Hua Cheng thinks he should have ended those two a long time ago. He knows he should have. Each time they appear they ruin everything!
First, they start that avalanche because only idiots yell on a snow-covered mountain and then? Oh, then they have to make His Highness take a different path within the cavern even though he was being so careful about where to lead him. Of all the servants His Highness could have got, in all the people of Xian Le, he just had to get himself a pair of loud idiots that only know how to fight and cuss each other.
Now, this. This is just the worst and he feels so angry that he might just combust but he has to keep himself calm, he can deal with this, he’s been dealing with idiots for years now.
He stares at the mountain of rocks that block his path and sneers in that vicious way of his that bares sharp teeth, do they think that a few pebbles can hinder him? They must be more stupid than he thought. Hua Cheng easily appears behind them a moment after but he’s not focused on how Feng Xin cusses or how Mu Qing stands in front of His Highness who has yet to move or say a word, he wants to listen to what he has to say -is he angry? Disgusted? Won’t he talk to him like they have been doing? Silence is the worst, he prefers to be cussed at, anything is better than silence.
He manages to lose the idiots at long last, which gives him time to understand why His Highness refuses to talk to him but he’s soon overcome with anger because those idiots have been forcing His Highness to run around even though he’s hurt with frostbite and worse? They put a talisman on him! Hua Cheng wants to rip their heads off and tear their bodies limb by limb in the slowest and most painful of ways but no, he can’t, not when His Highness is still so fond of them and so he behaves. His Highness is his priority above everything and everyone else. Hua Cheng feels panic coarse in his veins, hears that loud voice screaming in his head that he messed up for good this time, he doesn’t let it show or at least he hopes he doesn’t and so he keeps a distance between them. He tries to focus on Bai Wuxiang and in how he’ll kill that bastard for all the damage he’s done, yes that’s better, it’s better to think about that than to think that His Highness must just hate him now.
But he’s panicking too, isn’t he?
Hua Cheng watches as his beloved, as his god grips at his hair with a look of panic and fear as he thinks of things that aren’t true, as he drowns himself in thoughts that make no sense. He grips his shoulders then because he won’t allow him to lose himself because of someone ever again, he won’t let Bai Wuxiang have his way a second time, this time he will protect him properly even if he has to die again to make sure of it.
It takes a bit of coaxing until Xie Lian calms down and his gaze flickers to Hua Cheng’s hands that grips his shoulders and almost immediately the ghost king releases him and rushes to put some distance between them again. He feels how tense he is, how he feels so small, how every nerve in his body seems to quiver and spark like he might combust on the spot. He saw the statues and the murals, Hua Cheng knows he did, this is his domain and so he sees and hears everything. He also heard what the two idiots have told him and while he burns with outrage and anger that they would try to convince His Highness that he would hurt him…He can’t do anything, can he?
He doesn’t need to breathe but his breath catches on his throat as he hums in reply because he doesn’t trust his voice in this moment.
“…Don’t you want to know what I think about this?”
Oh, he does. He very desperately wishes to know and yet he doesn’t, his mind supplies several scenarios and each one of them is quite painful.
“Would His Highness not tell me…?”
He sounds weak but he feels weak. Hua Cheng feels very small and weak, frail, he feels like he might shatter. He would have to say the truth eventually, he knows that, there would be a time in which Hua Cheng would have to be honest, but he thought he had more time for that.
“I’m sorry, but I think this is something that must be said clearly.”
Hua Cheng glances skywards before he feels his tense shoulders drop, their still pulled taunt like a string that’s about to snap but they still sag in defeat.
“That’s right…” He sighs “That’s for the best…”
Of course, but of course this is something that must be said clearly. Hua Cheng spent 800 years chasing someone, a god, he’s carved statues and painted murals, he even built a temple for him and offered all of those 3000 lanterns, he’s been there from the start to watch His Highness bask in glory and bask in misery. To many this would be considered disgusting, he’s a lovesick child chasing a dream that will never turn to reality, he’s a ghost hanging onto something very frail that will soon snap and turn to nothing.
Yet he feels a pair of arms circle around his waist, feels that familiar warmth press against his back and his breath hitches even though oxygen isn’t something he needs. In this moment Hua Cheng thinks he very much needs every breath he can take. His dead heart trashes in his chest violently, it cries and laughs in equal amounts of disbelief and delight, he feels so lightheaded that maybe he’s dreaming of it all. But he turns around and it’s not a dream, His Highness is really hugging him, he can feel the warmth seeping from his body even as he hugs him as tightly as he can while burying his face in his hair.
“Your Highness” He murmurs quietly “You will truly be the death of me!”
He laughs and Hua Cheng is so enamored that maybe his dead heart will start to beat again.
His Highness won but of course he would, Hua Cheng knew he would, His Highness is strong, so it was only natural for him to win.
Hua Cheng finds himself beaming as his beloved beams at him in return before running into his arms. He wraps his arms around him as his beloved god all but smiles at him with so much brightness and cuteness that Hua Cheng really can’t stop smiling. He cups Xie Lian’s face lovingly before chiding him for getting into such a state again, clothes and exposed skin littered with bruises and dirt.
“It won’t be like this next time!” He laughs.
“There won’t be a next time.” Hua Cheng grumbles with a deadpan expression.
They melt into smiles and laughter as they lean into each other.
His Highness good mood fades for a moment, he speaks of the past with a heavy look on his face, Hua Cheng patiently lets him talk without saying a word. They talk of Wu Ming and of how he almost became the White Clothed Calamity. Hua Cheng sweeps himself onto one knee just to watch the myriad of emotions flash across his beloved’s face before he throws himself into his arms in a fit of disbelief and delight and relief. He holds him happily and would be happy to continue doing so for all time.
Hua Cheng feels him tense in his arms suddenly, his smile fading rapidly as he stares at him, their eyes meet and all the ghost king sees is panic and confusion.
He was hoping that he wouldn’t notice or that maybe he would be able to fix it.
“It’s alright, Your Highness. I just overdid it a bit.”
“W-Why didn’t you tell me?!”
His gripping his shoulders, his fingers showing on the other side, Hua Cheng remains calm although he’s startled when Xie Lian cups his face and kisses him with every intent of giving him spiritual power and while it’s cute and it makes Hua Cheng beam in childish delight, it’s all done in vain. Cupping his face, Hua Cheng kisses him before chuckling softly.
“I’m very happy to be kissing Your Highness” He confesses easily “But it’s alright.”
Xie Lian is panicking again and a part of him (one that makes him feel guilty) can’t help but beam a bit because he’s worried for him and there’s another part of him that’s kicking himself because he’s panicking about this. He feels Xie Lian cling to him, his every plea feeling like a sword through his heart, Hua Cheng pulls him into a tighter hug because the sight of his tears is too much to bear. The ghost king sighs silently while petting his hair lovingly, tucks loose hair strands behind his ears tenderly while his beloved clings to his translucent robes. He assures him that everything will be fine, that this is nothing.
“There’s no banquet that doesn’t end…But I’ll never leave you, I’ll come back.”
He will, it’s a promise and a vow and an oath, he will definitely come back. How can’t he? 800 years and he finally has his beloved in his arms.
Hua Cheng feels himself shatter in butterflies, it’s an odd feeling but it’s one he doesn’t have control of, he has enough control to send a single butterfly to lay one last kiss on Xie Lian’s lips before the world turns dark and still.
Coming to is an odd feeling, it feels like returning to the surface after being submerged in heavy murky waters for so long, Hua Cheng feels himself float for a moment before he wills himself to open his eye and for a moment he’s confused why his right side is blind and shrouded in darkness. Memories return to him slowly, an unrushed river that flows into him slow sometimes and faster other times, he takes a moment to just breathe and let everything within him settle. His bones feel too long for his body, his lungs too small, there’s an odd churning on his stomach like he’s forgetting something very important, but his mind is still piecing together memories and his heart feels squashed beneath too many emotions.
And then, he remembers.
Hua Cheng remembers and he’s both parts delighted and frustrated. His life flashes behind closed eyelids, it’s like reliving his life but from an outsiders point of view, memories are funny things like that although most of his memories make him feel sick and angry but then he remembers His Highness, that wonderful lovely and beautiful person, the same person he’s been chasing after for 800 long years and who he finally got to hold in his arms. For a moment he wonders if he dreamt of it, that his heart switched places with his brain, he didn’t, and it makes him feel warm like he hasn’t in years -in decades.
Coming to is a bit weird but it doesn’t overpower the need and desire to see Xie Lian. He wants to hold him, wants to apologize for leaving after everything, for leaving him alone when he promised that he wouldn’t. But Hua Cheng promised he would return and so he will stay true to his word like always.
Hua Cheng stares at the dice in his hand and wonders where they might lead him. Will His Highness by at Pu Qi shrine? Is he being bothered in Heaven? Well, the place doesn’t matter, all that matters is that he wants to go to him and never leave. He tosses the dice without looking at the result, the place is neither Heaven or the shrine, Hua Cheng recognizes it as Taicang mountain but he doesn’t recognize the cottage of sorts he sees and so he doesn’t give it much attention, instead, he climbs onto the peek and just stands there for a moment while taking in the sight of the world around him. This place holds many memories and most of them aren’t that nice, so he doesn’t dwell on them that much. He glances skywards before he hears people below as they pass by. Today is the ShangYuan Festival! A light goes off in his head and he finds himself smiling a bit dumbly to himself because what best way to greet his beloved than a pretty sight?
There’s lanterns adorning the sky and Hua Cheng watches them float at leisure, spots of light that grow smaller the higher they rise in the sky, he watches them as they leave his fingertips and sometimes he let’s them go and other times he pushes them upwards with a gentle nudge. He remembers when the first time he made one, how awful and horrendous it was, it took him a few tries until he got a proper one and from there on out he kept making more and more because he wanted to make His Highness happy -wanted to impress him- and because it took his mind off of things he preferred not to think about. As he keeps watching the golden glow dot the darkening sky, Hua Cheng hears an odd sound behind him, his heart lurches and seems to almost climb out of his throat but he swallows it down and slowly turns around to glance over his shoulder.
He’s there. Right there.
His beloved is right there, a few feet away, he’s there and he looks so awestruck and looking so full of disbelief that Hua Cheng would tease him if he didn’t feel so choked up on his own emotions. He didn’t dream it all, didn’t he? He sees the red string still wrapped around His Highness finger, feels his ashes still hanging around his neck and tucked into the safety of his robes, knows by that expression that he didn’t dream it. 800 years of chasing a god, 800 years of running after someone who might never look his way. 800 years later and he’s not chasing anymore, Hua Cheng isn’t chasing the back of a god anymore, this time their meeting halfway through clumsy steps while one runs downwards and the other upwards towards each other like magnets.
Oh, he missed him. Oh, how much he loves him! Hua Cheng wraps his arms tightly around Xie Lian, basks in the warmth and even in the rough fabric of his robes, feels himself tremble as he buries his face in his hair and shoulder and just let’s himself drown in the turmoil of emotions simmering in him. Xie Lian is holding him, fingers tightly curled on the back of his robes, his erratic heartbeat vibrating against his chest, he’s crying yet he’s laughing and it’s so contagious that Hua Cheng finds himself chuckling although his eye stings with unshed tears.
“Your Highness…” He breathes and hopes his voice doesn’t waver.
They spent 800 years passing by each other, Hua Cheng spent 800 years looking up at a god who finally looked down and back at him, it took 800 years of missed encounters and 1 year of absence for it all to come down to a single moment in which they run into each other’s arms with the desire to never let the other go ever again.
Hua Cheng leans back but just enough to look at the face of the love of his life, his reason to live, his beloved. He’s too far gone. He’s so enamored that it makes him feel so euphoric and giddy that it feels like he’ll explode into a swarm of butterflies all over again but for a completely different reason.
“Your Highness” He murmurs while cupping his face in between careful hands “Gege.”
Xie Lian is giggling in that cute and panicked way of his when he’s overwhelmed, he’s smiling and holding onto Hua Cheng’s wrists like he never wants to let go.
“San Lang” He sobs “San Lang…”
Their foreheads touch and they don’t try to justify it by saying that Hua Cheng is showing him something of the past or that their exchanging spiritual energy, they don’t need to, they just need to bask in each other’s presence and just feel each other to quell down doubts and fears. Golden brown eyes meet a single dark coal eye and they melt into smiles again, years of pain and loneliness finally being laid to rest for a moment, all that matters is that they found each other and neither of them plan to let go anytime soon.
“I missed you” Xie Lian whispers as if he’s still trying to make sure this is reality “So much…I missed you so much, San Lang.”
“I missed you too, Gege. So much.”
They are no longer a Crown Prince who saved a dirty child from falling to his death, a believer chasing after their god into war, Hua Cheng is no longer a weak ghost fire and Xie Lian isn’t a disaster waiting to explode because someone wanted him to suffer, there’s no more chasing and second guessing. They found each other, it took time but it was worth it, they have each other now and that’s all that matters.
God and Ghost King walk hand in hand to that cottage that Hua Cheng didn’t recognize, and he feels a warm sense of pride at how happy Xie Lian looks because he did it with Hua Cheng in mind. He feels warm and safe and so in love.
“Welcome back, San Lang.”
“I’m back, Gege.”
His devotion crowned him king but his love for Xie Lian made him a happy man and he’d take that position over that of a king anytime if it meant he would be beside His Highness for all of eternity and more.