A push— and Luo Binghe barely sidesteps it— when he grabs Shen Qingqiu’s sleeve. The tug is not a plea for help, but a ruthless act of revenge. I’ll drag you into this abyss with me.
They topple downwards together. Luo Binghe thinks that Shen Qingqiu screams his name in rage as they’re plummeting, but he can’t hear anything besides rushing wind. This entire thing might be a nightmare; a figment of his imagination.
Except Shen Qingqiu stares openly at him once they’re down in that dark chasm, his normally pristine green robes disheveled. His delicate, white collarbone lies barely visible. Luo Binghe holds down a sneer. His Shifu’s face is rather expressionless, but Luo Binghe can tell from the tense twitches that the man is utterly horrified at his current predicament.
“It was an accident.” Luo Binghe will insist, until years later when his rhetoric changes to— “We tussled and fell together.” That was around when he stopped giving a shit.
Naturally, things are awful at first.
Shen Qingqiu replies to him with one-word answers and refers to Binghe exclusively as “demon scum”. Luo Binghe is pretty sure the man tries to subtly kill him a few times as well. The Peak Lord retains his lofty, immortal image the entire time, even though his white undershirt is tinted with dust and blood. Somehow, a week passes like this. Luo Binghe smiles sweetly and grits his teeth through it, until he can’t anymore.
He’s hungry, and tired, and sick of being bullied by someone he’d only wanted recognition from.
“I hate you, and I hope you die!” Luo Binghe fumes.
Shen Qingqiu drops all pretenses of being even remotely tolerant. “Is that so?”
“Why don’t you just kill me? I know you were trying to push me down here.”
A vein on Shen Qingqiu’s temple pulses.
He doesn’t reply, but Luo Binghe already knows. The Elder Dream Demon had been teaching Luo Binghe an array of techniques, demonic ones included. He knew how to navigate this endless abyss and it showed. If Shen Qingqiu wanted a chance of surviving this place, especially looking and appearing as he did, he couldn’t do so without Luo Binghe. That fact alone filled Luo Binghe with a sort of gleeful spite.
And then they find the Xinmo sword, and Luo Binghe comes to quite a few revelations about his heritage.
In close proximity, Shen Qingqiu is manipulative, possessive, jealous, and competitive. He’s selfish and not a good person in any way, which is why Luo Binghe cannot fathom the recent weird itchiness in his heart whenever he looks at his evil Shifu for too long. Sometimes he thinks about cutting the man down with his sword, but Shifu is, in a strange way, very helpful.
He’s still mean about everything, but it turns out Shen Qingqiu can lie his way out of anything. He navigates the two them through half-a-dozen dangerous situations, and takes advantage of a few lesser demons while he’s at it. They have followers now.
Luo Binghe should have expected this. Now that they had progressed to outright mutual insulting, Shen Qingqiu was more… tolerable. He wasn’t some god. He was a flawed, asshole-ish, man. Luo Binghe takes to calling him Shizun instead of Shifu, because it’s funnier that way.
A demon lunges at Luo Binghe and tries to grab the Xinmo sword out of his hands. It’s quite a sad attempt. Luo Binghe kicks the guy away with a firm push of his leg, and the demon’s head pops off in a burst of blood. Oops. He didn’t realize he’d put in that much strength behind his kick.
“A pathetic creature.” Shen Qingqiu comments plainly from behind him.
Luo Binghe grins. “I did a good job, right, Shizun?”
“Not as pathetic as you.” Shen Qingqiu corrects himself.
Luo Binghe scowls.
Sometimes, he wonders if Shizun has a single positive relationship in his life. Luo Binghe remembers that Shizun hated Liu Qingge when he was alive, was rather disrespectful to Yue Qingyuan, and barely even spoke to Ming Fan. Even to Ning Yingying, it was a distant sort of kindness. And Luo Binghe couldn’t tell whether that kindness was birthed from the sort of traditional chivalry that Shizun bore because he cared about his reputation, or if he actually liked Yingying as a disciple.
In this sense, Luo Binghe is likely Shen Qingqiu’s most genuine relationship, purely based on the fact that he no longer bothers to hide his true personality.
Luo Binghe feels quite good about this.
The fact that Shen Qingqiu finally stopped trying to sabotage him mid-battle contributed to this feeling as well. His Shizun had actually begun to cover his blind spots, even as those spots gradually disappeared over the following months.
“I think I’m a better swordsman than you now, aren’t I, Shizun?” Luo Binghe comments offhandedly one day. By this point, he has subjugated half the demonic realm, including Sha Hualing.
Shen Qingqiu’s grip around his fan tightens, but he remains silent. Luo Binghe barks out an amused laugh.
Things officially change between them when Luo Binghe gets injured. An assassination attempt, with his goal to win over Mobei Jun, as well as Sha Hualing’s conniving father— a culmination of all these things— causes the injury. Luo Binghe has a nasty, reddish gash running across his chest. He’ll heal, but he rushes back to his demonic domain as quickly as possible.
A few servants pale when they see him. He waves them off and staggers into his room. Someone will get a physician soon, but it’s quite unnecessary. Luo Binghe will heal.
If he repeats it enough, it’ll come true.
He passes out.
Luo Binghe wakes up to a warm, wet cloth on his chest. Light dabs press every so often upon his wound, wiping his flesh gently. A hand brushes against his forehead, cool fingers testing his temperature before departing. He hasn’t felt this level of care… since his mother. His heart lurches a little and he opens his eyes.
It’s Shen Qingqiu.
They stare at one another for a dumbfounded second.
“You took care of me?” Luo Binghe asks incredulously. “You?”
“Does it matter?”
Luo Binghe mulls over the question as he sits up and says, “Yes, it does. I just can’t imagine it. Shizun nurturing someone or serving someone? That’s…”
He must sound too flabbergasted, because Shen Qingqiu’s face abruptly darkens. He throws the warm, bloody rag onto the floor with a splat and exits the room without a word. The man’s back is arrogantly straight.
Luo Binghe notices that there is a bowl of warm water next to his bed, as well as antiseptic alcohol. He chokes down a disbelieving giggle— he doesn’t need any of this, he’s a demon, where did they even find this, and yet—
He calls the demon standing guard into his room.
“Y—Yes?” The little thing whimpers.
It makes sense. Luo Binghe isn’t exactly a nice guy. In fact, under Shen Qingqiu’s guidance for the last year, his personality seems to have gotten even worse, with a tinge of derangement.
“Shizun was in here the entire time? Since I collapsed?”
The demon nods vigorously, eager to please. “Your Lordship asked us to treat the human like we treat you, so we let him nurse you back to health.”
Luo Binghe suddenly snickers. The demon jumps.
“Sorry— it’s just that I never thought I’d hear Shizun and ‘nurse’ in the same sentence.” Luo Binghe pauses deliberately and leans forward with revelatory anticipation. “What was it like? What did he do? Did you see his face?”
The demon is practically quaking in his boots. He’d only ever seen Luo Binghe donning a cold, furious face, or with the force of bloodlust behind him. Never with this type of… excitement and self-assured satisfaction. His Lordship was being conversational.
With this fear, the demon spills everything— of Shen Qingqiu wiping and disinfecting Luo Binghe’s wound, asking for bandages as he changed Luo Binghe’s bloodied clothing, even tenderly brushing Luo Binghe’s hair aside all the while looking incredibly bitter. It’s true that they had settled into a sort of alliance within the past year or two, but Shizun expressing care for Binghe is out of his wildest dreams.
“He did that?” Luo Binghe settles back on his feet and grins, looking like he was having the best day of his life despite getting sliced a few hours earlier. “You’re dismissed.”
The demon doesn’t bother asking any questions. He scampers off, proverbial tail between his legs.
Here’s the thing: Luo Binghe actually does fuck Sha Hualing a few times.
He’s bored and noncommittal, and he has needs.
Sha Hualing is warm and wet on the inside, her long legs wrapping around his waist as she digs across his back with her insanely and unnecessarily sharp nails. But he kind of likes the pain. She’s wildfire.
It feels good and the experience is validating. He’s the Demon King, the owner of the Xinmo Sword; he’s not the nobody Shen Qingqiu had cast him as.
But at this point, the two have a decent enough relationship that Luo Binghe actually cares about what Shen Qingqiu thinks. There’s anticipation for a negative reaction, but contrary to his expectations, Shen Qingqiu is neither angry nor jealous.
For the most part, Shen Qingqiu is neutral, perhaps erring on the side of disgust.
The novelty promptly fades and Luo Binghe drops Sha Hualing like a rock. She’s not happy about it, but she can’t do anything.
When Luo Binghe changes in front of Shizun that night, with Shen Qingqiu advising him on the best way to consolidate power, he feels Shizun’s gaze linger on his back. Sha Hualing’s scratch marks are stark against muscled skin.
“Do you like it?” Luo Binghe smiles. “It’s a gift from Sha Hualing.”
Shen Qingqiu hums tonelessly and lifts a cup of tea to sip quietly. Luo Binghe can’t see his expression. What a shame.
“Maybe when we leave this realm and get back to Cang Qiong Peak, I’ll go after Yingying-shijie next. She always did have a crush on me, you know.”
The cup of tea is set down. “Are you trying to provoke me?”
“I’m being serious.”
And Luo Binghe is. He likes Ning Yingying a lot. She’s the last remnant of his innocence from childhood, and it’s abundantly clear (now that he’s an adult) how much she’d liked him.
Luo Binghe gestures at Shen Qingqiu. “Come help me with this robe.”
Three years ago, he could never imagine Shen Qingqiu obeying him, but the man actually gets up and pushes coldly at Luo Binghe’s shoulder to get him to turn around. He does this out of his own free will. Shen Qingqiu’s long, elegant fingers begin straightening Binghe’s collar.
“I think Shijie would like it gentle. She seems like that type of person— not like Sha Hualing, who’s quite a tigress in bed—”
Shen Qingqiu ties his waistband so suddenly that if Luo Binghe were a normal man, he’d probably choke and bend over from how painfully tight it was. But Luo Binghe doesn’t give a reaction at all. In fact, he’s pleased. It occurs to him that he might be an even worse person than Shizun is, but that’s irrelevant.
“Turn around.” Shen Qingqiu’s tone is positively frosty.
Luo Binghe turns and gazes half-lidded at Shen Qingqiu’s lovely, pleasant face. Shizun’s features are the type where the longer one stared, the nicer it looked. Besides, Luo Binghe isn’t attached to the face itself, he’s attached to the man who owns it— which makes him all the more appreciative of Shen Qingqiu’s long lashes and jade skin.
Luo Binghe leans down and kisses him.
For a second, Shen Qingqiu doesn’t move.
Then, his lips begin to move clumsily against Luo Binghe’s.
One of his hands crawls from Luo Binghe’s waist to his right shoulder. Shen Qingqiu grips the shoulder so tightly that it feels like a pair of iron claws are there instead. It legitimately feels like Shen Qingqiu is trying to rip his skin apart.
They part, and Luo Binghe’s heart feels so full that it’s about to burst. He brushes a thumb against Shen Qingqiu’s cheek.
Shen Qingqiu leans back and slaps him. Luo Binghe sees it coming, but he makes no effort to avoid the attack.
His cheek stings in a masochistically pleasant way.
“I hate you, brat.” Shen Qingqiu hisses, and he leaves.
Luo Binghe never knew how creative his Shizun could be with his insults until the man stopped calling him a variety of cruel names.
He was no longer “it”, or “scum”, or “demon spawn, or “brat”. There were other names too, that Luo Binghe can remember with slight fondness. “Filth”, and “trash”, and “whore-son”— that one had been used when they’d just fallen into the Abyss, and it angered Luo Binghe exceptionally at the time.
All these names now transitioned into a singular designation: “Binghe”.
They get out of the Abyss and back to Cang Qiong Peak. The reinstatement is quick, and Luo Binghe is excellent at faking normality. No one suspects him of being part-demon. The other Elders had buried the two of them, but Shen Qingqiu is given all his honors as a Peak Lord again.
Everyone is happy and celebrating, so it’s not until a month in that they start to realize something is horribly wrong.
“Is… Shizun… pouring a cup of tea for Ah-Luo?” Ning Yingying asks hesitantly.
“I think I’m more shocked at how they’re actually sitting at a table together.” Another disciple shudders.
Shizun doesn’t smile and barely gives a reaction to anything Luo Binghe is saying — in fact, he even frowns a few times. But Luo Binghe keeps talking and can’t seem to keep a (frightening) smile off his face. In their memory, the Luo Binghe of the past rarely smiled around Shizun out of pure fear, and later, resentment. The current Luo Binghe is extremely sticky. He moves to one of the rooms near Shen Qingqiu and disappears regularly for a couple days at a time. The most amazing part is, Shen Qingqiu says nothing about it. No scolding sessions or severe punishments. At the most, he makes Luo Binghe run a few laps. The punishment is so lukewarm that some disciples theorize their Shizun is now possessed by a demon from the Abyss.
Ming Fan arrives in Shizun’s courtyard one day to hear an awkward conversation.
“—you think about being in a harem?” Luo Binghe asks, arms crossed. “Sha Hualing desperately wants to volunteer.”
Shen Qingqiu looks like he wants to fling his tea on Luo Binghe but barely restrains himself.
“Those girls from Huanhua Palace would be next. The little palace master is infatuated with me.”
Luo Binghe is smiling, but it appears threatening. That’s how all his smiles look nowadays. Ming Fan takes the chance and escapes, desperate to erase even the suggestion of what he’d just heard.
They aren’t together, are they? Heaven’s, please no.
Of course, Luo Binghe can instantly tell that Shen Qingqiu is unhappy with this line of inquiry, and even Luo Binghe knows that asking for a harem when he already has Shen Qingqiu is presumptuous. Needless to say, Luo Binghe doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Sha Hualing— she’s just unfortunate enough to be used as a constant verbal tool against Shizun’s refined facade. If Luo Binghe ever actually started a harem, Shen Qingqiu would probably poison every member and then try to kill Luo Binghe out of writhing spite. But the antagonization is fun, and Luo Binghe enjoys the feeling of being wanted.
“Binghe.” Shen Qingqiu says coldly. “Run a hundred laps to the bottom of the mountain. Keep this up and I’ll make you sleep in the snow.”
He would never, not anymore, but Luo Binghe doesn’t call the man out. Shizun is such a pushover nowadays.
“Alright, Shizun!” Luo Binghe says cheerfully.
One day, a girl appears at the bottom of their mountain. She demands to see Shen Qingqiu.
“This random woman says she’s your abandoned fiancée.” Luo Binghe says disdainfully. The claim is ridiculous, except Shen Qingqiu doesn’t refute it and instead pales. “She says her name is Qiu Haitang.”
Shen Qingqiu’s entire face spasms.
This time, Luo Binghe asks choppily, “Do you… want me to refuse her entrance?”
For a long moment, Shen Qingqiu doesn’t reply.
Shen Qingqiu doesn’t say ‘this master’, but refers to himself as a common person would: ‘I’.
Luo Binghe forces himself to unclench his fist.
“Do you know this woman?”
“Make her leave. I have no time for this.” Shizun picks up his teacup, but his hand trembles.
The ambiguity of Shizun’s response means that Luo Binghe has to personally go down to see this woman. He’s half-jealous, half-concerned. Is this how Shizun feels whenever Binghe suggests starting a harem?
Qiu Haitang is pretty. Her plain robes do not diminish the beauty of her face. Full red lips and large eyes taper down to a sharp chin. She's a cultivator as well, but she's pathetically weak. There are a few disciples surrounding her, the ones that tend to stand guard at the bottom of the mountain. They’re starting to look more sympathetic by the minute.
The woman lifts her gaze and makes eye contact with Luo Binghe. She stills. Her line of sight roams over his face and his crossed arms; a pretty flush rises onto pale cheeks.
It’s not ego boosting. Luo Binghe already hates her.
When he gets closer, she starts her story again. “Please, young master, hear me out— Shen Qingqiu is a vile monster. He’s scum who killed my family and abandoned me in marriage." Not even Luo Binghe has dared to imagine being in wedlock with Shen Qingqiu. Who the hell does this woman think she is? "I don’t know how he became a Peak Lord, but I’m certain a lowlife like him didn’t do it through moral means. Please, take pity on me.”
Luo Binghe smiles sweetly at her.
“Everyone is dismissed.” He says to the other disciples. They linger for a second longer but eventually leave. Luo Binghe is one of the most powerful individuals among all Twelve Peaks. No one wants to get on his bad side.
“Miss, come this way.” Luo Binghe says, leading her down a side path to Shizun’s hut. Xinmo shivers down the hilt, eager for blood. Luo Binghe runs a placating hand down the sheathed sword.
“Tell me more about Shen Qingqiu.”
Qiu Haitang does.
Who wouldn’t talk with such a powerful and handsome man willing to listen? She begins an expert slandering session. Luo Binghe listens with the patience of a saint, nodding at the right moments as he learns of Shizun’s awful past. And he believes most of it, because Shen Qingqiu truly is a horrible person.
“Did you know that Shen Qingqiu also killed the Bai Zhan Peak Lord a few years ago?” Luo Binghe suddenly interrupts. His gaze is gentle as he looks at her.
Qiu Haitang shivers. “Liu Qingge. That… that was Shen Qingqiu?”
Luo Binghe nods solemnly.
“Then— then we have the evidence we need! We can persecute him!”
Luo Binghe unsheathes his sword. They’re in an empty clearing now, far away from any inhabitants. “What makes you think I want him persecuted?”
He had learned the truth of Liu Qingge’s death long ago, when they had been in the Endless Abyss. At the time, Luo Binghe thought of the knowledge as blackmail. But now he would take Shen Qingqiu’s ugly secrets with him down to the grave.
Qiu Haitang blanches with horror. She even tints a bit green. The woman seems to have finally realized that this handsome, young man wants to kill her.
“Xinmo hasn’t had an offering for a while.” Luo Binghe says, flicking his sword. “You used to be engaged to Shizun? That’s in the past now.”
His sword arcs down. Metal glints in the sunlight. The deed is done.
Luo Binghe heads back up the mountain. Qiu Haitang's body is long disposed of— he’s not an amateur.
Shen Qingqiu is sitting in the same position as before, but holding a book. He’s not reading it, exactly. It looks like he’s spacing out.
Luo Binghe knocks thrice against the wall.
Shen Qingqiu’s finger twitches and he pointedly turns a page of the book. It’s silent for a very long time, until Shen Qingqiu finally speaks. “She left?”
“You could say that.” Luo Binghe says, sidling up to pull the book out of his Shizun’s hands. “Relax. She won’t trouble you any further.”
Luo Binghe knows that’s not the only problem, but he doesn’t want to admit that Shizun might hold even an ounce of affection for the woman— else why would he leave her alive despite killing her entire family?
Instead, Shen Qingqiu simply closes his eyes and lets out a shudder. “Binghe.”
“Sit with me.”
Life is good. Everyday turns into a pleasant routine.
“Can you hand me my sword?” Luo Binghe asks.
“Am I your slave?” Shen Qingqiu retorts icily. “Do it yourself.”
Luo Binghe stretches out an arm, and the sword swooshes across the room into his hand. He’d asked just to see if Shizun would actually concede to the request, but Shizun isn't the indulgent sort.
It’s impressive that Shizun is letting Luo Binghe into his private room at all.
In the past, Shen Qingqiu was always alone. He never let anyone into his personal space. Now, Luo Binghe invites himself in.
Shen Qingqiu sits in white underclothes, long hair falling loosely down his back as he neatly folds his outer robes. Luo Binghe takes a confident step forwards and gathers Shizun’s hair into his hand, drawing it over his left shoulder. He brushes a thumb over the curve of Shizun’s ear, and leans down to press a kiss against Shen Qingqiu’s temple. His lips linger there for a moment.
Luo Binghe has half a mind to outright ask if Shizun even likes affection, but decides against it. That’d be asking for self-evisceration. At least his Shizun isn’t pushing him away or lunging at him with Xiuya.
He scrapes his teeth down Shen Qingqiu’s jaw and presses another kiss on his neck. And then he straightens, leaning back.
“Sleep well, Shizun.”
Shen Qingqiu stands up too. “Haven’t I taught you better than to leave a job half-finished?”
“I have to say, you never really taught me anything useful.”
“You were too idiotic to learn.” Shen Qingqiu grabs Luo Binghe’s face in a bruising grip, eyes flinty.
Luo Binghe frowns. “Shizun, you literally used to bully me.”
Arching a delicate eyebrow, Shen Qingqiu pushes Luo Binghe down onto his bed. Hard. Luo Binghe’s head hits the pillow with a thud.
“And I shall keep bullying you.” Shen Qingqiu runs a hand down Luo Binghe’s chest. He looks all high and mighty like that, hair falling like a curtain around them— which will make it all the more satisfying when Luo Binghe gets his cock into Shizun’s body. Shizun will protest as usual. He’s never too keen on bottoming, not because it doesn’t feel good, but because he’s a control freak who hates being vulnerable. It had taken some coercion, and of course Luo Binghe’s amazing bedroom skills, to get Shizun underneath him the first time. Now, Shizun seems to find the entire thing empowering. Luo Binghe can't help that he finds Shizun hot pretty much all the time.
They'd been through a lot together, so it was irrelevant whom was fucking whom. Besides, Luo Binghe was so in love that he’d probably eat a toad if Shizun asked him to, much less take a dick up his ass. Not that he’d ever tell Shizun that.
Shen Qingqiu presses his mouth harshly against Luo Binghe’s, and the curtain draws.