Confrontation
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*****

Xieren stared Liang Fei down, his gaze unmoving as the elder paled with dread.

Who am I?

What exactly did he mean by that? Better question, why ask him in such a way?

Liang Fei felt like he was being cornered, making him want to run away. For the first time, he felt what others told him about Xieren. The pressure of being looked down upon.

Even when he had first returned and was attacked by Xieren, he didn't feel this nervous or scared.

"I..."

He had known this day would come but now that it was here... he didn't know what to say. Just knowing Liang Fei wasn't who he said he had made Xieren, who usually looked upon him with soft eyes, glare at the elder.

"Well?!" Xieren snapped, surprising Liang Fei with its sharpness.

"I..." He still couldn't bring himself to answer the question, his words trapped in his heart. He forced himself to ask a question instead. "How did you find ou-"

"Does it matter how I figured it out?" He interjected, scowling. "Just tell me the truth. Are you my Shizun?"

Or are you an imposter? Those words were left unsaid but Liang Fei knew that was the real question here.

"I...I'm not completely him but I am him." He replied, trying his best to remember how he had wanted to explain himself but drawing blanks.

This explanation, as expected, only confused Xieren.

"Stop talking nonsense and be clear. It's a simple yes or no question!"

"It's not simple!" Liang Fei shot back, frustrated at his own inability to explain himself right. "I don't know exactly what you mean." He tried again, hoping Xieren would understand. "Are you asking me if I'm Shao Liang Fei or the Shizun who trained you?"

All this got was a confused stare. "What difference is there?"

"I... I would hope there was a difference." After everything they had gone through, he had hoped his time as Xieren's master was enough to get him to understand. He had thought it was clear he was different from that other Liang Fei.

Xieren truly didn't understand what Liang Fei was saying, thinking he was trying to distract him or dodge the question.

Silence hung between them like a wall, making their own thoughts and doubts spiral without assurance.

Suyan, who had been completely forgotten as a third party, said nothing. This was a matter between them, he was but a mere bystander who didn't understand everything, even after seeing the king's memories.

"I just-" Xieren started before clenching his teeth. His head was pulsing with pain. His mind was still scattered, trying to piece everything together.

While he could now recall everything, it felt out of order. Green-eyed Shizun was definitely an old memory but when had that man's eyes changed?

When was it?

He groaned, feeling like his head was about to split open.

"Xieren!" Liang Fei jumped to his feet, moving close to touch Xieren. He sought to give comfort and express his concern, as he had no idea why but Xieren looked to be in pain.

Yet Xieren swiped his arm at the elder, rejecting his gesture with a pain-filled glare.

"Leave." Xieren growled, looking away from the man.

Liang Fei stared back at him, unable to speak a word. He felt a stab of pain in his chest when he was rejected but those cold words twisted that knife ever deeper.

"X-Xier-"

"I said, leave!" He roared, scaring Liang Fei away as he stumbled back. Suyan hid behind the elder, knowing better than to stay behind.

"Father, we should-"

"Shut up and leave, both of you." Xieren ordered, his tone making it clear there was no arguing. "I can't deal with all this if you are going to be like this."

Liang Fei flinched, realizing he had made a mistake.

He let out a shaky breath and bowed his head.

"My apologies, your majesty." He said, turning for the door. "I apologize for disturbing you."

Liang Fei had secretly hoped Xieren would call him back, and tell him he could stay. Just so he could have another chance to salvage the situation but no words came until he got past the threshold.

"We'll be discussing this later." These were the last words the king said before the doors slammed close behind Liang Fei.

The elder shuddered, feeling a sort of dread he'd never experienced before.

This had gone much worse than he had thought.

He had come by in hopes of clearing the air yet his mouth had made things worse!

Why?! He had surely made a script on how to tell Xieren about this. It was concise and clear, so he wouldn't stumble over his words or come off as rambling.

Yet when he heard those words spoken, it was like a fantasy had been broken.

No longer was he Liang Fei, the Master of Xieren and a great cultivator.

No, the fantasy had broken long before now. The day he died, he knew he could no longer be that person. Even before that, he wasn't Shao Liang Fei.

He was merely an imposter wearing his skin.

He never realized how much he had grown to like being that person. Being someone that was looked up to and admired. He wasn't just another co-worker or classmate.

He was someone Xieren fell in love with for whatever reason he did.

If... If he wasn't that person, would Xieren still love him?

Suyan stood with Liang Fei for a while, frowning at the forlorn expression on the man's face. This man rarely showed his true feelings but just now, he looked ready to cry.

Grasping tightly onto the elder's hand, Suyan pulled him forward, dragging him as they walked down the hall.

***

Xieren laid back on his bed, regretting his decision to send Shizun away.

No, he might not be Shizun after all. He thought, scowling.

It was all so confusing!

Who was this person who shared his bed and had his heart?

Was it the green-eyed shizun who had changed his ways?

Or an imposter who took his form?

Or even worse, perhaps the man he had by his side was a third uninvolved person?

"Ugh!" Xieren groaned, trying to piece together his thoughts so he could think. It was like having all the pieces of a puzzle but not knowing what the image was supposed to be.

Which piece came first? Was the piece in his hand even part of the original puzzle?

It was all so confusing!

Most of all, Xieren wanted Liang Fei here beside him to help him. To hold him and just... just talk to him.

To tell him what was on his mind at that moment.

When Xieren had said those words, he saw a look of shock but what else was there? Even after all this time, that man was hard to read.

Was it regret? Guilt? Sadness?

If he could just...

He sighed, closing his eyes.

There was no point in trying to do any of that. Shizun or Liang Fei or whoever it was he spent so much time with was not someone Xieren could guess the thoughts of.

That man was stubborn and always coming to strange conclusions on his own. The best way to figure it out was just to ask him.

But Xieren also needed time to sort his thoughts out first.

While he yearned to have Liang Fei by his side, it would only make things worse.

Just one evening. He promised himself, pressing himself against Liang Fei's pillow. Just one night.

***

Liang Fei woke up in an unfamiliar bedroom. If not for how often he found himself in strange places, he would have panicked.

He sat up, looking over the room.

It was a child's room, filled with toys tossed about and clothes on the floor.

This is definitely not my room. He thought, peeking over to the other side of the bed. There, buried in the covers, was Suyan. The child was snoring softly, looking relaxed and calm.

Without much thought, Liang Fei crawled over, gently shaking the child's shoulder. "Suyan?" He called out gently. The snoring continued. "Suyan, it's time to get up."

"Later." He grumbled, his words half-muffled by the pillow he clung to.

Liang Fei cocked a brow, his own desire to sleep echoing Suyan's. He too wanted to sleep in a bit longer but there were matters to discuss.

"Father needs you to wake up so we can talk about last night." He tried again.

The situation was strange and Liang Fei's words were even stranger. It was a good thing the two were alone lest there be misunderstandings about the relationship between this supposed father and son.

As if sensing the unease Liang Fei's words would elicit, Suyan's eyes snapped open, glaring up at the elder.

"I really wish father wouldn't say such confusing things." He sleepily grumbled. "I don't wish to get between you and that uncle."

That man is scary already so I don't want to be troubled any further. The child thought, crawling out of bed.

Liang Fei frowned, not sure what he meant just now. Had Suyan been older, Liang Fei might have understood but such thoughts could never occur to him when facing a child.

Suyan looked the elder up and down before sighing. "Father looks terrible."

It was clear that Liang Fei had had a hard night. His eyes were deep with dark circles under them. His skin, generally a bit tan, was pale under the morning sun and lacked a bit of bounce.

Liang Fei had spent most of the night hating himself for failing to speak properly.

If only he could recall the script he'd written. Or better yet, just speak more clearly.

He saw each part where he'd made a mistake and screamed at the memory like he was watching a TV show. Yet the mistakes were set in stone and couldn't be changed no matter how much he complained.

As such, he got very little sleep.

"So do you." Liang Fei counter, tapping the child's cheek with a finger.

Suyan had slept just as badly. While he disliked Xieren for various reasons, he knew that his father liked that guy for whatever reason so he felt guilty for inadvertently causing trouble for them. While that uncle was the one to ask him, perhaps he could have waited a bit so he and father could talk about it first.

It turns out that neither of these adults bothered to talk to each other about stuff beforehand.

They both sighed, feeling exhausted from the little sleep they got the night before.

"About last night," Suyan started, staring at the ground. "I only did it because that uncle asked."

The realm of the unconscious, the land of dreams really, was vast. There were numerous minds floating in that void, so many that it outclassed the number of stars in the sky. Sometimes, he thought they couldn't all live in his world and that they existed much further than anyone could reach.

While he was definitely aware of the scale, he never paid it much thought. It was like looking out at the night sky. It was vast, obviously but why ponder it any further? It was much bigger than you so it was impossible to imagine how far it went. He was content.

At least until today.

To unravel the bonds of uncle's memory, he had to look at that vast expanse for the first time and...

He wasn't alone.

There was something else there. Something huge but not. It encompassed the mind scape but to say it was big would be inaccurate.

It was like air. All around you but you could feel it.

Suyan felt whatever that was watching him as he dispersed the fog around uncle's memories. It didn't feel malevolent but it left Suyan a bit scared.

He really didn't want to go that deep into the dreamscape again.

Trembling at the thought, Suyan crawled into Liang Fei's arms, burying his head in his chest. While he still smelled a bit like Uncle, the faint smell of Liang Fei lingered, comforting the child.

Liang Fei had no clue why Suyan was acting this way but wrapped his arms around the boy anyway. It was clear he was still a bit rattled.

That and it gave him an excuse not to go find Xieren.

He still felt nervous about telling the truth to Xieren. The man had been furious last night and Liang Fei wasn't sure how to respond to that. He wasn't used to Xieren being angry at him.

It was scary.

He had gone there expecting to settle any misunderstandings between them yet more came about to complicated things.

Who knows what Xieren thought about all this!? Would he think he was a fake and banish him? Or maybe try to exorcise him, since he would be a spirit? He wasn't sure what would happen since his current body is his but...

This was a world of cultivation where people flew on swords and fought mythical creatures. Who knows what they could do to a man barely past the Golden core stage!

"I'll deal with it." Liang Fei finally said, his voice heavy with dread. "It's not your fault, Suyan."

The child felt like he was being lied to but said nothing about it, unsure how to respond.

Deciding that the matter was done, they both got dressed, with Liang Fei helping Suyan with all the finer details. Suyan was used to wearing just a layer or two so all the fancy clothes were a struggle for him. Worse, he refused to ask for help so he chose to wear less despite it not being seen as 'proper'.

"Father, do I have to wear this?" Suyan whined, looking at the various shades of blue he was wearing. "It's so... not cool."

"Blue looks better on you." He insisted, bundling the child up so he wouldn't get cold.

"But red is cooler!"

"Do you wish to look like a pimple?"

"Ew, why do you have to make it sound like that?"

"Am I wrong?"

"...N-no, but-"

"If you don't want to look like a pimple, listen to father." Liang Fei concluded, satisfied with his finished work.

The exchange was short but eased the tension that had been hanging over them throughout the night. By the end of it, an adult and child pair exited the room looking stunning.

Suyan, with his pale hair, was well matched with light shades of blue making him resemble a clear sky. On a dreary chill morning like this, he was a welcome sight. Liang Fei, on the other hand, matched the sky with his colors, his robes a soft shade of gray. It was simple but complimented his good looks.

In contrast, the man walking up to them, dressed in dark colors, was just as eye-catching. The mood he exuded was in stark contrast to the cool and mild aura that came from Suyan and Liang Fei. Many people noticed this and wisely made themselves scarce.

Suyan hid behind Lf, scared this man would get mad at him. Yet despite his attempt, Xieren was still glaring at the child, though mostly because he was so shamelessly clinging to his Shizun.

Fake or not, Liang Fei is still mine. He thought, wanting to drag the child from the elder.

"Good morning, your majesty." Liang Fei greeted, showing his respect. Xieren scowled, hating how formal he was being.

"Your majesty?" He snarled, taking a step forward. Suyan stepped back but Liang Fei remained where he was even as Xieren stared down at him. "Has so much occurred that we have come to this? Am I no longer your Xieren?"

"Your majesty is still mad so I don't dare show such disrespect." He replied, showing no outward reaction to Xieren's proximity.

"I'm not mad." He assured, though Liang Fei didn't look convinced.

"You are glaring at Suyan."

"Suyan is clinging to you like a child" Xieren explained, peeking behind the elder at the child.

"He is a child."

"Is he yours?"

"Does he have to be?"

Liang Fei honestly didn't understand why Xieren was so fixated on Suyan. If anything, Liang Fei had more reason to dislike the child but he'd chosen to let it go. Yet despite Xieren not knowing about all that, he was always so antagonistic.

Liang Fei let out a huff, reaching up to grab Xieren's chin to face him. There was a brief moment of shock on his face before he smiled.

"Is Shizun yearning for my gaze so much he won't let me look at even a child?" He teased, smiling softly.

Liang Fei's heart jumped, only now realizing what he'd done. He tried to pull his hand away but Xieren grabbed it and held firm.

"Don't pull away from me." He pleaded, pressing a kiss to Liang Fei's exposed wrist. "Whoever you are, I don't want you to treat me like a stranger."

Ah, he's giving that intense look again!

Liang Fei looked away, trying to calm his racing heart. How was he supposed to be the mature one when Xieren gave him such feelings. His brain was melting, wanting to kiss him just this second.

They couldn't just do that! They were clearly fighting, right? Surely fights led to conflict and then break ups yet Xieren just kept getting closer, wrapping his arm around his waist and-

"What do you think you're doing?" Liang Fei snapped, surprised to see that he was now in Xieren's embrace. His legs dangled off the ground as he pressed into Xieren's chest.

Then the man had the audacity to smile.

"If I let you decide things, we'll never get close again." He stated, looping his arm under Liang Fei's legs. "So I have to be the proactive one and embrace you."

"I-" Liang Fei couldn't really argue with that but it was still embarrassing. Xieren stared up at the elder, noting the slight flush on his ears, and let out a breath.

Without a word, Xieren carried Liang Fei away, leaving the long-forgotten third person standing alone. While he was upset to have been ignored, he was relieved that father and uncle seemed to be getting along this morning.

"Perhaps I won't have to go along with Father's ridiculous plan after all." He sighed, leaving to have breakfast.

***

Xieren carried him into the library, allowing them the solitude to talk without interruptions. He even placed Liang Fei on his favorite couch, letting the elder's legs drape over his own. It was the position they usually sat in whenever they read together.

Liang Fei said nothing, trying to think of how to approach this subject. Should he start from the beginning? But which beginning? His first life before entering the novel or when he took over Shao Liang Fei's body? Or should he tell him that the world is a novel? About the gods or systems?

Where to even start!?

Seeing the look of concentration on his master's face, Xieren chuckled, wanting to kiss him again but resisting the urge. If he kissed him now when he was looking so cute, he'd press him down until no words could be spoken.

There were things to discuss first.

"Liang Fei."

The elder flinched, not used to hearing his own name from Xieren's lips. Violet eyes met Xieren's heterochromatic eyes in response.

"You know I love you, right?" Xieren continued, holding Liang Fei's hand.

"..." After a moment, Liang Fei nodded. His ears were still flushed even though his expression looked calm.

W-why was he starting with that?! Liang Fei wondered, greatly confused.

"I admit, I was a bit harsh with you last night and I apologize for kicking you out." He said, lowering his head in remorse. "My thoughts werre still very confused and I took it out on you but that's no excuse. I should have waited to ask you first instead of snapping at you."

Liang Fei said nothing, not sure what to say. He wasn't expecting an apology as he felt it was a perfectly justified reaction. To learn that the man who one slept and ate with every day wasn't who he said he was, how could one not be angry? Sure, Liang Fei had implied it himself but that made it worse, as he willfully kept it a secret and even dared use it to distance himself.

Those who wouldn't be mad should be seen as saints.

Yet Xieren apologized.

Liang Fei felt like hugging him just then, just so he could express his love for this man. Yet his hands were still being held hostage, as the king of the demon realm and all who resided within bowed his head and pressed a solemn kiss to Liang Fei's fingers. The gesture was filled with reverence and remorse.

Xieren peeked up at the elder through his eyelashes, looking like a regretful puppy seeking forgiveness.

"Do you forgive me, Liang Fei?"

Ah, even the demon king can be so cute! Liang Fei had to bite his lip to keep from voicing his joy. Ah, my Xieren is too perfect!!

After a whole minute of Liang Fei internally screaming at how precious his Xieren, he regained his composure and replied softly.

"It's nothing to apologize for, Xieren." He assured, intertwining their fingers. "I... I just didn't know how to tell you the truth and was scared you'd hate me for lying."

"Shizun or Liang Fei, you are the man I love!" Xieren proclaimed, his eyes bright with passion. "I only want to know more about you. If you are someone else, then I want to know that person rather than call out another man's name instead."

The thought that he had been calling out the name of a stranger disgusted him but he needed to know from this man first. Anyone else could lie but to Xieren, this man's words were always the truth.

Liang Fei felt like his head was full of fluff. Such nice words to say to someone who admitted to lying. Just how forgiving was Xieren?

Perhaps... Perhaps he wouldn't lose this person by telling the truth?

Summoning up all the bravery he could, Liang Fei tried to speak the words hidden in his heart.

"I could try but it's difficult to explain and I don't know where to start."

How about your name, your real name?"

"...Liang Fei is my name." He admitted. "Han Liang Fei."

Xieren blinked, confused. "Not Shao?" Liang Fei shook his head and Xieren took a minute to ponder this.

So Shizun's real name and that other person were the same. No wonderYao Da saw his previous words as a lie. His real name is the same but different surnames. How interesting to learn of such an interesting weakness to that woman's inherent lie detection.

"I see." Xieren muttered, nodding with understanding.

So his surname was 'Han' rather than 'Shao'?

How nice~

Han Xieren?

Xieren tried it out a couple of times and found that he liked it. The thought of taking a surname had never occurred to him before but the thought of sharing a name with his beloved was bound to drive him crazy. He loved it.

"I'll be sure to make it known who you really are, Shizun."

"O-oh, that's not necessary!" Liang Fei insisted, shaking his head. "I accepted that I might have to be SLiang Fei forever. I was him for almost 5 years so I don't mind it if only you know my real name."

If it allowed him to stay by Xieren's side, Liang Fei was willing to cast his name aside forever.

"Shizun..." Xieren sighed, his love seeming to increase despite this man doing little. But something stuck about his statement. "Wait, what do you mean 'you were him'? What happened to SLiang Fei?"

Ah! This is where things get a bit complicated.

"Your master, Shao Liang Fei, died a long time ago. I just... took his place." He explained, feeling the words flow surprisingly easily, despite his nerves. In fact, even as he told Xieren about SLiang Fei's death, the man laughed out loud.

"He fell off a tree branch?!" He cried, laughing uproariously. "The magnanimous and talented SLiang Fei who was envied by the sky and breeze died in such a ridiculous way!? How fitting!"

In spite of his laughter, his eyes burned, filling with tears. Liang Fei said nothing, holding Xieren close as he laughed and cried. The shaking of his shoulders, perhaps they were truly sobs but Liang Fei wisely didn't ask.

This wasn't his fight.

Xieren was trying to truly come to terms with what was said.

Shao Liang Fei had died.

He hated that man. That bastard, with a smile and kind words, had made Xr think he was a good person. He picked him up from the streets, took him to a sect and just when he thought he could believe in people again, kicked him down and bullied him. While the memories were vague, he remembered the taste of mud when he was pressed down by that bastard. He remembered the disgust in his eyes when Xieren, confused and scared, pleaded to see him, to ask why he was being treated so badly.

Those cold and hateful green eyes that stared down at him like he was nothing.

He had believed in that man, believed the lies about having a better life as long as he followed that noble cultivator.

That fucking bastard.

Xieren would never admit it out loud but he truly did care for that bastard. He was the first person Xieren had trusted and believed in. His words had spun a tale of honor and righteousness. It just turned out that those traits could never be attributed to that bastard.

Yet, at some point, he had become another person. Someone who did exemplify all those traits Xieren thought was just empty words.

He was the mysterious man who'd rescued him in the forest.

He was the man who cooked a pot of soup so spicy it rendered most to choking sobs.

He was someone who gave head pats freely to everyone but Xieren.

Xieren lifted his head, his lashes still wet with tears. Liang Fei said nothing about them, carefully wiping them away. When his palms brushed Xieren's cheek, the junior nuzzled into them, smiling with fondness.

Ah, he really loved this man and his tender caresses. It was strange to think there was a time he'd rejected such things just because he had that bastards fac-

Wait a second!

He suddenly recalled the day Shizun had saved him from those bullies. He had tried to touch his cheek and-

I slapped him away.

When he asked to confirm, the elder nodded, mildly confused by the sudden change in subject.

"En, Xieren clearly didn't like me touching him so I had to resist the urge to pet you constantly." The elder lamented, sighing. "Xieren was so cute back then.

So... so the reason he never got his long desired head pats... was because he himself told the man not to!? He had even told that man he disliked being touched to his face!

He cursed his younger self for damning them to a self-inflicted torment. All those times other people got to be petted, it could have been him had he just shut his damn mouth!

Liang Fei watched Xieren seemingly lament over something but he couldn't be sure why. He didn't seem to be upset to learn his true identity.

That much was a relief.

He had expected more questions honestly but this was going out... much better than anticipated. Perhaps he had over-thought things before.

Had Xieren heard these thoughts he would have shaken the elder screaming 'you always overthink things! Every damn time, you make things so much more complicated than they have to be!!'

With this in mind, Liang Fei reconsidered his original plan. He had wanted to avoid this conversation entirely and proceed with his goal of regaining Shao Liang Fei's abilities with Suyan's help. It would require him to be comatose for a few days but he had thought that by then, Xieren would have calmed down and they could talk.

Yet his plan went awry when on his way to get a quick breakfast, they were intercepted by Xieren himself.

So his plan didn't even have the chance to come about.

Yet he still wished to proceed with it.

While he was happy Xieren and he had reconciled, there were other things that had to happen. He was still too weak to be by Xieren's side properly. Xieren might be content to protect him but Liang Fei was not only a man but his elder and lover. It was shameful to be so helpless in front of his partner.

So he had to regain his strength first and foremost.

The downside is that he couldn't tell Xieren. Not only because he'd insist there was no need but he'd most definitely try and stop him. He wasn't sure what to expect going into the realm of dreams but he was sure it wasn't a simple thing. Suyan had knocked him out with a mere look and he'd suffered a migraine ever since despite it only being a minute.

He was sure being there for days would render him bedridden.

Knowing Xieren, he would seek to either stop or come with him.

The former was inconvenient but the latter was out of the question. Xieren was a king. He had already left his station for however long to retrieve him from the border. With how chaotic things had gotten, Xieren couldn't dare leave for a long period of time.

At the very least, Liang Fei's body was still in the castle so there would be less for Xieren to worry about when he left.

Xieren had been watching Shizun for a while, frowning. He looked to be pondering something but that was what worried him most. Shizun had his 'my thoughts are not congruent with reality' look. God knows what he was thinking just then.

In his heart of hearts, Xieren was scared of what conclusion this man had come to.

"Shizun?" He asked warily.

"Hm?"

"What are you thinking about right now?"

"Hm... Nothing really." He answered vaguely, increasing Xieren's worries. "Things?"

Things? What the hell were 'things' when it came to Shizun? 'Things' could be as simple as what to eat for dinner or as complex as his reasoning on why he does anything. Such a noncommittal answer was only going to make Xieren feel more anxious!

Perhaps there were still more things Shizun was keeping from him?

"Does it have anything to do with why you and Xuejie smell similar sometimes?"

That wasn't what he expected to be asked but Liang Fei didn't correct him.

"That isn't my secret to tell." Though it was interesting to learn they smelled similar at times. Perhaps because they had both encountered systems?

"Funny. He said the same thing."

"We are allies, so it is to be expected."

"Then will you tell me your secret?" Xieren asked, leaning in closer. "I know there are still things you are keeping from me."

Ah, so it was obvious then? Liang Fei thought, a bit upset he wasn't hiding his thoughts as well as usual. Then again, it was Xieren so it was fine.

"You might-" The elder stared to say but was cut off by Xieren.

"Were you not the one who told me those words?"

"Those words?"

"You told me so many times that you can't hate me." Xieren reminded him, staring deeply into the elder's eyes. "Despite everything, you don't hate me, right?"

No, I probably love you. He thought, nodding. Still, his words remained within him, not daring to part his lips to let them slip through.

"I want to know how you feel." Xieren confessed, wanting more than just his secrets just then.

"How I feel doesn't-" Liang Fei started before biting his tongue. He couldn't say that. Liang Fei really wanted them to part on good terms. He had no idea how long it would take to complete the spell so it was best to keep from getting into another fight.

But how should he proceed?

Xieren watching him, knowing he wasn't going to get the answer he wanted from the man.

Again.

He sighed, laying his forehead on the elder man's shoulder. It was very clear what was happening now.

Shizun was hiding something.

He wasn't sure what it was but Xieren was feeling anxious. The previous incidents made him feel like he was about to lose his mind. Whether it was them 'breaking up' or Shizun leaving on a dangerous journey, it always started with this man hiding something.

So he had to pry the thoughts from this man's head but Shizun was more stubborn than he looked. If he didn't wish to say it, how could anyone get him to speak? Even Xieren hadn't figured out how to do it.

It was only when he was cornered that Shizun even considered speaking his mind.

A thought occurred to Xieren, blooming like a weed in a pristine garden.

Could he...

It was risky and might complicate future plans but if it got Shizun to give in, perhaps it was worth it?

He peeked up at the man, his expression unreadable as mysterious thoughts circled about in his head. Whatever they were, it was surely something that would make Xieren feel lonely and anxious.

This was the man he fell for so he had to act in drastic ways or else nothing would improve.

He could only hope... that Shizun truly meant it when he said he couldn't hate Xieren.

***

In spite of his lack of an answer, Xieren didn't press the matter, departing for a meeting. Liang Fei was a bit disappointed but nodded anyway. He had his own affairs to take care of.

Mainly, how to regain his strength and not have Xieren mad at him upon his return.

The latter was impossible to avoid but the former was easy.

He'd need Suyan to take the last step. He wasn't sure if his current strength would be added on top of his previous abilities but regardless, as long as he was strong, there was nothing more important.

Only then could he be of proper use to Xieren.

Anticipating Xieren insisting they sleep together tonight, Liang Fei decided to just go along with his original plan a bit earlier. As such, he needed Suyan.

The sun was well over the sky by the time Liang Fei began his search. Unfortunately, the castle was huge and no one seemed to know where Suyan was. As he was wandering about, he spotted a strange sight.

Xuejie lying on the ground in the middle of the courtyard.

Liang Fei: ...?

"Xuejie?" He called out, but was met with a weird hiss. "Xuejie, are you alright?"

"Hot!" He grumbled, rolling over in the snow. "It's too hot!"

"Are you running a fever?" Liang Fei asked, reaching out to touch the man. Ally or not, Xuejie was still a student of his. How could he not be concerned?

"Don't touch!" Xuejie hissed, glaring at Liang Fei. Before Liang Fei could even respond, the man's head snapped in another direction. He smiled, like he was a drowning man who had spotted dry land.

Following his gaze, Liang Fei spotted He Qing walking along one of the upper floors. He didn't seem to notice the two of them below.

Liang Fei was about to ask Xuejie if he needed a doctor but found the spot he'd been before empty.

"Gyah!"

Up above, Xuejie had jumped from the ground floor to the upper floor, tackling He Qing and embracing him in a very friendly manner. While He Qing didn't look too bothered, he did complain loudly about it, saying stuff like 'we can do this later' and 'let me at least finish working first!'

Liang Fei only watched this for a moment before moving on. He was curious about what they were talking about but didn't pry. He put it out of his mind, not wanting to misunderstand anything.

Xuejie was a very friendly person. Hugs were his primary form of greeting people so it wasn't strange for him to do so. It was wrong for him to assure anything just because he and Xieren were lovers.

Xuejie was very into girls after all.

After that brief interlude, he managed to find Suyan in the stables, playing with Fluffy. The cat-faced beast meow-growled at Liang Fei, greeting him as he walked in. Suyan was laying on its head and neck, seemingly content to stay there.

The child noticed the elder's entrance and smiled.

"Father, your back!" He cheered, reaching out to hug the man. "I was worried that uncle was bullying you!"

He was so mad the night before, Suyan was a bit worried. He didn't trust a man who changed moods so quickly. He might have acted all loving this morning but what if he got mad again? Who would defend father?

Liang Fei stroked the child's head, happy to see Suyan care about him. Their relationship was murky but he didn't dislike Suyan.

Yet he also knew Xieren would certainly get mad again once he learned what Liang Fei did without telling him.

Who said asking for forgiveness was easier than asking permission? He thought with a sigh.

Misreading Liang Fei's sigh, Suyan went on to ask.

"Do you think Uncle will let us keep Fluffy then?"

Why say it like that? If others heard, wouldn't it sound like some sort of divorce settlement?

"There's no need for that." He assured, feeling a bit nervous about such words. "Xieren and I made up."

"Oh? That's good I guess." Sy shrugged, not really caring as long as Liang Fei was happy. "Then we don't have to do 'that' as you said?

"No, we will proceed as planned."

Suyan said nothing, staring into Liang Fei's eyes doubtfully. Yet there was no sign the elder was second-guessing his choice.

He was going to do this.

"Are you sure about this, Father?" Suyan tried, thinking it might not be too late to change his mind. "This might take a while."

Liang Fei thought of all the things people whispered about him, both past and present. About his weakness and how much trouble he made for the king.

"It's... for the best." He couldn't bring Xieren down with his weakness.

"Father just doesn't want to talk to uncle." Suyan snorted, shaking his head.

Liang Fei couldn't argue with that.

Even though the two had spoken a lot today, there were still many things Liang Fei had yet to say. Things that would only help their relationship if said. Yet he still felt scared to do so.

"I-its... complicated."

No, it was actually quite simple.

He was scared.

Liang Fei had never truly loved someone, though he deeply yearned for it. Yet now that it was in front of him, he was terrified of what could happen next.

What if Xieren lost interest?

What if they fought again?

It was easy to say he would let Xieren go if he found someone new before he realized how much that man meant to him. But now...

Now he was sure he'd make a scene.

It would be disgusting, he was sure. An old man clinging to a younger man who no longer wanted him. He'd seen many scenes like that in his previous life. Nasty breakups with the dumped party making a fool out of themselves to get someone who didn't want them anymore.

It would be mortifying for Xieren to be associated with such a person.

Would he be looked at with disgust? With hatred?

How could anyone take it? To see someone they love look down on them. To be seen as pathetic for clinging onto the hope that if you just compromise or beg, that person will reconsider their decision.

It was scary.

So he could only think of one solution. The one he used in his previous life whenever his insecurities would flare-up.

He'd make himself useful so as not to be abandoned.

When he'd seen his aunt and uncle work themselves to the bone to feed the two children they'd picked up, Liang Fei did all the housework, wanting to give something back to them. Whenever XT got into trouble, Liang Fei helped him despite all the problems that came about.

All of this so he could stay with them and not be a burden.

He often felt unfulfilled himself, unsure if those people were merely tolerating him in spite of his efforts. His co-workers certainly seemed to feel that way as they mocked him behind his back but he could only hope his family understood his intentions.

He felt somewhat assured that if given the choice, they would want him to be with them.

Now he had to do that with Xieren.

Trying to claim him would be selfish. Liang Fei was weak and useless to him. Why would he want to be with him? He could sleep with, read books and eat meals with anyone. But Liang Fei couldn't fight by his side or help make his work any easier.

While Liang Fei couldn't do the latter, the former was the least he could manage.

Only then would he not feel so bad staying with Xieren.

"I'm doing this for Xieren." He finally said, only half lying. Suyan didn't look convinced.

They left the stable, returning to Suyan's room since they needed to be near each other for this to work. Suyan was his guide after all.

"All you need to do is fall asleep." Suyan said, struggling to remove his daytime clothes. Eventually, Liang Fei decided to assist, much to the child's chagrin. "I'll enter your dreams and help guide you to the spring."

Once there, he and the Shuizhi stone would have to be submerged in the water. The ritual requires another person present to prevent the person submerged from drowning.

"I can drown in a dream?"

"Of course! Haven't you ever had a dream of drowning before?" Suyan explained, crawling into bed. "The mind is very easy to trick. If you think you are drowning, your body will respond as such. It's just that the panic usually wakes the dreamer up. But this time, you'll be in too deep to wake up, so you could really die if you're not careful."

That would explain why so few people managed to complete this ritual despite the opportunity. The last step was a pitfall.

Seeing the tension in Liang Fei's shoulders, Suyan spoke.

"I'm not going to let you die, father!" He assured, taking his hand. "Father has been good to me. I owe you at least this much, right?"

Liang Fei didn't have to take him in or protect him yet he did. He could have cast him aside, ignoring him even as they lived within the same walls yet he didn't.

Suyan was treated warmly and kindly, something he'd never felt before. Even the people he had chosen to help still spoke ill of him in their dreams and behind his back.

Yet Liang Fei was kind to him even in dreams. He dreamt of the three of them (Suyan hated he had included that uncle) living together as a family. He dreamt of introducing Suyan to a mysterious woman and man he claimed were also his aunt and uncle.

All of this for a child who sought to use him as a hostage.

How could he bear to let such a kind person die when he could do something about it?!

Liang Fei smiled a little, giving Suyan a hug.

"Thank you, Xiao-Yan."

"I still don't think you should do this." Suyan grumbled, burying his head in the elder's chest. "Father is strong enough already.

"How else can I stay by the king's side?"

If he wanted to be with Xieren and not embarrass him, it would be better to have the strength that is at least closer to his. Otherwise, Xr would feel the need to protect him.

What kind of shameless elder relied on their younger partner like that?

"What do you even like about uncle?!" Suyan snapped, wishing he could smack that king. It must be something that guy said that made father like this.

Again with the 'uncle' thing. Xieren is a king yet you dare call him uncle so easily. He thought with a sigh. Ah, children can be so willful~

"Xieren is... he's someone who means a lot to me."

That much is obvious. Suyan thought, rolling his eyes, feeling annoyed. Why else would you bother risking your life if you didn't like that guy?

"Yes, but why?" He pressed. "He's scary and mean."

"Hm..." Liang Fei stopped to think about it before replying. "That's true."

You're not supposed to agree! isn't he someone you like?!

"But Xieren is also very kind. And loving." Liang Fei continued, laying down with a sigh. "He's not like me."

"?"

"I'm... not the best at intimacy." He admitted, feeling self-conscious even as his words spilled out. "I have a basic idea what should and shouldn't be done but if asked to, I would have a hard time showing my feelings. And when I do, most don't notice."

Ah, with that stone face of yours, it's obvious why most would think he was emotionless.

Suyan could understand that. Even after spending so much time with father, he was still hard to read. If not for the gentle touches, he might have thought this man was uncaring.

And he had only bothered to pay attention for selfish reasons. Who's to say what others, who wouldn't even care enough to try and get near this cold-looking man, would see?

Suyan felt a rush of sadness at the thought.

"In my old life, I had only a few people who saw more than just my face. People I could freely love but chose not to. Because I thought I didn't have time. That there were more important things to focus on. That I could do all those things and then later, I could go out and spend time with them."

It was always later. But later never came.

Liang Fei's eyes grew heavy and his words slurred though he still felt like he was talking. The darkness came before he could identify when and swathed him in warmth. His mind faded and the sweet embrace of slumber took him away.

***

Xieren stared down at the duo lying side by side in bed. The fact that the other party was a child was the only reason he hadn't killed him yet but his rage didn't subside.

That was because the child's eyes were pitch black, staring blanking at the open air.

Xieren's fist clenched, the note in his hand crumbling to dust. Had it not been for this, would he have even known what this man was planning.

He clearly thought Xieren would forgive him for doing something so dangerous.

Dream demons were feared for a reason yet he allowed one in his head? Xieren had done so as well but he was strong enough to handle the backlash. His headache was the least of the side effects that he could have suffered.

One could easily die if not careful or strong enough yet Shizun still dared to make this attempt!?

He roared, shaking the room with his voice, yet the two remained asleep. Nothing would be able to wake them unless the dream demon was interrupted. Yet he couldn't do so since the brunt of the backlash would fall on Liang Fei.

So Xieren had no choice but to wait.

And just when he was about to start his plan. If he could have gotten here quicker, this man would have never dared leave his side for a moment.

But that wouldn't stop him.

Liang Fei was going to belong to him, heart, body, and soul. It didn't matter who he was before this. The day he took Xieren's heart, he was bound to him. Liang Fei would only be his.

"Now I just have to get you to accept it as well, Shizun."

***

Xuejie was sitting atop a grassy hill, the faint smell of grass and steel in the air. As he looked out, he could just barely see the edges of a large city. The buildings rose to the sky and glimmered like jewels in the sunset.

It was a beautiful sight he wished he could see more often.

No, to ever see.

His thoughts were interrupted by a faint whisper.

"You and father have such strange dreams sometimes."

"Who are-" Xuejie jumped to his feet, his hands reaching for his sword, only find nothing there. The jeans he wore didn't allow for a sword to hang there.

The person beside him, a white-haired child, looked him up and down. This person was dressed strangely but he was definitely him, right?

"Second uncle Xuejie?" He questioned, frowning a bit.

"...Oh, you're that kid Liang Fei picked up." Xuejie relaxed, sitting back down. As he thought about it, he realized this couldn't be real. He'd never seen such a thing in his previous life. Then this had to be a dream and if this kid was here then... "So you are a dream demon! Hm, that's interesting."

"...You don't seem surprised." Suyan was expecting something more animated from this guy yet he was weirdly calm about it all.

Xuejie shrugged.

"I saw through you when you tried to look like Liang Fei's and Xieren's kid." He explained, lying back to let the setting sun warm his skin. "There are only a few other options."

Were there now? Suyan wasn't convinced but that was none of his concern.

"You know a lot then." He muttered, a bit regretful he couldn't do anything more than slip into his dreams.

As if knowing what the child was thinking, Xuejie grinned, patting the grass beside him.

"So why are you here? Couldn't you have come to me in person?"

Suyan shook his head. Staring at the far-off buildings.

"No, your body is currently occupied."

"Occupied?" He echoed, frowning. For some reason, that didn't sound like he was just sleeping. But he had to be-

Before he could ponder this any deeper, the child continued.

"More importantly, Father needs me here so it's best I just relay my message this way."

"And that message is?"

"Father is going to be asleep for a little while because he is a coward." He explained, rolling his eyes. "Please tell uncle not to do anything stupid while I take care of things."

Xuejie had a lot of questions in response but saw that the child was already starting to fade from his vision. He didn't have time for 20 questions so he only asked one. The most important.

"What are you planning to do?"

At that, Suyan smiled, looking all the part of a demon.

"I'm going to give Father something to be scared of."

***** 

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