Hua Cheng was sure he must have died a fourth time. What other explanation was there for the love of his life to be sitting on his lap, kissing Hua Cheng in such a sweet and languid way? After the marriage, witnessed only by themselves, they’d retreated to Paradise Manor to have their much deserved alone time before the troubles of the world caught back up to them.
Xie Lian broke the kiss, leaning his forehead against Hua Cheng’s. His breaths were uneven as he said, “San Lang.”
“Mm?” Hua Cheng reached up casually to brush a lock of hair behind Xie Lian’s ear. “What is it, gege?”
“I think I want to kiss you forever and never stop.”
“Just kissing?” Hua Cheng teased, his eyes brightened at the pink flush blossoming across Xie Lian’s cheeks. “Or are other things on the table?”
Xie Lian cleared his throat shyly. “Is San Lang not tired from earlier?”
“Ahh, gege was quite ferocious.” Hua Cheng leaned his head against the back of the divan as he shamelessly pretended to think it over. “But as gege knows, this husband enjoys that sort of thing very much .”
“All right, all right,” Xie Lian said bashfully.
“Really. Like, so much.” Hua Cheng stroked a hand up Xie Lian’s waist. He knew that Xie Lian liked his teasing so he didn’t feel bad about it at all. It had taken so much for them to finally be together that to have this domestic back and forth was nothing short of exhilarating.
Xie Lian huffed cutely and bent down to steal another kiss. It was too quick for Hua Cheng’s tastes and he found himself chasing after Xie Lian as he pulled away.
“Gege~ “ Hua Cheng started to complain but was caught up short as Xie Lian pressed a kiss to one cheek, then the other. His lips moved upwards, trailing kisses along Hua Cheng’s sharp cheekbone, to the lobe of his ear…
Hua Cheng smiled, eyes soft, as he realized what Xie Lian was doing. Xie Lian held Hua Cheng’s face still as he kissed his forehead, working his way down to Hua Cheng’s jaw, and back up until his lips hovered just above Hua Cheng’s left eye.
Hua Cheng obediently closed it. The gentlest of kisses landed on his closed lid. As Xie Lian lifted his head, Hua Cheng’s eye fluttered open. He knew what came next. Xie Lian had always been thorough.
Xie Lian’s thumb brushed against the eyepatch. “May I?”
Hua Cheng stiffened but gave his permission with the slightest nod of his head. No one had ever seen the ruins of his right eye except for himself. But Hua Cheng trusted his husband with his life and his heart. Logically he knew Xie Lian would never hate him for his appearance. Still didn’t stop him from being scared.
Xie Lian frowned and didn’t move.
“San Lang, it’s okay. We don’t have to.”
“No, gege can see if he wants.” The words felt fragile, as if they were seconds from cracking and shattering against the cold floor beneath the divan. “It’s…it’s not pretty, though.”
Xie Lian hm’d and stroked the skin just beneath the eyepatch. Hua Cheng’s eyelashes fluttered minutely as Xie Lian gently slipped a finger under the string. His uncovered eye closed again as the patch was lifted from his face. Hua Cheng couldn’t look at Xie Lian’s expression, he just couldn’t.
Xie Lian was silent. No gasp like Hua Cheng had feared, no sound of pity.
And then Xie Lian pressed the lightest of kisses against Hua Cheng’s sunken eyelid. Dianxia’s lips, his beautiful soft perfect lips, brushing against…
No one should be touching him there, let alone someone so precious. It wasn’t right. His ugly eye had been torn out by his own filthy hands, rough fingernails left unsightly grooves in the skin where he’d gouged while struck with madness. Dianxia was far too good to his poor San Lang. To lower himself to kissing Hua Cheng’s most disgusting part so sweetly.
Hua Cheng wanted to curl in on himself, to burst into a sea of shimmering silver butterflies, to become a being without a face or eyes or skin. He had never been something meant to be seen. And at times like these, when he was treated with such softness...it almost became too much for him to take.
Xie Lian caressed Hua Cheng’s cheeks with his beautiful callused hands as he pulled back to smile at him.
“I love every part of San Lang.”
Hua Cheng pressed his lips into a thin line, he was sure they’d have gone white if blood still circulated in his body, and finally opened his eye to see Xie Lian’s face quite close to his. The dash of freckles across the bridge of his nose were like stars, branching out into constellations that danced along his cheekbones and across his forehead. Hua Cheng felt as if he would never quite get used to Xie Lian’s boundless beauty, not even if he looked at him every second of every day for the rest of eternity and beyond.
“There he is, there’s my handsome San Lang.”
“ Gege ,” Hua Cheng said breathlessly, the word wrenching itself from his throat as if he’d been punched. He was suddenly that scared little kid who pleaded with his prince to believe that he wasn’t ruinous, he was that teenage soldier trying to keep his defects a secret and fighting every day to protect his god, he was a useless ghost unable to save the love of his life...he was weak, he was helpless, he was unworthy. And somehow he was so, so loved.
He took a shuddering breath and leaned in to tuck his head into the space between Xie Lian’s neck and shoulder. His hands came up to grasp at Xie Lian’s back, bunching the white fabric between his fingers. Xie Lian held him close, one hand moved to the small of his back as the other stroked through Hua Cheng’s long ebony hair.
“Gege...doesn’t think it’s ugly?”
Xie Lian pressed Hua Cheng even closer, letting out a soft huff as if he were in pain. “How could anything about you be ugly?”
Hua Cheng had never thought he’d hear those words after laying himself bare. Not even in his wildest fantasies. His chest felt impossibly heavy and light at the same time. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was to be loved by the kindest man in the world and to be able to love him in return.
“Shh, San Lang. It’s okay. You’re okay,” Xie Lian soothed.
Hua Cheng was confused for a moment before he realized he was crying. His jaw ached from trying to hold down sobs that still managed to twist out of his throat. The lungs he didn’t need heaved shaking breaths past cold lips as tears dripped fierce and fast from his left eye. He hadn’t cried like this since...oh god since the temple eight hundred years ago.
It was kind of embarrassing. To break down over a few simple words.
“Sorry,” he choked out, sniffing wetly. “It’s just...Dianxia is too kind.”
“I think...” Xie Lian stroked slow circles into Hua Cheng’s back. “That this is how San Lang deserves to be treated.”
Hua Cheng sucked in another rough, unneeded breath. His body kept going through the motions as if he were alive and strangely enough, he was starting to feel better. Crying was something the stupid, weak version of him did so long ago but...how could being held in Xie Lian’s strong arms make him feel anything less than happy? Despite being dead, despite all of his glaring ghostly qualities, he always felt so human around Xie Lian.
“It seems I have to have a breakdown every 800 years or so,” Hua Cheng sighed. He roughly wiped at his face as he left the safety of his husband’s shoulder.
“Happens to the best of us,” Xie Lian reassured as he lifted a sleeve covered hand to blot Hua Cheng’s cheeks. “Do you want to put it back on?”
Hua Cheng shook his head. “No.”
And truly he didn’t. His right eye had always been the thing he hated most about himself, but it was now a place that Xie Lian had seen. A place Xie Lian had kissed . He was still ashamed of it, hundreds of years of self loathing and fear of rejection based on his appearance didn’t just disappear after a single kiss. But...it was kind of like he’d been blessed by his god there and who was he to hide any part of himself from his god? He wanted to share every bit of himself with Xie Lian, the good and the bad. That was kind of their thing.
‘What matters is you and not the state of you.’
What mattered was their love for each other.
“Gege,” Hua Cheng tilted his head up, feigning casualness. “Could you kiss me again?”
Xie Lian complied instantly, pressing another gentle kiss to that scarred lid, then kissing downwards, mouthing at Hua Cheng’s neck. It seemed Xie Lian meant to leave his mark and Hua Cheng was more than ready.
“Done with gentleness?” Hua Cheng gasped, baring his neck to give Xie Lian better access.
“For the moment,” Xie Lian murmured against his throat. “This husband wants to give San Lang what he likes.”
Hua Cheng practically melted at those words and let himself be pushed down on the divan. Xie Lian popped back up to give his right eye another quick kiss.
“Okay, now I’m really done with being gentle,” he smiled.
And Hua Cheng once again felt as if he must have died and ascended.