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any omega would be proud to call it home

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Xie Lian is going into heat.

He’s found a nice outcropping of rock to huddle under, at least. And it doesn’t look like it’ll rain this time. He smiles at a silvery butterfly fluttering by, and thanks whatever luck he has left that he seems to be alone.

And then the wind shifts, bringing him the scent of an alpha.

It’s a nice scent, objectively, but that’s overshadowed by the rush of dread Xie Lian feels. He can fight off an alpha even in the worst of his heat, has done it dozens of times before, but he really, really doesn’t want to. Not again.

Light footsteps draw near, stopping right outside his makeshift shelter. Xie Lian notes plain, well-made black boots, then looks up to see a youth dressed in red with a dumbstruck expression on his face.

They stare at each other for several moments, neither one making a move.

Xie Lian doesn’t tense or get ready to fight, even though he knows he should. He’s so, so tired. The waves of pain rushing through him are taking their toll.

“I have a nest,” the alpha says eventually, not looking any less dumbstruck. “I could take you there.”

A dangerous thought comes into Xie Lian’s head: what if he didn’t fight, this time?

This alpha seems nice enough. Maybe he’ll be gentle.

It’s been nearly eight hundred years, Xie Lian thinks, and the weight of it crushes what’s left of his resolve. He’s been so lonely, all this time. He’s spent every one of his heats alone since his family died, only Ruoye to keep him company.

What does it matter if he gives in? He hasn’t had spiritual powers in centuries. Who would be hurt, other than himself?

“Okay,” Xie Lian says.

The alpha does not look like he expected this. To be honest, Xie Lian hadn’t either, but he isn’t going to take it back now.

“Okay,” the alpha echoes, and kneels down. “May I pick you up?”

Xie Lian almost laughs at him - he’s barely beginning his heat, he can still walk, the pain is only just starting - but finds himself nodding.

He’s scooped into strong arms and nestled against a broad chest. The alpha’s scent is stronger, now, and he recognizes maple and smoke.

“Hold on, gege,” the alpha says softly, and starts walking, stepping so lightly Xie Lian can barely feel it. He’s grateful.

“My name is Xie Lian,” Xie Lian says, clinging to a shred of normalcy in this surreal situation. “What should I call you?”

“Gege can call me San Lang,” the alpha says, and shifts Xie Lian slightly to do something with one hand.

Xie Lian nods and closes his eyes, gripping the fabric of San Lang’s robes.

Several jumbled thoughts run wildly through his head. Why did he agree to this? He hopes it won’t annoy San Lang that he has no idea what he’s doing. What does his nest look like? How much more will this hurt than spending his heat alone?

“We’re here, gege,” San Lang says, far too soon to make sense, but Xie Lian opens his eyes to see the entrance of a beautiful golden pavilion. Maybe he’s further into his heat than he thought.

San Lang maneuvers them through a beaded curtain and into an expansive hall, then through a side door and into an extravagant bedchamber. It’s exquisitely decorated, and the bed is piled high with cushions that look soft even from all the way across the room.

It’s obviously been made for a specific, beloved omega. Xie Lian feels a stab of longing cut through his chest - certainly no-one has ever made anything like that for him.

“There’s an armory, too,” San Lang says. “I can show you later. Do you like it?”

Xie Lian blinks, not sure whether he’s being serious. “San Lang, I spent my last heat in a ditch.”

Something complicated flashes across San Lang’s face.

“I like it so much,” Xie Lian reassures him. “It’s beautiful. Any omega would be proud to call it home.”

San Lang smiles at him, and Xie Lian basks in it. Oh, he thinks woefully, through a haze of contentment and alpha-is-pleased-with-me. It’s starting.

San Lang walks over and sets him down on the bed. Xie Lian finds that the cushions are even softer than they look. He tries to distract himself by tracing the patterns on them. He doesn’t know how this will go, or what he’s expected to do.

And then San Lang gets up to leave.

“No, please!” Xie Lian blurts out, grabbing at San Lang’s sleeve. “I - I’m sorry, I’ve never done this before, please just tell me what to do, I’ll get it right.”

“Gege, what -”

“Don’t be mad,” Xie Lian begs, though he hasn’t noticed the scent of anger. His fingers scrabble at San Lang’s robes, searching for a fastening.

“I’m not mad,” San Lang says, sounding bewildered. He sets his hands on Xie Lian’s shoulders - and oh, they’re so big and warm - and ducks his head down to make eye contact. “Gege, what are you doing?”

“I - I thought you wanted -” Xie Lian manages, his breaths coming quick and fast. His hands have twined their way into San Lang’s robes, and he can’t get them to let go.

“Gege,” San Lang says, and he sounds horrified.

“I’m sorry,” Xie Lian sobs out. “I’m sorry.”

“No - gege, you haven’t done anything wrong,” San Lang says. “Breathe with me.” He takes an exaggerated breath.

Xie Lian focuses on the comforting hands on his shoulders and breathes in San Lang’s comforting scent, maple and smoke and no anger at all, and slowly, he calms down a little.

San Lang obviously wants to save himself for his beloved. Xie Lian should have realized - and he would have, without his heat clouding his judgment. He takes one last deep breath of San Lang’s scent and forces himself to release the robes in his grasp.

“I’m sorry,” he says, laughing self-deprecatingly. “I’ll let you go now. Thank you. You’ve been very generous.”

“Will you be okay?” San Lang asks.

It’s a silly question. Xie Lian is always okay, no matter what happens. But… something about the combination of San Lang’s concern, the instinct to submit to an alpha, and the pain he’s in prompts him to answer differently than he would otherwise.

“It hurts,” he admits quietly.

“Gege,” San Lang says just as quietly. “May I try something?”

Xie Lian nods.

San Lang slowly lifts one wrist to Xie Lian’s face and scents him.

It’s embarrassing, but Xie Lian lets out a small noise. He hasn’t been scented like that since his parents died. He leans into San Lang’s wrist.

“Does that help, gege?” San Lang asks.

“Please don’t stop,” Xie Lian begs, and oh, that’s even more embarrassing.

San Lang chuckles and marks Xie Lian’s neck glands next, touching him gently and carefully. Xie Lian melts into it, the pain fading.

“May I hold you, gege?” San Lang asks next, and Xie Lian falls into his arms.

San Lang scents him again and again as Xie Lian’s heat progresses, and he lets Xie Lian scent him too, rubbing his face against Xie Lian’s wrists like an eager cat.

Xie Lian loses track of time. There’s only the ebb and flow of pain (far, far less than he’s used to), a foreign feeling of safety, and San Lang’s scent. He drifts in and out of sleep and coherency, and not once does San Lang leave him, touch him with anything less than the utmost respect, or refuse Xie Lian’s wordless requests for comfort.

Finally, his mind clears, and he blinks his eyes open to see San Lang looking down at him with an unreadable expression.

“Ah,” Xie Lian says. “I’m really very sorry for all of that. Thank you for your generosity. I’ll go now.” He extracts himself from San Lang’s arms, wobbles to a standing position, and attempts to walk to the door.

He doesn’t make it more than three steps.

It’s a surprise to him when, instead of landing on the hard floor, he’s caught in a pair of arms, cradled against a warm chest.

“Gege, you’re not in any shape to leave just yet,” San Lang says in an alarmed tone. “Let me call for a meal, at least?”

Xie Lian squirms. “You don’t have to,” he says.

“I want to,” San Lang responds.

Xie Lian gives up and nods.

San Lang carries him to the main hall and sets him down on a large black divan, big enough for a dozen people. Then he proceeds to hand-feed Xie Lian the entirety of the meal his servants bring out. Xie Lian is sure his face is bright red. Judging by San Lang’s grin, he might be doing it specifically to fluster him. Somehow, Xie Lian doesn’t mind.

“Won’t gege stay just a little bit longer?” San Lang asks when Xie Lian gets fidgety after the meal. He sounds serious when he says, “This place feels less like just a residence, and more like a home, with gege here.”

Xie Lian has never wanted anything so badly. He nods.

“Just a little bit longer” turns into days, then weeks, then months. Xie Lian wonders why San Lang chooses to spend his nights in the nest with Xie Lian, but he certainly isn’t planning to complain about having someone to cling to as he sleeps.

Maybe San Lang is just as lonely as me, he thinks. I hope he finds his beloved soon.

Xie Lian carefully does not examine why this feels insincere, or why he feels such profound grief at the thought of his new friend finding the happiness he deserves.

San Lang does end up showing him the armory - it’s an impressive array of scimitars, swords, spears, shields, whips, and axes. Xie Lian is delighted, and San Lang jokingly offers that he can just take the whole room, if he likes it so much.

At one point, Xie Lian overhears San Lang referring to himself as “Hua Cheng” in a conversation with one of his servants.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian says hesitantly, afterwards. “Should I call you Hua Cheng instead?”

“I prefer that gege calls me San Lang,” the alpha answers, and Xie Lian smiles.

Then, one night, Xie Lian has a worse nightmare than usual, and everything changes.

He snaps his eyes open to see Hua Cheng hovering over him with a panicked expression on his face.

“San Lang?” he asks, worried. He wipes the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand and pushes the horrors he’s just relived to the back of his mind. “Did I wake you up?”

“You said ‘Wu Ming,’” Hua Cheng whispers.

Xie Lian’s eyes widen. Hua Cheng says that as if it means something to him.

“Dianxia, you don’t have to apologize to me,” Hua Cheng says.

Xie Lian scrambles up. “How - how do you know -”

Hua Cheng gets off the bed and drops to one knee. His form flickers, and a smiling mask appears on his face.

It’s one thing to suspect that the alpha you’re in a weird platonic sleeping-together situation with is a powerful shapeshifting ghost, and another thing altogether to have it confirmed at the same time as learning that he’s your biggest regret, the ghost you treated horribly, who was dispersed because of you. Xie Lian falls to his knees on the floor next to Hua Cheng.

“Wu Ming,” he says brokenly, his nightmare spilling back. “I’m so sorry.”

“Dianxia, you don’t have to apologize to me,” Hua Cheng says again.

“You deserved better,” Xie Lian says with certainty. “You deserve better than me.”

“Dianxia,” Hua Cheng says. “I didn’t tell you. Aren’t you angry?”

“Why would I be angry with you?” Xie Lian asks.

Hua Cheng’s form shifts again, and he’s the soldier from Beizi Hill. “There’s so much I haven’t told you,” he says. He shifts again, and he’s Hong Hong-er. “I’ve always watched you.”

“Hong Hong-er?” Xie Lian asks, his voice breaking.

“Dianxia,” Hong Hong-er says, and shifts into a form Xie Lian hasn’t seen before. It’s similar to Hua Cheng’s usual form, though this one appears a few years older, the hair is loose except for a single thin braid on one side, and the right eye is covered with an eyepatch. His voice is deeper when he says, “I haven’t even used my true form with you.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian says wonderingly. “You’ve always been there.”

“I tried to find you earlier,” Hua Cheng says. “You shouldn’t have had to live like that.”

“You weren’t joking, were you?” Xie Lian says, thinking back to everything Hua Cheng has said about gifting him this manor. Things start to slot into place. He takes a deep breath. “San Lang, am I… did you build this nest for me?”

“En,” Hua Cheng says quietly.

Xie Lian scoots closer. “San Lang,” he says, and places his hands on either side of Hua Cheng’s face.

Hua Cheng looks back at him, his eye wide.

Xie Lian leans in, aiming to kiss him.

Hua Cheng jumps back. “Gege,” he says in an alarmed voice. “You don’t have to. Please don’t force yourself.”

“I’m sorry!” Xie Lian cries. “I thought…” He takes a deep breath, and admits in a small voice, “I’m not forcing myself. This time, I really want to.”

Hua Cheng looks at him carefully, then leans closer.

Xie Lian closes his eyes and tilts his head up, and soft, cool lips cover his.

He only gets a moment to experience being kissed before Hua Cheng pulls back again.

He opens his eyes and smiles up at the alpha he’s pretty sure he’s in love with.

“Gege, let’s go back to bed,” Hua Cheng says, and they do. They trade a few more chaste kisses before falling asleep in each other’s arms.

The next few months are the closest to heaven Xie Lian has ever experienced, and he’s been to literal heaven. (Not that it’s a particularly high bar.) The knowledge that someone has seen him at his worst and loves him regardless feels more intimate than any physical thing they could do together.

… Xie Lian still wants to do physical things together.

He’s realizing this, more and more, as they exchange quick, gentle kisses but don’t go beyond that. He wants to go beyond that, with Hua Cheng, and he has for some time now.

He has no idea how to bring this up.

His body does it for him, in the end. He doubles over with a sudden cramp, in the middle of a meal. He spares a second to be disappointed in himself. He used to be better at ignoring pain.

“Gege!” Hua Cheng says, alarmed.

“It’s okay, San Lang,” Xie Lian says, laughing it off. “It’s just my pre-heat.”

“Ah,” Hua Cheng says, looking conflicted.

Xie Lian takes a deep breath. “This time… do you want to - you know?” He avoids eye contact.

At his side, Hua Cheng goes still for a second, then kneels in front of Xie Lian. “Dianxia,” he says. “This one is aware of your cultivation method and does not expect anything from you that you are not willing to give.”

“San Lang, no!” Xie Lian cries, pulling him up from the floor. “No, I - I mean, I want to. If you want to.”

“Are you sure?” Hua Cheng asks, still sounding worried.

Xie Lian nods, forcing himself to look Hua Cheng in the eye.

Hua Cheng stares at him for a little while, then nods. “Gege, I’ve wanted that for eight hundred years.”

That night, in their bedchambers, Xie Lian clings to Hua Cheng even more closely than usual.

“Are you nervous, gege?” Hua Cheng asks gently.

Xie Lian nods. “A little bit. I’ve never done anything like that before.”

“We don’t have to,” Hua Cheng says. “I can just scent you, like last time.”

Xie Lian buries his face in Hua Cheng’s chest. “No, I want to,” he says in a muffled voice.

Nothing happens that night, or the next, but the night after, Xie Lian wakes up wracked with pain.

“San Lang,” he manages.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says, instantly awake. “It’s starting?”

Xie Lian nods and reaches for his wrist.

They scent each other, and the pain recedes. Xie Lian tucks his face into Hua Cheng’s neck and breathes in their combined scents, and that helps too.

But… now he’s aware of something else. He usually ignores his lower half when he has heats, preferring to clean it up later with a grimace, but right now, he feels safe and happy, and he wants things.

“San Lang,” he says, squirming. He hopes Hua Cheng knows more than him about the specifics of what he wants. “Touch me?”

Hua Cheng cautiously cups his ass, and he moans, surprising himself.

“Is it good, gege?” Hua Cheng whispers reverently, and Xie Lian can smell a hint of arousal on him.

Xie Lian nods, blushing. “More?”

Hua Cheng’s hand slides to his front, and Xie Lian’s hips buck into it without his conscious approval.

After that, it’s a bit of a blur, but Xie Lian is pretty sure he yanks his own clothes off and then attacks Hua Cheng’s, and then Hua Cheng just vanishes all his robes, and then they’re naked and plastered up against each other and is that whole thing supposed to fit inside him.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian says, alarmed.

“Yes, gege?”

Xie Lian’s voice drops to a whisper. “Is that going to fit?”

“I’ll prepare you first, gege,” Hua Cheng says in a soothing voice.

Xie Lian nods eagerly, and he would be embarrassed about saying “yes, please do that” if it didn’t feel so important that Hua Cheng keeps touching him.

And then Hua Cheng’s finger is dipping down to where he really, really wants it, more than he’s ever wanted anything, and Xie Lian’s body goes limp and submissive, a reflex he’s never had before.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says, sounding surprised.

Xie Lian makes a high-pitched noise and rocks back, and Hua Cheng’s finger slips in.

It’s strange, to have something inside him like that, and stranger still when Hua Cheng starts to move it in and out, but Xie Lian never wants him to stop. “More,” he begs, and Hua Cheng does something that Xie Lian’s fuzzy mind takes a moment to recognize as adding a second finger.

It helps, to be full. It’s not enough, though, and the pain is still there. “More,” he begs again after a little while, and Hua Cheng adds another finger.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian gasps, just barely managing to avoid moaning “Alpha.” Since when is he like this? “Please.”

“I’m here, gege,” Hua Cheng says. “You’re doing so well.”

Xie Lian makes that high-pitched noise again, louder, and - he can’t describe it as anything other than a whine. It’s a feral noise, one that broadcasts how much he wants.

Hua Cheng growls in response, the sound wordlessly telling anyone in earshot “this omega is mine,” and rolls on top of him.

Xie Lian has been pinned down before, during the worst century of his life. Normally, he can’t stand being in enclosed spaces, or any situation where he can’t move around freely. If it were anyone else lying on top of him, he’d panic.

Right now, though, with Hua Cheng… Xie Lian’s body relaxes before his mind has a chance to catch up and agree, his instincts accepting this alpha as safe, someone who’d never hurt him.

Without thinking, he tips his head back, exposing his neck.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says, his voice unreadable.

Xie Lian moans softly in response and tilts his hips, trying to get more of Hua Cheng’s fingers inside him.

“Gege, if you want me to mark you like that, ask me when you’re not in heat,” Hua Cheng says, and bites his shoulder, hard.

Xie Lian cries out, then pleads, “San Lang, more!”

Hua Cheng adds another finger and bites him again on the top of one of his pectoral muscles, his fangs two sharp points of blissful pain, and things blur again until Xie Lian hears himself begging, “San Lang, San Lang, in me, please.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng growls, and replaces his fingers with his cock, pushing in far more slowly than Xie Lian would like.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian says again, bucking his hips up.

And Hua Cheng slams into him.

It’s an overwhelming feeling, being filled over and over again by his alpha, and Xie Lian’s world narrows down to where they’re connected. It feels as if they spend a full shichen like this. The pain is nearly gone, and Xie Lian marvels at how good he feels. His heats have always been a thing to dread, but… if he gets to spend them with his San Lang, from now on, he might start to look forward to them instead.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng gasps. “Gege, can I knot you?”

“Yes,” Xie Lian says immediately. He thinks he would say yes to anything Hua Cheng asked right now. He wants more, as much as Hua Cheng will give him.

Hua Cheng’s thrusts get shorter and sharper, and he feels bigger, now. Xie Lian is vaguely aware of how knotting works, but he’s certainly never experienced it, and the thing pressing at his entrance might be off-putting if he weren’t nearly delirious with desire.

As it is… “San Lang,” he moans, and tries to angle his hips in a more helpful way.

Hua Cheng gives one last push, and Xie Lian makes an overwhelmed noise at the stretch, and then they’re locked together and Hua Cheng is bent over him and pulsing inside him. Spiritual power floods him from the inside.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian says, and clings to him. “San Lang, it’s so good.”

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says. “Gege, you’re perfect.”

Xie Lian keens and tries to hold him closer, though he knows it’s impossible. His mind swims in bliss, and he thrills at the knowledge that they won’t be able to separate for some time now.

The pain is completely gone.

“San Lang, can we stay like this forever,” Xie Lian requests through the fuzz that passes for his brain.

“Mm,” Hua Cheng answers, hips still giving tiny thrusts. “You’ll get cramps.”

“Don’t care,” Xie Lian says petulantly. “Stay.”

Hua Cheng does, for a while, and then his knot goes down and he slips out. Xie Lian doesn’t mind too much, though, because neither of them let go. They fall asleep like that.

Later, Xie Lian wakes up again, and the pain is back. Hua Cheng just strokes himself a few times and slips back into him, and the pain fades almost immediately.

They spend what feels like days like this, taking short breaks to sleep in between rounds, and satisfying Xie Lian’s newly discovered insatiable sexual appetite the rest of the time. Xie Lian doesn’t remember any other time he’s felt this content and well-tended, not even when he was a prince, doted on by the whole palace.

“San Lang,” he sighs at one point. “This is so nice.”

Hua Cheng holds him tighter and makes a noise of agreement into the back of his shoulder.

You’re so nice, San Lang, I’m so glad you found me,” Xie Lian says, and clenches around him, just because he can. Just to feel how full he is.

Hua Cheng moans and bucks into him, and Xie Lian loses whatever else he was going to say, falling back into a haze of pleasure.

Finally, the haze clears, and Xie Lian blinks the last of it away, looking down at himself. Hua Cheng is asleep next to him, and both of them have red marks strewn across their skin, nearly everywhere but their necks.

Oh, Xie Lian thinks, embarrassment flaring up as he remembers what happened. It’s not like he doesn’t want to be bonded to his alpha, but he’s touched that Hua Cheng didn’t bite him without asking. He’ll bring it up later. He rubs at his neck, glancing away.

Something is different.

He checks his ankle. His cursed shackle is gone.

“San Lang,” he says hurriedly, shaking him awake. “San Lang?”

“Gege?” Hua Cheng says groggily, his eye blinking open. “What’s wrong?”

“Is my cursed shackle gone?” Xie Lian asks, pointing to his neck.

Hua Cheng grins. “Guess it was too much for that bastard,” he says under his breath, then, “You’re free, gege.”

Xie Lian feels a bit lost. He had those shackles for nearly eight hundred years. And he knows that Wu Ming survived, that he has Hua Cheng beside him, now, but… he still doesn’t feel like his penance is over.

To distract himself, he curls up next to his alpha. “San Lang,” he says. “I do want you to mark me.”

Hua Cheng freezes. “Gege, that’s permanent,” he says slowly. “Are you sure?”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything,” Xie Lian tells him seriously, looking into his eye.

“Your next heat, then,” Hua Cheng says.

Xie Lian knows it’s because he’s nervous, wants to give Xie Lian time to back out, but… he also doesn’t do well with Xie Lian being hurt. Once, Xie Lian got a piece of wood stuck in his hand, barely a splinter, and Hua Cheng nearly went feral over it.

Xie Lian knows why that is, but he doesn’t really want to think about it.

He nods, smiling softly up at his alpha. His San Lang. “I’ll still want it then,” he says.

Hua Cheng smiles back. “Let’s get you some food,” he says, and Xie Lian’s stomach growls in agreement.

Months later, Xie Lian wakes up to overwhelming pain. It’s starting, he realizes, and reaches down, fitting two fingers into himself. It helps, but not very much. “San Lang,” he gasps, grabbing onto the sleeping figure next to him.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says, eye snapping open.

Xie Lian climbs on top of him and kisses him, still working his fingers in and out of himself.

Soon, he’s sinking down onto Hua Cheng’s cock, moaning at the relief of being filled.

Hua Cheng sets his hands on Xie Lian’s waist and helps him lift himself up and drop down, over and over until they’re exhausted and knotted together.

“I hope you’re ready for a lot more of that,” Xie Lian laughs, plastered against Hua Cheng’s chest.

“I’m always ready for gege to take charge,” Hua Cheng says, grinning.

Xie Lian blushes and hides his face. He was rather forward just now, wasn’t he?

“I’ll take care of you,” Hua Cheng says gently, and cards his fingers through Xie Lian’s hair.

“I want you to mark me,” Xie Lian says into his neck.

Hua Cheng stiffens. “Gege,” he says.

“I’m sure,” Xie Lian says, lifting his head. “With you, it’s such a simple thing to be happy.”

Hua Cheng’s eye fills with emotion, and he wraps his arms tighter around Xie Lian. “The next time I knot you,” he promises. “It’ll hurt less then.”

Xie Lian just barely manages to keep himself from saying he doesn’t care about the pain. “Okay,” he says instead, smiling in anticipation.

Hua Cheng smiles back at him, and Xie Lian marvels at this strange alpha who loves him so dearly. He wants to spend forever with him.

They go back to sleep like that, Xie Lian splayed across Hua Cheng’s torso, connected at the hips.

Xie Lian wakes up again to a fresh surge of pain and an intense need for his alpha’s approval.

“San Lang,” he sobs, and clings to him. Hua Cheng has gone soft and slipped out of him as they slept, and in the back of his mind he knows it’s not a rejection, but the haze of heat keeps him from thinking clearly. He knows Hua Cheng is just asleep, but he feels like he’s been abandoned.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng responds almost immediately, blinking a few times. “I’m here.”

“San Lang,” Xie Lian sobs again. “Are you mad at me?”

“Gege, no!” Hua Cheng says, sounding alarmed. He runs his big hands up and down Xie Lian’s back, and Xie Lian melts into him. “No, I could never be mad at you. You’re perfect.”

Xie Lian buries his face into Hua Cheng’s shoulder. “Please touch me, alpha,” he begs.

Hua Cheng growls and rolls them over, his weight crushing Xie Lian into their bed. Xie Lian lets out a needy noise and goes limp under him.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says, kisses his collarbone, and continues as a prayer, you are the god this lowly one has been dreaming of for centuries. He sucks a nipple into his mouth, swirling his tongue around it.

Xie Lian moans and clutches at his shoulder. Hua Cheng often slips into prayer when they’re intimate together. It’s overwhelming to know that this is an act of worship for him, that Xie Lian is sharing a bed with his most devoted believer.

The whole world should see how beautiful you are. Hua Cheng bites a mark into his side. But not like this. Like this, you’re mine.

Xie Lian bucks his hips up, hoping that Hua Cheng will take the hint.

You’re perfect here - Hua Cheng kisses the mark he’s left - and here - he slips two of his long fingers inside Xie Lian - and here. He kisses the skin over Xie Lian’s heart. Your body is magnificent, and I’m honored to listen to everything you have to say.

Xie Lian moans and rocks down, taking Hua Cheng’s fingers further.

You’re incredibly clever, Hua Cheng continues, biting another mark into one of his pectoral muscles, and so kind, even to those who don’t deserve it. Especially to those who don’t deserve it.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian manages.

This worshipper will never leave you, Hua Cheng promises, adding another finger and licking the mark he’s left. Not ever.

San Lang,” Xie Lian says, and drags him up for a kiss.

Hua Cheng kisses him messily, his tongue at home in Xie Lian’s mouth. You are the reason I continue to exist, he says.

Xie Lian breaks the kiss to gasp for air. “San Lang, in me,” he demands.

Hua Cheng slips his fingers out and pushes in, and Xie Lian relaxes into the bed, a content puddle.

“Gege, you look so happy,” Hua Cheng says, smiling at him.

“I am,” Xie Lian says, grinning dopily up at him.

Hua Cheng kisses him and rocks forward, and Xie Lian wraps his legs around his alpha’s waist and kisses back.

They move together like that until Hua Cheng says, sounding very anxious about it, “I’m close.”

Xie Lian closes his eyes and tilts his head back, exposing his neck.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says. “You’re sure?”

Xie Lian responds by guiding his head down.

Hua Cheng kisses his neck, gentle and soft, then sets his teeth against it, thrusts forward, and bites down.

Xie Lian screams.

Pain and pleasure mix together. Hua Cheng’s teeth in his neck, in his scent gland, feel like fire. He clenches down on Hua Cheng’s knot, and clings to his back so hard he’s sure he’s leaving marks.

Then it’s over, and Xie Lian isn’t sure whether to be relieved at the loss of the intense sensations or to want them back. Hua Cheng licks the mark he’s left, and his tongue soothes the stinging pain.

“San Lang,” Xie Lian says weakly.

“Gege,” Hua Cheng says, and Xie Lian feels a rush of pride and worry that isn’t his own.

“San Lang, it worked,” Xie Lian says, smiling so wide his cheeks hurt, and relaxes under him.

“You’re so happy,” Hua Cheng says wonderingly.

He really is.

Everyone he loved abandoned him, and then he spent eight hundred years with the noose for his parents’ deaths as his only companion, forced to fight through debilitating pain every few months or submit to an unthinkable fate. Now, Hua Cheng is constantly at his side, listening to even his most inane rambles, making it his personal mission to keep Xie Lian from experiencing the slightest discomfort.

In very enjoyable ways, Xie Lian might add. These past few months, he had been genuinely looking forward to this heat, and not just for the bond-mark.

“I have you,” Xie Lian says simply, and tugs Hua Cheng down to kiss him.