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modern madonna and child

Chapter Text

“But right now, besides me, his Shizun, who else can protect ━ or should I say, will protect Luo Binghe?”

 

Shen Qingqiu buried the boy he loved eight years ago.

 

There was no body to bury, only the remains of the blade his child worked hard to master. Shen Qingqiu took the sword shards and made a grave behind his bamboo house, erected a marker and carved his child’s name with all the elegance and precision of Qing Jing Peak’s Lord.

 

Pristine robes muddied at the knees, nails split open and cuticles covered in dirt, Shen Qingqiu buried his feelings, too.

 

The boy he loved, the boy he raised, the boy Shen Qingqiu came to see as his own ━ his child was dead, killed by his own hand.

 

Shen Qingqiu would never again see his child’s beautiful face, his sweet smile, his bright, clear eyes, full of worship and love for his ‘Shizun.’

 

How could Shen Qingqiu dare call himself his master? He raised his child with a soft, tender heart and stabbed his own sword right through it. He did his child no better than a butcher, raising a lamb for the slaughter.

 

The weight of his conscience bore down on him, an albatross around his neck, its weight in the scales equal to the trust of the child who’d once loved him. The trust Shen Qingqiu shattered as easily as Zheng Yang had shattered.

 

He could not bear to look at his reflection, see the guilt of his sins stare back at him and cast judgement. His child’s anguished face, his pain stark and open like a ragged wound, the heartbreak in his voice when he called for Shen Qingqiu’s reassurance, to believe in him as Shen Qingqiu once did, to trust him ━  

 

He ran.

 

Like a coward, Shen Qingqiu ran. He gathered his love, the memories of two people, locked the treasures in a box, and buried his heart in an empty grave.

 

The boy he buried, the boy he loved, he and Shen Qingqiu were never destined to cross paths a second time.

 

Two souls roaming the world, having met once, what reason was there for them to know each other?

 

Shen Qingqiu’s child died. He was never coming back.

 

And even if he did, if such a world could exist, if miracles truly were real, his child would not look at Shen Qingqiu with love and tenderness.

 

Shen Qingqiu’s biggest fear was his reality. The child he (once) loved grown to hate him, abhor the very sight of him, the memories they’d made together. This was the truth. This was the only path available to them.  

 

The torments of love, the pain that came with giving away a part of yourself, Shen Qingqiu was not strong enough to carry their weight. It was easier to run away.

 

Only …

 

He never expected to be wrong.

 

He never thought such a world could exist.

 

He never imagined the boy he buried was still alive, crying out for him, begging Shen Qingqiu to stop and look back at him.

 

His disciple, his child, his beloved Binghe.

 

Abandoned by all, completely alone, not even acknowledged by the father that sired him, he truly was an unloved child. Not even his own shizun accepted him.

 

Out of all the wrongs done to him, Shen Qingqiu hurt him worst of all. Shen Qingqiu turned him into a shade of the grand, all-powerful Demon King Luo Binghe was meant to become. He reduced him to a man pining for the impossible, chasing after the image of someone who never existed.

 

What lofty immortal? What great master? Shen Qingqiu was an impostor wearing a dead man’s face, ruining the life of innocents. The only lessons he taught Luo Binghe were those of betrayal, of pain, of broken trust.

 

Restoring the original goods’ ruined meridians bit by bit over the course of five long years, even going so far as to preserve the Moon and Sun Dew Grass body until it inevitably withered ━  how strong must the boy's love be, to endure for so long, to remain steadfast and true even in the face of Shen Qingqiu's cruel ignorance.

 

It shamed him. Shen Qingqiu had no face to look at him.

 

How many times did this child try to defend himself? How many times did he try to speak with Shen Qingqiu and clear his name? How many times did Shen Qingqiu refuse him? Reject him, push him away, hurt him? It did not bear thinking. Shen Qingqiu did not want to think about it.

 

Shen Qingqiu’s thoughts were in turmoil, on the precipice of understanding something important; something that, once acknowledged, he could never turn his back to. His emotions were chaotic, overwhelming, a noose closing around his throat.

 

But he was sure -- absolutely sure, -- of one of thing.

 

He could not abandon Luo Binghe.

 

Not again.

 

This pitiful, unloved child … who else would love him but his shizun?

 

Shen Qingqiu had hurt him deeply, again and again, without caring for his feelings, never taking care with Luo Binghe’s fragile heart.

 

He could not keep running away. He could not keep cowering, ashamed, unwilling to take the first step forward and meet Luo Binghe halfway. Luo Binghe had tried so hard, done so much, went to great lengths to make their second meeting a possibility.

 

His child had walked through a hell of his own making to return to his shizun. Time and time again, Luo Binghe saved him. All along, and Shen Qingqiu had been blind to his feelings, unable - no, unwilling, to see him for who he really was.

 

Brushing a thumb over the crease of Luo Binghe’s brow, Shen Qingqiu pushed several waves of spiritual energy to him through the hand on his back.

 

Locked together in the tight space of the stone coffin, pressed chest to chest, Shen Qingqiu could no longer run away from Luo Binghe.

 

Nor did he want to.

 

“I’ll wait,” he whispered into Luo Binghe’s crown, lips brushing over the bump on his head. “Just like Binghe waited for all those years by himself, I’ll wait for Binghe to wake up.”

 

No matter how long it took, be it hours, days, weeks, months, years -- Shen Qingqiu would not abandon him.

 

Never again.

 

“This master is willing.”

 

There was no exit out of the Mausoleum, no feasible way to defeat their enemies, not unless Shen Qingqiu forced Luo Binghe to wake and threw him to his death. He could save his own skin if he used Luo Binghe as a shield.

 

Shen Qingqiu couldn’t.

 

He couldn't hurt him. He couldn’t keep hurting him.  

 

With shaking hands, he brought Luo Binghe closer to him, pressing the boy’s face to his chest.

 

The Jinlan City Sowers incident was never part of Luo Binghe’s nefarious trap, just like most likely, the Huan Hua Palace fiasco was never Luo Binghe’s doing. There was never even a trap to begin with. It was only Shen Qingqiu’s foolish and prejudiced imagination. Shen Qingqiu blindly piled crime upon crime on top of Luo Binghe’s head, finding him guilty, refusing to let him get a word edgewise that could convince Shen Qingqiu otherwise.

 

Shen Qingqiu’s own refusal to see caused his child such great pain.

 

From the very beginning, Shen Qingqiu hurt him.

 

Heat seeped into Shen Qingqiu’s eyes, a burning sensation he tried in vain to blink away.

 

I’m sorry, he couldn’t say. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t meant it. I never meant any of it.

 

If only I’d known sooner.

 

If only I’d done things differently.

 

I never meant to hurt you.

 

I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

 

Your Shizun doesn’t hate you.

 

Gathering Luo Binghe in his arms, he closed the lid on the stone coffin and settled down to wait.

 

He didn’t need to eat, or drink, he could sustain himself off his cultivation alone, and help Luo Binghe through Xin Mo’s backlashes. Luo Binghe did not stir in his sleep, his fever gradually lowering, healthy color returning to his face. With tender cheeks and his face softened by sleep, he resembled his younger self so much Shen Qingqiu’s heart ached sweetly.

 

Though his outer appearance changed, inside he remained the same. Staunchly loyal, the type of person that would repay one single kindness a thousand times over. Shen Qingqiu only had to feed him a meagre amount of sweetness to win his affections forever.

 

Luo Binghe truly was a good child.

 

Time slipped through his fingers, Shen Qingqiu not bothering to keep track.

 

Holding Luo Binghe close to his chest, as a mother would their child, Shen Qingqiu whispered in his ear retellings of their past, of the three years they spent together before Shen Qingqiu’s mistakes tore them apart.

 

Revisiting their memories, finally strong enough to look back upon those days, Shen Qingqiu’s heart ached more and more, a low, sweet pain that left him him breathless and with dried tracks on his face.

 

He wondered if this is how Luo Binghe felt, waiting alone for an empty corpse to come back to life.

 

Not. It was different.

 

Luo Binghe never had any guarantee that Shen Qingqiu would come back to him.

 

Shen Qingqiu knew without a shadow of a doubt Luo Binghe would fight to return to him.

 

Brushing the tips of his fingers over Luo Binghe’s demon mark, he closed his eyes and joined his child in sleep.

 

“Don’t cry, ah. Shizun is here.”


 

Luo Binghe woke up gradually, head cushioned on the hollow of Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder.

 

Shen Qingqiu felt his breath quicken, the beat of his heart jumping. Luo Binghe’s lashes fluttered against his rosy cheeks several times before opening, dark eyes unfocused, slowly blinking into awareness.

 

Shen Qingqiu continued to brush his fingers through Luo Binghe’s hair, soothing him.

 

Fingers snapped close around his wrist, careful not to bruise.

 

Pitch black eyes looked him, a maelstrom of emotions flashing through their depths: surprise, joy, fear, and finally, a bone-weary resignation.

 

Eyes dimming, an unbearable sadness marred Lup Binghe’s beautiful face.

 

Expecting rejection, Luo Binghe made no motion to move, or speak, waiting, always waiting, for Shen Qingqiu to make the first move.

 

“Welcome back, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu said, smiling softly.

 

He tugged his hand free, traced his fingers down Luo Binghe’s face to cup his cheek.

 

Luo Binghe melted into his touch.

 

“I hope you had a good rest.”





Chapter Text

 

In the ruin of what once was, Luo Binghe’s heart still beat.

 

Clinging to the past, unable to let go, unwilling to give up a pointless struggle.

 

Only in his memories could he find the warmth of so long ago, the arms that held him tight, the dear call of his name.

 

Beautiful, soft and sweet, too sorrowful to remember, but even more impossible to forget.

 

In the cage of his ribcage, the incomplete organ pumped, full of blood, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge its missing pieces. Bleeding out, he cut himself again and again on the same sword, nails digging into the jagged wound, spreading the rot, encouraging it to fester.

 

Repeated more than once, it could no longer be called a mistake.

 

He returned, always, to the same place, the same time, the only person.

 

Luo Binghe visits him in his dreams.

 

He runs through the tall stalks of bamboo, along the familiar well-trodden path that leads to a small clearing. Sunlight dapples his white clothes, freshly laundered, pressed with the familiar smells of home. His steps are light and sure, no sword at his side, no demons weighing down his heart.

 

Back facing him, a tall willowy figure with flowing sleeves and cascading hair waits for him. The wind whips at their clothes, blowing stray hairs across the lofty immortal face.

 

Turning toward him, the figure is revealed in full.

 

Graceful and cold, an untouchable frost only found at the tallest of peaks, the rarest of flowers.

 

Shen Qingqiu’s sharp eyes soften at the sight of Luo Binghe. The strict brow gentles, the distant, untouchable winter thawing to the most beautiful of autumns.

 

“Binghe,” his Shizun says, arms spread in the shape of wings. Eyes crinkling, lips curved into a welcoming smile, frost transforming into sunlight. “Binghe, you’re late.”

 

With the innocence of childhood, free of restraint and no mistakes on his shoulders, Luo Binghe runs into the waiting arms.

 

Standing in the jagged shadows creeping into the color landscape with writhing, covetous hands, Luo Binghe unsheates Xin Mo.

 

Flicking the blood off the blade, Luo Binghe walks over the corpse and steals the phantasm’s place.

 

Head cushioned on his Shizun’s lap, he curls closer. His hands cling to his Shizun’s robes, mimicking days long lost to the past. Fingers run through his hair, untangling imagined knots, a handsome, sonorous voice reciting poetry blending with the happy gurgling of water, the far off sounds of songbird and the hum of cicadas.

 

Time stands still, the hallway of memories as tranquil as the surface of a sleeping lake.

 

Looking up at the face above him, the clean, calm profile, Luo Binghe’s heart fills with bittersweetness. Warmth seeps from his center, leaving his heart encased in ice, frozen and barren.

 

The open, bleeding wound keeps overflowing.

 

His Shizun never speaks to him in his dreams; it is only through his memories that Luo Binghe can experience the sound of his voice, his warmth, his love.

 

Amidst the falling peach blossoms, the vestiges of winter swept away by the returning spring, Luo Binghe relives the echoes of his childhood.

 

Only here can he still find the affection he craves, the sense of belonging, a haven to rest his weary head.

 

A beast starved for eight years living on the dregs of his past.

 

A fool in his desires, he pays no heed to the dangers of dreaming.

 

The deeper he dreams, the deeper he falls into the labyrinth of his heart.

 

If only there was a way for them to return to that time, to the long ago days where Luo Binghe was loved and beloved.

 

A fool’s hope.

 

One more time, just one more time. A weakness substituting as strength, a home that is not a home, a poison to seal the cracks in his heart.

 

Gathering the pieces of his weak and useless self, cutting his hands on the sharp edges, Luo Binghe gets up again and throws himself over the precipe for the millionth time.

 

If he can just hold on for a little longer, just a little bit more, maybe, maybe this time he won’t be pushed away. Maybe this time he won’t be looked at with hatred, but welcomed instead with open arms and the dear call of his name.  

 

A fool’s hope.

 

Time and time again, he’s been rejected. Time and time again, he’s been abandoned.

 

Never, ever, ever someone’s first choice.

 

He is an animal, a monster, a nightmare that plagues his Shizun and refuses to unclench his teeth from the soft give of his flesh. He is what his Shizun despises above all else: a demon, an abomination, abhorrent and unworthy of standing in his Shizun’s presence.  

 

Even so, even knowing he is hated, Luo Binghe can’t give up.

 

His dreams, empty and mute, the warmth of a familiar body, the clean scent of bamboo and honeylocust. Smiles hidden behind the silk of a fan, a face beautiful enough to render him asunder, eyes dark and fathomless, teasing him with secrets he will never know. Luo Binghe grew like a garden tended by the rays of Shen Qingqiu’s kindness, a moon chasing the sun unable to produce its own light.

 

Always, always running after him, unable to catch up.

 

The person you love most in the world, he is not meant for you .

 

Why not?

 

Because he is unworthy?

 

The person you love most in the world, they do not love you , never did, never will.

 

Why not?

 

Because he is a demon?

 

Yes, because he is a demon, because his veins run with tainted blood, his future decided for him without ever giving him a choice.

 

Marked guilty from the beginning, what chance does he have to make amends?

 

Why bother? Why care? Nothing will change, nothing, nothing at all.

 

Didn’t he decide, didn’t he make his choice?

 

If he cannot have Shen Qingqiu’s love, he will take everything else.

 

He’d rather be hated than forgotten.

 

No power on Heaven or Earth, in the hellish pits of the Abyss, can force him to kneel, to bow his head and accept the will of destiny.

 

This ugly world took and took from him, he has no reason to adhere to its mandate. There isn’t an inch in him to spare.

 

If he has to fight against Fate itself to earn a place by Shen Qingqiu’s side, Luo Binghe will bring down the Heavens themselves.

 

Even at the cost of eclipsing the sun.

 

Closing his eyes, reaching back for him through the years, Luo Binghe lets himself be swept away in the familiar stream of memories.

 

Endless days of waking up alone, holding himself in his arms, rocking himself like a mother, scared to face the world alone. Luo Binghe cannot stand on his own two feet. Not without him. Not anymore.

 

Useless, weakling, coward.

 

If only…

 

If only...

 

He wakes up to an unfamiliar dream.

 

“Binghe, welcome back,” his Shizun says, dark eyes lit up with joy, face vulnerable and open as it could only ever be in Luo Binghe’s dreamscape.

 

Luo Binghe lays on top of him, cushioned by Shen Qingqiu’s body. Despite the thick darkness, Luo Binghe can see him clearly, unconcerned with the limited space and stale, worn air of the crypt.

 

Shen Qingqiu never speaks to him in his dreams.

 

The thought doesn’t properly filter through the thick fog in his mind, exhaustion creeping in on the edges of his subsconscious.

 

Blinking drowsily, he continues to stare at Shen Qingqiu’s face, the illusion so wondrous, so captivating, he doesn’t stop to think about the oddness of the dream. Luo Binghe lets himself drink in the sight of him, the sooty sweep of his lashes, the refined eyebrows, the cinnabar mole on his pale brow a beautiful contrast to his moon-glowing skin.

 

Shen Qingqiu, the real Shen Qingqiu, stands high above the clouds, far beyond his reach, preferring death to the touch of Luo Binghe’s filthy half-breed hands.

 

His Shizun is the sharpest sword Luo Binghe has ever known.

 

A fool through and through, Luo Binghe lets the blade plunge directly into his heart.

 

A fool through and through, Luo Binghe grasps the hilt and twists the blade in deeper.

 

His dreamscape is his worst and greatest ally, fabricating new lies out of old memories. He can recreate the past, but he cannot create the future.

 

Luo Binghe leans into the illusion’s touch, breathes in the fabricated smells of home and feels his heart crack further.

 

I need to wake up, he thinks, I need to finish what I started.

 

The dream goes unshattered; Luo Binghe hopes the warmth of Shen Qingqiu’s body will seep into his depths and breathe new life into him again.

 

“I hope you had a good rest.”

 

The smile on his Shizun’s face outshines every treasure in the world, a ghost of the past, impossibly gentle, achingly lovely, and everything that will never be his again.

 

Luo Binghe knows it’s a dream, his heart’s desires manifesting as demons summoned to complete his destruction, to rip him to pieces and swallow him whole ― but he can’t stop himself from pretending.

 

He has nothing, there is nothing left, only dreams and memories and a child’s hopeless wishes.

 

One more time, just a little bit longer, then he will wake up and return to the truth where this warmth doesn’t exist, where his Shizun scorns him, where his Shizun hates him.

 

I want to see you as little as possible. Best if I never see you at all.

 

Held in Shen Qingqiu’s arms, enveloped in the heat of his body, Luo Binghe lets himself crumble.

 

Love me, love me, love me, please, please.

 

Whatever part of me you hate, I’ll change.

 

I’ll discard every unsightly piece, become someone different, someone new, someone worthy of your love. Anything, anything you want, I’ll do it all, just please.

 

Please, let me stay by your side.

 

If only ―

 

If only ―

 

“I hope you had a good rest.”

 

Melting into Shen Qingqiu’s touch, Luo Binghe closes his eyes, heat pricking behind his lids.

 

A dream Luo Binghe never wants to wake up from, how wonderful it would be if he could stay forever.

 

He can’t.

 

He knows he can’t.

 

A vice he can’t quit, a crutch he depends on, a wound that won’t heal.

 

If he stays here, he can never return.

 

I want to see you again, the real you, no matter how much it may cost me.

 

Every time he succumbs to his weakness and returns here, it grows harder and harder to wake up. The demons in his heart grow stronger, slobbering jaws snapping hungrily at his heels, Xin Mo’s presence in the back of his head taunting him for his inability to act.

 

“Binghe?” Shen Qingqiu calls, cupping Luo Binghe’s face between his hands. His brow furrows, concern tugging at his mouth. “Binghe, tell master where it hurts. Can you understand?”

 

Fingers touch his forehead, bringing to mind the scarce times he caught fever in his youth and his Shizun tended to his sickbed.

 

Luo Binghe nuzzles into the touch, sighing softly.

 

What a beautiful dream, he thinks, tracing the elegant lines of his Shizun’s face, wishing he were brave enough to touch.

 

He recalls the feel of his Shizun’s mouth, the green scent of the bamboo grove, the soft give of his Shizun’s lips, the sharp inhale Luo Binghe caught in his mouth and devoured.

 

Even in his dreams, Luo Binghe is an incorrigible coward.

 

Yearning for the past, afraid of the present, dreading the future.

 

Luo Binghe would give up everything to make his dream a reality, endure every wrong, suffer any hurt, succumb to any humiliation.

 

Pain is easy, a constant bedfellow, his only companion alongside loneliness.

 

Luo Binghe could withstand anything, be hated and hurt by everyone and anyone.

 

Being hated and hurt by Shen Qingqiu was his only undoing.

 

“Binghe?” The calls of his name continue, and it occurs to Luo Binghe that something isn’t quite right, but the feel of his Shizun’s body rotting away in his arms is still too vivid, his mind taxed with the recollection of how it felt to lose his Shizun a third time.

 

“Shizun,” he says softly, whispering a secret in the dark, cracking the ice around his heart and letting all his fears and vulnerabilities bleed out into the open. “Shizun, I’m so tired.”

 

What awaits him outside the dream is the same dreadful emptiness that has plagued him ever since the day he first tasted Xiu Ya’s blade.

 

The bamboo grove is the only place where he feels safe. It is the shape his dreamscape knows best. Luo Binghe can’t let go.

 

He wonders, in his loneliest moments, if he swallowed Shen Qingqiu whole, could he keep him forever.

 

Arms wrap around his middle, pulling him closer. Head resting on the curve of his Shizun’s shoulder, Luo Binghe inhales deeply.

 

The scent is the same.

 

Home.

 

That place is lost to him forever. He can try to recreate it as many times as he wants, it will never be the same.

 

They can never return to the past.

 

The arms hold him tighter, the pulse in Shen Qingqiu’s throat jumping. “Binghe, are you injured anywhere? Binghe, answer me,” Shen Qingqiu says gently, as if speaking to a spooked animal.

 

Fingers play with his hair, rub soothing circles down his neck. “Binghe, open your eyes. Look at Shizun, please.”

 

You left me, he doesn’t say, knows it’s useless, no weapons to defend himself in front of this person. You left me, you left me, you left me after you promised you would be mine forever.

 

How many times must he watch this person die?

 

How many times until Shen Qingqiu no longer has any life to spare?

 

Even now Shen Qingqiu is lost to him, taken from him by forces he cannot control.

 

All the power in the world and he can’t even save one person.

 

“Shizun,” Luo Binghe gasps out, the pain in his heart swelling to a crest. The burning sensation in his eyes grows hotter, a heavy, ugly emotion rising in his chest, spreading through his body like putrid roots.

 

Once, he promised never to cry again.

 

How many tears has he shed, in these eight years of waiting?

 

“Shizun, I can’t hold on anymore,” he sobs, burying his face in the soft scents of home, unable to meet Shen Qingqiu’s eyes and see rejection. “Shizun, if you can’t stand the sight of me, just kill me, maim me, do as you like. I’ll let you, Shizun can do what he wants with me.”

 

Just please don’t leave me, don’t leave me again.

 

I’d rather die than be without you.

 

The dream crumbles, the last traces of sleep wiped from Luo Binghe’s eyes with tender hands.

 

Slender fingers tilt his chin, brushing Luo Binghe’s fringe off his face.

 

Shen Qingqiu presses a chaste kiss to the demon mark branding his forehead, the touch of his lips warm, alive, real .

 

I want to see you as little as possible. Best if I never see you at all.

 

Heart dropping violently, fear floods Luo Binghe’s entire being. Ice rushes through his veins, sapping away all the warmth and comfort, leaving him empty and bereft. A withered husk.

 

Before Luo Binghe can pull away in a mad scramble, Shen Qingqiu holds onto him fast, hands clamping like steel bars around him.

 

Not running away. Not ordering Luo Binghe to leave,

 

Luo Binghe lowers his lashes, trembling, half leaning forward and half pulling back, dreading what is to come, unable to break free from the thrall of his most beloved person.

 

Words stick in his throat, useless, defenseless, all of his ugly insides completely bare for his Shizun to see.

 

Cowed like a beaten dog, he is unable to disobey, hungry for any chance to be close to Shen Qingqiu.

 

Anything, anything, he’ll take anything his Shizun chooses to give him, even if it’s only more pain.

 

Looking at Shen Qingqiu through the cover of his lashes, he feels something loosen in him when he sees the tear tracks marking his Shizun’s cheeks, the raw vulnerability painting a canvas of emotion on his face.

 

It’s the first time he’s seen his Shizun come undone.

 

His mouth moves before he can think, stumbling clumsily, voice soft and wondrous as he says,  “Shizun…are those tears for me?”

 

Realizing his mistake, he snaps his mouth shut; he rears back in a rush, knocking his head against the lid of the stone coffin.

 

Once more, hands reach for his head, feeling the bump, pulling Luo Binghe closer.

 

It’s the closest he’s been to his Shizun since before his fall. Stupefied, feeling not unlike a lost child, Luo Binghe’s heart beats in a gallop, unable to believe he isn’t dreaming.

 

It’s a dream.

 

It must be dream.

 

Isn’t it?

 

“Binghe, it’s me,” Shen Qingqiu says, eyes rimmed red and wet, the pads of his fingers tracing Luo Binghe’s face with painful tenderness. “It’s your Shizun. I’m sorry I made Binghe wait so long.”

 

Their bodies pressed tight together, locked in the stone coffin in enemy territory, Luo Binghe can feel Shen Qingqiu’s own heartbeat against his own.

 

Two hearts beating as one.

 

The rush of emotions thunder inside him, a cauldron overflowing, spilling, unable to contain the depths of his love.

 

Shen Qingqiu's voice breaks. "You don't have to hold on anymore. Shizun will catch you. I won't let you fall."

 

Even if it's a lie, its one he's willing to believe. What is he if not a fool for love, dancing to the tune of Shen Qingqiu's words.

 

He'll drown before he swims, his will swallowed by the waves, ebbing and flowing in the sea that is Shen Qingqiu.

 

“Where is Binghe going in such a rush?” Shen Qingqiu asks playfully, trying for a smile even as more tears drip down his chin. “Master is so happy to see Binghe…I’m so happy, that Binghe and I can meet again.”

 

Luo Binghe’s own face grows wet, messy, unsightly tears washing away what remains of the ice trapping his heart. “Binghe…Binghe promised. My strength, my everything, I will use it to protect Shizun.”

 

Through the blur of his tears, Shen Qingqiu remains the most beautiful sight in the world.

 

“I promise to rescue Shizun.”

 

it’s a dream it’s a dream it’s a dream

 

he doesn’t ever want to wake up again

 

“I don’t need to be rescued,” Shen Qingqiu whispers, pressing the words to Luo Binghe’s temple. “I’m right where I want to be.”

 

Drawing Luo Binghe closer, close enough to feel every line of his body against his own, as if they were fused into one person, Shen Qingqiu presses a second kiss to the demon mark.

 

“This time, no matter where Binghe chooses to go, this master will follow,” Shizun says, cradling the back of Luo Binghe’s head, Luo Binghe’s face buried in his chest. The beat of his heart is so strong, so loud, thundering in Luo Binghe’s ears. Luo Binghe shudders, clutching fistfuls of his Shizun’s robes, the single ember of hope in his chest flickering to a small flame. “All the wrongs this master has done to you in the past, I’ll make them up to you one by one.”

 

Luo Binghe’s breath hitches, pressure rising in his chest, something shattering and reforming inside him, the mountainous waiting of eight years dispersing like sea foam.

 

All of a sudden, his strength is taken from him, like the world had drained him of everything he had, but in exchange, had returned to him the only missing piece that mattered.

 

It felt like coming home.

 

“Binghe, I won’t ever let you be alone again.”