"Well, now that we've gotten to introduce ourselves like this I think it's about time we stop standing around like we've sprung root. Come on in kids, you gotta eat well to live long and healthy."
Qing Lan's gaze was soft and gentle as she looked at Liang Chen and Qing Chun exchanging greetings, clapping her hands to draw everyone's attention. How long hadn't they waited to finally meet the Liang Chen that Yan Ling had bragged about so many times? Now that they had finally met, they couldn't just let him stand around outside, especially when he looked that pitiful.
But still, there was something they had to take care of with him as well. It shouldn't be more than a formality, but they still considered it important. She cast a sideways glance at her husband once she drew everyone's attention, her eyes gesturing towards the wooden shack that stood next to their house. Qing Feng was more than familiar with his wife so a simple look was all it took for him to understand her intentions.
"Sorry, Chen Boy, but could I ask for your help? We've gotta make some more food now that we've got two new people at the table so we need to carry in some more ingredients. You mind helping me carry them? Little Yan Ling, you can just head in with the others and extend the table."
Qing Chun let go of Liang Chen's hand as her father spoke up, flashing Liang Chen a warm smile as she stepped back so that her father could take her place. Yan Ling gave Liang Chen's shoulder a gentle squeeze before she gave him a light push and stepped past him.
"Go on, don't want to be rude and make them do all the work, do you?"
Yan Ling still wore her own gentle smile as she urged him on, she knew that he'd be rooted here forever if she didn't give his back a few pushes. Life had broken this lovely man of hers quite a bit over the years, if she didn't keep an eye on him then she was scared that he'd just crumble and burn himself to ash. Liang Chen obviously had no choice in this situation, not that he was going to refuse from the start, so he simply nodded his head.
"Great, just follow me."
Qing Feng's hand landed on Liang Chen's shoulder and he was pulled along towards the shack, Yan Ling and the two others vanished into the house, Yan Ling quietly pulling out a communication orb. The two men quickly reached the shack, Qing Feng pushing open the door to reveal a cold room filled with hanging cuts of meat. But he didn't immediately enter the shack, he simply stood there and took in the cold air for a few moments before he spoke.
"20 years, Liang Chen. Yan Ling stayed with us for 20 years, it's only thanks to her and the things she's given us that we've managed to stay so youthful over the years. But more than that, what do you think 20 years of someone's presence does to a person?"
This was the first Liang Chen heard of how long Yan Ling had spent with his reincarnated family, and the actual number surpassed what he had expected. 20 years, that was longer than they had been together. At the same time, he also realized something else. Yan Ling wouldn't have wasted her time in this universe, if she spent 20 years with them then it meant that they were 20 years she could afford to spend in quiet cultivation.
It would have been after she finished what she came here to do, something that he already knew had taken quite a few years. To him, their most recent separation hadn't been long at all, but to Yan Ling? She had spent more time alone than she had with him, no, she had spent more time alone than she had with her own family. She had fought, trained, and waited, and she had done so far longer than he had.
"We've been together for so long that I consider her the same as my own daughter, and I hope that she can consider us as something akin to her family."
Qing Feng breathed in the cold air of the storage room as the memories washed over him. It had been many a year since they first met Yan Ling, it almost felt like a lifetime ago. By all accounts, she had been too close with them, treated them too well. But... she was just lonely. A child that had lost her family, a child that was all alone as she struggled. They couldn't leave a kid like that alone, and that was how their relationship slowly unfurled.
"She cried quite a bit you know? When the night was at its darkest, when the winter was at its whitest. Alone in her room, as quietly as a mouse so as to not disturb anyone. She cried for you, she cried for her family, she cried for her junior and senior disciples, and then she cried for you again."
Liang Chen felt his breath catch in his throat, the cold wind of the storage room like ice as it fell into his lungs. He had lost things, yes that was true. But Yan Ling had lost just as much, she had lost and lost again. And then they had separated, they had split apart before either of them really got to deal with their trauma. Granted, it was Yan Ling's choice to do so, but that didn't mean that it was easy. But it was still her choice, that was probably why she had cried on her own, why she had cried quietly.
"I don't know how old you or she actually are, nor will I ask. But she is my daughter, and she has cried for you, Liang Chen. No more, do you understand? She is not allowed to cry anymore, can you promise me that?"
Qing Feng finally turned his head and looked at Liang Chen, a strong yet caring look in his eyes. Liang Chen didn't want to, but he felt a slight pain in his chest as he looked at those eyes. He'd seen a similar gaze in Qing Feng's eyes before, back when he said goodbye to Liang Chen before he was executed. The look was the same, but now it was dedicated to someone else.
Liang Chen looked into that familiar pair of eyes for a second before he drew in a long breath, allowing the cool air to wash over him. The cold air dredged up his memories as it settled in his lungs, the years rising from within him as he thought back to everything he and Yan Ling had gone through. No more crying. Could he promise that?
"I... I lost my family when I was young. They could have escaped, but they allowed themselves to get executed so that I could live. They smiled, but all I could do was cry, cry and burn. And I kept burning as I lived, for that was all I could do if I wanted to achieve my goals. And then I met her, that cheeky brat."
The corners of Liang Chen's mouth couldn't help but curve up whenever he thought back to the day they first met. The way she had thrown him around was still fresh in his mind, engraved into his soul. She really had been a cheeky person, just running around doing whatever she pleased.
"The years have gone by, people have come and gone, but she remained no matter what. I still burn, Qing Feng. Thanks to my parents, I still burn. The fire started on the day my parents died and has kept burning ever since, and it will keep burning until the end of this world, of that I am convinced. But as long as she is by my side, that fire will never swallow me. As long as she lives, I can keep being a person and not just a raging inferno."
It felt strange to tell his reincarnated parents this. They had willingly died so that he could keep living, but in doing so they had ensured that Liang Chen would forever burn. They had started a fire in him, and it still scorched his soul to this day. But at the same time, it felt liberating to get it out. They died for him, but did he have to be thankful for that? Wasn't it fine for him to be at least a little resentful for getting left alone like that? With every sacrifice, there were those who were left behind to carry the sorrow, and sometimes they would have been happier if they got to join those they cried for.
Naturally, Liang Chen had already stepped past those emotions, they had just become more firewood for the fire that burned him. But it still felt good to get them out, it felt good to let some of that fire out into the world. But, in the end, that was not the point of his statement. So he stepped past Qing Feng and into the storage room, pulling down two legs that were hung to dry, stepping past Qing Feng again as he left the storage room.
"She made me human, Qing Feng. She replaced the family that was lost, she took what was once nothing more than ashes and turned it back into a home. I won't let her cry, nor will I allow her to be alone any longer. She is my family, so I will burn the world into one where she'll never have to cry again."
Liang Chen's lips were still curved up, Qing Feng could see it when he stepped past him. But he could feel the heat in that gentle curve. Yes, this child really was burning, this child really was fire. But looking at those eyes, so focused on the house that Yan Ling had entered, he could flash a relieved smile.
The fire burned like no other, but it wouldn't burn her. The world may burn, yes that was true. But the family wouldn't burn, for the family was what shaped the fire to begin with. So Qing Feng was relieved, but at the same time, he was a bit sad.
He was a kid, or at least he looked like one. As such, he was probably rather young when he first started to get strong, just like Yan Ling. Kids shouldn't think about things like burning, they shouldn't think about what allows them to remain human or how they should shape the world. They should be kids and just have fun. But it was already too late for this one and Yan Ling, someone had stolen that from them. And that... He couldn't help but find that sad.