Spring Dream
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AN: Y'all might be wondering what witchcraft has made me make an update this quickly but the answer is simple. If I didn’t write this now, I’d lose this and I’d hate that. So treat for you~

*****

Liang Fei felt his consciousness fade and solidify. 

 He blinked, trying to focus on what was in front of him. He wasn’t sure when but he found himself walking down a city street. It was a familiar street. The one he always took to work and back.

The cold winter air stung his lungs but it wasn’t unpleasant. Winter was a beautiful time and one he actually liked.

Winter was quiet.

There weren’t crowds bustling about the streets like in summer. The animals that usually made noise were asleep or scarce, unlike spring. There were no sudden rainstorms that forced people impatiently indoors like autumn.

The world took a break and gave one a chance to breathe. 

Liang Fei walked silently, enjoying the sights around him. The mist escaping his lips as he breathed. The bare trees, coated in snow. The moon, alone in the sky with nary a cloud in sight.

I wish I could show this to Xieren. Liang Fei thought, resting on a park bench.

He briefly wondered why he expected to see that man at all before he felt someone’s gaze on him. He turned to find the source and could just barely see someone on the opposite end of the pathway. The darkness obscured them but Liang Fei could barely see the outline of long hair blowing in the wind.

They almost looked familiar but he was sure they’d never met befor-

“Teacher!?” Liang Fei’s head snapped toward the sound, the stranger leaving his thoughts as he stood to meet the younger man coming his way. 

Heterochromatic eyes gleamed under the lamplights as he brushed his short blue-black hair behind his ears.

“Xieren.” Liang Fei stood, walking to meet with the man. He reached up to brush the snow from his shoulders. “You should be more careful lest you get a cold.”

“Is that something you should be telling me?” He retorted, smiling as he let Liang Fei touch him freely. “If I left you alone, you’d surely get sick without realizing it.”

That had only happened once. He silently protested, though his face showed none of his feelings on the matter.

“I was waiting for you.” He replied instead, nodding with satisfaction at the snow-free shoulders before him.

At this, Xieren scowled. “Teacher, didn’t I tell you not to wait out here? It's dangerous at night.”

“It is for you as well.”

“That doesn’t matter! If teacher gets hurt, I-”

“That is none of your concern.” Liang Fei interjected, patting him on the shoulder. “I want to make sure you make it home alright.”

Xieren pouted, speaking with heavy reluctance. “Yes, teacher.”

So obedient~

“Also, why are you still calling me ‘teacher’?” Liang Fei asked, cocking a brow. “You graduated a long time ago and I’m no longer even a teacher.”

“Still, teacher is teacher!” Xieren said, staring into Liang Fei’s eyes. His iris seemed to darken with some unidentifiable emotion. “My beloved teacher…”

Liang Fei reached up, stroking the man’s head indulgently. It was so strange to think that just a few years ago, they had been student and teacher. That this man used to be his adorably rebellious student.

Ah, how time flies.

“Shall we go home now?” Xieren sighed, seemingly disappointed by something but saying nothing about it.

Home?

Ah, right. He and Xieren lived together for various reasons. Mostly because Liang Fei’s apartment had mysteriously suffered a leak and forced him to find somewhere else to stay. Luckily, he happened to meet Xieren at the hotel he was intending to stay at and his former student offered him a place to stay.

Truly, Liang Fei was very lucky to have bumped into Xieren.

Living with Xieren was… awkward at times since he insisted on walking around in little to no clothes. Liang Fei couldn’t complain, as he was a guest but it was still awkward. Especially since-

As his thoughts drifted, he felt a familiar sensation on his mouth. His eyes widened as he felt Xieren get closer, capturing his lips and slipping his tongue into Liang Fei’s mouth. The elder unconsciously moaned, his hands itching to pull Xieren closer in spite of his morals.

Random kisses like this were the reason he felt so out of sorts with this former student of his!

He pulled away, unable to escape the sudden embrace he was trapped in. He tried to slip out of Xieren’s arms but this man was surprisingly strong. Then again, Liang Fei’s main concern was if anyone saw them!

“Xieren, we’ve discussed this!” He scolded, looking around to check if there were any witnesses. “Greeting people like this will lead to strange misunderstandings!”

Xieren had apparently lived abroad for a while and picked up some strange habits. One of them being ‘kissing those who you're friends with’ and ‘sleeping together to bond’. Liang Fei didn’t want to make him feel unwelcome in his own house so he went along with it but doing it outside was too much.

Xieren stared down at him with an unreadable look. He often gave him this look but whenever pressed he’d smile and just claim he needed to try harder.

Liang Fei was just happy as long as he tried his best.

***

The dark edges of the void nipped at Suyan’s toes, trying to draw him in but the young demon remained firm. He had to stay focused or he'd be taken into the stream of consciousness that resided in every mind.

It wasn’t pleasant and it was very hard to escape from.

Yet despite the danger to himself, Suyan kept calm, staring into the tranquil spring in front of him. He sat on his hands and knees, his blackened eyes staring into the springs' shallow depths. Tiny fingers gripped the edge of the spring, the tips of his fingers submerged in the transparent water. From the tips, tiny thread could be seen extending deeper into the waters.

Below those waters was a sleeping Liang Fei, to whom he was attached via the threads.

No bubbles came from the man but he was not dead.

In the world of dreams, it was both simple and complicated to actually die. Truly, it all depended on the dreamer. Suyan was just acting as the guide.

Yet he dared to do more.

He wanted the man he called father to be happy. If he was happy with that damnable king, then he would help push them together. But this guy was way too stubborn for his own good!

The conversation from hours before came to mind, infuriating him once again.

Hand in hand, Suyan guided Liang Fei through the dreamscape, trying to avoid the pitfalls that sought to drag them both back into the realm of dreams. Traveling this way was dangerous but the quickest method.

Suyan refused to allow Liang Fei to procrastinate on talking to Xieren.

“You know that Uncle really likes you, right?” He argued, wanting to get Liang Fei to change his mind. “He has all this amazing stuff around him but it's only around you that he looks happy.”

“I’m glad.” Liang Fei replied, sounding unconcerned.

Suyan wanted the scream, confused by his words. Was he not listening?! He could easily die doing this yet he didn’t even think to turn back or even tell the person in question? 

How could anyone stand it!?

Father was way too careless with his relationship.

He was content where he was because he didn’t truly think his spot could be taken. The king loved him after all so why would he be replaced?

Liang Fei had been in control of the relationship from start to finish so he wasn’t aware of how much he took for granted.

So Suyan planned on taking that control from him.

It was killing two birds with one stone. His father would see the error of his ways and gain whatever it was he sought in the dreamscape. At the very least, he would know better than to be so insensitive to that uncle.

Suyan didn’t like the king but that jerk made father happy so he had to make sure they stayed together.

Though it turned out he wasn’t the only one with a plan like that.

***

Elsewhere, in the waking world, a pair of men walked down the hall. 

No, walking wasn’t the right word. Merely walking wouldn’t make the walls shake and the air feel thick with tension. Yet for all eyes to see, it looked like two men merely walking.

As soon as the pair disappeared behind the office door, however, the tension that had been building up exploded.

“Xieren!” Xuejie growled, looking more livid than he had ever felt since his rebirth. He’d been holding it in throughout their entire walk but he had to speak.

In spite of Xuejie’s clear anger, Xieren looked unconcerned. He walked to his desk, feeling Xuejie follow him, and waited for the explosion. 

He knew why Xuejie was mad.

“What the fuck was that?!” Xuejie snapped, glaring at Xieren. The king gave the man a withering look, one that warned against pressing too far.

“Is that any way to speak to your king?”

“King or no, we both know that this is a cruel thing to do!” Xuejie fearlessly snapped back, unwilling to give in this time.

Xieren’s eyes narrowed. “It's none of you-”

“No! I'm not going to sit around while you break Liang Fei's heart!” Xuejie shouted, stepping forward.

During a meeting with his trusted aides, Xieren had proposed using the wedding he’d boasted about before to expose a possible traitor. Since Xuejie had been tasked with investigating this matter, it was clear who the traitor was. Yet his idea was worrisome.

It would mean that he would be telling the world he was engaged to another, effectively reducing Liang Fei to either a concubine or worse, an abandoned lover.

None dared to find fault in the king so all the humiliation would fall onto Liang Fei. And knowing that man, he’d stay by Xieren’s side regardless.

All this just to pressure a confession out of their elder.

Xieren didn’t say why he was doing this all of a sudden but Xuejie knew him well enough to know that was his ultimate goal. Xieren had finally grown impatient enough to do something like this. If not for how it would harm Liang Fei’s reputation, Xuejie might have even suggested it himself.

Yet this wasn’t something one could simply brush off after the fact. No one would care if Xieren changed the narrative later. The more salacious rumor will stick to Liang Fei like an ink stain. Liang Fei would just look like some vengeful ex who tore apart a ‘proper’ engagement. All the goodwill he accumulated while living in the castle would be lost.

Xuejie wasn’t about to stand for such a thing if he could stop it.

“Your plan won’t work the way you think.” He tried to explain, not wanting to set Xieren off despite his own feelings on the matter. “This will only hurt him.”

“All he has to do is claim me.” Xieren said, looking away. “If he tells me he doesn't want me to marry that woman, I'll gladly toss her aside. I want him to be selfish. To disregard what is right and wrong and make it clear how he feels about me. Otherwise, I'll always be worried that the relationship between us is one-sided.” Xieren stared down at his trembling hand, a trace of fear in his eyes. “That Shizun remains by my side not because of love but some silly notion like obligation or tolerance. I would rather be hated than tolerated.”

He recalled that Shizun had once mentioned his desire to become someone who could live for himself as opposed to others. At the time, he was supportive but now worried if that would mean he was running out of time. 

He needed Shizun to confess or he’d go crazy with worry. That one day, Shizun would decide that he’d fulfilled his obligation to Xieren or that he’d find someone else.

He had hoped learning Shizun’s secret would ease the anxiety in his heart but it only made it worse. 

***

“Oh, it's the bosses wife again~”

Liang Fei’s face didn’t change as he heard the friendly voice of the front desk clerk. He always liked to tease Liang Fei. Just because he came by every day with lunch for Xieren, didn’t mean they had such a relationship.

If others heard, it was bound to cause Xieren trouble.

“Please don’t say such things.” He chastised, filling out a familiar sign-in form. The words were unreadable but he didn’t need to know what it said. “Your boss would dislike it if rumors spread that caused him problems.”

The man looked like he wanted to argue but didn’t bother. It wasn’t his love life after all. 

Besides, it's not like anyone hadn’t guessed their relationship already. People who were ‘just friends’ didn’t come by the office every day to deliver lunch or spend the lunch hour locked behind closed doors. Especially not with their strict and fearsome boss.

If not for those who dared press their ear against the door, it would be assumed the two were engaging in a few daytime exercises.

Liang Fei knew none of this, unaware he was already branded “Xieren’s wife” by almost everyone in his company. Everyone knew his face and treated him like an honored guest, though Liang Fei just thought they were being polite.

The ride up to Xieren’s office was uneventful, with only a few other office workers sharing the space with him. From the corner of his eye, however, he could swear he could see a vague figure as well. Long hair fluttered despite the lack of wind.

Was it a woman? No, something in his head told him it was a man but why would he have such long hair? Wasn’t it inconvenient?

Curious, Liang Fei tried to get a better look at the stranger yet it seemed that the people between them kept moving to block the view. He briefly wondered why no one else seemed to notice this seemingly out-of-place person but the chime for his floor rang.

When he glanced back at the corner where he had seen the stranger, there was no one there.

He frowned but put it out of his mind, eager to eat with Xieren. While he still couldn’t cook much, he’d managed to make some snacks that they could share alongside the take-out he bought.

He briefly sent a text to Xieren, informing him he was close by. The distance from the elevator to his office wasn’t far but it would be troublesome if he didn’t tell him. Whenever he was even a little bit late, Xieren would send him dozens of texts asking where he was.

My Xieren was still cute, even after all this time. He thought, a small smile gracing his lips.

Habit had him opening Xieren’s office door without knocking. Xieren always kept his lunch hour clear so there was no risk of Liang Fei interrupting anything important.

At least that's how it usually was.

Today, however, he walked in to see Xieren with his secretary. They were standing close, almost breathing each other’s air.

Liang Fei felt his heart clench, a bit uncomfortable with the sight.

“Xieren?”

“Ah, teacher, you're here?” Xieren looked over at the door, his expression a bit strange. “Ah, right! It's lunch, right?”

“It is, sir.” The secretary replied, her pale hair shining in the light.

Liang Fei gave her a cold look, colder than he usually did. He disliked this woman, though he had tried to get along with her at the beginning. He only later found out that she was a devious woman who had tricked him, though he couldn’t prove it.

While he greatly disliked her, he didn’t dare tell Xieren since her treatment of him was separate from her job. She was a good secretary, as far as he knew. He didn’t want his personal feelings toward her to influence her career.

No matter how much he disliked how close she and Xieren were sometimes.

“Miss Min.” Liang Fei greeted her, though he wished she would just leave so he and Xieren could eat. He didn’t want to spend the little time he had talking to her. Yet she remained by Xieren’s side, a bit closer than usual.

Why was she so close?

Liang Fei’s hands clenched, annoyed. Xieren watched him and smiled, seemingly pleased with something. He put his arm around Miss Min, pulling her close as he looked at Liang Fei.

“Actually, it's good that you came now as opposed to later since I wanted to talk to you about Miss Min here.” He said, patting her shoulder. Liang Fei’s brows furrowed deeper, confused why Xieren, who usually disliked touching other people, was so casually touching her.

“Teacher, you’ve been telling me that I should think about my future. That I should get married and go on to the next stage of my life. You even promised to attend my wedding, right?”

Ah yes, he would love to attend Xieren’s wedding. Xieren would look so handsome in his suit, the center of attention as he should be. His bride would be… well, he never really thought about that. He was sure that person would look amazing as well. He just wanted to be there too.

“I thought about what you said.” Xieren continued, nodding as if he came to a grand understanding. “That's why I chose a bride, Miss Min here.”

“Eh?!” Liang Fei froze, feeling a strange haze overtake him. He said nothing, the words he wanted to stay trapped in his throat.

What is going on?

Why her of all people?

All of these thoughts and more spiraled in his head, echoing as his heart broke at the sight of Xieren holding the secretary’s shoulder. The smile he had only shown Liang Fei, being shared with... with that woman.

Isn't that mine?

Liang Fei crushed that thought, biting his lip lest he shouts his rage. Xieren… wasn’t his. Xieren was an adult who could marry whomever he wished but…

Why her!?

“Is this fine, Teacher?” Xieren pressed, his expression unseen as Liang Fei refused to look up at him. The tone sounded expectant.

Surely, Xieren thought that Liang Fei would be overjoyed at his former student’s announcement. He couldn’t fail to meet those expectations.

Liang Fei wanted to speak, to keep his promise and smile as Xieren found his happiness. He'd claimed just yesterday that he would. That he could do it.

Yet only tears seemed to flow from him.

Keeping his head lowered, he nodded, running out the door with their lunch. He could just barely hear Xieren call out to him but his racing heart overshadowed whatever else he said.

He hated it.

Why didn't Xieren catch him? Force him to stay? Tell him this was all a cruel joke.

Anything but showing those beautifully sincere eyes as he spoke.

Why?

Why was he expecting anything? Why was he disappointed?

Liang Fei didn’t bother to wait for the elevator, slipping into the emergency staircase to get his thoughts together. The darkened space eased his stress, if just a little. So much so, he didn't think to wonder why such a high-end office building had such a dark staircase, to begin with.

His thoughts were focused on the news he’d just received. 

He knew he shouldn’t be upset. Xieren was his own man after all. He could marry anyone he wished, so who was he to get upset? Sure he disliked the secretary personally but...

The thought of anyone else still made him feel bitter.

Didn’t Xieren love him?!

No wait, that thought didn’t feel right. He felt like it was true but he couldn’t recall Xieren ever saying that.

As Liang Fei wallowed in his thoughts, the darkened edge of his dream crept forward, licking at his shoes. Whispers sought to draw him in deeper, all the while, the mysterious long-haired figure loomed behind him.

A faint smile on its lips as it watched the show.

***

Back in the waking world, Xieren and Xuejie were arguing once again. The human had been trying to convince his king to back down on his ‘wedding scheme’ but he was very stubborn on this. Even after Xuejie lambasted him for wanting to keep Liang Fei with him to attend the scam wedding.

All this to make Liang Fei jealous.

“I doubt this will go as you think.” Xuejie argued for the nth time today. He was standing by as Xieren washed Liang Fei’s unconscious body. Due to his presence, the elders' clothes remained on so it was mostly just his face and arms being cleaned.

“Yes, but as you said, Shizun cares for me deeply.” He replied, wringing the cloth again and gently wiping Liang Fei’s face. “Despite his nature, Shizun isn’t one to hold back in his desires. Even when he acts subdued, he indulges himself in little ways.”

Recalling their time together as master and disciple, it was clear to anyone who watched close enough (cough- Xieren- cough) that Shizun loved many things and indulged those desires in subtle ways.

He liked to read, so he would spend many moments with a book in hand.

He liked cute things so he allowed himself to admire them under his cool gaze.

He liked physical displays of affection despite his cold face so he often rewarded students with head pats.

Even before he and Xieren became lovers, he was the one to suggest they hold hands.

He might not be aware of it but Shizun indulged himself in little ways he probably wasn't aware of. While giving him what he wants will make him suspicious, it will also reveal just how much he likes what he is given.

Only to be reminded that Xieren ‘doesn’t belong to him.’

It would force him to confront his feelings. To realize what Xieren meant to him and make him have to do something before it was too late.

Before Shizun was forced to keep his promise.

Shizun would only claim Xieren for his own if pushed into a corner with no means of escape.

Xuejie could only marvel once more at Xieren’s calculative and manipulative plan. It was cruel and honestly fit the kind of plan one of those overbearing CEO characters might indulge in because of misunderstandings and lack of communication.

The resemblance to the current situation made Xuejie want to scream. He’d promised not to get involved in their love spat but...

He feared Xieren might push Liang Fei too hard.

The guy might have fairly low EQ but he wasn’t a complete idiot. Xuejie doubted Liang Fei would so easily forgive being tricked like this. The fact Xieren had hidden his past partners from the elder was proof that he knew being caught in his lie would make Liang Fei angry.

Yet he wanted to do this?

It was a retarded plan and he had to say something!

“You know he loves you!" He argued, wanting to tear his hair out. “This is pointless!”

"Yes but that is not enough!” Xieren clenched his fist, careful not to harm the man sleeping nearby as his fingers dug into the mattress. The man’s face was calm, contrasting Xieren’s mood. “Is it fine for him to be so ready to leave me despite loving me so? I would burn the world to cinders and tear my heart out if he so much as asked but him?” His tone turned bitter. “He'd let some unimportant person stand between us in a heartbeat."

That's just because you aren't normal. Xuejie thought, facepalming. Of course, it was this guy's overbearing possessiveness that caused the problem. What else could it be?!

"So you hurt him in this way?"

"Shizun should feel just a bit of the pain I feel every time he tells me to 'keep looking'."

"And if he calls your bluff?"

"I never planned on letting Shizun leave my side, regardless of what changes occur.” He stated, giving Xuejie a warning look. “As long as certain people remain sensible.”

“Oh?” 

Xuejie crossed his arms, returning Xieren’s heavy glare with one of his own.

“I'm loyal to my friends. If they truly need my help, I'll help.” He replied, his expression as calm as still water. “Regardless of what changes occur.”

Xieren narrowed his eyes. “Are you challenging me?”

“My previous statement hasn't changed.”

A frigid storm raged between them, as they laid their intentions bare. No more words needed to be said.

Despite it all, Xuejie was worried. He understood why Xieren was angry. To be told that by someone he loved, wasn't it the same as saying it would be easy to leave? No one liked an overly clingy partner but it was no better to be so distant as well.

Yet what Xieren was doing was overkill.

 Ah, this kind of thing…

“Is this what you meant before by ending the game?” Xuejie sighed, already knowing the answer.

“What else could I mean?”

“Aish, you really are a cruel man.” Then again, Xieren was the demon king. Perhaps Xuejie had briefly forgotten because of all the sickly sweet stuff he was doing with Liang Fei. He was like this, to begin with.

“No crueler than telling a man in love to move on.”

“Yes, but you shouldn’t push too much!” Xuejie insisted. “If you go too far, you’ll lose what you already have because you got too greedy.”

“Is it wrong to be greedy in this situation? To desire the man I love to love me even half as much as I do?”

“No, but you must also be ready to face the consequences for being too avaricious.” Xuejie recalled the message left by that dream demon. Something told him that if they proceeded with that plan, things would go down a bad path. So he swallowed his wariness and dared to argue with a man who could kill him with a wave of his hand. 

“Just trust him!” Xuejie insisted, stepping forward. “Stop trying to trick and lie your way into his heart and just trust him!”

“…” Xieren stared at the sleeping Liang Fei. 

Trust him? Was that what was wrong with their relationship? That Xieren didn’t trust Shizun? He knew Shizun would stand beside him no matter what but was that all he expected from the man? 

No, he truly had no faith in Shizun.

It was the reason he never confessed his feelings toward the beginning. Why he felt he had to lie in order to start a relationship with the man.

He lambasted the elder for treating him like a child yet he had been no different. Treating Shizun like he wasn’t a rational person. Like he was just an idiot who had to be blindly lead to the conclusion Xieren wanted.

He really hadn’t trusted Shizun.

Xieren buried his face in his hands, letting out a heavy sigh. “...I hate this.”

“How could you not?” Xuejie nodded, feeling he had finally gotten through to his friend. “I can’t imagine how frustrating it could be to have to deal with such a dense-”

“No, I mean having you be the voice of reason.” He interjected, looking bitter. “What does that say about my mental faculties that you of all people are the smart one?”

“O-oi, how dare you!” Xuejie cried, wanting to smack this guy. “I’m trying to help and you are sniping me out of nowhere?”

“Would you rather I give you a heads up beforehand?” He countered, cocking a brow. “Do you want it days or hours in advance?”

“Asshole!”

Xieren chucked, though he tried to hide it. His eyes looked just a bit brighter than Xuejie had seen for the last few days. He knew Xieren would be happier when Liang Fei woke up but he was just relieved that he’d finally gotten through this stubborn bastard.

“Just be patient.” He said, laying a comforting hand on Xieren’s shoulder. “You are bound to get your happy ending if you trust Liang Fei and his decisions.”

***

Liang Fei was drowning.

There was no up or down and the waves of darkness kept trying to overtake him. His heart raced, panicking as he struggled to break the surface he had yet to find.

He couldn’t think and he had too many thoughts.

He was on a staircase in an office building and then-

He fell.

There was no direction to his fall but he felt the ground disappear as darkness overtook his vision.

He was scared.

It was scary.

~Xieren!~

“Ah, there you are!” Something grabbed his arm, tugging him in a direction. “Sorry to disappoint you, though~”

Liang Fei landed on the ground, gasping as he tried to catch his breath. He could hear his heart beat in his ears and the world seemed to be nothing but blurs.

Was this any different from dying?

“Oh, don’t die now.” A voice said, sounding muffled through Liang Fei’s panicked mind. “I didn’t save you just so you could die of a panic attack. Then again, you did almost die so I suppose it's fair to be like this.”

The voice didn’t sound concerned, as if this was an expected outcome.

Liang Fei wished he could punch this person.

“Hey now, no need to be violent.” The voice complained. “I’ll be patient and wait for you. I’m not good at comforting people.”

Liang Fei laid down, curling up and trying to calm his nerves. He had died before, twice but this was different. It wasn't a sudden death or one he could slip into. No, he felt his life leaving him. Every breath was dragging him closer to death but he also couldn’t prevent himself from breathing.

No matter what he did, he couldn’t escape and it was terrifying.

So he called out to Xieren.

Ah, where was Xieren?

“The brat?” The voice chimed in, as if hearing his thoughts. “He’s in the waking world, waiting for you. You mind hurrying this up? No offense but I really can’t afford to let you stay here too long.”

Liang Fei glared at the person in front of him, really wanting to punch this insensitive guy.

“You are really violent! How come that brat thinks you are nice? You’ve been nothing but mean to me?”

Liang Fei frowned, the man before feeling strangely familiar. 

Long hair that he had definitely seen before but…

“You don’t know my face?” The man frowned, looking confused. “Ah, right! This is a dream so of course you can’t recognize me.”

Dream?

Right, Xieren was his disciple, not his former student. They didn’t live in the modern day but a fantasy world.

“Exactly.” The man chimed in, smiling broadly. “And I’m the one who saved you from the void.  That dream demon trapped you in a nightmare.”

~A nightmare?

Ah, right. Xieren had said he was going to get married and then he fell.

“That's how demons are,” the long haired man said, shrugging his shoulders. “but I imagine it was some childish attempt to help you.”

~What do you mean?~

“That thing probably wanted to drive you into a corner so you would finally take possession of that little brat.” He explained, tapping his chin. “Then again, I suppose he’s a big brat now.”

~Who are you?~

“Me? You spent so much time wearing my face and you ask who I am?” the man complained, crossing his arms indignantly. “I'm not sure how to feel about that.”

Ah.

~Shao Liang Fei~

The man formerly known as Shao Liang Fei smiled, pleased that he was recognized. 

“Nice to meet you, I suppose.” He greeted Liang Fei properly, though his tone was fairly casual.

Liang Fei scowled, unsure how to respond. This was the person who had betrayed and humiliated Xieren. The hateful man who made Xieren’s life a living hell. While he didn’t do as much as he was supposed to, since Liang Fei took over, it didn’t change the fact that such things were his intention.

Yet Shao Liang Fei looked… normal. He wasn’t scary or even malicious looking. His  eyes were jovial, as if he was always thinking of something funny. The only unfamiliar thing about that face, which he had worn for 4 years, was his forest green eyes.

~Why are you here?~

“Other than to tease you?” Shao Liang Fei blinked, looking around as he thought about how to answer. “I suppose I was saving you from sinking too deep. The dream demon is too young to make such complex dreamscapes. If you had stayed any longer, you’d really become comatose, trapped in your own subconscious forever.”

Was.. was that why he felt so strange before?

“That's right.” He replied, circling Liang Fei. “You got too into the dream and it started to suck you in deeper. You unconsciously fought to wake up but you can’t do that this far in.”

Ah, that made sense. Once a dreamer noticed they were dreaming, they usually woke up on their own. Yet he couldn-

Wait a second!

He hadn’t spoken those thoughts aloud so… How did he know what I was thinking? Can he-

“Read your mind?” He finished, smirking. “We are in your head right now so of course I can. But don’t worry, I’m not staying. I just came to see you.”

~Why?~

Again, he paused to think about how to answer.

“I wanted to know how things were going since I died. I mean, I was quite resentful when I died and wanted nothing more than to make your life hell by haunting you. With how ignorant you were in the beginning, I could have gotten a lot of entertainment out of you.”

This person was… both exactly as he expected and not at all. He had imagined Shao Liang Fei to be much more cold and cruel yet he smiled often. If one ignored his words, they might think him to be friendly and amiable.

~So why didn’t you?~

“Truthfully? I wanted to but some blue bastard got in the way, saying he had other plans or something. I ended up making a deal with him just to come here but it turns out I’m almost 15 years late.”

~And now?~

“Now I no longer care.” He stated, shrugging his shoulders. “That demon brat is too strong for me to dare haunt him and since you are his little boytoy, I can’t touch you either. So I don’t care anymore.”

~I see.~ It was strange to think his life could have gone that way but he was relieved. ~Then I’m glad.~

“Oh?”

Liang Fei stared his former body in the eye, his gaze hardened with determination.

~If you tried to make Xieren sad, I would have had to beat you within an inch of your undead life.~

Shao Liang Fei stared at Liang Fei with a look of shock. To threaten a dead man seemed silly but since they were in his mindscape, Shao Liang Fei was actually vulnerable to attack. Yet hearing it said straight was... hilarious.

Shao Liang Fei exploded into laughter, doubling over as he did so. Liang Fei said nothing, feeling a bit out of sorts.

“You really are so different! I love it!”

Liang Fei wasn’t why this was the response he got from his threat but he didn’t press it any further. Something told him that despite his response, this man took his words seriously. They both knew the words weren’t empty.

“I might not like that brat but I’m glad he ended up with you.” 

His smile was easy and looked genuine but Liang Fei wasn’t buying it.

~Are you?~

Shao Liang Fei cocked his head innocently, his smile remaining. “You don’t believe me?”

~I don’t.~

“Hm. That's fine.” The elder shrugged. “I don’t care anyway.”

This was the kind of person Xieren had to deal with for so long. The person Xieren hated so much and had mistreated him.

It was this kind of ambivalent person.

~I know~ Liang Fei sighed, walking up to Shao Liang Fei. ~but there is something I want from you.~

The man blinked, looking confused. “Oh?”

Without another thought, Liang Fei punched Shao Liang Fei, knocking the man to the ground. The floor rippled beneath the man’s robes but sent a shock through his mildly corporeal body.

“Shit!” Shao Liang Fei cursed, wiping the blood from his lip. The fact he bled should have made Liang Fei have a few questions but he felt a righteous need to hit this guy again.

But he wasn’t the violent type so he held back.

~Thank you for taking Xieren in but you were a shitty person.~ He glared down at Shao Liang Fei, wiping his knuckles in his pants.

Shao Liang Fei stared up at him before smiling once more. It clearly hurt him to do so but he did it anyway. 

“I have no idea how to respond to that.”

~Then don’t.~ It would be better if he didn’t say anything else. He was an unpleasant person.

“Tch. Fair enough, I suppose.” Shao Liang Fei stood up, brushing himself off. “Ah, that's right, before you go, give me that rock.”

~Rock? What -~ From Liang Fei’s chest, he felt a heat radiate from within. Looking down, he saw a familiar stone exit his chest. It was pale yellow with black splotches on its gleaming surface.

The shuzhui stone.

He wasn’t sure what he had to do with the stone now that he got to the final step. That God guy hadn’t explained past this point so he had assumed he was done.

Shao Liang Fei snatched the stone from the air, looking it over as Liang Fei was distracted with his own thoughts.

What did he need that stone for?

~Why?~ He didn’t need to say anymore, as it was clear what he was asking.

Shao Liang Fei looked at him like was asking a dumb question.

“Did you think you could just have my power and not get any pushback from me, its owner?” He countered, cocking a brow. “Obviously, I need to bestow what belongs to me to its successor, right?”

Ah, was this another pitfall set up for this ritual? It made sense, since otherwise, anyone could steal the strength and cultivation of the dead.

But if that was the case then...

~Is that why you came?~

“Obviously.”

Was it obvious? Liang Fei didn’t feel like it was with all the rude things this man had said.

~Then why did you say all that?~

Wouldn’t that just lead to misunderstandings? This hateful person had apparently come to help Liang Fei yet let himself be misunderstood?

“Hm?” Shao Liang Fei gave him a doubtful look. He was clearly thinking ‘this person has come to strange conclusions all on his own.’ “Cause it’s true. I hate Xieren. I hate all demons, big and small.”

Liang Fei didn’t think it was a lie. His words were steady, as if stating a fact of life.

~Then why help me?~

“Cause I want to.” He stated simply, looking annoyed that he had to explain this at all. “Do I need to explain my motives to you? If I want to hurt others, I will. If I want to help others, I will. Because I want to, I’ll give you my powers. Simple as.”

~I see.~ Liang Fei… wasn’t sure how to respond to such a thing. It felt simple but to live such a way, it was no wonder he was so disliked. It screamed a sort of laziness that he hadn’t anticipated being associated with a cultivator. ~Elder Shao is surprisingly simple.~

“I’ve always been.”

~I don’t regret punching you though.~

“Pft” Shao Liang Fei covered his mouth, trying to suppress his laughter. After a moment, he smiled at Liang Fei. “I regret not haunting you but I like you now, so I suppose it isn’t a huge loss.”

Shao Liang Fei crushed the stone with his hand, turning it to dust and throwing it at Liang Fei. For reasons unknown to Liang Fei, he didn’t bother to dodge.

Liang Fei felt a deep cold slither into his body, seeping into his bones like water through cracks. He gasped but no sound came out. Even his breath felt cold as he breathed.

“My body is mine so I can’t give you that but for being so fun, I’ll give you this.” 

Liang Fei couldn’t respond as the chill took his thoughts aaway and everything faded to black.

***

Xieren was slipping beneath the covers of his bed, tired from a long day’s work. While he had changed his plans, there were many matters to take care of and without Shizun, it was all the harder.

It was only at night that he could take comfort in the man’s presence, snuggling close and holding him. His steady heartbeat and even breaths are the only thing showing he was still alive. 

That was comforting.

Suyan had been returned to his room days before, as the child didn’t need to be in the room to do… whatever dream demons did. This left Xieren alone with Shizun.

He interlocked their fingers, kissing each finger as he once again hoped he’d wake up to this man’s beautiful violet eyes. To others, it was stoic and unfeeling but it was the most comforting sight to Xieren.

“Shizun, please wake up soon.” He whispered, like a secret that could only be said in the dead of night. “I miss you.”

He had so much he wanted to say. Not just how he felt but the things he kept from his master. His doubts. His worries. 

He wanted, for once, to be honest with him.

Shizun let out a breath but it sent shivers through Xieren’s body. 

It was cold.

“Shizun?” 

Liang Fei’s eyes snapped open, his inhalation echoing loudly in the empty room. He gasped, as if he’d been drowning just moments before. Xieren was shocked not expecting to have Shizun wake up so suddenly but his joy had him wrapping his arms around the elder.

As he did so, he felt a deep chill radiate from the man. He was freezing but it wasn’t a regular cold.

It was an elemental cold.

Xieren heated his core, letting his heat be sucked in by Liang Fei. This endothermic exchange went on for a long while, even as Xieren felt his fingers numb under the layer and layers of blankets.

Some time passed and Xieren could feel his partner’s body heat up at long last, returning to a normal temperature. He sighed, ignoring the mist that escaped his lips.

Had he not been here when this occurred, would Shizun have frozen to death? 

He shuddered at the thought, bringing Shizun closer. He comforted himself by pressing his ear to the elder’s chest, seeking the steady beat of his heart. Each reverberation calmed his own erratic heart beat.

Shizun was okay.

He sighed, wanting to explode at his master now that he had calmed down. Shizun had been asleep for over a week now. While Xuejie had convinced him not to do something stupid, he was still quite upset with Shizun.

He would not let this go like he had before!

“Shizun, can we…” He started, still a bit cold but mindful that his master might still be tired. He definitely wouldn’t let it go but yelling never helped. He looked up at the elder. “Can we talk ab-” 

Xieren was cut off by Liang Fei’s kiss, his lips pressing hard on the juniors, knocking the breath from him. It was shocking to suddenly be kissed but for it to be this person! How could he not reciprocate?

Mad? Who was mad? Xieren was too enraptured by the hot kiss tinged with a cool bite that ensnared his thoughts and body.

Shizun was no passive participant either, taking hold of Xieren’s face to deepen the kiss himself. The junior could barely catch his breath before his lover dove back for another taste.

At some point, Xieren was beneath Shizun, staring up at him. The room was still dimly lit, so he was sure Shizun could see his flushed cheeks and hungry expression. It was only habit that kept the dazed king from flipping them over.

They panted, staring at each other. The first to move after a few moments of silence was Shizun, his eyes just as dazed.

"Xieren.”

“Yes?”

“Xieren.”

Xieren frowned, noting the tone. Was Shizun even awake?

“Shizun? Shizun, are-” 

Shizun leaned down, pressing his cheek to Xieren’s chest. Those strong fingers Xieren loved to twine with his own, clenched hard on his robes. The words spoken were softer than a single snowflake but Xieren could hear it clear as day.

 “Don’t leave me, Xieren.”

8