“We should make a handshake.”
“Handshake,” Mobei Jun echoes. His brows draw together in faint confusion, and Shang Qinghua grins over at him.
“Yes, but a little different than what you usually do. It’s a… a human thing!” He’s not technically lying. Shang Qinghua scoots closer to Mobei Jun and holds a hand out. “Here, put your hand out, too, My King — palm up! Then bring your hand up while I bring mine down, and then turn your hand around and we’ll do it again, now from side to side, then — “
Mobei Jun is a quick learner. Though the furrow between his brows doesn’t quite go away, he follows Shang Qinghua’s instructions easily and remembers the steps better than Shang Qinghua does when they go through it again. It makes Shang Qinghua ridiculously happy.
“Again,” he says for the fifth time, giddy.
Back in the other world, Shang Qinghua didn’t have many friends that weren’t on the other side of his laptop’s screen. In fact, if he really thinks about it, he’ll have to admit that he didn’t have any friends that weren’t on the other side of his laptop’s screen, so he never had the chance to do something like this with another person.
He’s friends with Cucumber bro now, but he’s skipping through fields of flowers with Bing-mei somewhere. Besides, Shang Qinghua isn’t sure if he would even want to do these modern, friend-typical things with him for sake of keeping “in character”. Like he hadn’t ruined all of that when he went and bent Luo Binghe.
Fortunately, Mobei Jun is also (shockingly) his friend, amongst other (even more shocking) things Shang Qinghua hasn’t had the guts to name yet. He’s also readily available and willing to indulge Shang Qinghua for even the strangest of things.
“Isn’t this great, My King?” Shang Qinghua says when they go through it another time. He’s smiling uncontrollably now. Who knew this would be so much fun?
He sneaks a glance up at Mobei Jun and finds him looking back, his raised brows giving him away completely even though he doesn’t reply.
“You can say you like it,” Shang Qinghua tells him, curling his fingers around Mobei Jun’s hand and feeling his fingers do the same. “I like it. My King, this is an exclusive handshake between the both of us. It’s ours — aren’t you happy about that?”
It’s such a small thing, this. Shang Qinghua wonders why it makes him so happy.
Mobei Jun certainly seems pleased as he looks to their clasped hands. “This is ours.”
“Yes,” Shang Qinghua says. He shakes their hands up and down a bit. “Having this, it means we’re close, My King.”
Mobei Jun looks vaguely thoughtful. “Close,” he murmurs, just loud enough for Shang Qinghua to hear. He blinks, and the thoughtfulness is gone, replaced by a sudden conviction. “Again.”
Shang Qinghua bites back a laugh. Who would have thought Mobei Jun would like this so much?
He grins and nods. “Again.”
One day, Shang Qinghua tries to introduce the concept of high-fives to Mobei Jun.
“You just hit my hand with yours,” he explains, holding his hand up.
Mobei Jun looks at him with clear skepticism.
Shang Qinghua waves his hand, undeterred. “Come on, My King. It’s easy! Give me your best shot!”
After a moment, Mobei Jun raises his hand and slaps his palm against Shang Qinghua’s.
Tears immediately fill Shang Qinghua’s eyes.
My King, are you trying to break my hand?!
Mobei Jun’s expression darkens when he sees the way Shang Qinghua’s face twists. He takes Shang Qinghua’s throbbing hand between both his own, and Shang Qinghua almost cries at the cool relief.
Swallowing past the pain, Shang Qinghua manages to say, “It’s fine, My King. Next time… Next time, don’t hit so hard.”
“No,” Mobei Jun says, looking positively murderous at their hands. “No more of this.”
“It’s really not that — “
Unsurprisingly, Shang Qinghua likes touching Mobei Jun’s face. He can’t help it; Mobei Jun is handsome, and Shang Qinghua is endlessly enraptured by the feel of his smooth, cool skin under his fingertips. He pinches Mobei Jun’s cheeks, his nose, brushes his thumbs across the soft skin under his eyes. Most of the time, though, he pats Mobei Jun’s face and leaves his hand resting there against his cheek. If he leaves it there long enough, it’ll grow warm.
Sometimes, Mobei Jun will turn his head, let his eyes fall shut, and brush his lips against Shang Qinghua’s palm. It’s the prelude to Mobei Jun’s relentless teasing, of ticklish fingers and lips trailing cold touches up and down his skin. Shang Qinghua would usually back away at this point, already feeling an ache in stomach and lungs from the incoming laughter.
This time, it’s for a different reason that Shang Qinghua hastily intervenes.
“My King, you shouldn’t do that anymore,” he says. His palm tingles where Mobei Jun’s lips brushed it.
Not for the first time, Shang Qinghua thinks back to all those web articles he’d scoured through when he wrote Proud Immortal Demon Way, trying to figure out how to make Luo Binghe into a fitting stallion novel protagonist. He’d decided: a man who could pull all of the female characters into his harem needed to be not only strong but also sauve!
Even though most of Bing-ge’s wives were the ones with less than 40 IQ and blindly followed him into bed after a kind word or action, there were a few who needed to be seduced. So seduce Bing-ge did!
Shang Qinghua spent days eating up guides and how-to’s on romance. Everything from the color of flowers to what a glance might mean in some other foreign country was adapted to and used at some point in his novel.
For better or worse, a dozen different articles on one thing would usually only result in a single line — but an effective line nonetheless! After going through what must have been half a million of them, it’s only natural that Shang Qinghua remembered a few things.
Across from him, Mobei Jun looks at him with an expression that clearly asks, Why?
“It’s a human thing,” Shang Qinghua says. Lately, it’s been his default reply in explaining these gestures that are meaningless to every other human but have too much meaning to Shang Qinghua himself.
“A human thing,” Mobei Jun says in a way that means he expects an explanation to follow. He sends Shang Qinghua’s hand a contemplative glance before shifting his gaze back to Shang Qinghua, waiting.
Shang Qinghua scratches his cheek. “... It’s a bit hard to explain.” It isn’t, not really. What he’s more concerned about is how Mobei Jun will react to it.
Mobei Jun’s brows twitch. “Is it dangerous?”
“Not… really?” Shang Qinghua pauses. “It’s more about what it means, My King.”
“What does it mean?”
Pressing his lips together for a brief moment, Shang Qinghua replies, “‘My life is in your hands.’”
For a heart-stopping moment, Mobei Jun is silent. With his expression blank, Shang Qinghua can only fidget nervously with his hands as he waits for a response.
It feels like hours have passed under Mobei Jun’s steady stare when he finally replies, “Is that all?”
Shang Qinghua doesn’t know whether to cry from relief or indignation. Is that all?! This is your life we’re talking about! Your!! Life!!
Then again, it’s not as though Mobei Jun is actually handing over his life. It’s just a hidden meaning behind a harmless, intimate gesture. Plus, he’s a demon. What humans think about this or that, he more than likely doesn’t even care for it.
All of a sudden, Shang Qinghua feels like he’s made a big deal out of nothing. He laughs a bit. “Yes, My King. Sorry, I was thinking too much.”
Mobei Jun takes one of Shang Qinghua’s hands into both his own. His thumbs press lightly against the palm of his hand. “Do you not want it?”
“Want what?” Shang Qinghua asks before he actually thinks about it. When he does, he starts, waving his free hand quickly, “No, no — I mean, no, that’s not what I meant, not — not no, I don’t want it, My King. Thankfully, it isn’t like you’re actually handing me your life. It isn’t that I don’t want, it’s that I don’t think I would be the best person to hold it. Besides, it’s not as though you — “
“You saved me twice,” Mobei Jun cuts in. He’s looking at Shang Qinghua with a fierce glint in his eyes.
Slowly, Shang Qinghua nods.
“Three times,” Mobei Jun amends. “When we met, I was injured.”
Shang Qinghua is sure Mobei Jun wouldn’t have died from an injury like that, and he says as much. “My King, you would have recovered then with or without my help.”
Mobei Jun’s expression becomes unreadable. He brings Shang Qinghua’s hand up and presses his lips to the palm.
When he raises his head, he curls Shang Qinghua’s fingers over that palm and says in a voice that brooks no argument, “Keep it.”
Shang Qinghua can’t very well refuse him. Confused but familiar now with Mobei Jun’s tendency to do whatever he wants without explanation, Shang Qinghua dutifully replies, “I will.”
After spending so long clinging to Mobei Jun’s legs, Shang Qinghua has long since deduced that Mobei Jun, despite taking Shang Qinghua’s clinging with grace and minor irritation, very much liked his personal space. Although any other person, demon or otherwise, would have gotten fed up with the clinging the first handful of times, Mobei Jun seemed to tolerate it indefinitely. More than that - and even more confusing - was the fact that Mobei Jun was acutely aware of everyone else who stepped into his very wide, very large personal bubble, which always seemed to coincidentally include Shang Qinghua.
Shang Qinghua was actually surprised he put up with it for so long — up until they both went through the marriage rites, at least.
Now, well, he’s still very ( extremely ) surprised, but it makes a little more sense than before. Only just a bit, though. Shang Qinghua is still reeling from the fact that he just married the man of his dreams — twice now, apparently.
“Do you understand now?”
Mobei Jun gazes at him with an intensity Shang Qinghua can’t bring himself to meet for long. The weight of it makes him grow warm, a heat that sprouts in his heart and overflows into his chest as he stares at the pool of vermillion between them both.
“Yes,” Shang Qinghua says even if he still can’t quite believe it.
When Mobei Jun doesn’t say anything to that, when the silence between them stretches and stretches with each beat of his heart, Shang Qinghua gathers his wits and chances a glance up.
Mobei Jun looks back at him. Shang Qinghua thinks he spies a thin, faint affection in his otherwise doubtful gaze.
“Do you understand?” he asks a second time.
With more confidence, Shang Qinghua replies, “Yes, My King.” When Mobei Jun’s doubt doesn’t let up, Shang Qinghua breathes in and says, “I swear I understand.”
It’s reasonable, the way Mobei Jun is unmoved. In this world, proper oaths are more binding than some lofty words out of one’s mouth. They involve spells, sometimes blood, but Shang Qinghua has another method.
He sticks out his pinky finger between them. Mobei Jun looks at it.
“Your hand, My King,” Shang Qinghua says. When Mobei Jun does as requested, and after Shang Qinghua links their pinkies together, he takes a moment to figure out how to explain this to Mobei Jun. “This… It’s an ancient human ritual for oaths, My King. We vow on our hearts, and whoever breaks it will be subjected to... divine punishment.”
Mobei Jun looks mildly interested. “What kind of punishment?”
Shang Qinghua solemnly replies, “There is a saying that all ten fingers of the one who breaks the vow will be cut off.”
Mobei Jun nods as if deeming it a fitting punishment, but then he says, “There’s no need for that.”
Shang Qinghua blinks. “No?”
“A vow on your heart is enough.”
Shang Qinghua studies Mobei Jun’s expression - after all, isn’t this world strict about sticking to their words? Mobei Jun even more so? Isn’t he being too lax? - but Mobei Jun seems perfectly content.
Tightening his pinky around Mobei Jun’s, Shang Qinghua says, “If My King is fine with just that, then this person swears he understands that we are now...“ Embarrassingly enough, the word gets stuck in his throat, and it takes Shang Qinghua several tries to finish in his steadiest voice, “... Wedded.”
Hearing that, Mobei Jun’s eyes curve slightly. Shang Qinghua sees the happiness written in those eyes, feels Mobei Jun already pulling his hand away, and immediately tightens his grip on Mobei Jun’s pinky.
“I!” He blurts out before he can think of anything other that the sudden urge to give more and make Mobei Jun happier. “I also swear that I won’t leave you, My King. I don’t want to. I haven’t told you, but I enjoy being with you, and now that we are — now that I know — I just — “
He trails off, but Mobei Jun doesn’t stand by for the silence to come. With an unreadable look in his eyes, he says, “You swore.”
Was it not clear? Shang Qinghua nods. “I did.”
He’s contemplating whether or not he should swear again when his eyes catch the shift in Mobei Jun’s expression. His thoughts taper off, and his heart all but stops in his chest.
There! On Mobei Jun’s face! Is a smile!
It’s Mobei Jun’s turn to tighten his pinky around Shang Qinghua’s numb one. He gapes at Mobei Jun, mouthing indistinct words, eyes wide. No matter how many times he blinks, Mobei Jun’s smile doesn’t magically disappear.
“I will not leave you, either,” Mobei Jun tells him.
It takes a long moment for the words to register, but once they do, Shang Qinghua’s heart is pounding in his chest for another reason altogether.
He swallows passed the lump in his throat. “You — My King, you can’t take that back now. You’ve sworn, our pinkies are linked. You can’t break your word unless you want all your fingers cut off.”
Mobei Jun appears vaguely amused. “I thought this was only a vow on our hearts.”
“Not anymore,” Shang Qinghua insists.
As expected, Mobei Jun falls silent. Shang Qinghua thinks, Good! Think about what you just said, Mobei Jun. This kind of promise, you can’t take it lightly! I won’t let you!
Pinkies still linked, what Mobei Jun says next is this: “It doesn’t matter.”
Doesn’t matter? Those are all ten of your fingers! What doesn’t matter?!
Mobei Jun looks him dead in the eye and continues, “I have no intention of breaking my word.”
An overwhelming heat filled Shang Qinghua’s chest. “Really?” At the unimpressed look Mobei Jun shoots him, Shang Qinghua quickly backtracks, hurriedly explaining, “It’s not that I doubt you, My King, it’s because — I — I’ve never really had — “
Shang Qinghua cuts himself off. He’s never had anyone stay beside him for long, is what he wants to tell Mobei Jun. For most of his previous life, he had been alone. For most of this life, aside from Mobei Jun’s sporadic appearances, he’d been alone, too.
Despite being the closest person to him, Shang Qinghua had tried to leave Mobei Jun once.
Even when he chose to stay, in his heart he had thought: Later, who is to say Mobei Jun won’t try to leave him, too? Demons are loftier than humans and more inclined to acting on impulses.
Marriage, while shocking, offered little comfort. After all, Shang Qinghua knows best that marriages don’t always last forever.
This, though. Mobei Jun’s pinky linked with his, as solemn as performing a blood rite rather than the child’s act they were actually doing, vows and hearts and it doesn’t matter caught in the space between them… Somehow, for some reason, this —
“Nevermind,” Shang Qinghua says, a little breathless but unimaginably happy. He breaks out into a smile. “It’s nothing, My King. I’m… I’m glad.”
— this is more than enough.