Xie Lian got stabbed countless times to the point he couldn't hear his own screams. But there was someone's suffering he felt over his despair when he was losing his sanity.

There was someone there beside him who was breaking with every scream
every stab, every slashing he couldn't stop, prevent.

There was someone crushing under the tormenting feeling of powerlessness, the horror of witnessing the object of your most devoted love be tortured wickedly.

Some things break under pressure, but not Hua Cheng.
Hua Cheng is the kind to become more robust under pressure.

When Xie Lian was shattered before him, he couldn't afford to shatter with him.

No, Hua Cheng didn't break under the pressure. He exploded.

When he was born as a fierce ghost, he burned down all but Dianxia.
There was a black charcoal circle around the Flower Crowned Martial God altar.

Everyone who had tried to hurt him burnt down to ashes and blackened bones.

After profaning Xie Lian like that, no life was allowed to continue.

Hua Cheng didn't just burnt down the temple,
he burnt down all the infectees outside. He burnt down every tree, every animal, every insect.

He burnt down the entire mountain.

His God, shattered and bind to his own altar, remained the only alive creature there.

As hard as it was to believe by looking at him.
Because White-No-Face couldn't be alive. Only the worst calamity of a ghost could have done what he had done.

And just like that, he left.

We know this part of the story.

But what happened after? What happened in those two months Xie Lian can't remember?
What did Hua Cheng do, with the remainings? What did he do, now that he had become a ghost strong enough to affect the human world?
What did he do, when he realized he could now do more than clutching his own head and succumb to the suffering of a powerless witness?
He unbid him, dedicatedly, in tears, with the utmost care of someone who doesn't know what he's doing. With the pressing fear of not properly seeing the severity of the wounds under the rivers of blood. With the gut-wrenching knowledge that the form that he's handling no longer
looks human and that inner organs could spill out if not handled appropriately.

He laid him in the altar, hoping to give some comfort to a face that remained twisted with pain, stained with blood, wet by tears, unresponsive yo anything he did.

Xie Lian was no different from
a doll. A trashed, destroyed doll.

Reminiscently beautiful, unmoving, tragic, dead.

Not dead, though. Hua Cheng observed how his heart, no longer one unit, kept on beating in pieces, no blood left to distribute.

As much as observing him in this state was breaking his mind,
he didn't look away. He willed his turmoil down enough to let him think, to let him help.

"Dianxia, I'm sorry..." he whispered, the tragic view breaking his voice. "I... promise you I'm going to make this right."

Words were failing him, and he didn't even know if Xie Lian
could hear a word he said. But he had to try. He had to keep this one promise.

Reluctantly, and under the indifference and lack of reaction of his God, Hua Cheng left the temple.

He left inside his gentleness, his vulnerable breaking voice, his tears, his heartache.
He stripped himself of all of that because he didn't need any of it to talk to who he was going to talk next.

He was left only with his hatred, his deep resentment and rage for the perpetrators of this horror. He armored himself with all the fury and destructive aim that had
turned him into a fierce ghost. And he roared.

The entire mountain shook under his roar, the soul of every one of his kills tonight terrified by it.

The message was simple and clear: Things could get very, very ugly for them if they didn't obey him.
Hua Cheng worked like he had no objective in life besides Xie Lian's wellbeing.

The souls of the deceased worked like they would be enslaved until all their sins against the Crown Prince would be paid off in assisting his recovery.

They worked like that because in both cases,
that was precisely the truth.

Alone, bloody, inhuman, expulsed from his own mind by the pain and laid down carefully, Xie Lian was an eerie view.

Outside the temple, the view was even eerier.

Lost, confused souls recovered water from the river and brought it back to the
temple. A group of ghost fires traveled unevenly away from the mountain, trashing houses in search of bandages.

A Young man with a severe and scary expression was followed by two ghost fires all around the mountain.

He was giving instructions, commanding the confused souls
His voice was contained, almost loud enough to yell, but not quite. That was his threat.

No one wanted him to yell again. To roar again. No one wanted to feel the chill of the horror his screams gave them. The emotions in his screams were so deeply hurt, so human and inhuman
at the same time, so capable of destruction.

This creature was capable of destruction because he had experienced something disturbingly destructive. Something none of the souls had ever been close to live themselves. His screams were the closest they had ever gotten to that
horror, and no one wanted to experience it again.

No one wanted to anger him out of the raging control of himself he displayed. They would obey. They would help.

"Don't hurt us. Don't hurt us."

The whole mountain was screaming it.

"Please, don't hurt us."
An hour ago, there was just one soul begging for it, and had been ignored.

Xie Lian, still spread in his own altar, ignored how in just an hour the mountain full of people he tried to protect, the place where every creature was focused in harming him, had become a wasteland
where every creature was focused on repairing what had been done.

He had been the necessary death to fuel life around him. Now he was the only life that mattered, nurtured by the souls of the dead that populated the scorched ground.
He had been the victim of fear used instrumentally against him.

And that was the main difference the souls could tell between Hua Cheng and White-No-Face.

Hua Cheng was as in control as White-No-Face had been. He was not fueled by his aggressive pulse. It was his tool.
He instrumentalized everyone's fear like he was born for it.

When White-No-Face had done it to harm and break Xie Lian, Hua Cheng had done it to take care of him.

That detail was lost to time, the souls too scared to notice, Xie Lian completely unable to grasp reality,
Hua Cheng eternally focused on his uselessness, on all the ways he had failed to protect.

Back in the temple, Hua Cheng opened the doors with caution, like he didn't want to disturb Xie Lian.

However, Xie Lian was now a creature so disturbed that couldn't feel or be troubled.
Another useless act.

He walked to the altar, and quickly bowed before driving a cloth the water the ghosts had gathered.

"Like this?" he asked.

"Yes," The weak voice of a little ghost fire by his shoulder answered.

He had appointed two former doctors as his assistants,
and was carefully and gently cleaning the blood from Xie Lian's body.

The two fire ghosts, like the rest of souls, were scared of him, and had tried to explain to him that there was no saving such a damaged body.

There was nothing they knew that could help Xie Lian.
It wasn't possible for him to be alive.

"But he /is/ alive," Hua Cheng had argued. "And both of you have yet to experience something worse than death. Aren't you two doctors? Act like such."

The discussion ended there.

"Clean the wounds first," they had suggested.
It was safe to say that most of Xie Lian's blood was outside his veins now.

Hua Cheng reddened buckets and buckets of water recovered from the river and ordered more been brought up.

Xie Lian's body, refusing to die, was creating blood, but at a much slower pace than it
was losing it.

Hua Cheng had witnessed beatings, had been the victim of them, he had been tortured, dragged through the ground almost to death. He had fought a war, slashed the life out of enemies, twisted bodies in impossible angles.

Nothing compared to this.
By the time he had clean all the wounds and there was not enough blood to bleed from the open injuries, the vision of Xie Lian's body was so hideous and wrong, he would have probably threw up if he still had the ability to do so.

"I couldn't protect you, Dianxia... I'm so
useless... I'm sorry. I'm stronger now. I'll make it right. I swear I will."

Xie Lian's face didn't twitch. It was still that twisted expression, now clean of blood, visibly horrifying.

Hua Cheng had held back tears while wiping the drops of blood from his cheeks. He had
moved his hand softly, devotedly and respectfully all across his jawline. He had taken in the tragical image of the most beautiful face he had ever seen, now stuck in pain.

If he had had a pulse, he would've skipped a bit when he felt the weakened breaths coming out of his
nostrils against the skin of his hand.

Xie Lian's body was fighting hard to live, certain in it's victory, but he could read in his eyes how much he wanted to just die.

He knew that expression from the mirror.
Hua Cheng had apologized, whispered soothing words to him while caressing his skin until there was no trace of red, only the sickening pale of someone who doesn't have blood left to warm his body.

He cleaned the arms that once held him in front of a crowd of thousands, and
couldn't help to curse himself for not being able to protect Xie Lian.

After all the times Xie Lian had saved him, he was still unable to prevent the bloodshed that stained his arms, he could only clean it away.

Powerlessness was a constant in his life.
He was still not powerful enough.

He cleaned his neck with ghostly touches, almost an inch at a time.

The doctors were impressed by his precise pulse, by the utmost care he put into not hurting Xie Lian any further. Hua Cheng treated the skin around and in the fatal wounds of
his throat like it was his own life on the line.

Or that's what the doctos thought. In reality, Hua Cheng wouldnt have been as careful if it had been his own life on the line.

The cleaning of his torso was inevitably messier, since it was no longer one structured unit,
but a clusterfuck of organs, misplaced skin and cuts.

"Now what?" Hua Cheng demanded.

"Normally after the wounds are clean, bandage to protect them and make the healing easier. But..."

But bandaging a body that was falling apart was... an unknown technique, at best.
Hua Cheng didn't hesitate. He reaches for the bandages they had stolen for him.

"You will have to bind him up to stand," one doctor said.

He was right in one thing: Xie Lian couldn't be bandaged while lying on the altar.

But he was wrong in another: Hua Cheng was not going
to bind him like he had just been hours ago.

Yes, he needed to keep him sitting upright to put bandages all around his torso, but he would have to find another way.

He didn't know to what extent Xie Lian was conscious. He had his eyes open, even if he was as unresponsive as
a corpse.

The only clues that gave away Xie Lian's vitality were the gruesome view of a sliced heart still beating and a half lung trying to keep up the rhythm of a full one.

He couldn't possibly imagine the state of horror in which Xie Lian was in, but if he could avoid the
possibility of traumatizing him further by binding him again, he would.

Even if his God was completely unconscious and couldn't tell anything that he was doing, he still wouldn't bind him, out of respect.

There would be no more prophanities and disrespect towards the body of
His Crown Prince, not under his watch, certainly not by his hand.

He looked around the temple, trying to figure out another way to support him on the altar.

"Forgive me, my Prince," he said.

Then he walked out to the nearest Crown Prince statue, and snatched the flower out
of his stony hand.

The two ghost fires that used to practice medicine during life, watched in awe how that young man broke and moved statues of the Flower Crowned Martial God all around the temple.

It was not effortless, but as impossible as it looked, that young man still
moved them with determination, not complaining even once.

It was obviously easier for everyone to just bind him again, and the ghost fires were astonished to the extents that this teenager would go for in order to not disturb the Prince.
No one dared to ask why he was so interested in taking care of him, this kind of devotion towards the Crown Prince had long been extinct since the Civil War.

The Young Man didn't pay them any attention and kept working.

By the time he had finished, two statues of the Crown
Prince flanked Xie Lian, and a third one was behind him.

All the statues had their arms extended, but they no longer held flowers in their palms.

Hua Cheng had broke every flower out of the statue, and replaced them with Xie Lian himself.
The statues, with their eternal kind and compassionate smiles, were now gently holding Xie Lian, instead of flowers.

The statues that flanked him were holding his arms, and the statue behind him was holding his head.

It would have been a beautiful picture if Xie Lian himself
wasn't a terrible view. No one would have guessed that the four figures were supposed to represent the same.

The kind and compassionate features of the statues were worlds apart from the broken, twisted, painful expression that Xie Lian's face was stuck in.
The ghost fires silently watched how Hua Cheng hugged that trashed body and gently placed it on the statue's care, like it could break any minute, like it wasn't already broken.

Hua Cheng handled Xie Lian like he was made of porcelain, but there was more than carefulness to it.
It was like he was blind to what everyone saw.

Everyone saw that twisted figure and thought of a filthy beggar, a downgraded prince, a downgraded god, a life so low and so trashed that no longer had value, no longer was worth saving.

But when Hua Cheng handled him, there
was gentleness beyond caution. There was devotion, there was care. It was like he still saw the darling of the heavens, the glowing Xie Lian that had been praised by all his subjects and devotees.
Hua Cheng treated him like he was the most precious thing in the room, like his mere existence deserved reverence.

None of them found those words yet, but in reality, Hua Cheng was treating him like what mattered was him, and not the state of him.
Hua Cheng was already drenched in blood from cleaning Xie Lian and hugging his body to hold it between statues.

He washed his hands before handling Xie Lian again, and got them bloody seconds after.

Under the precise advice of the doctors, he methodically bandaged his torso,
rearranged inner organs and tied the bandages tightly and securely.

The ghost fires were impressed at his determination to every gory task he had to face. Hua Cheng didn't flinch once, and neither did Xie Lian.
By the time he was done bandaging his torso, Xie Lian had recovered most of his human shape.

He had made sure to follow every instruction to make his bones be in the right position for their healing, to keep the wounds as tightly closed as possible.
He spared some seconds to stare at Xie Lian, hoping to see some change in his expression. Relief, pain, anger...

Nothing. It was like time had stopped for him in the most painful moment of his life, and was not planning to keep going anytime soon.

He went back to work.
Bandaging his neck was the easy part. He finished quickly, after giving the softest treatment to the wound.

"Is there anything we can do for the pain?" Hua Cheng asked.

"He can't swallow or digest anything, and even if he could he probably doesn't have enough blood to carry
it to the rest of the system. And acupuncture... I think he has been pierced enough."

"Can't we sedate him, make sure he's unconscious through the pain?"

"We could. If my needles have not burned down..."
Hua Cheng practiced the exact points and pressure in several skulls that were around the temple, who belonged to the people who had turned Xie Lian into this.

The ghost fires found out that he was a fast learner, and soon enough Xie Lian had his eyes closed and his expression

He was asleep.

Hua Cheng sighed from relief, and looked at him.

The statues seemed delighted to be holding Xie Lian, unaware that he was the most tragic flower they had ever held.

Xie Lian was, in contrast to the statues, a defeated view.
While they were gentle and compassionate, their swords ready to win any battle and stand for the common people, he was gaunt and defeated, miserable and powerless.

This was the closest they had ever been. Hua Cheng was used to it. He was used to be gaunt and defeated,
miserable and powerless. And he hated it, but he hated it more in Xie Lian.

Xie Lian had been all mighty and victorious when he had been useless and helpless, but he had not been able to return the favor.

Xie Lian had fallen, and he had not been there to catch him.
He was picking up the remainings of that fall instead.

Now that he was no longer busy, that he was aware of how drenched in the blood of his beloved he was. Now that he had faced the bigger picture of that tragic view, every part a proof of his uselessness,
he needed to be alone.

"Scram!" he ordered.

The ghost fires flew away.

He curled up on the floor by the altar and looked at Xie Lian.

"I'm sorry, Your Highness," he whispered, his voice about to break.

He broke to cry.
He didn't know how much time he spent crying down the altar, but he did know what knocked him out of it.

The ground was cold. He had a high tolerance to cold from when he was alive, and that no longer affected him being dead, but...
He snapped out of his misery in a heartbeat, and looked at Xie Lian.

You couldn't tell if the pale skin of Xie Lian and his blue lips were due to the fact that there was barely any blood within his body, or the fact that he was exposed from the hip upwards in the middle of
the night in a temple on a mountain.

It was probably both.

Hua Cheng cursed himself repetitively while he started to work.

He lit up four fires around the altar, and called in every soul in the mountain.
How could he have forgotten something so important? What was he going to do? Wait for Xie Lian to ask for it?

"Form columns and redirect the smoke of the fires to the windows," he ordered. The ghost fires obeyed.

He was so fucking useless. He couldn't even remember that humans
needed warmth. He had been a human suffering from the cold not so long ago.

"Don't let the smoke accumulate inside. Especially not around him," he added. The ghost fires obediently redistributed and redirected the smoke away from Xie Lian.
He was used to it, but what about Xie Lian? He had been a Crown Prince just some years ago. He couldn't be used to cold like he was. He had been so careless.

"Is that the best you can do, useless tash?!" The ghost fires started to move faster, the smoke efficiently leaving the
building without going near Xie Lian.

Hua Cheng sat down the altar and looked up to his God, who was unaware of the coordination of souls that was working incessantly to keep him warm.

His body, however, did notice it, and soon enough started to warm up, even if there was
little blood to show the exterior the blush that usually came with warmth.

Hua Cheng didn't prostrate, but apologized silently to him again, like a prayer.

He spent the night guarding his dreams, making sure that the statues didn't get so hot from the fire as to burn him,
commanding the ghost fires into ventilating properly the building, checking carefully that the bandages didn't bleed, signaling a reopened wound.

By the time morning came, a group of ghost fires he had send away came back to report.

They had found the nearest doctor.
Tormenting and scaring the doctor into coming to help was easy, and from that point on, everything became easier.

The doctor helped Hua Cheng take off the bandages, clean the wounds again, sew the wounds properly, and gave him everything he asked for.
From that, he had restocked the temple to properly attend to anything Xie Lian might need.

He threatened the doctor to prevent her from telling anyone where this temple was, or where the Crown Prince was.

"There are enough ghosts to my command to curse your entire bloodline,"
he had told her."No Yong'an reward is going to save you from the torment I'll put you through."

No Yong'an soldier appeared near the temple.

Hua Cheng had now enough blankets and commodities to turn the altar into a proper bed. Xie Lian could now lay on it and not get burned
by how hot the stone was from being near a fire.

His body tried his hardest every day to heal. He was growing less and less pale, his wounds started to bleed more, now that they had the ability to do so, but the skin also began to come together, the bones starting to assemble.
During daytime, the ghost fires were busy working outside the temple, searching for food or water in a wasteland mountain or cleaning the bandages, and Hua Cheng was busy taking care of Xie Lian.

He combed his hair slowly, softly, making sure not a single strand of hair was
pulled when brushed, so his God wasn't disturbed at all.

He turned him into the flower that the statues held and cleaned all of his wounds and changed the bandages to new ones.

He sang the soothing lullaby his mother used to sing to him.
He cleaned Xie Lian's face with the utmost care and cold water, trying to cool down the fever.

He washed his arms and hands delicately every day, even if Xie Lian did nothing to stain them. He massaged them after being supported by the statues to discharge the muscles.
He also washed and massaged his legs and feet, both trying to keep the fever in check and to be gentle on his knees, that suffered from being knelt when the statues held him.

Laid between blankets, all cleaned up and with the needles keeping him asleep, Xie Lian was a much
nicer vision now.

The ghost fires did not dare to speak to Hua Cheng, but all of them were impressed that he had actually been able to help The Crown Prince in that state.

Hua Cheng, however, was not that kind to himself.
Every night he heard the screams of his beloved in his mind, and remembered how powerless he had been inside those filthy hands.

Every night he was frustrated to have taken that long to become a fierce ghost. If he had done it sooner, maybe Xie Lian would have suffered less.
He knew that was an excuse, as well. He knew that if White-No-Face showed up right now, he couldn't face him.

He thought about that every day. Would it be back? How would he deal with it if it did?

It was one thing to scare and control souls during their confusion period,
and threaten a doctor into giving you blankets and medical supplies, but it was something very different to face a calamity.

He didn't give himself a rest. He never thought about how he had stopped the scene before half of the crowd stabbed Xie Lian, he could only think of how
he had let the other half of the crowd stab him to numbness.

He worried every day that Xie Lian's mind would not recover. He sang to him, talked to him, hoping that would be of any help.
When he talked to Xie Lian, however, he tried to not let his worries get through. He tried to be soothing, to make him believe he was safe, to let him now how fast he was recovering.

Xie Lian never reacted.

If he wasn't careful, if he let himself think about him and observe
that tragically unresponsive face, if he let the thought of his noble, gracious beloved being turned into a tragic precious doll, he felt like crying.

Hua Cheng had never been good at swallowing injustice.

Sometimes, at dawn, when the ghost fires weren't back yet to
redistribute the smoke, he let himself feel sorry for both of them.

He let himself curse his luck, curse whatever had caused his beloved to be like this, curse himself for not being able to prevent him. He let himself feel sorry that when he finally was able to hold his
beloved, it was under these circumstances. He let himself feel sorry that life denied them joy. He let himself feel sorry for Xie Lian, for all his sacrifices in vain.

And he cried without tears. And he whispered to Xie Lian that he was sorry, because he was.
There were tiny pockets of joy. Like the day that Xie Lian swallowed saliva while Hua Cheng was changing the bandages on his neck.

He stopped right on his tracks, and just stared at his adam's apple, unsure of it being a dream.

Xie Lian did it again.
Hua Cheng let out a foreign sound. A chuckle of relief.

He had never listened that sound coming from his own voice, but he didn't have time to pay attention to that.

If Xie Lian could already swallow, he could drink!

He quickly but gently finished changing the bandage
on his neck and scrambled away from the altar to get the clean water.

He approached Xie Lian carefully, put him down of the statues and sat him on his lap, in a way he could support his weight, control the angle of his head and be close enough to give him water.
He slowly retrieved the needles from his head, hoping for him to get conscious again in order to drink.

He hoped his wounds were healed enough as to not give him a painful shock. His throat was already fully healed internally, and he had been breathing stronger and getting a
more intense pulse over these last weeks.

Slow, like it was a difficult task, Xie Lian opened his eyes.

He didn't look at anything. His gaze was lost in the ether.

Hua Cheng tries to talk to him anyway.
"Your Highness," he started, slowly, whispering. "I'm a follower of yours, you're safe here."

No response.

"You've been unconscious for a month, your wounds are a lot better."

No response.
"Are you thirsty? You can drink now."

No response.

Hua Cheng touched Xie Lian lips with the waterskin.

No response.

He let barely some droplets slide in.

Xie Lian swallowed.
Hua Cheng smiled, a little hope flouring inside him over the fear come true that was this irresponsive Xie Lian.

He let a little bit more of liquid into his mouth.

Xie Lian swallowed again.

He probed how much water he could let him drink without choking him.
He stopped before he discovered the higher limit, and let the waterskin sit beside him.

Xie Lian had endured a month of no food or water solely because he couldn't die, but at least he had been unconscious.

Hua Cheng didn't know what was best for him at this point.
He didn't want him to suffer, but the only difference between him now and before was that Xie Lian had his eyes open now.

He decided to let him be awake, maybe his mind would get clear like that.

He lifted him and laid him down on the blankets by the altar, tucked him in,
and walked away with the waterskin.

Xie Lian stood obediently where he had been gently put. If the slowness and gentleness of a hand supporting his head until it was softly placed on a blanket affected him at all, it didn't show.
Hua Cheng came back shortly after, and didn't leave him alone.

He sat by his side on the altar, forcing himself to watch the heartbreaking view of a lifeless, joyless Xie Lian. He was breathing, he had a good color, his skin no longer pale as death, but his gaze...
he would have preferred him to have a sad gaze. He would rather see him heartbroken and defeated that completely devoid of emotion. Xie Lian wasn't looking at anything in particular, and Hua Cheng wasn't sure that he was taking reality in.
A swarm of self-hating thoughts came to him as a response, but he kept them at bay. He had to try for His Highness, he couldn't give up to his own sorrow now.

Maybe... if he talked to him. Maybe if he knew he was not alone, that no one wanted to hurt him.
Maybe he could help him come back to reality, soften the blow. Maybe he could comfort him.

"No one wants to hurt you anymore, Your Highness. That nightmare is over," he started, whispering. "We served together in the army," he continued.

Xie Lian didn't react.
"We didn't talk much, of course, but I want you to know I'm not a complete stranger," he tried. Nothing. "I've been tending to your wounds this past month. I've made sure Yong'an soldiers don't know that you're hiding here. You're safe here to recover."

Xie Lian didn't react.
"I'm... I'm very sorry that they did this to you. I wish I could've done something sooner to help. I... I failed you, Your Highness. I'm sorry."

Xie Lian didn't react.

"For what's worth... It was not your fault. None of it. You didn't deserve to pay for them."
"Everyone has to face their own fate, they did too. They didn't have a right to take your life for theirs, even if you're an immortal. It was not your responsibility to sacrifice, even if you want to save the common people. That monster was not right."
Xie Lian didn't react.
"They weren't right, either," Hua Cheng continued, awfully getting used to his lack of reaction, slowly realizing that he was venting rather than comforting. "It doesn't matter if you tried to rob. They were in a desperate situation and decided to torture, how could they hold
the high morality ground for you robbing? That wasn't your fault either. You didn't have to pay for that."

Xie Lian didn't react.

"You didn't have to show repent, either. This is not a fair punishment for your mistakes during the war. I'm... also a believer of yours, and even
if I don't have all the details... I know..." he corrected himself. "I fiercely believe that you did everything in your power to help Xian Le. You don't need to show repent."

Xie Lian didn't react.

Hua Cheng couldn't help but remember the conversation they had when he had just
been rescued as a fire ghost. He remembered Xie Lian's sorrow, how he blamed himself for every dead soldier in a war he couldn't win. How he didn't believe in himself anymore.

He wished Xie Lian could see himself through his eyes. That he could believe in himself as much as he
did. He wished he could take all his love for him and counter somehow the loathing the Xian Le people had nailed to him.

He loved him so much, why wasn't it enough? Why was that useless as well? Why couldn't he counter it?
Why was the hatred of so many people that didn't care for him so engraved in Xie Lian, and why was his devotion not scratching it?

He felt powerless again. He knew better than anyone the intensity of his love, and it was still not enough. It was still useless.
He felt like crying.

Xie Lian didn't react.
"You didn't... You didn't create any of those problems. Not the drought, not the street fights, not the war, not the epidemic... You were never at fault. The rest of those useless gods did nothing for us, but you showed up and tried to help. No one has a right to complain
about it. To complain about you.

Xie Lian didn't react.

"I, for one, I'm very grateful," he said. And then lower: "if it counts for anything."

Xie Lian didn't react.

"I died on the war, not like those folks that hurt you. But for me... to die for you is my greatest honor."
He meant it. And Xie Lian didn't react.
"It's getting late. It gets cold at night, I will light up the fires."

Xie Lian didn't react. Hua Cheng jumped down from the altar and proceed to set up four fires around him.

The fire ghosts assembled themselves in practiced columns,
keeping the air clean for Xie Lian to breath it.

Hua Cheng sat between two fires, resting against the altar, facing the entrance and with Fang Xin in hand.

He always did that at night, guarding Xie Lian's dreams ready to attack any intruder.
He hated that sword, but it was the only weapon around. He had cleaned it the second day, when he had cleaned the altar of blood.

Now that he there was silence, he allowed all the self-hate to wash over him.
Xie Lian was breathing effortlessly now. He had regained a healthy color. His wounds were closing. His bones were assembling. The fever was gone.

Hua Cheng couldn't celebrate any of those victories, because /he/ was gone. Xie Lian was gone.
He had personally taken care of him, and he had failed. Again.

He had failed. Again.

He had failed. Again.

He had failed. Again.

Xie Lian didn't react.

He had failed.

He probably hadn't even taken that good of a care of his body.

He had come up with the needles to stop the pain AFTER handling and cleaning all of his wounds. He had not been careful with the temperature. He had not created a bed soon enough and left him hanging from the
statues for too long the first night.

How much pain had he not only not avoided, but caused?

"Useless trash," he muttered to himself.

He had treated his body poorly, and on top of that he had done nothing for his mind.
Maybe if he had been more insisting on not letting him go up the mountain. Maybe if he had somehow become a Savage quicker. Maybe if he had been calmer. Maybe if he had more medical notions. Maybe if he knew how to comfort someone.

Maybe if he was enough, Xie Lian would react.
Xie Lian deserved someone better than him. He desperately wanted to become that person. But he wasn't enough. He hadn't been strong enough. Smart enough. Calm enough. Comforting enough.

He was frustrated with his own limitations. He was ready to do anything to overcome them,
if he just knew how.

Xie Lian didn't react.

The last reaction Hua Cheng remembered of him was that scream. He hated it, but he would never allow himself to forget it.

He had no idea how to get better. But he would try.

Another week went by. He talked to him everyday, sang to him everyday.

He started to bring white flowers to the temple, the kind he said he liked.

He adorned the entire temple with it, hoping that Xie Lian could find something beautiful to look at in his lost gaze.
He put them near the altar, so Xie Lian always smelled the flowers.

He changed his bandages every day, massaged his limbs every day, cleaned his face and body every day.

And every day, Xie Lian didn't react.

He let Hua Cheng handle him freely.
He waited with his eyes open until the morning was warm enough and let Hua Cheng gently remove the blankets. He let him cradle his head carefully in one hand and circle his waist in another arm, every touch respectful while he sat him on his lap and helped him drink water.
He let him hug him and hold his weight before softly letting the statues support him. He let him remove the bandages around his neck, clean the wound with ghostly touches and replace the bandage with a silky, new one.

He let him maneuver around his torso to remove the long
bandage, he let him clean his wounds with the utmost care, he let him talk about how much they had improved, he let him go around him again to circle his torso with a new bandage.

He let him brush his hair, sing to him, give him water again...

He didn't react.
Hua Cheng was used to this routine when something he had been fearing since the first day, disrupted it.

White-No-Face entered the temple.
He had thought long and hard what to do if this happened. He was not a match for him, but even if he only could serve Xie Lian by taking care of him, that was already something nobody else would do, so he needed to be careful to not be banished by him.
Besides, if it came to the worst possibility, he at least needed the element of surprise.

He hid.

White-No-Face stepped on one of the white flowers in his way to the altar.

"Seems like someone's been taken good care of you."
Xie Lian didn't react.

"Are you still being unresponsive? Very well."

White-No-Face ripped the bandages of his torso open.

Xie Lian didn't react.

Hua Cheng forced himself to not react. He hadn't hurt him yet.
"You're already healed in these areas. You don't need stitches anymore."

To Hua Cheng's surprise, White-No-Face started to methodically remove the stitches. There was no love in it. It was mechanical, professional, impersonal.
When White-No-Face was done, he cleaned the little blood that had spilled, and started to walk away.

"I'll come back for you when you stop acting like a doll," he announced, not stopping to look back.

It would have been useless. Xie Lian didn't react.
White-No-Face was almost crossing the threshold when he stopped right in his tracks.

"He can eat now, by the way. You should try to feed him."

Hua Cheng didn't answer, but a shiver crossed his spine.

"What? Do you think I didn't know you were here? You don't need to hide.
If I wanted you gone I would already have dealt with you," he said, like he was amused. "Likewise, if I wanted to hurt him more you wouldn't be able to stop me."

Hua Cheng gripped the hilt of Fang Xin tightly, but didn't show himself. He was angry. He was right.
"You won't make a difference, you know?" he asked. "Just one person won't make a difference. Do you want him to feel less alone? You're the one who's alone. You can't do anything for him."

White-No-Face laughed, and then left the temple.
Hua Cheng bore the humiliation like he had born them all his life.

"You're wrong," he whispered to himself. "I can't prove it now, but I will prove you wrong."

He would never forget Xie Lian, just like he had promised. He would built him bigger, better temples.
He would get stronger to protect him. He would never leave his side. He would do everything for him. He would.

He would.

No matter how hard the road, he would walk it. He would endure it. His suffering was nothing compared to his God's.

He would become stronger, smarter,
better for Xie Lian. And he would prove all of them wrong.

That was his promise to Xie Lian, and his threat to White-No-Face.
He bandaged Xie Lian's torso again, and introduced feeding into the routine.

Xie Lian wouldn't munch berries, so Hua Cheng smashed them for him so he could swallow them.

After starting to feed him, his recovery speed accelerated incredibly.
By the next week, only some fading scars were still on his skin, and Xie Lian had started to blink.

He didn't blink to anything in particular, and when Hua Cheng had tried to use that to communicate with him, it had become clear that Xie Lian was either not listening or not
interested in doing so.

In the end, he never reacted to anything Hua Cheng did for him.

By the end of the second month, White-No-Face appeared at dawn, before Xie Lian opened his eyes.

Hua Cheng hid again, and this time White-No-Face didn't try to talk to him.
When Xie Lian opened his eyes this time, he reacted.

He didn't take in his surroundings, but obediently moved his own body to facilitate White-No-Face's task to put his robes on.

He didn't see the flowers. He didn't see the statues rearranged around him. He didn't see the
blankets on the floor. He didn't see the buckets of water and berries. He didn't see the pile of bandages, all clean since he had stopped needing them last week. He didn't see the four extinguished fires.

White-No-Face approached Hua Cheng, but he didn't see that either.
He swiftly took Fang Xin from him and placed it in Xie Lian's hip.

Xie Lian let it happen, and started to walk away.

"Stop," White-No-Face said.

Xie Lian stopped.

"You forget this," White-No-Face said.
He gave Xie Lian the binds that Hua Cheng had taken away the first day and never used again.

Xie Lian took them, and left.

He hadn't been bonded in two months, but Hua Cheng doubted he would remember that. He didn't think he would remember any of their time together.
White-No-Face left him alone.

Hua Cheng walked to the center of the room and placed a white flower in each statue's hand.

He left the temple afterwards, without further ceremony.

He had no time to lose. He had a promise to keep. He had to get stronger.
And he was going to do exactly that.
Or is it...?

Side Story! You've seen the hurt, let's get the comfort.

Hualian 800 years after, addressing what happened and healing from it. https://twitter.com/xStalKey/status/1315801024746139649
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