finds something funny and can’t help it or when he’s in a particularly good mood. Hua Cheng catches those moments, takes them in, devours them, the epitome of all the greatest joys in life. One day, when they’re playing around, he discovers a new laugh when he accidentally tickles Xie Lian and hears those divine sounds.
“Haha, San Lang, it tickles!”
Oh my god, Hua Cheng thinks, internally sweatdropping, staring at His Highness’s face, blushed from laughing. My god, Xie Lian…
He remembers dark times, remembers vicissitudes, remembers his own uselessness. But now there are also these new memories of being with the only person he wants, memories of seeing him happy, of their time together. The past is unforgettable but what he’s holding in his hands right now is so precious, more than any treasures of the three realms, that Hua Cheng wonders how he’s allowed to be part of it.
“Yes, gege?” Hua Cheng stops chuckling: they’ve been joking and playing around, sitting on the divan in the Qiandeng temple.
“I…” Xie Lian looks hesitant for a moment, his eyes darting between Hua Cheng and his own lap, but eventually, he says gently, “I like to hear you laugh.”
And casts his eyes to his own lap again—frankly, Hua Cheng’s favorite pillow—with his cheeks tinged a cute pink.
“Oh?” Hua Cheng raises a brow, pretending to be thinking seriously. “Then, can I tell you a secret?”
Xie Lian looks up, tilting his head, “Hm?”, and Hua Cheng leans in, catching him off guard, earning an adorable gasp as Hua Cheng’s mouth pauses right by Xie Lian’s ear.
“The secret is,” he says into that sweet ear, his lips only brushing against it as he speaks, “I love to hear you laugh too. It’s my favorite sound in the world.”
The spreading blush on His Highness’s cheeks delights Hua Cheng immensely as he pulls away a little to look at his face. It’s better than any mural he could have ever painted.
“Yes, gege?” feigning innocence, he fails to keep the grin off his face. Two golden eyes look up at him.
“I want to kiss you.”
His non-existent heart skips a beat.
“I’m very happy,” he lets out softly, mesmerized. “Gege doesn’t need to ask for my permission, he can do whatever he pleases to me: this San Lang will always be happy to have gege’s attention.”
And so Xie Lian leans in, emboldened, and kisses him, pressing Hua Cheng’s back to the divan and… those are some muscular arms…
Hua Cheng kisses back, melting into the kiss, his whole essence filled with transcendent besottedness and devotion, eye closing in pleasure. After all, in his world, if there had to be one thing that could top Dianxia’s laugh, it would undoubtedly be Dianxia’s kiss.