He won’t say he’s in…
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AN: This chapter... was a bit of a struggle. It just kept going on and on and... I had to end it somewhere. It was either this or rewrite everything and I was so not going to do that. 

*****

Zhihao frowned, not understanding his friend's words.

"His eyes?" He echoed, watching the stoic man closely. His lips were pressed tightly, as if unwilling to say any more. Were the words he said too revealing in his mind?

Zhihao let the subject drop, continuing to converse with his long lost shidi. Despite it all, however, he couldn't stop thinking about what his friend had told him. Or better yet, what he hadn't said.

Zhihao sighed.

This guy was very clearly in love with his student. Only an idiot would fail to notice. If it wasn't how tolerant he was toward the young man, it was the way he talked about the demon king.

After years together, Zhihao came to notice how much Elder Shao adored his students. While his tone never really changed, it was clear when one paid enough attention that the man was very passionate about his duty. The time he took to come up with lessons that helped his students individually and the dedication to cultivating them into fine warriors was praiseworthy indeed.

It was no wonder the students under him excelled and were the pride of the sect.

Yet the way he spoke of Xieren was not the way he spoke about his students. When talking about them, his tone was soft and wistful, as if recalling a pleasant dream or memory. It was such a gentle feeling when his students were mentioned because of how much he cared for them.

When it was about Xieren, however, his tone was a lot more... strange. There was no softness and it felt like the man could never find enough words to say about his partner. His tone was breathless and... passionate. Not subdued like he usually was but actually passionate.

Even the small smiles that revealed themselves at times during the conversation spoke volumes of how the man felt.

He briefly wondered what was holding him back. Was it their status? Perhaps it was the fact they were both men?

No, it was clear he didn't think he was the best choice for his lover.

Why that was, was none of his business. He definitely cared but whatever choice Liang Fei made in the end, the one who'd have to live with it was not him.

He decided to try attacking from a different angle

"You seem to really like Xieren." He mused as he saw his friend relax. The subtle flinch spoke volumes.

"He is a fine man." He replied, his tone revealing nothing. "I'm very proud of him."

I can tell. He snickered to himself, seeing the proud look on his Shidi's face. It's either his voice or his face that hides his feelings but when Xieren was brought up, only one could remain stoic.

Zhihao smirked. "Is he a good lover?"

Liang Fei's flushed face was a sight to behold as he stammered to reply.

"H-he... takes care of me."

"I figured." He huffed, gesturing to the window. "To give such a valuable divine beast as a mount is very revealing of his commitment to you."

"Please don't misunderstand!" Liang Fei rushed to explain. "Fluffy was lent to me by Xuejie. Xieren would have never let me leave."

Oh? So he was the possessive sort? Zhihao briefly recalled the dark look he gave Shruen so many years ago. Like he wanted nothing more than to kill the man for just being in the same room as Liang Fei.

Ah, my poor shidi has his work cut out for him~

"He cares that much?"

"I am his master." He declared.

"You are also his lover."

"For the time being, yes."

Zhihao cocked a brow. "So you would be fine with parting ways with Xieren?"

"I..." Liang Fei chose not to give thought to the stab of pain that thought caused him. "It is for the best."

"That's not what I asked."

Liang Fei knew what he was asking but he didn't want to touch that subject. Xieren was... just his student. Yes, they were lovers at the moment but he was sure he was overthinking things like he usually did.

All the things that he had shared with Xieren would soon be but a memory. A fling. A curiosity that was forgotten after tasting the fruit of what one could only call destiny. Liang Fei was not of this world. How could he dare take up the space meant for another?

Xieren was meant to be with someone else.

His sweet words would later be spoken in the ears of a beautiful woman.

Those 'loving' eyes would look elsewhere.

The hands that could rend mountains to dust yet caressed his cheeks as if he were holding the world in his hands would belong to someone else.

After they parted.

After Xieren found a woman to marry.

The resentment he felt toward this imaginary woman was burning a hole in his gut. He never felt such hatred for someone he didn't know. Her voice and face were shadows but he wanted to tear at her.

He wanted to shout.

Xieren was his!

...Eh?

What kind of thought was that?! Xieren wasn't his, he was... No, he was just his temporary lover! He tried to convince himself but his mind kept circling back to that one thought.

Of wanting to keep Xieren for himself.

He had thought being away from Xieren would help him settle these feelings inside him but it had only made it worse.

Now he missed the man.

Damn it!

Zhihao watched as Liang Fei's mind drifted elsewhere. He had no clue what was going through that strange man's head but he was sure it wasn't getting anywhere. He opened his mouth to speak but was stopped when he heard a loud explosion.

Both men froze, the ground shaking beneath them.

Zhihao: ...

Laing Fei: ...

Liang Fei spoke first. "Did... anyone know that you captured me?"

"A messenger was sent to the castle in advance to relay the news." Zhihao replied, jumping to his feet. "They left before I could stop them. But there's no way-"

A roar tore through the air.

"SHIZUN!!!!"

No more words were said, as they both knew that their thoughts had come true. While a normal person could never traverse the distance from the castle to the border in a single night, the demon king who had conquered the land in a mere decade was not a normal person.

***

Xieren let out a roar that echoed through the empty streets. The mortals who had assumed they had dealt a blow against the oppressive demon race cowered in their homes, regretting their choices in life.

The only thing standing between them and certain death was the cultivators who had come to liberate them. Perhaps if the person they were up against was just a simple demon, their fears would be alleviated but the one standing against them was none other than the demon king himself.

They really should have kept their heads down.

The cultivators felt a similar level of dread. They had heard rumors of the demon king, of how fearsome and powerful he was but facing him now...

They came to realize that rumors were nothing compared to the real thing.

Xieren, on the other hand, paid little mind to the insects in front of him. He didn't care that they were of the same sect once upon a time. That was a past he had cast aside long ago.

He recognized quite a few of his fellow classmates but, as expected, they failed to recognize him. How could they? The former waste that had been looked down upon for years had suddenly become a phoenix and conquered the land on which they stood.

Who would believe such a tale?

All of this, however, didn't matter one bit to him.

Thoughts of getting revenge for past wrongs? Tossed aside.

The glee of dominating those he used to fear? Nonexistent.

No, all he felt was rage and worry as he searched endlessly for his lover. He had heard that Shizun was in the village but there were so many buildings he could be hidden within.

The only reason the village wasn't ablaze was his fear that his beloved would end up caught in the fire.

Still, he thought as he tossed aside another cultivator that drew close. I'm getting tired of this now.

His hands erupted into flames, the heat melting the area nearby but having no effect on him, the cultivators moved away, feeling waves of heat emanating from the demon king. Such strong abilities yet he dared play around before?

The men felt their pride being stung and moved to strike. Even if they died, it was better to die in battle than as a coward running away.

This was the scene that Liang Fei stumbled upon, what one might delicately call a clusterfuck.

Why... Why must he be so over the top?

Seeing his former students, Liang Fei felt a sudden rush of nostalgia, wanting to greet them and speak with them. It had been so long since he last saw them and-

And Xieren was about to kill them!

He ran forward, standing some distance between the two groups, and shouted till the air itself shook.

"Stop this nonsense, right this second!"

Liang Fei sounded nothing like the master who guided these young men and women in the past. His voice was deeper and a bit grated from thirst. On top of all that, he was very clearly a different person.

Despite all this, however, all of his students immediately halted and stood in place.

"Apologizes, Elder Shao!" They shouted in unison, bowing low. "We deserve punishment."

The battle abruptly ceased, silence falling as everyone came to their senses.

The students who had stopped were shocked. Why had they responded in such a way? The only one who could make them do that was their late master yet...

But like how all children could recognize a mother's scolding tone, their minds knew their masters reprimand by heart. So ingrained was their teaching that even with an entirely different body, they could recognize their master.

Zhihao, who had followed Liang Fei out, had to suppress his laughter at the situation. How well trained were these disciples that even in a different body, Liang Fei had such control over them.

He opened his mouth to comment but found the space where Liang Fei had been empty. Searching the area, he saw the man running over to the demon king fearlessly. A few hapless disciples tried to call out to him but were cut off by a wall of flames that kept them away.

All of this went unnoticed as Liang Fei ran into Xieren's arms, much to the surprise of... well, everyone, including Liang Fei himself.

Burying his face in his lover's chest, the elder felt mortified. He hadn't done such a childish thing since before his parents passed yet he couldn't stop himself. It had only been a few days yet... He had really missed Xieren.

Xieren had been furious before, seconds from razing the village to the ground yet seeing his beloved master run into his arms like this was just too much.

Ah, how can one man be so cute!?

Ignoring everyone around them, Xieren raised his master's head, capturing those lips he had yearned for in a deep kiss. The elder flinched in surprise before relaxing under the junior's touch.

This left everyone else in the awkward position of watching two men make out and feeling strangely envious.

Here they were, strong and capable cultivators but unable to find a lover who is even half as amorous as these two. Such cruelty! For the demon king to show off in this way, there was no other name better than demon for such a man.

Xieren didn't mind the audience, wanting to show everyone who this man belonged to. He was fully prepared to go further, his hands wandering to more intimate places but was stopped by his lover's embarrassed shouts.

"X-Xieren!" Liang Fei cried out, suppressing a moan as he felt his man kiss his neck. The evil bastard! His eyes darted around the area nervously. "Don't do that! What if people misunderstand?"

Misunderstand? The people around couldn't help but shake their heads at his words. Elder, you were kissing him back! What's there to misunderstand?!

Xieren, without missing a beat, nodded indulgently.

"En. I'll make sure there are no misunderstandings."

He then proceeded to wrap his arms around the man, glaring over the elder's shoulder with such a dark look, there was no doubt about their relationship. I t was an obviously possessive gesture but only one person remained unaware of the purpose.

Liang Fei was just happy Xieren in his arms. While he didn't want to like this man, he found himself feeling more than anyone else.

Who else's arms had he ever run in to? If there was anyone else but Xieren, Liang Fei was sure he'd be seen as too casual.

Unfortunately, his feelings took a back seat to the current situation.

"Xieren, what are you doing here?"

"Eh, What are you saying? What other reason would I be here but to save you?!"

Liang Fei felt a rush of happiness bloom in his chest at his words.

Ah, don't say things like that! He thought, looking away. You make it hard to keep myself from overthinking things.

"Thank you but I had everything under control." He assured, pressing a hand on Xieren's chest.

"Control?!" Xieren snapped, wanting to shake his master just then. "I was told you were being held hostage and they wanted to ransom you for my land."

"My apologies for making you worry so much about me."

Liang Fei truly felt guilty about the situation. He hadn't expected to be blindsided by a wolf in sheep's clothing.

"Why are you apologizing?! You did nothing wrong, Shizun." Xieren argued, caressing the man's cheek. "I would have come regardless."

"Xieren, I-"

"Ahem!"

The moment of intimacy was cut short with a loud and abrupt cough. All eyes turned to the source, a one Zhihao who had grown tired of being ignored.

There was only so much injustice we single dogs could tolerate.

"Elder Fang."

Xieren had no deep feelings about this elder, as he had both helped and hindered him throughout the years. It had been a long time since they'd seen one another but he showed a modicum of respect for only one reason.

He wasn't alone.

Liang Fei wanted to speak up, a bit embarrassed to be seen like this when he had just proclaimed that he didn't like Xieren.

Zhihao glanced at his friend. "Shidi, won't you introduce me?"

Liang Fei blinked, surprised. Did Zhihao not know about Xieren? With this in mind, he relaxed. He had no idea that the two knew each other. From his words, he assumed Zhihao had no clue that Xieren was the demon king.

Perhaps he could salvage this awkward situation.

"He is-"

"I'm Xieren, king of the demon clan and ruler of the darklands"

Eh? He was introducing himself like that? Liang Fei had assumed he'd use his alias or something but he chose to speak his true name? Why though? It would be dangerous if they were to travel into possible enemy territory

He couldn't fathom why his student would have done so.

Zhihao, on the other hand, knew exactly why the man had done so. Simply put, any alias he went by were magnitudes weaker than his true identity. Even if he was the bridge between the darklands and the land of cultivators, he was but a mere merchant.

As king of the demon clan, there were few who could overpower his authority. As such, fewer still would dare try and part him from his lover's side.

It was quite the power move and had it not been used against Zhihao, he might have laughed.

Liang Fei, on the other hand, remained unaware and could only sigh at his student's reckless decision.

Xieren stood with pride as he laid his arm around Liang Fei's shoulder. Despite the chaos of the situation, with fire erupting all around them and the still fearful villagers that cowered as their escape route was blocked by the king's men.

Liang Fei's previous assessment of the situation was very applicable right then. It became even worse as the demon king, in front of the cultivators that invaded his land and his own men, made a declaration.

"It is good that you arrived. You can send a message to sect Leader Shuren. It's a bit earlier than I planned but I would love to invite you and my distinguished masters to my wedding."

Silence fell as a single thought spread through the crowd.

Who in the world was he planning on marrying?!

***

Liang Fei flinched, not expecting the announcement.

Wedding?

Xieren was getting married?!

W-wasn't it too soon?! Too sudden?! He'd only been gone for a few days yet Xieren had already found someone else?

He bit his lip, suppressing the tears that threatened to fall as Xieren continued.

"Please, do invite the sect leader." Xieren's smile was neutral though his tone spoke volumes. "I want us to come to an understanding, so in the future, there won't be any incidents like this."

Zhihao cocked a brow at his brazen words.

Incidents like this? Wasn't it just you showing off in front of your love rival?

Zhihao was a bit surprised by Xieren's childishness. To go so far as to invite one's love rival to a wedding between him and their mutual crush...

Truly, the demon king was just as cruel as rumored.

Before either man could speak another word, Xieren continued. "We'll be leaving now."

"Eh?" Zhihao and Liang Fei turned to Xieren in confusion.

"W-we're going?!" Liang Fei argued, frowning. "Must we leave so soon?"

"Is there anything else here for us?"

Us? Why was there an 'us' in this conversation?

"I wanted to speak with Shixiong more. It has been quite a while."

Seeing his master's reluctance, Xieren growled. "You can speak with him at the wedding!"

Liang Fei flinched, not wanting to think about that.

With clenched fists, Liang Fei glared up at his student. "That isn't up to you, Xieren."

Xieren snarled, revealing his anger openly for the first time since arriving in town. Before this, he had been deathly calm, showing none his impatience even when faced with all the opponents around him. Yet those six words had the king fuming, leaving those around them fearful. They didn't dare move, lest they draw the kings ire.

Liang Fei, however, felt no fear. He knew Xieren would never harm him. They had long since drifted from their original roles as protagonist and villain.

At this moment, he knew Xieren was just upset he wasn't getting his way.

He wasn't one to spoil others when they were in the wrong but he couldn't continue this discussion in front of others. It would only cause trouble for his student.

He took a step away and bowed. "Bit as the king who has housed me, I will follow your command for now."

For now!? Since when has Shizun been so argumentative? All he wanted was to return to the castle with Shizun yet he argued so much. And for some other guy!

Zhihao found himself under a baleful glare, though he didn't have to look to know the source.

Why are you glaring at me?! He complained, sighing as he watched the two depart. It's not my fault your husband to be isn't like you, who clings and dotes endlessly.

Recalling how Xieren used to follow after Liang Fei like a puppy, all while growling at those who dared come close, he knew his Shidi had a hard road ahead of him.

***

Xieren and Liang Fei left by themselves, The men he'd taken with him were left behind, as they had a job to do.

A promise was a promise, after all.

He'd sworn he'd burn the village that dared to touch his beloved Shizun to the ground. He just didn't want to do it in front of his master. That man was too nice to know when to properly punish those who wronged him.

Liang Fei, on the other hand, was stuck dealing with his own dilemma. One that he could not overcome alone.

They'd be flying back it seemed.

Some distance from the village, a massive beast awaited them. It was strapped to a carriage that was nondescript and plain, nigh noticeable if one didn't pay close enough attention to it. There were no windows, which helped a bit but the fact they'd have to fly was setting the elders nerves on edge.

He'd usually try and sleep through a flight to have Xieren 'help' him but he couldn't do either because of the news he'd only just received.

Xieren was getting married.

It still didn't feel real. Liang Fei had only just touched on his (inappropriate) feelings for the man and now he found himself in such a situation.

He should be happy for Xieren. This is what he'd been expecting to happen sooner or later.

Yet the day came much sooner than he'd expected.

He glanced at Xieren, feeling a mess of emotions fill his chest.

This was for the best. He thought with a heavy sigh. I knew this was my role to begin with.

He followed his student into the carriage, his mind focused on hardening his heart so he could get through the flight without it being awkward. Upon entering, he noticed a curious thing.

The carriage was a lot bigger on the inside.

Rather than a cramped space, it ended up being a large room with sliding doors leading into a small bath and accompanying room. Despite the lack of windows, there was a sense of natural light that seemed to match the time of day.

Even better, as soon as the door closed, he couldn't even tell they were moving despite Xieren's command to the beast outside

Liang Fei felt a rush of adoration for his student just then that he had to tamper down lest he jump into his arms again.

That would be very unbecoming.

Yet he was then left with the awkward tension between him and Xieren.

He almost wished he could feel the ground getting further away. At least then, he'd have something to focus on aside from the silence.

Xieren said nothing, stomping over to the table nearby and pouring himself and his master a cup of tea. Catching the silent invitation, Liang Fei joined him.

Silence hung between them and neither really wanted to break it.

Yet Liang Fei being the elder, he chose to speak up.

"Xieren, are-"

"Shizun , I-"

Both men spoke, stopping to stare at one another.

"You go first, Shizun."

"It's been a while since you called me that." He mused, unsure how to feel about the change in address. He'd gotten used to being called 'Fei er' or just 'Fei'. Going back to 'shizun' felt like a wall had come between them,

He continued on. "I was just concerned. You were quite upset outside."

"Was I?" Xieren grumbled, angrily draining his cup. "Can't imagine why."

Xieren had been so happy before. He had found his master safe and even received a hug from the man. He'd been overjoyed.

Yet his mood was ruined when his master showed no concern about the danger he'd put himself in. Even worse, he insisted on Xieren leaving him with his would-be kidnappers.

As if Xieren was some kind of inconsiderate monster who would ditch his loved one at a moment's notice.

Realizing that his shizun seemed to see him in that light, he felt heartbroken.

In a rare moment of understanding, Liang Fei noticed his partner's mood and reached out to him. He had no clue why but seeing Xieren upset made him want to comfort the man.

"Hm?" Xieren glanced at Shizun as the elder placed a hand on his shoulder.

"Be clear. What are you so upset about?" He asked, confused. "I haven't seen you for a few days yet you act like this when we meet again?"

Xieren sat up straight. "I wouldn't be upset if Shizun was obedient and let me handle things."

"Obedient?" Liang Fei snatched his hand away, glaring at Xieren. "Did you forget who I am? We might be lovers at this moment but I am still your master and elder."

"Oh now we're lovers." He snapped back, smiling bitterly. "Strange since lovers would let them help when in need. Yet you rushed off on your own."

Xieren had been terrified when he saw Shizun was gone yet this man showed no remorse!

"I wasn't going to allow you to endanger yourself."

A hand slammed down on the table. "But you can?!"

"Yes." He was the elder, who else but he could do the job? He might have let silly feelings cloud his judgment before but he refused to forgo his duties.

Then again, he didn't manage to get anything done since he'd been captured but that was his own fault. If he could get stronger, he wouldn't have to worry about such things. Either way, he'd have made the same choice. Xieren leaving the capital when there was so much going on would harm his authority there.

A king wasn't meant to deal with every problem that came up. Otherwise, why would he need subordinates? Liang Fei was fine with being Xieren's subordinate for now. He'd had many roles in Xieren's life.

Brother.

Master.

Lover.

No, that last one would be ending soon, wouldn't it? Xieren had found someone while he was gone.

"Shizun?!" Liang Fei flinched, his thoughts interrupted by Xieren shaking his shoulders. Heterochromatic eyes were gazing into his own, mildly panicked. "Tell me what you are thinking right now!"

"Eh?"

"Your eyes." He continued. "I can tell you are thinking about something and coming to weird conclusions so tell me what you are thinking right now."

Was that how Xieren thought of him? As a strange person? Did that mean that the woman who had stolen his heart was a more normal person? How disheartening.

"I was just thinking of how to properly congratulate you."

"Congratulate?"

"The... wedding?" He reminded, his mildly bitter tone overlooked by his partner as he smiled.

"Oh, that!" Xieren brightened, his cheeks flushing a bit as he moved away. He looked very much like a nervous teen as opposed to a fearsome demon king. "Honestly, I felt a bit embarrassed to bring it up like that. I never even got around to asking you about your thoughts about it."

Xieren wanted his opinion? To ask his current lover about his future marriage... wasn't that a bit mean?

"I wanted to ask you first before letting anyone else know but I got so mad at Elder Fang for keeping you from me that I ended up blurting it out." He continued, glancing over at Liang Fei. "Are you mad?"

Ah! How can he be mad when Xieren looked at him like that? He looked so cute when he pouted like a wronged puppy.

Liang Fei's hands itched to pet the man.

But his will was strong and he resisted the urge. Instead, he chose to take Xieren's hand and intertwine their fingers. Hands with deep-set calluses from long days of training. Feeling it pressed against his smoother palm, was like an anchor.

It meant Xieren was real and here with him.

"I told you this many times yet you constantly have me repeating myself." He stated, pulling their interlocked hands to his lips for a gentle kiss. "I could never hate you."

Even if Xieren ended their relationship or even killed him, he felt he might still hold this man dear in his heart. He didn't know if this feeling was love or like. Maybe it was both. Either way, Xieren was the dearest in his heart.

Sensing a breakthrough, Xieren pressed his master down, looming over him. Keeping their hands intertwined, Xieren rained kisses all over his master's face and neck. This two-pronged attack rendered his beloved quite helpless as his weakness was exploited.

"W-what are you-"

"I feel like I've gotten closer to Shizun somehow." He explained, placing a kiss under the elder's chin.

"So you push me down!?"

"Is that not what I'm supposed to do?"

"Have I taught you nothing about romance?"

"Have you taught me anything?"

Liang Fei couldn't think of a response to that. Had he taught Xieren anything? He'd said he would but he just ended up basically dating Xieren without giving him any real advice. He'd been enjoying the time with Xieren, so he ended up forgetting his original purpose.

Ah, no wonder Xieren had lost interest.

The 'uninterested' Xieren continued to press his master down, rutting against him until those telltale sounds burst from his elder's lips. There was always a great sense of triumph when he got his master to cry out the first time.

Shizun was very stubborn, biting his lip whenever they made love. He could imagine the man thought the sound of a man moan was unappealing or something silly like that.

Xieren loved his master's voice and sought it out whenever he could. Now that Shizun was back in his arms, he promised himself to make up for the last few days and indulge himself.

He absolutely wouldn't allow his master to ever think of leaving his side again.

[Crack]

A faint sound interrupted their interlude. Xieren sat up, searching for the source as Liang Fei was left panting beneath him.

"Wha-"

[Crash]

The ceiling of the room collapsed, a form falling through and landing on the floor. No, landing implied that it was deliberate.

The form crashed onto the floor, groaning in pain as the dust cleared.

Xieren already had his sword out, ready to destroy whatever had snuck in. to have been able to get through his barrier without him noticing... It couldn't have been an ordinary person.

Liang Fei, however, recognized that groan.

"Suyan?"

From the dust, the young boy's features came into view. He coughed, blindly reaching for the table. Despite the tension, Liang Fei offered the boy a cup of water, much to Xieren's dismay.

"Shizun, what are you-"

Liang Fei didn't bat an eye as he stroked Suyan's back. "He needs water."

"He broke in! Don't give an intruder water!"

"He's a child."

"He broke through my barrier like it was wet paper! He's not a regular person."

"He's still a child."

Xieren felt like screaming. Why was Shizun being so unreasonable!?

"Why are you defending-" Liang Fei didn't pay more mind to Xieren, turning instead to Suyan who had emptied the cup.

"Suyan, what are you doing here?"

Suyan briefly glanced at Xieren, who was very openly glaring at him. He clung to Liang Fei.

"...I heard Uncle left with someone. I was worried." He mumbled, staring at the floor.

Were you now? Liang Fei wasn't convinced but didn't say it out loud. In all honesty, he was relieved Suyan had shown up when he did. With the way things were going, he was sure he was going to end up having sex with Xieren again.

He couldn't do that anymore. Xieren was engaged now. He had to be the adult though he was mildly disappointed in Xieren. What would his fiance think if they knew he was fooling around like this?

He would definitely have some words with Xieren later.

Xieren, fuming from the interruption as well as the sudden appearance of a mysterious new face, stormed over, dragging Laing Fei from Suyan.

"Who the fuck are you?!" He snapped, pointing his sword at the child. Suyan froze, fearful he might really die right then.

He really did just want to make sure Uncle was okay. Did he have to die because of that?!

"Xieren!" Liang Fei snapped, standing between them. "Stop it. Suyan has been my escort this whole time. He helped me."

"And allowed you to get captured." He snapped back, his gaze riveted on Suyan.

That much was true but he couldn't let Xieren know that or he might very well toss Suyan out the carriage to his death.

"He is a child." He argued. "How was he supposed to keep that from happening?"

"He's strong enough to get through my barrier in only two tries. He's not weaker than any of my generals." If anything, he was much stronger it seemed, since Xieren hadn't even noticed the child until he was trying to get through.

"I wouldn't let a child be my shield." Liang Fei replied, holding Suyan close. "Am I so weak in your eyes that I need a child to defend me?"

"Shizun..." Xieren was smart enough to know he was pushing things. While he wanted to argue, he felt that continuing would make things worse between him and Shizun.

He really didn't like how much they were arguing. It made him feel nervous for some reason.

***

In the end, the trio spent the rest of the night together. Since Xieren couldn't do as he wished, he was in a sour mood throughout the trip. The sun had set and the carriage displayed the natural light despite the lack of windows.

It was quite lovely.

Suyan, who had been resting his head on Liang Fei's lap as the elder read to him, yawned cutely.

"Are you tired?" Liang Fei asked, petting the child. Suyan nodded.

"Can I sleep with Uncle?" He asked, rubbing his eyes.

"No."

"Yes."

Xieren gave his master a bitter look as their words melted into each other.

Why was Shizun so fixated on this kid?! They'd been apart for so long yet he wouldn't let Xieren touch him. All night, he'd tried to hold Shizun's hand or sneak little kisses but was blocked every time. He'd even tried to be subtle, since he was sure his master just thought it was inappropriate to be so affectionate in front of a child but even then, he was rejected.

Now he wasn't even allowed to sleep in the same room as Shizun?

As such, Xieren absolutely despised Suyan.

Suyan felt that disdain and didn't bother to try and smooth things over. This guy really liked Uncle so there was no winning him over.

"Of course you can." The elder assured, petting Suyan like a kitten.

Xieren was left silently fuming. He really wanted to speak but felt that doing so would end up with him losing somehow. He didn't know where the feeling came from but he was wise enough to know when to listen to those feelings.

That and Shizun looked really... happy with Suyan. It had been a long time, so he'd forgotten how much Shizun seemed to like children. He had always been very gentle and caring toward them, though his lack of expression tended to scare them.

If any of them bother to look at him long enough, they'd see how expressive Shizun's eyes were. That he wasn't a scary stone-faced guy but a loving and sweet man.

Suyan, at the very least, wasn't scared of him. Smiling and listening to Shizun as he read aloud. While he disliked sharing Shizun with anyone, seeing his beloved happy was worth it, he supposed.

That didn't mean he was happy with the sleeping arrangements.

Liang Fei very deliberately placed Suyan between them, keeping his distance from Xieren. Was this punishment for being so demanding before? If so, this was just unfair!

“Shizun!” He grumbled, not wanting to make his master mad. He wrapped his arms around his master from behind, whispering into his ear. “I want to hold you. Just send the kid to the other room.”

”If I send him away, you’ll definitely take advantage.”

It wasn’t even a question, Xieren definitely would.

“I won’t.” He lied, tightening his hold. “I promise, I’ll just hold you. Nothing else.”

Liang Fei didn’t believe him one bit. If he did, would he need Suyan in the first place?

“Don’t argue. Let’s just sleep tonight, alright?” He countered, moving out of Xieren’s arms.

“But-”

“We can talk about this when we get home, okay?” He assured, caressing Xieren’s cheek before turning away.

Eye wide, Xieren mumbled. “Home?”

Shizun thought of that castle as home. To Xieren, it was nothing but a tomb to his heartbreak after having spent years alone. Yet hearing his masters words...

Perhaps it could be his home as well?

***

Liang Fei came to the realization that sleeping around a dream demon leads to some strange dreams.

Like before, he found himself in a grassy area with the afternoon sun warming his cheeks. He was laying underneath a large tree that nearly blocked out the sun.

How nostalgic.

How could he not recognize this place? This tree, it was the one the original Shao Liang Fei fell out of before the current Liang Fei took over. While it had been many years since he dared go near it, fearing something might happen so close to what one might consider a grave, he could never forget this place.

It had been the start of his second life.

Liang Fei closed his eyes, relaxing under the warm sun and enjoying the cool grass beneath him.

Was he now reminiscing because of how much things had changed? Or that things will return back to normal.

No, it would never be normal again. After everything, could he really go back to seeing Xieren as just a student? All the intimacy they’d shared, he couldn’t forget a moment, as he had loved every single one.

As if to solidify his thoughts, he heard a familiar grumble beside him. Liang Fei had assumed he was alone, since he’d died alone. Yet beside him, laying close to his side, was Xieren.

He sat up. “Xie-”

“Uncle?!”

Liang Fei turned toward the sound, seeing Suyan burst from the bushes. The child angrily brushed off the leaves, looking tired. Had he been looking for Liang Fei for a while?

“Suyan…” the elder glanced at the sleeping Xieren. “Is this your doing?”

The child pouted, following the elder's gaze before shaking his head.

“This is uncle's dream. There's not much I can do if you already started dreaming.”

But Xieren shouldn’t be here. Especially not as an adult.

“Then is he…”

Again, Suyan shook his head. “I don’t think that uncle can dream walk. Maybe Uncle just likes him?” He suggested, leaning up against the tree.

“No! M-my feelings for him are… p-purely professional!”

Ah, so in the adult world a professional relationship involved kissing? Suyan, despite being a smart kid, actually believed him. No, he didn’t think the relationship between the two uncles were purely professional. He wasn’t blind. He saw how affectionate that scary uncle was with his nice uncle.

No, he’d just seen enough dreams to know that even those in professional relationships shared a kind of intimacy that couples could only yearn for.

(AN: Suyan has seen many cases of unrequited love in dreams so he assumes all relationships can involve intimacy, sometimes more than actually couples.)

“More importantly, why are you here?”

“To talk to you.”

“About?”

Liang Fei’s cold tone made Suyan Flinch, having not expected it.

“I thought…” He mumbled, staring at the ground nervously. “Uncle didn’t seem to be mad at me about… everything, so I thought it would be okay to come with you. I didn’t mean to interrupt you and that scary Uncle!”

“Xieren isn't scary. He was just being petty.” Despite how things were, he felt he should defend Xieren. He was being very arrogant but it wasn’t an unlikable trait. “And you weren’t interrupting us.”

If anything, Suyan’s arrival had saved Liang Fei from committing adultery.

A glimmer of hope shone in Suyan’s eyes. “So Uncle… isn’t mad?”

“Mad?” To say Liang Fei wasn’t upset about Suyan’s betrayal would be wrong. He was kind but not ignorant. While he understood the why’s of it, he was still quite upset with the child.

His stare answered the child's question and he wilted.

“I’m… sorry.”

And like that, Liang Fei’s heart melted. How could he stay mad when he was making such an adorable expression?! Xieren had a similar look when he was a child, his pretty begging for comfort.

Liang Fei could never stay mad at something so cute~

Still, he couldn’t let it go completely, so he reached out to pinch the child's cheeks. As a demon, the mortal’s pinch didn’t hurt that much but it was shocking enough to have him cry out.

“I’ll punish you later.” He promised, continuing to tug on those doughy soft cheeks. “I’m not forgiving you that easy.”

Despite his words, he felt quite willing to forgive the child. He was clearly feeling remorseful. Otherwise, why would he allow him to shape his face in all kinds of shapes despite his bitter expression?

This child who was so reluctant to even receive a head pat let him pinch his cheeks just so he would forgive him.

How cute~

“But,” Liang Fei continued, surprising the child who had submitted to his mild punishment. “We still have things to discuss, don’t we?”

***

Xieren could sense that they were nearing their destination, even in his sleep. He opened his eyes, intending to reach over the brat to wake Shizun up. Yet his side of the bed was empty.

Had he finally rolled off the edge!?

Xieren jumped to the other side, all his jostling not even making Suyan grumble. The child was in a deep sleep but Xieren didn’t care.

Shizun wasn’t in the room.

Worried, Xieren followed his scent, relieved he was still in the carriage. Not that he could leave anyway. They were still in the air and Shizun's aversion to high places effectively trapped him.

He soon found him in the next room, lying on the ground. Moonlight shone down from the hole that brat had made, illuminating the room and Shizun.

Xieren smiled, thinking of how beautiful Shizun looked just then.

He quietly walked over, wanting to get close. To his surprise, his master was muttering to himself, which was odd.

“Three days seems like a bit of a hassle though… Maybe we can speed things up if we… No, it’d still be a stretch.”

“Shizun?”

Liang Fei’s eyes snapped open, staring up at Xieren who now sat beside him. How long had he been sitting there?

“What are you muttering about?”

It really was weird. Shizun wasn’t the type to mutter to himself. He’ll daydream but his interlude into his own imagination was silent.

“Ah, nothing.” He denied, sitting up. Having been lying down for a while, he felt dizzy for a second but Xieren caught him. Laying on his partner's shoulder, he sighed. “Actually, there was something I wanted to talk to you about.”

Xieren flinched, feeling nervous for some reason. Something about that tone didn’t sound good. Yet Shizun continued to speak.

“I wanted to wait for you to do this but I fear you might be feeling reluctant for whatever reason.” the elder said, leaning away so he could face Xieren. “I want you to know I will hold no grudge against you. I promise.”

“Grudge?” Was this about before? “What do you mean?”

Shizun bit his lip, looking as if he were readying himself for something intense. This only added to Xieren’s nerves.

“You… are getting married.”

Eh? Was it just that?

“Me?” He echoed, confused by the phrasing. Wasn’t it ‘we’? “It's not just me though.”

Shizun sighed. “I know. That's why I think it would be best to end things before we get back.”

Xieren froze, feeling his chest ache at his words.

Surely, he wasn’t saying...

“E-end things?” Xieren moved closer, trying to look into Shizun’s eyes but the elder avoided his gaze. He even moved away.

Xieren grabbed his hand, pulling him close until they were face to face.

“What things?” He snarled, baring his fangs. “Speak clearly or else I’ll misunderstand.”

He knew what shizun was saying. He’d anticipated it but it was too soon. He hadn’t even confessed yet so why…

Shizun, ever the cruelly kind man he was, reached out to stroke his cheek. Xieren rubbed against it, trying to ignore his trembling fingers and a racing heart.

“You’re right.” He said, his cool voice echoing in the empty room. With only the moon as their witness, he spoke the words to break a man’s heart. “Xieren, I think it would be best if we break up.”

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