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All Occasions Do Inform Against Me

Chapter Text

It’s autumn when Shen Qingqiu comes to the realization that one day he will have been Shen Jiu longer then he will have ever been Shen Yuan.

 

This, he can easily admit, should be an obvious conclusion for anyone - especially him. He lost his world the moment he died and it's a simply idea, how permanent his visage is, how concrete his role. It is something he knows he should have contemplated earlier in his transmigration.

 

Shen Yuan does not think about how he had. He does not think of the fidgeting of his hand reaching for his phone, nor the days he would walk into the kitchen expecting a fridge, or the times he would panic and look for his laptop amidst the clutter of his desk. He did not think of how long a time this realization had been building, but still scolded himself on his surprise.

 

The realization shouldn’t shock him, because it is simple. It should not stop his work or threaten his calligraphy brush due to the unforgiving grip its owner has it caught in. It should not scare him, because Shen Qingqiu has lived and died in this world, he has seen all its realms and he has taught its most cherished son. There should be little that ever, truly, scares him.

 

Still.

 

The finality of this notion and the suddenness of a future spiraling out in front of him with no exit doors is terrifying. As this thought flits through his head with no warning, spiraling in the quiet of one dreary afternoon, he feels the beginnings of the icy grip of dread pool in his chest.

 

It’s foolishness. He has tried not to dwell on his predicament. After all, he was a sick man before with a healthy imagination and a lot of time to use it. He had dreamed of this exact situation, being thrown into another world and not feeling the slow creep of weakness in his limbs the longer he stayed on bed rest. The thing was though, he had dreamt about it yes, but those had been just that - pretty stories without any of the downsides of leaving a place and identity forever. When the fever had burned the original Shen Qingqiu away, Shen Yuan had done what any sensible person would do and quietly compartmentalize as quickly as he could, stuffing any longing for the conveniences of his own time deep down into his heart. There is little sense in nostalgia for his past, about a place and time he could barely have taken part in, much less have seen considering his hospitalization. It’s better now, being no longer chained to a bed or an iv though it seems that no matter how far he runs there’s still always a cup of bitter medicine he has to swallow. At least he’s used to it.

 

He is sensible, Shen Yuan scolds himself. Sensible and cold and therefore any lingering affection for what he lost shouldn't stop him from working in the present. Even if he did have any need to discuss his home, well then there's always Shang Qinghua. He will never say it, refuses to say it even under duress, but having Shang Qinghua in this world as well is something of a comfort. Even if the man is an idiot author who relied too much on clichéd troupes to get by in an already cheesy genre. At least they could commiserate sometimes about missing their phones or wondering what new novels have appeared on the internet.

 

And yet.

 

That's also a bit wrong.

 

He frowns at the papers in front of him, disturbed by the thought, feeling the ice begin to force its way to the center of his chest. At the back of his mouth, he can taste the faint traces of bitter iron.

 

Somewhere, buried deep down Shen Qingqiu is not dumb enough to say that this is enough. He was not alone in his home world in quite the same way his friend was. He can admit, grudgingly, that they have never spoken about other things, important things, like their family, their friends, their pets, their dreams - now all left behind. A life was difficult to give up, even buried under new memories. Such reminders have nipped annoyingly at his heels the farther he tries to venture from them and, more recently, when he looks at his most favored disciple.

 

So yes, it grates on him sometimes, the absences of his name and the wondering. He is adaptable and capable in this life, but he can acknowledge that this is because at first he had to be and then because it became routine. What use would he have gotten from panicking when he first woke up, outside of throwing the entirety of his peak into chaos? Would Binghe be any more merciful if he knew the man who had pushed him into the abyss had only done it because he was threatened to do so? These weren't questions Shen Qingqiu felt were worth answering then, and now were only what-ifs, hardly worth exploring.

 

Yet, now that the danger has passed, that he is no longer running for his life or anxious about his death, he's found that hollow again. It is the one born from his longing and fed by uncomfortable feelings that are slowly getting harder to turn away from. In the end he finds himself still only human even if the original Shen Qingqiu had cultivated to something otherwise.

 

These lapses in control, these quiet moments, first only when Binghe is gone and the manor desolate, have begun to seep into the days when his student is there to fill the room with chatter.  

 

As sudden as the dread and panic come, they drain away to numbness, and he finds himself deflating, slumping back away from his desk.

 

It really was quite.

 

The system has been silent for months, though that hasn’t lessened his anxiety that one day it will return with a vengeance. It’s a little funny, he muses, that he would be so afraid of something that honestly just sounds like a mildly put out Siri, or it would be if said robotic voice didn’t have the power to send him to people that would gleefully tear his limbs off. His hands shake at the memory, phantom pain shooting up his shoulder and sweat gathering on his forehead, but no one is here to see it which is just the same as saying such a reactions never happened.

 

 Doesn’t matter, he admonishes himself, it’s over.

 

Still, it’s in these moments that he feels it the most -- how much he is not Shen Qingqiu. How much of an act he actually puts on even with the ooc function enabled. On some level he must continue to try to be Shen Qingqiu. He must adopt the original's practices and at least some of his mannerism so to not completely upset the expectations of those around him. The last thing he wants is someone claiming the Peak is in need of an exorcist. Even after all this time, he still finds himself worrying that he'll slip up too much one day.

 

It’s not as restricting as it once was at the beginning of everything and he now has some tried and true tricks to get by. Still, these have come with their own consequences. Yes, he holds the man’s cultivation, his appearance, his relationships, and in all aspects he is told that he is better than the one who held them before the fever that brought him here. Yet, there is something profoundly uncomfortable about it all. How the original Shen Qingqiu can die in all but name, have an impostor take over, and for no alarm to be raised by his few peers or his childhood friend. Shen Yuan does not regret the choices he’s made in the original Shen Qingqiu’s stead, nor does he completely blame the Lords for their preference, but somewhere he does pity the man that died in that sickbed, unnoticed and unmourned by even Yue Qingyuan.

 

He misses not being a replacement, and days where he didn’t have to silently bullshit his way through most interactions. It’s gotten better over time, but like any annoyance he’ll find himself unexpectedly forced to do conversational somersaults to desperately retain his image with those he should be his most comfortable with.

 

Do you remember

 

when we met?

 

When you were still in training?

 

When I was learning that new technique?

 

that dinner party were old peak lord so and so threw that huge fit?

 

He wants to scream. Of course he didn't! I don't know you and you don't know me! He couldn't cultivate those relationships, couldn't find an understanding with these people because intrinsically Shen Yuan could not create an equilibrium between them. He knew more about these characters...people then he could ever let on and they could never get close. He wonders what Airplane bro must feel surrounded by his own creations and shudders, there is no reconciling possible there.

 

Even with Lou Binghe, there’s a distance. It started with a book and Shen Yuan’s own concrete assumption that he understood this man. He'd read Binghe's adventures and been privy to the demon lord's most private thoughts. Shen Yuan had been so sure he knew exactly who Lou Binghe was and then that image had shattered into glass. Now that his own ideas on who this man was could no longer stand in light of knowing him, interactions between them became so much more worrying.

 

So even though he knows his disciple doesn’t like the fan between them, he clings to it as his last security blanket, just as he recognizes and pretends not to see the discerning looks Binghe sends him from time to time. He can’t bring himself to open his mouth and break the peace they’ve worked so hard to create.

 

In the quiet of their room, Shen Yuan snaps his fan shut, hoping the sound will be enough to kick him out of the malaise that has hit him. The gentle patter of rain returns in fits and spurts around him, and Shen Qingqiu slowly realizes how dark the room has become. He needs some light or maybe a nap, either way the papers in front of him are not going to be read today. He hasn’t made any progress with them, their contents long forgotten, and with the way his mood is progressing he’s unlikely to finish anything for the afternoon.

 

There's an annoyance building now. A wish that the realizations and their meanings could have kindly fucked off and let him live his new life.

 

Couldn’t he catch a fucking break?

 

But, even as he ruminates on his hate, his head catches another upsetting difference between the original and him - the swearing. It's a bad habit, sure, and not one that the refined Shen Jiu or the mask of Shen Qingqiu that Shen Yuan dons would ever take part in. Still, if he is thinking honestly, Shen Yuan has a mouth worse than a sailor even though his tutors had tried mercilessly to beat it out of him. It had worked, for a time, before the diagnosis and the hospital stays. Then, when he had no pretenses left to play at and a sympathetic audience it had come out a bit more. People always said swearing helped a bit with pain. Now, though he knew how to hold himself back, it didn't stop the headaches that would gather at his temples whenever he's forced to mentally scream at the system or the people around him.

 

Usually Binghe. Mostly Binghe.

 

God he needs a nap. Shen Qingqiu looks over at the bed, mourning how far his desk was from the next room, and suppresses a groan. His legs are stiff, his ass hurts and Binghe is not back yet which means no food for at least another three hours. Slowly he manages to stagger over to the covers and collapses into the pile of pillows Binghe had furnished the thing with. Too many really, but hey just enough for him to blot out the fading light of the afternoon and pretend to be dead for a while. That was sure to solve his problem.

 

Unsurprisingly, it doesn't take long in this more consuming darkness for his thoughts to turn back to Binghe. To say that his demon lord helped with the emptiness he now had a name for was both the truth and a ruthless lie. His disciple embodied the impression Shen Yuan has left on this borrowed world - though whether it was for its betterment or its ruining depends on who you ask. But the man also holds another role, one that he had slowly grown accustomed to. Binghe has lost him many times by now, and only keeps him because Shen Qingqiu has decided he should. He is not a romantic, and so he does not think about how this can be their only lifetime. Binghe does not know him, he could not recognize Shen Qingqiu's true appearance, nor does he even know his name. He tells himself it does not matter. He ignores the strong wave of guilt that eats at his heart.

 

Like the rest, there is an imbalance with everything he knows about Binghe and what Binghe gets back. He knows the demon treasures every kernel of truth of his master's past that Shen Qingqiu gives him, just as much as he knows how carefully Binghe gives stories of his mother away. Those stories are soft and quiet, cradled in trembling hands like a stiff wind could blow away their very existence. In his Binghe's life there are very few people his partner holds in his admiration - a space only big enough for two. In contrast, Shen Qingqiu is careful. He cannot speak of his siblings, his parents, or his friends. The original goods had a past that has already come to haunt them and deviating from it would just bring calamity. Still, there are times when the stories threaten to bubble up past his lips. He wants to tell Binghe about his sister's odd fascination with a book about a god of trash, his father's cooking, his mother's knitting. He wants to talk about the time before the hospital and maybe even the time after it, when Binghe was his companion in the wee hours of the morning when the pain got too bad. This Binghe isn't the same stallion character he had read then, no Shen Yuan had met him, but he was the one that held his heart.


Because in the end, he loves Binghe and he is susceptible to most of his disciple’s advances, be they dinner or puppy eyes. He does not know how much longer he can hold himself back from this man, he isn't even sure he wants to. Though he will protest this against hell and high water because frankly his ass cannot handle him being kind. There are few times he has found it is safe to be kind. After all what would the demon lord say to a story like his? How would he feel knowing that Shen Yuan had graded his life in points, had traded the half demon’s comfort for despair in the abyss just to save his own skin, had only approached him in the first place because Lou Binghe was the protagonist of Proud Immortal Demon Way and Shen Yuan wanted desperately not to die?

There wasn't a good conclusion to any of it. In the end, he wouldn't even know where to start.

Chapter Text

As autumn pushes steadily into winter, Shen Yuan did not feel his mood improve. The first snowfall leaves him gloomy -- reminded too much of a similar scene from long ago. His old bedroom used to have a view like this, when his parents had been convinced that all he needed to feel better was fresh country air. His sister had complained about the move, how she was leaving her friends in the city behind (plus the only good bookstore for miles), but their parents had been adamant about it.

 

When snow had fallen then, as now, it had done so in thick puffy clumps, gathering lazily on the ground into a deep freeze. Even with the snow, there was a dry sort of cold in the air, a sensation that easily settled into the bones if one let it.

 

Shen Yuan had learned the dangers of doing so.

 

Back then, he had a furnace or a heater to run to the moment he felt it laying siege to his fingers but now there was only a flimsy window covering between him and the chill outside.

 

Binghe finds him there, hours later, staring listlessly out at the scenery. Shen Yuan’s hands have becomes so cold it was hard to twitch a finger, and moving caused tiny ice patches that have formed on his clothes to crackle. His disciple flutters about then, making concerned noises he remembers the nurses always made, as if their sympathy would be enough to cure him of his creeping sickness. It's oddly comforting to hear it from someone else now, and enough so that he manages to shoo Binghe away with platitudes that he was fine. Immortal bodies weren't supposed to be affected by the weather anyway.

 

Still, a trip might be nice. After all, while he was busy these nostalgic thoughts had plagued him less (probably due to the fact that he was stressing about other, life altering, things but never mind that). His bamboo house sounded like a, if not relaxing, distracting reprieve from his memories, and maybe a good enough slap in the face to shock him out of his ruminating. He brings up his travel plans to Binghe over dinner, who whines until Shen Yuan lets him come as long as he doesn’t kick up too much of a fuss with the rest of the students. Ha. Students. Just the thought of them made him wish he had taken even one education class in college.

 

The trip back to Qing Jing Peak isn’t too bad, Binghe pulls a carriage from god knows where equipped with heating talismans for them to travel in. He doesn’t ask how his discipline obtained it, Binghe has been especially vigilant about him and cold spaces since the demon lord found him that one freezing day. Shen Yuan hadn’t even gotten sick from it, but the upset look he got from the man whenever he so much as coughed was enough for him to acquiesce. The only downside to the whole thing is that traveling this way takes time - a lot of it. There’s nothing to do in a carriage besides sit, chat, sleep, and eat. Even the smoothest of rides in one was sure to kill a person’s ass, and, because he was already suffering, he had refused Binghe any time the demon lord had come calling. Which was marginally good for him, but not so great when one was left traveling with a grumpy partner. There was only so many times he could flick open his fan before even he got annoyed at his own hand’s useless twitching. He wishes for a car then, or his phone, or hell maybe even a decent ass book that wasn’t on fucking cultivating during these long hours. Why on earth had the original been such a boring person? Couldn't he have allowed Shen Yuan even a book of folk tales to read? Shen Jiu would probably have taken this time to meditate or something, the absolute heathen.

 

At some point he even starts poking at the system again, hoping that he could get it to play some music like a car radio. To tell the truth, Shen Yuan wasn’t even sure what the system is. These things usually showed up in novels online, but rarely did the protagonist or author ever explain their origins. Sometimes they were there to help a soul through the cycle of rebirth, other times they were simply administrator A.I.s in a larger computer generated simulation. His system had never claimed to be much of anything, which begged the question - extended life support put on by some corporation that bought his corpse, or supernatural entity there to fuck with him? He supposes either way, it doesn’t matter much, he’s stuck here anyway. Still, couldn’t God or Buddha, or Google have installed Bilibili on this fucking thing? He’d even take a Pandora station, never mind how he’d get a suitable VPN in ancient fucking fantasy China. Maybe they could have forgone the torture too, just some constructive criticism.

 

“Shizun seems distressed.” Binghe’s voice notes, knocking Shen Yuan out of his grousing. The man is staring at him, looking mildly amused at his master’s put upon expression. “Would you like this disciple to play you something?”

 

Britney Spears’ Toxic.  He thinks immediately, and then snaps open his fan to hide his smile. There are times he looks at Binghe and wonders what he’d be like on Earth, and then he immediately shoves those thoughts into a tiny little box, refusing to touch them with a ten foot pole for another six months. Either way it’s probably best he never met Binghe there, considering the man still calls him ‘Shizun’ there is...so much to unpack there, never mind Shen Yuan’s illness at the time would never have allowed him to train to be a teacher of anything.

 

“You’ve brought something?” he glances from Binghe’s ‘happy to accommodate Shizun’ expression back to the scenery outside the window.

 

“For whatever Shizun needs, this one is always prepared! Do you have any requests?”

 

“Something quiet,” Shen Yuan asks, eyes tracing the silhouette of mountains in the distance.

 

There’s a little uncertain silence, quick and almost unnoticed, before music begins to drift softly from across from him, and the carriage wheels continue to turn on.

 

-

 

Qing Jing Peak stands in a cascading mountain range overlooking a fertile plain. Its height lends itself well to swirling mists in the morning, and clear highland streams which gently traverse ever downward into a flat valley below. Standing among the high summits, the Peak is particularly lauded for its dense, lush forests and clear air - perfect for the cultivation of creativity and the arts. From far away, it is indistinguishable from the others around it, but from its base the dots of distance color near its top give it a more vibrant feel than its brothers.

 

Even in the dead of winter, the mountain is unusually temperate. Unlike many other cultivation sects which focus on the hard realities of life to push their disciples into immortality, Qing Jing looks to refine its disciples in the six arts, in the hopes that they may reach the very peak of human existence. This means that the farther down the mountain one travels, the louder it gets, with students finding hidden places near the main staircase to practice music and recitation. It makes for a lively journey, if slightly headache inducing - not every disciple was quite used to their chosen field yet.

 

However, the closer Shen Yuan and Binghe traveled to his bamboo house on the opposite side of the mountain, the quieter it got, until only the sound of rustling leaves greeted them. Shen Yuan was found of his bamboo grove. There were few places in his old world he could call his own and he had never lived by himself before coming here. Having a house that he could escape to for a while had been a nice change of pace, even after Binghe had moved in, it had simply meant the unpleasant bits of home ownership could be passed off to someone else.  

 

There was nothing like being able to eat delicious food every day and then not have to do the dishes in the evening. It was perhaps, a bit unfair to Binghe, but the man seemed to like house work and honestly, who was Shen Yuan to stop this man from pursuing his calling. In another life he was sure Binghe could make a killing creating cleaning tutorials on YouTube, maybe a series on Netflix. Forget sword fighting, the half-demon was vicious in driving out any insect that thought it could make its home in Shen Yuan’s living room. It wasn’t bad to watch the man run around in an apron either, if only the demon lord was a bit better with the follow through…

 

Thankfully the standard for cleanliness had been kept, even after Shen Yuan had left his little house. Someone must be sending in students to clean as part of their cultivation or some other piece of bullshit one of the other Peak lords or a head disciple had cooked up. Binghe didn’t look to be particularly pleased with the lack of dust in the room, and Shen Yuan stifled a chuckle under his breath. The half-demon was sure to be upset either way, if there was dust then the Peak had obviously not been taking the proper care to anticipate Shizun and if there was none then he was disappointed in not being able to clean. Considering all of this, he came to the conclusion that Binghe was probably one of those people who would buy fancy new cleaning products and kitchen supplies off of infomercials he didn't have any need for but insist they were useful.

 

 “Please go lie down Shizun,” His partner next to him said, snaking an arm around Shen Yuan’s waist and shooting his teacher a megawatt smile, “This discipline will start preparing food for dinner.”

 

“I have been in any number of longer carriage rides before Binghe, I’m not sick.” He picks Binghe’s hand off of his waist, maneuvering around the man quickly to head to his study. “Tomorrow I’ll host some student’s over, remember not to cause any trouble.”

 

Much to his dismay, Binghe follows after him, “Begging Master’s pardon but Shizun’s been coughing these last few days, it’d be better to stave off a fever early.”

 

He sighs, flicking an irritated look back at the trailing puppy behind him, “I’ve already told you I’m fine. My cultivation isn’t so minimal that a virus can get me so easily.”

 

“A what?” Binghe tilts his head to the side a bit, a lost look entering his features. It’s enough to pause the man and give Shen Yuan enough time to settle himself in front of the stack of papers that have piled up on his makeshift desk.

 

He glances at the first paper and holds back a groan, ignoring the sound of shuffling clothes coming closer to him. It seems to be a pile of increasingly desperate letters from Shang Qinghua about upkeep on Qing Jing that the man presumably couldn't figure out a way to bother Mo Beijun about and couldn’t find Shen Yuan’s now constantly moving address to send to. So they all settled here, on his desk, in the vain hope that Shen Yuan would eventually come back to deal with them. In addition, there’s a letter from Yue Qingyuan requesting he come see the Peak Lord when he returns, and a whole stack of inquiries about the next time the sect would open up for new disciples. These final letters he could usually formulate a reply to quickly, with a standard vague but pretty response, though it took hours of meticulously copying the same letter over and over again to the (usually) high ranking mortal families with perspective cultivators.

 

“Shizun?” Right, Binghe was still in the room.

 

“I’ll get some rest in a few hours, I promise.”

 

Shen Yuan’s known Binghe long enough to recognize the irritated twitch he gets in response, though he can’t quite make out the odd expression on Binghe’s face. It doesn’t matter as his partner’s expression quickly morphs into something more usual and much tearier as he moves over to encircle Shen Yuan’s back and shoulders in a loose hug.

 

He sighs, admittedly a bit too tired to shake the man off. Sticky, sticky, sheep.

 

Much as he should expect, it does not stop there, give his student an inch and Binghe will run away to the ends of the earth with it as quickly as possible. Presumably taking Shen Yuan not batting him off as permission to do whatever the hell he wants to, the demon turns to place a kiss on his neck before moving to lean over his shoulder and read some of the letters on the desk.

 

“Let me take care of some of the stacks.”

 

Shen Yuan turns to look at his disciple, who’s worried and teary expression is now much, much closer than it had ever been before.

 

K.O.!! Where did he pick up these god forsaken puppy eyes??! Aren’t you supposed to be a demon lord?? Shouldn’t you be ashamed of using them at your age??   

 

Fucking Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky and his pretty protagonist. Sure, Proud Immortal Demon Way was a power trip, which meant that its main character had to have eyes that could ‘portray his determination’ or ‘passion’ or whatever, but no one could appreciate what kind of terrible things that did to the heart in real life. The man had fucking stars in his eyes 24/7. How was he supposed to fight that???

 

“Weren’t you going to make dinner?” he asked weakly, valiantly trying to fight off his one true weakness.

 

“This discipline is fast, I can finish both quickly.”

 

“Ah, I see, and better then what this Master can complete on his own?” Shen Yuan asked, delighting in the split second crumbling of the puppy eyes™.

 

Binghe immediately toppled, claiming that of course he couldn’t do it as sufficiently as Shizun could, and before he could go on, Shen Yuan lightly patted the man’s cheek before pushing him off of him.

 

Or at least trying to. Binghe had arms of steel when he wanted to.

 

“Shizunnn” the man whined, stubbornly holding onto him and Shen Yuan was reminded for a moment of one of his little cousins, refusing to let go of his leg when they were younger. He’d been told much later it was because the little one knew which of the relatives was most likely to capitulate to whatever they wanted at the time. Shen Yuan was just always that sucker.

 

He looked up at Binghe’s expression then, the tears and the whining, and suddenly something seemed to click.

 

Narrowing his eyes, he taped Binghe lightly on the head with his fan. “You’re doing this on purpose.”

 

Said big teary eyes blinked down at him again, damn them.  “Enough, you don’t need to do this to get me to do what you want.” though it helps.

 

“Then Shizun will get some rest?” Binghe asked hopefully, tears almost immediately sobering up, “To fight off this vi-rus?”

 

Shen Yuan felt like he had been dumped in ice water. “What? Where did you hear that?”

 

Binghe cocked his head to the side again, stray curls tickling Shen Yuan’s cheeks, “Master said it earlier. Is that what’s been bothering you these weeks? Have you been cultivating too hard and the method has the potential to cause some new qi deviation?” Something in the man’s expression was critical of the explanation though, even as the half-demon said it. Binghe was constantly with Shen Yuan, and even when he was pulled away for important demon-realm business, there wasn’t much time for his master to start cultivating something dangerous behind his back.

 

“It’s nothing for you to worry about,” Shen Yuan said instead, looking away and back at the papers scattered on the desk. “I told you, I’m fine.”

 

“Shizun has been looking at something far away for a long time now, this one just wants to know how to help.” Binghe insisted, arms tightening a bit around Shen Yuan’s waist.

 

“There’s nothing-”

“There’s something!” Binghe interrupted, enough fire in his voice to shut Shen Yuan up in surprise, “I thought this one had finally earned Shizun’s trust back.”

 

“I,” he couldn’t look at the face Binghe was making now, if he did, he would surely give it all away, so instead he stared firmly at the blurry letters in front of him. “That is to say...such things are too...” There really wasn’t any words for it, and he found himself drifting off unable to finish anything.

 

“Qingqiu.”

 

Shen Yuan went ridged in his hold. He feels a shudder of revulsion go through him because that voice should not be calling that name. The last time it had done so had been in contempt, seconds away from ripping an arm off, a smile of glee painted on too familiar features.  

 

It's not fair.

 

This should be romantic. It’s frustrating. This should be a good thing, something that takes away that annoying teacher and disciple relationship and turns it into just them, just equals. It’s something he's asked Binghe for, and his disciple has always been much too in love to deny him anything, even if he was too shy to start right away.

 

Shen Yuan did not think this through.

 

It's not sweet.

 

The demon lord calls him, “Qingqiu”

 

And then...

 

Shen Yuan goes from slightly panicked to icy awareness in seconds, nausea catching in his throat and something must show on his face because Binghe immediately freezes as well.

 

He looks stricken. He looks hurt.

 

“Shizun…”

 

It's frustrating.

 

Shen Yuan wants to feel something more than the sudden emptiness in his heart. He wants to hold his arms out when Binghe pulls away, he wants to tell the man what's wrong. There have been so many misunderstandings between them already.

 

“Shizun, this disciple will go prepare dinner, please don’t work too hard, okay?” Binghe's smile is fixed, sadness radiating out though it's clear he's trying to hide it. He's usually a better actor than this.

 

Shen Yuan knows Binghe is only upset because his partner is. The fact that he is refusing Binghe's help is only exacerbating the situation.

 

“I…” Shen Yuan's expression twists, “Binghe come here.”

 

The hopeful look that enters the man’s eyes is too much to look at for a moment, and Shen Yuan looks towards his fan instead, gripping the end.

 

“Yes? Shizun?”

 

“I’m tired, please, take me to bed.”

 

The man gives a small, sad little smile but nods his head, “Of course,” and because he’s a petty person no matter the circumstances, Binghe sweeps him into a princess carry causing Shen Yuan to squawk.

 

“You!”

 

Binghe’s smile returns to normal, “Shizun asked for me to take him to bed, this one is only following orders!” he chirps.

 

After everything, Shen Yuan doesn’t have the heart to smack him.

-

 

It’s on a mild and cloudless day, weeks after he misspoke that he catches Liu Qingge and Binghe arguing far into the bamboo forest. He doesn’t know what possesses him to hide from the two, usually he’d be running in full tilt to try to mitigate any situation between them considering both individual’s temperaments. There’s something about the desperation that seeps from their voices that stops him though, some note of hopelessness masked with anger that has him moving to blend in with the plants around him.

 

It speaks to his insight on the atmosphere when the usually observant Qingge-Shidi and sticky Binghe don’t seem to notice his presence not too far from them, too wrapped up in their own discussion.

 

“Well you must have done something!” Liu Qingge all but yells, hand inching towards the sword at his side. “What’s got him looking like you up and died again brat?”

 

Even from a distance, Shen Yuan can tell that Binghe’s usually cheery demeanor had melted off into something more hard and cold. “Shizun will tell me when he’s ready,” Binghe’s voice says, strong and confident. “This one is sure that he is waiting for the right words.”

 

And if it’s never? Something defiant in Shen Yuan screams, stop presuming things you know nothing about!

 

Which he knows is unfair, how can Binghe make any kind of informed decision if Shen Yuan doesn’t tell him anything?  How can he forgive…?

 

Liu Qingge’s angry voice interrupts the thought before it can go anywhere, “Well while you’re ‘waiting’ the man’s regressed back into a phantom again.”

 

Shen Yuan itches to snap open his fan, again? What again? I’m fine and would appreciate it if random men stop arguing about my mental state.

 

“I swear,” his shidi goes on, “if he makes another sword mound…”

 

Ah, that’s when. Shen Yuan can feel himself flush and then his stomach drop, what the hell was wrong with this world? Couldn’t he grieve however he wanted, for whatever he wanted, to in fucking peace?!

 

“If Shizun says it is nothing, then it is nothing.” Binghe’s voice is stubborn, but there’s a certain lit to it, some undercurrent that Liu Qingge doesn’t seem to catch even as Shen Yuan feels someone walk over his grave. He grips a bamboo stalk next to him, fear coursing in his chest, Binghe is already suspicious, Binghe is so attentive, so smart, Binghe is going to find out and then what are you going to do?

 

He can’t let them, he can’t let either of them know. Shen Yuan has dropped the ball too many times over these last couple of months, he’s been too relaxed, too thoughtless.

 

For a moment he swears he can hear Shen Jiu laughing at him.

 

Shen Yuan cannot allow himself to forget how all-encompassing a demon's want can be and what lengths Binghe will go to in order to keep him. His partner will be persistent, will hound him at every turn and Shen Yuan must be prepared for that. He must. There is no other option.

 

Binghe will eat him alive and smile while he does it.

 

-

 

It's while he's chatting with Ning Yingying that the thought hits him that she and his sister would make excellent friends. They both were sensible, hardworking, and prone to flights of fancy from time to time. As Ning Yingying sits and chats with him about her latest breakthrough in cultivation, Shen Yuan feels suddenly, desperately, wants to know if his sister finished university, if she likes her life, if she misses him.

 

He’s tried to be better these last few weeks, even if it means being more distant with an increasingly unhappy Binghe. Shen Yuan had even gone to see Yue Qingyuan a number of times, which always left him feeling a little dirty as the Peak Lord would smile softly and call him Shen Jiu or worse Xiao Jiu. Yet such formalities is something the original would have done, so he does it. Even as each meeting becomes more of a trial then the last.

 

He can see a flicker of how Binghe looks at him from inside Yue Qingyuan’s gaze. It is heart wrenching to look at and the first time he sees it, Shen Yuan had to excuse himself early halfway through.

 

He never liked Shen Qinggiu. He hated the man. Shen Yuan had clapped his hands in excitement at the villain's death and encouraged Binghe through his screen the whole way through. He had felt nothing reading about Yue Qingyuan’s destruction nor Shen Qinggiu’s desperation to stop the self-sacrificing idiot.  

 

He sees Binghe standing in front of an unstoppable evil to save him and failing.

 

Shen Yuan feels something acidic and bitter inch up his throat and coughs to cover the impulse to double over.

 

The sound rings out louder than he expected it to and he looks up to find Ning Yingying studying him instead of chatting away as he had left her before the daydream.

 

Stupid! Careless!

 

“You were saying that your time in seclusion helped break the bottleneck…” he prompts, snapping open his fan to hide his rapidly paling face.

 

“Shizun? Are you feeling okay?” Ning Yingying asks instead, “I can call A-Lou back if you want me to? He says you’ve been working too hard lately.”

 

He shakes his head and puts on his best teaching smile, “Nonsense, it’s nothing, simply thoughts on a conference in the coming months. It is not something I should be thinking of while you speak, I apologize.”

 

It takes a bit more prompting for Ning Yingying to continue, and her worried look only grows through the rest of the meeting.

 

Shen Yuan catches her and Binghe exchanging concerned glances at the door as she heads back to the dormitories.

 

He decides that night that he'd like to leave.

 

-

 

Shen Yuan remembers the plot line of this side quest only when he and Binghe are already smack in the middle of it.

 

It goes something like this,

 

There is a thing that lives out in the passes between the mortal and the demon world that preys on travelers indiscriminately. It is strong, with a love for games and a perchance for stealing. It holds no name because it was made for one thing and one thing alone - to be a stepping stone for Binghe to add another maiden to his harem.

 

The trouble is - it's super op!! Much too strong!! Hey author why the fuck didn't you nerf this thing??!!

 

The plot line had Binghe become terribly hurt during his fight with it, limbs falling off and clothes shredding in order to present a sorrowful picture to a beautiful wandering priestess who just so happens to stumble upon the scene of the demon and monster fighting. As the monster was already significantly weakened by Binghe, the priestess easily manages to drive the thing away. Binghe would collapse after it disappears, and the beautiful women would nurse him back to health and thus help unlock his rapid ‘let me just connect my severed arm back on my shoulder’ regenerative abilities. The rest was stallion novel magic.

 

Funny thing was though, said monster never showed up again. Proud Immortal Demon Way was littered in plot holes and story arcs that were only half finished, if ever really started. The comment section was usually ablaze in references to monsters and items that never appeared again, and Peerless Cucumber had always been at the top of the forum taking part in the war. There was much speculation on what exactly the monster was, but, because Binghe was dazed for most of the end of the fight (and the novel was in his perspective) Shen Yuan had no idea how to fight this thing, let alone beat it. It must be some kind of holy thing right? An artifact the women had on her or some kind of light magic. Shen Yuan had already tried his sword, and when that had been knocked away, his fan and a couple of leaves. The thing had simply absorbed the stuff and kept on fighting.

 

Honestly, he hadn’t even realize that the plot arc had started until they were halfway up a pass this thing was supposed to frequent and he began to hear descriptions of odd phenomena in the region. Shen Yuan had wanted to run then, there was no use fighting a monster that could take Binghe on and still remain standing for longer than a second, but there was no way Binghe would believe his Shizun was cowardly enough to do so. Thus, Shen Yuan instead found himself gloomily following after the demon lord as they made their way up Red Rock Pass (creative, he knows).

 

Which had all lead them here, to a clearing in some woods, with a passed out disciple in his hold and something like a floating head with a body of slimy tendrils in front of him. And of course, with his luck, no priestess in sight.

 

“I've heard you like to gamble,” he says to the creature, trying to keep his voice from shaking and, in a scene more akin to a horror movie, the thing seems to grin back.

 

[System Notification: Player has encountered >>Ghost of the Pass<< side quest, would player like to set a wager? >> Yes, >>No]

 

The sudden ding caused by the system notification pop up is enough to cause him to yelp. The stupid system had been gone for so long and it had honestly been the last thing he had expected when encountering this beast. Now, the fucking system wanted to play it off like some kind of fun casino side quest??

 

To his horror, a jaunty tune begins to accompany the pop up, the semitransparent blue screen seemingly taking pleasure in his terror.

 

A sound like nails scratching down a chalkboard interrupts the song, and Shen Yuan turns back towards the monster in the dawning realization that it just spoke to him.  

 

From his lap, presumably shaken even while unconscious by the nightmare incarnate’s voice, he can hear a very faint weak “...Shizun?”

 

Shen Yuan steels himself and hits >>Yes

 

The thing in front of him actually looks annoyed that he can’t understand it, and the monster huffs and sits for a moment before opening its mouth again. Shen Yuan winces in protest but the thing sounds relatively normal this time, if one was a main villain in said R-rated slasher horror movie.

 

“What will you bet?” it asks, looking amused, if a giant eldritch mass of appendages could look so.

 

The first line is obvious, “If I win, you leave and stop haunting this pass.”

 

“And if I win?”  It asks, and Shen Yuan looks to the side, at his far thrown sword and shrugs.

 

“Liu Ya Sword” He answers.

 

But the thing shakes its ‘head.’

 

“Empty.” it hisses. Which, okay, what the fuck??

 

Fine, okay, okay no problem, weird fallen god thing spirit guy knows the sword doesn’t have any spiritual properties any more, no need to panic.

 

Shen Yuan thinks of something he wished for once, and places a hand to his chest.

 

“My years.”

 

It shakes it’s head again, looking decidedly unimpressed. “You are immortal and so am I. What have I for your decades?”

 

Fine, fine he could work with that. Shen Yuan pulls the sleeve off of his non-dominant arm and says, “My limb.”

 

It looks thoughtful at him for a moment so long that Shen Yuan thinks he’s won before the monster shakes his head again. “Certainly a good ingredient for elixirs, but what do I need them for?”

 

Maybe to find one to help with...all of that, He thinks but does his best to cover his disgust. He looks around again, now frustrated with the thing’s obvious amusement in playing with him.

 

“My…clothes.”

 

Even though the thing’s mask could not shift expressions, it gave off the distinct impression of skepticism before simply gesturing to itself.

 

“My…” Shen Yuan glanced down at what was left.

 

“Cultivation.”

 

The thing shakes its head. “Try again little Peak Lord.”

 

“You cannot have my disciple.”

 

It nodded, “I have no need for another monster.”  

 

He grimaced at it, but silenced his mouth. What good would come to him from arguing with it?

 

“My…my name.”

 

It grins, so Shen Yuan continues in a last Hail Mary, “Shen Qingqiu’s true name.”  

 

He knows he’s playing with fire here. This monster can do more damage than is possible to repair with Shen Jiu’s name, maybe even rip the soul apart. But it’s not his soul, he thinks coldly. What was another curse to add to the list after all if the monster chose the second option of hurting him while alive? It wasn’t like Shen Yuan minded much, he’d already been poisoned before and experienced a whole mess of other things, might as well tick something off the bucket list.

 

But the monster goes from elation to disappointment, frowning at him instead and Shen Yuan feels something snap.

 

“What would I do with a dead true name?” The thing asks disappointedly, “I don’t like cheaters.”

 

That’s…

 

The system box in front of him glitches, like it’s trying to rectify something and the monster in front of him flexes their aura and shatters Shen Yuan’s sword in glee. “Even a husk there too…” It coos.

 

Shen Yuan’s grip on Binghe tightens, a long stream of FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK playing on loop in his mind.

 

He doesn’t ask how the thing knows, it’s not worth it. What’s more important is that this thing is strong enough to see through him and he does not know what to do. His thoughts are spiraling, there must be some way out of this, he has to save Binghe, He Has To.

 

“I’ve grown bored.” The thing says suddenly, and Shen Yuan braces for its next attack. There’s little he can do to survive it past shoving the already hurt Binghe behind him and hoping he can at least give the man a couple more seconds to live. A thought flashes through his mind, wondering if this was how Qingyuan had felt before he died.

 

But the monster in the terrible mask does none of these things, instead with an understanding tilt to its head, it just...leaves, turns its back away from them as if it can’t be bothered and simply slithers away.

 

“Thanks for the interesting fight!” it calls back after a moment, before disappearing fully into the underbrush.

 

Shen Yuan sits tensed in front of Binghe’s prone form for a minute longer before he all but collapses in on himself in relief.

 

Thank you protagonist halo!!!

 

Almost immediately he sits back up, scrambling over to his disciple. He expects to find the man firmly passed out, as he’d been in the novel - walking up to the gorgeous face of the priestess hanging over him (For a split second Shen Yuan wonders what she bartered or if the thing just left her as well). Instead, he finds his discipline’s right eye staring wildly back at him, his left glued shut as blood ran over it.  Right. Binghe. He needs to move the man, or get him medical attention, whichever decides to come their way first.

 

He does not think of what the monster said before leaving them.

 

Chapter Text

Binghe’s battle with the monster had left the woods quiet, aside from random, threatening, cracks sounding from distant trees.  Unsurprisingly, it had also left the area desolate of anyone else. There were relatively few mortals in a world filled with supernatural beings who, when faced with a loud series of crashes, would be inclined to face towards the calamity rather than away from it. Birds and other animals were similar, having to contend with both human hunters and nastier ghouls, they had scattered early and were unlikely to return any time soon. Such emptiness was heaven sent when the two powerful beings had fought, but now that the battle was over, it meant there would be no one for miles who Shen Yuan could turn to for quick help.

 

It takes a few seconds of stunned silence between them for him to jump back from Binghe’s startled gaze. He lands gracelessly on his ass with a bit of a yelp, only for the demon to groan from beside him, as if he had tried to pull himself up only to remember the stab wound he had received not minutes ago. His dark clothes hadn’t fared much better, sitting artfully ripped in a way that reminds Shen Yuan too much of sleazy late night shows and other unmentionable fan art. He takes a moment to silently curse Shang Qinghua and this world for still acting like a harem novel when it had so clearly turned into anything but.

 

“Don’t move,” he scolds the moment Binghe makes another motion to sit up, doing his best to recover his dignity. The demon was straining a series of deep puncture wounds on his side, and his furrowed brow was only aggravating the nasty cut near his temple. Thankfully, the fight had ended before the man had lost a limb, though the unnatural bend of the demon’s left arm didn’t give him much hope for it to be completely unharmed.

 

 In any other situation, such injuries would surely be fatal, but for Binghe it would mean a few days in bed and maybe a fever at the worst if the wounds weren’t dressed in the next few hours. Though the skin knitting itself back together was a slow enough process that it was impossible to observe -- much like the gradual forming of a scab -- it was easy enough to tell that the bleeding had thankfully stopped. All that was left then were the deep stab wounds themselves and some congealed blood.

 

Originally, the ability of these cultivators to walk away from such grievous injuries had honestly freaked Shen Yuan out. He’d seen some horrible accidents in the hospital while he had lived there as they rushed past his room. Somehow, during his time mentoring at his Peak he’d come to observe even worse things happening to students that they’d simply laugh about and then walk off. If not that, then they’d be put to bed for a day or two before simply recovering.

 

Hell, he’d died due to less….well...it’s best not to discuss the way that he’d died.

 

Phantom pains shoots up from his gut at the thought and he can feel the beginnings of an embarrassed flush take to his cheeks before he can stop it. Best not to think on such things.

 

Best to refocus on better accomplishments - like the fact that he’s still alive in this world and he didn’t have to lose his cultivation to do it. Not that he couldn’t live without it of course. He had spent a good twenty one years in another life as non-magical as you could get, but it would kind of suck to lose the whole ‘sword flying’ thing (even if he barely uses it).

 

Speaking of Liu Ya...His gaze drifts over from Binghe to the shattered sword on the ground. It really was too bad. Sure, he was a bit peeved to have lost it but he’d never been overly attached to the sword to begin with. Some things would just have to be replaced. He’d take its loss over an arm or a leg.

 

Much better to be exhilarated over being alive instead of crying over a few broken shards.

He had only felt like this a few times before, usually whenever his doctors had told him he was free to go home for a while if he wanted to. Walking out of that hospital (or being wheeled out more accurately) had always given him a bit of a rush, finally freed from the white walls which seeped into his everyday existence the longer he stayed there.

 

“Shizun.” Binghe’s voice is harsh in his ears, as an injured hand flies up to grip Shen Yuan’s jaw, turning his head down to meet his partner’s eyes. Binghe had managed to push himself up shakily, leaving behind tiny but not insignificant pools of blood where he had laid.  The demon’s voice sounds as if he’d been calling for a while, a frantic edge to his name. To the side of Binghe’s mouth, a line of deep red drips down that hadn’t been there before.

 

Blood’s gotten into the lungs.

 

“What was Shizun thinking?!” The idiot continues after he’s gotten Shen Yuan’s attention again, even though it’s now clear how painful speaking must be. The demon’s face is twisted, sadness, frustration, and pain playing like a kaleidoscope in quick succession across it.

 

“Binghe.” He says back disapprovingly, removing the half-demon’s hand as gently as he can considering the man’s state. The demon is still straining himself, and Shen Yuan sighs before moving to help prop him up.

 

Ignoring the wince as he does so, he covers the most egregious wound at his partner’s side, slowly pushing his own spiritual energy in to help quicken the healing process. It won’t be nearly enough, but it should stabilize Binghe so he can move him.

 

“We need to find you a place to rest.” Who knows if the monster would change its mind and return to finish them off. It seemed finicky that way.

 

As Binghe is shifted, Shen Yuan catches just how much blood has pooled underneath the man and forces himself not to yell at the sight. There wasn’t any need to panic, Binghe was the protagonist. He’d be fine.

 

In stubborn defiance, Binghe’s grip shifts to Shen Yuan’s outer robe instead.

 

“Shizun can’t ever do this again. He shouldn’t.” The demon is aggravated enough that he can’t suppress a new wave of blood that slips past his lips and down his chin, flecks of it flying to splash across his clothes as Binghe coughs it out.

 

That’s my line! Who is the one who’s bleeding out in front of me?!! Maybe worry about yourself before this teacher!!

 

Irritated and now a bit anxious at the sight of fresh blood, Shen Yuan raises his voice, “I’m not humoring you right now Binghe. We need to go!”

 

He can think of the instances his partner had been so stubborn and defiant with him on one hand. They were few, and far between, only occurring when Binghe seemed convinced that he needed to do something to protect him.

 

The grip on his robe tightens, but the fire in the younger man’s eyes seems to die a terrible death, changed into big watery tears instead. Which is so, so much worse. He can handle Binghe being weepy when he’s perfectly fine, but now that the man is injured and in pain he feels a wave of guilt crash over him. His eyes catch on the grizzly scar on the man’s chest and his stomach sinks even lower.

 

“I should be stronger than this. Strong enough to protect you!” Binghe says with the same determination Shen Yuan remembers the man had before he had fallen into the abyss. Though he sounds so passionate, the man in his arms seems so small. Against his better judgement, he can feel himself soften in front of those eyes.

 

“This is a partnership, I already told you that I'd protect you. Now keep quiet, you’re only hurting yourself.” He mumbles instead, shifting his gaze away from the other one’s face with a desperate wish he could somehow prop up Binghe and find his fan to hide behind.

 

“Shizun, the last time you did this you died,” Though it sounds like the grumble of a spoiled child there’s hints of a much deeper sadness churning under its surface. They don’t often talk about those years that Shen Yuan was gone, and he doesn’t really like to think on them. He can’t remember much of where he went for five long years after imploding off of that roof to save Binghe. Something tells him he’s not really supposed to know. The dead keep their secrets, and he has slighted the reaper one too many times. 

 

He sighs, not spotting his dropped fan, and turns back to look at the body in front of him. He was going to have to figure out a way to drag this man to the nearest town, or barring that, he was going to have to walk there and back to get some help. The latter would be quicker, but he didn’t like the idea of leaving Binghe alone for however long it took for him to find anyone. He wishes he still had the carriage, but it was long smashed on a roadside somewhere after the monster’s initial attack.

 

Dragging, it was then. While he had never known a Binghe small enough that he could put the demon on his hip, he knew that there might have been a time when he could have carried the other easily. While he definitely still could in some sense, the man had put on enough height and muscle mass that doing so would exert more effort then what would look elegant, but this was a sacrifice he was willing to make.

 

Once he judges that the wounds on the demon’s side have closed as much as they were going to with their combined efforts, he moves his hands under the other’s legs and struggles up.

 

“Enough!” he says, hoping to put an end to the topic. There was at least a mile in front of him, if not more to the nearest town and he didn’t want to be fighting about this the whole way there.   “I can gamble whatever I want to.”

 

Which is, in hindsight, the wrong thing to say.

 

“Well you shouldn’t!!” Binghe yells close enough to leave his ears ringing and he almost stumbles under the force of the shout.

 

“Binghe.” He says in warning but he can tell it’s not enough to stifle what comes out next.

 

“This one’s life is not worth Shizun’s-”

 

“Don’t you dare finish that sentence.” he cuts Binghe off, suppressing the urge drop the man.

They had talked about this, or at the very least, Shen Yuan had talked at Binghe who had nodded along like the good student he was.

 

“I don't understand…” Binghe finally let out miserably. “First Shizun starts to go somewhere far away and he won't tell me anything and now he is betting his life to...to…what? Is Shizun unhappy? Does he want to leave me again? Please just talk to me.” Tears spill over as Binghe’s voice breaks at the end. But they’re different than the ones that Shen Yuan has grown so used to. These tears are less of a steady stream and more hitched big clumps falling unevenly down his cheeks.

 

He doesn’t expect everything to break here, nor does he anticipate having his own thoughts thrown back in his face. He stares, silently and hopelessly down at his crying partner. These are real tears, not the crocodile ones that so easily build in Binghe’s eyes but the true hard heart wrenching ones that stab through the soul.

 

Does he want to leave?

 

Binghe doesn’t know what he’s asking and he can’t understand the impossibility of it all. There is no place for Shen Yuan to go back to.

 

But would he if he could?

 

It’s a question he’s been avoiding or, more accurately, he’s been trying to avoid. Yes, there’s things he wishes he could do and say and feel again but he has a life here, in this world too. It would be just as painful to leave it as it would be to go back home.

 

That too, is simple.

 

He’d miss this place, he realizes with an ache. Even for all its stress and all of the pretending, he liked the people here. He likes his students he doesn't get to see enough, he likes his times out with Liu Qingge, and he likes the days that he could idle through a soft conversation with Airplane bro. He likes Binghe too. Very much.

 

Binghe’s expression is so heartbroken and Shen Yuan feels a surge of his own fear and desperation at the thought of being taken from him. He’d seen what Binghe would do without him, both to others and to himself, but more importantly he had found that he didn’t want to run away from him either. His heartbeat speeds up at the thought, as it had in front of the monster and the surety of their own doom. A strand of terror takes hold of him, and Binghe’s grip turns impossibly tight.

 

These days he really is too easy to read.  

 

The harsh tug at his chest is distant but grounding as he does his best to swim up from the sudden swirl of emotions in his heart that threatens to drag him under.

 

He remembers a smaller young man holding him the same way once, like he’d disappear into thin air if the student so much as looked away from him for a second.

 

He remembers his parents looking at him like that sometimes -- like they knew. His sister was more obvious about it. There’d be moments she’d stare right through him, as if she was trying to imagine what a world without him would look like and prepare herself for the inevitable. It hadn’t been so much a question of why but more a question of when. What would finally slip past his shoddy immune system and finally take him away.

 

He isn’t so bitter to have begrudged them that preparation. In the end, even with him gone, his family would still have each other to fall back on.

 

Binghe wasn’t the same as them though.

 

As long as the demon never knew anything, his partner may look at him with that same terrifying desperation, like sand falling through his fingers.

  

It’s too much, and he finds himself stumbling out, “That...Binghe...I apologize.”

 

“Just tell me anything.” Binghe’s face is hidden in the folds of Shen Yuan’s robes, and obscuring everything but a view of the other’s mass of curly hair. His words are a bit muffled because of this, and a bit watery, but they’re still clear. “Whatever it is let me deal with it and if it's nothing I can do...even if it's just going to pull you away, even if you're not wholly here with me, please...stay.

 

He holds Binghe a bit tighter and starts to walk, moving an arm up to cradle the other’s shoulders. It’ll be easier to talk like this, eyes trained on the forest around him instead of the consequences in his arms. If he pretends hard enough it’s like talking to air. “Would that make you happy?”

 

Binghe doesn't even take a moment to contemplate as he says, “Anything Shizun gives is enough.”

 

No matter how dense he can be, he is well aware that such words are not the healthy answer. Binghe deserves better than a man lying to him every day and rejecting him at almost every turn.

 

Which leaves him here. Continue as he is and lose Binghe to his own past and death or tell him in the hopes that his partner won’t leave on his own. There is nothing more terrifying than watching his own precarious tower sway around him, but there is little other choice. Perhaps, he is already too late to save anything.

 

“And if it's fake?” Shen Yuan asks quietly. These words are harder than gambling with a monster, and worse than staring down his own death - it's watching the beginnings of his security in this world crumble and being the one who took a hammer to their foundations. If he is a person cursed to make his most precious people grow hallow with imaginings a future without him, it’s best to nip it in the bud quickly. Let him leave in a way that they can accept and move on.  

 

Binghe’s little hitched sobs stop and quiet descends once again in the forest.

 

“If everything I told you before were all lies, would that still be enough?” He asks, doing his best to school his expression back into its apathetic mask. When Binghe does finally throw him away, he’d like to make it as painless for the man as possible. It’s always easier when a person is cruel.

 

“My name, my face, my past, if all of that were fake would that still be enough for you?”

 

“This soul is Shizun’s.” Binghe says confidently, quietly, though there’s a shake of fear in his voice.

 

“Yes,” he agrees, eyes fixed ahead of him, “but is it Shen Qingqiu’s?”

 

-

The town that Shen Yuan eventually stumbles on is miles away from the main road. He’d managed to lose his way more than once in the forest and had circled and backtracked enough that by the time he’d finally found someone who could help, they were far off from the Pass where they’d begun. He had never claimed to have an internal compass and from everything he knew even asking for directions was out of the question. He couldn’t recognize road names or landmarks outside of the ones around his old peak. The only kind he could follow confidently was when someone would sigh at him and just point straight down a road.

 

The first little house, at the very edge of an even tinier settlement, they stumble across in the afternoon is thankfully filled with a kind family. They’re willing to lend him and Binghe some dressings and a mat while the father runs off to find the local doctor. He had waved off the wife who had come asking if they needed food earlier, only accepting a couple of small cups of water for the both of them.

 

While the house itself was indeed small, in the end they had been left alone in a cozy enough corner near the hearth. With the wife outside in the garden, they both had some semblance of privacy. He wished, a bit sadly then, that there was time for some kind of shower or even a hair brush. Unsurprisingly, running around in a forest with a heavy, silent, and mulling burden left one dirty and covered in twigs just as much as anxious and exhausted. He’d spent the last half hour picking random leaves out of his hair, sleeves and clothes yet somehow still felt convinced that he hadn’t found them all yet.

 

He’s shaking one of his sleeves out, wondering if a whole pile of leaves had managed to fall into their unending depths when he hears Binghe whisper, “When..?”

 

Ah. So the man’s awake now is he?

 

“Shh, enough. I won’t answer any more until you get some rest.”

 

His back is to the man, but he can hear Binghe huff in exasperation.

 

“I just woke up.” The demon whines, tugging on Shen Yuan’s sleeve.

 

“You passed out earlier, meaning your wounds were more serious than I originally thought. Your body needs more sleep. Rest.”

 

The tugging gets more insistent but he ignores it, busying himself with looking in his other sleeve for stray leaves. Hell at this point he wouldn’t be surprised if he found a bird in there.   

 

“I will, I promise, just please. I won’t be able to until I know. When?”

 

He doesn’t have to ask what Binghe means.

 

“A long time ago.” At this point he’s already started so he might as well answer.  “Before the Immortal Conference where you…” he hesitates. “After my, his... fever.”

 

Cultivators so rarely get sick, he knew it wasn’t hard to guess when that had been. He tries not to think of how long he spent under the OOC function and what he’d done to protect himself. Without giving away the presence of the system, something he seemed contractually bound not to talk about, there wasn’t any explanation he could give.

 

“Qi deviation.” Binghe says weakly, some early conclusion he must have come up with from back then.

 

“Mm.” Shen Yuan shakes his sleeve again and listens for a chirp, “Now sleep”

 

--

Binghe rests through the local doctor’s visit and most of the next day. In any other case Shen Yuan would be dubious about whatever substance the doctor had given him for Binghe’s wounds - he’d taken at least a couple history courses before thank you very much - but considering magic was a thing he didn’t think twice.

 

Whatever ended up being in this stuff, it was enough to knock the demon out for a while and he took that time to thank the kind family, pay them, and (after acquiring directions and a horse) set off to the next large town. Miran City was supposed to be about a day down the main road, and large enough to house an inn, maybe even a place he could rent a sword. But that leaves hours in front of Shen Yuan to sit and stare and contemplate, never mind ensuring Binghe doesn’t fall off the damn horse. At least he won’t have to worry about bandits. Even without a sword their little stunt in the forest had left him with enough leaves to use far into the foreseeable future.

 

The sun is edging its way into early afternoon when he first feels Binghe begin to stir. His eyes flutter first, scrunching up as if he was trying to fight off the rolling of the animal underneath them. The top of Binghe’s head lightly bumps his chin, as the demon tries to shift into a more comfortable position only to find himself stuck in a dead slump on Shen Yuan’s chest.

 

Finally, the demon stirs fully, blinking up at him through disheveled curly hair. “Shizun?”

 

Immediately the man’s eyes widen as he realizes what position they’re both in and he seems to perk up. Binghe looks at him like he expected Shen Yuan to have left him on the ground somewhere and upon finding himself not abandoned, could only shuffle himself impossibly closer to his person.

 

“This one has so many questions.” he says excitedly, and then. Binghe smiles.

 

Shen Yuan is suddenly hit with the realization that Binghe is not upset with him. He should feel relieved but somehow, he isn’t. Instead, incredulous, he finds himself blurting “You’re not angry?”

 

His partner cocks his head to the side. “Why should this one be? Shizun finally shared what was troubling him.”

 

“I’m not your Shizun.” Which hurts to say out loud but isn’t wrong. He didn’t struggle his way up to becoming Peak Lord, nor ever receive any kind of formal training like Shen Jiu. Instead, he’d simply profited off of everything the man had left behind.

 

But Binghe doesn’t look offended, if anything his smile turns a bit humorous. “Shizun was the one who saved me back then. Shizun was the one who let me stay with him originally, wasn’t he?”

 

“Well yes but -”

 

“And he was also the one to teach this one how to read and write.” The man starts to tick off, and, stuck on a horse, Shen Yuan has nowhere else to look.

 

“That was...” Binghe stares at him before he acquiesces, “also me.”

 

“And Shizun was also the one to give this one medicine back then and his own training manual.”

 

Shen Yuan sits quietly.

 

In triumph, Binghe concludes “So Shizun is Shizun.”

 

“Yes but I’m not Shen Qingqiu.” He stresses, looking for some kind of inkling that Binghe understands him.

 

Binghe must be misunderstanding something because otherwise he wouldn’t be so accepting of this.

 

“So then, what is Shizun’s name?” His partner asks happily, as if they are discussing the weather and not Shen Yuan lying to him for a good half a decade or more.

 

“You are taking this much too well.”

 

“Shizun seems to forget that this one spent time under Shen Qingqiu’s teaching regime as well.” Binghe’s smile goes a bit wry.  

 

Shen Yuan’s eyes turn shifty. “You’re not the only one who knew Shen Jiu, no one else has asked me anything. No one else knows.” he says, though it sounds like a question to both their ears.

 

“Whether they do or not, this one will not guess. There are suspicions about Shizun’s sudden change after his fever but most seemed happy that Shen Qingqiu was much softer. Mu Qingfang even said there was precedent for illnesses to change one’s personality completely.”

 

So why not just believe that? Why not call me crazy? Why believe me?

 

Shen Yuan struggles to keep his emotions off his face as he says, “You don’t look convinced.”

 

Binghe smile turns pained around the edges. “This one was not sure for a long time, but I have found that there is no good way to drain evil out. This one has tried many times with little success.”

 

“What did you...?” Even if such things were far in the past, he finds himself scanning Binghe for any other injuries or old scars.

 

His partner only shakes his head, “Saying so will only hurt Shizun.”

 

Something must pass across over his face then, because Binghe puts a hand on his cheek scrubbing away some imaginary dust. “But that is not what is bothering Shizun now. This is why Shizun didn’t want this one to call him Shen Qingqiu.”

 

Without his fan he couldn’t hide the pink that spread over his cheeks at the reminder. It was such a silly thing to be upset about and under the laser focus of Binghe’s stare he could feel his resolve weaken.

 

“What would Shizun like me to call him?”

 

Which is just really the crux of the matter isn’t it?

 

Seeing his teacher clam up, Binghe seems to take this as an opportunity. “This one can keep calling him Shizun. But maybe Master prefers something else? Something sweeter. Like Dear, or Darling or…”

 

Babe. His mind supplies and Shen Yuan goes positively red. “STOP. NO. Not...no. no thank you.” He suddenly realizes where Binghe’s other hand has been wandering off to and sends the man a chilly glare.  

 

Binghe continues to be as shameless as ever but at the very least the offending hand goes back to settling innocently on his waist.

 

“My name is…Shen-” his partner’s face goes a little disappointed, like he expects him to say Shen Qingqiu again, and he hurries to continue “Shen Yuan.” It comes out like a whisper. A secret he’s kept too close to his chest, only saying in the dead of night to remind himself of who he was. No one had called his name for years, not Airplane, not the system, no one. He gives Binghe his name like a piece of precious glass, both with a feeling of elation and the knowledge that this man can now rip him to pieces without even touching his sword.

 

He’s almost bulldozed over by the force of Binghe’s hug. Still, he finds himself tipped back on his ass, almost falling back completely and off the horse. Instinctively, his hands move to steady both himself and the man now half on top of him.

 

“Shen Yuan.” Binghe’s voice wraps around his name sweetly, “Shen Yuan, Shen Yuan.

 

“Yes...yes I’m here. There’s no need for this, I can hear you just fine.” If he feels the tell-tale signs of tears pricking his eyes, well that’s no one’s business but his own.

 

-

 

“So then. Out with it. What’s your theory?” He says once he’s managed to calm himself back down.

 

Now that Binghe is up, he’d expected the man to insist on walking for a while or at the very least leading the horse himself. Instead, his partner seemed perfectly happy to go back to nuzzling at his chest, head turned away from the road. He’d originally asked Binghe to move behind him, in the hopes of presenting a less scandalize image to any other traveler they met. Yet it seemed that any mention of displacing the man would start a new series of complaints about this or that wound hurting him again and who knows whether or not he had the energy to keep riding.

 

Though it was easy to see how much each groan was faked and each whine acted, Binghe was still too pale for his liking and he reluctantly agreed to let the demon stay where he was.

 

The man was currently looping one of Shen Yuan’s long pieces of hair around his hand, watching the different ways the strands caught the light. There really wasn’t anything to do on these road trips.

 

“A god.”

 

Shen Yuan almost drops dead on the spot. “YOU! Take this seriously!”

 

Binghe looks up at him, a fake veneer of hurt playing in his eyes. “But this one is serious! Shizun is always talking about destiny and fate and outcomes! Master knows about strange things and can identify any monster with only a glance!”

 

It’s more than evident that Binghe doesn’t really care who he is or how he came here. A part of Shen Yuan is worried that he could say he was a fleeing criminal from somewhere and Binghe wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. It made him feel a bit silly for keeping this from the demon for so long, considering how much he didn’t seem to mind the fact that Shen Yuan was living in a stolen body.

 

He is still so exacerbated with the man’s conclusion though he doesn’t think before he yells, “That’s because it’s a story!”

 

Please stop spinning my compulsive reading of Proud Immortal Demon Way like it’s a good thing! I stayed for the world building! But I don’t want to be lumped in with those who actually enjoyed the thing!

 

Binghe reels back from him, finally putting distance between the two of them. Those four inches are probably the farthest they’d been away from each other in the last few days. “A what?”

 

Ah...oops. “It’s...” he sighs, “Binghe, I don’t come from here. So how else would I know about this world?”

 

Finally a complicated expression crossed Binghe's face as he seemed to realize something. “This one understands Shizun came from far away. But, a story… like a history?”

 

“...no...” In any other situation he’d find the idea of Binghe asking if he was a time traveler hilarious. Too bad he hadn’t actually thought up a good explanation for anything past giving the man his name. Honestly he’d expected the system to pop up and stop him. Considering how much it had restrained him earlier it was a bit hypocritical it wouldn’t come in to mediate.  That thing really only cared about its own skin.

 

Binghe lets out a little sound of frustration, eyebrows scrunching. “Then this one doesn't understand.”

 

Shen Yuan runs a hand through his hair hoping to buy himself a few seconds. Uselessly praying for another annoying pop up but finding none. Usually he’d avoid doing anything of the sort to keep from messing up his impeccable image but they’re both were so travel worn he doesn’t really have much of a hairstyle to keep in check anyway.  

 

“Binghe,” He starts slowly, “When I said I’m not from here I don’t mean my home is across the sea or through the desert. I don’t mean that I’m from another realm like the demonic or celestial either.”

 

“There are not many other realms left Shizun.” Binghe jokes back weakly.

 

“Do you remember the time your double came to pay us a call?”

 

“Shizun is from his world?” The demon looks caught between some kind of understanding and glee and Shen Yuan feels a shiver run up his spine. He doesn’t know what his disciple is thinking but whatever it is, it can’t be good.

 

He shakes his head, “No, and you won’t find another me there either. The concept is similar though.”

 

“So then Shizun is from another world as well but was dragged here by something and while in that other place he read about me.” Binghe recited off and Shen Yuan nodded. At least Binghe seemed able to infer his unwillingness in the whole thing. Last thing he wanted was for the demon to think he had gone out of his way to possess the Peak Lord on purpose.

 

“Begging Shizun to inform this one, but if not a history then how could Shizun know about me at all?”

 

He coughed into his fist, “Through a novel, I had a lot of time so…” As long as he didn’t say what kind of novel it was, it should be fine. After all, reading was a scholarly pursuit and he wouldn’t lose too much face saying so. “That is...a fiction.”

 

“I'm fake?!” Which was not the conclusion that he expected Binghe to draw from all that actually. Not only that, he didn’t really have the facilities to deal with or successfully resolve an existential crisis such as this one. He was only just figuring out his own crisis thank you very much.

 

“It's real! It's real” He tries to reassure, patting Binghe’s head as the man looks at him with terror in his eyes.  

 

“But how can Shizun know that?! Is this why he keep talking about fate?!” The man looks ready to have a meltdown right in front of him and he flashes back to the little speech Binghe had given him when they had been reunited the first time. Something about crushing destiny underneath his boot. This was probably worse than he originally thought.

 

“You've already done things differently! Just because it was one thing where I’m from doesn’t mean it’s not real here.”

 

The demon peaks up to look at him, “How is it different?”

 

“Well we're…” He lets Binghe lean fully into him again, petting his hair to try to sooth him. He’s not really sure what the best course of action here is past finding a good secluded spot off the road to finish this or put it on hold until they reach the inn. They shouldn’t be far from the city now and the chances of bumping into more and more people were increasing by the minute. The last thing he wants to do is walk up to the gates with a crying Binghe.

 

“I wasn't always with Shizun?”

 

“Not Shen Jiu...no.” He pushes out, beginning to look for a good path off the road to head down.

 

“Good.” Binghe’s voice is fierce and satisfied like he didn’t expect anything less and Shen Yuan is hit with the sudden feeling that telling this man about the whole 600 wives bit of the book would be a very bad idea.

 

“I only want to be with you.”

 

The whiplash is so strong he almost pushes Binghe off the horse for real this time.

 

-

Thankfully, the rest of the ride into Miran City is without incident, though it does take some convincing to get Binghe to stay on the horse as Shen Yuan walks beside it. As much as he’s getting more comfortable with the whole ‘sharing your feelings’ bit of this relationship, he’s still not ready to shove that into every-single-person-they-come-across face. Especially once the road finally begins to get more crowded as they approached the city gate.

 

It was early evening when they finally reached it. The towering structure looming large above them. In the sky overhead a few cultivators fly past, presumably speeding towards the city wall in the hopes that the evening bell hadn’t rung yet. Curfew at the Borders must be sooner than either of them had anticipated.

 

Even braced by the large walls, harsh winds blow past them, kicking up more dirt and dust onto their clothes. Miran City sits near the border between realms, in a part of the country that’s long turned dusty and dry. They’d left behind the quiet of the forests not long after they’d departed the first small village and as the day progressed they’d begun to come across less and less vegetation. Though it wasn’t anywhere near summer, there was heat here during the day. The moment evening hit however, the temperature seemed to plummet around them.

 

Shen Yuan hurries the horse then, pushing it quickly towards a long line that had formed from the only checkpoint into the city. He’d rather not get caught on the wrong side when night finally fell. Though he was an immortal, the idea of sleeping on the cold ground didn’t sound to appealing, never mind the amount of sand that would get everywhere.  

 

The toll in isn’t expensive at the very least, and the city seems used to wayward cultivators journeying past its gates. No one questions them too much as they go through, which is a relief. It does however, take more time than he’s like to find an inn. Past the main drag, the road splits into tiny nooks and alleyways leading into increasingly specific wards and neighborhoods. It’s hard enough to fit a horse through, and it takes even longer to find a place that still has rooms available for the night, never mind a stable.

 

Though he’d seen two cultivators enter before them at the gate, by late evening its evident that the place isn’t overrun with them nor many customers for that matter (any visitors must have taken the smarter routed and headed towards the brothels). The room they both are eventually brought to sits above the main dining room, but the noise is so low that it only transfers to a small din in the background. The space itself was modest enough, stocked with just the essentials - bed, table, and a small desk for miscellaneous things to be thrown onto. Hidden in the corner, in the darkest part of the room, sat a little pot and next to it a small basin.

 

Though all he wanted to do was fall over and rest, that wasn’t going to be in the cards for the next couple of hours. Since Shen Yuan had put a general ban on talking about his past until they were alone again, Binghe looked like he was ready to combust with questions the moment they stepped into the room.

 

“If you sit and let me look at your wounds, I’ll let you ask whatever you want.” He sighed, dusting small grains out of his hair and giving his sleeves another conspiratory shake. He wasn’t going to get anything done any other way and at this point he might as well get the man to sit. Besides, he probably had to give Binghe more of that elixir the doctor had given him earlier, and that had been enough to knock the demon out. He wondered, faintly, what could be strong enough to get Binghe to collapse for a while but quickly dismissed it. As long as Binghe seemed fine and got some sleep, all would be well.

 

It doesn’t take much more coaxing then that to get Binghe to plop himself on the bed like an excited puppy. Though there isn’t much light in the room past a few candles, the warmth of them dance across the man’s features - refining them. It’s almost enough to compensate for the overly excited eyes the man is giving him, like Shen Yuan had just promised to shuck his clothes as well. The whole scene is only lost when Binghe moves to take his outer robe off only to wince as he strains his broken arm.

 

Right. He needed help.

 

He bats Binghe’s hands away the moment it looks like the demon will make a second go at it and ignores the wondrous look he gets in response. There aren’t many moments that he’d ever volunteered to undress the man. In fact, he was usually the one trying to cover Binghe up. To be fair though, it got cold outside and demon body or not it couldn’t be comfortable walking around with one’s chest exposed to the world 24/7.

 

“You’re still injured. Stop straining yourself.” Technically, he was sure that the others broken elbow had long already righted itself but he was too tired to argue otherwise and after everything that just happened, he didn’t mind the idea of spoiling Binghe a little.

 

“What did Shizun look like? Before this?” Binghe asked the moment Shen Yuan got to work. It doesn’t even take two seconds for the man to break, really, he was too happy about this whole thing.

 

Not so subtly, the man’s hands reach up to rest on Shen Yuan’s hips like they were drawn there by a magnet and he stifles a snort remembering where they had been trying to go earlier. He wrinkles his nose the moment he feels them wandering again, shooting a look of displeasure at Binghe but lets the injured man do what he likes.

 

“Different.” he says distantly, glaring at an especially annoying tie near Binghe’s shoulder, “Shen Qingqiu is much prettier than me.”

 

It was odd to talk about that name as someone else. Refreshing, but odd.

 

It wasn’t that he’d thought himself particularly ugly in his old body of course, but it was hard to compete with the kind of appearances that cultivators often sported. There wasn’t even really a comparison between them honestly.

 

It wasn’t like he had a lot to do with romance back then either. It was hard to think of such things when he’d been slowly wasting away in a hospital and Binghe wouldn’t have been the person he imagined.

 

“Unlikely.” the other says confidently and Shen Yuan hums, eyes drifting from the slowly loosening fabric near the demon’s collarbone down to the growing window exposing his chest even further. Binghe really was unfairly pretty. And ripped.

 

“You've never seen me. So how would you know?”

 

He feels Binghe shiver as the man’s outer robe slips off his shoulders, allowing Shen Yuan’s fingers a second to dance over the newly exposed skin near other’s neck. Thankfully the second robe was just as easy to push off.

 

His hair falls like a curtain around him as he looks down at his partner, eyeing the slowly forming goosebumps on the other’s arms. It really was too bad that heaters weren’t a thing in this era. It was too cold out here amongst the sand.

 

Gracefully, he drops down to begin to untie Binghe’s belt. The bandages went down the man’s whole chest and he’d need access to it if he was going to replace them.

 

“Shizun doesn’t need to!!” Binghe startles the moment he reaches around the man to get to the belt’s fastenings.

 

“What are you yelling about? I need to uncover these. Stop shifting around you’ll only make it worse.” A redness had spread across the other’s cheeks, which was just great. Who knew how much fucking sand had gotten under the bandages and potentially dirtied the wound again. He’d have to check for fever and an infection.

 

“Shizun will always be lovely.” Binghe said above him a beat later, a hand coming up to brush a few strands of hair behind Shen Yuan’s ear. “No matter what form he takes.”

 

He rolls his eyes, letting the strands fall back to obscure his slowly pinking cheeks. Augh, who can just say things like that? Not to mention generic! What is this, a teen romcom?  

 

“Shen Yuan.” Binghe calls suddenly, the light in his eyes beginning to look less curious and more ravenous and he realized how long it’d been since they’d been together. Oh, kneeling down like this was perhaps not the safest place to be then.

 

You’re hurt stupid boy. Now is not the time to be looking at me like that.

 

 “My hair was much shorter.” he muses, hoping to distract the man. The belt finally loosens enough for him to uncover all the bandages wrapped around the demon’s midsection and he gets to work untying those as well. It’s startling when he feels Binghe move slowly, reaching out to take a strand of his long windswept hair to kiss. He wants to protest, after all who knows what grains have managed to attach themselves firmly to his head out there but finds himself inexplicably sitting silently instead.

 

“Yes.” Binghe said, an implicit and? What’s next? Lurking there.

 

“My eyes were black...I used to wear glasses,” Traitorous mouth. He finds himself a bit horrified that he actually wants Binghe to know, to see him through Shen Qingqiu’s face. Binghe tilts his head up gently enough that he could have pushed him off and gone back to the bandages if he wished to. Instead, he allows himself to be pushed, looking up into the intense stare Binghe is giving him.  His cheeks are flaming bright red and Binghe is looking oh so sweetly at him, like Shen Yuan could tell him he used to have four eyes and the demon would just smile and ask excitedly where.

 

His partner is so very careful as he places gentle kisses near his eyes, mischievously going farther and peppering his cheek bones as well.

 

He feels his breath hitch as Binghe’s arm comes down to pull him up on his lap, encircling him and holding fast. The man is unfairly strong, even when hurt.  “I was thinner,”

 

Binghe’s hands go back to his sides, his eyes have gone half lidded and yup, it’s about time he put a stop to this.   

 

“I couldn't really walk a lot.”

 

Binghe looks startled finally, breaking whatever atmosphere was building between them. “Shizun was sick?”

 

“Mmhm. Now stop distracting me. I need to change these.”

 

He slips off of Binghe’s lap easily, moving back to kneel in front of the man. He would have loved a chair or something else to keep him from such a position but he couldn’t find one when he’d come in that was the proper height and this would just have to do.

 

Not backing down, but looking distinctly unhappy to be left bereft of his Shizun, the demon tried another question, “Is green really your favorite color?”

 

Shen Yuan raised an eyebrow, unsure how this line of questioning was supposed to get him back in Binghe’s lap.

 

Well he did say he’d answer anything. “It's all I wear.”

 

“It's all Shen Jiu had, why would you suddenly change it? Shizun does not have many fans that are only green though. He has many blue designs, and gold, some pink, and red. He seems to like the red the most.”

 

Binghe's crimson eyes flick over to him and Shen Yuan darts his own gaze away, sweating, “oh? I hadn't noticed.”

 

His partner nods, “So, this one has decided that it can't be Shen Yuan's favorite.”

 

“I don’t mind, I’m not really picky.” He turns away then, finally managing to get the bandages off and reaching for the bag he’d gotten to store the medicine in. As long as it looks cool, who really cares right?

 

The wounds themselves don’t look nearly as bad as they had to begin with - the skin having long scabbed over and the edges pink. He’d still have to double check for any infection and make sure nothing was inflamed.

 

“Shizun seems to know a lot about this kind of thing.” Binghe says admitting defeat, turning to watch quietly as Shen Yuan sets out the clean linens and the strange bottle in front of them.

 

His knees were starting to ache, and he’d have to finish up soon before he lost all blood flow.

 

“I wouldn’t say I know very much about medicine Binghe, you only think so because you keep getting hurt in front of me.” He counters uncorking the mixture. It smells terrible, and he once again wonders if perhaps the family was a bit too accommodating with them.

 

“Shizun, the first time Mu Qingfang gave Ning-Shijie medicine you almost kicked him off the Peak.”

 

That’s because he was about to get her to drink straight fucking mercury!

 

He shook his head, “Medicine works differently here then what I know. Just because there are a few things this Master seems to understand doesn’t mean they’re going to be right.”

 

He dips his hand into the jar and turns to eye the row of slashes in front of him. “Do they feel strange? Hot?”

 

Binghe shakes his head and Shen Yuan sighs in relief, lathering the salve onto the row.

 

“You can ask one more question.” He says, happy to find everything as it should be - at least to his own untrained eye. Gingerly he unrolls a new strip of bandages. They should last for the rest of the time Binghe needed to fully heal, but if not, then he’d have to find the local market and buy something cheap he could cut to pieces.

 

At the notice that he can only ask one more thing, Binghe looks like he’s about to protest but shuts up quickly. Shen Yuan isn’t sure why the man is so eager, it’s not like he’ll disappear any time soon after all. Binghe will have plenty of time to interrogate him later.

 

Hell, Shen Yuan will have time to tell Binghe about his family, and about his sister. He’ll have time to tell him about the late nights in the hospital bed that kept him up in pain and the low vibrant glow of the computer in front of him. He’ll have time to talk about university and living and white walls and dying. Maybe he’ll never be able to say anything about the system in his head, and maybe he’ll never know what exactly this world is, but somehow just hearing Binghe call his name is enough. Things aren’t over, not yet, but they’re closer than they’ve ever been to the full truth.

 

“Can you promise me something?” He asks Binghe while the man is deliberating his last question.

 

It's silly, Binghe has already made it perfectly clear that he would steal the moon for him - what is one more measly promise? Yet he still finds himself asking anyway.

 

“Shizun can always ask this one.” Binghe nods, moving to help Shen Yuan tie off the last of the bandages.

 

 “Find me.”

 

“Shizun?” Binghe blinks, taken back and confused. “Are you leaving again?”

 

He can’t promise that the system will have him here forever, and he can’t guarantee how much borrowed time he has. It’s not fair to ask more of Binghe, not after all the waiting the demon has already done, but he finds that he must.

 

“If I'm ever taken, you have to find me okay?” He asks, because the idea of returning to a cold white room so far away from him is a terrible future to behold.

 

Binghe looks wide eyed as Shen Yuan moves the man's hand back to his waist, cradling the demon's cheeks in his own. “Promise me.”

-

Lying down later, Binghe turns to him and says, “So, this means Shizun liked my novel right? That he thought about me even before we met.”

 

Shen Yuan groans, a whine of his own building over his own tiredness. So this was Binghe’s final question was it? There were many things he could say about Proud Immortal Demon Way, not many of them were positive.

 

There’s no good way to tell the lead of a story that you thought that their world, on the whole, was rather cheesy when all was said and done. It didn’t even touch the rankings for the top ten stallion novels he had read before. This one was just the most aggravating.

 

Even the forums had been annoying. He suddenly remembers the merchandise. The t-shirts, the posters, the pillow. One does not speak about the pillow. Not that illustrated monstrosity that his sister had bought him as a gag gift one birthday, presenting it shamelessly as their parents looked on.

 

Said parents had laughed it off, considering it a funny prank that the youngest sibling always pulled on their elder ones. They did not question the 3 foot full body illustrated Luo Binghe pillow that now held its place of shame off of his bed. Permanently.

 

He had ignored the calls of his mother to humor his sister. “Mei was just being cute.” she had urged, “She was very happy to have found something from your webcomic.”

 

“Novel.” he had tried to correct, but the women had waved him off. “Just say thank you.”

 

Shen Yuan had supposed at the very least, it wasn’t the mousepad...or god forbid the shirt with ‘A Member of Binghe’s Harem~!” splashed across the front in bold black characters. What the fuck had Airplane-bro been thinking when he’d sanctioned that one?! That his female readers would immediately jump on board with something so shameless?

 

He ignored the excited fan base that had bought them up so quickly that the shirts were sold out in seconds. Inside, his heart cried.

 

“This is why you came here right?” Binghe plowed on, enthusiasm obviously growing at the thought. The protagonist leaned further into Shen Yuan’s bubble, expression morphing into one more calculating for a moment before clearing. “Shizun came to save me.”

 

“That’s…!” Shen Yuan turns over, so his back was facing those happy eyes. He most certainly had not done so. In fact, under his tutelage, Binghe had still been thrown into the abyss.

 

Who did he save?

 

He can still remember everything Binghe listed out earlier though, everything he was happy Shen Yuan had done for him. And there, at the back of his mind, he can remember something else - desperate eyes and a braid yelling about the unfairness of it all.  

 

“Shen Yuan.”

 

“Hmm” he answers, hoping they could just drop it.

 

“Whatever took you here, I’m glad for it. I love you.”

 

The night sits still for them as he allows Binghe’s words to drift in the air around them. He expects crickets to join the chorus, and feels disappointed when he can’t make out any sound past the wind. Silently, he hums. Here, engulfed in darkness and listening to Binghe drift off, he finds he can whisper it,

 

“I love you too.”

 

-

It’s rain pattering on their window that wakes him up. The sun has slowly begun to rise earlier these days as spring finally begins to force the world out of winter’s icy clutches. He had begun to wake sooner too as sun beams snuck into their room hours before it felt like they should have. Binghe stirs next to him, probably awoken by the same thing.

 

There’s little to kick them out of bed today. The demon realm has been quiet for a while now and Shen Yuan can’t think of anything pressing he has to accomplish before the day is out. Binghe’s arms, once drowsy and languid tighten as the other man begins to claw his way towards consciousness. Grumbling lowly about the cold, the man pulls Shen Yuan towards him lightly so that his back bumps up against a firm chest, dragging a startled chuckle out of him.

 

“It’s already warm outside. You’re too spoiled.” Shen Yuan scolds halfheartedly and Binghe laughs back, sure warning he’s about to say something that will have him scolding Binghe harder.

 

“Any place is cold without A-Yuan next to me.” Binghe bends down to kiss his hair, chuckling once again when Shen Yuan almost shrieks at him. It felt nice to hear someone other than his own lone voice call out his name but he hadn’t anticipated the heart palpitations he’d get whenever his husband got up the nerve to call him by sweet pet names. Honestly he was just waiting for the day a heart attack would finally take him the moment Binghe said that in front of anyone else.

 

“How is it today?” Binghe continues, unrepentant over the early death he seems hell bent on bringing him too. Shen Yuan only decides to forgive him when he feels a small kiss pressed into the hollow of his throat. Binghe is still on thin ice.

 

He raises his arm tiredly to reach behind him and gently pet Binghe’s curly hair. It’s much too soft and fluffy for a world without hair conditioner. For now though, he can’t find the energy to complain, too wrapped up in sticky warmth and lingering drowsiness.  

 

“I’m okay today.” he tries, feeling the words out in his mouth.

 

Binghe hums, placing a kiss on his hair again before moving down to his shoulder, following a faint line of freckles across it.

 

“It’s the rain…” Shen Yuan says finally, giving up all pretenses and turning his body towards the outpouring of affection Binghe seems intent on giving him.

 

He knows he’s always a bit distant whenever it rained like this. It reminds him of home.

 

“I’m sorry.” Binghe says, because he is silly and likes to take all of Shen Yuan’s hurt and put it on himself.

 

“We all have to leave eventually Binghe. Some endings are just not the ones we hoped for.”

 

But with you...I’d like to be greedy.

 

He still couldn’t quiet find the words he always wanted to with Binghe. But it was getting better. Especially now, because when Binghe turned his adorning eyes on him, he never had to guess where his husband was looking.

 

“A-Yuan” Binghe called and there was a tether there, soft and fierce, ready to bring him back to the person he loved most whenever he was lost in the sea of his memories.

 

“I’m here.” He reassures.

 

 Along the way Binghe had become ‘home’ too.

 

Somewhere in that lazy morning he feels his heart settle for the first time in a long, long season, and almost, without realizing it, he lets the rain pass them by.