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Lovebirds Upon a Branch Meatball

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It was dark, still and silent around him. Where was this? Xie Lian’s feet were taking steps on its own, his body moving as if controlled. Where was he going?  Then from a distance, a door appeared and it seemed like his body was gravitating towards it.  His hand reaches up and turns the knob, opening the door. What manifests behind the doors are two bodies, dangling from a white silk band and completely lifeless.

Xie Lian’s breathing is stilled as he registers the scene in front of him.  These were his parents during… that time.  Why was he back here? Why is he seeing his parents like this? Why… Why is he dreaming of this?  All these thoughts start choking at Xie Lian and he begins to feel suffocated.  He knew he was in a dream, but he couldn’t breathe.  Trying to grasp for air and hold onto something, Xie Lian reached out for the wall and tried to find support, but instead he swayed and stumbled to the ground.  It’s becoming harder to breathe and move, his body is heavy and curling in on itself, his arms move up and wraps itself around his neck, ‘Air… I need air…”

Before he knew it, he’s blacked out in his dream, unable to speak a word.

Seconds becomes minutes, and minutes becomes hours.  The time passes by and the darkness closing in on him, feeling drowned out by it.  When Xie Lian is finally conscious again, he feels the dried stained tears streaked on his cheeks, and pain around his neck.  While trying to get some air, it seems he ended up grabbing hold of his neck too tightly, leaving an imprint.

“I have to bring them down…” Xie Lian sits up from the ground and his body moved before he can register it from the spot he was previously standing.  He gently started lowering the stilled bodies of his parents, carefully unwrapping the silk band from around his parents’ necks.

They were cold.

He brought down his father, and next his mother, resting her head on his lap as he sits there on the floor, kneeling and hunched over looking at her face, but there was not a face on this body.  Xie Lian caresses the cheek of his mother just to realize, he can’t remember what they look like anymore; the expression they had when this happened, what had they even fought about that brought them to this state?

The more he thinks, the harder it is to remember.

“You’re a horrible son.” A deep-toned voice echoed from the body settled next to him. 

“You did this.”

“If only you didn’t come back.” Another echo.

“Why did you let them die?”

“You killed them.”

“Why are you still alive?”

The bursts of voices started caving in on Xie Lian once more, and once more it was getting harder to breathe. 

His parent’s death… Yes, it was his fault.

His Kingdom’s demise… It was also his fault.

Mu Qing and Feng Xin leaving… it was his fault too.

The ghost fire that died for him… His fault as well.

Yes, this was all his fault. Why was he still alive?

Xie Lian gently laid down his mother’s head on the hardened floor.  He moved to stand up, grabbing the white silk and tossed it over the beam that his parents used.  Stepping onto the chair, he put his own neck through the beam and kicked away the chair.

Pain from the bones in his neck breaking, pain from suffocation, pain from blood spilling from his mouth, his nose and eyes, tears dripping down his cheeks; Yes, this is what he deserved.

For all the pain he caused.

‘--ge…!’ A sound begins to ring near his ears.

‘…Gege!’ Again. This sound… It’s a man’s voice. it sounded distressed.  Who is calling for him? There’s no one here, but him.

‘Gege…!’

This voice…!  It’s… It’s San Lang!  It’s his husband!  This is only a dream!

‘Gege!’ Hua Cheng’s voice echoes clearer now through the darkness.

Xie Lian begins to force his limbs to move from his stiffened state. Move, move, move…!  Get yourself down! San Lang… San Lang is calling for you!

‘Gege!’

His body begins to flail, but he can’t unwrap the white silk from around his neck because his arms won’t listen to him, they’re still motionless, numb and still against his sides. ‘San Lang…Help, I can’t… I can’t move.’

The moving didn’t make it easier to unwrap himself, his breath is slipping from his, it’s becoming painful again.

‘Help, San Lang… I can’t…!’ Xie Lian cries out.

Hua Cheng is calling for him, he can’t leave Hua Cheng.  This is a dream…! Wake up, wake up, wake up…!

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Xie Lian abruptly sits up and eyes-wide, tears streaming down his cheeks, “San Lang…!”

Long arms reach out from his side and pulls him into a tight embrace.  One hand is rubbing comforting strokes into his back, and the other is softly patting the back of his head as he’s being held securely in between these safe arms that he’s familiar with. 

“San Lang…  San Lang…”  Xie Lian chokes out Hua Cheng’s name and sobs into his chest gripping onto the lapels of his crimson inner robes.  Xie Lian pushes his body into Hua Cheng’s embrace, as if wanting to be melded into Hua Cheng’s body, knowing no safer place right now, than within him.

“Gege… I’m here, I’m here...”  Hua Cheng confirms with Xie Lian over and over. “I’m here. I’m here.”

“San Lang, San Lang…” No other words fall off Xie Lian except his husband’s name and his cries.

Time passes and the two stay in this embrace, Hua Cheng continuing the comforting rubs, hoping to calm down his husband, not once loosening his hold on him.

Xie Lian’s cries have become less frantic, and his breathing starts to stabilize.  Hua Cheng doesn’t ask Xie Lian of his dream, and Xie Lian doesn’t speak, the two just remained there, holding onto one another as if the other is their very lifeline this moment. 

Even after the sobs and hiccups have dissipated into the moonlit night, no one says anything and the room remains silent for more than an incense time. 

“San Lang…” Xie Lian speaks up first and he readjusts his head to finally look up at his husband, just to notice the tears stained on his cheeks as well. 

Hua Cheng was scorned by the heavens as the most feared Ghost King, revered by the Ghost City he ruled, and not a single soul would dare cross him.  But when it came to Xie Lian, Hua Cheng lets down his guard, shows his weaknesses and fears.  In moments like these, in the safety of their bed chambers, they’ve shared their terrors, their love, their worship for one another- breaking down every layer of walls built over the centuries to protect themselves from others.  

It took a long time for these walls to be built, yet in the presence of each other, for them to submit their soul, their whole being to one another, only took an instant.  To depend on the other person and trust them completely, Xie Lian and Hua Cheng had no longer need to have these walls when they were with each other.  Yet… There were still things they haven’t shared, fearing that it might hurt the other just simply ‘knowing’ the experiences they’ve gone through.

They no longer fear not being accepted by their past, the two simply feared hurting their beloved with stories of their pained pasts. 

But they were working on it.

Xie Lian reached his hand up and Hua Cheng leaned his face into it.  It was cold and even though Hua Cheng was no longer alive, his cheeks were flushed with pink.  From the crying earlier, perhaps.  Xie Lian gently rubbed Hua Cheng’s cheeks, brushing away what remained of the wetness from his tears.

“San Lang.” Xie Lian whispers his name.

“Mn, that’s me.” Hua Cheng softly smiles, still leaning into his husband’s touch.

“San Lang… Kiss me.”  Xie Lian pushes himself slightly from the embrace, just to get enough space to crane his neck and position himself for Hua Cheng to lean down to kiss him.

Hua Cheng leans down immediately, capturing Xie Lian’s lips gently without a moment to spare.  He kisses Xie Lian softly and slowly at first, enveloping his lips and not once letting them go.  The two go on like this for what feels like an eternity, the kissing becoming deeper and more passionate as time passes.  Xie Lian at some point got pulled onto Hua Cheng’s laps and his arms circled Hua Cheng’s neck, wrapping around it tightly. 

Xie Lian opened his mouth slightly, an invitation Hua Cheng took to slip his tongue into, as it glides into Xie Lian’s mouth and playfully licks at his teeth, his tongue and the roof of his mouth.  Xie Lian, becoming breathless now as their kissing has become more fervent, and messy. Yet, with all this going on, Xie Lian can barely ground his own thoughts, but Hua Cheng can still deliver into him spiritual energy.  Xie Lian feels the coolness of energy coursing into his body from where their mouths are met.  Even with Xie Lian’s shackles broken, Hua Cheng still continually poured spiritual power into him every so often. 

‘Just in case,’ Hua Cheng once said.

After a long moment of just kissing, although Hua Cheng didn’t need to air, Xie Lian was finding it difficult to keep on without taking a breath, so he broke their kiss to get some air.  He looked up fondly at his husband, so beautiful, so caring and so patient with him. Xie Lian pulls Hua Cheng down for their foreheads to meet and softly leans into his husband's.

“Thank you… San Lang.”  Xie Lian whispers gratefully towards his husband who’s always his light through any darkness, any nightmares.

“Gege…” Hua Cheng shifts their position and cradles Xie Lian onto his chest. “This San Lang didn’t do anything to deserve thanks… He couldn’t protect His Highness from his nightmares…”

“San Lang pulled me out of a nightmare; he saved me.”

“This one will find a way to dispel His Highness’s nightmares indefinitely, so they’ll no longer haunt him.”

Xie Lian chuckled lightly at his husband’s affirming goal. “Will San Lang also take all the stars from the sky, if I asked for them?”

“This husband is a Ghost King,” Hua Cheng reaffirms to his husband. “If Your Highness desires all the stars in the sky, then I will find out how-- even if it takes years, decades, or centuries, I will gift you all the stars in the sky you so desire.”

Hua Cheng softly places a kiss onto Xie Lian’s forehead and proceeds to detangle his long locks slowly, “With Your Highness by my side, as my husband, nothing is no longer impossible.”

“San Lang…” Xie Lian murmurs and hides his face in Hua Cheng’s chest, hiding his flushed face, still not used to the direct way his husband showers love towards him.

Hua Cheng chuckled lowly at how adorable his husband could be.  Hua Cheng’s chest vibrating against Xie Lian’s cheek from the chuckling, a sound and feeling he loved with his whole being.

“But Your Highness…  The dream…” Hua Cheng stopped mid-sentence slowly and carefully picking his words as he asks about the dream.  He didn’t want to pry and push Xie Lian into talking about it if he didn’t want to, but he wanted to ensure his husband that if he wanted to talk about it, Hua Cheng would listen to every word, every pause, every sentence.

“Ah…” Xie Lian responds.  He’s never told Hua Cheng about how his parents passed, how Ruoye came to be.  Not a single soul aside from him and Ruoye knows about what occurred in that house all those centuries ago.

It wasn’t as if Xie Lian was hiding it… He just hadn’t talked about it, and there was never a chance to talk about it.  Hua Cheng never pushed or asked him to talk about anything, unless it was something he wanted to speak about.  They seldomly spoke of their past, anyways.  It was only talks of the future they were to have together, and the past didn’t have that. 

At his own pace, Xie Lian would bring up where he went after the fall of Xianle, after the Yong’an situation, the places he’s traveled in the past eight centuries, the people he’s met, and things he’s seen; All these were brought up by Xie Lian at his own pace.  Hua Cheng always listened and always gave Xie Lian his full attention.  His husband never pried for more or asked for further, respecting Xie Lian's choices to talk about them when he wanted to – This was something Xie Lian loved about his husband, his patience and care for him.  

“…I haven’t told you how Ruoye came to be, have I, San Lang?” Xie Lian raised one arm as if anticipating that Ruoye would come flying to his arm with the mention of the spiritual device’s name.  

Hua Cheng shook his head, responding to his husband, as his eyes locked on a white silk floating towards Xie Lian.  As predicted, Ruoye came rushing up from the corner of the room, where it wrapped itself around E’ming normally during their sleep, and curled itself around Xie Lian’s arm instead now, as if it was hugging Xie Lian. 

Xie Lian petted the spiritual device like a snake, and it wiggled and vibrated against his skin.

There was a calming silence that fell around them, as Hua Cheng continued to embrace Xie Lian as he sat in the Ghost King’s lap and with his free hand, he weaved them through Xie Lian’s chestnut locks, detangled, smoothed and less knotted from all the care and attention that Hua Cheng had been putting into pampering him these past couple years.  Xie Lian sighs into the touch and relaxes his body.

“…Gege doesn’t need to talk about it if he doesn’t want to.”  Hua Cheng finally says, comforting his husband.

“Mmm.  I want to tell San Lang, though. It’s… It’s just hard picking the right words.” Xie Lian starts to intertwine his and Hua Cheng’s fingers together, fidgeting with them and then holding them again, as he finds the easiest words to use to explain what happened to his parents…  And what he attempted himself.

“When Xianle fell in the war,” Xie Lian starts off. “My parents, Mu Qing and Feng Xin and myself, were all on the run.  We went into hiding and well, we no longer had the luxury of living like royalties.  It was rough and there were things we had to do to survive.  Mu Qing was… He was first to leave, and San Lang, I don’t blame him, so don’t get mad.”

Hua Cheng scowls remembering how Xie Lian’s two most trusted attendants would leave him when he needed them most.  But Xie Lian really doesn’t blame them.  It was centuries ago, and at that time, life was really hard, and they had to do things for themselves.  Xie Lian never took it bitterly as an end to their friendship, after all, he truly believed a friendship couldn’t end because ‘things were tough’.

“It happened after Feng Xin left… After what happened with Bai Wuxiang, well you were there, right, my San Lang?”  Xie Lian reached his hand up to caress his husband’s cheek, who was the frantic ghost fire trying to protect him during the incident.  Hua Cheng cupped Xie Lian’s hand and brought it up to his lips placing a chaste kiss on it. 

“If… If I was alive then, I would’ve remained with Gege, no matter what.  Those trash are useless attendants.”

“Mn.  San Lang was always with me.”  Xie Lian leaned into Hua Cheng more, and Hua Cheng took this gesture to hold him tighter and closer as the story nears its climax.

“After what happened with Bai Wuxiang and Feng Xin leaving…  I wasn’t stable.  I fell into darkness – stole, almost killed a man, too.  I was angry and foul.  I got into a fight with my parents... I can’t even remember what about anymore, San Lang, but we fought and I went to bed, then the next day…”

Feeling a ball in his throat, Xie Lian took a few deep breaths and Ruoye now was flailing about his arm like a snake, trying to comfort its master.  Ruoye was smart, it wasn’t like other spiritual devices after all.

“The next day, I woke up and the house was quiet…. When I went—” Xie Lian was trembling. 

“They…. They hung themselves… They with – with—” Hua Cheng started rubbing calming circles into Xie Lian’s back as he couldn’t bear to finish his sentence.  But he didn’t need to.  Hua Cheng understood.  Xie Lian’s parents used Ruoye, the blood of two royals were on this white silk band. 

“Then I—” Burying his face into his hands spoke the next few words so quietly through his trembling, anyone else other than Hua Cheng would not be able to hear it even in this silent room. “I tried to- with Ruoye as well… But I couldn’t… I couldn’t die…!  San Lang, I couldn’t die…!” Starting to sob louder for a second-round now, Xie Lian’s tears began welling up and clouding his eyes before he could even react to control it.  “So… So – Ruoye… My parents’ blood—and, and mine---” He forced out in the end just to choke more on his tears.

“It’s okay, Gege.  You don’t need to say anymore.  It’s okay.  It’s okay.”  Hua Cheng wrapped his arms tighter around Xie Lian and held him with all his strength; praying that it could protect his husband from his own memories.  He would be lying if he said it didn't hurt to know Xie Lian went through so much pain that he wanted to end his very life.  To know that your beloved no longer wanted to live...  Well, Hua Cheng couldn't say much, after all, he chose to end his life thrice, now.

Seeing his beloved cry like this hurt him unimaginably.  Hua Cheng can try to prevent any future pains from happening to his beloved, but the darkness and monsters of their past cannot be tamed and erased so easily.  Hua Cheng could only do what he knew best; to hold His Highness through the pain and to be here for him.

Xie Lian clung to Hua Cheng-- clung onto him tightly.  He always believed their deaths to be his fault and it haunted him.  Why did he upset them?  Why did he argue with his father?  Why did he yell at his mother?  Why couldn’t he just comply with them? 

He was so naïve.

As their bed-chamber echoed with soft hiccups of fading cries and painful memories, a Ghost King and a Scrap God, donned in red and white, laid in their crimson bed tangled in one another’s arms.  The two held each other through the agonizing pasts that haunted them.

Xie Lian was rubbing away the last reaming streaks of tears on his face as his head was held in the crook of Hua Cheng’s neck, and Hua Cheng’s face was buried in Xie Lian’s hair.  Xie Lian could feel wetness atop his head where Hua Cheng’s face was and felt warm.  The warmth was not for causing Hua Cheng’s tears, but knowing there was someone to cry with him, to take part of the weight of his pains onto themselves and share it alongside him. 

To have someone to talk to, it’s a simple thing to be happy with just that. 

To have someone understand and just listen to you. 

To know there’s someone who will care about you enough to share your pain.

Xie Lian can wholeheartedly say that he’s happy he failed to die.  That he’s lived until this day to be able to reunite with Hua Cheng and to be able to marry him.  To share with him all the good and bad memories of the past and to create new ones in the future.

“San Lang.”

“Gege.”

“I love you, my San Lang.” Xie Lian whispers.

“And I love you, my beloved.”

Still deep in the night, the Ghost King and Scrap God continued to whisper their love for one another, eventually drifting off into slumber.  This time, their sleep will remain peaceful and there won’t be any haunting memories or nightmares that could hurt either of them; Not when they’re protected by each other’s love.