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AN: This chapter took me a while cause of a last minute revision and me falling asleep every time I tried to edit it. I try to update my stories late at night in my timezone since that seems to be the only time anyone notices an update.

*****

Much to his surprise, Xuejie stood by as Xieren carried his lover in his arms the next morning. It was such a touching moment, with Xieren's loving gaze falling onto his sleeping partners' face like he was the light of his life. If anyone was on the other side of such a look, that person would have no doubt in their mind that they were loved.

Yet watching this, Xuejie just felt the desire to facepalm.

Why? Why was his super cool, cold-hearted bro looking at this guy like he hung the stars?! He was the goddamn demon king, feared throughout the lands and respected by those who knew their place. Yet here he was, staring at this guy like a lovesick puppy.

Where had he gone wrong? He thought, sighing listlessly.

"Anything to say, Xuejie?" Xieren asked, seeing the resignation on his second-in-command's face. The human was clearly uncomfortable with all this.

But since when was that Xieren's problem.

Xuejie knew this was how his king felt and could only swallow his mild envy as he shook his head.

"Nothing at all, Your majesty."

"Shall we depart, your Majesty?" He Qing interjected, giving his bodyguard an opportunity to leave. 

Xuejie gave a silent nod of thanks before leaving to secure the area. He Qing watched him go, his mind briefly drifting elsewhere.

At any other time, perhaps Xieren would have allowed this, amused by the notion that he was not the only one with peculiar interests but today was not one of those days. It was winter and Shizun was only mortal. The cold could kill him. Even as the elder was wrapped up in blankets, the cold air hit his exposed face, making it red. 

"He Qing!"

"My apologies, Your Majesty." The human bowed, inwardly chastising himself for getting distracted. "Please follow me."

The two left the hotel, the dim light of the rising sun illuminating their path. The early morning air was quiet and chilly, making the sleeping man snuggle closer to Xieren. His body might not be stationary when on a flat surface but regardless of his sleeping habits, he would always seek out the warmest thing when needed.

His body had no clue what this large warm thing was but he was damn well going to snuggle as close to this thing as possible.

Xieren felt pleased, pressing a warm kiss to his lover's forehead as they walked.

Sometime later, they arrived at a clearing. The light from the canopy filled the area and revealed the divine beast they'd be riding to return home.

The beast was magnificent, its scales glimmering in the light. Had Liang Fei been awake, perhaps he'd have marveled at the beauty of the creature. Maybe it would have distracted the man enough to forget that it would be carrying him through the air for however long it'd take.

But Xieren had been very thorough, determined to wake up with his master in his arms so he made sure not to hold back.

Liang Fei had been equally as determined, wanting his student to knock him out for as long a trip as necessary.

It was a win-win but a strange turn of events for those observing the two.

Xieren entered the palanquin, gently resting his master down beside him so he could rest. While he'd like to hold his master the entire trip, he knew his master wouldn't remain still now that they were in a pleasantly warm room.

That wall would be his master's hug pillow and there was little Xieren could do about it even in this enclosed space.

Still, it was nice while it lasted. Holding his beloved master in his arms, having the elder reciprocate by snuggled close to him. 

Truly it was the greatest day ever~

Xieren's mind was filled with warm and fuzzy thoughts when he heard a knock on the door. His mood dampening, he opened the window, glaring down at He Qing. The human presented a strange yellow and black jewel.

"Your Majesty, for you."

Xieren furrowed his brows, confused. "What is this? A gift?" He Qing wasn't the type to flatter others.

"Is it not Lord Fei's?"

"Is it?" He was sure he hadn't seen it before.

"I found it in his majesty's room." He explained, bowing lower. "I asked Yao Da about it since she likes jewels but said it belonged to Lord Fei."

Hearing this, he took the jewel, looking it over. "This is his?" It was smaller than his palm and warm to the touch. How curious. "You may go."

"Yes. We shall be departing soon."

"Mn." Xieren grumbled, staring down at the jewel with suspicion. It felt strange as he held it, like there was something more to it. It had a similar feel to Shizun's aura but muted somehow.

Stranger still, he was sure his master had been holding this that night on the roof. Was this the object he'd been willing to jump off a roof for? Why? The elder wasn't a materialistic person so why care so much about a rock?

It was clearly important enough to risk his life for so while he'd like to toss it out the window, he chose to keep it. He was sure his master would have an explanation for this.

If not, he would find out on his own.

***

Liang Fei was having a strange dream. In it, he saw a man who shared his face talking to him from a distance.

No, he was shouting but his words were muffled by something.

Wild green eyes seemed to beg for his attention but no words passed between them.

He reached out, wanting to get closer but his hand met a flat clear surface. The wild-eyed man grew more frantic, perhaps trying to warn Liang Fei of something. 

He opened his mouth to call back to the pleading man but a pale hand slammed on the glassy surface and shocked him awake.

Panting, Liang Fei stared up at the ceiling, his nightmare fading even as he was filled with dread. His memory of the dream was murky but he could sense there was something important that he had missed.

Something about green eyes and pale skin.

His mind was struggling to catch hold of the last remaining thread of his dream when the door slid open. Blinking, the elder realized he was in a stranger's room.

Where was he?

He sat up, the dream fading as all dreams did as he surveyed the room. It was gorgeous, elegantly decorated, and filled with soft pillows and warm blankets.

If only the room wasn't so gothic looking. It was kind of creepy with all the sharp edges and dark colors.

Well, at least the bed was soft. That was a win.

The sunlight peeking from the window indicated that some time must have passed since he and Xieren fell asleep. If he knew Xieren, and he did, his student must have taken care of him while he was asleep. If he was here in a new place, this could only mean one thing.

His plan worked and he slept through the flight!

Liang Fei: 1 Flight: 0

The elder inwardly roared with joy, having defeated his foe once more. He'd definitely have to thank Xieren for his help later.

His mind was on how to properly thank his student, having forgotten about the dream and even the person who had awoken him. Yilan, meanwhile, stood by the door, waiting for the human to notice her. Her features were light and airy, giving her a fresh, youthful appearance appealed to many.

While she was not a great beauty, to be ignored this long was a bit hurtful.

"Um, Lord Fei?"

"Eh?" Liang Fei blinked, his thoughts of back massages for Xieren put on hold as he came to notice the young lady sharing the room with him. "Oh, where did you come from?"

"Outside the room, my lord." She replied, bowing. "I heard you moving around and thought you might have awoken."

"I see." He nodded, covering his yawn with his sleeve. "Is this the darklands?"

"Yes, my lord."The demoness replied. "This lowly servant seeks to serve Lord Fei for as long as he remains."

Liang Fei nodded. "Thank you but there is no need to be so formal."

"You are a personal guest of His Majesty."

"Only for a little while." When Xieren was properly educated on courtship, there would be no need for him to stay in the darklands. As such, it would be best he not get used to being served and pampered.

It would just make leaving harder.

"As you wish." She relented. "May I still call you Lord Fei?"

"If you must."

With that settled, Liang Fei crawled out of bed, marveling at the large size. He briefly wondered why Xieren would have such a large bed in his guest room. Surely, there was no need for such extravagance.

Perhaps it was for restless sleepers. He concluded, unknowingly half right. There were few people who knew of Liang Fei's sleeping habits and none of them chose to disclose this to the man himself. 

As far as the man was concerned, he slept like a stone. Sure he ended up waking up in strange places but who didn't, right? It was perfectly normal.

After getting dressed, he followed after the maid whose name he learned was Yilan. She gave him a fairly detailed tour of the castle. As expected of a castle, the rooms were large and imposing, giving off an air of majesty and grace.

Even a layman like Liang Fei couldn't help but marvel at the decor.

"It must be hard to maintain such a place." He stated, looking around. It was impressive that they managed to keep the place so clean.

Yilan beamed with pride, her red eyes gleaming as she boasted. "Yes, well we demons see it as an honor to serve under our king."

To serve the illustrious demon king was the same as breathing the same air as a godly being. King Xieren was fierce and powerful, gaining the respect of all who witnessed his glory.

Even Liang Fei could see the pride she held in her work and felt happy his Xieren had such people under him. 

To his surprise though, there were quite a few non-demonic looking people around as well. Demons generally shared certain traits and these people lacked them all.

They were humans.

"Yet there are quite a few humans as well." He noted, greeting one such person with a nod. The person flinched, having reacted to the demoness beside the elder who was anything but friendly.

"Oh." She grumbled, glowering at whichever human was nearby at that moment. "Yes, His Majesty, in His infinite grace, chose to allow the humans from the conquered towns and cities the freedom to work wherever they like."

"Humans are disliked." This was less a question and more a statement. Yilan's attitude shift made it clear how she felt about humans.

"Humans are the ones who trapped us in the darklands."

"No, that was cultivators, right?" He corrected. "The people here are mortals."

"I..." She snapped her head around, looking ready to argue the point before recalling who she was talking to. "It's as you say, my lord."

 Liang Fei chose to let the matter go, as it wasn't his place to argue such things. What mattered was that the humans weren't being mistreated by Xieren. This made him happy even as he felt a bit awkward now that such things had been said.

 He sighed looking out the window. To his shock, he saw that it was snowing outside. While it was winter, he had yet to see any snowfall since his rebirth. Yet here in this land with dark purple sky and blackened sun, the snow was just as white as anywhere else.

It was beautiful.

As he watched the snow, he came to notice that there was a lot of noise coming from outside. There looked to be some kind of parade going on. Curious, he turned to Yilan.

"Oh, is that him?" He pointed out the window at the crowded street below.

Outside, the crowds were filling the streets as they screamed with excitement and joy. Flags were waved and the air was filled with the kind of allegiance that any ruler would desire.

Yet Xieren rode his beast with an air of nobility, taking in the adulation but showing no outside response to it. Like it was expected he get this kind of welcome. Like it was a challenge to see who could get the man's attention.

This was a challenge all those in attendance chose to take, voicing their joy as the parade took Xieren and his men down the main road toward the castle.

As he drew closer, Liang Fei took note of his demeanor. If he thought Xieren at the inn was imposing, the man who rode astride the horse below him was downright imperial. This was not some haughty prince who made demands and forced compliance.

This was a king who made his wishes known and had men who would die to fulfill them.

It was a little sad to see how distant Xieren felt just then but it was to be expected. Liang Fei was just a small person in Xieren's story. He shouldn't expect anything from the man.

"Lord Fei?"

"Ah, yes." Liang Fei blinked, momentarily distracted by the visage of Xienren. For a second, he hadn't seen his student or the protagonist but a king in his element. Ruling over his people like only a select few could. It was quite surprising.

It was too bad though. He still wanted to do something for Xieren but he was clearly busy. There was no need for him to bother the man right then. He'd thank the man later.

A no-name mortal thanking the demon king. It was kind of funny when one thought about it.

***

Upon finding the dining hall, Liang Fei's stomach chose that moment to let itself be known. None shall ignore its call, it turned out.

Liang Fei looked away a bit embarrassed. Yilan chuckled, offering to make him something to eat.

"Does Lord Fei have any preferences?"

"Light and spicy." While he shared his sister's love of spicy food, his habit of being on the run made it hard for him to eat heavy foods. All that and stress he faced on a daily basis would have given him an ulcer. Or killed him long before his time.

"Do you want all this for yourself?" She asked after hearing how much he wanted. Yilan was used to demons voracious appetite, as she was a demon herself. But seeing a human order this much was even making her hesitate.

Just how much can this human eat?!

Liang Fei said nothing, choosing to nod rather than explain himself to the young lady. Admittedly, he actually wanted to eat with Xieren. They truly hadn't had a chance to truly talk since they 'got together' and it was bothering him. He didn't want to treat Xieren that way.

He refused to lead Xieren astray.

As he was waiting for his food, a familiar voice echoed through the hallway. It was light and pleasant to the ears. It was also one that he hadn't heard since the day before.

"Xinyi!" He called out, standing to greet her as she entered. 

"Lord Han!" As before, she embraced the elder in a warm hug. "What are you doing here alone? I thought you would be eating with A-Ren."

I would like that too but it wasn't meant to be. He thought, though he showed none of those thoughts in his expression.

"Well, he's busy right now with other things. So I chose to eat on my own." 

"Why eat alone?" She retorted, sitting down beside him. "I haven't eaten myself so why don't we eat together?"

The two sat together, sharing a meal and a conversation. He felt a bit strange, learning so much about Xinyi and how her life had been since his death yet still thinking about Xieren. While he adored Xinyi, he couldn't help but wonder about Xieren.

What had he done to become the king of demons? How had he garnered the praise and respect he got from his subjects? What things did he do when he wasn't ruling.

Being so intimate with someone you knew so little about was an uncomfortable feeling.

Seeing that her companion had lost focus, Xinyi coughed to get his attention once more. When his gaze refocused on her, she smiled.

"Am I boring you, Lord Han?"

"My apologies." He replied, feeling bad for ignoring her. The ease that had settled between the two had him petting her to reassure her.

Xinyi didn't reject the gesture, finding the man's casual touches somewhat comforting. She felt somewhat pampered when he did so.

Plus it felt nice to be petted~

There was a moment of silence between the two as they both enjoyed the brief moment. When it ended, Liang Fei and Xinyi felt somewhat closer.

"Why do you like petting people?" She suddenly asked, her tone light and relaxed. "It's quite strange."

While she was fine with it, she was sure others might find it degrading or strange. It was a curious thing for an adult to do to another.

"Is it?" He frowned, feeling like this was familiar for some reason. "I just like it."

"Really?"

"Yes, its..." He stopped to think of how to explain how nice a feeling it was. "Petting Xuejie is like petting a dog while petting Xinyi is like holding a bunny. It fills your hand and gives you a floofy floofy feeling." He explained a matter-of-factly, like he was explaining a math problem. "It's the best~"

What the hell was a floofy floofy? She wondered, feeling a bit out of sorts after hearing this man say all that with a straight face.

"Lord Han is a bit strange." She had come to this conclusion long before but this just confirmed it.

"My sister used to say the same thing, though a lot more scathingly." He said, finally remembering why this felt like a familiar subject. "She hated it when I pet her."

Whenever he tried to, she'd throw something at him, apparently seeking to distract him. Most of the time it was stuffed animals or pillows. Since she never sought him out for them, he kept them for himself.

It was why his closet was filled with stuffed animals. They had been his treasure when he was alive. When stress was bad, he'd always have a soft cute thing to cuddle.

While he lacked soft things now, he could still settle his heart with a head pat or two.

"What about Xieren?"

The elder blinked. "What about him?"

"Do you like petting him too?"

"I... haven't as of yet."

Well, he had had the chance to but not outside of sex and he didn't think it wise to say such things to Xinyi. 

"How come?

"Xieren doesn't like it when he's touched, I think." He said, before frowning. No, that wasn't right. Xieren loved being petted. He was like a puppy, eager to be touched and pampered.

When was the last time he gave Xieren a head pat? He wondered, thinking back. He must have done it at least once since his rebirth but as of late, he hadn't.

He hadn't done so since they slept together.

At this discovery, Liang Fei felt strange. He couldn't imagine why he'd stopped when he was willing to do it to others. Yet the thought of petting Xieren felt... embarrassing.

"No, it would be best I not do such a thing to him, especially here." He corrected, feeling a bit out of sorts. Seeing Xieren when he wasn't with him was eye-opening. Xieren was no longer the adorable student he could coddle and treat like a child.

He was a king and had many expectations placed upon him. If he was seen being treated like the elder had before, he would surely lose something infinitely valuable. Liang Fei didn't want to do that to him.

So he swore he wouldn't do it anymore. At least, that was the reason he told himself. His own feelings on the matter weren't important.

Xinyi, meanwhile, nodded with understanding. Xieren wasn't some so-called waste no one cared about anymore. Even if it was his lover, being petted would damage his reputation. 

Her approval of the two men's relationship grew.

"Have you talked to A-Ren yet?"

"He's busy."

"So no then." She huffed, feeling the desire to scold Xieren. How could he let his partner wander about alone for so long? "Figures he'd be so rude to his lover."

"W-we aren't-"

"Don't try and fool me, Lord Han! I might not know a lot about love but I know when my little brother likes someone."

"Isn't he older than you?" He shot back, not wanting to explain their true relationship to the woman.

"Oh, right!" Xinyi fell right into the trap, her mind clinging to a new revelation. "And now that he's taller too, I'm officially the little sister!"

"I believe you were still the little one even when you were taller."

"No, since he was smaller-"

"He's still older."

"He could be my little big brother!" She tried but Liang Fei was relentless.

"The 'little' doesn't negate the 'big' in that title."

"Ack, Lord Han is too mean!" She cried. "Can't you let a girl dream?"

"Of course." He assures her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Once you tell me a realistic dream, I will support you wholeheartedly."

"Ah," she clutched her chest, jokingly looking wounded as she did so. "you really do remind me of Xieren's old crush."

"You know who that was?" He asked, curious. He had wondered if Xinyi knew who Xieren had wished to court. Perhaps his student was seeking out his first love.

"Oh, I know everything about A-Ren." She gloated, smirking with pride. She might have missed the last ten years but prior to that, she was always by his side. "He used to have a huge crush on an elder back at the sect. It was adorable."

"Truly?!" How had he not noticed?! Surely it should have been obvious but Xieren was only ever around him so he wasn't sure who it could be. Were there any pretty female elders back then? He hadn't expected Xieren to be into older women but he was willing to sleep with an older man, so it fits.

He'd have to work twice as hard then if he was to guide Xieren on the right path.

"En, he was so cute back then." Xinyi beamed, happy to talk about her brother. "Like this one time-"

***

Outside the dining hall, Yilan stood near the door, listening in. While she might not like humans very much, these two were fun to listen to. For once, she wasn't reluctant to serve a human.

"Who is that?" A velvet soft voice called out in the darkened hall. Yilan shivered, her body moving before her mouth did.

"My lady!" She greeted, her head bent low as she knelt before the figure. She didn't dare look up at the woman.

"I asked you a question."

"That..." Yilan turned her gaze to the dining hall, where she could still hear the faint voices of the two humans within. She knew her mistress was only interested in one of them, however. "That is lord Fei, His Majesty's personal guest."

"Another one?" The woman huffed, sounding bored as she spoke. "It has been quite a while since His Majesty allowed someone in his quarters. And he's male, as well. How curious."

"Indeed, my lady."

"Well, it doesn't matter. Do what you must to be rid of him." She ordered, turning away. "I can't have His Majesty distracted by some random hu-"

"M-My lady, if may speak?" The demoness called out, shivering with terror at the silence that followed.

"What is it?"

"I..." Yilan swallowed, forcing herself to speak even as fear chocked her. Yet she couldn't stay silent. "I don't think it would be wise to do such a thing with this person."

"Oh?" The mistress laughed derisively. "Have you grown soft, Yilan?"

"Never, my lady." She snapped back, her tone firm. "If you ordered it, I would slit the throat of anyone you ask me to. It's just..."

***

Hours before, when Yilan was called to His Majesty's chamber, the little demoness was terrified. She wasn't sure why she was being summoned after all this time. Had she done something wrong? Was she to be punished. If so, why summon her to the bed-chamber?

There were many in the castle who yearned to be the concubine of the demon king but she was not one of them. She knew the price one would have to pay if given that title.

Upon her arrival, she was shocked when she saw the king who was usually cold and uncaring sitting on the side of his bed with a warm expression. Beside him, tucked in carefully, was a male. Catching his scent, it was clear that the male was not only human but someone who had been marked by their king.

The king's first concubine in years and it was a male!

Yilan knew better than to stare, so she lowered her gaze and waited for her king to address her. The wait was long, as the man seemed unwilling to look away from his sleeping concubine for even a moment.

Yilan was beginning to wonder if her king hadn't noticed her yet when the man spoke, his deep voice cutting through her like a blade.

"This man is your master from now on." He said, his words less an order and more a statement of fact. There was no room for argument and Yilan knew better than to try.

"As you wish, Your Majesty." She bowed low, expecting the king to leave. Yet he didn't. Instead, much to her horror, he approached her, his footsteps echoing through the room like a death knell. 

"Do you know why I chose you?"

"I-I do not, Your Majesty."

"It's simple. You are what some might consider cute." He explained, the last word dripping with such venom, one might think he was cursing her. With how dark a look he was giving her, that might very well be the case.

"Personally, I don't see it but you are good enough for now." He continued, circling the smaller woman. "Fei-er likes cute things so you will have to do for now. You are to serve him as you do me, with absolute fealty and diligence."

"Anything you wish, Your Majesty. This lowly servant is loyal to you and the land in which you govern." She said, kneeling down in hopes it would quell whatever had angered him so. "All that you touch and see is your domain. I'm honored you have allowed this servant to serve you."

The king said nothing, his heavy gaze weighing down on her as she waited for his response.

"So you say," He snorted, his tone filled with doubt. "yet, considering your track record with prior guests, I feel I should give you some extra incentive."

She flinched. She had been sure she had hidden her involvement in those incidents well. The king had never called her afterward, so she had assumed he knew nothing about it.

It turned out that he did but only now cared enough to let her know. She feared what else he knew about her involvement in those 'accidents'.

The king crouched down and snarled in her ear. "If anything happens to him, as you seem to be a frequent victim of 'accidents', I hope you understand me when I say that what will befall you by my hand, will not be."

***

"His Majesty seems to hold this man in high regard." Yilan pleaded after telling her mistress the story. "It might not be wise to-"

"Did I ask for your opinion?" The Mistress snapped back, her sleeves whipping through the air as she turns back.

"No, My Lady but please reconsider." She pleaded, clinging to her mistress' robes. "This isn't some noblewoman brought in to secure trade routes. This man was brought into the masters quarters by His Majesty personally, carried in his arms like a treasure."

Yilan's loyalty was to her King and her mistress, the future Queen. Her goals were to serve them both and knew the words of one were bound to assist the other. As such, she felt no guilt serving them both. Even if her mistress made contrary orders, such as she had before, Yilan was willing to do what she was asked to do.

But this time, her resolve had been disturbed by the king's words and actions. When he had brought people in before, they were sent to the guest rooms, never the king's chamber. There were artifacts and secrets held within that room that could topple empires yet he let this strange man in?

Not to mention the soft looks the king gave the man. His previous 'guests' were barely looked at outside the evening and even then, it was nothing compared to the open affection she saw.

Lord Fei was not like the other guests she had disposed of before. When those women disappeared, the king didn't care. He barely batted an eye.

She was sure if Lord Fei even stubbed his toe, she would suffer in retaliation. So she had to warn her mistress in case it fell onto her.

"Did he now? How curious." The woman said thoughtfully. "Then watch over this treasure closely. I'll see what ways he can be cast away on my own."

"Thank you for your lenience, my lady." She let out a relieved breath.

Yilan knew her mistress wouldn't stop until all the obstacles in her way were gone but to hear her consider this lowly servant's warnings made Yilan happy. She was confident that as long as she followed her mistress' orders, all would be well.

***

Elsewhere, Xieren was strolling through the halls of the castle, searching for his master. He had hoped the man would still be sleeping so he could kiss him awake but like every time before, Shizun had slipped out of bed once his back was turned.

How annoying.

Worse still, he had wanted to have some personal time with master now that he was in the darklands. The elder had promised they'd get to talk later and Xieren was actually looking forward to it.

While making love to his beloved was all that he had dreamed of, getting close to the stoic man was even more appealing. He wanted to know everything about the man, straight from his lips, rather than having them be discovered whenever the man let his guard down.

He also wanted to tell Shizun about himself, all the things he accomplished since his... disappearance. With all that had already happened, what happened ten years ago didn't feel like he died. Even after everything, seeing the grave and sensing it wasn't empty, knowing his master was still around was...

It was confusing.

It felt like there was something strange going on but he couldn't fathom what it was. Perhaps it had to do with the strange jewel he had been given. It was definitely not just some rock and from the reaction of his scholars, it was not something one just casually found lying around.

A Shuizhi stone was something only spoken about in legends. Older than even the most ancient demonic tombs, it was said to be capable of draining a creature of their natural or acquired strength.

Yet why would Shizun have something like this? And why did it feel like there was a golden core radiating from it?

All these questions he had buzzing through his mind throughout all the meetings he was forced to attend. He didn't think his ministers would have so much to complain about upon his return.

Then again, he hadn't really intended on returning home so perhaps he just didn't care about what he was leaving behind. Either way, most of his day was spent dealing with the minor and major issues that came from his absence.

A mild rebellion here and some strikes there, truly not something to worry about individually but for them to happen as soon as he left was cause for concern. He had assured the ministers that the matter would be taken care of, though his words were less diplomatic than that.

A few heads had to roll but such was democracy. They were free to argue with him over his solutions and he was free to kill them for being so brazen.

So all in all, his day went well.

The stress of his day quickly faded as he caught his master's scent and followed after it. He had so much to tell Shizun. 

How his day was filled with idiots who thought killing people was the best solution to any problem. 

How much he missed him.

Or just to tell him how he felt about the man and how happy he made Xieren just being there.

But what he wanted most at the moment was to pull Shizun into his arms, bury his face in his hair and just bask in the knowledge that after everything was said and done, the one in his arms was truly the man he loved.

With just that, his day would end with a smile on his face.

He had been told Shizun was in the dining hall yet his scent led him outside. As he drew closer to the doors leading to the inner garden, he dismissed the guards, wanting some privacy for just a while. He had much to discuss with his master. Yet just as he was about to open the doors, he caught a pair of familiar scents with his master. Curious, he burst in to see Shizun, Xinyi, and Xuejie standing in the middle of the garden.

Three pairs of eyes fell on him.

"You ate without me?" He challenged, walking through the snow. He beelined to Liang Fei, pressing a warm kiss to his cheek.  "I feel hurt."

"You were busy." Liang Fei replied, his eyes brightening a bit upon seeing Xieren. He had hoped he'd get a chance to see him.

"Besides, we were all starving so we went ahead and ate without you." Xinyi stated, leaning against the large ball of snow she and Xuejie had been rolling before. The woman was all smiles and felt no need to act formally with her brother. "If it was a problem, you should have greeted us properly."

Xieren chuckled, feeling overjoyed to see his sister like this. Part of him feared she would be scared or wary of him yet it was like no time had passed at all.

"Just so you know," Xuejie chimed in, not wanting to be left out. "I did try to get them to wait for you, bro."

Xinyi scoffed. "Was that before or after the third plate of ribs?"

"I'm pretty sure I only ate 3 plates."

"Yet there were five in front of you when we left." Liang Fei stated as he adjusted Xieren's scarf to cover his ears. The latter smiled down at him as he did so.

"You don't know that they were ribs." He shot back.

"I can smell it on you, Xuejie." Xieren retorted, cocking a brow. At this, Xuejie could only raise his hands in defeat.

"Ah, there you go, using your nose all sneaky like to ruin my perfect excuse." He said with a pout, to which Xinyi could only try to cover up her laughter with a cough.

"If you could lie better, you wouldn't need an excuse." Xieren chastised, though he felt no true anger just then.

"If I could lie better," Xuejie clarified. "I wouldn't be your second in command."

That, Xieren couldn't deny. While he trusted Xuejie a lot, it was mostly because the man was a horrible liar. He knew there were things the human was hiding from him but so far none of them seemed relevant to him so he chose to let the matter be.

"So what were you doing before this?" He asked, feeling the stress he was feeling fading as he took hold of his master's hand. Xinyi and Xuejie said nothing about it, continuing on as if there was nothing happening.

Liang Fei didn't feel the same and nervously blurted out.

"We were making Snowmen!"

"I can see that." Looking around, it was clear the trio had made it their mission to make his looming palace resemble a playground. They had only just gotten the second ball done when Xieren showed up. Smiling, Xieren turned to his master. "Are you enjoying yourself, Fei-er?

"Honestly, I didn't think I'd get to see snow here in the darklands." 

"Is it that surprising?" He asked, his grip tightening somewhat. He wanted Shizun to like this place he called home. 

Liang Fei thought about it for a moment before nodding. "Yes, but not unpleasant."

"That's good."

"Oh, and Xinyi was telling me about you as a child."

"Oh?" He traced his thumb over the back of his master hand. "Fei-er is curious about me?"

"We haven't had a chance to talk about things." The elder muttered, feeling strangely nervous as Xieren touched him. Perhaps it was because this was the first time they'd been so affectionate in front of someone. Perhaps it was because it wasn't a stranger this time but someone they both knew seeing them.

Either way, Liang Fei felt flustered as Xieren drew close.

"I imagine we were busy doing other things to show our intimacy." He said, uncaring that his words would be heard by their companions.

At that, Xuejie choked, his face flushing at Xierens brazen words. Xinyi rushed to assist him, unaware of the subject being spoken about.

Other things? Like holding hands and kissing? She guessed, her mind still somewhat pure on the matter of relationships.

"Actually, I was telling Lord Han all about our fun times together." She clarified, patting Xuejie as he struggled to catch his breath. "Like the time you got 'attacked' by a frog when we snuck into Elder Fang's refinery."

"That frog was huge, alright!" Xieren argued, his cheek flushing as he tried to imagine what image his sister had made of him if that was the story she was telling. He wanted his master to think of him as strong and capable, not someone scared of a frog. "It could have done a lot of damage."

"It only attacked you cause you tried to eat it."

"You wanted to as well."

"Yes, but it was your idea." She shot back. "I was only following after you. It was a good thing it didn't eat you."

"No thanks to you."

"What did you want me to do!?" She snapped back with a pout. "It was almost twice our size."

"What happened to you being my 'big sister'?"

"I might have been then but that frog would have eaten us regardless." She argued, waving the matter off. "As the male, I left the matter in your capable hands."

"You ran away!"

"To get help." 

"Why'd it you an hour to get back then?"

Xinyi looked away with a strange look on her face. "The Elder was... occupied."

His eyes narrowed. "Occupied?"

"He... He laughed for a while when I told him what happened so..."

Xuejie had been snickering to himself for a while but it was Liang Fei's subtle chuckle that drew Xieren's attention.

"It was quite an amusing story so I can see why he did." He muttered, covering his mouth with a sleeve to hide his amusement. In his mind, he could easily imagine a pouting Xieren being cornered by a large frog.

It was adorable.

"A-Yi!" Xieren grumbled, feeling mortified. "Why are you telling him all that stuff!?"

She shrugged. "He asked."

"And you just decided to tell him?!"

"Well, I was giving A-Yi the details on our time apart and your boyfriend wanted to know more." Xuejie cut in, having recovered from his laughing fit. "How could we not tell him all the sordid details?"

After all the teasing he had suffered from Xieren, he couldn't let this chance go to waste. 

"I thought we were friends?!" Was that not what Xuejie always went on about?

"No, we're not friends." Xinyi corrected, a small smile on her lips. "We are sworn siblings."

"That means we have a moral obligation to embarrass you in front of your lover."

"You bastards!" Xieren jumped to his feet. Since they were alone, he felt no need to hold back and grabbed a handful of snow. "You wish to see how far I can go to avenge myself?"

When the first ball of snow flew, Xuejie was quick to dodge, ducking behind the unfinished snowman as it soared over his head. Xinyi followed suit, but was smart enough to seek cover behind Liang Fei, who sat back with bemused silence.

"Lord Han, save me!" She cried, a snowball already in hand. The elder wasn't sure how to respond and said nothing.

Was a snowball fight the best way to avenge oneself? Perhaps so, as the battle went on between Xieren and Xuejie. As cultivators, their strikes were very accurate, neither ever straying too far from their target.

It was actually quite the interesting battle to watch and Liang Fei found himself enjoying the show. 

When the human finally fled, Xieren turned his gaze onto Xinyi.

Yet the woman was fearless, calling out from behind Liang Fei who had long since taken cover behind the bench.

"Any closer and I'll tell Lord Han all about the cabbage incident." She challenged, holding out her weapon with pride.

"Cabbage...?" The elder echoed, confused. Xieren, on the other hand, paled, his hand trembling as it gripped the snowball tight.

His eyes narrowed. "You wouldn't dare!"

"Try me." She pushed, smiling with triumph. "Any closer and he'll know all about how you used to-"

"Xinyi!!" He roared, the snowball hitting the daring woman as their battle began. The snowball fight raged on and there was no more shelter.

Liang Fei took this opportunity to flee, not wanting to get involved in this tale of revenge.

***

Elsewhere, Xuejie, who had retreated first, was brushing off the snow from his robes when he saw a woman standing before him. Recognizing her, he bowed in greeting.

"My Lady." He said with reverence.

"Commander, how fortunate it is to find you." She cooed, her velvety voice echoing through the hall. "You're just the man I needed."

***

Liang Fei, having escaped the snowball fight, wandered about the halls in search of his room. Yilan had vanished and he wasn't sure how to ask for directions. There were dozens of rooms and he hadn't thought to ask which one he was in.

Still, the decor was nice, and walking around would make it easier the next time around. He had just rounded a corner when he was confronted by Xuejie. The man, silent as the night, stared him down.

"Going somewhere?"

Liang Fei frowned, confused by his sharp tone. Where was the jovial man who had shared stories with him just minutes before?

"My room, if I can find it." He replied, moving past the man. Xuejie watched him go, his gaze heavy on the elders back.

"Before you go, I have a question for you." He called out, grabbing Liang Fei by the shoulder and pinning him to the wall. "Who are you and why are you pretending to be Shao Liang Fei."

*****

AN: Fun fact, this is actually where I planned on revealing that Xuejie was a transmigrator. As for why I chose to reveal it earlier... I have no answer. I legit don't know why I did that.

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