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let your dreams be dreams

Chapter Text

The first thing Xie Lian sees when he opens his eyes is red. Coral red on the aerial silk curtains shivering under the gentle breeze, cherry red on the altar covered with an indecent mountain of ripe fruits and blooming flowers, blood-red on the large umbrella spread open by the statue's foot. Vermillion red on the godly figure, a mischievous point on the forehead, a loving belt hugging the waist, a curving line on the lips of the smiling face.

Maple red on the tunic of the lone figure standing in front of the divine statue, their back bent in half, their hands joined together, and their head bowed in respect. It's a young man, barely out of his teenage years, tall and slender like an overgrown weed. Ink black hair flows freely on his bony shoulders and down his spine, restrained only by one side braid. A sharp contrast to the alabaster colour of his skin, glowing like the moon in the deep dark night. At the end of the braid, a single coral pearl bead shakes gently. The shade is familiar, Xie Lian thinks distantly, confused by the situation he found himself into.

Xie Lian is standing to the side, lurking in the shadows, unnoticed by the young man. To be fair, he wouldn't be seen even if he was right in front of the mortal's eyes. Xie Lian takes a hesitant step forward then waits for a reaction. The man in red doesn't so much as flinch, still lost in his silent prayers.

Amused, Xie Lian casts a more thoughtful glance around the room. There is something eerie in the way the silk curtains dance, in the intoxicating smell of flowers infused in the air. Something otherworldly, a divine atmosphere most humans try and fail to convey. This is a very impressive temple, albeit small. Whoever built it cared very much about the god they intended to honor.

The leisurely pace of the train in his thoughts comes to a halt when he looks at the statue more closely. The crafting is beyond exquisite, the colors vivid, the lines delicate and robust at the same time. The figure depicts a young man in princely robes, adorned in precious jewels and bright flowers. He's holding a sword in his right hand, and white wildflower in his left. A benevolent smile graces his noble expression as his delicately painted eyes look down at the praying young man.

Himself. The statue is meant to be him, and they're both inside a dream, Xie Lian realizes after an embarrassingly long time of latency. He's in a dream. Somehow, he stumbled on accident into one of his devotees' fantasies. The young man's faith in him is so powerful Xie Lian was dragged in without warning.

Ah. Well. Awkward. Clearly neither of them intended for such a thing to happen so Xie Lian should probably leave. Most gods consider it their prerogative to enter their devotees' dreams, but Xie Lian has always disliked the process. It feels intrusive. Aggressive, even.

He freezes as the young man straightens up and raises his head to stare at the statue. His one black eye glistens with emotion, the other covered under a leather eyepatch. "Your Highness," he whispers, his voice deep and rich, throbbing with a feeling Xie Lian cannot begin to decipher. He almost sounds... drunk? "Your Highness, I can't... I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

'Sorry about what', Xie Lian wonders bemusedly. Without warning, the man in red falls on his knees, his back arching gracefully, and his legs spread apart on the hard floor. Xie Lian has an out of body experience when the man's right-hand slips under his tunic and into his pants, with an intent so obvious even the fervently chaste Xie Lian cannot misunderstand. If he had any doubts left, the sinful moan that escapes his devotee's mouth would have swept those away completely.

Crimson blossoms on those snow-white cheeks, a haze of desire shimmering over his exposed eye and Xie Lian forgets how to breathe. Lust. That expression is pure, raw lust. For Xie Lian, the least sexy person on the planet.

"Your Highness," the man in red confirms his suspicions not a second later. The way he says Xie Lian's title makes it seem absolutely filthy coming out of those red, red lips. "Your Highness, please."

'Please what,' his heart screams as it flutters erratically in his ribcage. There is no point asking for anything of him in that instant. Xie Lian can't do anything, and he has lost all control he had over his own body or his powers. His spiritual energy is roaming wildly across his meridians, ignoring his call, so he can't smite the young man for daring to do such debauched things in front of the representation of his divine persona. His mouth is gaping dumbly, words refusing to come out of his throat, so he can't demand him to... to stop touching himself where Xie Lian can see. He seems to have lost all his motor control, his fingers twitching uselessly by his side, and therefore cannot pull out his sword to punish the young man for his lack of shame and restraint.

He can't evenleave and recite sutras until he forgets this embarrassing accident ever happened. His legs refuse to obey his frantic commands, so he just... stands there, paralyzed with horrified disbelief.

Worst of the worst, Xie Lian can't find the will to look away. Him. He can't look away. This is unbelievable. Xie Lian is nothing short of an expert at avoiding anything sex-related. As a mortal, he sabotaged no less than three marriage proposals and one harem project, plus that one awkward time his father tried to drag him to a brothel to 'make a man out of him'. Xie Lian never wanted to 'be a man', whatever that meant. He aimed to become a god, and he succeeded.

He perfected his Innocent and Dumb Act even further in the following ten years he spent as a god, letting innuendos pass right over his head as if he couldn't even see them until whoever was trying to get into the pants of Heaven's hottest new commodity gave up. He hasn't touched himself since he was twelve years old, and frankly never missed the mess sex created before.

Yet, trapped in the perverted fantasy of his worshiper, he can't avert his eyes. He takes in every single quick stroke, every buck of those slender hips, every gasp and moan, and unwillingly imprints the spectacle into his memory forever. At that instant, he knows with absolute certainty no matter how hard he tries, he'll never be able to forget the depraved sounds the man in red makes when he caresses himself fantasizing about Xie Lian. Not in a million years, not ever. For a given value of the word caress, that's it. The young man is almost aggressive in his ministrations, movements harsh and hasty, merciless toward his own flesh and pleasure. Like he's trying to punish himself, Xie Lian hysterically notices between two panicked thoughts.

"Ahhh, Your Highness," his devotee cries out, his neck arching up so he can stare at the figure's kindly smiling face.

He's getting close to...to climax, Xie Lian knows despite not having indulged himself in more than a decade. Whatever remnants of an organized rhythm the young man had in the beginning, have crumbled into erratic thrusting. He's pounding furiously into his own hand without bothering to look down, his hips rolling on and on hypnotically. Still, Xie Lian is unable to avert his eyes, enthralled by a dance millennia older than he is.

If Xie Lian still needed breathing, he would have suffocated right and there when he caught the sight of his devotee's face, his beautiful hair in disarray, his eye wide open and his mouth twisted in pure adoration and despair. He has never seen anyone looking so blissfully destroyed before. As if he's seeking more than mere, base pleasure, but for the life of him, Xie Lian has no idea what.

Now, Xie Lian thinks dazedly, as he unconsciously stumbles forward. Now is the moment. Xie Lian is almost expecting another sinful 'Your Highness' again, or a wrecked moan likely to shake him to the core, but the man in red comes with his free hand covering his mouth, in utter silence, quiet as a whisper.

His heart throbs angrily in his throat when his devotee folds upon himself and prostrate on the ground, a human-shaped mountain crumbling into a shattered mess. His forehead is touching the ground, his arms struggling to support his weight in the aftershock of his orgasm. He looks more in pain than pleased by his own release.

It's over. Yet under Xie Lian's immortal skin, a wave of heat he does not understand trembles and tugs and screams. He circles his chest with his two arms and tries to ignore it. It doesn't work.

A muffled sob snaps Xie Lian out of his self-recriminating trance. The mortal, still kneeling on his legs and hands, is staring at the figure's feet, his eye wide with dread. Xie Lian can't stop himself from following his line of sight curiously and freezes. Somehow, the man managed to come far enough to speckle the feet of the statue with his cum.

Oh. Oh no.

The crazily sobbing part of him wants to yell that it's okay, no need to worry about it, easy enough to clean, no big deal. As if Xie Lian has any experience on the fine art of destroying post-ejaculation accident evidence.

In front of Xie Lian's half horrified half fascinated eyes, the man in red crawls on the ground without any shame whatsoever, bend over the statue's dirty feet and lick it clean with his tongue. The sight is enough to finally break Xie Lian out of his stupor, and he bursts out of the dream with a hysterical cry.

He opens his eyes to the ceiling of his room in Xian Le palace and springs out his bed. What. What just happened?

Chapter Text

Xie Lian spends the following week doing three things: trying not to think about the fact he peeped on his believer touching himself inside the privacy of his own mind, frantically reciting sutras every time he remembers he peeped on his believer touching himself inside the privacy of his own mind, and working himself to the bone in order to avoid remembering that oh, that's right, he peeped on his believer touching himself inside the privacy of his own mind.

The fact said believer prayed so ardently to Xie Lian he literally dragged him inside his fantasy is inconsequential. Xie Lian could have left at any moment. He could have, but he didn't. Instead, he just stood there and watched like… like a pervert. Xie Lian has never felt like a pervert before. It comes with the territory of being utterly uninterested in sex in every shape or form. Or so he thought.

Every moment he has an opportunity to think, the memory creeps on him and clings to his mind like a parasite. Ghosts of broken moans ring into his ears, the intoxicating smell of flowers and raw desire is so strong he could sob and the visuals. Oh but the sight of those long fingers stroking restlessly under the clothes, the sensual movement of that body, that face. It's torture, pure and simple. Xie Lian cannot see his statues without picturing his beautiful worshiper withering under them, begging His Highness and crawling to lick the stone foot like it's his greatest honor to do so.

Red blooms over his retina constantly, and he wishes so viciously he could erase a color from this plane of existence, and himself while he's at it. Unfortunately, he cannot, so he copes by allowing himself as little occasion for his corrupted mind to wander as physically possible. It more or less works, until Feng Xin tires of him and his insane agitation and locks him in his room.

"I'm sorry, Your Highness, but you can't come out until you sleep at least eight hours," his attendant declares through the door. "You haven't closed your eyes in five days."

"That's not true!" Xie Lian must protest for the sake of accuracy. "I blinked regularly! It's like micro-resting! It counts!"

"That's bullshit." Feng Xin replies with his usual tact. "Sleep, I beg you."

To hear him, Xie Lian is the worst god to care for ever, which is, as Feng xin would say, 'bullshit'. Xie Lian is polite, respectful, hard-working; he doesn't send his attendants on ridiculous errands at improbable hours of the night like some people do; and he doesn't have shameful sex scandals with gods and mortals alike. Well. He didn't use to have sex scandals. Does accidental dream voyeurism counts as potential sex scandal material? For everyone else, probably not.

But he's the Crown Prince of Xian Le, General of the East, and Jun Wu's favored martial god, for some mysterious reason he still cannot quite explain. They are all waiting for him to falter in his ethics, to prove that deep down, he's faillible and meek of character like everyone else.

Which, apparently, he is. So much for his grand talks about being a role model to mortals and upholding a higher moral ground.

"I'm a god," he argues, petulantly. "I don't need to sleep."

Technically true. It's also true he's been running everywhere, like an over-excited kid who ate the whole honey jar, and may or may not be on the verge of a breakdown and an identity crisis all at once.

Feng Xin doesn't dignify that sentence with an answer. Xie Lian could break the door, but he's not so far gone as to not realize his attendant is right to be concerned. Xie Lian has been, as a matter of fact, behaving oddly in the last few days, for no particular reason, as far as they know. And he has no intention to explain himself, under no circumstances, ever.

He closes his eyes and lets his back slide down the door and sit on the ground. He really is exhausted, but to allow himself to fall asleep terrifies him. He knows it's very unlikely this one worshiper will manage to snag him into his wet dream again; unfortunately, rationality has very little grip on his mind right now.

He can just… rest his eyes for a bit. Yeah, he can survive like this just fine. It's fine. He's a god. He's not that tired. It's perfectly fiiiine…

.

The first thing Xie Lian feels is a caress. A soft, gentle, loving caress wandering across his side and his stomach, a firm brush over the corded lines of his muscles, a blissfully warm touch dancing over his cold skin.

The sheer tenderness of the contact creates waves of pure euphoria all over Xie Lian's frigid body and releases earthquakes shaking his soul to the core. When was the last time someone touched Xie Lian with so much care? When was the last time someone touched Xie Lian at all? He can feel everything single callus over that blessed hand, revel in the expert touch of those agile fingers. This is the hand of an artist, made for creation. This is the hand of a soldier, made for destruction.

And this hand is ravaging Xie Lian's dignity. If he could moan out loud, if he could beg for more, he would, decency be damned. His voice seems to be trapped in his rigid throat, the vocals locked up within where only he can hear them.

Suddenly, the hand retreats, abandoning him in his frozen hell. Xie Lian could cry at the loss. Quickly, another sensation replaces it, light, like a feather kiss, teasing the lines of his arms. A brush? It feels like a brush, gently laying paint over his clothes.

"There we go," a deep voice whispers. "Much better that way."

Xie Lian's unbeating heart twitches in his chest. That voice. How could he not recognize it? It's exactly what he feared. He slipped inside the man-in-red's dreams again. How often does his worshiper's fantasies feature Xie Lian as a guest star exactly? Is this going to happen every single time he allows himself some rest?

"Just a minute, Your Highness," the man in red says, Xie Lian's title rolling from his lips like a caress. "I'm going to give you back your eyes."

His eyes? How did Dream Xie Lian manage to lose those in the first place? How incompetent is he in his believer's eyes?

The feather-like sensation appears over his eyes, tenderly caressing his orbs into life. First he makes a large stroke with the brush, then a cautious slit at the vertical. Oh. He's painting Xie Lian's eyes.

Light bursts underneath his eyelids. Xie Lian clenches his eyes shut by reflex, allowing himself a minute to get used to the sudden sensory attack, then he opens his eyes again. He's standing inside the same temple as last time, flickers of red calling for his attention in the background. He looks down at himself tentatively. An ocean of grey, speckled with cheerful points of colors, greets him.

Oh. Oh, this time, he is the statue. And right in front of him, the artist who carved him out of stone, sheer will power, and devoted love, is smiling. It's his worshiper, of course, still in crimson red, still radiating both adoration and terrible guilt.

"There," he whispers as his thumb roams along the line of Xie Lian's eyelid. "Beautiful."

Yes, beautiful indeed, that's the word. There is no denying this man is handsome. And he doesn't mean it in the way he usually does, clinically and objectively, an indifferent 'this person is aesthetically pleasing to look at' constatation before he moves on. No, his believer is beautiful the way natural disasters are beautiful: devastatingly so. A meteor shower in shades of snow white, ink black and crimson red crashing on Xie Lian's planet, setting a dead land on fire.

He averts his eyes, silently blessing the fact he can't blush with his cold stone skin. Down on the floor, there are many carving materials and tools: a hammer, spike, paint and brushes; plus an enormous collections of jewels and precious trinkets: bracelets, necklaces, hair pins, and a crown. For him, Xie Lian realizes. When the statue is finished, he'll be adorned in those priceless ornaments and covered with flowers. The familiar looking red umbrella is folded neatly next to its owner's legs.

"The hair now," the man in red decides, leaning toward Xie Lian's face.

Oh dear, he's so close now! Too close, too close, way too close! How is Xie Lian supposed to think with that handsome face so close to his, his black eye glistening with happiness, the corner of his red mouth twisted with concentration as he ever so cautiously runs his brush over Xie Lian's locks? How is he supposed to stay dignified and aloof with that warm body pressed against his, tender flesh and corded muscles leaning over his stone skin, filling him with tantalizing heat and rising waves of want he didn't even know he could feel?

The warmth, the sheer adoration, it just feels so good. Somehow, Xie Lian has failed to notice he has been starving all this time, and now this is a full meal right under his nose, wordlessly begging to be devoured. For once in his life, Xie Lian wants, wants so deeply and so intensely it shatters him. He's no stranger to want, he's always been a very passionate person after all, but this is different. This is base, crass, ugly desire, and Xie Lian has no idea how to make it go away.

He hasn't even realized he is moving, until those cursed, blessed hands clamp around his hips, locking them into place.

Oh. Oh god, more.

"I don't remember carving that," the man in red chuckles incredulously.

'That? What is that?' Xie Lian wonders with no small amount of concern. The right hand abandons his hip to roll over his stomach. No. Not his stomach. Definitely not his stomach. A broken moan bucks in his throat when his believer's slender hand rubs his crotch and ohhhh yes, there, right there.

Oh no. Oh no no no, Xie Lian somehow grew a penis when he wasn't looking, and he's unknowingly been rutting against the man in red like a filthy, disgusting animal devoid of any self-control.

"Even when I'm trying to honor His Highness without corrupting his goodness, my subconscious betrays me," his believer mutters, sounding bitter and angry at himself.

Xie Lian is about ninety-five percent sure this is his fault. He's the one whose horny subconscious decided to twist the innocent dream to make it sexual, the one who threw morals to the ditch in order to build himself a manhood out of stone and use his devotee like.. like a conveniently warm and close body to pound into. For all he pretends to be morally superior, he's not any better than General Pei Ming. If only he could die of shame right then and there. Someone please take pity on him and smite his pervert self where he stands already.

His frozen face somehow managed to convey his inner freak out because the man in red's self-loathing frown eases into a soothing smile. "Your Highness, it's alright. You can use me however you like."

To prove his point, his devotee slips his leg between Xie Lian's and slowly, so, so slowly rubs his knee against Xie Lian's painfully hard length.

Sleeping nerves burst to life, and his mind goes blank with pleasure. The pressure against him is beyond divine. If Xie Lian wasn't currently made of rock solid stone, he would have crumbled like those golden foil palaces he used to play with. Instead, he melts inside his devotee's arms, seeking for more of this mind-blowing warmth. 'Not close enough', he feverishly tells himself, as he presses himself all over his ridiculously tall believer and clenches that wonderful knee between his thighs. Needs more, wants more, demands more.

"Like that, Your Highness," the man who built Xie Lian with his own two hands pants against Xie Lian's ear. "Please, please take me any way you want."

He makes a sound like a broken sob when Xie Lian's arms circle his chest. Xie Lian's hands flutter along his long spine, hesitantly. Maybe he's been too forward. When his believer said 'any way he wants', surely he doesn't actually mean any way. Before he can disentangle himself from his partner, mortified by his shameless attitude, the man in red embraces him back, plastering their chests together. Stone and skin, clothes and paint, god and mortal, melting together into one world of their own making.

Xie Lian dies a little when he feels his believer's erection pulsing against his belly. His lover? Does dreams count as proper sexual intercourse? Hopefully it doesn't, because Xie Lian knows he can't stop himself anymore. Instead of flinching away from the evidence of the other man's desire for him, his hips rock down on their own, chasing the pressure of it against his cock and oh. Impossibly, it feels even better.

"Your Highness, ahhh," his lover's desperate moan makes Xie Lian shiver from head to toe. "May… May this lowly servant touch His Highness?"

Touch? Isn't that what they're doing already? Is it even possible to get even closer than what they are doing? Xie Lian might die from pleasure and embarrassment. He's already so close to combust into flames. Yet, stupidly, he nods in agreement. His devotee smiles like he was bestowed the greatest honor ever, and his hand slides from Xie Lian's back to their intertwined midsections, the other securing Xie Lian's hip carefully.

Xie Lian looks down at their lengths pressed together in his devotee's beautiful hand, his grey and hard, his partner's red and just as hard, leaking a clear liquid at the tip. Can.. Can Xie Lian even come like this, or is he going to stay hard forever? Xie Lian wants to come so badly, in a way he never has. The few times he indulged into sex before he took his vows were more curious and utilitarian than anything else. He had no idea intimacy could feel like this.

Oh, merciful gods, is his worshiper going to come on him again? Cover him with his pearl white spent, mark Xie Lian with his cum like a vulgar whore? Maybe he'll get on his knees to lick Xie Lian clean like last time. Maybe he'll use it to finish painting Xie Lian, spread that cum with his soft brush ever so reverently and oh, Xie Lian actually wants that.

He hides his face in the crook of the man in red's neck, embarrassed by his eagerness and complete lack of property.

"Your Highness, ahh, please, please let this worthless servant see your face…" his lover begs so earnestly Xie Lian can't find the strength to deny him.

He tilts his heavy head to the side, meeting the other's bright eye, and something within him twists and snarls in raw delight at the pure ecstasy on his believer's face. Tides of pleasure uncoil in his entire body, rising and rising, so high that Xie Lian loses any ability he had to think about anything but more more more more more, give more to your god, my dear worshiper, more ahhh.

Xie Lian feels himself tip over the edge that he didn't know existed. Everything dissolves into a storm of electric light; the temple, the dream, his believer's ecstatic face, his stone body; it all rises and crashes down, leaving Xie Lian undone by the shore.

He wakes on the floor, rock hard and wrecked beyond words.

Chapter Text

Rumour has it Earth Masters are given a spiritual device called the Crescent Shovel. Xie Lian has heard it can dig far enough to reach the centre of the Earth, should one be stupid enough to try. Xie Lian wishes very much he could have access to that weapon so that he could dig himself in a hole deep enough to contain the enormous amount of his shame. He'd just shovel and shovel and shovel, and then he'd bury himself in the ground and never have to talk or see anyone ever again. He'd stay awake ad vitam eternam, and no one would be able to force him to go to sleep.

Unfortunately, he does not have a fancy shovel to dig a hole where he could die of shame in peace. Instead, he only has one room and he's never ever leaving it.

"Your Highness!" Feng Xin yells from the other side of the door. "When I said you couldn't leave until you had eight hours of rest, I didn't mean it literally! It's been three days, please come out!"

"GO AWAY!" Xie Lian screeches from inside his blanket cocoon.

He looks absolutely ridiculous kicking a fuss like a frustrated child and he knows it. Tragically, this humiliation is so minor compared to the ocean of his shame he can scarcely gather the will power to care about it.

"What's wrong with him?" Mu Qing inquires, his voice barely audible through the thick door of Xie Lian's chambers. "Very belated teenage crisis?"

If only. More like a belated 'oh no I do have a sexuality after all' crisis. Which, now that he thinks about it, isn't very far from a teenage crisis. Xie Lian is twenty-seven years old, and a god, he shouldn't have to deal with that kind of nonsense on top of this already enormous amount of divine duties. He was just fine in his asexual lifestyle, not being attracted to anyone and not knowing intimacy could feel like this, thank you very much.

Whoever said ignorance was bliss clearly had a point, but you know what else is bliss? The man in red's hand stroking Xie Lian's cock. Or just touching Xie Lian, anywhere. Those agile fingers running across his skin, that mischievous mouth curled up with desire, that one black eye glinting with adoration, the sheer pleasure of their lengths rubbed together and oh no, not again...

Xie Lian screams of frustration inside his pillow and tries to ignore the lower part of his anatomy twitching in interest at the reminder. No one should be allowed to be so attractive! Not where Xie Lian can see them! It's not fair, he has no clue how to deal with… with those sinful thoughts!

"Mu Qing, if you're not going to help, you can shut the fuck up! Your Highness, please!" Feng Xin tries again to appeal to Xie Lian's reasonable nature. "At least let us in! We can talk about… whatever is troubling you."

Talk about it? Xie Lian honestly would sooner cut off his own manhood and be done with the whole issue! How is he supposed to explain he slipped inside one of his most faithful believers' wet dream, not only once but twice? That instead of leaving like a normal and decent person would have, he stayed and enjoyed it!

Explain that Xie Lian is a pervert who literally gets off his beautiful and very much younger believer's unshakable faith in him? That he's the worst of worst of scums abusing his devotees' trust for the sake of his own pleasure? That he debased himself even lower than the most perverted man ever did without so much a moment of hesitation?

Never.

"Your Highness, please excuse my boldness," Mu Qing cuts in, not sounding apologetic in the least, "but you have duties you need to attend to. Your absence has been remarked upon."

"Mu Qing! There is no need to shame His Highness!" Feng Xin exclaims.

"I'm not." Mu Qing says. Xie Lian would bet his best swords his attendant is rolling his eyes right now. "Merely reminding him of real facts."

As much as Xie Lian would love to set aside Mu Qing's words and keeps wallowing in self-hatred, embarrassment and regret, he does know his attendant is right. Xie Lian is a god. An imminent martial god, General of the East, the Crown Prince of Xian Le. His people are counting on him. Prayers won't answer themselves. His own stupid identity crisis woes matter little compared to the mass of things that requires his input. He really needs to get his shit together.

And that's exactly what he's going to do.

"One day," he sighs as he sits up on his bed. "Give me one day and I'll be back to normal. I swear."

He can do this. All he needs to do is to find this devotee again, refuse his advances and set the record straight for good. Then he'll be able to move on and return to his sexless peaceful existence. It's a flawless plan.

Xie Lian lies back down on his bed and allows his exhaustion to sweep him away.

.

The first thing Xie Lian smells is the bewitching perfume of flowers. Sweet and cheerful aroma, elegant and seductive scent, and a musky and rich spell that enthrals his senses. Despite his resolution not to indulge in anything dream-related, he takes a deep breath and basks into the loving fragrances cradling his nose.

'You are my life', the camelia longs.

"You are perfect," the orchid vows.

'I'll eat you up', the cherry flower whispers. "I'll drink you down, I'll swallow you whole until you beg for more, I'll…"

No. No, no, no. Absolutely not going there. This time, Xie Lian will remain unmoved and untouchable like the elegant and flawless immortal he's meant to incarnate. No more letting the desires he's not supposed to have in the first place take control of his body. He's like a statue, cold and unfeeling, and wrong metaphor, definitely the wrong metaphor.

Just when Xie Lian thought he was ready to confront his believer, a new fragrance blooms in the air, sweet and strong, so intoxicating he drowns under it like some people drown into alcohol. It slips right under his skin and into his soul. Xie Lian's back arches by reflex as he breathes into the perfume, inhaling deeply until his lungs are infused with the addicting flavour of the flower.

He sinks into the smell with a blissed-out sigh. It smells like faith, if faith had a scent. It smells like devotion. It smells like love.

And Xie Lian can't get enough of the sensation. God, he was such a fool thinking he could just say no to the adoration overload, walk away unscaled and go back to his old life of Before He Knew How Love Felt Like.

"Your Highness?" His believer's voice snaps him out of his drunk-like stupor. "Are you alright?"

Xie Lian opens his eyes to an endless field of flowers. He's laying in the grass, his head resting on silk pillow-soft and tender as a cloud, many flowers blooming around his body in a colorful embrace. Far up his head, the blue sky is littered with colours that shouldn't exist: hues of silver, traces of gold, spirals of purples, storms of red.

And, sitting cross-legged near him but within a respectful distance for once, a crown of braided flowers on his lap and the umbrella spread open behind him, his worshiper.

"Your name," Xie Lian croaks before he has the common sense to swallow back his words. "Tell me your name."

The man in red's eyelashes flutter in surprise. Abandoning the flower crown on his lap, he bows down to Xie Lian. "This servant is named Hua Cheng, Your Highness."

Hua Cheng. Flower City. How fitting. If Xie Lian couldn't smell his sincerity, he would think the man is lying to him.

"Hua Cheng," Xie Lian says, tentatively rolling the name in his mouth.

That's the moment he's supposed to tell his believer their little shared dream sessions has to come to a halt because Xie Lian is too weak to handle the heat. And he would have, honestly, if not for the thousands of flowers surrounding them blooming at once. A symphony of enthralling scents overwhelms Xie Lian's mind completely, intoxicating him with pure adoration and happiness, and he. Can't. Think. Anymore. Raw bliss tugs on his nerves, sending waves of pleasure all over his body and sparks of delight under his eyelids. It feels as if his very own core is being showered with care and affection.

It's Hua Cheng's happiness that's making Xie Lian loses his mind through the scent, and Xie Lian, wanton and greedy monster, can't get enough of it. It must be how drunkenness feels like. No wonder people get addicted to it.

Though he doubts any mortal substance could manage to reproduce the sheer delight he's currently drowning under. Just hearing his name from Xie Lian made Hua Cheng that overjoyed? Xie Lian is literally a god, born a spoiled prince, yet he has never felt so powerful over someone before. Powerful, and powerless at once.

This man's love is unravelling him from the inside.

"Your Highness," Hua Cheng shyly says, his head bowed lowed as he presents his gift to Xie Lian. "It is but a humble token unworthy of your attention, but if I may be so bold, may I have the honour of crowning His Highness?"

Xie Lian stares down at the delicate flower crown, glowing hopefully between Hua Cheng's hands. He should say no. He really needs to start saying no to his believer. That's why he's here in the first place. But how can he just refuse when he can smell the love and devotion in every single flower on that Crown? He can't be so cruel to his most faithful devotee. He simply can't.

"You may," Xie Lian mutters, averting his eyes to the side. "But only for this once."

Looking away doesn't save him from the tide of perfume blooming away. He can't help himself from turning his head again and take in Hua Cheng's blissed-out smile. "This servant thanks you for your kindness, Your Highness."

Xie Lian's breath dies in his throat when Hua Cheng unfolds from his prostrated position, sits up properly and leans forwards. The man is so tall he's practically towering over Xie Lian. The flower crown is nested carefully over Xie Lian's unbound hair.

A rush of energy runs across his body and it feels like a second ascension. At that exact moment, Xie Lian feels so powerful he could level entire mountains on his finger. So powerful eating the sun and stealing the stars would only be a small feat to him. So powerful he sees those red lips so close to his own and thinks 'I could kiss those.'

And so, high on faith as he is, he does. He barely got a taste of Hua Cheng's sweet mouth before when he recoils, shocked by his own actions. That's.. that's not appropriate! He's here to put a stop to those highly incorrect encounters, not assault his own believer!

Gods, he's so ashamed he could die. He's so embarrassed that he even managed to ignore the intoxicating scent this time, and that's an exploit worthy of notice. The sweet smell is so strong, too familiar lust joining the cacophony of mind-blowing fragrances.

"I… Your Highness, you're going to kill me," Hua Cheng says, his black eye wide with disbelief. "Please… please let me…"

He never finishes his sentence and dives down instead, without waiting for permission. Voracious flesh covers his unprepared mouth, and lips mould themselves against his own. Daft fingers hold his jaw, reverently running over the line of his bone and infusing his skin with tenderness. There's an ocean of yearning pressing against the shores of the tiny island of Xie Lian's newly discovered desire.

He's going to drown. He's going to be swallowed whole, he's going to sink into unknown depth, submerged under endless waves of longing and he doesn't even mind.

The sweet scent of cherry pulls all over his body and he pants desperately against Hua Cheng's mouth. Ah, if people could see him, moaning so wantonly at a mere kiss! How they would laugh at him. Look, this is the prince who thinks he's nobler than anyone else, taken apart by his first kiss and greedy for more. As the great poet Pei Ming once said: 'I swear there is no creature thirstier than a virgin.'

Xie Lian forgets how to think when Hua Cheng presses even further, silently asking for permission. He opens his mouth without a second thought, surrounding himself to the invasion. It's only as Hua Cheng's tongue melt against his own that Xie Lian realizes he has no idea how to kiss. Panic raises up on his belly, twisting his desire into knots of self-consciousness, its scent so acidic it overwhelms the sweet taste of cherry.

Xie Lian breaks away from the kiss, half disoriented, half freaking out. "I-I'm sorry, I… I don't know how to do this!"

Why is he like this, so awkward and weird? What kind of twenty-seven years doesn't know how to be kissed? Even in a dream! How pathetic is that? That will teach him to ignore anything relating to interpersonal intimacy. 'I have no use for this', he said. 'I'm a serious cultivator', he said. Such an idiot. Xie Lian would throttle his foolish past self if he could.

"It's alright, Your Highness," Hua Cheng whispers soothingly against his hair. "You're doing so great, allowing trash like me to touch you at all."

That's enough to snap Xie Lian out of his self-inflicted shame-fest. "Stop it. You're not trash."

Hua Cheng laughs brightly. "If His Highness says so, then it must be true."

It doesn't sound like he's very convinced though. Xie Lian is about to argue when Hua Cheng changes the subject. "If kissing makes His Highness uncomfortable, I could kiss him… elsewhere. That way he wouldn't have to do anything."

Xie Lian's mind immediately goes south. He remembers the feeling of Hua Cheng's fingers on him, the sensation of their lengths dancing together, and gets hot all over again. Hua Cheng's crimson lips taunt him, and he can't help but consider how to feel to be inside that wicked mouth.

Haha, to think he genuinely meant to put this sinful fantasies behind him…

"That… that doesn't sound very fair," he mumbles, staring at the sky in the faint hope his cock will stop over-reacting.

"I assure you nothing could make me happier than touching his Highness and making him feel good." Hua Cheng says with painfully honest sincerity. "I can think of no greatest honour, except dying for him."

"Don't die for me!" Xie Lian exclaims, alarmed. "Live for me instead!"

Oh god, he did it again! Telling someone to live for him so shamelessly, for the second time too. Once was embarrassing enough! How self-centred he can get? Instead of recoiling in disgust as he should have at such a gross display of egocentrism, Hua Cheng beams, his eye alight with joy.

"Yes, Your Highness." He vows, earnest and adoring. "Would you like to lie down?"

Xie Lian does so, his mind hazy and dazzled. He's burning hot with want, and when Hua Cheng leans over him, the corner of his mouth curled with mischief, staring at Xie Lian like he's evaluating how he's going to eat him, his cock twitches inside his pants in expectation. Xie Lian really is that guy now. Those vows of chastity were thrown away so fast.

It doesn't count if it's in a dream, he tells himself. It doesn't count.

To his surprise, and slight disappointment, Hua Cheng does not touch Xie Lian straight away. Instead, he straightens, taking in the spectacle of Xie Lian laying among the flowers, his skin coloured in a red as deep as the camellia blooming near his cheek.

"Your Highness, you're so beautiful," Hua Cheng whispers with reverence. "Thank you. Thank you."

What for? Xie Lian is the one being adored, he's the one being pleasured, he's the undeserving recipient of this staggering amount of love and care. If anything, he should be thanking Hua Cheng.

His eyes widen when Hua Cheng finally makes a move. His believer does not go for his chest or his crotch, the only parts involved in lovemaking as far as Xie Lian knows. Which, admittedly, isn't much. No, Hua Cheng sits at the end of his legs and gently put Xie Lian's foot on his knee. Then, ever so slowly, like he's savouring unwrapping an unexpected gift, he removes his shoe. That's nice but… what?

"Your Highness," Hua Cheng enunciated carefully, still staring at Xie Lian's foot as it's the most beautiful thing he has ever seen in his life.

"Yes?" Xie Lian croaks.

"Please tell me if I do anything that makes you uncomfortable."

Hua Cheng raises Xie Lian's leg and takes his foot in his callused hands, then stops. Xie Lian waits for something to happen until he realizes Hua Cheng is waiting for a verbal agreement. "I-I will."

"Thank you."

Hua Cheng's long fingers trace the lines of his foot with endless patience. His hand circle the ankle, caress the heel, run along the sole, play with the toes. You'd think he was trying to cartography Xie Lian's foot with his touch alone. Surely Xie Lian's completely normal foot cannot be that interesting? Xie Lian certainly never paid any attention to them before.

Then, so slowly it's practically torturing to watch, Hua Cheng raises the foot and lean down to lay a kiss on the arch. Xie Lian's gasp is so embarrassingly audible he puts his hand over his mouth by reflex. It's a foot. Not an interesting part of his anatomy, at least for that. Why is Hua Cheng kissing him there? Why is Xie Lian getting off on this?

Oh god, maybe Xie Lian has been a foot pervert the whole time, and just never noticed. He tries to remember if other people's legs ever arose anything in him. The memory of Feng Xin's strong thighs and Mu Qing's slender calves leave him completely indifferent, to his everlasting relief. His eyes drift toward Hua Cheng's long legs, folded neatly under him.

His attention is snapped back when Hua Cheng licks the side of his foot. "Y-You… don't do that, it's dirty."

Hua Cheng blinks at him, looking wrecked. "Does His Highness mind?"

No. He doesn't. He likes it. He likes the tenderness, he likes the feeling of Hua Cheng's lip and tongue tracing prayers over his skin, he likes being worshipped in his entirety. "Do what you want," he says, his voice raspy with arousal.

"That's a dangerous thing to say to me," Hua Cheng chuckles against his heel.

And so the torturous delight keeps ongoing. Not a single patch of Xie Lian's body seems to be below Hua Cheng's notice. Once he finished to explore and adore his left foot, he unravels the other, and the process starts all over again. After that, he slowly and thoroughly walk his way up Xie Lian's legs, the curves of his calves first, then the crook of his knees, the swell of his thighs, caressing, kissing, licking, removing his clothes one by one, whispering endless praises, soaking Xie Lian with affection and appreciation.

By the time he reaches his crotch, Xie Lian is so hard he could cry. The musky scent of lust, Hua Cheng's skillful hands and mouth, the restless waves of faith crashing inside him, all of this is making him lose his mind with want. Only the last shreds of his dignity are stopping him from rolling his hips to get the friction he's craving. Or worst, demand Hua Cheng puts his goddamn mouth on him already.

Finally, finally, Hua Cheng's hands drift to his hips. Xie Lian licks his lips in anticipation, his cheeks heated like a burning furnace. Hua Cheng is hard too, he notices with equal nervosity and excitement. More of the latter than the former, if he's being honest. The memory of that long, pretty cock rubbing against his surfaces on his mind and his fist clenches around his sleeve. He fails to hold back his moan when Hua Cheng's fingers crook around his hip bone.

"Your Highness," Hua Cheng says, brokenly, deferently and Xie Lian thinks yes, yes, I am Your Highness, I am your God, touch me now, fuck me well my beloved worshipper.

However, Hua Cheng makes no move to reach the throbbing tent inside Xie Lian's pants but catches his hand instead. He has to know, he cannot not know, he's sitting between Xie Lian's legs, right in front of Xie Lian's very obvious hard-on. Clearly, he should be paying attention to that, but no, he'd rather take Xie Lian's hand in his own, cradle the wrist and kiss every single of the knuckles, before he plunges Xie Lian's fingers inside his mouth and sucks on them in the most erotic way possible.

Is Hua Cheng trying to kill Xie Lian with frustration? Because that's exactly what's going to happen if Xie Lian doesn't get that mouth on him soon.

"How long do you intend to tease me like this?" Xie Lian tries to sound reproachful instead of desperate, with mixed results.

Hua Cheng blinks innocently as the fingers pop out of his mouth. "I have no idea what His Highness means. Is there something in particular you want his servant to do? His Highness only has to say the word."

It's obvious what he wants! Is he really going to make Xie Lian say it? How cruel! "I-I… I want your… on my… on my…"

He can't say it. He truly can't. This is the most frustrating thing ever. Why is he like this? Fortunately, Hua Cheng takes pity on him and gently lets down Xie Lian's hand.

"It's alright, I understand. I'm sorry for teasing His Highness. I'm going to give him what he wants now."

The tall man bends over Xie Lian's lap and breathes in. Predictably, the flowers release another wave of perfume. At that point, Xie Lian's sanity is but a mere memory and he bucks his hips eagerly. Hua Cheng puts his hands on his sides to hold him, then finally kiss the tip of Xie Lian's cock through the clothes.

"Ahhh," Xie Lian sobs. It feels so good. He needs more, so much more.

The remnants of his pride forgotten, he wills away his clothes, leaving only his inner tunic loosely opened. His hardened length is violently red as if trying to beg for attention, leaking at the end. Hua Cheng licks the precum with an expression of pure bliss.

"So pretty, so beautiful," he mutters incoherently. You'd think he was the one being sucked off.

Frankly, Xie Lian never thought of his penis as anything more than an annoying presence before. It hanged uselessly between his legs, usually expressed itself at the most inconvenient moment possible and Xie Lian just didn't like it very much. Certainly not something worthy of being called pretty or beautiful. His vows of chastity were a relief at the time.

But the sight of his length between Hua Cheng's lips might be the most arousing thing he has seen in his life. If he wasn't restraining himself, he could come from the sounds of sucking alone. And the scent, oh gods, the scent.

"Don't hold back, Your Highness," Hua Cheng pleads as he releases Xie Lian's hips from his grasp.

"Give it all to me," he prays, his tongue playing with Xie Lian's leaking slit.

"I'm your most devoted worshipper," he vows, his lips running along the shaft.

And then, right before he swallows Xie Lian down, a reminder: "You're my only reason to live."

Two different hammers shatter Xie Lian's fragile understanding of reality at once.

One, the absolute euphoria of Hua Cheng's wet mouth surrounding him and sucking him in. There is no going back from that. Just like he hasn't forgotten the sight of his devotee pleasuring himself inside the temple of his dream or the feeling of his hand rubbing his god's hardness, Xie Lian will never get over the sheer bliss of his warmth taking him whole, a worship that wrecks him deeper than hundreds of temples of temple and thousands of prayers ever could.

Hua Cheng moans around him, his lips swollen and crimson, and Xie Lian reaches the essence of divinity.

Two, the horror of realizing the man Xie Lian rescued as a child now has his cock down his throat. The very same child Xie Lian stupidly, selfishly told to 'live for him.' because he didn't know what else to say. That child did exactly that and he actually lived for Xie Lian. And now he's happily sucking Xie Lian off in his dreams, worshipping his god with literally everything he has and gagging for more.

It's Xie Lian's fault. He did this. He did this.

"No, no, no!" he cries out, forcefully pushing away Hua Cheng's head.

He springs up and sits on the grass, his inner robe flying around him. His cock bounces over his belly, wet and red, still hard and throbbing, shameless begging for Hua Cheng's attention. It doesn't care for morals or Xie Lian's conscience. It only wants pleasure, more pleasure, always pleasure.

Around them, the field of colourful flowers wither. It smells like death.

"Your Highness?" Hua Cheng asks hesitantly, his deep voice wrecked. He looks like a mess, his collar undone, his hair in disorder and a trail of drool down the corner of his mouth. "Did-Did I hurt you?"

No, it's Xie Lian who hurt him. "I'm sorry," he babbles as he tries to sit up. His legs falter and Hua Cheng has to catch him. Pathetic, pathetic, pathetic. "I'm so sorry! Please forgive me!"

He disentangles himself from Hua Cheng's embrace. His worshipper, still on his knees, looks up to him, visibly distressed. "Your Highness, please…"

Xie Lian flees the dream like the coward he truly is.

Chapter Text

Somewhere in the back of his mind, Xie Lian vaguely recalls his past self used to hate paperwork. A dull, joy-killing loss of time, he used to think. The plague of his immortal life, he once said. A lesser god might have made his subordinates do the deeds in his stead, but not Xie Lian, oh no. He was too noble to inflict that pain on his poor underlings. If anyone had to suffer, it should be him, he said.

The him from a month ago was such an idiot. He didn't know how to appreciate the mind-killing virtues of paperwork. Xie Lian has never so happy to fill reports on property damage repairs and run accountability on his merit stocks. Focusing on the task is literally chasing away any thoughts that isn't a number, and that's exactly what he needs right now.

Not. To. Think.

"Your Highness, I brought another cup of tea?"

"Don't bother, he didn't even touch the first one."

Silence as Feng Xin checks the fact that indeed, the cup of tea remained untouched on Xie Lian's desk. He probably wouldn't believe Mu Qing on principle; if Mu Qing told him the sky was blue, he would look up just in case it changed when he wasn't looking.

"...Dammit. He's been like this for five days!"

"Brain-dead, you mean?"

"HOW DARE YOU! HIS HIGHNESS IS NOT BRAIN DEAD! HE'S JUST GOING THROUGH SOME STUFF!"

"DON'T YELL AT ME YOU SIMPLETON! IT'S NOT MY FAULT HE'S ALL BROKEN!"

"WELL, I DON'T KNOW, WHOSE FAULT IS IT THEN? HE HASN'T TALKED TO ANYONE BUT US FOR WEEKS!"

Xie Lian clears his throat loud enough to be heard over the cacophony of his two attendants fighting. It's a skill he was forced to develop over the years, as it became obvious the rampant hostility between Mu Qing and Feng Xin wouldn't get better anytime soon.

"Excuse me, but I'm trying to work here," he says without looking up from his report. "If you can't stop yourself from bickering, you can do so elsewhere."

"Sorry," they both mumble, properly chastised. By experience, Xie Lian knows the remorse will last about thirty seconds before they forget and start yelling at each other again. He sighs and tries to lose himself into blissfully boring accountability.

"On the plus side, he tackled one year worth of paperwork in three days," Mu Qing says after a minute of considerative silence. "What's that sword?"

"A gift from a devotee. I thought it might cheer his Highness up…"

"Wait a minute… Isn't that Liliang Jian? I thought Haipa Jiahuo had it?"

"He did, up until two days ago."

"... Don't tell me it's that freak again."

"... Who else could it be? Does it matter who gifted it? A sword is a sword."

"It does if it's that Crimson Beast! He's obsessed with His Highness. Who knows what kind of wicked sorcery he enchanted that sword with?"

"You're being ridi-"

"Crimson Beast?" Xie Lian cuts it, repeating the moniker with growing dread. How likely are the chances that another devotee of his is famous for wearing red clothes? "Who are you talking about?"

Mu Qing and Feng Xin look at each other. For two people who claim they can't stand to be in the same room as the other, they sure are good at this silent conversation thing.

"Happy now?" Mu Qing hisses at his co-worker.

"You're the one who mentioned him! Don't blame me if you can't hold your tongue!" Feng Xin protests, clenching his left fist. The other is carrying a long wooden box that must contain said sword.

"You should have thrown away that sword the moment you got it!"

"Enough!" Xie Lian snaps as he hits the desk with his open palm. He has no patience left to deal with their constant quarreling. "Feng Xin! Tell me who's that Crimson Beast you spoke of!"

Feng Xin, ever the obedient servant, or as Mu Qing would snort, 'a well-trained dog', straighens by reflex at Xie Lian's commanding tone. "En, Your Highness! Crimson Beast is one of your devotees. We call him like that because of his red clothes and his bad temper. He's very…invested in Your Highness' cult."

Bad temper? Hua Cheng has been nothing if not perfectly well-behaved for Xie Lian. Sort of.

"His name, Feng Xin."

Feng Xin hesitates, but has no other choice than to comply. "Hua Cheng, Your Highness. He serves in Xian Le's royal army."

Xie Lian closes his eyes very slowly. Of course. To paraphrase Feng Xin himself, who else could it be? And he what? Battled a monster and gifted his legendary weapon to Xie Lian? For what purpose? Earn back his forgiveness?

Just when Xie Lian thought he couldn't feel any more like a scum, he just keeps getting lower and lower.

"He's an obsessed freak," Mu Qing mutters, his eyebrows furrowed in concern. "You shouldn't approach him, Your Highness. That would only fuel his delusions further."

Too late, Xie Lian thinks hysterically. 'Approach him' doesn't even begin to encompass how thoroughly Xie Lian fucked up with Hua Cheng.

"Duly noted," Xie Lian says dryly. "You may go now."

"Your Highness…" Feng Xin tries.

"Leave."

Xie Lian has unfinished business to attend to.

.

Finding Hua Cheng is surprisingly easy. Xie Lian just needed to stroll among the army barracks near the Capital and listen to the gossip. 'Crimson Beast' seems to be a hot topic today, and probably every day. Xie Lian heard no less than three soldiers complaining about the Captain as he lurked among them.

"Sergeant Yue is in a terrible mood," a foot soldier bemoans to his friend. "He forced me to do two hundreds push-ups, just because I was three minutes late this morning!"

"He's still mad about Captain Hua sneaking out to battle a monster on his own again," the other soldier laughs good heartedly, patting his back. "It'll pass."

At the name of Captain Hua, Xie Lian approaches the two men eating near the window of the mess and leans by the edge. They don't notice him, naturally. He would be very worried if they did.

"Not if Captain keeps on escaping the infirmary to train despite Doc's orders! Ah, don't laugh! You're not the one being blamed when Captain does crazy shit!"

"Sucks to be you and forced to serve under the command of a lunatic."

At the jab at his superior's expense, the first soldier bristles indignantly and waves his chopsticks. "Hey there. Captain is not a lunatic. He's just very intense!"

His friend rolls his eyes long and hard. Mu Qing would be impressed. "Not you too. I swear all the guys in your regiment are indoctrinated. Do you have to pray to His Highness The Crown Prince three times a day too?"

If Hua Cheng really makes his soldiers pay their respect to him so often, Xie Lian doesn't know whether he's going to cry or laugh. Both, most likely.

"Of course not. Captain Hua being a very devoted man doesn't mean we have to be as well."

That's a relief to hear, Xie Lian is not going to lie. It's funny how after ten years of godhood, he's still not quite used to the devotion he's showered under.

"No, you just have to clean the mess he makes after he loses his shit when someone says anything less than stellar praise about His Highness."

"That bastard of Jin Huan had it coming, and you know it!"

"Dude. Dude. Your Captain almost tore off his arm."

The soldier under Hua Cheng's command crosses his arms in front of his chest defiantly. "Well, what was he expecting after breaking into Cap's private shrine, uh? He made fun of his statues! He's lucky Cap didn't tear off his dumbass head instead!"

To his surprise, Xie Lian finds himself to be quite angry on Hua Cheng's behalf as well. No matter how odd it is, Hua Cheng spent a lot of effort and care in his art. Xie Lian could feel it when he was incarnating his statue inside the second dream. Who is this man to think he can trample over all that hard work so easily? And insult Xie Lian by association while he's at it?

"Still, Sergeant just lets him do anything. Is your boss sucking his dick under the table or wha-"

"FUCKING TAKE THAT BACK!" Hua Cheng's soldier shouts, waving his fist angrily.

Xie Lian's blood boils in his veins at the casual accusation. He dares to imply… What? It could be true for all Xie Lian knows.

He leaves for the training fields before he can convince himself to join the fight. The sun is almost down, but he knows, considering what he overheard from the soldiers, he'll find the man there. This is quite the trip down memory lane. He used to come here occasionally to train with Feng Xin and Mu Qing. He wonders if they miss it. To be truthful, Xie Lian's dream has always been to ascend and become a god, and he more or less assumed it was the case for his followers as well.

They didn't say anything at the time, but perhaps they would have wished to stay human and build their own life. Xie Lian needs to stop taking loyalty for granted.

He hears the man before he sees him. Familiar sounds of swords clashing and exhausted panting stirs him in the right direction. He can't help but quicken his stride, feeling impatient and excited. Unlike the terrifying depth of his own sexuality, this is a world Xie Lian knows.

Two men are fighting in the training field when Xie Lian walks by the corner. One short and muscular, who's struggling to defend himself against his opponent and looking like he'd rather be anywhere else right now, and the other tall and lean in a red tunic and armor, fighting like a furious beast despite his obvious injuries.

Hua Cheng, in the flesh this time. And oh god, he's beautiful. Lean muscles rolling with his smooth movements, agile hand wielding his saber as skillfully as it does a brush and a chisel, glossy back hair held back in a ponytail, a bloodthirsty grin stretching those tempting lips Xie Lian keeps on dreaming about.

Xie Lian has hoped perhaps the dream has influenced his perceptions, but, if anything, the man is even more breathtaking in person. He doesn't even have the excuse of being inside a wet dream to justify the wave of pure want rushing through his body at the spectacle. There are very few people who can compete with Xie Lian in martial prowess alone and even less mortals. Yet, he knows just by watching him pounce over his opponent like a voracious tiger on his prey, relentless and restless, a spirit of spite and determination made man, that this man could give Xie Lian a run for his money.

Fight me, he finds himself bemoaning internally, his fingers twitching for the handle of his sword, his blood answering the call of war, his cock throbbing eagerly. Fight me, fight me, fight me, fuck meIf you give me a good fight, I'll let you worship me raw in the open, right there on the dirt.

"Cap!" The soldier cries out as he barely manages to counter Hua Cheng's sword. "Maybe we should call it a day? You're going to reopen your wound!"

Hua Cheng halts, and sneers at the idea. "I'm not done yet. And if you're too tired to keep going, I'll find someone else to spar with."

"Sergeant Yue is going to murder me if you hurt yourself again," the soldier insists. "Please get some rest…"

Xie Lian snaps out of his fight induced trance. That's right, Hua Cheng is injured. He shouldn't be fighting at all, even less so recklessly. And he got wounded in the first place because Xie Lian ran away without an explanation. Another thing Xie Lian messed up with his believer.

"Fight or leave, I don't care either way," Hua Cheng says, to his subordinate's despair.

That won't do at all. Xie Lian approaches Hua Cheng from the side, filled with determination. He doesn't know how, but he has to take responsibility and make this right, somehow. His devotee does look at the end of his rope, as if spite truly is the only thing keeping him going. He touches Hua Cheng's uncovered wrist with the tip of his finger.

Hua Cheng shudders, and he looks around him, searching for the invisible presence of his god.

"Your Highness?" he asks, his previously acerbic tone now laced with hope.

"Sleep now," Xie Lian whispers as he infuses his energy through Hua Cheng's meridian. "Foolish man."

Hua Cheng's eye flutter, trying to remain awake. Unfortunately for him, there is no point fighting the spell for a mortal, even one as stubborn as Hua Cheng. He staggers on his feet, then would have crumbled on the floor, if not for his subordinate catching him.

Xie Lian peers at his devotee's face with surprising fondness. Most people look peaceful when they sleep, but not Hua Cheng. He looks in as much pain unconscious as he does awake. Those tender smiles he showed Xia Lian in the flower field seems like a fareway memory.

"Cap? Cap!" The soldier cries as he tries as he can to adjust his hold on Hua Cheng's tall body. "Fuck, the sergeant really is going to murder me now!"

Xie Lian follows the soldier carrying Hua Cheng back to the infirmary, where he should have been recovering all along, unable to leave until he knows for sure his believer is tucked safely in his bed. Hua Cheng's underling keeps mumbling about how heavy the Captain is for someone so skinny and how he's going to survive the sergeant's wrath, and he narrowly avoids hitting Hua Cheng's head no less than three times. Xie Lian has to physically restrain from throwing rules and caution to the wind, making himself corporeal, and carrying his believer to safety himself.

Eventually, after that excruciatingly long journey, they reach the infirmary. A man in his fifty, wearing a leather armor and looking incredibly pissed off, exits just as the soldier stumbles in front of the building, Xie Lian on his tail. Xie Lian guesses by the soldier's gasp of horror this is the sergeant he's so afraid of.

"S-Sir!" The soldier confirms his suspicions right away. "T-This is…"

"He sneaked off to train again?" the sergeant cuts in, very unimpressed.

"E-En… Cap seemed fine, until he passed out out of nowhere."

"Get him on the bed and go fetch the healer."

Hua Cheng's subordinate staggers in and manages to lie Hua Cheng down over the unruffled sheet. Less gently than Xie Lian would have liked, but beggars can't be choosers. The nervous man then bolts out of the room to look for the healer.

Xie Lian tiptoes next to the bed and sits down by Hua Cheng's side, staring at the sergeant intently. The older man leans over Hua Cheng and opens his clothes, looking for his wound. Xie Lian turns white when he sees the stitched line running across his believer's abdomen. That kind of injury could have killed him.

"Wild child," the sergeant sighs as he puts his palm over his forehead. "What am I going to do with you?"

That's an excellent question. How did Hua Cheng end up in the army anyway? The last time Xie Lian saw him, he was a scrawny little thing, barely hanging on to life. His chest constricts at the memory of a poor kid offering white flowers and quiet devotion to him. A wild child indeed, who grew up to become one of the wildest men Xie Lian has met.

"Your Highness."

Xie Lian freezes at his title. Surely this human does not know of his presence! The sergeant is not looking in his direction, but staring at his joined hands in a prayer. "Your Highness," he repeats, his old eyes closed. "If you have any mercy… please let go of your most devoted servant."

Xie Lian blinks. His hand reaches out to stroke Hua Cheng's cheek, slick with sweat. "I don't think I can do that, least I erase my memory from his mind entirely."

And that's something he's more than reluctant to do. It's selfish, but he doesn't want his believer to forget him.

"He's going to burn down if he keeps trying to reach out to something that cannot be reached," the sergeant adds, his rough voice shaking with emotion.

Cannot be reached? But Hua Cheng reached out to Xie Lian already. He snagged him from all the way down here, caught him between his soldier's hands, crafted him into godhood with his artist's hands, and unraveled the human within with his lover's hands.

He reached out to Xie Lian. It's him who does not know how to reach back. It's him who's terrified of what he can have.

After the healer walked in and confirmed Hua Cheng was fine, Xie Lian ascends back to Heaven, even more conflicted than when he left. When it comes to Hua Cheng, it seems Xie Lian is unable to solve anything.

The least he can do is try.

.

"Where is my sword?" Xie Lian asks when he storms inside his palace.

Feng Xin looks up from his plate, slowly blinks at Xie Lian, then points at the sword by his side. "Not this one," Xie Lian sighs. "The one I was gifted."

Understanding alights his attendant's eyes. "In the armory, but, Your Highness, trust me, you shouldn't indulge this guy's sick fantasies…"

It's a bit too late for that, Xie Lian chuckles to himself. "Thank you. And I'm sorry I've been… like this. It's not fair to Mu Qing and you."

"Your Highness, there is no fair or unfair." Feng Xin shakes his head. "We're your servants, you don't owe us anything."

Oh, Feng Xin, ever loyal Feng Xin, who's always been there by Xie Lian's side, in abyss and in heaven, who's his family. What would Xie Lian do without him to support him?

"But I do. I really do. And I'll try to do better in the future." He promises.

.
.

The first thing Xie Lian feels is the metallic taste of blood underneath his tongue. Bitter and powerful, strong and rich, like pure battle thirst running down his throat and into his veins. He tentatively licks his lips, tongue heavy and mouth dry. They taste like cherry still, the sweetness tainted with sorrow.

Once again, Xie Lian has entered Hua Cheng's dream, and found himself entangled into his believer's musings. But this time, he did so on purpose. This time, hopefully, he'll remain in control.

He's standing inside a room he hasn't visited in years, yet cannot fail to recognize: the Throne Hall of Xian Le's Royal Palace. He's been there often enough, at his father's knee then by himself, to be intimately familiar with the place. The smooth jade pillars, the gleaming white floor, the precious colored glass windows, and of course the throne, crimped with jewels, giant and imposing, As a child, he used to think there wasn't any place more impressive than the Throne Hall. Now that he's walking by Heaven's golden streets everyday, this display of wealth appears bland and tasteless by comparison.

At the center of the room, a figure in blood-stained rags is prostrated a few feet in front of the empty throne, his dirty red clothes a sharp contrast with the luxury of the Hall.

"This is a very faithful reproduction of the Throne Hall," Xie Lian says in guise of a greeting as he comes out of the shadows. "Have you been there before?"

A tremor shakes Hua Cheng's exposed back at the sound of Xie Lian's voice. He doesn't raise his head. "I was appointed in the royal guard for a few weeks."

Xie Lian hums along in understanding. That can't have ended well. From what Xie Lian has seen, Hua Cheng has no patience for anyone that isn't the Crown Prince of Xian Le. "A few weeks only, ah? Who did you offend?"

A muffled chuckle tingles through the solemn silence. "The question should be who didn't I offend, Your Highness."

Xie Lian can't help but laugh as well. He wishes he has the pleasure to watch rough, merciless Hua Cheng walk his way through the complicated politics inherent to the royal palace without giving a single damn who's foot he was stepping on. It must have been quite the show.

"I did say it was a terrible idea, in my defense," Hua Cheng adds. "The royal guard only interested me when His Highness still lived in the Palace."

Xie Lian wonders if that's what might have happened, if he hadn't ascended. Would Hua Cheng have managed to claw his way back to him then? Most likely. He is an incredibly determined man. Xie Lian wouldn't have been ensnared inside his dreams if it wasn't the case. "I see. Hua Cheng."

His believer shudders. Still he won't rise. "Your Highness."

"Are you planning to stay prostrated forever?" Xie Lian asks lightheartedly.

"I…" Hua Cheng stutters. His believer, so strong and unshakable, brought to his knees by a simple word from Xie Lian. "I'm scared to face Your Highness."

Xie Lian's heart constricts painfully at the sheer vulnerability in his voice. He crouches down by Hua Cheng's side and puts his hand on his head.

"I'm not angry," Xie Lian says softly as he pats Hua Cheng's hair soothingly. "Well, I am angry, but at myself, not you. You don't have to plead for my forgiveness. If anything, I should be the one to apologize for..."

"Your Highness!" Hua Cheng suddenly straightens up to face Xie Lian, his eye wide with outrage. "Don't say such preposterous things, please! You don't have to apologize to anyone, and certainly not a low life like me. I was too bold. Too selfish. Too greedy. I deserved..."

Xie Lian smacks the top of his head, cutting his self-recriminating tirade short. "Ah, stop right there!" He scolds his surprised worshipper. "You're not a low life or trash, how many times do I have to say this? The fault was mine. I didn't realize you were that child from ten years ago before you said…"

He can't finish his sentence, flustered at the memory of Hua Cheng between his legs, his mouth wrapped around his cock, pledging his life to Xie Lian unconditionally.

"His Highness didn't know?" Hua Cheng wonders. "It really is you then. Or my imagination is more tricky and inventive than I thought."

"It really is me!" Xie Lian laughs. "You doubted it?"

"Of course I did." Hua Cheng shakes his head, his tone full of self-loathing. "Why would Your Highness enter my dreams in the first place? Why would he indulge this shameless servant's sick fantasies? It's not the first time I imagined his Highness paying attention to me. He never felt so real before, however."

Well. It wasn't intentional. In the beginning, at least.

"Your Highness," Hua Cheng adds, facing Xie Lian. "You're right, I was that child you saved. I have never forgotten your kindness. That being said, I'm not a child anymore. I may be younger, but I'm a man. You don't have to feel guilty."

"I noticed," Xie Lian mumbles, avoiding looking at Hua Cheng and his alluring body leaning toward him.

"Hmm, did you really?" Hua Cheng smirks in a way that makes his inner organs twist in arousal. Xie Lian feels himself die a little inside.

"Don't make fun of me," Xie Lian says, trying his best to pretend he's not blushing hard. Where has the contrite devotee from two minutes ago gone?

"I would never dare." Hua Cheng flutters his eyelashes. "Hmm, how could I prove to His Highness I'm a fully grown and consenting adult?"

Too forward, he's too forward, Xie Lian despairs behind his hands. It's obvious what ways he's thinking of to convince Xie Lian! Then, he's hit by an epiphany. "Fight me."

It's perfect. Xie Lian could never see a child in a man that fights like Hua Cheng does. He could only see an equal worthy of respect. Ever since he spied on his spar, Xie Lian has been daydreaming about battling about the 'Red Beast'. Even exhausted and injured, Hua Cheng had been magnificent. Xie Lian is aching for a live demonstration of his skills.

"Your Highness?" Hua Cheng says, visibly hesitant.

"Fight me!" Xie Lian repeats as he springs up, excited at the prospect of a good spar session. It's been too long since he indulged in his favorite activity. He was running out of partners, as most gods now politely refused his invitations. He was too intense for their taste, apparently. "Come on, up, up!"

"As Your Highness commands," Hua Cheng stands up, still looking conflicted.

Xie Lian sighs. Right, let's raise the stakes. Without daring to look directly at Hua Cheng, he adds, trying his best to channel the seductive side of him that didn't exist a month ago. "If you impress me, I'll… reward you."

Hua Cheng lunges at him, his saber forming inside his hand out of nothing but intent. Xie Lian avoids the blow easily, his own sword appearing inside his fist.

"I didn't even say what kind of reward!" Xie Lian laughs delightedly, not offended by the treacherous attack in the least. Everything's fair in war and… yeah. Everything's fair.

"Doesn't matter," Hua Cheng says, quickly retreating. "I'll take whatever His Highness is willing to give me gratefully."

"Alright then. Don't you dare hold back, Captain!"

Xie Lian wins. Hua Cheng never had a chance in the first place. He's an excellent fighter, but he's still a mortal. Xie Lian is simply more experienced and a god. But he does put up a good show for Xie Lian. His worshipper is a ferocious beast, daring, suicidal even, some might say. He goes at Xie Lian as if he's genuinely trying to kill him, without holding back, without trying to coddle him, and Xie Lian is loving every single second of it. Sensuality is confusing and scary to him, but fighting? That's a language of the body Xie Lian understands. Master of it even. Clashing swords are words on their own, a form of communication Xie Lian prefers to verbal language, as savage as it might sound.

People lie. A sword or a fist never does.

He can feel the thrill of uncertainty and adrenaline throbbing inside his body, and he revels in the rush. It's been so long Xie Lian had so much fun fighting someone else. If in the end, Hua Cheng ends up on his knees, the tip of Xie Lian's sword under his chin, it's not because he didn't give his best. For that alone, Xie Lian is grateful.

"You're a formidable fighter, Hua Cheng!" Xie Lian says, full of enthusiasm, the elation of adrenaline pulsing in him still. "Let's do that again soon!"

Hua Cheng's awed expression brightens at the praise. He doesn't seem bothered at all by the presence of the blade so close to his neck. He's just so… pretty like this, his neck arched and his legs slightly spread on the floor. "I'm nothing compared to His Highness."

"Nonsense! You were a formidable opponent!" Xie Lian sincerely gushes.

"His Highness is too kind," Hua Cheng purrs, his eye greedy and his mouth hungry. Xie Lian could taste the lust on those lips if he tried. "Does that mean I earned my reward?"

Xie Lian's eyes flicker on the ground. Oh god. Oh god, but he's… "You're…"

"I am," Hua Cheng admits easily, his erection obvious now that Xie Lian is paying attention to something else than just fighting. "His Highness underestimates how appealing he is when he's lost to battle lust. And now dominating me so beautifully… Have mercy on me, Your Highness, I'm only one man."

And Xie Lian is only one confused and easily embarrassed god! He pulls down his sword, mortified by his own arousal at the sight of Hua Cheng at his mercy on his knees, begging to be taken. "I-I... W-What do you have in mind? For your reward."

"If I have the luxury to choose," Hua Cheng starts slowly. "I'd like to finish what I started last time. But only if Your Highness is comfortable with that."

Xie Lian feels himself flush from head to toes. "You want me to…"

"I want Your Highness to cum in me," he confirms without any shame whatsoever, staring intensely at Xie Lian's midsection.

"H-here?" Xie Lian asks, doing his goddamn best to look like he knows what he's talking about and has any experience at shoving his dick into people's body to cum in them.

The worst part is that he can absolutely picture himself doing that right then and there. Hua Cheng is already in the perfect position, kneeling obediently between Xie Lian's legs, his head looking up, mouth open and just ready to be filled.

Hua Cheng's eye flicker tellingly to the side. Surely he doesn't mean…

"The throne?" Xie Lian squeals, mortified at the idea. His father used to sit on that thing. Still does, actually. "Really?"

"Hmm, if it bothers Your Highness, I'm fine wherever." Hua Cheng muses out loud as he nuzzles Xie Lian's thigh, sly fingers caressing circles in the crook of his knee. "But I won't deny I would love to pleasure the only man I call my king on his throne."

Hahaha, oh dear, this is bad. Xie Lian is into it, he's way too much into it, why did Hua Cheng have to put it like that? "W-WELL THEN!"

Without letting himself a chance to chicken out on their deal, Xie Lian grabs Hua Cheng's hands, pulls him up, and drags him toward the throne. Hua Cheng follows along, chuckling at Xie Lian's red face, his hand holding Xie Lian's tightly.

"It's alright, Your Highness, we don't have to."

No! Xie Lian can overcome fifteen years of shying away from his own sexuality and self-imposed chastity. He can do it. No big deal. As long as no one ever learns about this. He would die if anyone found out about him indulging in kinky throne dream sex with his worshipper. Combust of shame where he stands.

Xie Lian lets himself drop on the throne and does his best to sit regally. Time to pretend he has the slightest clue of what he's doing. "Captain." He tilts his head up.

"Your Highness," Hua Cheng breathes out. He falls on his knees again, nested between Xie Lian's legs as if he belongs there, hands reverently roaming from calf to thigh. He doesn't spare the slightest bit of attention to his own erection tenting his pants, but Xie Lian does. Oh, how much he does.

"I hope you hope you don't plan on teasing me again." Xie Lian scolds, forcing himself to avert his eyes.

"Not this time," Hua Cheng smirks as he reaches out for Xie Lian's robes. Xie Lian can't hold back his shudder at the potential next times. "I don't have any patience to spare today."

Frankly, neither does Xie Lian. Patience has never been his strongest point, and his half hard-on isn't helping with his natural tendency to demand the things he wants now. Xie Lian really is a spoilt brat, just like the Head Priest claimed many times. It's fortunate Hua Cheng doesn't seem to mind so far.

"Ahh." Hua Cheng bites his bottom lip when he unravels Xie Lian's clothes, revealing his half erected cock. "I, Your Highness… are you still alright with this?"

Hua Cheng is staring so intensely at Xie Lian's length, he would combust if he hadn't already transcended his shame threshold. "I… Yes. Please. Are you alright?"

Surely this position can't be very comfortable for Hua Cheng? Maybe Xie Lian could get him a pillow or something? They're inside a dream, it won't be hard at all to solve the issue.

"I'm exactly where and how I want to be."

Prostrated between his god's legs, determined to prove his faith by worshipping him the most intimate way possible. Sly fingers curl up around Xie Lian's cock, and he gasps at the touch, his hips swaying onward by reflex to get more of that delicious friction. He really needs to work on his self-control. Hua Cheng chuckles at Xie Lian's eagerness and puts his fingers inside his mouth to wet them. Xie Lian couldn't look away from his lover thrusting between his lips, even if Heaven itself demanded it. His cock twitches in anticipation, to Hua Cheng's amusement.

"Your Highness is impatient." He smiles like a cat who got his cream, very pleased by the effect he has on Xie Lian.

"You're terrible," Xie Lian hides his face behind his hand, mortified beyond words. "No more teasing me, just get on with it!"

"As Your Highness commands."

Wet fingers find their way back to Xie Lian's cock, stroking, rubbing, and coaxing blissed out moans straight out of Xie Lian's open mouth. Soon enough, his mouth joins the party, and Xie Lian loses his ability to process anything but the feeling of those artist fingers circling his length and that sinful tongue licking him raw. He forgets he's a cultivator who vowed not to indulge in the distractions of the body. He forgets he's a prince whose reputation would be in tatters if anyone found out he laid with another man and enjoyed every second of it. He forgets he's a god who has to remain morally upstanding in all things, a pillar of his country and Heaven. He forgets the rest of the world exists outside of their bubble.

All that's left in his mind is himself, Hua Cheng, and the universe of pleasure they're sharing.

"Your Highness." Hua Cheng's lips pops out, his voice hoarse. "Does this servant please you?"

He knows he does! Xie Lian has been panting wantonly and on the verge of losing control to thrust inside his believer's throat for… how long has it been? Minutes? Hours? Days? Eons? He can't tell anymore. "Yes! Yes, my dearest devotee is so good to me, ah!"

Hua Cheng moans brokenly, one of his hands moving frantically under his tunic, where Xie Lian cannot see. His other hand finds Xie Lian's and grab it, gently redirecting his palm to rest on the top of his head. "Your Highness, please don't hold back. Be forceful, take what you want, use my mouth as you wish."

Xie Lian's breath dies in his lungs. "Y-You want me to..?"

His eye darkens with hunger, and he whispers, "I want to be filled with Your Highness's cock."

Xie Lian could come from the way he says 'Your Highness' cock'. "Ahhh, I'm… I'm not going to last much longer."

"Good."

Xie Lian's fingers tug on Hua Cheng's ponytail. The sound his devotee makes could have unleashed earthquakes and destroyed entire countries. Xie Lian would destroy entire countries for that sound, he realizes with no small amount of horror. He shortly forgets his shame at his selfishness when Hua Cheng takes him back inside his mouth, just like he forgets anything but his lover's warmth eagerly swallowing him and gagging for more.

Is this how Heaven truly feels like? No complicated politics, no moral conundrums, no backstabbing each other for a handful of merits, no prayers demanding and demanding and demanding, but devotion made fire, accepting him in his entirety.

True to his words, Xie Lian feels himself on the verge of orgasm quickly after he started rutting inside his believer's throat without inhibition. "Ahh, I'm going to…"

Hua Cheng blinks slowly up at Xie Lian to convey his understanding, his mouth sucking him even deeper. Under his red tunic, the rhythm of his hand accelerates. Suddenly, the idea that his devotee reaching climax without Xie Lian able to properly appreciate the spectacle seems unbearable. "Don't come!" He orders, shameless and so, so selfish. "Don't come, Hua Cheng!"

With a cry, Hua Cheng holds up his hand for Xie Lian to see he's not touching himself anymore, ever the obedient worshipper. The long fingers are wet with precum, and that's enough to send Xie Lian over the edge. He comes with stars bursting under his eyelids, full galaxies erupting into his whole body and the name Hua Cheng ascending out of his mouth like a prayer. Hua Cheng takes it all in him, determined not to let a single drop of Xie Lian's cum go to waste and moaning around the cock down his throat as Xie Lian writhes on his throne.

Eventually, he lets go of Xie Lian's softening length, a trail of white dripping down the corner of his swollen mouth. "Ah, Your Highness came so much in me," he says after he swallows down Xie Lian's cum. "How cruel of him to forbid me to follow him though."

It is rather cruel, Xie Lian bemoans at his forwardness. He has a reason for that but his brain is mush right now, blissed out and useless. Words are so hard to find when his nerves are tingling with pleasure still. "It's because… I wanted to make you come myself."

At the bold declaration, Hua Cheng chokes, his eye wide with surprise. "Your Highness! You don't have to debase yourself like this!"

Debase? Is that what Hua Cheng has been doing? It's not fair if he's the only one debasing himself then. "Get over here," Xie Lian frowns as he tugs on Hua Cheng's clothes.

Hua Cheng springs up and crumbles over Xie Lian's lap, his knees parted on each side of his god's legs. Throwing dignity to the wind, Xie Lian tears apart Hua Cheng's red tunic with his bare hands. He was planning to do so anyway. Hua Cheng deserves better than those tattered rags. He should be adorned in proper robes, crimson silk and cherry velvet to hug that slender waist and those sleek muscles. Xie Lian takes in the sight of his half-naked lover hungrily, committing the lines of his scars, the swells of his muscles, and the curves of his strong thighs to his memory. And his long, leaking, violently red length.

"Your Highness..." Hua Cheng tries to speak, sounding utterly lost.

With one hand, Xie Lian cups his cheeks tenderly. With the other he grabs that lovely cock begging to be touched. He has no idea what he's doing but surely it can't be that complicated. The sounds Hua Cheng makes as Xie Lian strokes him reinforces his confidence.

"Ahh, if you touch me like this, Your Highness, I won't be able to hold back at all," Hua Cheng moans against Xie Lian's shoulder

"That's alright," Xie Lian says soothingly, his free hand petting his lover's hair. "You were so good to me. You deserve to come, dearest. Kiss me now."

"I would love to, believe me, but I taste like cum." Hua Cheng chuckles, smiling helplessly.

That turns Xie Lian on instead of grossing him out as it should have. He really has no limitation anymore. He finds the courage to kiss Hua Cheng himself, a tentative peck at first then a full mouthed kiss. He takes everything in, the taste of sex, the bitterness of blood, the debauched prayers Hua Cheng lays at the altar of his body. He can't tell how long the moment stretches, only that he keeps caressing his lover over and over, until Hua Cheng is trembling from the need to finally tip over the edge.

"Your Highness, please, please," he whispers with fervor, his hips bucking uncontrollably against Xie Lian's belly.

Xie Lian wants nothing more than to answer his prayer. "Come, my dearest worshipper."

Hua Cheng does so, shattering into bristle glass shards while he cries out in ecstasy and breaks inside Xie Lian's arms. Xie Lian holds him close, broken body and broken soul and broken shards, patiently waiting for the wave to pass, and slowly puts Hua Cheng back together.

The other man is leaning completely against Xie Lian, chest against chest, his legs nested between the armrests and Xie Lian's thighs, his head tucked in the crook of Xie Lian's neck. Hua Cheng laughs when he looks down and sees his spend all over Xie Lian's robes. "I really made a mess of you, Your Highness."

He really did. And Xie Lian can't even find it within himself to mind.

.

"...and that's why I believe it would be for the best to advance our influence towards the northern territory. It might cause some issues with General Ming Guang, but the rewards are worth the drawbacks."

Xie Lian hums along in agreement, despite having about zero clue what Mu Qing is ranting about. His attention has been snatched by the rather adorable ladybug flying by the window. "Quite, quite."

How did she even get here? Surely she didn't fly all the way up to Heaven on her tiny wings? She's so adorable with her cute polka dots and her stubbornness to enter Xie Lian's palace. That being said, Xie Lian might just be biased toward surprisingly resistant and determined creature in black and red dresses.

"Right," Mu Qing drawls out, clinging to his folders. "I was also thinking we could sell all your swords and buy toothpicks instead.

Xie Lian smiles to himself as he holds out his hand invitingly. The ladybug has the kindness to land on the tip of his finger. "Sure, you do that."

"Great. What about firing Feng Xin and hiring someone actually useful?"

"Excellent idea."

"I'm very glad you think so, Your Highness. Since we're brainstorming so efficiently, what are your opinions on pink? We could dye all your official robes in salmon. I hold it on good authority it's the new white."

Xie Lian laughs. The ladybug flies away. "An interesting choice but I'm more partial to lavender myself."

Mu Qing's eyebrow raises gracefully. "So you were listening."

"Not for all of it, I have to admit," Xie Lian says sheepishly. "Sorry I have been so distracted lately."

"At least this time you seem to be in a good mood," his attendant sighs.

That's the closest thing to a verbal display of concern Xie Lian will ever get from Mu Qing. "I am!"

And he really is. Last night, Hua Cheng dreamt of a meadow alight with thousands of lanterns adrift above them. They cuddled for hours under the glowing night sky. How could Xie Lian not be in a good mood?

"That's better than the zombie you were for those last few weeks, Your Highness," Mu Qing deadpans.

"I won't disagree with you on that!" Xie Lian laughs. "I really am sorry I was so difficult. Thank for your patience."

At that, Mu Qing's cheeks flash pink with embarrassment. How cute. "It's nothing. I was just doing my job."

"And I'm grateful for that. Don't actually fire Feng Xin though."

"Does that mean I can dye your robes in pink, Your Highness?" Mu Qing snorts.

"I was never worried about that. Your professional pride wouldn't allow it." Xie Lian says, leaning over his elbow.

"Ugh."

Chapter Text

The first thing Xie Lian hears is a sob. Barely audible, a whisper tainted in sorrow, so tiny Xie Lian wouldn't have noticed it crawling out of someone's throat if he wasn't paying attention. He catches the broken sound between his hands and cradles it close to his chest. The sob slowly turns into a pitiful whimper, clinging to Xie Lian desperately. His ears tingle and mourn with the poor creature, born only of and for sadness.

Then comes the first word.

"Cursed."

The unforgiving syllables, forged in hatred and fear, pierced Xie Lian's armor like an arrow. The cracks reverted through his entire body, and he gasps, his breath clustered in his lungs. Between Xie Lian's hands, the sob wails in anguish.

The voices attack again, merciless. "Cursed. Cursed. Cursed."

And again, and again, and again. "Trash. Freak. Useless. Scum. Worthless. Monster."

Each sound, even more venomous than its predecessor, sinks into Xie Lian, their poisonous nature releasing unfathomable pain under his skin. The sob has been reduced to a shadow of a note. Xie Lian curls around himself on the cold ground, shielding the barely audible cry as much as he can.

"Only good at bringing misery to honest people," the snarling voice of a father slashes his belly. "Like you killed your own mother."

"A red-eyed beast born to destroy and slaughter," the cruel whispers of a woman suffocates his chest. "You should kill him before he kills us."

"Ugh, of course you can't play with us!" the merciless laugh of a child slides inside his veins. "Go away, monster, get out!"

"Why are you like this?" The whimper of a brother cuts open his heart. "You always ruin everything. I wish you were never born. Why can't you just disappear?"

Each sentence is another hit, each word shatters Xie Lian deeper and deeper. And it doesn't stop, why won't it stop, how can he make it stop? His fingers curl around the sob, who's completely silent now. Dead. Words are killing it, smothering the miserable sound under their hatred. And how can Xie Lian fight what cannot be pierced, slashed or punched?

Other words. That's the only weapons he can use.

"You go away!" He rages as he remembers he can use his voice too, he doesn't have to lie there and take it. "WHAT DID WE EVEN DO TO YOU? GO AWAY! BACK OFF!"

Nestled between his fingers, the sob unfolds and leaps out of Xie Lian's hands, turning into a fierceful battle cry. That sound, Xie Lian knows very well.

"Hua Cheng?"

The name pours inside Xie Lian's ears like a caress. The world stills in wait, stuck in frozen realization before it shrieks. The horrified sound unleashes a tempest of anguish, as strong as it's short. Mortified silence falls upon them as the last cry dies out in the darkness.

Xie Lian has slipped inside Hua Cheng's dream again, but this time it was a nightmare.

"Your Highness," Hua Cheng's voice is shaking as he tries to get his panic under control but keeps on failing. Xie Lian can hear every echo of his self-loathing, every note of his fear, and it stings a cord he didn't know the existence of deep within. "Your Highness, I'm so sorry you had to see that. Please forgive this servant for dragging you into his silly dreams. It won't happen again."

Xie Lian reaches out blindly for him. He catches nothing but ashamed shards of sounds. Good enough. "There is nothing to forgive. It wasn't your fault."

That's not enough to soothe Hua Cheng's anxiety, peals of fear ringing still into the void, so Xie Lian grabs the dream instead, and he tears apart the fabric between his divine hands. The nightmare dies a quick death, its remains cold and unfeeling. Xie Lian hastily stitches the seams into another dream, a softer one, a gentle one, devoid of any poison and knives lurking between the threads.

He opens his eyes to ink-black silk and scarred skin. Hua Cheng is hugging him tightly, shaking hands pressed along Xie Lian's shoulder blades, legs intertwined and his head resting on top of Xie Lian's. Xie Lian sighs against Hua Cheng's neck. "There we go. Better, isn't it?"

Hua Cheng hums as he sinks deeper into Xie Lian's embrace. The flutter of panic clinging to him sheepishly retreats back where it came from. "Your Highness is too kind."

"I'm not." This is basic human decency. Hua Cheng needs to upgrade his standards for kindness. "Does this happen often?"

"Sometimes," Hua Cheng admits, evasive. "I'm very sorry I dragged Your Highness into it."

Xie Lian lets that 'sometimes' sink into him, silent and grave. How often has Hua Cheng been forced to endure such pain on his own? Either curled upon himself until the storm passed, or battling what cannot be hit in complete solitude? "You should drag me into it. I want to help."

"I...As Your Highness prefers," Hua Cheng says, hiding his face into Xie Lian's hair. For once, it sounds like 'I'd rather die' to Xie Lian's ears.

"I mean it," Xie Lian scowls as he grabs Hua Cheng's chin to force him to look down.

Hua Cheng smiles, an incomprehensible blend of sadness and joy. "I know you do. I don't recognize this place. Your Highness, where are we?"

Xie Lian allows him to change the subject with a sigh. "My bedroom."

At the admission, Hua Cheng stills in Xie Lian's arms. His hand clamps around the white sheets behind Xie Lian's back. "I'm in Your Highness' bed?" He asks, deceptively calm.

He raises his head without disentangling himself from Xie Lian. The way he stares at the room, intensely and hungrily, as if he's trying to commit every single detail of Xie Lian's intimacy into his mind, is enough to make Xie Lian embarrassed. He would lie if he said he'd never picture Hua Cheng in his bed before, safely tucked in his palace, at the heart of what is his.

His beautiful devotee laying on his bed, either adorned in priceless crimson robes and jewels Xie Lian may or may not have acquired for this sole purpose, or utterly naked, wearing only the bite marks Xie Lian left on him. What a sight it would be.

...Xie Lian really has turned into a pervert, there is no denying it. "The dream version of it, yes."

"Hmm," Hua Cheng says as he lays back down and melts against Xie Lian's chest. His knee slides up to teasingly press against Xie Lian's thighs. "So, how does Your Highness want me?"

At that point, Hua Cheng must be able to feel the slightest hint of Xie Lian's arousal like a shark smells blood. Still, Xie Lian makes an attempt to deny the obvious. "I don't..."

Hua Cheng's fingers caress his hip and he forgets how to think. The mortal bends over Xie Lian to pour filthy suggestions into his ear. "I could take Your Highness in my mouth, on the bed or on my knees. Your Highness does like my mouth, hm?"

Of course he does.

"We could stay like this too." Hua Cheng's hand rubs circles around his hip. "Your Highness could use my body to take his pleasure however he likes. My legs, my belly, my hands... everything I have is yours. I only live to serve Your Highness."

Oh god, Xie Lian's room has been ruined forever for him. He's never going to be able to go to bed without remembering Hua Cheng offering him to rut against him any way he wants until he comes all over him. "I..."

"Or maybe, we could do it differently today." Hua Cheng drops a kiss at the corner of Xie Lian's mouth, his eye gleaming feverishly. "If Your Highness wants to, he could take me fully."

Take him fully? What does that...oh. Like... like this? Despite his intendants' best efforts, Xie Lian couldn't be kept away entirely from crass rumors, and he has heard whispered tales of men who liked to... use their behind, in a non-traditional way. He had no idea how such an act worked exactly, and the only thought he spared on the matter started and ended with 'if it really is true, surely that can't be very pleasant!'.

The idea of 'taking' his lover this way shouldn't seem this appealing to him. And yet. His mouth dried at the mental image, and Hua Cheng, still whispering dirty proposals in his ears is not helping. "How would you want me, Your Highness? On my back? On my knees? Or maybe I could sit on your lap?" He purrs, and Xie Lian's brain goes blank. "That way you wouldn't have to do a thing."

Oh dear, that would be... yes. He and Hua Cheng had only used hands and mouths so far, and Xie Lian hasn't even thought of any other way to chase their pleasures, already overwhelmed with what they had. On his end, Hua Cheng clearly has been considering it. Or perhaps even... Xie Lian taking Hua Cheng's cock. That would be... an experience.

But now is not the appropriate moment. Xie Lian may be in a more or less constant state of horniness for Hua Cheng, but he's not blind to what his lover is trying to do.

"No." The rejection escapes his mouth before he can find a better way to formulate it.

Hua Cheng's hands, that were roaming over Xie Lian's spine, stopped at once, and he went rigid, his eye widening. He hastily disentangles himself from Xie Lian, springing up on the bed to sit on the side, without facing Xie Lian.

"Hua Cheng..." Xie Lian tries as he sits up as well. His hand claps Hua Cheng's shoulder. His believer refuses to turn back.

"It's okay, Your Highness, I understand," Hua Cheng says in a fake cheerful tone. "This servant has been too spoiled already. To insinuate Your Highness would do something like this with me is just so..."

"Please stop," Xie Lian embraces him from behind. "I didn't mean no forever. Just not now."

The tension boiling in Hua Cheng seems to have unfolded. The taller man relaxes slightly in Xie Lian's arms, to his relief. "Oh. Your Highness please, you really don't have to. I was too greedy. Your Highness' mere presence is already more than I deserve."

Xie Lian leans over his shoulder to pinch his cheek. "That's enough, don't bad mouth the person I like in front of me."

The reality of his confession rings into his ears. The person he likes. It is true, but to say it out loud is so embarrassing! Nevermind. What is done is done. At that point, Xie Lian has no other choice but to keep going onward. "I know you're trying to distract me from what happened."

To distract him, and to prove Hua Cheng can still be useful to Xie Lian despite his 'weakness'. Xie Lian won't stand for that. Hua Cheng's value to him does not rely solely on his capacity and willingness to bring Xie Lian to climax with his body.

The tension has returned to Hua Cheng. "Your Highness, I-"

"I don't want to take you as if you were a thing," Xie Lian interrupts him. He needs to talk now, or he never will. "I want to take care of you. Please let me take care of you."

The urge to help and provide for others has always been strong within Xie Lian. His foolish, fearless seventeen years old self even claimed he would 'save the common folk, all of them!'. He still intended to. If he couldn't save all, then a few. If a few were too much, then one person was still worth it.

A self-sacrificing idealist, as his master would say, shaking his head with fond despair.

To Xie Lian, Hua Cheng is a walking paradox. Ruthless and distant to anyone else, a fortress built of iron skin and sharp fingers, yet warm, gentle and vulnerable to Xie Lian's eyes alone, a fragile heart exposed in the open, waiting for his judgement. Cynical, maniacal and impulsive to the world, kind, patient and caring to his god. A contradiction made man.

Xie Lian wants to keep being pampered and spoiled by Hua Cheng, but he also wants to pamper and spoil him. He wants to fight him until their hands bleed, and wants to smother him in a safe cocoon. It scares him sometimes, the insatiable abyss of Xie Lian's wants when it comes to his most devoted follower.

"I should be the one taking care of Your Highness," Hua Cheng mutters, full of self-loathing. "That's why I didn't want Your Highness to see this."

"You're already taking care of me, sweetheart," Xie Lian smiles and lays a kiss on his cheek from behind. "But I want to help too. Come here."

Hua Cheng lets himself be coaxed by Xie Lian to lie down on the bed, melting once again in his embrace. Tucked under Hua Cheng's chin, his arms full of him, their hearts beating next to each other, Xie Lian feels at home.

"There, dearest," he pats Hua Cheng's soft hair. "No one is going to hurt you here."

"I would rip them apart before anyone can enter Your Highness' bedroom," Hua Cheng chuckles darkly.

Xie Lian laughs. That's true enough. There went his mediocre attempt at comforting. "My fierce believer. You won't let me protect you, will you?"

Hua Cheng stays silent, lost in his thoughts. The moment stretches longer and longer until it breaks. "I have always known I could never become Your Highness' equal," he admits, his voice tiny and fragile, then it strengthens with pure determination. "But at the very least I want to be useful to you. I want not to be a burden. If I ever become a hindrance to Your Highness, please do not hesitate to throw me away."

"You're not a burden to me," Xie Lian shakes his head and cups his lover's cheek. "You're not disposable. You're not trash I can simply cast away and forget. Those things I heard in your dream, they're complete bullshit."

Hua Cheng laughs incredulously. "Your Highness, you swore!"

"Well, the situation called for it!" Xie Lian defends himself, burning up with embarrassment as Hua Cheng keeps on smiling. "Ah, stop making fun of me!"

"I'm sorry, Your Highness is too cute, I can't help myself," Hua Cheng says, his face softening with tenderness. "Your Highness is so good to me, I still can't believe he's real."

Xie Lian frowns. "I suppose I'll have to prove it to you then."

"Hmm, alright'," Hua Cheng mumbles exhaustingly.

Eventually, Hua Cheng falls asleep, and the dream dissolves.

.
.

Three days later, a festival is thrown in his honor. Thousands of lantern are set alight, half the country visits his temples to present their respect, countless offerings piles up on his altars. A river of spiritual power flows across Xie Lian's body, born out of the unwavering faith of his followers, a mind-blowing stream of trust that spins his head and lightens his steps.

Usually, on that day, Xie Lian either works even harder to fulfill his worshippers' wishes or he takes a stroll in the festivities. Today though, he has a specific task to do. While his attendants are distracted by the sudden inflow of energy, he descends to the Xian Le's capital, toward the army's quarters.

At the official military ceremony thrown in his honour, Hua Cheng lovingly offers his wildflower, a modest offering compared to the delicate flowers and exquisite gifts higher-ranked officers brought. Standing by the altar, Xie Lian's heart bursts in joy as his believer kneels to present his gift, unknowingly to his god in person. Giddy with faith and affection, Xie Lian leans down to press a brief kiss on Hua Cheng's lips. In this form, divinity barely contained in his invisible skin, he must taste like lightning and raw power. To him, Hua Cheng tastes sweet like devotion and stubbornness. A shred of his spiritual energy slips into Hua Cheng's parted mouth and settles through his meridians without any difficulty, looking perfectly at home inside Hua Cheng's welcoming body.

"Your Highness?" Hua Cheng whispers incredulously.

Xie Lian's hand traces tender lines over his believer's hair. With only a flicker of his spiritual power, the flower blooms bright red between Hua Cheng's fingers, and a field of white flowers sprout around him. They grow out of the stone floor to bloom once, then dissolve into the void.

There, proof. Xie Lian chuckles when the crowd burst into incredulous chaos at the little miracle that just happened in front of their eyes. He only has eyes for Hua Cheng, still kneeling, his eye wide with disbelief as he stares at the red flower in his hand, releasing an intoxicatingly sweet fragrance that wasn't there before.

Now everyone will know who has Xie Lian's favor. Including Hua Cheng himself.

"What the fuck," Sergeant Yue says softly, but with a lot of feeling.

Xie Lian is laughing when he finally finds the will power to leave Hua Cheng and ascends back to Heaven. This is a busy day for him, he won't be able to return until tonight. But when he does, surely Hua Cheng would have accepted Xie Lian genuinely is not a mere fragment of his imagination.

.
.

The first thing Xie Lian hears is a moan. The sound rises slowly, barely a whisper, winning strength until it can resonate in the room, an echo of raw pleasure bouncing over the walls and into Xie Lian's ears, then going straight to the lower part of his anatomy. A shudder shakes Xie Lian to his core, unrelated to the cold breeze of the dawn.

Hua Cheng's voice, of course. Xie Lian would recognize his moan anywhere, low and deep. It tugs on his mind and demands his attention, and Xie Lian is too weak to ignore the call.

"Your Highness, are you listening to me?" Mu Qing snaps.

Xian Lian blinks owlishly at his attendant, painfully dragging himself out of his Hua Cheng induced haze. Clearly, the other man cannot hear the ghost moans poured into Xie Lian's ears, to his relief. How could he explain exactly why and how a mortal man is panting directly in Xie Lian's mind as he pleasures himself?

You're going to kill me, Hua Cheng, he mutters to himself, trying his best to ignore his growing and uncomfortably public arousal. He has never been so grateful for his large robes before.

To his despair, a muffed groan answers him. The sounds echoes and shivers and takes, without mercy or hesitation. It takes Xie Lian's sanity, grabs it in its musical fingers, caresses it seductively and tugs on the strings as if Xie Lian were a mere puppet under its command. No one else can make Xie Lian like this. He thought he was completely detached from the lowly temptations of the flesh, he thought he was untouchable and unreachable, safe.

Yet here he is, eagerly taking in the sounds of his lover fucking himself thinking of Xie Lian. What is Hua Cheng doing right now? Is he on his back, lazily stroking himself, his head thrown back when a wave of pleasure shakes his composure? Or maybe on his belly, rutting into his fist, his face hiding in his pillow, sly fingers thrusting inside his mouth as he imagines it's Xie Lian's cock filling him up.

"Your Highness!" Mu Qing's hand slams against the desk. Xie Lian flinches at the abrupt sound. For a second, he had honestly forgotten Mu Qing was in the room. "Why did you single out that frea-mortal so blatantly?"

"I have my reasons," Xie Lian scowls at the name-calling. "Why does it matter so much to you?"

"We told you, he's obsessed with you!" Mu Qing exclaims. "You indulging his fantasies will only make it worse! What's going you with you? You've been acting so weird, sullen and withdrawn for weeks and now cheerful for no reason! You actually take rest! You have a regular sleeping schedule!"

When Mu Qing puts it like that, it does look very strange. Especially the regular sleeping schedule. Xie Lian has always been terrible at self-care. Back in their mortals days, it was up to Feng Xin and Mu Qing to remind him he was still a human being that required rest. Things did not improve after his ascension, they still needed to constantly remind him gods needed breaks too and occasionally strong-arm him to 'eat a few bites or fucking get to his bed already.'

Now though, Xie Lian has a reason to go to bed often, regular as clockwork.

"I said I was sorry about that," Xie Lian says. "Shouldn't you be happy I'm happy?"

"I am!" Mu Qing says as he crosses his arms defensively. "I just don't know why! It's like you got enchanted, or something!"

Enchanted? It's not very far from the truth. By all means, Hua Cheng did cast a spell on Xie Lian, enthralling his senses with his crimson red, his beautiful hands, his delicate flowers and sharp swords, his ironclad skin and tender heart. Xie Lian, vulnerable in his bland white tower, never stood a chance to resist him. "Nonsense. What kind of creature could enchant a god?"

A human one. A stubborn one. A faithful one.

And just when Xie Lian thought it could get any worse, another sound joins the symphony of lust already making him lose his mind. Xie Lian's breath dies in his throat and his midsection pulses in sheer want. Something wet and quick. Is that...sucking? No. Not quite.

"I know you don't like him, but I will not change my mind," Xie Lian says, his voice raspy and barely recognizable. "We'll continue this discussion later if you insist on having it. You're dismissed."

Mu Qing clearly hasn't finished saying his piece, but he complies anyway, closing the door behind more forcefully than usual. If he were anyone else, he would have slammed it. Xie Lian watches him leave with endless relief.

The sounds grow stronger and stronger, buzzing over his skin like thunder and spinning his head. They revert through his body mercilessly and tugs on his heartstrings. It's because Xie Lian gave Hua Cheng his spiritual energy that the mortal can slip into his thoughts and twist his mind like this. What an idiot he is.

He lets himself be drawn in and follows the call into Hua Cheng's room. As expected, Hua Cheng is lying on his bed, on his belly, silky back hair roaming freely across his naked back, just like Xie Lian imagined. What he was doing however, Xie Lian couldn't have pictured it in a million years.

Those slender, lovely fingers Xie Lian never tires of watching are thrusting between Hua Cheng's cheeks. The lower kind of cheeks. The kind of cheeks Xie Lian literally never paid attention to before that moment. He can only watch dumbly as Hua Cheng slides his long finger inside of himself, rocking on and on through his entrance.

And the sounds, oh the sounds. Xie Lian can picture himself replacing those fingers, sinking into that wet warmth again and again and again, until he releases himself right there, inside his lover, putting a claim on him from the deepest part of his body. He can picture doing this to himself, opening his untouched bottom for Hua Cheng's sake, withering on the bed helplessly and aching for release, until Hua Cheng takes pity on him and fucks him raw.

"Fuck, fuck," Hua Cheng moans deep enough to unleash an earthquake upon the remnants of Xie Lian's self-control."Y-Your Highness…"

Your Highness. That title has defined Xie Lian's entire existence since his birth. The empty respect is woven inside the syllables, the weight of a country rolled under the characters, a crown of sounds bigger than he is.

"Your Highness," Feng Xin says, bowing in sincere and terrifying respect.

"Your Highness," Mu Qing says, doubt obvious in his display of deference.

"Your Highness," the Head Priest says, distant as if he were talking to someone else.

"Your Highness," say ministers, says merchants, say nobles, say common folk, say gods.

"Your Highness," says literally anyone who isn't directly related to him. Your Highness, Your Highness, Your Highness. Sometimes he feels he's more Your Highness than he ever was Xie Lian.

No one says Your Highness the way Hua Cheng does, the heavy title cradled between his lips tenderly, the sounds caressed and cherished in his rich voice. Like it's a privilege beyond words to be able to do so. Giving and giving, never asking.

And it breaks Xie Lian into tiny pieces. He tries to catch the sharp shards of his sanity and force them back inside, but they keep on slipping away, evading him entirely. Xie Lian is left to fend for himself with his broken shards and one meaningless title clinging to his skin as Hua Cheng rolls on his back, another soul-shattering Your Highness breathed out as a prayer. His untouched cock is so hard, red and leaking furiously over his stomach. Xie Lian couldn't look away for the life of him.

Hua Cheng's beautiful hand, the fingers coated with a transparent liquid, returns between his legs just as Xie Lian opens his mouth and says, quietly, timidly: "Xie Lian."

Say my name. Say my name. Please say my name.

Hua Cheng cannot hear him, of course. At that instant, Xie Lian is coated in his divinity, invisible, inaudible, unreachable, a mountain of power turned wisp at the mercy of one mortal. Yet, Hua Cheng stills, looking up and quickly retreating his fingers from his midsection.

"Your Highness?" He wonders, hesitantly.

"Hua Cheng," Xie Lian answers.

In a daze, he stumbles toward the bed and bows down to lay a kiss on Hua Cheng's sweaty forehead. In this form, his touch is akin to raw power, electric, buzzing, otherworldly. Hua Cheng leans into the contact eagerly nonetheless.

"Your Highness," he breathes out, not looking embarrassed in the least to be caught fucking his own ass. "Your Highness, you claimed me in front of everyone."

He says this with unhinged delight like it's the greatest thing to ever happen to him. The word claim sounds like fuck coming out of those crimson lips. He's not wrong.

"I did," Xie Lian admits softly.

He hasn't been possessive since he was a brattish child laying claims of ownership and refusing to let go of his parents, his toys, his attendants. He worked hard to overcome this annoying flaw of character, and Hua Cheng brings it all back. Not in the sense he wants to keep the man all to himself, hidden inside deep within Xie Lian's palace where he would be the only one allowed to enjoy his company, oh no. That would actually be easier.

Instead, Xie Lian wants to flaunt his beautiful believer. Slowly, he leans down to caress Hua Cheng's mouth with his thumb. His believer parts his lips obediently, taking in Xie Lian's fingers without a protest. Isn't it painful for him? Xie Lian is so charged with spiritual energy he's practically leaking power.

"More. More, Your Highness," Hua Cheng demands, bucking his hips tellingly.

Stars tingle at the tip of his fingers when he moves to sit between Hua Cheng's open legs. Hua Cheng shivers when Xie Lian skims over his thighs tentatively. "Yes, like this," Hua Cheng purrs, encouraging him to touch him deeper, deep enough to cradle his heart in his hands.

Xie Lian wasn't made to serve. Born a spoiled young master, grown an idealistic prince, ascended as a martial god and in charge of an entire territory, Xie Lian knows how to command and demand, not how to obey. He's always been terrible at obeying. How he wants to overcome his lack of experience though. He longs to be the tool Hua Cheng would use to reach his pleasure, obedient and efficient until Hua Cheng comes undone under his ministrations. He aches to serve, for the first time in his life.

His hands shakingly roam over Hua Cheng's thighs, waist, belly, hesitant and restless at once. He unleashes sparkles wherever he goes and leaves glowing marks of his presence. Hua Cheng can't see it with his mortal eye, but he can feel Xie Lian coating him with his spiritual energy. Marking him. It must be so strange for Hua Cheng, the phantom sensation of light tugging on his soul without being able to see and hear.

Considering the moans that keep on slipping out of his parted lips, the mortal doesn't mind being ravished in such an odd manner. "Inside, Your Highness, please," he says, stroking the sensitive skin of his inner thigh for emphasis.

If Xie hadn't seen his lover fingering himself not five minutes ago, he might not have understood what Hua Cheng was asking for. He takes a deep breath, reins in his nervosity and valiantly tries to ignore the fact he has no idea what he's doing. His finger hovers by Hua Cheng's entrance, and he runs circles around it.

"Fuck, don't tease me anymore," Hua Cheng pants. "I promise I'll tell if you hurt me."

Xie Lian is a brave, bold, determined god. He can definitely do this. His finger slips in carefully, ever so slowly, and Hua Cheng unravels under him, moaning, gasping, clenching around Xie Lian. He's warm, so impossibly warm Xie Lian feels like he's either going to be swallowed by the bottomless abyss of his own desire or burst into flames. The urge to caress the flesh offered to him and explore unknown territories seizes his mind, but he holds himself back. At that point, two phalanges into Hua Cheng, he barely dares to breathe.

"Fuck," Hua Cheng swears between two heavy pants. "I can feel you there, Your Highness. I don't know how but… You can move now. Please do move."

Turned an obedient puppet attuned to Hua Cheng's voice, Xie Lian does so, tentatively rubbing his finger against Hua Cheng's inner walls. The sound Hua Cheng makes at the touch could shake countries and destroy mountains, throaty, desperate, lovely. Xie Lian wants to hear more of that very much, so he ignores his awkwardness and moves again. Ever a fast learner, Xie Lian quickly finds a satisfying rhythm for them both. In and out. In and out. As easy as breathing.

Under Xie Lian's hands, filled by his spiritual energy, Hua Cheng sings like a musical instrument. Xie Lian could coax sighs, pants, moans, pleads, thousands of desperate Your Highnesses out of him if he plays him right, and Xie Lian is determined to hear every sound of pleasure his lover can produce. He discovers that rubbing a particular spot will earn him the loveliest symphony and cheerfully made use of this newfound knowledge until Hua Cheng was reduced to a sobbing mess.

"Ahh, Your Highness!" He cries out, his cock dripping precum on his belly. On impulse, Xie Lian leans to lick the tip. Hua Cheng's taste diffuses over his tongue, salty and raw. "Just-Just fuck me already!"

Overwhelming by the need to please his lover, Xie Lian has his cock pressed between Hua Cheng's buttcheeks before he had the time to think, and it feels so blissfully good. Reality hits him as he's about to slide into his lover without a care for the consequences. What is he doing? What is he doing? A long time ago, when he had no clue of the sacrifice he was making, Xie Lian swore not to lay with anyone, can't indulge himself like this. He just can't.

Not when it's so real.

He recoils by instinct and tries to gather his hazed thoughts running wildly inside his mind and the scattered particles of himself clinging to Hua Cheng, his godly essence attracted to his most faithful devotee like a moth to light. Hua Cheng, unable to see, hear or smell, yet perfectly attuned to Xie Lian, felt the loss immediately. He straightens and half sits on his elbows, his blissed-out expression replaced by concern.

"Your Highness?" Hua Cheng sounds fragile. It shouldn't be this way. This is a voice made for deep chuckles, powerful battle cries and sly whispers, not meek whimpers. "Your Highness, I went too far again. I'm sorry, don't be mad, please."

He always has to apologize to Xie Lian. It's not fair. It's not his fault Xie Lian cannot be with him the normal way. If there could be anything normal between the two of them in the first place. No matter. If Xie Lian can't indulge himself too thoroughly this way, it doesn't mean Hua Cheng shouldn't. He leans over his lover to caress his cheek soothingly, wordlessly asking him to lay down again. Hua Cheng obeys, his eye curled into a crescent, and his body lays bare for Xie Lian to ravish as he pleases.

And ravish he does. First his mouth, a butterfly kiss and a warm breeze inside his throat to reassure his lover of his willingness to keep going. Then his neck, strong and pliant, arched submissively in deference and trust. Xie Lian bites the tender skin with unbashful delight and discovers the pleasure of marking his lover as his. In this form, his love bites won't mark the skin but will leave an unmistakable trace on his core instead. Shamelessly, Xie Lian pushes his own energy inside Hua Cheng. Mortals might not be able to tell the difference, but anyone with an ounce of spiritual power would see the divine essence storming within Hua Cheng. The peck he gave his devotee this morning is nothing compared what he's doing now.

And Hua Cheng can feel it. Can feel Xie Lian's energy enter him and merge with his own, can feel how deeply Xie Lian wants him to be protected, can feel his regard, respect and affection. His love. Soon enough, he couldn't even beg for more, too mindblown by the rush of Xie Lian's spiritual energy for words, turned into a sobbing mess of pleasure.

He can only cry out: "Your Highness!" when Xie Lian's mouth full of stardust goes down on his nipples.

The closer Hua Cheng gets to climax, the more Xie Lian feels himself dissolve into his lover. He becomes the air in his depraved gasps, the sweat glistening on his skin, the blood running inside his veins. He becomes his uncontrollable pleasure, his latent anxiety to be too greedy and drive Xie Lian away, his unwavering faith, and he's so high on the feeling.

Contrary to common belief, hunger does not disappear after ascension. It merely changes of course. Xie Lian does not need rice, meat or even water to live. Instead, he craves faith like some crave sugar or wine. Needs it, truly. Such is the essence of divinity. Gods only exist because mortals believe in them. People think gods are more powerful than them, while gods would be nothing without their believer's faith.

And Hua Cheng believes in Xie Lian more than he believes in the sun. More than he believes in anything.

"Your Highness," he breathes out, throbbing in want and moaning in pleasure as Xie Lian lightly brushes over his neglected cock. "Your Highness, I love you! Xie Lian, ah, Xie Lian, Your Highness, I love you, I love you!"

He comes like this, surrounded by Xie Lian's presence, bathed into his god's energy and intangible warmth. Xie Lian experiences a pleasure he has never known as Hua Cheng reaches his completion with his actual name on his lips and unfolds into him, torn apart by the ghost touch of Xie Lian's divine fingers. It's a deep satisfaction that goes beyond sex, a joy so intense he struggles to keep himself contained. His essence longs to unravel completely and fly out to wrap itself around his lover's exhausted body.

"So good, you're so good to me," Xie Lian whispers tenderly as he covers Hua Cheng's glorious nakedness under a blanket. "Sleep now, dearest one, sleep and rest."

Hua Cheng passes out quickly after that, and Xie Lian slips inside his dreams as easily as he lived there.

.
.

"Hua Cheng."

"Your Highness."

Xie Lian leans into Hua Cheng's personal space, their faces dangerously close to each other, breaths mingling together. "I... I have a confession to make. I am... not allowed to have intimate relationships."

Hua Cheng blinks. A galaxy flashes inside his black eye. "Not allowed to?"

"My cultivation path relies on abstinence," Xie Lian says very fast. The sooner he gets it over with, the sooner. "That's what I meant by 'not allowed."

Realisation falls on Hua Cheng like a meteor. "But Your Highness, we..!"

"It seems dreams don't count," Xie Lian cuts in. "My cultivation is fine. However, I'll never be able to share intimacy the... usual way. In reality. I'm... sorry."

Their relationship could have never been normal in any case. Because they were both men, because they were born in social classes so vastly different they might as well not exist in the same universe, because Hua Cheng was a mortal and Xie Lian his god. Still, Xie Lian wishes he could offer more than fantasies.

"Your Highness, it is who is sorry for putting your hard work in jeopardy for the sake of my selfishness." Hua Cheng says, remorseful.

"No, no, you couldn't have known!" Xie Lian strokes Hua Cheng's cheek. "It's not your fault. I should have mentioned it sooner."

Hua Cheng leans into the touch eagerly. They melt further into each other and the soft mattress of the bed. They're laying in Xie Lian's room again. Hua Cheng dreams of it often. He seems to like the place very much.

"I... Your Highness, you're spoiling me too much," he mumbles after a moment of contemplative silence. "First by indulging my fantasies, letting me touch you, pleasure myself on you, at the risk of your own cultivation no less. Then by talking with me so much, and visiting my dreams every three nights for months. And now you recognized me in public! This servant is undeserving of your regard."

"I did those things because I wanted to, not out of the goodness of my heart," Xie Lian firmly corrects his lover.

"My point is, Your Highness has already given me so much. He doesn't owe me anything, I'm overjoyed with anything he can and wants to give me. If we can never be intimate again, I'm fine with that." Hua Cheng smiles as he presses his lips against Xie Lian's forehead. "A kiss from Your Highness can sustain me for days. A hug will make me giddy for weeks. Just a look is good enough."

That would be so good. Holding his lover in his arms, petting his hair and his pretty face, whispering secrets he knows Hua Cheng would rather die than reveal, just being close together is a blessing. But Xie Lian has tasted more than that, and he has no wish to give up on it. "What if I don't want to stop doing the... other things?"

Hua Cheng smirks like a predator as his lips slide from his forehead to his ear. "Then I'll be absolutely delighted to serve my god."

Xie Lian gulps down.

Chapter Text

Gentle fingers roam across Xie Lian's scalp, a soothing and caring touch skimming over his hair, barely daring to pull anything. They pry apart Xie Lian's rebel strands, slow and careful not to hurt. Soon enough, a silver comb joins the party, the movement of the instrument through his hair as tender as before. Xie Lian relaxes against the chest standing behind him, smiling in contentment.

"You can tug harder, you know?" He chuckles. "I'm not going to break."

"Of course Your Highness won't," Hua Cheng says softly. "It doesn't mean he doesn't deserve nice things that won't hurt him."

"Alright, do it your way," Xie Lian says as he lets himself melt against Hua Cheng.

His lover laughs lowly and adjusts his position to accommodate the eighty kilograms of muscled god leaning against him. "I'm sorry Your Highness, I don't know any fancy hair styles."

"I'm not very fond of fancy hair styles anyway," Xie Lian mumbles truthfully. The art requires both patience and care, and the foolish prince he was had none to spare for something so frivolous. He only allowed servants to dress him up in unpractical garbs when the situation called for it or to please his mother.

"I remember how Your Highness looked at the ceremony," Hua Cheng says, sounding nostalgic and wistful. "You were so beautiful I couldn't look away."

Xie Lian remembers too. The gold and rubies combs, the jade and silver pins, the silk and velvet ribbons. His mother was so proud when she saw him in his Prince Who Pleased The Gods attire. And he remembers the tiny child who clung to him all the way, his black eye fixed on his face desperately. At the time, Xie Lian assumed the child was scared, but it turned out he was more awed than frightened.

"That took literal hours to make. I was dying of impatience and had to resist the urge to escape several times," Xie Lian chuckles at the reminder. He tilts his head to the side to stare at Hua Cheng. "Could you do a braid like yours?"

"Like mine?" Hua Cheng repeats as he rolls the tiny braid laying on his side between his fingers. "As you wish. That's just something my auntie likes to do with my hair."

"Your auntie!" Xie Lian exclaims, delighted. Any crumbs of his privacy Hua Cheng is willing to share must be seized and appreciated to its fair value. "Tell me more please!"

"It's not very interesting," Hua Cheng shakes his head. His fingers return to Xie Lian's hair to chose which strands will be braided. "When I was... thirteen, maybe? Yes, thirteen passed. My old man had kicked me out for good, and I was roaming the streets. I had nowhere to go so I slept in the temple, I hope Your Highness doesn't mind."

"Of course I don't," Xie Lian soberly says, his enthusiasm drained down. He remembers a tiny, malnourished, lonely child sleeping curled upon himself on the cold hard floor and refusing to eat the offerings Xie Lian did not need. His chest constricts. How such an unlucky soul manage to grow into that bright young man is a mystery Xie Lian wishes he knew the secrets of.

Humming contentedly, Hua Cheng leans down to press a kiss at the top of Xie Lian's head. "Your Highness is so kind, as usual. I would have never survived if not for you."

"That's untrue. Though I will admit I saved your life once, for the rest I have no merit," Xie Lian denies, bending his head up to stare at his lover. "You survived by your own strength, Hua Cheng, not because of me."

Hua Cheng's smile is sweetly melancholic. "I'm afraid I can't quite agree with Your Highness on that. Anyway, Madam Yu saw potential in the feral teen I was and took me in. She's a former courtesan who now owns a bar and has dirt on practically everyone in town. Few people dare to oppose her."

Hua Cheng sounds both amused and reluctantly admirative when he speaks of his adoptive parent. Yet, considering how he described her, Xie Lian cannot help worrying. "Is she...nice?"

He laughs brightly. His fingers feels like magic between Xie Lian's hair. "Sort of. She's nice enough to me. She calls me San Lang because I'm the third street urchin she took pity on. Well, that or 'ungrateful brat'. Auntie has a temper, but she's a good person, under all the yelling and the swearing."

That's only mildly reassuring but Xie Lian is very familiar himself with people with a rough attitude and a soft heart. On the plus side: "San Lang!"

"Yes?" He chuckles.

"San Lang!" Xie Lian says again, delighted by the playful sonorities. "It's so cute!"

"You think so?" Hua Cheng hums, pleased. "Then Your Highness should call me San Lang all the time."

"Oh, I couldn't," he says. "It's a special name, isn't it?"

"It is," Hua Cheng agrees softly. "Special and precious. But Your Highness is my most special and precious person. I'd be honored if he called me San Lang."

A warmth spreads through Xie Lian's relaxed body, starting from his head where Hua Cheng is cradling his hair. Special and precious. Truthfully, he feels exactly the same but doesn't dare say out loud yet. Not so boldly at least. "Alright, but San Lang should call me by my name too."

Hua Cheng goes still, his fingers stopped in the middle of a boucle. "I...Your Highness, I don't think..."

"Not all the time," Xie Lian cuts in hastily. "But sometimes. Until you get used to it."

After a moment of hesitation, Hua Cheng starts moving again and gets back to the task at hand. "I"ll try, Your Highness. Xie Lian."

"Good! Very good!" Xie Lian says, unbelievably happy to hear his name from Hua Cheng's mouth. To hear his name at all. "San Lang is so cute."

"Though I'm very pleased Your Highness thinks so, I hope he doesn't only finds me cute," Hua Cheng chuckles lowly. Xie Lian doesn't even need to see his face to know he's smirking seductively.

"Of-Of course not. You're very handsome too." Xie Lian mumbles without daring to look up.

"Oh? What does Your Highness find handsome about this San Lang?" Hua Cheng probes further, his breathe hot against the shell of Xie Lian's ear.

There Xie Lian recognizes his Hua Cheng, cheeky and shameless, yet irresistibly endearing. "Everything. I like everything about San Lang. Stop prying for compliments, ah!" he says scoldingly, pretending he's not blushing from head to toes.

Despite his embarrassment, he feels giddy by the playful display of intimacy between the two of them. Not so long ago, Hua Cheng wouldn't have dared to question or tease Xie Lian that much. Now he jokes and banters, pokes and pouts at Xie Lian as if he was an actual person, more than an unreachable ideal. They have grown comfortable with each other. Xie Lian likes this. He likes it very much.

"My bad, my bad," Hua Cheng laughs, elated by Xie Lian's easy admission. "There, I'm done."

His touch lingers for a moment over Xie Lian's tresses, before he migrates toward his shoulders. Now that he's aware physical displays of affections are more than okay, Hua Cheng can't seem to get enough of Xie Lian. More often than not, he has his hand crooked under Xie Lian's arm, or his leg laying next to his, and on the days he feels bolder than usual, his head on top of Xie Lian's, chest pressed to Xie Lian's spine. Xie Lian has quickly become addicted to the way Hua Cheng touches him: as if he was both unbreakable and fragile, strong and soft, god and human.

His fingers pinches his new braid tentatively, and he beams at Hua Cheng with childlike enthusiasm. "Look, we match!"

Hua Cheng grabs his own braid, playing with the bead at the tip. "We do."

Xie Lian doesn't answer, his eyes flickering briefly toward the red coral perl before he adverts them in another direction. He smiles brightly, but Hua Cheng has already seen. He bites his bottom lip nervously. "Your Highness, about my bead..."

"Yes, it used to be mine, right? I lost an earring like this when we met," Xie Lian declares lightly. Truthfully he guessed a while ago why the pearl looked so familiar but didn't say anything. He didn't want to embarrass Hua Cheng, and it wasn't like he cared about it in the first place.

"I stole it," Hua Cheng admits. "Not to sell it, but to keep a memento of Your Highness. It was stupid."

"It's alright, you were a child, I'm not angry," Xie Lian turns on his seat to grab Hua Cheng's hands between his owns. "Why didn't you sell it though? You were starving."

A glimmer of darkness passes over Hua Cheng's eye. "I'd rather die," he says soberly, with terrifying honesty.

"Well, I'd rather you did not die," Xie Lian sighs. "Keep the pearl, it's yours now. It suits you better than me anyway."

He laughs, sounding genuinely delighted. "Once again, I cannot agree with you, Xie Lian."

Xie Lian is so happy by Hua Cheng using his name, he can't even be mad. Clearly he gave Hua Cheng too much power with this, and there is no take backs allowed.

He'll just have to suck it up then.

.
.

"Good morning!"

Feng Xin gapes at an overly cheerful Xie Lian, his eyes and mouth comically wide. "G-Good morning, Your Highness?"

Xie Lian giggles. Feng Xin looks absolutely terrified at the sound. Xie Lian shouldn't make fun of his loyal attendant and friend, but his face is just hilarious. Not a second later, Mu Qing walks in the room, a pile of scrolls under his arm, a cup of tea in his hand and several marks of exhaustion maring his pale face.

"Good mor-"

Mu Qing takes one look at Xie Lian's bright smile and turns the other way without saying a single word. What a Mu Qing thing to do. And here people genuinely think he's the most polite and well-mannered god living in Xian Le's palace.

Well. It's a work in progress.

.

.
Xie Lian's second attempt at penetrative sex ends up with him having a life crisis between Hua Cheng's legs while his lover laughs at his misery.

"San Lang, stop laughing, it's not funny!" Xie Lian definitely does not pout. Hua Cheng only bursts out cackling louder at his admonition. Rude, so rude. "Saaaan Laaaang!"

"I'm sorry, Your Highness, but you've been glaring at my ass like it's a complex math equation for the last five minutes." Hua Cheng wipes a tear of hilarity tucked at the corner of his eye, breathless after his outburst. "It is funny."

Admittedly, he has a point. If Xie Lian wasn't so mortified, he'd laugh at his own silliness too. "I'm just worried I'll hurt you..."

"Of course you are," Hua Cheng mutters fondly. He straightens on his elbows to leer at Xie Lian's groin. Xie Lian has to resist the urge to hide himself. Despite the recent debacle and his own embarrassment, his manhood is still half-erected at the perspective of entering Hua Cheng for good, and his lover's heated glare is not helping. "Your Highness is certainly... a lot to go around, but I'm sure I can take him. You do not need to concern yourself so much on my behalf, I'm more than prepared."

That's... probably true. Yet he cannot help but worry Hua Cheng won't say anything if Xie Lian hurt him inadvertently. That would be just like him to endure the pain for the sake of pleasuring his god.

Reading the conflict on Xie Lian's expression, Hua Cheng raises his legs to crook a knee by Xie Lian's side and press his heel against his lower back. "Don't think too much, Your Highness, it's not that complicated. Just go slow and let me have time to adjust, and we'll be fine."

"If it's that simple, you can do it," Xie Lian mumbles petulantly.

Hua Cheng laughs again, sounding so happy Xie Lian's head spins. "Don't say those things to me, Your Highness, I'll grow even more entitled, ah. Alright. I have an idea."

Xie Lian blinks curiously, as Hua Cheng sits up completely and crawls on the bed to sit on Xie Lian's lap, straddling his hips between his thighs. "Uh. San Lang, what are you doing?"

Hua Cheng bends his head to nuzzle Xie Lian's neck, laying butterfly kisses on the tender skin of his nape. "How about I stay on top, ah? That way I'm in control. Your Highness won't have to worry about hurting me."

Xie Lian's hands move by reflex to support his lover, one pressed between his shoulder blades, the other wrapped around his skinny waist. Hua Cheng smirks as he rolls his hips into Xie Lian's midsection. A groan escapes from Xie Lian's throat at the blessed friction against his neglected length. "Ahh, yes, that would be... better. I think."

"I'm glad Your Highness is amenable to the idea," Hua Cheng purrs, pleased like a cat who just got the cream. "Of course, if you're too nervous, we can always try later. Or never. We don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with."

Truthfully, it didn't even come to Xie Lian's mind one could just... top from the bottom. He really has no applicable knowledge of sex. The image of his lover bouncing on his lap to pleasure himself is certainly an appealing one. Xie Lian's mouth dries out at the prospect. "No, I'm... I'd try that. If that's still okay for you. San Lang should be the one in control since he has more experience."

Instead of agreeing, Hua Cheng laughs with incredulity. "Experience? Your Highness, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I don't have much more practical experience than you do, unless my own fingers count."

He does not? But that makes no sense. Hua Cheng always seemed very comfortable, eager and knowledgeable in those matters. He's a beautiful man in his early twenties! A successful officer in the army! Who wouldn't want to lay with a man like him? "Oh. Oh I'm sorry. San Lang knows so much so I assumed..."

"That's a fair assumption considering how boldly I jumped on you, but no," Hua Cheng says, smiling mischievously. "I grew up with a former sex worker, that's why I know about this stuff, but I was never interested in anyone but Your Highness."

"So... we were each other's first time?" Xie Lian tentatively wonders.

"Apparently," Hua Cheng nods. His amusement recedes to leave room to doubt. "Does Your Highness mind? That I don't have any... concrete experience?"

"No! Not at all!" He shakes his head frantically. Now that the idea has been brought up, he finds himself selfishly pleased no one else has ever seen Hua Cheng like this. Only Xie Lian knows what he looks like when he's on the verge of climax, his muscles trembling and his cock throbbing, his mind lost to hazy desire and Xie Lian's name on his lips. It's a possessive thought though, so Xie Lian quickly sets it aside. "I'm fine either way. I'm just happy San Lang wants to do those things with me, despite my awkwardness."

"It is I who's happy. And you're not awkward," Hua Cheng mutters adoringly. He leans down to claim Xie Lian's mouth, kissing him long and deep. Xie Lian's lips tingle with the loss when they part. "So, are you alright with me riding you, Your Highness?"

Riding? Is that how it's called? As if Xie Lian was a horse Hua Cheng would use for his own pleasure. A surge of desire runs across his veins at the prospect. "Yes."

Hua Cheng chuckles at his eagerness and slips a hand covered with oil between them to stroke Xie Lian. He doesn't need to work much on that front, Xie Lian is already so aroused despite not having been touched in a while. "Ahh, Your Highness is so hard," Hua Cheng says, sounding amused and aroused. "You really do like the idea, don't you? Want me to fuck myself on you, ah?"

"Don't tease me," Xie Lian moans. "Are you... are you ready?"

"God, yes. If you don't fuck me soon, I'm going to die." Hua Cheng dramatically declares as he pushes Xie Lian down on the bed. Xie Lian's hips straddled between his thighs, he stands on his own legs, sprouting himself up. "Still okay?"

Xie Lian nods, his eyes wide with disbelief. Hua Cheng looks so... so gorgeous standing like this, towering above Xie Lian, black strands of hair escaping his high ponytail, his back arched and his agile fingers wrapped around Xie Lian's wet cock as he takes position to lower himself on Xie Lian. He perks up to glance at Xie Lian one last time, checking for signs of reluctance. Xie Lian smiles at him encouragingly. He tries to at least; he's so tensed right now that he probably achieved a wince at best. "G-Go on, San Lang."

In retrospect, it's great foresight on Hua Cheng's part to have Xie Lian lie down on the bed. If they had proceeded as initially planned, he might have collapsed on Hua Cheng from sheer surprise, as pathetic as it sounds. Is it… is it supposed to feel like this? Warm. Wet. Tight. So tight he can't be trusted to focus on anything but the sensation of Hua Cheng slowly sinking on him, until he has him buried whole inside him.

"Your Highness?" Hua Cheng says, sounding perfectly at ease in his current position. "You alright there?"

Xie Lian opens his eyes blurrily. He hasn't even noticed he had closed them in the first place. "I-I'm fine! More than fine!"

Hua Cheng's chuckle echoes through his entire body, and Xie Lian barely manages to catch the moan trying to escape his mouth at the sensation. It's like Xie Lian can feel every single movement his lover makes. "Really? You should see your face, Your Highness."

Oh no, Xie Lian must look absolutely ridiculous, a naive virgin completely swept away at his first attempt at anal sex. Embarrassment inflames his skin, and his fingers crook at Hua Cheng's waist. "Haha, I made a strange face?" He laughs awkwardly. "In my defense, it's not my fault San Lang feels so good."

"Oh?" Hua Cheng smirks, very pleased by the compliment. "So you like it then? You worried me a bit, Your Highness."

Is it possible to die of mortification? Probably not, or Xie Lian would have died a while ago, the first time he caught his devotee pleasuring himself on his dreams. "I like it very much," he mumbles, which is a blatant understatement. "San Lang, are you alright? How do you feel?"

Hua Cheng beams as he leans forward to face Xie Lian, a few wild strands of black hair caressing his cheeks and raining down Xie Lian's chest. "Your Highness wants to know, hmm? How it feels like to be stuffed with his cock?"

"San Lang, please," Xie Lian whimpers. "I just don't want you to be hurt for the sake of my selfish pleasure."

"And I'm not. You have never been selfish a day in your life," Hua Cheng snorts. "Truthfully, the sensation is a bit weird, but I really, really like to have Your Highness in me. So thick and warm. You fill me up so well."

Xie Lian must have made another funny face because Hua Cheng laughs again. His inner walls clench around Xie Lian, squeezing around his cock so deliciously, and this time, he fails to suppress his moan of pleasure. Using his lover for support, Hua Cheng palms Xie Lian's pectorals and his thumb roll over Xie Lian's nipple tentatively. Xie Lian squirms under his ministrations, ashamed by his visceral reaction at the stimulation. Nipple! Really! Is there no part of his body who will not be aroused by Hua Cheng?

"Your Highness is more sensitive than I am there," Hua Cheng declares as he pinches the bud of awfully responsive flesh. He smirks when Xie Lian gasps at the afflux of pleasure his caress triggered, obviously very satisfied of his discovery. "How interesting."

He's teasing Xie Lian again. He always does that. At that point, Hua Cheng is an expert at slowly taking Xie Lian apart and slipping under his defenses, until he has no other choice but to surrender. And Xie Lian loves him for it. But he refuses to be the only one to be exposed and tormented this way. Gathering his courage and ignoring his embarrassment, he bucks his hips up and burries himself even further into his lover.

Huge mistake, the part of his brain that isn't busy screaming in raw desire or panic coldy notices. Too much, too much, this is way too much, Xie Lian clearly miscalculated his move and only managed to figuratively knock himself out. On the plus side, he finally got to see Hua Cheng's composure crumble.

"Ahhh," his lover says, breathless, his eye wide with surprise. "Your Highness, you're so rough with me! Here I was trying to give you time and you just pounded into me."

He did, didn't he? Xie Lian's trembling grip over Hua Cheng's waist unravels, and he puts his hands over his eyes in a vain attempt to hide himself. "I'm so sorry San Lang, that was so rude…"

"Xie Lian."

Taken aback by the use of his name and Hua Cheng's unusually serious tone, Xie Lian allows his hands to fall back to the side. Leaning over him, Hua Cheng is staring intently at his face, burning with intensity. "Xie Lian, Your Highness. I'm teasing but in truth, I'm so so happy right now. You can do those things with me. Anything that Your Highness wants to give me, I welcome it. You don't have to be nervous or self-conscious. I really want to make love with you."

Gods, Hua Cheng is just so sweet to Xie Lian. How can anyone thinks he has no heart when he keeps on pouring his kindness into Xie Lian's soul, giving and giving without asking for anything in return?

"I… I really want to make love with San Lang too," Xie Lian admits softly as his fingers return to Hua Cheng's hips. "I'm very happy. Please don't doubt that."

Hua Cheng bends down to kiss Xie Lian, his lips sweet as cherry and his tongue mischievous. Just as Xie Lian is completely distracted by his lover's deep kiss, he rocks his hips, and Xie Lian has no other choice but to moan helplessly into his mouth. "San Lang!" Xie Lian bemoans after they're parted.

"It's only fair, Your Highness," Hua Cheng says as he straightens up to sit upright over Xie Lian's cock. At that instant, he looks regal like a king, not at ounce of self-consciousness clouding his proud stance. "May I move now?"

"Ah, yes. -P-Please." The Xie Lian from a few months would be so mortified of his pitiful tone. The Xie Lian of now just wants more of his Hua Cheng. And that's exactly what he gets.

What was it that he said, eons ago? Body in the abyss, heart in paradise. Ah. What did Xie Lian know of Heaven at the time? Of the abyss? Nothing. He knew nothing. Foolish boy, foolish prince, foolish god. He doesn't know where his body and his heart are anymore, but what he does know is that Hua Cheng is there too. He's there, and he's holding his heart tenderly and fucking his body with vicious sweetness.

Xie Lian doesn't remember how it happened exactly, but after he managed to regain his ability to think, he found himself sitting with a handful of Hua Cheng on his lap, straddling his waist and draped all over him. Hua Cheng's tongue twists inside his mouth as they pant helplessly against each other, his flushed-red lover bouncing over his cock restlessly, Hua Cheng's neglected cock pressed against Xie Lian's toned belly while he moves. Xie Lian's hands somehow made their way to his lover's behind, and he's currently groping the muscled buttcheeks, to Hua Cheng's visible satisfaction.

"Like that, Your Highness," Hua Cheng groans deliriously as Xie Lian's hips slam into his. "Give me more."

More? What is there more to give? Xie Lian has already abandoned his vows, his virginity, his pride, his heart, his soul, all for the sake of one man. He lays bare, exposed, vulnerable, at the mercy of his devotee sucking him dry and filling him up at once, and he can't even be bothered to care. Not with the way Hua Cheng is holding him so close Xie Lian can't tell where he starts and Hua Cheng ends anymore, his pitch black eye furiously alight with pure joy.

At least Hua Cheng has been stripped of all the layers of his armor just like Xie Lian has, literally and figuratively.

"Your Highness, would you like to change positions now?" Hua Cheng's hot breath scalds his ear.

C-Change positions? Xie Lian can hardly process one position at the time, he didn't even come to his mind they could switch things. Now that he thinks about it, Hua Cheng has been doing most the work while Xie Lian reaped the rewards without moving a finger. It's not a very fair task repartition. "Oh San Lang, are you tired?"

Hua Cheng snorts in derision at the preposterous idea. Then, stuck by an epiphany, he switches tactics and flutters his eyelashes. He has awfully pretty eyelashes that he clearly uses for evil and Xie Lian is weak. "I am. So exhausted. Awfully spent. My muscles hurt so bad, Your Highness, you have no idea. I think I need to lie down for a bit."

He's so blatantly lying Xie Lian can't help but laugh, endeared by his lover's petulant behavior. He's so so cute, even when he's acting like a needy brat. Especially when he's acting like a needy brat. "Is that so? My poor San Lang. I'm overworking you." He walks into Hua Cheng's innocent scheme with his eyes open and his mouth grinning.

"It is so." Hua Cheng declares as he pulls out Xie Lian's cock out of his ass. Xie Lian can't help wincing at the loss. "Your Highness should reward my hard work properly."

Xie Lian has a scathing retort waiting to be used at the tip of his tongue. Unfortunately, he has no occasion to use it when Hua Cheng lies on his back, spreads his legs and exposes his entrance, still wide open with the traces of Xie Lian's presence. He smirks at a gobsmacked Xie Lian, who's most likely having another hilarious expression of astonishment on his face.

"Well? Are you going to make me beg for it? Because I can absolutely do that," he says, tilting his head to the side. His amused tone change to an overly sultry voice, wrapped in honey and silk. "Oh Your Highness, I need your cock so bad...Please fill this unworthy servant with your enormous manhood…"

"San Lang!" Xie Lian screeches, mortified. He hastily crawls all the way up over his lover to put his hand over his awful, terrible mouth. "D-Don't say things like that, I'll die of embarrassment, I really will!"

His eye shining with mischief, Hua Cheng wraps his legs around Xie Lian's waist to lock him in place, his ankles leisurely resting by the small of Xie Lian's back. Just when Xie Lian thought Hua Cheng had reached peak shameless already, the devious man manages to prove him wrong.

"Don't complain when I self-combust on you one of those days, ah!" Xie Lian grumbles, trying his best to look stern instead of hopelessly fond of his lover's nonsense and failing.

Hua Cheng's answering chuckle is muffled by Xie Lian's hand. He makes no attempt to remove it, prefering to leer at the spectacle of a naked Xie Lian pinning him to the bed instead. Xie Lian frees his mouth with a fake sigh. "Hopeless, truly hopeless."

"I have some hopes though," Hua Cheng's eyebrow raises. He pulls out the bottle of oil out of nowhere and slides his hand between their two intertwined bodies to stroke Xie Lian's cock. "For instance, I'm hoping Your Highness is going to get back to fucking me. Hoping really hard right now."

"Noooo, San Lang, that's terrible, haha!"

Xie Lian is giggling so much at the puppy eye Hua Cheng is pulling he needs three tries to get it right. But when he does, he doesn't let go until Hua Cheng is too blissed out to make fun of him again.

.
.

"Good mor- No, wait! Mu Qing! I'm sorry, I didn't mean it! Bad morning, awful morning! Mu Qing, come back!"

.
.

"You've been in very good mood lately, Xian Le," Jun Wu comments, smiling benevolently from his throne.

Xie Lian blinks up, taken aback. When Jun Wu asked him to stay after the generals meeting was over, he expected the Emperor to either give him a special mission or reprimand him. He shouldn't underestimate Jun Wu's kindness like this. Ever since he ascended, the Emperor has treated him with consideration and care, and, dare he say it, paternal regard. Xie Lian isn't rumored to be Jun Wu's favorite for nothing.

"I suppose I am!" He cheerfully beams back. "My Lord is very kind to notice such a trivial detail."

"Naturally, it is my duty to check on my subordinate's well being. Your happiness is not trivial to me, Xian Le," Jun Wu chuckles as he raises up and slowly walks down the golden stairs. "I was concerned with you, your usual enthusiasm has been a bit down lately."

Xie Lian bites his lip nervously. Jun Wu is not wrong in his assessment. There have been the few weeks at the beginning of his relationship with Hua Cheng where he was a complete mess, but in truth, his happiness and optimism have been slowly waning in the last years. Xie Lian ascended at seventeen years old with a lot of preconceptions and expectations for what Heaven was like. Mortals were flawed by nature, himself included, but that was normal. Xie Lian could understand. They were all doing their best, despite the humans tendency to rely on selfishness, indifference, anger, short mindedness, or cruelty.

But he thought Heaven would be different. Heaven was supposed to be different. Unfortunately, as Xie Lian has been forced to acknowledge as years passed, gods are not immune of mortal's flaws, far from it. It was finding out his father was not the perfect king he thought him to be all over again, but worse.

Desillusion was such a depressing feeling.

"I'm sorry if I offended my Lord. I'm truly grateful for all you did for me-"

"Don't fret, I'm not mad," Jun cuts in, his even tone light with fondness. "I'm just curious about your sudden mood change. Did something special happen?"

Xie Lian trusts Jun Wu, he really does. His mentor of sort is one of few gods that has yet to disappoint him. Still, he has no intention to share the news of Hua Cheng's existence with him. It would be too embarrassing! "Not really?"

"I see. Keep up the good work, Xian Le," Jun says, patting the top of Xie Lian's head. "I'll be watching you."

.

For the record, Xie Lian wants it said he does not, as a matter, hate General Pei Ming. The man has many accomplishments under his belt, a decent work ethic and a good heart, hidden somewhere under all the lust. Probably. They even share a certain number of interest, actually. They're both martial gods very much into fighting, for starter. And… Xie Lian can't think of anything else, but he's sure they have other things in common.

The point is, regardless of the rumors claiming the generals of the north and of the east cannot stand each other and would love to battle to the death, Xie Lian has no hatred for the man, though he can hardly pretend they get along. Most of the time, he even respects him. It's just. They're so different they might as well live in different dimensions. Xie Lian is the good and innocent boy/stuck up type, and Pei Ming is very much not that.

Well. Xie Lian used to be the good and innocent boy/stuck up type. He doubts he still qualifies as such.

Anyway, back to the topic. Though Pei Ming and he do not loathe each other, they certainly never seek the other's company if they can help it. Which is why Xie Lian was so confunded at finding the boisterous martial god banging at his door for an impromptu call. 'A visit of courtesy,' Pei Ming claimed, smiling brightly with all his white teeth.

Xie Lian was one hundred percent sure it was complete bullshit. They had never bothered with visits of courtesy before, and they had no reason to start now. Yet, half an hour of mindless small talk later, Xie Lian still had no idea what the older general wanted from him.

"General Ming Guang," he sighs after another awkward discourse on the weather. They lived in Heaven, the weather was always good. "Don't get me wrong, I'm very pleased by your kindness in visiting me, but would you mind telling me why you're here exactly?"

Pei Ming puts back his cup of tea on the table, looking mildly embarrassed. "Right. Of course. Sorry. It's just...not an easy topic to just bring up, you know?"

Actually, Xie Lian does not know. That's the point. "..."

"Okay, okay. So, what I'd like to know is...your path of cultivation prohibits...intimate intercourse, right?" General Pei Ming inquires, looking more awkward than Xie Lian has ever seen him.

And for a good reason. Xie Lian's unorthodox life choices are the local equivalent of a particularly visible and embarrassing disease: everyone knows it's there, and they love to gossip about it behind his back, but it would be considered beyond rude to bring it up to his face. Pei Ming is not known to be very formal but he's not usually that much impolite and irreverent.

"I don't see how this detail is relevant," Xie Lian blinks slowly, taken aback. "If you must know, yes, it does."

"It's relevant because I don't get how you managed to get laid, Your Highness. And I'm very curious on how you accomplished that without losing your spiritual power." Pei Ming finally goes to the offensive and strikes the first blow.

How? There is no way he can know! Only Hua Cheng does, and he'd rather die before he reveals any of Xie Lian's secrets. "I beg your pardon?" Xie Lian spurts, flushed red with mortification.

"Got laid. Banged. Buttered the biscuit. Entered the castle. Sheathed your meat dagger. Danced at…" the General of North explains unhelpfully.

"I got it the first time!" Xie Lian clamps his fist, valiantly resisting the urge to flee or hit the table until Pei Ming stopped droning on about unnecessary sex euphemisms. "My Lord, you said so yourself, my path of cultivation prohibits those...proclivities. I don't understand why you-"

"Hence my surprise! Look, Your Highness, it's not my style to get involved in other people's business, but believe it or not, I'm quite observant in certain specific areas. When you ascended, you were the virginest virgin to ever virgin. No offence," he adds afterwards, realizing belatedly it might be perceived as an insult.

"None taken," Xie Lian mumbles by pure reflex.

"Anyway, I don't know what happened but the last few months, you've been very different, Your Highness. And I mean it in a good way."

Was Xie Lian was so obvious even Pei Ming, that he only saw during mandatory meetings, noticed he changed? Perhaps the man is smarter than people give him credit for. Or less self-centred. After all, one does not become General of North in Heaven by 'keeping their head in their ass', as Hua Cheng would mock.

"And the other day!" Pei Ming exclaims, full of misplaced enthusiasm. "You walked in the Great Hall with the confidence of a man who fucked their lover so good they cried! I was so shocked!"

He is the one shocked? If only Xie Lian could disappear from sight forever! "General Ming Guang, that's enough!"

"Sorry, sorry." Pei Ming flicks his wrist dismissively, not sounding very sorry. "Don't get me wrong, Your Highness, I'm not accusing you of anything, far from it! I support you wholeheartedly! I just want to know how you did it."

Xie Lian wishes he would just die of shame already. He supposes he should get used to it. The secret won't last a second once Hua Cheng ascends as Xie Lian's Middle Heaven Official. If. Xie Lian needs to stop taking things for granted. Maybe he'll say no. Not that Hua Cheng has ever refused anything to Xie Lian before but there is a first time for everything, and the last thing Xie Lian wants is to force him into a role his fierce soldier is not made for.

Two things save Xie Lian from having to find an acceptable answer to this preposterous line of questioning.

First, the ringing sound of a bell, powerful enough to shake the entirety of Heaven. Few things ever derail the apparent tranquility of the gods' domain. The ascension of a new god is one of those things, and the clock tower only sings when a mortal arises to immortality. However, ascensions rarely happen spontaneously. Ling Wen and her crew keep a close eye to potential candidates and, as far as Xie Lian knows, no one was expected to make the final leap within the following weeks.

But none of this matters to him at that instant. How could he bothered to give a fuck about whatever poor soul managed to catapult himself to Heaven when he has been stricken down by a feeling of loss so deep, so shattering Xie Lian finds himself kneeling on the floor at the shock. It's gone. The spiritual energy Xie Lian carefully, lovingly infused within Hua Cheng, selfishly weaving the thread of himself in the very core of his lover.

And now it's gone. Xie Lian can't feel its presence anymore. None of it. As if it never existed.

"Your Highness?" Pei Ming's concerned voice struggles to carry through the panicked fog of Xie Lian's mind. "Your Highness, are you alright? What's going on?"

The Head Priest told him once. After another of their heated debates on godhood and government, his master lost his temper and yelled at Xie Lian that he didn't know what he was talking about, that a spoilt brat who had never lost anything in his life couldn't begin to understand the meaning of complete and utter misery. He apologized later, claiming the subject touched a sensitive cord and he shouldn't have let his anger speak in his stead. Xie Lian said it was all forgotten already.

He lied. He never forgot. Because deep down, he knew the Head Priest was right. Xie Lian has lost the freedom he was never meant to have in the first place, his childish faith in his parents, the possibility to one day build a family and his rights of inheritance on the throne, but in the end, he didn't care that much for either of those things when he gave them up.

Now. Now he does. The tiny, joyful warmth nested near his heart has disappeared. At the edge of an abyss he ignored the existence of, he feels himself fall, fall, fall.

"I have to go," he says, his tone perfectly flat. "If you will excuse me."

He needs to see for himself. If Hua Cheng is truly… dead. He needs to see for himself. He has to. And then he has to make whoever is responsible pay.

"Go?" General Pei Ming repeats dumbly. "Your Highness, you're crying."

He is? He didn't notice. "It's fine."

"You…" His unwelcome guest pinches the bridge of his nose tiredly. "In any case, you can't leave, Your Highness. A new god ascended. We're Generals, we have to greet them."

Xie Lian honestly couldn't give less of a fuck. "I'll introduce myself later. Please give my apologies for the delay."

There is a detachment creeping on his mind, a dullness numbing his limbs, a darkness suffocating his chest. Is it how actual, mind-shattering panic feels like? Not a storm, not a wildfire, but a fog, thick and dumb, dragging Xie Lian into his mists. Nothing feels real.

Somewhere outside Xie Lian's mind, through the glassy walls of his despair, he sees his two attendants barge in the tea room

"Your Highness!" Feng Xin yells as he strides in loudly, an expressionless Mu Qing on his tail.

"Not now," Xie Lian dismisses him. His voice sounds distant. Empty. Dead.

"But-"

"It's Hua Cheng," Mu Qing cuts in, his eyes burning coldly. "The new god. It's him."

The words shatter through the glass walls surrounding Xie Lian. He cuts himself a hundred times on the shards of his own sorrow as he crawls out of the remains of his mind. He doesn't care. "What? Are you sure?"

"We are," Mu Qing sighs resignedly. "Go."

Xie Lian has never run faster in his life.

Chapter Text

At twenty years old, Hua Cheng believes in three truths only: the selfishness inherent to human nature, His Highness the Crown Prince of Xian Le, and the power of change.

The first is a reality he has been made aware of since the very beginning of life. At five years old already, he had no illusion left on the existence of human kindness. People would always think of themselves first, and wouldn't hesitate to hurt others to further their goals. People were cruel. So Hua Cheng had to be cruel to survive too. Until he got tired of it and jumped from the tallest tower in the city at the worst moment possible.

Kindness hit him like thunder. For the first time in his life, someone had helped him. Someone had caught his tiny, dirty, disturbingly frail body between their gentle hands and cradled him into their warmth. Astonished, Hua Cheng had looked up, and nothing was ever the same. The first thing he saw was red, and the color marked his youthful mind for life. Bright, crimson red dangling in pretty spheres under the perfect ears of his savior. Happy cherry red stretching his lips into a tender smile.

Hua Cheng's rescuer was, without a doubt, the kindest, strongest, most beautiful man in the world. This is the second certainty in life that Hua Cheng had learnt.

"Don't be scared!" The kindest, strongest, most beautiful man in the world had said.

Hua Cheng wasn't scared. He was just irrevocably in love. Even back then, struck in awe by the aura of his prince, he knew his world view had shifted from its axis entirely. He knew there was a before and an after this moment, and he would never be the same as the person he used to be.

Because now, Hua Cheng believed in something else than humankind's selfishness. More incredibly, he believed in someone. He had stopped believing in men and gods alike so long he could barely remember a time when temples didn't make him want to throw up. As a child, he used to pray every day, to every god he heard of, in the hope one of those 'higher souls' would have compassion for a poor miserable child no one else loved.

Ah. Fat chance with that. Once he understood no one up there gave a fuck, the thought of getting on his knees to ask for anything became abhorrent. Gods, ah, what gods? Hua Cheng only saw condescending bastards lucky enough to be born with a silver spoon in the mouth and a golden fate on their plate. There were so rarely gods who were born in the dirt like he was. It was all about Your Highness This or Lord General That, never common folk who were too busy trying to survive to bother with cultivation, impressive battle feats or great essays and poems.

At ten years old, Hua Cheng spat on the concept of worship. He hated Heaven and his country so much he chose the most sacred day of the year to kill himself and ruin their festivities.

And then, a god appeared. A true, real, actual god, kind and strong, who cradled him to his chest without minding his dirtiness, promised him everything would be alright, that he would protect him, and it was so good Hua Cheng could have cried. A god who was not a god yet but shined brighter than any golden statue, who genuinely cared. After they parted, he hung to this feeling, kept the warmth of his highness' smile close to his chest, nested behind his bristle ribcage. His highness gave him back the faith he had cast aside, and a reason to live.

So of course Hua Cheng changed. This first meeting was the impulse he needed to understand it was possible to evolve, to change one's inner nature for the better, or for the worst. In any case, no one is stuck inside their own fate, and neither is Hua Cheng. He refused to.

The first time his highness touched him in his dreams, ever so kindly and carefully, then forcefully enough to mark him to the bone, he felt himself revive, his skin anew and his heart soaring in his chest.

The first time his highness kissed him, lightning on his lips and fire in his mouth, soft and shy until he wasn't, Hua Cheng was reborn, every single of his atoms set alight with pure joy.

The first time his highness made love to him, Hua Cheng fucking ascended. And the time after. And the one after. And after.

Every time someone showed a tendril of kindness to him, Madam Yin, the Sergeant, the dumbasses he was duty-bound to keep alive, his highness, always his highness, Hua Cheng shifts into a new skin. By comparison, actual ascension is pretty meaningless. Boring, even.

It's not that he doesn't feel the change he went through. It's impossible not to. There is a flow of energy that wasn't there before running through his body, vibrant, impetuous, unstable, barely managing to keep the particles of himself tied together to form a coherent whole. As if Hua Cheng was only one moment of inattention away from bursting out of his own skin. The raw sensation of electricity and sheer power reminds him of that time his highness laid with him in his divine form, but incredibly more powerful.

The change is there, intoxicating and overwhelming. But it doesn't mean much to Hua Cheng. Clearly someone up there made a mistake. He's no god material and has no wish to become one.

But wouldn't it be nice? A dark voice whispers in the back of his head. To be a god means to have the opportunity to be with his highness all the time. To walk by his side instead of groveling at his feet.

Bullshit. Hua Cheng is not his highness's equal, and he'll never be. No one is, no matter what those egocentric buffoons prancing in their golden robes think.

"Welcome in Heaven," some unimportant sycophant says, eyeing Hua Cheng's cheap armor covered in blood warily. "You must be so confu-"

Hua Cheng ignores him. The sound of pure indignation the man-made when Hua Cheng passed next to him without deigning to glance at him was pure gold. He would laugh if he had breathe to lose on that loser.

"Hey! Hey, you! Why I've never been subjected to such rudeness!" the god huffs, his pretty features twisted with scorn.

"What else is there to expect from an uncivilized peasant?" another sighs dramatically behind his open fan.

"Dear Lord, have you see his clothes?" a woman whispers, horrified at the sight of his armor of commoner slashed to tatters and covered in blood.

"Hey! Wait, where are you going? The Great Martial Hall is this way!"

"What is there in the Great Martial Hall?" he asks suddenly as he stops walking.

The flock of morbidly curious Officials following him like an army of disapproving matrons shut up all at once, astonished to hear the taciturn newcomer's voice. They look at each other hesitantly, until a martial god with more chill than the others explains. "It's where Jun Wu holds court, boy."

Hua Cheng pulls out his fakest smile, dripping of contempt. "I'm not your boy, old man."

"Wha- Nevermind that! You must introduce yourself to the Emperor!"

"Must I?" Hua Cheng wonders out loud as he starts walking in the opposite direction they're trying to stir him toward.

"Yes! Yes, you must!" They yell in unison.

"My Lord," a woman with modest dark robes, an expression as revealing as a mirror and eyes like knives speaks up. "What are you looking for? With all my respect, you do not know Heaven's Capital, but we do. We'd save time if you explained what exactly requires your immediate attention."

Look at that, a god with common sense. Who would have thought? She makes a good point, regrettably. Hua Cheng isn't going anywhere running randomly between golden palaces he does not understand in the hope to stumble upon his highness; Still, the idea to ask for help from them leaves an acidic taste in his mouth.

"I have heard," she adds after a moment of considerative silence, sounding calm and dangerously competent compared to her peers, "that His Highness The Crown Prince of Xian Le granted his favor to a soldier of Xian Le's army recently. A soldier of exceptional martial skills, who always wears red, and with a… difficult temper."

The crowd bursts into excited gossip while Hua Cheng and the woman stare at each other impassively.

"Ah? His highness did? That's not like him."

"No, no, he did, I heard that as well!"

"Could it be…"

"You! What is your name?"

The corner of the goddess's mouth quirked up so slightly it's barely noticeable. Hua Cheng smiled back, unwilling to concede defeat. His name, ah? It's not for them to use. Neither of them. San Lang is a gift from the woman who took a feral child and made a man out of him. San Lang is a rough form of endearment the old man used to scold him. San Lang is the prayer his highness sings when he comes, a caress made of sounds and tenderness.

And Hua Cheng is the name he built for himself. He crafted the syllables carefully, wrapped the characters in his devotion, rebranded himself as he was reborn over and over. What right do they have to claim it for themselves?

"None of your business."

"What!" they cry out, mortally offended. "Don't be so difficult! How can we call you?"

He laughs cruelly. "Don't call me."

"SAN LANG!"

His pulse quickens erratically at the sudden shout. He had to actively focus to keep himself together as he felt his energy flutter and scatter in excitement. His highness has arrived, looking gloriously disheveled in white robes after running across Heaven's golden streets, his mesmerizing eyes wide with shock. His two attendants and another martial god Hua Cheng does not recognize stumble behind him, but Hua Cheng has no attention available for them, his mind, body and soul fully fixated on Xie Lian.

His god found Hua Cheng. Ascension is nothing compared to this feeling.

"San Lang!" His highness said again as he threw himself into Hua Cheng's arms. "You're alright!"

Hua Cheng holds his lover tight enough to bruise if they were mere mortals and breathes in deeply. It's the first time in many years he touched Xie Lian outside of a dream. His highness hugged him back just as fiercely, his hands roaming all over Hua Cheng as if to check he was indeed alive and breathing.

"I'm okay, your highness," Hua Cheng whispers soothingly. He would caress his hair if he dared. He has done so many times in their shared dreams, but in front of everyone, he found himself hesitating. He doesn't give a shit about what the crowd spying on them would think, ears and eyes greedy for gossip, but Xie Lian might.

"I thought you were dead!" Xie Lian says, breaking their close embrace to hold his face between his hands. "Don't ever do that to me again!"

Hua Cheng rests his hand on Xie Lian's, overwhelmed with joy. He had to close his eyes briefly to get his erratic energy under control. He might literally burst out of happiness otherwise. "My apologies. It was never my intention to worry your highness."

The crowd of gods is whispering so loudly among themselves it finally attracts his highness' attention, who seemed so focused on Hua Cheng he forgot the rest of the world was watching. He blushes slightly, nothing compared to the full redness Hua Cheng managed to coax out of him before, yet refuses to part from Hua Cheng.

"What happened?" he demands, his tone so commanding Hua Cheng's legs weaken under him.

He smiles. "Apparently, I ascended. By accident."

Xie Lian blinks, confused. He's so cute Hua Cheng could die. He didn't know that before. His highness was beautiful and unreachable to him, as enthralling and far-away as the sun. He didn't imagine the man he idolized could be so adorable. "You… by accident?"

There is no other way Hua Cheng could have ascended truly. He never intended to. It didn't even come to his mind it was a possibility for him to do so. It must have happened because of the spiritual energy his highness poured into him. This was the only possible explanation. "Seems so. I assume his highness' blessings guided me in the right direction."

By blessings, Hua Cheng meant spiritual energy. The fact his god has infused his own essence within a mere mortal is none of their audience's business. Xie Lian understands immediately and he frowns skeptically at Hua Cheng.

"That's not how it works, San-you're hurt!" he exclaims, his hands fluttering anxiously at the torn and bloodied part of Hua Cheng's uniform.

"I'm fine, Your Highness." Hua Cheng shakes his head, his heart throbbing with fondness at his lover's blatant display of concern. He catches his highness' hand between his own and gently directs them to his side, skin smooth and unblemished where a gaping wound should be. "See, I'm alright. Tis but a scratch."

"Considering the location of the wound and the amount of blood you lost, there is a 90% chance you would have died if you hadn't ascended, my Lord," the woman in black who spoke before clinically commented. "I wouldn't call that a scratch. You got very lucky."

Luck? Is there even such a thing? Hua Cheng respects luck as much as he respects fate, which is not at all. At the goddess' cold analysis, Xie Lian's eyes widen, and his hands clench at Hua Cheng's tunic anxiously. She ignores Hua Cheng's threatening glare, impassible as if she couldn't even see him. There was no need to worry his highness like this. It's over anyway. "Honestly, Your Highness, I'm…"

"Ling Wen, do you know what happened?" The prince turns his head toward the woman without letting Hua Cheng finish his sentence.

The goddess, Ling Wen apparently, nods solemnly. "I don't know the details, but I have heard the royal palace of Xian Le was attacked by demons. They seemed to be aiming for the King and Queen, but were stopped by the guards, led by Lord Hua Cheng."

"Can't you drop it with the Lord?" Hua Cheng clicks his tongue irritatingly before he moves to cradle Xie Lian's horrified face between his callused hands. "Your Highness, it's alright, your parents are fine. Your cousin as well."

Unfortunately. If it was only up to Hua Cheng, he would have let the fucker choke on his own intestines. As it was, his highness still had remnants of affections for his insane relative, therefore Hua Cheng had no other choice but to save the man he abhorred more than anything else.

Anything for the sake of his highness' happiness. At the cost of his own life, if it was necessary.

Xie Lian read his expression like an open book. Hua Cheng is unsure if he likes what he sees or not. "You.. You almost died to save my parents! What were you even doing at the palace!"

"Replacing one of the lieutenants. Your Highness, it's my duty to protect the royal family, at the risk of my own life."

Bullshit. As far as he's concerned, Hua Cheng doesn't owe those people shit. He respects Xie Lian's parents for bringing his god into this world and raising him, but that's the end of it. Hua Cheng only believed in duties that he chose himself. He has a duty toward his men, the sergeant, Madam Yin. And his highness. His highness holds his soul, mind and body on a leash, and may do whatever he wishes with it.

The rest of the world has no rights to Hua Cheng's allegiance.

"Your Highness, if I may, my- Hua Cheng needs to go to the Great Martial Hall," Ling Wen says. "It would set a bad precedent if our new god failed to introduce himself to Jun Wu."

New god. She's talking about him. A god. This is beyond surreal. Gods are made of good fortune, their bones crafted out of the pure luck and their skin sewed from the most golden threads of fate. Hua Cheng was born under a star of misfortune, coated in misery and cloaked in loneliness, tragedy imprinted within his very soul and a trail of calamity following on his steps. Disaster clings to his fate and marks him with bruises in and out, as inescapably as shadows.

He was born a calamity in human shape. The very exact opposite of godhood.

"You're right, you're right," Xie Lian says, looking still quite shaken by the recent events. Hua Cheng longs to embrace him in the privacy of their dreams, far from the judgemental eyes of Heaven and forgets all about that god nonsense. "San Lang, we're not done with this conversation, but we must leave for the Great Martial Hall."

Hua Cheng has no other choice but to bow to his god. "As Your Highness commands."

Such is his reason to live and die after all.

.
.

("Haha, so that's what was going on! I would have never thought his highness played for the other team, but that explains so much. To be fair up to a few months ago, I was convinced his highness didn't play at all, for any team. Why, I would have bet he didn't even know the game existed! Joke's on me, uh."

"GENERAL PEI MING! His Highness is certainly not playing for any team of any kind!"

"Obviously he is! I know you're very shy about those things yourself, Feng Xin, but look how he can't keep his hands off his lover! And his own devotee too! So kinky. I would have never thought His Highness was a worshipper fucker. It's always the quiet ones, ehe."

"HOW DARE YOU! MU QING, SAY SOMETHING!"

"..."

"OI! DON'T STAY SILENT NOW OF ALL TIMES! USUALLY WE CAN'T GET YOU TO SHUT THE FUCK UP!"

"YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU BLOODY MORON! YOU KNOW HIS HIGHNESS HAS BEEN ACTING STRANGELY! AND THAT HE FAVORED THE FREAK! HOW BLIND ARE YOU NOT TO SEE IT COMING?"

"Oh, since you both seem very interested, I know an infallible method to shut someone-"

"NOT ANOTHER WORD!")

.

.
There are very few people Hua Cheng liked at first sight. His natural tendency goes to distrust and wariness toward strangers, until proven otherwise. His highness is the exception to the rule. One look at the beautiful prince mock-fighting on the parade was enough to steal Hua Cheng's heart forever. But everyone else must earn his regard and respect the hard way.

There are however many people he hated at first sight, and Jun Wu, emperor of heaven, king of gods and local prick, is definitely one of those. It's in the way he looks down at the assembly of gods gathered by the feet of his throne, dripping condescendence in his apparent leniency, smiling at them the way a shepherd would smile at his mentally challenged sheep' antics.

It's in the way he looks at Hua Cheng, dark eyes cloaked in morbid curiosity and smile as fake as the mask of benevolence he wears on his face. Nothing on his stance or expression overtly expresses anything but amused interest in the new unconventional god Fate dragged up out of nowhere, yet Hua Cheng can feel the dislike lurking under his facade like a shark can smell blood. He has been hated his whole life, he knows when someone is innerly pondering which part of his body they should stab to inflict maximum pain and how they would get rid of his body.

But mostly, it's in the way Jun Wu looks at his highness. Hungrily. Greedily. The darkness barely contained in his eyes glistens with sick paternal-like fondness, a speck of amusement in the middle of an ocean of contemptuous indifference and sleeping rage.

Jun Wu looks at Xie Lian the way the abyss looks at a tiny light it has yet to swallow out of his boredom alone.

"Well Xian Le, what did you bring me here?" Jun Wu smiles slightly, his chin resting on his palm.

His highness straightens from his greeting bow, looking regal and noble despite the rosiness of his cheeks, fair skin set ablaze with awkwardness at the prospect of introducing his lover to his boss, mentor, and sadly father figure. Xie Lian has spoken of Jun Wu to Hua Cheng before, with the same hesitant enthusiasm Hua Cheng told him of Madam Yin and the Sergeant.

Hua Cheng does not know what Jun Wu's deal is, but what he does know is that this man doesn't have Xie Lian's best interests in heart.

"My Lord, may I introduce the new member of your court to you?" Xie Lian says, perking up with quiet happiness. "Hua Ch-"

"Captain Hua Cheng of Xian Le's royal army," Jun Wu completes Xie Lian's sentence with a chuckle. "And one of your most devoted followers, or so rumors claim. What an interesting development."

"I wouldn't have thought the Heavenly Emperor listened to petty rumors," Hua Cheng retorts before he can help himself. It says a lot about Hua Cheng that a snarky accusation is the first thing he ever said to the most powerful man in the world. Arguably the most powerful man in the world.

Jun Wu's attention slides entirely to Hua Cheng, ignoring the indignant gasp of his court at the newcomer's nerve. He probably has a lot of experience pretending the herd of dumb gods groveling at his feet doesn't exist, after all those centuries. Having the Emperor's undivided scrutiny feels like being stared at by an omnipotent predator. Unknowingly to the rest of the world, the tension rises and builds up, heavy as a blanket of lead, until even Hua Cheng suffocates under the intensity.

Yet he refuses to back down.

After an eternity of silent challenge, Jun Wu hums amusedly, and the pressure lightens up slightly. "Captain, half the job is listening to rumors, I'm afraid. And the other half is sitting up there and looking pretty."

The crowd bursts into indulgent waves of laughter at the joke. Xie Lian smiles, obviously relieved by Jun Wu's apparently positive reaction to Hua Cheng's ascension. "Your Majesty, you know that's not true!"

"Oh, are you saying I'm not pretty, Xian Le? I'm hurt, truly." Jun Wu puts his hand over his armor-covered chest, sighing dramatically.

"My Lord!"

The Emperor laughs and flicks his wrist dismissively. "Alright, alright, no more joking since it offends your sensibilities so much, Xian Le. I wish our new martial god a warm welcome."

Obediently following their master's lead, the rest of the assemblies mumble reluctant welcomes as well. Under his highness' insistent glare, Hua Cheng bends his spine slightly in response. "Thank you, my Lord."

"I'm very curious to see what kind of god you'll be," Jun Wu adds, and it sounds like a threat. "I suppose that exceptionally, we can trust you show him the ropes, Xian Le. Unless you're too busy-"

"I'm not busy!" His highness exclaims. Happiness bubbles within Hua Cheng's ribcage at his unmistakable eagerness. "Not busy at all!"

"Not busy at all, he says," one of his attendants grumble in the background. "Since fucking when."

"Shut your mouth," the other pokes at his side viciously. If he had used a sword instead of his pointy finger, his companion would be dead on the ground.

And just like that, bones cracking and skin shivering, mind steaming with wary skepticism and heart bursting with tentative joy, Hua Cheng formally became a god.

.
.

("I just want to say I'm very proud of you, Your Highness. You're doing great! If you ever need advice, don't hesitate, my palace is always open to you! Admittedly I'm not an expert on cut-slee-"

"General Ming Guang, with all due respects, if you don't leave this instant I'm going to get very mad. Mad enough to come at you with a sword, possibly."

"Wow wow, don't get your knickers in a twist! I'm leaving, I'm leaving! Think about it though, i have tones of experience to share and-aw, fine, I'm gone!")

.
.

It's a relief for Hua Cheng to finally reach his highness' palace. As a whole, Heaven is unfamiliar, unknown and admittedly an unnerving territory, unlike Xie Lian's home. At that point, after countless dreams walking between its comforting walls, Hua Cheng knows every room, every corner, every single cupboard of this manor. Here at least, he doesn't feel like an intruder or trash that somehow managed to crawl his way up into some ridiculously rich dickhead's place.

"Why are you here?" Grumpy Attendant grunts as soon as they pass the door. "Haven't you done enough already?"

Hua Cheng's eyebrow raises. If they were in the army, he would have beaten the guy to a crisp to teach him some respect. Unfortunately, he's not in his natural element, and his highness probably wouldn't appreciate having his lover and his servant fist-fight like brutes. "And where else was I supposed to go?"

"Your own palace, naturally," Snarky Attendant says, full of soft-spoken contempt, velvet voice in a steel mouth. He adds with barely contained disdain. "My Lord."

He has one of those already? Did it magically sprout of the pavement? Or do they have many empty manors laying around, waiting for a new god to ascend and claim the place for themselves? In any case, the idea that one of those ridiculously expensive houses he passed by has his name on it is beyond bizarre. The only things Hua Cheng has ever known are the clothes on his back, the sword by his side and the paintbrushes hidden in his pockets. The places he called home all belonged to someone else, may it be his father, Madam Yin or the army.

"Knock it off guys," his highness sighs distractedly. "He's staying here for tonight and that's the end of the discussion. Understood?"

"But-"

"Sa-Hua Cheng almost died protecting my parents," the prince eventually snaps, his mouth sharpening into a grim line. "You two may not care, but I do."

The two attendants flinch at the scolding, before looking at each other.

"We didn't mean it that way, Your Highness," Grumpy Attendant says, properly chastised. "Of course we are very grateful Their Majesties are safe and sound."

"I'll escort him to the main guest room, Your Highness," Snarky Attendant adds as he eyes Hua Cheng impassively.

Strong of his thorough experience at drawing out his highness' embarrassment, Hua Cheng can spot the exact moment Xie Lian's brain freezes with awkward panic. "I.. that won't be necessary."

"Ah?" Grumpy Attendant says, visibly confused. "But you said…"

"He'll sleep in my room!" Xie Lian blurts out impulsively without looking at anyone, before grabbing Hua Cheng's sleeve and dragging him in the direction of his quarters. "GOOD NIGHT"

Hua Cheng lets himself be tugged away without a hint of resistance, heart soaring with giddiness. He turns backward slightly to smirk at the two gobsmacked Middle Heaven Officials before he disappears in the next corridor.

"WHAT? YOUR HIGHNESS! YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!

"Obviously he is, idiot. That would have never have happened if you threw away that sword as I told you to."

"Of course you're blaming me! Surely it can't be that? YOUR HIGHNESS C'MON, IT'S NOT EVEN EVENING YET!"

"SHUT UP ALREADY!"

"Why are they like this?" Xie Lian mumbles to himself, and Hua Cheng can only laugh heartily at his mournful tone, forgetting his own nervousness for an instant.

Ascensions are meant to be blessings, or so the stories say. For Hua Cheng, it didn't feel like that. It felt like confusion and terror, like being torn apart from his reality as he laid in a pool of his own blood and slammed somewhere else, like being broken again and again then put back together, but in the wrong order and with new pieces he didn't ask for.

It wasn't the worst thing Hua Cheng ever went through, far from it. However, it reminded him of dark times he thought he had buried away already. It reminded him of the powerlessness he worked so hard to get rid of. He hates that feeling.

As if sensing his uneasiness, his highness' hold on Hua Cheng's hand straightens. Hua Cheng squeezes back gratefully. His highness doesn't need to lead him by the hand, he'll follow anyway. Hua Cheng will go wherever his highness wants him to without so much as a moment of hesitation, he'll crawl to hell, he'll jump into the abyss, he'll ascend to heaven a thousand times if such is his god's wish.

His highness doesn't need to, but he holds Hua Cheng's hand nonetheless, skin to skin, palm against palm, fingers intertwined together like a promise. Just like he didn't need to acknowledge Hua Cheng publicly, but did anyway.

The second they enter his highness' quarters, whose walls are as familiar to Hua Cheng as his own room, Xie Lian twirls backwards to embrace Hua Cheng again, slamming into him so intensely Hua Cheng found himself cornered against the door. Hua Cheng hugged back as fiercely, eagerly melting within his lover's tight hold.

"I was so scared, San Lang," his highness mutters against Hua Cheng's blood-stained robes. He sounded more numb than sorrowful. In shock. It's a state of mind Hua Cheng is familiar with. "I thought you were gone forever."

"I'm so sorry, Your Highness," Hua Cheng apologises as his hand runs through Xie Lian's hair soothingly. It's not enough to make up for worrying his god like this, but there is nothing else he can do except try to ease his pain as much as he can.

"It's not your fault, don't apologize," Xie Lian sighs forlornly. "It's me who should apologize. You got hurt to protect my family."

Dark shadows on the walls, dark laughters ringing in the chilly air, dark blade and dark claws slashing forward, bright blood spurting out of wounds. The resentful spirits came out of nowhere, attacked so suddenly Hua Cheng had no other choice but to react on instinct alone. There was no time to think, nor to hide, only to fight.

A heavenly calamity. And Hua Cheng couldn't help but think it was there for him, as irrational as it seemed.

"It was my duty, Your Highness."

"Was it really?" His highness shook his head. "Is everyone alright?"

Everyone, but himself. The demons seemed oddly focused on him. "Fear not, your family is unharmed."

His highness raises his head up to stare at Hua Cheng, his brown eyes alight with determination. "And are you alright?"

Not really. Definitely not. Once upon a time, he would have died before he admitted such a weakness in front of his beloved. "Mostly. I feel… lost."

For years, uncertainty used to be the only constant in his life. He didn't know where and if he would be allowed to sleep, eat, or just rest for a few minutes. He didn't know if he'd get to talk to someone any other way than angry snarls and barbed insults. The only part of his day that somehow belonged to his routine was his evening visit to his highness' temple. No matter what or how, Hua Cheng would always leave a flower and prayer to his god at the end of the day.

It took an eternity for him to build something close to stability into his life. A roof to sleep under, regular meals to look forward to, a regular income. A family. A lover, who loves him back, as impossible as it sounds. And now his stability has been torn away from him in a second.

To his noticeable displeasure, Xie Lian disentangles himself from Hua Cheng to cradle his world-heavy face between his training-hardened hands. "My dear San Lang. What do you need?"

It's the Crown Prince talking, voice laced with iron and tone woven with determination, making it sound as if no matter what Hua Cheng demands, he will be provided for. But it is Xie Lian tenderly caressing his cheeks, grounding his adrift soul to reality. "Sleep. Sleep would be good."

Hua Cheng realizes as soon as the words pass his lips how true it is. Exhaustion cannot begin to describe how drained he feels at that moment. Fortunately, Xie Lian doesn't need words to understand.

"My darling San Lang," Xie Lian says as he slides one arm under Hua Cheng's knees and the other on this back. "Don't worry about anything, I've got you."

Hua Cheng finds himself being carried bridal-style, secured within his highness' firm hold. Merciful god, he's so strong, carrying Hua Cheng around as if he weighed nothing. He tried to retort something witty, but words refused to come out.

"I'm sorry, San Lang, I didn't get that," Xie Lian blinks down at him. "You really are exhausted."

In that specific instance, he can hardly blame his exhaustion. Hua Cheng is genuinely that weak for his highness, especially for his highness' very open displays of affection. "Are you going to carry me everywhere if I say I'm tired, Your Highness? Asking for a friend."

"I will not, you would abuse that power too much!" Xie Lian lies boldly. Taking into account past experiments, Hua Cheng is confident he can get his lover to carry him around on a regular basis if he pushes the right buttons. In theory.

"I definitely would," Hua Cheng chuckles against Xie Lian's ear. "Your Highness spoils me too much."

"I spoil you just the right amount."

"Oh? Is there a science to that? A spoiling threshold? A spoiling quota mayhaps?"

"San Lang, what am I going to do with you?" Xie Lian tries to sound stern, unsuccessfully. Hua Cheng may be tired as hell but he can still see the crumbs of mirth nested in the corners of his mouth clear as day.

"Spoil me, obviously. I thought we already established that."

"Obviously indeed."

Hua Cheng hasn't even noticed they've reached Xie Lian's bed until he's gently let down on the mattress. Funny how it feels both extremely familiar and foreign at once. He's literally visiting the place of his dreams, in both senses of the term. His highness grabs his feet with a clear intention to remove his shoes.

"Ah, Your Highness, you don't need to-"

"Shush you. Didn't you just say I was supposed to spoil you, ah? Just rest, alright?" Xie Lian pats his knee soothingly.

Hua Cheng obediently lets himself fall against the pillow. Bone-deep exhaustion creeps on his limbs, clinging to his chest and crawls all the way up to his head.

"There there, my San Lang," his highness says as he rolls over the cover to embrace Hua Cheng again. Hua Cheng melts eagerly into his warm arms and rests his head over Xie Lian's hair. "Better?"

"Better," he mumbles in agreement before sleep takes his consciousness away.

Hua Cheng is objectively a terrible sleeper. Years of living in wariness, barely daring to close an eye in case he would get attacked would do that to a person. And despite not being forced to sleep in the streets anymore, it was hard for him to scramble enough rest still. It's a miracle he managed to synchronise his erratic sleeping schedule to his highness' not only once but several times.

Yet, with his highness guarding his back, his front, his everything, he has nothing to fear. Sleep doesn't feel like the enemy anymore. On the contrary, without it, he would have never gotten to enjoy his highness' company.

With his lover's hand running through his hair and whispering praises, he fell asleep in a matter of seconds.

.

Hua Cheng has gotten used to having perfect control over his dreams. Night after night, he learnt how to navigate through his own unconscious musings, to sew and paint the landscape of his drifting mind and to craft his resting time to his will. Tonight though, his dreams scattered uncontrollably, leaving Hua Cheng with mere wisps of memories and a deep feeling of peacefulness he knows his highness is responsible for. He can't recall much of his night, but he does remember his highness fighting off nightmares he forgot the nature of, all the while cradling Hua Cheng close within his warmth and pressing kisses to his forehead.

Truly, it's not surprising Hua Cheng would wake up with a painful hard-on. It's not like it's the first time such an issue occurred before. Usually, Hua Cheng takes care of the problem swiftly and efficiently, using one of the many fantasies starring his highness he has in store to come fast and hard and move on with his day.

Obviously he can't do that now. Not with his highness peacefully working on his desk not three feet away.

"Good morning," he yawns as he forces himself to sit up, his hair in disarray and his mind blurry with sleepiness still.

"Morning?" Xie Lian chuckles, putting his calligraphy pen down. "San Lang, it's mid-afternoon already. You slept for almost a full day."

"I did?" He blinks. "Uh. I'm surprised your retainers didn't kick me out yet."

"I wouldn't let them if they tried. Between you and I, Feng Xin might have shown up this morning to, I quote, 'check this rascal hasn't murdered Your Highness and use your cadaver for unspeakable purposes.' I'm about ninety percent sure Mu Qing put that idea in his head."

Hua Cheng finds himself laughing helplessly. "As if I could, should I ever want to. Your Highness is too strong for me."

"That's what I said!" Xie Lian exclaims as he rises on his feet, luxurious robes shimmering with his graceful movements. "Though I'm not so sure anymore. San Lang does feel very strong for a new-ascended god."

Right. Hua Cheng is still a god, fickle faith shivering under his skin and restless spiritual energy pooling in his belly. His ascension was no odd nightmare he could cast aside as soon as he woke up.

"How are you feeling, my San Lang?" Xie Lian sits by his side at the edge of the mattress, concern replacing his previous expression of irritated amusement.

There is a dot of ink smeared on his cheekbone. Without thinking, Hua Cheng wets his thumb to rub it away. As soon as he accomplished his task, Xie Lian catches his hand between his, holding Hua Cheng's appendage captive between caring fingers. Xie Lian runs his thumb along the lines of Hua Cheng's palm, then raises the hand up to his mouth to kiss the knuckles. Objectively, it's a tender gesture, not a sexy one.

Unfortunately, Hua Cheng's cock is not very susceptible to objectivity, or any human petty limitations like appropriate timing and location. Go away already.

"San Lang?" Xie Lian repeats after Hua Cheng failed to provide an adequate answer to his question.

"Hmm?" Hua Cheng forces himself to focus on the conversation instead of his own throbbing desire. "I feel better, thanks to Your Highness' exceptional care."

"Ah, don't start, I didn't do much!" Xie Lian pokes at his cheek. "Are you hungry?"

Is he? He can't tell. His body feels strange still, almost foreign, and the usual signals turned into an unknown language. At least his constant state of horniness for his highness remained intact and untouched by godhood. "I don't think so," he muses out loud, sounding unconvinced.

"It feels very odd in the beginning," Xie Lian nods along, his eyes twinkling with sympathy. "You'll get used to it, I promise. Is there anything else you need? Just say the word."

Your hand on my cock. Your cock in my ass. Preferably both at once. If not, a moment of privacy to guiltily jerk off as fast as possible thinking about you assaulting me on your bed will doOr a cold bath. "I'm good."

"You're sure, San Lang?" Xie Lian leans forward, resting his hand on Hua Cheng's thigh, dangerously close to his hopefully hidden erection. "You look a bit… tense."

His smile is sweet and innocent and his voice full of concern, but Hua Cheng knows better by now not to realize his god knows perfectly what he's doing. "Your Highness, you know that I'm… and you have the gall to call me terrible all the time, haha! Teasing me without mercy while I'm bedridden!"

"You are terrible," Xie Lian defends himself with barely hidden glee. His laughter can get Hua Cheng so high. "Your shamelessness rubbed off on me!"

"Your Highness, I have so little merit on that. I honestly think you were shameless all along, your potential waiting for an excuse to be unleashed on poor innocent bystanders."

"Lies and slander!" Xie Lian huffs with fake indignation. "And I see no poor innocent bystanders here."

"Of course, of course," Hua Cheng chuckles as he playfully draws circles on the exposed skin of his lover's wrist. "Your Highness, how did you know? I thought I was being so smooth."

"San Lang, do you really think I can't tell when you're aroused?" Xie Lian shakes his head disapprovingly. "Seriously though, I don't mind if you… you know."

"If I what, Your Highness?" Hua Cheng replies teasingly. Xie Lian attacked first, of course Hua Cheng must retaliate in kind. His title of Most Shameless Teaser in the room has been claimed, and Hua Cheng has never backed down from a challenge before and he's not about to start now. "If I do push-ups? If I take a bath?"

"San Lang," Xie Lian sighs, his cheeks deliciously pink. He might have grown more comfortable with his own sexuality lately, and by extension Hua Cheng's, but Hua Cheng can still make him adorably flustered with a few well-chosen words. It's a skill he's very proud of.

"Unless you meant if I jerk off in your bed?" Hua Cheng tilts his head to the side, pretending to be thinking deeply.

"That," Xie Lian mutters, looking stubbornly at the wall. "You can do."

"I see, I see!" Hua Cheng grins cheerfully. He makes a point to appear more nonchalant about the whole ordeal than he actually is. His highness somehow still thinks Hua Cheng is smooth as fuck and he has no wish to disabuse his lover of the notion. "If Your Highness missed watching me pleasure myself, he should have said so sooner! This San Lang aims to serve."

"SAN LANG!" Xie Lian screeches out of sheer embarrassment at the reminder. "You promised you wouldn't bring that up again!"

Hua Cheng's laughter bubbles uncontrollably out of his throat. It had taken long weeks for his highness to work up the courage to confess the statue episode was actually not the first time he inadvertently slid within Hua Cheng's unconscious fantasies. Once Hua Cheng swore he wasn't mortally offended by the accidental voyeurism, Xie Lian made him promise to never mention the awkward moment ever again, which suited Hua Cheng just fine. He wasn't very proud of that dream either. What his highness must have thought of him at such a display of depravity… A shameless follower pretending to be entirely devoted to his god on the open while using his divine persona to satisfy his perverted desires in secret. How disgusting.

It took months of reassurance of Xie Lian's reciprocation for Hua Cheng to able to bring his shameful relapse so casually and make fun of it. His highness didn't mind, he said so himself. Actually, considering how much he was blushing back then and he's blushing now, he might even think it's hot.

It doesn't really matter right now in any case. They're currently grounded in reality, out of their dream-woven cocoon. His highness cannot indulge himself, therefore Hua Cheng shouldn't either.

"It's Your Highness' fault for making lewd propositions! Of course this San Lang would think of it!" Hua Cheng laughs again. He leans forward to kiss away the embarrassed wrinkle at the corner of his lover's eye. "Your Highness, Your Highness, look at me, don't be mad at me, I can't handle it when you ignore me."

"I wasn't making lewd propositions," Xie Lian puffs his cheek petulantly. Yet he still obliges Hua Cheng's needy calls and turns his head.

"Uhu, of course not. How bold of this San Lang to read sexual tension where there obviously isn't." Hua Cheng lays another kiss by Xie Lian's temple. "More seriously though, don't worry about me, Your Highness. I can wait."

For Xie Lian, Hua Cheng will wait eight centuries and longer, if necessary. He meant it when he said he would gladly renounce to sex if his highness wished it. By comparison, ignoring one tiny boner is nothing.

"But you shouldn't have to just because I took a vow of abstinence," Xie Lian says mournfully, biting his bottom lip. "Don't restrain on your needs on my behalf, San Lang."

"When have I done such a thing?" Hua Cheng whispers rhetorically. "Very well. If Your Highness insists."

Before he lets himself chicken out, he fell back against the pillows and slowly creeped his hand under the cover without breaking eye-contact with his god. Xie Lian forced himself to stare back, as if utterly unbothered by what Hua Cheng is about to do. Once again, the rosiness of his cheeks betrays him.

His fingers dance around the sensitive skin of his belly, and his cock twitches in anticipation, nerves set more alight by the intensity of his highness' stare than his own touch. Fuck, it's hot. He likes it. He likes the idea of his highness watching him and praising him as Hua Cheng makes a spectacle of himself for him. A part of him wonders if he could come untouched like this, thanks to the weight of his highness' scalding gaze only.

"My San Lang," Xie Lian mutters tenderly, gleaming eyes fixed on Hua Cheng's face. "Go on."

"Fuck," Hua Cheng gasps when his hand slides under his pants to curl around his shaft and give his leaking length a tentative stroke.

He made a mess of his clothes already, the tissue tainted with precum. Hua Cheng is no better than a horny teenager. He removes his hand out his inner clothes and wriggles his hips to slide down his pants. It's only then that he notices his highness changed his torn up and blooded rags into red sleeping robes and white loose trousers.

Uh. This is… nice. Nicer than everything Hua Cheng has ever known. The material is smooth and aerial, incredibly soft to the touch, and perfectly fitting his seize and tastes. Clearly his highness picked them with Hua Cheng in mind. One more reason not to ruin the clothes more than he already has. "Your Highness…"

"I didn't do anything strange!" Xie Lian cuts in, flustered. "I just changed your clothes, I promise!"

"The thought didn't come to my mind." Hua Cheng beams. "Thank you."

"Oh. You're welcome, San Lang." Xie Lian smiles back hesitantly. "D-Do you want me to leave?"

"Do you want to leave?" Hua Cheng asks in return.

Laying in his highness' bed with only a thin blanket covering his modesty, or lack thereof, his painfully hard cock leaking on his skin, adorned his highness' clothes, he feels breathless with nervousness and anticipation, thrown once again at the edge of a precipice by his god. He wants his highness to stay, no matter how embarrassing or awkward that is. He wants to come with his lover watching every single moment of his pleasure. He's been thinking about it ever since his highness told him about the first dream, ever since he visited him in his divine form. Probably before that.

Xie Lian takes a deep breath. He shakes his head in rebuttal. "I… like to see San Lang… have fun. Even if I can't myself right now, I still want to see. But only if San Lang wants me to."

"Oh Your Highness," Hua Chang says, voice breaking with desire, heart beating inside his throat and cock pulsing between his legs. "It's like you don't know me at all. Of course I want to."

"I won't make assumptions," Xie Lian retorts decidedly.

"Your Highness is too considerate of this perverted San Lang," Hua Cheng chuckles. "May I be bold enough to request a kiss?"

Xie Lian blinks, then smiles wistfully. "My kisses are yours, dearest. I wouldn't grant them to anyone else."

Good, the possessive beast curled under his chest bone roars. Hua Cheng ignores its war cries to focus on Xie Lian's grinning lips. Jealousy is only appealing in small and controlled doses and if he's careful, he'll pulverize his allowed quota.

His lover slowly leans forwards, and Hua Cheng unconsciously licks his lips, bristling with aroused impatience, mouth tingling expectedly. Midway, a mischievous grin stretching his lips, Xie Lian changes course to grab Hua Cheng's hand and press a kiss on his palm.

"There, a kiss," he giggles adorably at his little prank, cheek resting against Hua Cheng's wrist, his nose touching Hua Cheng's fingers

"Such a tease," Hua Cheng can't help but laugh.

"Hardly."

Xie Lian slightly distances his face from Hua Cheng's hand, stares at Hua Cheng from above his fingers, then slowly, deliberately lick Hua Cheng's palm from the wrist to the top of his middle finger. "That's being a tease."

"Fuck," Hua Cheng moans pathetically, toes curling up in desire and spine arching. The way his highness looked at him. "Your Highness, I can't even with you. You're such a paradox sometimes. One second you're squealing and blushing out of embarrassment at the simple glimpse of a bare nipple, and the next you're doing things like that."

"W-Well, lubrication is important, you said so yourself," Xie Lian says, refusing to let his own shame intimidate him. All versions of his highness are sexy as fuck, but Hua Cheng won't deny there is nothing better than his lover being all teasing and commanding in bed, confident in his own sexuality.

"I did say that," Hua Cheng recalls. "I do have moments of genius every once in a while, don't I?"

Xie Lian leans down to kiss him for real. There is something deliciously predatory in the way he swallows Hua Cheng down, mouth demanding submission and tongue stealing his moans away. Hua Cheng is only too eager to relent to the invasion. A word, a gesture, a vague look, and he'll be on his knees, bowing his back, neck and pride for a kind touch of his god.

To say his highness used to be so shy on his kisses. He let Hua Cheng have his way with him, barely daring to reciprocate, and now look at him, taking no shit and no prisoner.

Unrest shakes him through the core, ripples rapidly turning into waves. Butterflies flutter madly within his chest and tore apart the thread keeping him tied together. Raw energy trembles, leaking out of his fragile control. He feels himself fly away, away, away-

His highness bites his lip. Hua Cheng shivers in surprise at the unexpected move. His lover barely grazed the skin, but that's still very unlike him.

"Control yourself, San Lang," Xie Lian gently kisses the lip he bruised. "I know it's hard in the beginning, but you have to focus."

"What happened?" Hua Cheng breathes in. "That sensation…"

"I'm not sure, but it was probably me pouring my faith in you," Xie Lian muses as if it's a perfectly normal thing to say. "It's a very particular feeling for a god, isn't it?" Then, mouth curving into an amused smile. "How does it feel to get a taste of your own medicine, ah?"

Exhilarating. Terrifying. Divine. "Hmm, I couldn't tell exactly. Your Highness should try it again. For science."

"You're impossible," Xie Lian laughs before he claims Hua Cheng's mouth again. "How can I say no if it's for science?"

Xie Lian catches Hua Cheng's soul into his smile and doesn't let go for an eternity. Hua Cheng wouldn't be able to tell how long if his life depended on it. Time is a fickle and irrelevant concept when Hua Cheng has his head in a blissed-out mist and his heart in the ocean, shaking and trembling at every single ripple his god puts in motion. The fact he has to actively focus not to burst into shards of light as his lover breathes devoted prayers into his mouth doesn't help his struggling thinking process.

All in all, it's not that surprising he only noticed his highness has slipped his knee between Hua Cheng's legs when a shot of pleasure has him blurting out uncontrollable moans. Not that he was trying very hard to hold them back in the first place. The second he found out his highness not so secretly loved it when Hua Cheng was vocal about his pleasure, he threw away the few inhibitions he had left.

"San Lang, can I remove the blanket?" Xie Lian asks breathlessly. "I want to see you."

As if Hua Cheng could ever refuse him anything. "Yes."

The only barrier protecting the dignity he had, has left disappear and Hua Cheng honestly couldn't care less. He lays bare on the mattress, clothes pooling at his knees and stomach, cock flushed and exposed to his god's scalding hot stare. His highness slowly lies down on his side, head resting on Hua Cheng's shoulder and hand dancing on his hip.

"Well then San Lang, go on," he says, blinking up innocently at Hua Cheng.

Hua Cheng's hand obediently creeps down toward his crotch. "Your Highness really wants to watch, ah?"

"Is it weird?" He wonders, not sounding very worried about the matter. "San Lang is so beautiful, it's only natural I like to watch him."

Fuck, his highness shouldn't be allowed to say that, especially when Hua Cheng's cock is so hard he could come at any given moment. He's not beautiful. He knows that. He's been told how ugly he is often enough to remember that. Madam Yin said it was all bullshit and that Hua Cheng could actually make a living out of his body if he fixed that shitty attitude of his, which was rich coming from her. Still, he remained unconvinced.

Beauty was the prerogative of people who were not born with a cursed fate and misfortune clinging to their steps. His highness is beautiful. So beautiful it almost hurts to watch. So beautiful his image imprinted itself on Hua Cheng's retina when he was a spiteful child, and never left.

But surely, his highness wouldn't lie. He must genuinely find Hua Cheng pleasant to look at, at the very least.

"San Lang, my San Lang," his highness crooks his neck to kiss the skin by Hua Cheng's collarbone. "You don't believe me. I'll have to repeat it until you do. My pretty, gorgeous, handsome San Lang. You're so pretty when you come. You're so pretty when you fight too, when you argue, when you sleep, when you laugh. You're so so pretty when you laugh my San Lang, you have no idea, my heart skips a beat every time. I'm so happy when I make you laugh, I could pat myself on the back. Even if you're laughing at me, it's worth it."

Hua Cheng's thoughts scattered in the wind, and words hid under his tongue, ignoring his call. Only needy pants come out of his throat, heavy with want and light with feather-like happiness. He can only focus on his cock throbbing between his shaking fingers and the sensation Xie Lian's mouth on his neck. "Fuck, fuck, Your Highness…"

"Can I leave marks?" Xie Lian asks.

The answer is yes, yes, a thousand times yes. This San Lang longs for his god to bruise his skin with his teeth and lips so that everyone knows who he belongs to without any doubt allowed. He misses the comforting feeling of his lover's spiritual energy in him. "Please."

His highness' teeth sink into him. Hua Cheng's free hand tug on Xie Lian's smooth hair, the other furiously pumping his cock, fast and hard, the way he likes it best. He's so close to the edge, has been for a while now, skirting over the precipice without daring to fall yet. Waiting for something he can't quite grasp until his highness raises his head to look at him in the eyes and whispers. "San Lang, my San Lang, I believe in you."

Hua Cheng comes harder than he ever has in his entire life.