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Good Vibrations

Chapter Text

 

 

 

In Shang Qinghua’s defense, this whole trope was originally something he’d only ever written in for Sha Hualing, for precisely one scene.

 

Sha Hualing was a tough girl! Not very good at expressing warmer, softer emotions, of course! He’d needed a way to signal that she was pleased and content, some kind of involuntary reflex that would be sexy but also endearing. At the time when he’d written it in, a bunch of his readers had been complaining that she was too cold and aloof. He thought they kinda had a point, or maybe that he just wasn’t conveying her softer side well enough.

 

Shang Qinghua had added the trait in, used it once, and then completely forgotten about it. Luo Binghe didn’t purr. Did he? He’d never written him purring but then again, he was half-human, and didn’t always get all the demon traits he might have. Maybe. Well… theoretically. He supposed he could ask Cucumber-bro, if anyone had ever heard Bing-mei purr it was definitely him, but then again, he could also throw himself off of a cliff, and probably feel less endangered by the experience.

 

Even on the few occasions the thought of purring demons had crossed his mind, however, he hadn’t considered that this tiny piece of there-and-gone-again world-building would have an impact on Mobei-Jun.

 

And yet there he was, standing in his Leisure House, carefully petting a murderous ice demon who was purring like a contented motorbike.

 

It wasn’t his fault! He definitely hadn’t ever written Mobei-Jun purring, so why would he have gotten that trait? Demons could be really different from one type to the next! It wasn’t as if Sha Hualing had ice powers or anything. He hadn’t set out to trigger this response, either, because contrary to some of Cucumber-bro’s assertions, he wasn’t suicidal.

 

It was just that, when Mobei-Jun got badly injured, he’d long ago gotten into the habit of turning up on Shang Qinghua’s doorstep. Probably because he was strong enough to snap Shang Qinghua like a twig if he tried anything, and on An Ding Peak, he didn’t have to worry about any of his rivals or murderous relatives turning up and trying to usurp him while he recovered. Maybe a little bit because he apparently trusted Shang Qinghua, too. So when Mobei-Jun had slipped out of a portal and into his room, sporting wounds that would have been grave on most humans but would probably be healed by his king within twenty-four-hours, Shang Qinghua had simply procured a cold compress and tutted while Mobei-Jun lay down on his bed and froze his sheets stiff.

 

At least it was summer. Whenever the ice demon finally left, Shang QInghua knew from experience that his bed would smell like a winter forest. Which wasn’t actually bad. In point of fact, he usually slept better after a night of having Mobei-Jun freeze his sheets.

 

He’d put the compress onto Mobei-Jun’s brow, taken a moment to smooth back his hair - to keep it from getting in the way, of course - and then gone back to his work.

 

An hour or so later, he’d decided to check on his king and make sure his wounds were healing alright.

 

Mobei-Jun had rolled over in his sleep. The compress was lying on the floor, and some of his blood had smeared onto the top sheet. Frowning in concern, Shang Qinghua decided to check on his injuries; they’d seemed to have already stopped bleeding when his king had arrived, but apparently something had re-opened. He found a gash in the clothing on Mobei-Jun’s stomach that was the likeliest culprit, given the placement of the blood, but the wound underneath was healing again. It must have just been particularly deep.

 

Nothing else seemed to have seeped through any fabric or caused any further trouble.

 

With a breath of relief, Shang Qinghua thoughtlessly rubbed a hand over Mobei-Jun’s back.

 

That was when he heard it.

 

The low, vibrating, rumble-y sound of a cat’s purr.

 

A big cat’s purr.

 

Shang Qinghua’s eyes went wide. His hand stilled.

 

He probably should have run for the hills right then and there, but sometimes curiosity got the better of him. He missed having cats, okay? Not that he’d ever actually owned one himself. It was tricky enough keeping his own shelves stocked with ramen, he wasn’t a big enough idiot to think he could regularly feed a pet, too. And he would have felt awful if he’d ever had to skimp on cat food and subsequently made an animal suffer. But some of his roommates had owned cats, and Shang Qinghua had always had a major soft spot for the purr-y ones.

 

He supposed he could have technically owned a cat at this point in his life, but part of him still felt like that would be a bad idea. He spent a lot of time around demons, and they had a highly unreliable concept of ‘pets’. Someone like Shang Qinghua, who was barely considered any better than a pet himself, wouldn’t have been able to keep a cat safe.

 

This motive was undoubtedly to blame for his questionable decision to put his hand on Mobei-Jun’s back again, and gently stroke it.

 

He had to swallow back a hysterical giggle when the purring resumed.

 

Purring!

 

Mobei-Jun. Was. PURRING!!!

 

Shang Qinghua had no idea how long he stood there for, petting his king and feeling the vibrations up his arm. More than an hour, at least. The sound was all deep and low and made his hand tingle. After a while, he brushed back more of Mobei-Jun’s stray hair, and even ventured to pet his arms and maybe the back of his neck a little. The big ice demon remained asleep, and didn’t stop purring the whole while. When Shang Qinghua’s fingers brushed through the small hairs on the back of his neck, it even got deeper and more rumble-y.

 

When he dared to rub a spot behind the demon’s ears, the effect repeated.

 

Eventually, Shang Qinghua went back to running his touch down Mobei-Jun’s spine, though. He settled into an almost hypnotic rhythm, with the strokes of his hand getting just a little longer and firmer the more time went by, and he could almost swear that his king was leaning into his touch.

 

And then it happened.

 

Shang Qinghua’s hand went too far down Mobei-Jun’s back, and brushed across the top of his ass.

 

Goosebumps surged across Shang Qinghua’s entire body. He snatched his hand back as if he’d burned himself, glared at the offended appendage with betrayal in his eyes, and hastily backpedaled away. Shit! Shit, shit, shit, that really was too far! Even when they’d… on the occasion when they’d… done naked things together, to sour results, he hadn’t ever dared to touch his king’s booty!

 

He was just lucky that Mobei-Jun wasn’t awake!

 

Drawing in a deep breath, Shang Qinghua let it out again. He looked at the ice demon’s sleeping form for a moment longer, before he turned and resolutely headed back to his desk.

 

No more petting! That purring business was dangerous! If Mobei-Jun had been aware of the situation, he probably would have bitten his head off! Or glared, at least. Shang Qinghua didn’t actually suppose, anymore, that his king would kill him so easily. But he definitely still could, and Shang Qinghua hadn’t forgotten that, either.

 

From the bed, the purring sound had stopped.

 

Shang Qinghua turned his back to it, and settled in at his desk again.

 

He didn’t hear the sound of Mobei-Jun getting up, less than a minute later.

 

The hand that dropped onto his shoulder nearly startled him out of his skin.

 

“M-my king!” he squeaked, looking up only to find himself pinned in place by an icy glare.

 

Oh god. Oh shit. Oh fuck. He was gonna die. This was it, he’d petted Mobei-Jun’s ass and woken him up and now his soul was going to vacate his body. Would he transmigrate again? Maybe he’d end up in some place friendlier than the setting of his own novel. Like a children’s cartoon! He could deal with that! He didn’t want to die but sometimes when your number was up, it was up.

 

Mobei-Jun’s fingers curled against his shoulder, grasping the material of his clothes.

 

The ice demon tugged.

 

Shang Qinghua blinked.

 

“Why did you stop?” Mobei-Jun demanded.

 

…Ah.

 

Fuck.

 

Oh shit.

 

He’d been awake the entire time, hadn’t he? Of course he had! It’s not like his injuries were bad enough to render him unconscious; he’d just been sleeping. Shang Qinghua knew better than anyone how light of a sleeper Mobei-Jun could be. His very first touch alone had probably woken him up, when he’d gone to check his stomach wound…

 

…But.

 

Did that mean that… that… Mobei-Jun had laid on his bed, pretending to be asleep, for more than an hour, while Shang Qinghua… petted him…?

 

Before Shang Qinghua’s mind could wrap around this concept, or he could think of a good response, Mobei-Jun gave him an impatient tug again. If he’d been in his right mind, he might have noticed that the touch was exceptionally light for a person of his strength, and by demon standards, far more plaintive than demanding.

 

“Come back to bed,” Mobei-Jun grumbled.

 

ShangQingHua.exe promptly stopped functioning.

 

Help, he could only think, even though he was no longer sure what he wanted to be rescued from. Possibly the inevitability of his own awkward reactions to this development? He almost freaked out, but somehow he just ended up going limp instead as Mobei-Jun steered him back over to his bed. Which really was not big enough for two people - it was barely big enough for Mobei-Jun by himself - and yet…

 

Shang Qinghua’s face burned as Mobei-Jun lay back down on the frosted covers, and then promptly pulled him down to his chest.

 

He hesitated, leaning back to look at that stomach wound out of reflexive concern; but it was little more than a pink line, unbroken when his fingers skimmed across it.

 

Mobei-Jun hummed at the touch, and looked at him with half-lidded eyes.

 

Shang Qinghua became keenly aware of their proximity. And the fact that he was on top of the demon. That he was lying on top of Mobei-Jun, and touching his stomach, touching his bare skin and - and…

 

Okay. So. Technically speaking, he and Mobei-Jun had fucked.

 

Kind of.

 

He’d seen Mobei-Jun’s dick. Mobei-Jun’s dick had been inside of him - briefly. Until he’d screamed and begged for mercy and sobbed his eyes out because it hurt so fucking bad, and his king had actually pulled out and then snapped at him but somehow also ended up holding him until Shang Qinghua calmed down. He could still remember the weight of the hand on the back of his neck, the way he’d hallucinated his king apologizing, the soft murmur seeming almost lost and a little broken itself. After, they’d attempted some awkward hand jobs instead. Shang Qinghua still wasn’t sure if it counted, because neither of them had come before they gave up.

 

On balance, he considered himself lucky to have escaped that monumental failure with his life. Probably he should have just calmed down and gone with it. It wasn’t as if he couldn’t handle a little pain! Or even a lot of pain! But at the time it had just felt like he was being speared right through, and he’d panicked. Mobei-Jun hadn’t made another move in that direction since, so Shang Qinghua figured it was just good enough that he didn’t get beaten up or thrown away over the whole incident.

 

They weren’t good at sex. Neither of them. Mobei-Jun also sucked at it, for the record, it wasn’t all his fault.

 

He still kind of… wished that it had worked out, though. That he could have been… that they…

 

…But he wasn’t even completely sure why Mobei-Jun had wanted to do that kind of thing with him in the first place. Maybe he’d just been bored and horny and hadn’t cared that the nearest available target was an average-looking servant like Shang Qinghua? Maybe he meant it symbolically? 

 

The thought that maybe Mobei-Jun’s mood was turning in a similar direction again made him feel anxious and worried and just a little bit excited, too. He froze up as he sprawled awkwardly atop his king.

 

For his own part, Mobei-Jun stared inscrutably back down at him for a moment.

 

Then one of his hands came up, and he carefully petted Shang Qinghua’s head. He brushed back some of the hair that had fallen over his shoulders, and even patted his shoulders, too. Almost mirroring the soft, rhythmic gestures that Shang Qinghua had made towards him earlier.

 

Luckily, since he’d just been catching up on some extra paperwork when his king stopped by, Shang Qinghua wasn’t in his full Peak Lord attire. He was only in his more comfortable set of robes, with his hair tied back; no ornaments or accessories, and just a pair of soft socks on his feet. Mobei-Jun was pleasantly cool beneath him, and the feel of his hands was actually soothing, even though Shang Qinghua was pretty sure he ought to be panicking or backpedaling or not being on top of Mobei-Jun right at the moment.

 

He gulped a little.

 

Mobei-Jun gave another soft tug to his shoulder.

 

Blinking, Shang Qinghua found himself coaxed into resting fully against his king’s chest.

 

The low, slow rumble of a purr started up again.

 

“Oh,” he breathed, as he felt the vibrations move into his own chest, and reverberate into his entire body. Oh, wow. It was like having some kind of body-sized massage pad, with that cooling gel in it! It honestly felt amazing. Mobei-Jun hummed in approval, as if he’d said something pleasing, and moved his hand to capture one of Shang Qinghua’s own.

 

Shang Qinghua let him, mostly preoccupied with the rumbling sensation from the broad, muscular chest beneath him. He tended to hunch up a lot while he was working, and sometimes, despite being a cultivator, he forgot to pay attention to what his body was doing. Muscle cramps and strain were pretty common, and generally speaking, he didn’t realize they were a problem until he woke up some mornings and found his neck stiff and his wrists aching and so on and so forth. Circulating his spiritual energy helped, of course. Sometimes he troubled one of Mu-shidi’s apprentices for salves or ointment, too, although he had to be careful because if he did it too often, he’d have an irate Qian Cao peak lord banging down his door to scold him for self-neglect.

 

The thought of massages reminded Shang Qinghua of his bad habit in regards to looking after himself. Without really thinking about it, he began to circulate his spiritual energy. Might as well, right? His eyes drooped a little, as the combination of sensations made him aware of exactly how tensed up he’d been.

 

Mobei-Jun rubbed at his captive hand. A sigh escaped Shang Qinghua as he felt a cool touch press against the pad of his thumb, and circle his palm, before gently inspecting his fingers. Turning them a little until the joints clicked, and rubbing at the spaces that had started to ache from over-use.

 

Nice…

 

After a few minutes, his second hand was given similar treatment.

 

What was with Mobei-Jun and his hands, anyway? They weren’t even very good hands, Shang Qinghua didn’t think. Not like his king’s elegant-but-masculine ones, with their cool retractable claws and deadly strength and beautiful, long fingers…

 

Said fingers found a particularly sore spot on his wrist, and soft groan of pleasure escaped him as it was carefully rubbed.

 

“...Feels good…” he murmured.

 

Mobei-Jun hummed in approval.

 

Then he lifted Shang Qinghua’s hand up, and pressed a kiss to his pulse.

 

Shang Qinghua felt the cool lips against his skin, and paused. His heart sped up. Was… was he…?

 

Tentatively, he chanced a look back up at his king’s face.

 

Mobei-Jun’s eyes were closed, however. His head was tilted at an angle which exposed his throat. He held Shang Qinghua’s wrist to his lips just for a moment. Then he lowered his hand back down to his chest, and folded his own larger one over top of it. His eyes didn’t open again, but his other arm was resting casually against Shang Qinghua’s back. The position was comfortable, and discouraged any further movement without actually restricting him at all.

 

The purring didn’t let up.

 

After a few more moments, Shang Qinghua relaxed against Mobei-Jun’s chest once more. His free hand thoughtlessly stroked against a pectoral muscle, smoothing and ruffling the slashed material over pristine, fully-regenerated skin.

 

This was weird, he decided. The purring was a weird thing, and the situation was pretty odd, too. He wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.

 

…But he liked it a lot anyway.

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

So the way Shang Qinghua saw it, there were only a few people he could turn to for information on how to have good sex.

 

The first, and easiest, possible source of info was of course the literature produced by the fine ladies at Xian Shu peak. Mostly about Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu, the accidental gay porn stars of Xian Shu's writing club. Shang Qinghua read plenty of their offerings - they were easy to come by; apparently a common punishment on the peak these days was making copies of the latest erotic fiction for them to sell. He’d made Qi Qingqi a little too pragmatic about these things, perhaps, but Shang Qinghua couldn’t exactly throw stones without shattering his own glass house.

 

Unfortunately, the porn from Xian Shu wasn’t… actually… good?

 

By which he meant, it was fun to read - it really was, he’d upvote it if he could! But he could already tell that it wouldn’t work as any kind of how-to guide for sex. Based on his own brief experiences with Mobei-Jun, most of the acts described just seemed as though they would be intensely painful for whoever was on the ‘receiving’ end of the situation. It was all hard and fast and relentless and screaming and Shang Qinghua, after the fact, found himself envisioning entirely the wrong kind of screaming, and also felt sort of bad for Cucumber-bro.

 

He really hoped his wayward son was somewhat better at gay sex in real life than in fiction. But recalling some of his own descriptions of the original Bing-ge’s prowess even with a harem full of women… maybe not…?

 

In a random fit of guilt, he sent Shen Qingqiu an anonymous assortment of useful oils and creams.

 

Which brought him to the one thing he did learn from exactly one of the Xian Shu peak stories, which was that penetration went easier, apparently, with ‘prep’.

 

What all that ‘prep’ involved he wasn’t entirely clear on, but there were references to stretching and also lubricant. Shang Qinghua internally lamented. After looking at Mobei-Jun with his shirt open for what was probably an impolite length of time, he nevertheless took up a morning work-out routine. Limbering up and stretching, not entirely sure how it would help except to maybe give him fewer cramps.

 

Which it did do.

 

The… semi-weekly ‘purring sessions’ that had somehow become a Thing between them two of them also… helped. In that department.

 

Honestly Shang Qinghua wasn’t even sure what to do with that development. Mobei-Jun turning up at all hours was something he’d grown accustomed to, since it had been happening since they were teens. But now there was always a fractional chance that there would be Purring involved. It felt like gambling, almost, especially since it was never something which Mobei-Jun himself initiated. The next few times he stopped by hurt - some upstart was making troubles in his territories again, and he wouldn’t tell Shang Qinghua what was up or let him try to help; stubborn - Mobei-Jun had just laid down, and when Shang Qinghua left him be, he only slept until he had to go again.

 

But then, the third time after the first Purring Session, Shang Qinghua had… brushed him.

 

Just a little. Just with his fingers, moving his hair back. To make sure it wasn’t uncomfortable! Mobei-Jun’s hair was fine and cool, a little like running his hand through a dry stream somehow. Shang Qinghua’s fingers went past the pointed tip of an ear, and Mobei-Jun had started in on it again.

 

Purring.

 

And then with the - the tugging. On his clothes.

 

One impatient look later, and somehow Shang Qinghua had found himself lying on top of his king again, feeling his purrs reverberate pleasantly in his bones and petting his king's hair as he babbled about various random topics. Mobei-Jun had sported that hooded look of his again, eyes barely open. Whenever there gazes met, the ice demon would very slowly blink; a gesture Shang Qinghua found himself unconsciously mimicking, if only because he didn’t know what else to do.

 

And so it went. If Shang Qinghua left Mobei-Jun alone, then Mobei-Jun didn’t bother with him either. But if he… petted him, then so far things would progress towards the two of them… doing that stuff.

 

It didn’t lead anywhere else, though. Mobei-Jun didn’t try to bite his lips or rip off his clothes or anything like that.

 

It was a dangerous situation. Mainly because Shang Qinghua wasn’t sure if he wanted his king to try those sorts of things again or not. And also because it was messing with his head! Because he really really liked the purring cuddles, okay?! They were soothing and cool and relaxing and he felt so much better since they had started to become a regular thing, it was a force of monumental restraint not to try and instigate them all the time! He’d even started thinking about it when he was just hanging around with Mobei-Jun in normal situations. The temptation to touch his king was getting a lot stronger than usual.

 

Twice, already, he’d fucked up and let his hand rest against Mobei-Jun’s back. So far he’d caught himself before Mobei-Jun did anything more than glance disapprovingly at him, but it was thin ice! And he knew it!

 

And, well… it was also the reason why he was desperately trying to find some better information on how to not be terrible at sex.

 

Because he was unspeakably horny all the time now! There was only so much time he could spend plastered against his gorgeous dream man who was gently vibrating before he lost his goddamn mind!

 

It was definitely unlikely that Mobei-Jun would ever want to try and have sex with him again. But, if he did… 

 

Shang Qinghua wanted to be ready.

 

Of course, his second possible source of information on this sort of thing was… well…

 

Cucumber-bro gave him a black look from over the top of his fan.

 

“I am not discussing sex with you,” he said, frostily.

 

Shang Qinghua was not above begging on his knees, so that was exactly what he did. He did his best to channel ‘pathetic and miserable’, which was easy, because he really was weirdly desperate.

 

“Please, Bro! You’re the only person I know who’s actually done this! More than once!”

 

Shen Qingqiu didn’t look particularly swayed. But then again, he had his fan up; that made it hard to tell.

 

The thing about Cucumber-bro was that he was a complex guy. Shang Qinghua had even thought so when all he’d known about him was his screen name, and his habit of hating on his work while also religiously consuming it and demanding updates. Meeting the man in his ‘transmigrated into the villain’ role had only made things more complex. He wasn’t the masochist that Shang Qinghua had taken him for at first, not exactly - he was just really, really bad at admitting that he liked anything, ever, but also surprisingly softhearted in unexpected ways, and yet, terrifying and austere and maybe the third most likely person in the world to kill him in a fit of rage.

 

Shang Qinghua had modeled so many ‘intimidating but not actually evil’ madams after him in his more recent writing, it was probably a little ridiculous; but it worked so well.

 

He’d die before he told Shen Qingqiu that, though.

 

And the relevant aspect of things at the moment was whether he could seem pathetic enough to trigger that vital softhearted streak.

 

He knew he’d won when Cucumber-bro let out a sigh and snapped his fan shut.

 

“Get off the ground,” his best friend in the whole wide world said.

 

Shang Qinghua hurried back into his chair, and gulped down a mouthful of tea - pleading always left him parched.

 

“What do you want to know?” Shen Qingqiu asked him, in a tone that sounded like it still didn’t want to invite a single question at all.

 

Shang Qinghua hesitated. He knew he couldn’t push his luck. Or rather, that he already was, and that if he pushed too far, this conversation would be over and closed with no more possible chances of happening ever again. He was glad that Luo Binghe was off helping Mobei-Jun with that issue that Shang Qinghua wasn’t supposed to interfere with, because Shen Qingqiu was radiating so much discomfort, if his lover had been around the man would have kicked Shang Qinghua down a mountainside by now.

 

And the thing was, Shang Qinghua knew there had to be a way for sex to be enjoyable. Notoriously, it was so! Gay sex too! Otherwise, only masochists would do it; and while Shang Qinghua had definitely been accused of having that streak, and maybe did, he wasn’t hardcore or anything. He drew the line at having his insides stabbed apart by a foot-long icicle.

 

“Is there a way to make it… not hurt?” he settled for asking.

 

Thinking about it, he figured he might be okay with it if he didn’t get to really enjoy having things in him. But that pain… he just couldn’t…

 

Cucumber-bro’s expression wavered, and he hastily opened up his fan to cover up the flash of sympathy that Shang Qinghua had read there.

 

“...Not in my experience,” the other man said.

 

Shang Qinghua stilled in surprise.

 

He was aware that Shen Qingqiu and Luo Binghe had sex fairly regularly. Not that he wanted the details, beyond his current quest for general tips, but he knew what his misbegotten protagonist son looked like when he was experiencing a lot of… frustration, and that obviously wasn’t the case. Cultivators could heal injuries that ordinary people couldn’t, of course, even if they didn’t have a patch on some demons, but even so.

 

Cucumber-bro, did you really let Luo Binghe shove his monster cock in you? When it hurt so bad?

 

Shang Qinghua almost felt like he might cry, and he didn’t know if it was because he was so moved by the depths of his friend’s devotion and self-sacrifice, or if it was because he was terrified.

 

He definitely wasn’t as tough as Shen Qingqiu! He knew that! Cucumber-bro walked off injuries that would have left Shang Qinghua weeping on the floor in a ball, and while part of that was undoubtedly owed to the physical differences in the characters they’d transmigrated into, he was pretty sure a lot of it was down to self-control, too. Cucumber-bro had a lot of dignity. It tripped him up pretty often; Shang Qinghua wouldn’t have wanted nearly that much himself, to be honest.

 

But sometimes it made him really cool, too.

 

“Bro…” he began.

 

Shen Qingqiu sighed.

 

“However. There are ways to make it hurt less,” the other man told him. “Use… put… oils, on your chrysanthemum. Safe ones. And… intoxication numbs some of the pain. Makes it easier. It helps if… kissing, um. Helps. Distract…”

 

Shang Qinghua felt his face heating up. He wasn’t embarrassed, but he could tell Shen Qingqiu was, and it made him feel badly for asking. It was a good thing he was too shameless to let it stop him.

 

“Is there a position that’s better…?” he ventured. The first time he’d been on his back.

 

Shen Qingqiu hesitated.

 

“...Face to face…” he murmured, so quietly that Shang Qinghua might have missed it.

 

Then all at once, the other man closed off.

 

“But this is your fault, you know,” he insisted, shuttering like the fan in his hand. “Who’s bright idea was it to make every demon man in the world hung like a horse?”

 

Shang Qinghua cringed away defensively.

 

“It was a stallion novel, Cucumber-bro! Stallion! Of course the protagonist had to be hung like a horse!”

 

“Idiot! What kind of grade-school level nonsense is it to just think a big pillar is better?!”

 

“What do you want me to say? I regret it? I sincerely do!”

 

…That wasn’t maybe entirely true, because just the thought of… well… it, erm. Still kind of worked for him. On some levels? But he definitely wasn’t suicidal enough to say that to Shen Qingqiu’s face. And also, on balance, he mostly did still regret it. If Mobei-Jun was smaller, then maybe they wouldn’t even need to have this conversation! And if Luo Binghe was smaller, he definitely wouldn’t have to feel randomly guilty about some other guy’s sex life!

 

“At least the purring’s nice though, right?” Shang Qinghua tentatively suggested.

 

Shen Qingqiu frowned.

 

“Purring?” he asked.

 

“...Huh. I guess Luo Binghe didn’t inherit that, then?” he mused. At the blank look he got, he clarified. “Demons purr, Bro. Like cats. Remember? Sha Hualing?”

 

Cucumber-bro gave him a look that clearly said he had no idea what he was referring to.


Shang Qinghua couldn’t help but feel a little amused.

 

“You really did skip all the papapa, didn’t you?” he observed.

 

“I didn’t!” Shen Qingqiu insisted, affronted. “…Only some of it. Who wouldn’t, after all? You wrote way too much of that sort of stuff and it wasn’t even good!”

 

“Yeah, yeah, it was terrible,” Shang Qinghua agreed, nodding but also still smiling.

 

Cucumber-bro, sometimes you truly were too cute!

 

However, his friend’s expression still looked unhappy.

 

“Binghe’s never purred…” he said, frowning.

 

“Well, he’s only half-demon,” Shang Qinghua reasoned. “He probably just didn’t inherit that trait.”

 

His comment earned him a sharp look.

 

“Since when has Luo Binghe not inherited a demonic trait?” Cucumber-bro countered. “His hack writer gave him everything plus the kitchen sink!”

 

“Bro! Harsh!”

 

“’Harsh’? What ‘harsh’? You’re lucky I don’t just throw you out right now!”

 

Shen Qingqiu griped at him, but he didn’t make any move to do any such thing, either. Shang Qinghua decided he’d run out of luck anyway, and didn’t get to ask him any more questions.

 

On the whole, the conversation wasn’t much more enlightening than all the RPF he’d been reading. The tip about the oil was one he’d already picked up, and face-to-face was the first position he’d tried. If there was a worse way to get penetrated, he didn't want to know about it! He knew Luo Binghe had the biggest dick in the story, so he felt a little demoralized, realizing that Shen Qingqiu had taken it - multiple times - and still been able to walk afterwards… well, he'd been able to walk again at some undisclosed time afterwards. But Shang Qinghua couldn’t even finish one encounter.

 

Was he hopeless? Or just worse at handling pain?

 

He hadn’t thought he was that bad at it, to be honest!

 

Though, then again, if Mobei-Jun had just kept on going, there wouldn’t have been anything he could do to stop him. He couldn’t imagine Luo Binghe - this one, anyway - just… disregarding his shizun’s screams of anguish...

 

On the other hand, one thing Shen Qingqiu was undeniably masterful at was maintaining that poker face of his. The more serious his emotions were, it seemed, the more neutral his expression got. So maybe he just… didn’t scream? Thinking about it, he realized how well the whole picture fit. Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t do anything to reject Luo Binghe again, not after the debacle with the Endless Abyss, and he also hated to show weakness. Luo Binghe probably knew that some of what he did hurt, but… did he know how much?

 

Had they ever reversed positions? Almost definitely Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t have talked about it even if they had. He could barely bring himself to speak to Shang Qinghua on the subject, and in all honesty, the man tried less hard to keep up appearances around him than around anyone else. Transmigrator solidarity, and all that. But somehow he doubted that they'd ever switched. Shen Qingqiu definitely wouldn't be able to bring himself to hurt Luo Binghe like that, so if he didn't know a way to make it not hurt... then...

 

The revelation perturbed him.


Sure, there was his own sex life to consider, but that was more of a ‘distant possibility’ kind of a thing, than a regular issue. On the one hand, he wanted to say it was none of his business.

 

But on the other, it was kind of his fault?

 

When he finally left his visit with his friend, Shang Qinghua resolved that if he found out anything that could help, he’d tell the other man. Even if it was embarrassing and got him beat up. Or maybe he’d even tell Luo Binghe - Luo Binghe was definitely more dangerous than Cucumber-bro, but the man was also definitely less embarrassed about these sorts of things, and had come to Shang Qinghua for help on the subject before. He would probably be more open to receiving ‘tips’ - even unsolicited ones.

 

Mind made up, Shang Qinghua knew he had only one reasonable avenue of investigation left open to him.

 

So he made a special trip to a nearby city, and hired a male prostitute.

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

Feng Yanming was the oldest man employed by the most reputable brothel in the region. He was still younger than Shang Qinghua’s cumulative age, but at forty years old, he was starting to show some signs of his years. There were lines at the corners of his eyes, and a certain softness to his chin that tended to come upon some men once they hit middle age. Nevertheless, he was also very handsome, with stunning eyes and impeccable posture. The paint on his face was light, deftly done but still present enough to be noticeable. Despite his good looks, he wasn’t intimidating in the least, with the sort of manner that offered ready smiles and soft laughter.

 

Shang Qinghua liked him immediately.

 

Even so, talking his way around to what he wanted to hire the man for was probably the most difficult part of the whole thing. He might have been a more shameless person than Cucumber-bro, but he still did have some pride! And some things were just awkward to discuss. Feng Yanming was an accomplished listener and coaxer, though, probably very accustomed to putting nervous people at ease and getting them to spit out their hidden desires.

 

Several times, Shang Qinghua ended up going to the brothel and buying Feng Yanming’s time just to have tea and talk. Sometimes he stayed and listened to a few of the musical performances or watched some dances, too. He was glad he’d never written in-depth about a proper, non-succubus brothel before, because he was pretty sure he’d have fucked it up, and the place was actually quite cool! Apart from the… obvious, of course. Shang Qinghua was a little surprised to find that he didn’t seem to be the only person who came simply to have what amounted to lunch and a show. Though most of the other customers politely ignored one another, he’d gotten pretty good at noticing things about people, and this brothel seemed deserving of its fair reputation.

 

The fourth time he visited it for a consultation, Feng Yanming asked him about Mobei-Jun.

 

“Intimacy cannot be standardized,” the expert explained, as Shang Qinghua stuttered his way around a non-answer. “It is like a conversation. Two people who do not understand one another, who cannot read each other well or express themselves clearly, will struggle to enjoy their interactions. Any success would ride on fortuitous harmony; on luckily meeting someone whose desires coincide with one’s own. But to successfully create harmony in other circumstances requires knowledge. This is why Peak Lord Shang is not the first customer who has spent many occasions simply speaking with this servant.”

 

Shang Qinghua hesitated for a moment. But Feng Yanming definitely made a good point. For all that he’d written Mobei-Jun's character himself, the two of them seemed to misunderstand each other a lot. He’d lost track of the number of times he’d assumed he knew what was going on, only to be proven wrong; and he knew he outright baffled his king on many occasions.

 

Clearing his throat, Shang Qinghua wondered what he ought to say.

 

“How did the two of you meet?” Feng Yanming prompted, taking pity on him.

 

Uh…

 

“Well…” Shang Qinghua hesitated. “We, um. We were both younger. I was… fifteen? Ish? And… actually I’m not sure how old he was. Around that age as well.” God, Mobei-Jun had been a tall teenager. And already stoic and severe and very independent. Terrifying. Although looking back on it, he could see shades of immaturity in his actions, too. The way he’d sulked and accused and expressed his suspicious nature… ah, that had been such a harrowing incident!

 

Feng Yanming looked at him encouragingly.

 

“Actually, truth be told, my special person was injured when I met him,” Shang Qinghua explained. “His family is somewhat influential, and some enemies had stabbed him with a cursed weapon. He was injured on the road, and delirious, and I managed to carry him to an inn to treat his wounds.”

 

“No!” Feng Yanming exclaimed, looking inexplicably delighted. One of his hands came up to his chest. “Peak Lord Shang, you mean to tell me that you rescued him? This gentleman of yours, he was saved gallantly by a future Peak Lord of Cang Qiong Sect? Back when you were both young?”

 

Remembering the way he’d haphazardly hauled Mobei-Jun’s body along, Shang Qinghua could only wave a hand in objection.

 

“It really wasn’t gallant at all!” he insisted. “I was fifteen, remember? I just dragged him for most of it!” Even now he hardly looked like the sort of person who could sweep a demon lord off of his feet! Though, Feng Yanming didn’t know that part.

 

The man hid a smile behind his hand, while his eyes laughed at Shang Qinghua.

 

“Maybe from Peak Lord Shang’s perspective, the situation was ungraceful, but that is a very romantic start,” he commended.

 

“A-ah… ha… well, I guess it does sound… I mean, I’ve never really told anyone the story before, actually…” he hesitated, scratching at his head.

 

“Gallant!” Feng Yanming insisted, with a nod. “I knew it the moment I laid eyes on Peak Lord Shang, that he had such a capacity for these things. Not only did he rescue his beloved, but he protected the man’s dignity, too, and took no credit for the deed.”

 

…Technically true, though Shang Qinghua could only cough, given that his sect would have ousted him for a traitor if he’d tried to ‘take credit’ for rescuing a demon who’d murdered a host of other disciples in the midst of trying to get deliriously from Point A to Point B. That was still a hard memory to process, sometimes. Even though most of those other disciples had been assholes.

 

They’d been young, too.

 

Feng Yanming took pity on his awkwardness, and deftly redirected the conversation.

 

“So this was the start of Peak Lord Shang’s love affair?” he prompted.

 

“No!” Shang Qinghua blurted hastily. “Or, perhaps technically, but it wasn’t… we weren’t like that, back then,” he insisted.

 

Feng Yanming waved a hand.

 

“Of course, of course,” he agreed. “This servant assumed the situation with bedroom activities was relatively recent. This was the start of your relationship, however?”

 

“Yes,” Shang Qinghua confirmed.

 

“And? What was it like?”

 

Frowning a little, he wracked his brain for a way to explain without saying the wrong things, as he stared at his tea. It was a good thing he wasn’t half bad with words, though he was a lot better when he had the time to write them down. And edit them.

 

“He visited me a lot. Mostly in secret, because I was training, and… um… his family wasn’t… on good terms with my sect,” He settled for saying, cautiously. His expression eased a little, as he thought about it. “He would come any time he pleased, mostly. Sometimes it was really inconvenient for me! I’d be in the middle of this or that important thing and then he’d just be there, asking questions or bothering me for things. I wrote to him all the time but he still always came in person!”

 

Feng Yanming laughed brightly.

 

“Your man sounds as clingy as Luo Binghe!” he exclaimed.

 

Shang Qinghua nearly spat out his tea.

 

What the…?!

 

Was that… was that a thing people were saying outside of the sect, now?!

 

Oh god. Cucumber-bro could never find out! He’d kill him! And everyone else as well!

 

But wait…

 

“He’s not,” Shang Qinghua refuted, setting down his tea so as to spare Feng Yanming’s good set from any potential disasters. “Bossy is more like it, really! He always had some demand or task or another that I needed to do for him.”

 

Feng Yanming’s look of amusement didn’t abate. His eyes somehow seemed to imply that he found all of this very adorable.

 

“Is Peak Lord Shang certain that his special person wasn’t just manufacturing excuses to see the person who saved him?” the man suggested. “Rescuing someone is a very good way to steal their heart, after all.”

 

Shang Qinghua internally sighed, and reminded himself that his new sex ed teacher had never really met Mobei-Jun.

 

Who… actually did take it very seriously when someone saved his life… just so long as they weren’t a self-serving coward, anyway. Shang Qinghua knew the role he’d been cast in, though, and that it was fortunate he’d managed to get enough of a passing grade to avoid execution instead. Genuine respect and admiration were a little too lofty for him to reach for. Especially when there wasn’t the distance of the internet to hide a lot of his faults. Though, even when he’d been a popular author, he hadn’t exactly been a respected one.

 

“My k… um, I mean, my special person is… he’s a very…” Shang Qinghua fumbled to explain.

 

Feng Yanming waited patiently.

 

At length, he gave up and just decided to put as many cards on the table as he could.

 

“My special person is my ideal man,” he admitted. “He’s masculine and beautiful, strong, but very reserved and regal. He’s so good-looking it makes me want to weep. It really does! I think I actually have shed tears over how beautiful he is! He could snap his fingers and have almost anyone he desired, there’s no lack of beauties for him to choose from, but I never thought he was terribly interested in such things. But then we had a fight, and I left, and he came after me. And after that, we… he and I… but… it went terribly.”

 

Shang Qinghua sighed, and slumped in his seat.

 

“I don’t even know why he wanted to,” he admitted.

 

He thoughts drifted, wandering back to that entire disaster. Certainly, no one had been purring then. Shang Qinghua had been warmed by Mobei-Jun cooking noodles for him, had thought that they’d achieved a new level of understanding in their relationship, and was feeling presumptuous enough to even touch his king. Then the next thing he knew, Mobei-Jun had been biting his lips. Painful and harsh but also thrilling and… he’d, he’d wanted to kiss, but, it wasn’t something he actually knew how to do. Then his bottom lip had split, and Mobei-Jun had growled and run his tongue across the blood and seemed… very taken with that, with tasting Shang Qinghua’s blood, enough to make him worry for a hot second that he was going to get eaten…

 

He came back to the present to the feel of Feng Yanming patting his shoulder.

 

“Have you asked him why?” the man wondered.

 

Shang Qinghua shook his head.

 

“No…”

 

“Too embarrassed?”

 

Maybe if he was Cucumber-bro.

 

“I’m not shy,” he said. “I’m just…”

 

Afraid of what the answer would be.

 

He realized it as soon as he tried to articulate it. After all, Mobei-Jun wasn’t actually a difficult person to talk to. So long as Shang Qinghua wasn’t terrified for his life or anything, his king would just answer, or, if he didn’t want to, then he wouldn’t. He rarely found any of Shang Qinghua’s questions impertinent, even when they pushed into more personal matters. Albeit, usually that was more to do with politics and inheritance than… er… this sort of thing, but personal was still personal. So why wouldn’t he have at least tried to pry an explanation out of the austere ice demon?

Because he was afraid it would confirm what he already figured was true. That it didn’t mean anything. That it was just a matter of the moment. Or that it had meant something, but that he’d ruined it so badly, it never would or could mean anything again. That he’d lost his chance to be somebody important to Mobei-Jun. That this chance never existed in the first place. That he was… just… pathetic.

 

Really pathetic.

 

He already more or less guessed as much. But until Mobei-Jun confirmed it himself, he could still hope for otherwise. Even if it was just to himself, quietly, in stolen moments he barely acknowledged even in his own thoughts.

 

Feng Yanming patted him again.

 

“This servant thinks Peak Lord Shang should try asking his special person directly,” he advised. “Even the loftiest of persons can be laid low by their heart’s desires. Just look at this, now - a Peak Lord of the most powerful cultivation sect in the world is sitting at my tea table, humble and uncertain. If this can happen to a lord of Cang Qiong, then does Peak Lord Shang truly imagine that his special person is immune to the same worries and uncertainties?”

 

Shang Qinghua shook his head.

 

Feng Yanming, really! Lofty? Him? He might have been a Peak Lord, but he was only the lord of An Ding Peak! That was like being the Head Janitor at a very prestigious business, yes it made him a ‘head’ of that business, but no one took it seriously. It didn’t take much for him to be ‘laid low’, even though the average person might not guess as much without knowing the sect politics very well. Mobei-Jun was in a different class altogether!

 

He couldn’t really explain that without mentioning that his king was a demon, however.

 

“I will think it over,” he promised.

 

“Good!” his sex ed teacher proclaimed, and let the matter lie. “Now, Peak Lord Shang did mention that his special person was well-endowed. Let this servant impart a few tricks for helping with such situations…”

 

The conversation turned, and as Feng Yanming spoke, Shang Qinghua found himself gratefully avoiding the topic of Mobei-Jun’s possible sentiments towards him, and the Incident that had sparked off this whole thing. It helped that Feng Yanming actually seemed to have a lot of tips on this subject, which was very relevant to Shang Qinghua’s interests. After a moment he ended up stopping the other man just so he could request a calligraphy set, and start taking notes.

 

As the consultation went on, he felt a little stunned. He couldn’t believe he’d forgotten about that! He’d written it himself after all, for several the papapa scenes in the original story - the ‘one weird trick’ that made certain aspects of penetration a lot easier. It was utter bullshit when he wrote it of course, and half his readers had thoroughly lambasted him for it, but here it really did work! Because it was part of the world mechanic! Holy shit! The revelation was so exciting that when Feng Yanming suggested they crack open some wine to celebrate, he even agreed, and downed enough bowls to make himself tipsy with relief.

 

Shang Qinghua kissed Feng Yanming on the cheek before he hurried off after that luncheon, tipped him extra, and was giddy enough that he even wrote to Luo Binghe to explain how he could stop mauling Cucumber-bro’s chrysanthemum every time they did their own business. He felt very bold, but really, it was his duty as Luo Binghe’s sort-of-father to make sure his son wasn’t disgracing himself by injuring his best friend in bed! Though he hesitated how to do so without letting on that he knew that Luo Binghe wasn’t aware of the degree of pain he was causing his partner.

 

In the end, he decided to just be honest about it - if it made Bing-mei whine at Shen Qingqiu for confiding in someone else, then at least Cucumber-bro would probably have a harder time kicking his ass for tattling when Shang Qinghua had literally just saved it from repeated devastation!

 

He was such a good friend! Really!

 

And not at all avoiding any conversations with Mobei-Jun by trying to deal with other people’s problems instead!

 

It was only after he’d had the letter delivered, and was back at his Leisure House, that it struck him that he’d just word-vomited onto actual mail that he had sent to the most powerful person in the entire world. The world-destroyingly-powerful person, in fact. And Shang Qinghua had… called him out for… with…

 

Paling, he leaped back onto his feet, and tried to intercept the very same messenger he’d burdened just a short while ago.

 

Unfortunately, the fleet-footed disciple was already gone.

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

Mobei-Jun and Cucumber-bro were quite possibly the only people who could save him now.


Given Cucumber-bro’s close proximity to Luo Binghe, however, Shang Qinghua made the executive decision to put aside any and all possible relationship discomfort, and instead latched onto Mobei-Jun with the kind of desperate stickiness he hadn’t used since the old days.

 

His king noticed.

 

His king let him get away with it for about two days before finally fixing him with a sidelong look.

 

“What did you do?” Mobei-Jun asked him.

 

Shang Qinghua definitely could not tell him what he had done!

 

“I think I might have annoyed Luo Binghe,” he said, ambiguously.

 

Mobei-Jun frowned a little, but didn’t pry further. He also didn’t chase Shang Qinghua away from himself, which was extra good. Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu were both currently a Qing Jing Peak - everyone always knew when that was the case - so staying in the demon realm was a much wiser choice.

 

Anyway, even though Shang Qinghua had recently needed to attend to his responsibilities as a peak lord, there was also a lot of work always waiting for him on this end of things, too. Mobei-Jun wasn’t bad at leadership but he was a much better ‘menacing lieutenant’ than ‘actual administrator’; and with the way things had turned out, Luo Binghe had no interest in handling a lot of the politics and scheming that went on among demon clans, despite technically being the strongest and most supreme leader around. Sha Hualing and her father were, of course, also strong supporters of Luo Binghe’s, but hopelessly inept at these sorts of things. Somehow, this had translated into Shang Qinghua handling a lot of tedious matters than no one else wanted to deal with. He supposed it was cosmic retribution for not writing more enthusiastic strategists into his main cast.

 

When he wasn’t seeing to this matter or resolving that trade dispute or badgering these or those servants into actually doing what he told them, he glued himself to Mobei-Jun’s side, and enjoyed his king’s merciful lenience about it.

 

After he had been back for a week, though, when he went to retire to his usual rooms, Mobei-Jun stopped him. Wordlessly, the ice demon led him to his own bedchambers instead.

 

Shang Qinghua couldn’t help but gulp a little.

 

The last time Mobei-Jun did that… they’d…

 

He hovered nervously by the door. Uncertain of what to expect. His cheeks heated up as Mobei-Jun stripped down to his inner robe, casting aside his heavy boots and mantle until he was only wearing a flimsy, dark robe. His bare feet had no trouble with the cold floors, of course. Even with his king’s spiritual energy helping to adjust him, and his cultivation protecting him from the cold, Shang Qinghua would have been shivering if he attempted that. But Mobei-Jun was a creature of ice, and his bared skin only looked suitable against the pale walls and eternal ice sculptures that decorated his chambers.

 

Shang Qinghua was still watching his every move with a heady mixture of yearning and trepidation when his king settled down to lounge upon his bed.

 

“...What…” he finally asked, after a few minutes. “W-what did my king bring me here for…?”

 

Mobei-Jun glanced at him.

 

“It will be easier to avoid people here,” he said.

 

Shang Qinghua blinked, and simultaneously relaxed and felt a rush of disappointment at that. The confusing mix of emotions was followed by an unexpected rush of affection. Luo Binghe was probably heading back to the demonic realm, in that case. Mobei-Jun had brought Shang Qinghua to his room because it would be harder to single him out for any kind of punishment there.

 

His king… he, he really did care about him somewhat, didn’t he?

 

He’d made noodles for lunch that day as well.

 

Shang Qinghua couldn’t keep from smiling, even while he remained fidgeting by the door.

 

Mobei-Jun glanced at him again, settled onto the bed with his chest exposed to the open air. He looked… really…

 

“Make yourself comfortable,” he snapped.

 

With a jolt, Shang Qinghua scurried away from hovering by the door. He awkwardly found a seat for himself, and after sitting in total, uncomfortable silence - trying not to stare at Mobei-Jun for what was probably too long - he got back up again, and muddled around the room for a while. There were some papers out on his king’s writing table. He went and checked them over, apprising himself of some matters. Maybe even hoping to glean something about the more violent issues that he was being left in the dark about, but there weren’t any hints to be found. Just some tax reports and a list of tributes received from some of the newest demon lords to pledge fealty to Luo Binghe.

 

He still reviewed them quietly, mumbling his thoughts under his breath and tapping his fingers against the table surface, until Mobei-Jun let out a tremendous sigh.

 

With the same habit he generally employed in his Leisure House, Shang Qinghua got up and went to go check on him.

 

“Did my king need something?” he asked.

 

Mobei-Jun regarded him silently for a moment.

 

Then he lifted a hand, and very deliberately closed his fingers over a segment of Shang Qinghua’s sleeve. And tugged.

 

If Mobei-Jun had wanted Shang Qinghua to lie on the bed or move down, he could have just easily reached up an yanked him down. Until recently, that would have been what Shang Qinghua might have expected in such a situation; to be yanked and to probably land face-first on the mattress, awkward and ungainly.

 

The sleeve-tugging, so far, had only ever happened after Shang Qinghua himself did something to… er… start in on the Purring Sessions.

 

He felt his face heat up.

 

Did this mean that Mobei-Jun… wanted… cuddles…?

 

Hesitantly, watching his king for any signs of a negative reaction, Shang Qinghua moved to take off his outer layers. It wasn’t that he was trying to start anything! He wasn’t that presumptuous! Even with - even with, some consideration for the possibility, he definitely wouldn’t try and start anything! But his outer clothes really were very uncomfortable, and if he climbed into bed with them in definitely wouldn’t work. He took off his boots as well, and the whole while Mobei-Jun watched him, but didn’t frown or twitch or do anything to indicate that he was displeased.

 

When he was down to his own inner robes, pants, and socks, the cold floor bit at his feet. Shang Qinghua hurried to get onto the bed, only to hesitate again.

 

In his Leisure House, his bed was so small that there wasn’t really anywhere to lie except on top of Mobei-Jun.

 

But Mobei-Jun’s bed was very big. Recently his king had also taken to adding soft pelts and blankets to it. It was funny; Shang Qinghua distinctly recalled writing that Mobei-Jun never slept with blankets, since he had no need for them. But apparently using Shang Qinghua’s bed had given him a liking for them!

 

That was kind of cute!

 

It was also beside the point, which was that Shang Qinghua could hardly just lie down on top of Mobei-Jun when there was all that extra bed space to use instead.

 

Except that, the side of the bed he’d started to climb onto was occupied by Mobei-Jun, so to get to the empty space, Shang Qinghua would have to crawl over his king. Or else get back up and go around to the other side. He was caught by a moment of indecision, one foot still on the floor, as he tried to decide what to do.

 

Mobei-Jun frowned a little.

 

He spread his arms.

 

What was he doing? Trying to designate an amount of space for himself?

 

But then again, if he wanted Shang Qinghua to cuddle him - if that was indeed what he was asking for - then wouldn’t it… shouldn’t it be like how it was at his Leisure House? On purpose? Except, maybe he only put up with doing things that way when he was in Shang Qinghua’s bed because he had no choice; and if he did, he’d appreciate a little more space between them. Maybe something more like a massage…?

 

Shang Qinghua didn’t know!

 

Feng Yanming’s advice struck him, and it seemed like the only thing that might help him decide before his foot froze to the floor.

 

“M-my king, should I… um… go around to the other side, or…?”

 

Mobei-Jun’s small frown deepened a little.

 

Then he reached up, and finally pulled Shang Qinghua down on top of him. Copying their usual positions for these kinds of things.

 

“This way,” he said.

 

Shang Qinghua laughed in nervous relief.

 

“Okay, right, of course!” he agreed. For some reason he sounded a little breathless. Probably because Mobei-Jun was squishing him to his chest, and his heart was beating really fast. He tried not to think inappropriate thoughts as he settled himself more comfortably. Mobei-Jun made a weird rumbling sound that wasn’t a purr, before he reached over and grabbed a few furs and blankets and cast them over top of both of them.

 

“Won’t my king get hot?” Shang Qinghua fretted.

 

Mobei-Jun snorted.

 

“This level of warmth is nothing,” he said.

 

Oh. Right! Of course! Shang Qinghua was just surprised because they didn’t usually have blankets over them when they did this before. But then, it was usually warmer at his peak. Mobei-Jun’s room was cold, and big, and there was indeed something comforting and pleasant about the warm weight of blankets on his back, especially when contrasted with the cool body beneath his own.

 

Sighing, Shang Qinghua finally let go of the last of his unease, and settled into their usual rhythm again.

 

It took him a little longer to get Mobei-Jun purring this time. His king seemed tense and uncertain of something himself. But after a few minutes, the careful strokes of Shang Qinghua’s hands did their usual trick. A deep, rumbling purr began to work its way up from Mobei-Jun’s chest.

 

With the blankets over them, it seemed louder and stronger than usual.

 

Shang Qinghua began to feel as if his entire body was tingling from the warm, steady vibrations.

 

Under such conditions, he didn’t think he could be blamed for falling asleep.

 

When he woke up some time later, the vibrations had stopped, and he felt relaxed and wonderful but also much too hot. Frowning sleepily, Shang Qinghua discovered that he’d apparently moved off of Mobei-Jun at some point, and gotten himself… almost entirely covered in blankets? And soft furs? There was even one over his head, so the air felt all stale. Frowning, he crawled his way out from underneath the mound of blankets, and peered into the darkened room.

 

Mobei-Jun was lying with his back to him, on the other half of the bed.

 

With the boldness of the still-mostly-asleep and the determination of an over-heated person spying a man made of air conditioning, Shang Qinghua wriggled over to the opposite side of the bed, and plastered himself against Mobei-Jun’s back.

 

Which felt very rigid.

 

Very, very rigid.

 

More rigid than was usually accounted for by his iron spine and strong muscles.

 

Frowning, Shang Qinghua sleepily petted at his king to try and get him to ease up, only to find his hand caught and halted.

 

“Shang Qinghua,” Mobei-Jun said, in a rough voice.

 

“Mm?” he mumbled back, blinking his way towards actual wakefulness. Something was wrong. He propped himself up on his free arm, and peered curiously at the demon lying next to him.

 

Mobei-Jun, in contrast to himself, did not have a single blanket on him. He was stiff as a plank, and somehow not meeting his gaze, even when it was clear that Shang Qinghua had sat up to look at him. His legs were positioned a little oddly, too. Angling his crotch away from him. Heh, it was almost like had a…

 

Like he was trying to hide a…

 

Shang Qinghua’s gaze alighted on a certain tenting to Mobei-Jun’s loose robe, as they adjusted to the dark.

 

His eyes widened, and he quickly moved back.

 

Oh.

 

Oh!

 

“A-apologies, my king!” he stammered. “I didn’t… that is, um, I should… should I go… go back to my own room…?”

 

Unless Mobei-Jun wanted him to help… with...?

 

He swallowed around a dry mouth, nerves waking him up entirely, and realized that Mobei-Jun still wasn’t looking at him. Or replying.

 

His king’s shoulders were hunched pretty high, too.

 

Right… this… right. This wasn’t the right mood for… obviously, he wasn’t welcome anymore. Shang Qinghua wrestled down his disappointment, and strange hurt, and moved to get up from the bed.

 

“Wait,” Mobei-Jun said.

 

Shang Qinghua froze.

 

Stiffly - heh, stiffly - his king sat up. Shang Qinghua fidgeted so aggressively with one of the blankets, he was dimly aware that his fingers were actually demolishing the edge.

 

“This Mobei-Jun will go.”

 

Shang Qinghua froze up again.

 

“Eh?” he blurted, articulately.

 

Turning his head, Mobei-Jun finally looked at him.

 

Now, Shang Qinghua knew he was fully capable of being wrong about things to do with his characters. He may have written them, but at the end of the day, he hadn’t really made them, and he definitely did not know everything about them. Even if he sometimes still thought he did. But he also was generally right about a lot of things to do with them.

 

Mobei-Jun’s facial expressions were naturally quite dire and intimidating. This was a gift that Shang Qinghua had given to his favourite character based on his own wishes when he’d been younger, and badly bullied by his peers. He couldn’t have given Luo Binghe this particular gift, because no one would buy a harem protagonist seducing all the sisters if he looked too intimidating. A ladies’ man needed a soft touch! But his right-hand demon was definitely allowed to have a more severe countenance. So Shang Qinghua had given Mobei-Jun a handsome face, but also one which could terrify the piss out of a complete stranger at a single glance. Even if he wasn’t actually angry.

 

Most of his expressions veered towards frowns, glares, scowls, sneers, and so on.

 

That made it noteworthy whenever they didn’t. Because it meant that he was feeling something very strongly, or else was trying deliberately to not look intimidating.

 

When Mobei-Jun looked at Shang Qinghua right then, the chief expression on his face was remorse.

 

He looked… sorry.

 

Shang Qinghua was stunned.

 

What… what did Mobei-Jun look sorry for? An unexpected boner? Those just happened! Even if most of his peers as a teenager and college student hadn’t liked him, he’d still been surrounded by other boys with their hair-trigger responses and inappropriate jokes! Everyone knew that dicks just did what they wanted, it wasn’t something to feel distraught about…

 

Honestly, Shang Qinghua couldn’t think of a single reason for his king to look so sad, or to leave his own bedroom in the dead of night.

 

Maybe… maybe he really ought to take that advice from his consultant again…

 

“My king, what’s wrong?” he asked, gripping his mauled blanket corner tightly. “Why do you look so sad?”

 

Mobei-Jun blinked in a manner that fully convinced Shang Qinghua he’d had no idea what his face was doing.

 

“Nothing,” he replied, tersely.

 

Suddenly impatient, Shang Qinghua let go of the blanket, and moved closer again. Not close enough to be rude about… the situation, but enough so that Mobei-Jun couldn’t completely turn his face away from him.

 

His king stood up.

 

”Wait a minute! It’s not nothing!” Shang Qinghua insisted. “My king, I’m trying to talk to you about what’s going on! Don’t just brush me off. Is it really that upsetting to have…?”

 

Mobei-Jun looked so tense, it felt like a single spark would set him off.

 

This was dangerous, Shang Qinghua knew. Even just a few years ago, this kind of atmosphere would have had him backpedaling and groveling. But that was before a lot of other things had happened! Like terrible failed sex and warm delicious noodles and regularly scheduled cuddles with purring! And Feng Yanming’s advice! And even Cucumber-bro’s!

 

“Does… does my king want help…?” he offered, tentatively.

 

Mobei-Jun turned and glared at him.

 

“No!” he snapped.

 

Shang Qinghua flinched.

 

Oh, god.

 

Oh, fuck.

 

That was… was that it? Was Mobei-Jun so tense about this because Shang Qinghua had been such a shitty lay, he was actually afraid that he might make another pass at him and wreck it again?

 

“My king!” he protested. “Please! I know I wasn’t good at it the last time, but I had no experience. Surely my king knows by now that this servant isn’t much good at physical things. But, sometimes this is how learning curves work! Most students mess up their techniques pretty badly the first time they try them out, you know? If my king gives me another chance, maybe we-”

 

"No."

 

"But-"

 

“I hurt you.”

 

Shang Qinghua halted, taken aback.

 

Mobei-Jun’s voice sounded rough. His gaze, inexplicably, was fixed to the floor. He looked almost… almost like he was…

 

…Ashamed?

 

That couldn’t be right. Shang Qinghua had never seen his king look ashamed before. Not even on the few occasions when he’d disappointed the expectations of his elders, or failed at a task he was set on accomplishing. Sometimes he looked annoyed, sometimes neutral, even - rarely - deferential, but never ashamed.

 

Shang Qinghua didn’t know what to do with this.

 

“My king…” he ventured, carefully. Thinking. “Is my king talking about when we…?”

 

Mobei-Jun glanced at him, then nodded once in confirmation.

 

Shang Qinghua went back to fidgeting uncertainly with the blankets.

 

“Um. Well. That’s… true, but. My king used to hit me pretty often, too. Does he think I won’t forgive him?” he asked, laughing a little nervously. This was so strange! Mobei-Jun had hit him - had even bitten his lips and enjoyed it quite a bit, it seemed - and even though he’d gotten the message and stopped pummeling Shang Qinghua in casual displays of affection, it didn’t seem like something he’d feel so strongly about having done?

 

Demons often hurt one another during sex. It was spicy! Or meant to be. He was rethinking that particular creative choice these days.

 

“That’s different,” Mobei-Jun insisted. Then he paused, uncertainly. “Isn’t it?”

 

Shang Qinghua frowned.

 

“Well… I mean, the pain levels were different, I suppose…” he permitted.

 

Mobei-Jun nodded a little, and spoke with obvious effort.

 

“The last time you screamed like that, it was when you were being beaten to death.”

 

Shang Qinghua stilled.

 

It had really hurt a lot. But he still felt surprised, somehow. He hadn’t realized his screams had different sounds, or that Mobei-Jun would recognize the variations. Or that he would actually feel so bad, it seemed, for hurting him that way. The first thing he’d done when he’d pulled out was snap at Shang Qinghua to stop, after all. He’d thought his king was more annoyed by his reaction than anything.

 

But maybe that was just an alarmed reflex? He didn’t like the scream Shang Qinghua was making, so his first effort to stop it was to try and tell him to shut up?

 

…That suddenly seemed alarmingly plausible.

 

But then, in that case, the reason Mobei-Jun was so upset about his midnight boner was because… because he didn’t want to hurt Shang Qinghua again?

 

Because he’d been unpleasantly shocked by their failed and clumsy efforts at papapa, too?

 

His king didn’t have much experience on this front either. And as he recalled the ordeal, Shang Qinghua remembered - he pulled out fast. There was the breach, the rush of pain, and then Mobei-Jun withdrew and snapped at him. And then he’d… held him. He’d held the back of his neck, which was meant to be a comforting gesture towards a subordinate when it from a more powerful demon whose protection they were under. He remembered that now, or rather thought to consider it. Luo Binghe did it to Sha Hualing, on the rare occasions when she was distressed. Mobei-Jun hadn’t tried to put it in again, hadn’t even suggested it, actually. It was Shang Qinghua who desperately instigated a handjob once he’d calmed down, fearful of trying penetration again and scrambling for something else to satisfy his king’s arousal. But in the end, the whole thing had concluded without him succeeding on that front - Mobei-Jun still hadn’t tried to put it back in him, even so.

 

“My king,” he called.

 

His voice came out very soft, even in his own ears.

 

Mobei-Jun’s gaze moved to his hands.

 

Shang Qinghua’s heart was beating too fast.

 

“My king, why did you want to be with this servant?” he asked.

 

The question earned him a baffled look.

 

“Why…?” Mobei-Jun parroted.

 

Shang Qinghua nodded.

 

Even though the ice demon was still looking at him like he couldn’t understand why he had been asked this question, he waited patiently for an answer. His heart was beating so fast, it was as if he’d crossed around to the other side of anxious or excited, and instead gained a strange sense of calm. Like what happened to him - very rarely - in serious fights or negotiations, sometimes. Usually he just panicked, but sometimes, he managed this.

 

Almost always, it was when Mobei-Jun was around. As if there was a part of his mind that had decided at some point, without his permission, that no situation could become too dire as long as his king was there.

 

His patience paid off. Mobei-Jun, with glacial slowness, finally gave him an answer.

 

“Because, for this Mobei-Jun, Shang Qinghua is the most important person in the world,” he said.

 

Shang Qinghua felt as though all the breath had been punched right out of him.

 

Calm? What calm? Had that ever existed? Definitely not!!! His heart was trying to break his ribs, and his skin was heating up as a whirl of error messages screamed through his mind. He felt like he was being electrocuted again. But somehow almost in a good way? He felt like he didn’t know what to do with this information; like he had spent so much time preparing himself for the worst possible answers that he had not idea what to do with this one.

 

A weird, plaintive sound came out of him.

 

He smacked a hand over his mouth.

 

“My king!” he squeaked instead.

 

Mobei-Jun shifted his weight on his feet. But then he seemed to find all the resolve that had left him not too long ago. His gaze sharpened into a glare as it locked intently onto Shang Qinghua. It was the same sort of intensity that tended to come over the ice demon when he felt challenged, but the atmosphere here - it was completely different, wasn’t it? Enough to make a man shiver.

 

“Shang Qinghua,” his king said. “To treat one’s most important person so carelessly is unforgivable. To hurt them in such a way is disgraceful. There is no excuse.”

 

Oh no, oh no, how was he supposed to survive this?! Was Mobei-Jun just going to keep saying things like this? Was he going to kill him with these kinds of words?

 

To his astonishment, however, following two such unexpected and moving declarations, Mobei-Jun inclined his head towards him, and then turned to leave. Shang Qinghua nearly panicked all over again when he realized that his idiot king was heading to the door.

 

What?

 

“Where the fuck are you going?!” he blurted.

 

Mobei-Jun’s steps stuttered.

 

Shang Qinghua hurried off of the bed, and unthinkingly latched onto his arm.

 

“My king, you can’t just say things like that and leave! Do you really mean that? Are you trying to kill me? How am I supposed to ravish you senseless if you just go? And really what other response could I possibly offer to that sort of thing?! Don’t you know you’re my ideal man? Don’t you know you’re even better, because you’re a real person, and even though you are ridiculous and bullheaded and terrible at this that there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you? Even in my wildest dreams I never could have come up with the reality of you! I know I’m shitty at sex but you have to believe, I’ve been trying really hard to figure out how to get better at it! There are so many things we should have done differently, I don’t know if we’ll get it right this time or the next time but even if it takes a while, I trust my king will stop if it’s going wrong. I know he will, because he did! So why would he leave? Don’t go!”

 

Mobei-Jun looked utterly stunned.

 

Shang Qinghua would have enjoyed the expression on his face if his brain hadn’t just caught up to his mouth.

 

Oh shit.

 

Well. He’d had a nice life. If this was the end of it, it wasn't like he could take it back. It wasn't like he would, even! It was all true! He’d die an honest man! A stupid, honest man!

 

A near-hysterical laugh threatened to bubble out of him. It actually escaped when Mobei-Jun glanced dubiously at his boner, and then at Shang Qinghua. Like he was trying to do some calculations he felt very wary of.

 

Reaching for his king’s sleeve, Shang Qinghua decided to roll with the weird new language that was building up between the two of them, and tugged it gently.

 

Then he moved back towards the bed. And just like Mobei-Jun had done, he waited.

 

He waited for several long, uncertain, gut-wrenching minutes.

 

But in the end, his king answered. His king went to him.

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

For the record, Mobei-Jun did not purr during sex. Not even when he was really very clearly enjoying himself.

 

But after, when they were tangled together and sweat-soaked and sticky and sated, oh, after, he rumbled like a self-satisfied washing machine.

 

Shang Qinghua snuggled closer in his arms and felt more than a little smug with the outcome too. 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

  

Shizun made the cutest noises when he was sleeping, sometimes.

 

Luo Binghe had never told him, because he was worried that if he said something, Shen Qingqiu would get embarrassed and self-conscious and probably take steps to stop doing it. Knowing him, he might even refuse to sleep for several nights, substituting in meditation or something else until he could get control of his involuntary responses and make certain that even in rest, his conduct was impeccable.

 

But that would be a terrible shame, because like most things to do with Shizun, Luo Binghe was utterly smitten with the tiny murmurs and mumbles that sometimes came out of his mouth while he was lost in dreams.

 

Most of the time, they were indecipherable nonsense. Less words than general sounds, really. They often sounded content, or plaintive, or sometimes annoyed. In this category, one of Luo Binghe’s favourite ‘sleepy Shizun’ noises was the one he made in the morning if he rolled over and found that Luo Binghe was still beside him. The sound was always satisfied, as if Shizun’s sleeping mind had just completed a great journey across the half inch of mattress to find him, and was triumphant in its quest. Few things made him feel quite so loved and treasured as that one incoherent noise.

 

Sometimes, though, Shizun’s sleepy mumbling formed actual words.

 

The most common of these, to Luo Binghe’s deep and unabashed delight, was his name.

 

Most of the other words tended to be random and incomprehensible. Sometimes they were the names of other people, which Luo Binghe liked less, but Shizun often dreamed of having conversations or performing odd tasks with various friends and acquaintances. On one memorable occasion, he had sighed Liu Qingge’s name with such profound aggravation that Luo Binghe had been unable to feel anything other than amusement about it. On another, he had snapped ‘Shang Qinghua’ with an endearing amount of murderous intent.

 

In terms of random words, the one that interested Luo Binghe the most was ‘internet’. Largely because Shizun had repeated it a few times, but he had no idea what it referred to. When he’d delved into Shen Qingqiu’s dreams, all he could make of the matter was a confusing display of light boxes and a sense of something he couldn’t quite reach. Combined with the fact that Shizun often mentioned this word with a certain amount of longing or sadness, he was intensely curious about what it might mean.

 

But he couldn’t just ask without revealing that Shizun talked in his sleep. So he was waiting for a better opening to bring it up, to see if Shizun might not mention it while he was awake instead.

 

Also, apart from words - coherent or otherwise - there were a bevy of cute noises Shizun made while he was sleeping just in general. Like the little sighs he gave off when he was content, or the soft smacking of his lips when he resettled. The sweet, affectionate mumbles he sometimes produced when Luo Binghe held him or pressed a kiss to his cheek.

 

When they had sex, though, Shizun was almost always quiet after he fell asleep. It didn’t usually take him long to pass out after they finished. Luo Binghe found the lack of stamina endearing; his Shizun was a powerful and accomplished cultivator, but in the midst of sex, he became shy and pliant and trembling. If he made sounds in his sleep afterwards, they were usually low groans. The discomfort Luo Binghe sometimes heard in them was what made him pick up the habit of carrying Shizun to bathe him while he was still sleeping. To ease and soothe and make up for any aches he might have caused in the midst of their passions.

 

Luo Binghe’s knowledge of sex, prior to attempting any acts with his Shizun, came mostly from illicit material he’d stolen guilty looks at in the Qing Jing library. The vast majority of that material concerned acts between men and women in their marriage beds. Nearly everything he read - and it wasn’t much, admittedly - confirmed that the person in the ‘woman’ role in bed would experience things like bleeding and discomfort, before beginning to feel pleasure or enjoyment towards the act.

 

This information seemed mostly backed up by the writings of the authors from Xian Shu Peak. Being penetrated, as Luo Binghe understood it, involved a flash of pain before the enjoyment settled in. At first, he had tried to compensate for this by moving quickly, reasoning out that - like most pain - it would be best to get that part done with. If he had to hurt Shizun, he would rather do it swiftly and mercifully. Even if some part of him did appreciate the fact that Shen Qingqiu was willing to endure discomfort to feel Luo Binghe inside of him, in the same way that his heart had once filled with relief over realizing that his Shizun would suffer grave wounds to protect him, the majority of his conscience still felt uncomfortable with causing Shizun any pain.

 

But then, one time he had pushed in too fast, and Shizun had actually scrambled off of the bed and banned Luo Binghe from touching him again for an entire week.

 

That had been awful.

 

When he had finally repented enough for Shizun to take him back again, his lover had requested that he go slowly. To his regret, Luo Binghe had been forced to realize that he’d taken the wrong approach. Contrary to what some of the writings he’d read implied, there were ways to mitigate the pain of going inside. Instead of rushing through the moment so it wouldn’t last, it was better to go slow and give Shizun’s body time to adjust to his presence. It was like when he took Shizun’s cock into his mouth, Luo Binghe supposed - if he just tried to shove it in all at once, he would choke and sputter, and it wouldn’t be pleasant. But if he took a little time at it, then it went much better.

 

That night, in the light before morning, Shizun was making his Uncomfortable Sounds while he slept. They were just soft little groans that happened any time he moved, but Luo Binghe decided it was his cue to prepare a bath.

 

At the underground palace, there was an entire indoor bathing chamber that made this all easier. But on Qing Jing Peak, which was where they were at the moment, preparing a bath meant fetching the wooden tub and filling it up with water from the barrel Luo Binghe kept in the kitchen. Keeping the barrel inside meant that the water didn’t get as cold, and wouldn’t take as many pans of hot water to warm. He went about his task diligently and quietly, letting Shizun rest until the tub was ready.

 

The reason they were at Qing Jing Peak was twofold.

 

One was the same task which had kept Mobei-Jun occupied on special assignments lately. A group of demonic rebels had decided to take exception to the ‘half-breed’ demon lord, his human consort, and also Shang Qinghua’s influence over Mobei-Jun, and had begun making attacks on the Northern Desert. Threats to Shizun could not be tolerated, but the rebels were tougher than most and smart enough to keep dodging a lot of efforts to find them. Luo Binghe knew they were trying to lure him out, and the only reason they would court death in such a fashion would be if they wanted to get him to leave Shizun unguarded; so it was better for them to be at the peak for now, where it was harder for any demon spies to slip past unnoticed, and where Luo Binghe could keep an eye on things while Mobei-Jun routed out and killed the upstarts.

 

Of course, the less-upsetting reason which Shizun had for coming to the peak was that it was almost time for the sect to open its doors to new disciples again. The hall masters were preparing beginners’ lessons, and the peak lords were expected to attend and oversee the introduction of these recruits as they demonstrated various skills. This was something which Shizun wanted to be present for, and so, it worked out conveniently.

 

It gave Luo Binghe a chance to check over the administrative paperwork for the peak and peacefully putter around the bamboo house as well, which was a pleasant change of pace from managing underworld politics.

 

Quiet satisfaction filled him as he checked the temperature of the bath, and then went to carefully lift Shizun’s sleeping figure up out of the blankets.

 

This act always stirred some deep reverence within Luo Binghe’s heart.

 

Intellectually, he knew he was stronger than his Shizun; though there were times when it was easy to forget. Shen Qingqiu conducted himself impeccably. There was always some distance between him and the rest of the world. Even though that distance had been closing, and had often seemed more narrow between himself and Luo Binghe than anyone else, still, it made it easy to feel as though he had never truly stopped playing catch-up. As though he would never really be Shizun’s equal, let alone his better in any imaginable field.

 

Like this, though, it was undeniable that his lover could be fragile. The contrast between a sleeping, trusting Shizun resting in his arms, and the cold corpse he had guarded for years, put the man’s humanity and vulnerability on blatant display. The reminder of how easily those things could be swept away and leave Shen Qingqiu silent again kept Luo Binghe’s touch infinitely gentle. as he placed his Shizun into the warm water and began to clean and soothe away the remnants of their lovemaking.

 

Shizun woke up a little while he was attending to him. A soft, incoherent murmur escaped him, and he leaned against Luo Binghe’s shoulder.

 

Concerned at the tenor of his voice, Luo Binghe transferred a small amount of spiritual energy to him. He used a kiss as the point of contact. Shizun hummed against his lips, and to his amusement, fell back asleep barely a moment later. Luo Binghe used the softest wash cloth they had to carefully soothe the more sensitive places as he bathed his beloved, and only once he was satisfied that Shizun seemed to be resting well again did he scoop him into the drying cloths, and use a little more spiritual energy to evaporate the remaining water on his skin and hair.

 

Then he tucked Shizun back into bed, just as the sky was barely beginning to lighten. Luo Binghe laid him out comfortably, and settled down beside him, and dozed until it was time to get started on breakfast.

 

The morning proceeded to be a good one, by the standards of ‘mornings after’. Shizun only grumbled a little about Luo Binghe’s behaviour last night, before his attitude softened over breakfast in bed. They put each other’s hair in order, and Luo Binghe insisted that his Shizun should rest and take a day to relax, while he went over some of the peak business and promised to bring anything important to his attention. Ming Fan stopped by at mid-morning to frown at him and stiffly deliver some missives for Shizun, along with a letter for Luo Binghe that had arrived from An Ding Peak.

 

Luo Binghe recognized Shang Qinghua’s spidery, scratched writing, and wondered what the strange little man was writing to him about. Normally they didn’t interact directly, despite being from the same sect and running in the same demonic circles. Shang Qinghua was not someone whom Luo Binghe comprehended well. The man was, by turns, utterly pathetic and cowardly, but also very effective and hard-working. His friendship with Shizun seemed somewhat inexplicable, as there could hardly be two cultivators further apart on the spectrum of dignity or skill. Even Liu Qingge made more sense as a suitable friend of Shizun’s than Shang Qinghua. And yet, it was undeniable that the two were very good friends. Even when they fought - which was often - it never took long for Shizun to forgive him.

 

He would never admit it aloud, but sometimes it made him envious.

 

Mobei-Jun was also enthralled with the tiny peak lord. Luo Binghe often felt, when it came to Shang Qinghua, like he was missing some key piece of the puzzle. Why did two of the people he respected most value that person so much? Yet, no matter how Luo Binghe looked, he just saw an eccentric and mostly pathetic man who was barely qualified to run the most unglamorous peak in the sect.

 

He set the unexpected letter onto Shizun’s desk along with several accounts records he was going through, and forgot about it for a while as he brought Shen Qingqiu his mail, and was then indirectly asked for some light snacks to munch on while Shizun went through his correspondence. Luo Binghe let himself have fun putting together a few delicate confections. When he’d finished with that, Liu Qingge came by to try and confirm that he was on the peak, so Luo Binghe went out to go kick him off Shizun’s mountain for the third time in a week.

 

That was fun too, but unfortunately in the process of fighting each other the two of them uncovered some dangerous creatures that had begun nesting in one of the wilder parts of the peak. Based on Shizun’s writings, Luo Binghe recognized the writhing pool of maggots as the larval stage of Blood Moon Beetles, which would be a sincere problem for most of the peak’s disciples if they were left untended. Exterminating them was more tedious than difficult, so he let Liu Qingge assist in clearing out the nasty little grubs.

 

The job meant that they ended up getting back after noon, which meant that Luo Binghe didn’t get to make Shizun’s lunch for him. Additionally, Shizun had gotten up while he was gone, and had decided to oversee some changes to the curriculum which the hall masters had planned for the new disciples. Despite Luo Binghe’s efforts to get him to go back to resting, Shizun was resolute, so he was left to try and tempt him with the promise of a delicious dinner.

 

Shizun could do as he pleased, of course, but Luo Binghe always felt better if he rested for a day after their lovemaking. He liked to take that time to pamper him, to assure himself that he was taking good care of his lover.

 

While dinner was simmering in its pot, and Shizun was still off seeing to peak matters, Luo Binghe turned to his own work. He spotted the letter from Shang Qinghua again, and was thereby reminded of its existence.

 

Opening it up revealed that Shang Qinghua’s calligraphy had somehow gotten worse.

 

To Bing-bro, the letter began.

 

Luo Binghe’s eyebrows began to climb.

 

Unexpectedly, his martial uncle had some nerve.

 

His surprise at the odd, irreverent tone of the letter began to fade as he read, though. The more he read, the more cold unease turned to anxiety, which in turn became horror. Shang Qinghua’s letter was frank and revealing on a topic which Luo Binghe had thought he had already more or less gained sufficient understanding of. Part of him was tempted to dismiss the entire thing as some tasteless joke, or an effort to get under his skin.

 

But why would Shang Qinghua want to get under his skin? He’d thrown his lot in with Mobei-Jun, and Mobei-Jun was loyal to Luo Binghe. Moreover, there were certain points in the letter that, once they had occurred to him, suddenly seemed impossible to ignore.

 

Luo Binghe read through the whole thing twice. He checked the ‘helpful diagram’ that had been doodled onto the back. Then he sat, and with grim severity, thought.

 

Since they became lovers, Luo Binghe had offered to switch positions with Shen Qingqiu several times. Since Shizun never agreed to the idea, he had thought that, despite his embarrassment and pretenses, Shizun just really liked being in the bottom position. Shizun could take a lot of coaxing to admit he enjoyed anything, even when it was obvious that he did. Luo Binghe delighted in every confession he had gotten from the other man. But they were few and far between, and mostly, he had to infer a lot of what his Shizun liked based on clues apart from what he actually said.

 

The letter, however, presented him with the horrifying possibility that - once again - he had guessed wrong.

 

If it was correct, then… he’d been hurting Shizun far more than he imagined, every time they made love.

 

But why would Shizun let him get away with such behaviour? If it really… if he… then, surely he would have said!

 

Hasn’t he? Luo Binghe asked himself.

 

And he had. Of course he had. The colour drained utterly from Luo Binghe’s face, and one of his hands came up to cover his mouth. No. How could he be so stupid? When it came to acts of affection, of connection, even though he might scold and deny and act long-suffering over too many kisses or hugs or lingering caresses, these were also things which Shizun offered him in return, when the mood took him. Yes, it was less often than Luo Binghe offered them, but he knew full well every gesture of affection or desire that he been directed his own way. If Shizun viewed something as pleasant or pleasurable, comforting, even passionate, there would invariably come a time when he extended it back to Luo Binghe, despite his reserved manner.

 

When Luo Binghe had first used his mouth, it had taken Shizun the better part of three weeks to work up the nerve to offer to reciprocate.

 

He had learned to become a better kisser based on the kisses which Shizun had instigated; gentler and more lingering than Luo Binghe’s own hungry first attempts, with less teeth and more tongue.

 

The first passionate embrace Shizun offered him, the first time his hand moved down to undo Luo Binghe’s belt, the first time he massaged him… these were all gestures that had been extended to him, in due time.

 

But even when Shizun expressed passion for Luo Binghe, those nights when he might wake up to the press of Shen Qingqiu’s kisses, to ardent words that his lover would never bring himself to say in the daylight hours… never, not once, had Shizun offered to go inside of him.

 

That simple realization was the finishing blow to all of Luo Binghe’s prior convictions.

 

What pleasure? What desire? If Shizun enjoyed the experience, he was not so selfish that he would deny Luo Binghe the chance at experiencing it too! After so much time, he surely would have tried to reciprocate, and yet, all of Luo Binghe’s overtures on this front had been rebuffed without exception.

 

The smell of something burning drew him up out of his reverie to find that he had crushed Shang Qinghua’s letter in his fist.

 

Hastily, Luo Binghe smoothed it back out - he needed this information - and then went go deal with the dishes that had blackened and over-cooked.

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

To make sure that things really were as he hoped they weren’t, Luo Binghe decided on two tests for the situation.

 

The first was another effort to get his Shizun to go inside of him while they were in bed together.

 

Luo Binghe did his absolute best to be tempting. Admittedly, this was something of a challenge - while he knew that Shizun found him appealing, that he liked his looks, he wasn’t certain what aspects of them might inspire the strongest desire to take him. His own desires with regards to Shizun were generally too overwhelming to offer any insights either - he always wanted Shen Qingqiu, in whatever fashion he could have him.

 

But Luo Binghe had some general ideas, so, after an evening where Shizun had seemed to notice his lack of ease (but didn’t discern the cause of it), Luo Binghe bathed himself in soft, clean fragrances, and combed out his hair so it was especially luxurious. When he climbed into bed with Shizun, he reversed their usual positions, and curled up against his chest.

 

“Is this alright, Shizun?” he checked, quietly.

 

Shen Qingqiu looked down at him thoughtfully. His cheeks coloured a little.

 

Ah, that look was always so beautiful on him!

 

“Does Binghe feel more comfortable like this?” Shizun asked.

 

“Mm. For tonight,” he agreed.

 

“Then of course it’s alright.”

 

Smiling at the indulgence, he batted his eyelashes, but then got thoroughly distracted by the intent look Shen Qingqiu was giving him. Were his efforts working already? He felt his face heat under the scrutiny he was being subjected to, as Shizun looked at him and then began to stroke his hair.

 

“Let’s relax, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu said.

 

Despite his plans of seduction - and their importance - Luo Binghe was so charmed that he could only agree. Shizun’s fingers moved gently through his hair, nails trailing pleasantly over his scalp, as one of his hands moved to Luo Binghe’s back. It began to rub soothing circles against his shoulders. Beneath his cheek, he could hear the delicate rhythm of Shizun’s heartbeats. The familiar scent of his bamboo sheets was only slightly diminished by the floral fragrances that lingered on Luo Binghe’s skin, the aftermath of his bathing efforts.

 

It was very pleasant.

 

He couldn’t resist the urge to snuggle closer into Shizun’s embrace.

 

And then, Shen Qingqiu started to hum.

 

The melody was one he had hummed before often enough, and not one which Luo Binghe had ever heard anywhere else. It was one of many songs that only his Shizun seemed to know. This one he especially liked, it was very soothing without becoming melancholy. He could hear the breath for it rising up in Shizun’s chest, a gentle cadence that escaped in the form of a soft, wordless tune.

 

After a while, Luo Binghe’s heart began to ache.

 

He closed his eyes.

 

“Just relax,” Shizun murmured. The hand running through his hair moved to cup his cheek, as though to soothe him.

 

Luo Binghe felt the corners of his eyes prickle with unfeigned tears.

 

Here he’d thought to tempt Shizun into conquering him, and instead, he was being comforted and pampered like a precious thing. These gestures weren’t new, or even unheard of, but in light of his worries, they made him feel even more undeserving of them than usual. If Shizun had started making such overtures in bed, cuddling up like this and looking as tempting as possible, Luo Binghe didn’t doubt that he would already be trying to turn the situation towards lovemaking. But with the positions reversed, Shizun was just petting him and soothing him, treating him so dearly…

 

He really felt wretched!

 

“Shizun,” he cried a little.

 

Shen Qingqiu sighed.

 

“What are these tears for?” he asked, brushing one aside with his thumb. “Is this teacher doing something wrong?”

 

Luo Binghe shook his head.

 

“Everything Shizun is doing is just right!” he insisted. “This disciple’s heart just has too much affection in it, it must escape somehow!”

 

“And it has to be through tears?” Shen Qingqiu asked. “There isn’t any other way that Binghe might express his happiness?”

 

Hesitating, Luo Binghe looked up to see Shizun giving him a keen look again.

 

Any other way…?

 

He allowed himself a tentative moment of hope. Did Shizun mean that Luo Binghe ought to offer himself, then? Had the letter been wrong? Maybe it really was like he thought, and just that it had taken Shen Qngqiu longer than usual to become bold enough to suggest such a thing. Maybe tonight, they’d reverse positions, and Luo Binghe would discover both the pains and pleasures of having his lover inside of him. Then he would know.

 

His cheeks heated again at the implications.

 

“Th-there is… another way. If Shizun desires it, then this disciple would be willing to express his happiness by offering up his body,” he said. “Shizun could… put it in, tonight…?”

 

Shen Qingqiu’s encouraging expression slowly morphed into one of befuddlement, and then shuttered closed so fast, Luo Binghe almost heard it snap like one of his fans.

 

“Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu scolded. “No.”

 

“But why not?” he pressed.

 

“Because.”

 

“Shizun! That’s not a reason!”

 

“Binghe shouldn’t debase himself like that! He has too much pride!”

 

“What? Debase?” Luo Binghe countered, sitting up even as he felt his stomach drop. “This disciple would never seek to insult or humiliate Shizun! If anything he has done has made Shizun feel such a way, then he will kneel right now and beg forgiveness!”

 

Shen Qingqiu’s eyes moved to one side, no longer anchored upon Luo Binghe as he went uncomfortably tense.

 

“That’s not necessary.”

 

“Then, why won’t Shizun accept my offer?”

 

There was a moment of frustratingly unreadable silence.

 

At length, Shen Qingqiu sighed.

 

“Just… let’s not argue about it,” Shizun requested. “We ought to rest.”

 

Luo Binghe wanted to press the matter. But he could tell it wouldn’t do any good. Even if he wheedled or coaxed or used his tears, by the look on his Shizun’s face, he could tell it would just make him distressed - not get him to relent. The fact that he was being so stubborn about this matter, not even flustered or scolding but just… visibly uncomfortable, sternly against it… that was an answer itself, in the end.

 

Just, very much not the one he wanted.

 

“Begging Shizun’s pardon,” Luo Binghe murmured, moving to get up.

 

He didn’t deserve to sleep in the bed with Shen Qingqiu. There was one more test he could do, and he felt like he needed to think carefully about it.

 

A hand at his arm stalled him, however.

 

“Where is Binghe going…?” Shizun asked him.

 

It was important not to look at his face. If he looked and saw Shizun’s expression of worry or comfort or anything other than annoyance, his resolve to get up would crumble into dust.

 

“There is something this disciple should see to,” Luo Binghe said.

 

“Can’t it wait?”

 

Shizun’s tone was soft and plaintive. Even with all his efforts to maintain some distance, it was impossible to ignore; and then impossible not to look at his face. As expected, the worry written in his expression was thoroughly devastating. The hand on his shoulder tugged him closer again, and of course, he was utterly helpless to resist. Deserved or not, he could hardly leave Shen Qingqiu’s bed if his lover wanted him there. He wouldn’t risk letting the other man feel rejected, when that wasn’t the point at all.

 

Leaving the serious matter of his failings aside again, he let Shizun pull him properly back into his embrace. His beloved’s fingers resumed their comforting trek through his hair, and a hand started rubbing soothing circles against his back once more. Luo Binghe closed his eyes, and willed himself not to have any inappropriate reactions.

 

In the end, it wasn’t that difficult to avoid going in the wrong direction, though. His internal turmoil was sufficient to keep his thoughts from wandering in passionate directions, and Shizun’s touch remained gentle and unobtrusive. As if he could feel the tension in Luo Binghe’s body, and only wished to ease it. When Shen Qingqiu drifted off, it was with his lips still pressed softly to Luo Binghe’s forehead. His arms still attempting to offer comfort.

 

The next day, while he had some time alone at the bamboo house again, Luo Binghe decided to do the second test he had thought of.

 

Shizun had already more or less confirmed for him that their lovemaking was painful. Too painful for him to inflict it on Luo Binghe in return. But Shizun, for all his capacity to fight and scold and snap, was an inherently gentle person. He didn’t even like digging his nails into Luo Binghe’s back! While it was clear that the level of pain was already too high for Luo Binghe to countenance doing things without improvement, he still didn’t know exactly what the experience felt like.

 

That thought alone made him internally lambaste himself. Would he just toss Shizun into a hot bath without testing the water first? Would he feed him a dish covered in seasonings he had never tasted? How could he have been so foolish as to do something to his lover’s body without, himself, understanding the sensations involved?

 

Of course, he had meant well by not testing this action out. He had wanted to save himself for Shizun! The only person who could have them in that way, ever, would be Shizun! But Shen Qingqiu refused to do it to him, to let him find what it felt like in his embrace, so. It was time to take matters into his own hands.

 

Luo Binghe went to the woodshed, found a suitable block, and set about carving himself a replica of sufficient size.

 

He wasn’t an expert carver, but he was passable enough at it. Making fans for Shizun had sparked an interest in the craft. He knew that the wand needed to be smooth, and devoid of any splinters, but treating the material would take too long. So he made up the difference with spiritual energy, and used some of his blood to form a resilient outer-coating on the object. It was ugly and nothing he would ever let into the bed with Shen Qingqiu, but for this task, it would do.

 

While Shizun was away, Luo Binghe went into the spare room with a jar of oil, and set himself up on the floor.

 

He prepared himself the way he usually prepared his lover. Imagining it was Shizun he was touching as he used a swipe of oil, and then put his fingers inside.

 

Ominously, it wasn’t very comfortable. Although he did the usual routine of ‘opening’ the entrance to himself, by the time he knew he would have already grown impatient, the press of his fingers was still uncomfortable inside the tense ring of his chrysanthemum.

 

Heart beating fast, Luo Binghe nevertheless lined up his tool, and began to push it in.

 

He had lit several incense sticks to help time things. Only after he had been at it for half an hour did finally let himself stop; and even then, he knew he was being merciful. There were nights when he was certain that he and Shizun had gone for much longer.

 

After another half an hour of lying on the floor, with his cock still limp and a bloodied tool still in his hand, Luo Binghe finally got up, and destroyed the phallus.

 

He didn’t let himself heal.

 

No, no. How could he let his demonic physiology relieve his suffering? It certainly couldn’t have done the same for Shizun. As Luo Binghe carefully stood up, he found he was keenly aware of the deep, stabbing pain that was caused by every movement of his lower body. The torn sensation was impossible to ignore, and even to a person of his constitution, intimately unpleasant. It only worsened when he tried to walk, or bend over to pick up his discarded pants.

 

Somehow, he managed to dress himself before he collapsed against the wall of the little spare room again. The pain was unpleasant, but his feelings were what knocked him back down again.

 

This room was the one which Shizun had first given him, of course. Where he’d lived out some of the happiest days of his life. It was used more for storage, now. There was evidence of his life with Shen Qingqiu all over the place. Boxes of books and spare fans and trinkets that were no longer displayed in the main house. Old things that Luo Binghe had owned as a disciple, training tools and gifts and clothes he had grown out of. The special cultivation manual which Shizun had given him was set on top of a small wooden desk.

 

Luo Binghe’s gaze locked onto it for a long moment, before he curled in on himself, and started to shake.

 

Hot tears dropped down onto his sleeves.

 

He felt… there were no words for what he felt.

 

At no point had the activity he had gotten up to started to feel pleasurable. Even when he tried changing angles, knowing that there were places inside that could feel good - unless he had read those reactions wrongly, too - he hadn’t found any. It had just been pain. Pain, pain, pain, violating and relentless, because he refused to let his motions do anything apart from mirror his own usual actions in bed. Even after just half an hour, he had begun to hate that tool in his hand. He had wanted to destroy it.

 

It really had felt like a punishment.

 

Why would Shizun let him…?

 

His heart twisted terribly in his chest. All this time, some part of him had been relishing the fact that Shen Qingqiu was willing to endure some discomfort on his behalf. The part of him that still didn’t know why, precisely, he had been rejected in the first place, nor what had made Shizun change his mind after he came back, could only take solace in the proof that his acceptance wasn’t so fragile. That the man he loved was willing to endure pain, and sacrifice, and make compromises to be with him. Because he was, Luo Binghe could comfort his insecurities with the knowledge that, at least, his acceptance wouldn’t be unexpectedly revoked again, with no questions answered or explanations given. Not when Shizun was willing to give him so much, to endure so much for his sake.

 

But this…

 

This was the ugly side of such things, wasn’t it?

 

Because Shizun was willing to endure pain and suffer for Luo Binghe, Luo Binghe had let him. And he had subjected him to, to this. To what Shizun saw as ‘debasement’, and even though Luo Binghe never would have dreamed of inflicting such a thing on his beloved - it was worship, it was supposed to be love… he suddenly understood why Shen Qingqiu would deem it a blow to his pride. Being made to go through that, night after night, to sate Luo Binghe’s lusts…

 

Did Shizun really think he was that kind of creature? That he wouldn’t care? That if he knew, he wouldn’t have stopped?

 

Why wouldn’t he think that of you? a wry voice whispered, bitter and sharp, from the back of his mind.

 

He had known that it hurt. (Not that much…)

 

He had seen the blood. (But he thought it was supposed to be normal…)

 

He had heard his Shizun’s complaints. (Shizun complained about so many things he secretly liked, though…)

 

He had done this. He had done this so many times that he had lost count, even though, in the beginning, he had certainly tried to keep track of every moment of intimacy shared between them. He could easily call to mind the way that Shizun felt around him, so warm and good and hurting the whole while. Enduring that, and still letting Luo Binghe into his arms, still offering him affection and acceptance, when no one could have faulted him for permanently ousting Luo Binghe from his bed. From his life.

 

If someone else ever hurt Shizun like that, Luo Binghe would kill them with his bare hands.

 

He shuddered, and more than anything, wished he could go back and fix it. Undo it. Make it so that he had never done that to Shizun, not even once.

 

But that power wasn’t one he possessed.

 

Luo Binghe sat in the side room, grieving and at a loss, until Shizun came home.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The day had been going well enough, so Shen Qingqiu wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it when he returned to his bamboo house, and felt as though the atmosphere was distinctly… off.

 

Frowning to himself, he tapped his closed fan against the palm of his free hand a few times, and resisted his usual habit of calling for Luo Binghe. He couldn’t place why, exactly, but he felt as though something had become unsettled. It was a feeling that had been growing in the pit of his stomach for less than an hour, building up inexplicably while he had been in the midst of speaking with some of the older disciples of the peak. When he could no longer shrug that feeling off, he had politely excused himself under suspicion that the source of his unease was something to do with his most infamous disciple.

 

Nothing at the house seemed out of order. He heard from Ning Yingying that Liu Qingge had been by, but apart from the usual brawling with Luo Binghe, nothing exceptional seemed to have occurred on that front either. It was probably just his mind playing tricks on him. The system was silent, dormant as usual, but as soon as he went inside, some subtle clues that he could not consciously put his finger on left him with the feeling that, indeed, something was wrong.

 

If he had more of a mind for it, Shen Qingqiu might have noticed the uneasy way that Luo Binghe’s blood was resting in his body. But the blood was not active, was not pulling or tugging or roiling through his organs. There was no feeling of a thousand ants crawling across his innards. Just… disquiet.

 

Shen Qingqiu made a quick inspection of the main house. Everything was neatly put away, as it always was when Binghe was around to handle the tidying. There were some loose papers on the desk, but even those were neatly stacked together.

 

Frowning a little, Shen Qingqiu checked the small adjacent kitchen. Clean and tidy, again, not so much as a hair out of place. He ducked back outside once more, and noticed the door to the woodshed was ajar.

 

Frown deepening, he went over to check and see if anyone was there. It was empty. However, it wasn’t like any of his disciples to forget to close the space up. With a slow, thoughtful hand, Shen Qingqiu closed the shed door and latched it. Then he headed back to the house, and, with hardly a thought except that it was a place he hadn’t checked yet, went into the spare room.

 

He froze at the sight that greeted him.

 

Luo Binghe froze, too, where he was sitting on the floor of this old room. The outer robe he was wearing was open and in slight disarray. His hair was coming loose from the ponytail he habitually tied it into. He was sitting strangely, half-curled into himself, and his reaction was… off.

 

Shen Qingqiu knew, quite precisely, all of the ways in which Luo Binghe might greet him in any given day or at any given situation. There were the standard greetings, of course, the exuberant calls of ‘shizun!’ that might escape him as if he was a pokemon capable of repeating only the same word. There were the more polite - but no less enthusiastic - greetings, for when there was company and Binghe was actually being mindful of it. There were the soft, early morning exchanges reserved for moments of deep intimacy. The reunion-style greetings of late evening returns from long days apart. He knew how Luo Binghe greeted him even when he was angry, or guilty, or wary of Shen Qingqiu’s possible reception towards him. When he was feeling reserved, or trying to close himself off in self-defense.

 

Those latter instances were the most rare, and hadn’t happened for quite some time. But they were the closest approximation for the way in which Luo Binghe froze up on the spot. Even then, though.

 

Even then, Shen Qingqiu could count on one hand the number of times his disciple had looked at him with a flash of horror in his eyes.

 

Immediately, a thousand red flags went up in his mind, and the uneasy sense of something being ‘wrong’ escalated into angry warning sirens and klaxons blaring in the back of his head.

 

“Binghe,” he said, gaze flitting around the room, before inevitably landing back on the unexpectedly miserable sight of the poor man on the floor. “Has something happened…?”

 

Luo Binghe stared back at him for a moment. His complexion was worryingly pale. There was tension around his eyes, too, despite what seemed to be his best efforts at mirroring Shen Qingqiu’s own neutrality of expression. The tension sent a niggling thought through him; he had seen it before, that look…

 

Pain?

 

Luo Binghe was in pain?

 

Nothing at all on Qing Jing peak should have been able to hurt him, let alone hurt him badly enough that he wouldn’t immediately heal from the injury! But as soon as the thought occurred to him, Shen Qingqiu could see it straight away. The odd posture, the tension, the way Binghe hadn’t even gotten up to greet him…

 

Without delay, he hurried over, and tried to inspect the younger man.

 

“Shizun,” Luo Binghe said, hesitant and unsure. His hands moved up, almost defensively. “Shizun, don’t…”

 

Shen Qingqiu paused.

 

“What is it?” he asked. “Poison? Has Binghe been cursed by something?”

 

That would be difficult to accomplish, but not impossible. Ah, it better not be one of those stupid ‘blood heating’ curses that Airplane-Shooting-Towards-the-Sky made a dime a dozen in his shitty novel! With their luck it probably was, and Shen Qingqiu could kiss the sanctity of his ass goodbye for the evening. That would be really inconvenient, he was still recovering from the last time, and if they had to do some kind of ‘marathon’ he wouldn’t be able to walk for days. The thought made him simultaneously send out an internal prayer and also curse out his hack writer of a fellow transmigrator, habitual and resigned until he noticed that Luo Binghe was shaking his head in the negative.

 

“No, no, it’s nothing like that,” Luo Binghe said. “Shizun needn’t… needn’t worry himself…”

 

Frowning, Shen Qingqiu reached over.

 

Luo Binghe’s eyes tracked the movements of his hand uncertainly. Not fearfully, at least, but there was some indescribable conflict in his gaze, even when the only thing his former master did was pressed the back of his palm to his forehead, to test the heat of his skin.

 

He felt clammy.

 

“Binghe is in pain,” Shen Qingqiu noted, in a tone of voice that didn’t invite him to refute this obvious fact.

 

Luo Binghe visibly swallowed.

 

“Why?”

 

There was a long, worrying silence.

 

At first, Shen Qingqiu decided to wait it out. He was absolutely capable of patience, and felt sure that he would get a response, and only needed to give the man in front of him some time to figure out how to explain. Perhaps the affliction was delicate, or embarrassing. Not that it was very like Luo Binghe to struggle with embarrassment around him, but in the end, he had his pride. There were definitely times when such a thing happened.

 

However, as the moment dragged on, his brows could only furrow more deeply in concern.

 

Luo Binghe’s eyes were on the floor, instead of on him. That was never a good sign.

 

“Is Binghe not going to answer this master?” he finally pressed.

 

More silence, to his surprise.

 

Well, that was enough of that! Pride or no pride, if Luo Binghe was hurt, then it was imperative that Shen Qingqiu know about it! Anything that could cause him lasting pain was a problem, not only for being that dangerous to begin with, but also because he was in pain! It did this old man’s heart a terrible grievance to see the signs of it. He really… he really couldn’t stand to see Luo Binghe be hurt or suffer. Not after he’d already been through so much of it.

 

Too much of it.

 

Reaching over, Shen Qingqiu grasped his former disciple by the chin, and tilted his head to meet his gaze.

 

Of course, if Luo Binghe really didn’t want to be moved, no force could make it happen. But as ever, he seemed helpless to resist the pull of Shen Qingqiu’s commands - even unspoken ones.

 

Almost as soon as he’d done it, though, Shen Qingqiu regretted it. Luo Binghe’s eyes were wet. Glittering with unshed tears, and not the crocodile kind, either.

 

Ah!

 

What the hell?!

 

The only thing in this world that could make an adult Luo Binghe cry - truly and seriously, just like this - was Shen Qingqiu himself! He knew that, even as ridiculous as it was; it was a dubious honour and distinction, and one he had many mixed feelings about. But why would it be happening at this moment?! He’d only seen Luo Binghe this morning, and then gone to attend to some matters around the peak - what could he have done to bring about these tears?! And while Binghe was in pain, too!

 

Just kill him right on the spot, why don’t you!

 

An involuntary sound of sympathy escaped him, and his hand moved to gently cup Luo Binghe’s face instead.

 

“What is it?” he asked. “What’s happened? Binghe must say something before he worries this master to death.”

 

Was Shen Qingqiu too careless with his disciple’s soft heart again? Did he not notice something once more? Was there an anniversary he'd forgotten? He wracked his mind desperately, but couldn’t even think of a single possibility. Really, Luo Binghe, if he’d done something or neglected to, he didn't know about it! Please take pity and enlighten him, and also tell him where the pain was coming from!

 

The entreaty in his voice and manner finally seemed to work, As Luo Binghe sucked in a shuddering breath, and closed his eyes.

 

“Shizun,” he said, quietly. “Shizun… this disciple… has he really been hurting Shizun so badly, so many times, for so long?”

 

Shen Qingqiu was, once again, utterly taken aback.

 

What?

 

What on earth was he talking about…?

 

Was it some kind of illusion? Had some sneaky creature gotten in past Luo Binghe’s defenses - even briefly - and convinced him of some hallucination, or maybe even some past memory of hurting Shen Qingqiu? Or…

 

It couldn’t be possible for him to suddenly start remembering things from that canon world, right?!

 

The thought put a brief flare of panic in his heart, but even rapidly knocking on the system’s door, there was no response. That calmed him down somewhat. If something so strange was happening, then almost surely, there’d be some kind of system-related reason for it. Right? Right!

 

Carefully, Shen Qingqiu shook his head.

 

“Binghe, this master isn’t hurt,” he said. “Try and focus and tell him what has happened instead. Was there a fight? Did something attack?”

 

Luo Binghe stared at him with an utterly heartbreaking look on his face.

 

“Shizun really won’t say, even now?” he asked.

 

Shen Qingqiu shook his head again.

 

“Say what?” he countered. Leaning back a little, he gestured to himself. “Look, this master is fine. See? Binghe is the one who is clearly suffering.”

 

When that line of reasoning didn’t seem to work, Shen Qingqiu’s heart couldn’t take it anymore.

 

While it was true that his grown disciple was a big man, tall and broad and strong, when all was said and done he wasn’t really that much taller than Shen Qingqiu. And besides which, Shen Qingqiu had carried heavier things for longer distances, and his muscles were - for all that they looked far more slender and willowy - quite strong! With the determination of a man who was now fretting half out of his mind, he took advantage of Luo Binghe’s current indecisiveness, and got his arms around him.

 

Some part of him protested that it was really too insulting to the protagonist to hold him in a princess carry. What about his masculine pride? What about his dignity? Shaming Luo Binghe in such a way, it wouldn’t be surprising if a bolt of lightning tried to strike him down on the spot! That voice in his mind cursed him out for his own behaviour.

 

But it wasn’t like Shen Qingqiu was going to throw him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Binghe was hurt! And it was only a short distance, and there was no one else to see. So he carefully lifted Luo Binghe up, and carried him out of the spare room and over to his bed.

 

“Shizun, no,” Binghe protested, shaking his head and nearly struggling out of his hold. It only took a slight tightening of Shen Qingqiu’s arms to dissuade him, though.

 

Was he really in that much pain? Or just being obedient?

 

“Shh,” Shen Qingqiu hushed, with no answers forthcoming. “Just endure being held like this for a moment, this master is worried.”

 

Guilt overtook Luo Binghe’s entire bearing. He wondered at it, but decided not to ask for the time being, as he instead got the out-of-sorts protagonist settled onto his bed. In an inexplicable fit, then, Binghe nearly rolled right off of it; saying some nonsense about not deserving to be in Shizun’s bed, until Shen Qingqiu had to physically restrain him against the pillows.

 

His hold wasn’t harsh, but even that much seemed too rough considering he didn’t know where Luo Binghe’s injury was.

 

“Luo Binghe, stop misbehaving this instant!” he finally insisted, in his firmest tone of voice.

 

His former disciple went still as stone.

 

Good.


Well, no, not really good; that look on his face was still making Shen Qingqiu feel like a heartless fiend, even though he had no idea why. But it was better than having the man inexplicably deprecate himself and try to throw his injured body on the floor. Wide, dark eyes stared up at him, still watery and expressing a conflicting, unknown mess of emotions reflected in their depths. It was the sort of look which only Luo Binghe could pull off, for certain.

 

That made it particularly difficult for Shen Qingqiu to cope with.

 

Leaning back a little, he brushed his fingers through some of the stray, messy locks of hair that had escaped the bounds of Luo Binghe’s red ribbon.

 

“Will Binghe explain the situation now?” he asked.

 

More silence. More staring.

 

Then finally, Luo Binghe hung his head.

 

“Shang-shishu reprimanded this disciple in a letter,” he said.

 

Shen Qingqiu stared, wondering for a moment if he’d misheard something, or lacked some vital piece of context.

 

Shang Qinghua? Airplane? Airplane-Shooting-Towards-the-Sky had written to Luo Binghe? Had reprimanded him? That made no sense. Shang Qinghua had a sense of self-preservation. Possibly even an over-developed one. But even assuming that it had fled him for some reason, why would being reprimanded by the lord of An Ding Peak bother Luo Binghe in the least? He had never expressed even the faintest concern for how any of the other peak lords regarded him. The closest he came to caring was sometimes acknowledging that Yue Qingyuan was pretty strong, or deigning to get into fights with Liu Qingge. Even if things had changed somehow without Shen Qingqiu noticing, he highly doubted that Shang Qinghua could have done anything recently to engender Luo Binghe’s respect or consideration.

 

Definitely not to the level of making him cry!

 

And even if that were so - and Shen Qingqiu would kick his fellow transmigrator’s ass if it was - how would that translate to some still-undisclosed injury?!

 

Drawing in a deep breath, Shen Qingqiu let out slowly.

 

“Where is Binghe hurt?” he asked, more specifically. At least they could deal with that, before deciphering the rest of this mess. His nerves would settle a lot more if the awful tension could be banished from Luo Binghe’s eyes.

 

“Shizun needn’t concern himself with it,” Luo Binghe said, averting his gaze.

 

Shen Qingqiu gave him a narrow look in return.

 

With that kind of response…

 

“Is Binghe deliberately stopping himself from healing an injury?” he demanded.

 

A single twitch gave him all the answer he needed.

 

“Why?”

 

Luo Binghe glanced at the writing desk.

 

When he didn’t volunteer anything more, Shen Qingqiu got up, and went to go find whatever letter it was that Airplane-Shooting-Towards-the-Sky had written.

 

It didn’t take him very long. The letter was second from the top in the neatly ordered stack - tucked out of immediate sight, but clearly still available, as if awaiting a reply or further reference. Shen Qingqiu’s eyebrows went up as he recognized the messy scrawl that Airplane-bro normally reserved for casual correspondence, and took in the opening line.

 

His blood ran cold.

 

Since when has Shang Qinghua ever addressed Luo Binghe so casually? In person, anyway, not just in conversations between the two of them. In fact, the tone of the letter was so utterly similar to their own private conversations as fellow transmigrators, that immediately Shen Qingqiu’s mind ran to the worst possible conclusion.

 

Had Airplane-bro lost his mind and actually told Luo Binghe?! Told him that?!

 

Was that even allowed?! He was pretty sure it wasn’t!

 

A tentative knock at the system revealed it was still quiet, though. He permitted himself one fragile breath of relief before warily continuing to read the letter.

 

He was right to be wary, it seemed.

 

That… the letter…! That Shang Qinghua! Shen Qingqiu would kill him! For real this time, he meant it! How dare he?! Shen Qingqiu had spoken to him in confidence, to help him, and… alright, granted, the tone of the letter seemed… very much geared towards his own defense. But that still didn’t mean he could just go around telling Luo Binghe things that they’d spoken of between the two of them! Especially not so hurtfully, except…

 

Except…

 

The only part of the letter - aside from its existence - that really surprised Shen Qingqiu was the latter half, which detailed further measures that could be taken to make certain… certain, erm, bedroom activities, less…

 

Less…

 

Well.

 

…Maybe he really shouldn’t have skipped quite so many sex scenes in the original novel after all, cough cough.

 

But! Still! Shang Qinghua could have come and simply told him all of this in confidence! On what planet was it acceptable for the man to try and take Luo Binghe to task?! And… moreover, why did Luo Binghe care that Shang Qinghua thought he wasn’t very good in bed? Since when had his sticky disciple actually showed much concern for the opinions of people who weren’t - frankly - himself…?

 

Shen Qingqiu gave the letter another glance over, and internally sighed as it dawned on him.

 

Of course.

 

The problem wasn’t that Shang Qinghua was scolding Luo Binghe, the problem was that the letter mentioned Shen Qingqiu talking to him about… about, such things.

 

Naturally, someone as prone to jealousy and territorial behaviour as Binghe was wouldn’t take that kind of over-sharing very well.

 

And yet, this really wasn’t Luo Binghe’s ‘jealous’ behaviour at all, was it?

 

Frowning, Shen Qingqiu reconsidered the whole picture of events. The letter was a travesty, and he was absolutely going to rip Shang Qinghua a new one and then several more besides for upsetting Luo Binghe and sharing PRIVATE information provided in confidence like that. But it didn’t really explain the entire situation. Luo Binghe was still lying on the bed, looking pale and miserable and guilty.

 

Why would he feel guilty?

 

Before, when he’d asked about hurting Shen Qingqiu… that had been strange, but…

 

Frowning, he got up from the desk, and then stilled as the scenario suddenly reconfigured itself in his mind, and the clues clicked into place.

 

Oh.

 

Oh no.

 

Urgently rising, Shen Qingqiu made his way back towards the bed.

 

“What has Binghe done to himself?” he demanded, reaching for the other man before his thoughts caught up with him, and he hesitated. It wasn’t like he could just strip him down and check! The very thought brought him up short again, made him hesitate as worry and a rising dread warred with confusion and disquiet. It wasn’t unusual for Luo Binghe to suggest that they try ‘switching places’ in some of their bedroom activities, but before he had always subsided easily at Shen Qingqiu’s reluctance.

 

With that letter, though… Shang Qinghua had put forward the notion that Luo Binghe had no idea how painful it was to be on the ‘receiving’ end.

 

Knowing his disciple as he did, the notion of Binghe taking matters into his own hands suddenly seemed obvious.

 

His heart clenched.

 

Luo Binghe let out a breath, and met his gaze. His expression looked ten thousand years too old for him.

 

“It is only what this person has done to Shizun, too many times.”

 

Shen Qingqiu swallowed back a distressed oath, and closed a hand over the edge of Luo Binghe’s open robe. Unbidden, his mind tried to conjure the image of it. Binghe, robe open, pants off. Holding some object - what did he even use? - with his legs spread, endeavoring to… to…

 

His mouth went dry, and he shuddered as he forced the image aside. Too much! He couldn’t think of such a thing!

 

“Binghe must let his body heal right this instant!” he insisted.

 

Luo Binghe looked stubbornly back at him.

 

“Shizun’s body does not heal in such a way. How could I permit mine to?”

 

Shen Qingqiu almost rapped his disciple’s forehead with his fan in rebuke. But knowing the kind of pain that Binghe was surely in, he couldn’t bring himself to add even an ounce to it.

 

“Don’t be ridiculous. There is no point in enduring such pain,” he argued.

 

“There is,” Luo Binghe countered.

 

Stubborn! Shen Qingqiu adopted his most stern countenance.

 

“Heal it,” he insisted.

 

“No.”

 

“Binghe! Don’t be defiant!”

 

“Begging Shizun’s forgiveness, but this one must still refuse. Shizun may punish him as he sees fit.”

 

Gah! As if Shen Qingqiu would heap more abuse onto this situation! He knew exactly how bad this sort of thing could hurt, and also knew that if Luo Binghe had done it to himself, he probably hadn’t had any of the mitigating factors that helped with it. No kisses to distract, no warm arms to anchor himself to, no other person’s pleasure or adoration to focus on. No way to relax, as he’d apparently done it to himself on the cold ground, too. Tense and uncertain, which would only make it worse, he knew…

 

Shen Qingqiu stared down his stubborn apprentice, and then moved briskly from the side of the bed.

 

“Fine,” he said, sharply. Turning his back.

 

“...Shizun?” Luo Binghe called.

 

His voice sounded too small.

 

“Stay right there,” Shen Qingqiu instructed, sternly. If Luo Binghe was going to insist on being so stubborn, then he couldn’t blame his old master for using his own techniques against him! After all, it wasn’t as if anyone but Luo Binghe could let himself heal. Arguing for hours would just defeat the point, and Binghe would be in pain the whole while. Shen Qingqiu’s heart wouldn’t survive that. It was already in tatters.

 

He could count on one hand the number of times he’d prepared the wooden bathtub in his bamboo house, but he still knew the basics of how to do it all. He’d watched Binghe go through the motions enough times, and while it took him a few extra minutes to find everything, the trickiest part was simply heating the hot water. The rest was just a matter of hauling the tub into the room and filling it up from the water barrel.

 

When Luo Binghe saw what he was doing, he tried to get up. Shen Qingqiu snapped at him; so agitated that it came out sharp and stern and actually seemed to cow the powerful protagonist.

 

That same emotional energy carried Shen Qingqiu through the rest of the task, even giving him enough boldness to undress the other man once the bath was heated. Still, nothing in the world could have made his touch rough, as his brows furrowed and he gently pulled away Luo Binghe’s robe, and tugged off his pants.

 

He didn’t look towards the… injured part. Not yet. But he scooped Binghe up with mindful care for it, and as had been done for himself so many times in the past, carried him over to the tub full of warm water and eased him into it.

 

Luo Binghe drew in a breath as his lower body sank into the bath. The water wasn't too hot; that would just make things even more uncomfortable.

 

Shen Qingqiu let him settle at the edge, so that he didn’t have to rest any of his weight on his backside. Only then did he glance down. Without, ah, parting certain parts, the only damage he could see was a faint streamer of blood, just faintly dissipating into the clear water. But the fact that he was still bleeding implied a lot about the state of things.

 

“Shizun…” Binghe said, in a tone of faint protestation.

 

“Binghe can hardly argue that this is not a comfort his master is frequently afforded,” Shen Qingqiu countered, before reaching over and re-tying his disciple’s hair.

 

Luo Binghe let out an indecipherable sound, and shut his eyes.

 

Hesitating for a moment, Shen Qingqiu gentled his touch again. Running his fingers comfortingly through the fluffy locks of unruly hair.

 

“Does it hurt very much?” he inquired. Forgetting, for a moment, that it didn’t technically have to hurt at all. Apparently, in Luo Binghe’s books, it did. And however frustrating that might be, however avoidable, pain was pain.

 

Binghe let out a shaky breath. Then he pierced Shen Qingqiu to the spot with a heavy gaze. Nearly accusing.

 

“Shizun knows exactly how much it hurts,” he said.

 

His voice was quiet. The implications felt loud.

 

And yet, Shen Qingqiu found himself at something of an utter loss in response. What was with this atmosphere? Yes, he knew how it felt. He knew how badly it could hurt. He’d endured it many times, but he was always willing to. Didn’t Luo Binghe knew that it hurt as well? He hadn’t thought he’d made a secret of that fact! This activity was painful, wasn’t that something that was fairly well-known? Being pushed down to the bottom wasn’t considered a humiliating prospect for nothing.

 

“This master has never asked nor desired that Binghe endure such pain,” he said, defensively. So why be angry at him, why make this into such a big production, when it was Luo Binghe’s own curiosity and stubbornness creating this situation?!

 

The response just seemed to make things worse, though. Luo Binghe’s expression fell further.

 

“But Shizun endured it!” he argued, agitated. “Time and time again, this sort of pain, what he called ‘debasement’. Does he think so little of me that he believed it was my desire to injure him like this? Does Shizun secretly still believe this disciple is a beast?”

 

Shen Qingqiu went still in shock, as Luo Binghe looked miserably at him and pressed stubbornly onward.

 

“Does Shizun think being with this disciple is a punishment?”

 

He jolted as if burned.

 

“Binghe!” he objected.

 

“Does he?” his disciple asked, far too serious for him to misunderstand.

 

The situation felt like a disaster that had somehow been building itself quietly up for years and years. Like one of those videos he used to watch sometimes where people would construct elaborate mechanisms out of weird items, arranging cards and marbles and trinkets hanging off of strings so that when the right item was knocked over or a switch was flipped, the repercussions would align perfectly to achieve some amusing result. Except in this case, the result wasn’t amusing, but was instead awkward and unpleasant and leading into a fight.

 

Shen Qingqiu could only watch, suddenly aware of all these contributing parts of a catastrophe that he hadn’t even thought was being constructed. Luo Binghe was looking at him as though he had deliberately deceived him on this topic, but that wasn’t the case at all!

 

And yet, now he was trapped in the worst position ever - having to explain his feelings.

 

“How can Binghe think such a thing?” he replied, as his heart beat faster with the anxiety of the situation.

 

Luo Binghe’s gaze was far too shrewd. Like it was suddenly looking straight through him.

 

“A person enduring such things without complaint must surely think that complaining will gain them no ground,” his disciple reasoned, and suddenly Shen Qingqiu was reminded that Qing Jing was a literary peak, and that Luo Binghe had read ever book in its libraries. Including philosophy and tactics. “Only a beast would hurt someone in this way for the sake of nothing more than his own pleasure. Shizun has refused to do this to me; he must surely believe, then, that this disciple’s nature is still far more base than his own, if he thinks I would not share his same standards of care and concern.”

 

His disciple’s tone was too serious to ignore or evade.

 

It felt brutally unfair to him.

 

His heart beat faster in his chest, and he wished dearly that he could go back to this morning, when his chief preoccupation was trying to figure out if he could get Luo Binghe to relax enough to purr.

 

“This isn’t…” he began, before his words failed him with a frustrated sigh.

 

God, he’d hurt him again, hadn’t he? Without even remotely meaning to! Once more! How did he manage to cultivate such a talent for wounding Luo Binghe’s heart while trying to do the exact opposite? Here he had decided to be the person who endured pain so that he wouldn't be the one inflicting it, but even so, they were back to this! Back to Luo Binghe being the one who was hurt anyway!

 

And now he had to say something. Utterly unprepared for all of this, he had to find the words because Luo Binghe was in pain, in the wooden tub, looking vulnerable and furious and sharp and too soft all at the same time, and if he didn’t figure out what to say, how to explain, then the painful wounds to his vulnerable places would be left to fester instead.

 

Reaching out, Shen Qingqiu settled a hand atop Luo Binghe’s head.

 

“Being with Binghe is not a punishment,” he refuted, firmly. “It is… the opposite, if anything. In another life, Binghe could have had any number of beauties at his beck and call. This master knows that he has… strong urges, and… abundant passions. And he knows that Binghe’s fidelity to him means that, instead of a harem full of devoted wives, he has been left with only one old man’s body to try and satisfy him. Any pains that help make that up to him, this master has always endured willingly. Binghe is not a beast. He is a person who deserves more than this master could possibly make up to him.”

 

It felt risky, mentioning Luo Binghe’s lost harem to him. It drew uncomfortably close to the matter of the original story, but at the moment, that wasn’t even why it bothered Shen Qingqiu.

 

Because really, this Luo Binghe had never seemed to honestly consider his prospects in terms of accumulating scores upon scores of lovers. Introducing the idea to him, the notion that he had lost something he’d never serious considered gaining, seemed to carry even just a marginal possibility that some portion of this sticky disciple’s common sense would finally wake up. That he would shake the water out of his ears and realize he’d been acting foolishly indeed, devoting himself so utterly to just Shen Qingqiu, and no one else.

 

Luo Binghe stared at him with that piercing, see-right-through-him gaze.

 

Shen Qingqiu’s hand petted his head with uncertain strokes.

 

After a few minutes, his disciple closed his eyes, and let out a heavy breath.

 

“Shizun,” he said. “Sometimes, Shizun is really foolish.”

 

Shen Qingqiu’s hand paused in its movements. When he moved to withdraw his touch, however, Luo Binghe caught it, and pressed the back of it to his lips instead. The gesture made Shen Qingqiu’s cheeks heat reflexively. He felt the warm, dry lips urgently kiss his skin, and it seemed as though he no longer had the faintest idea where any of this was going.

 

“Who’s foolish?”

 

Luo Binghe pressed his forehead against his captured hand.

 

“Hasn’t this disciple said before, the only person he wants is Shizun?” he replied. “What does Shizun have to ‘make up’ for? He says this as if he has robbed his disciple of something. But how could that be? This disciple would not trade Shizun for a dozen, a hundred, or a thousand other people. This would be true whether or not Shizun allowed this disciple into his bed.”

 

Shen Qingqiu hesitated.

 

“Even so-”

 

The look Luo Binghe gave him stole the rest of his sentence from his head.

 

“What does Shizun have to ‘make up’ for?” his disciple repeated.

 

It felt like the floor was steadily dropping out from beneath them.

 

“Binghe knows what,” Shen Qingqiu couldn’t help but reply, flustered and frustrated, unnerved into a moment of pure honesty.

 

Luo Binghe blinked in surprise.

 

For a moment, Shen Qingqiu wondered if his meaning would even be understood. One of Binghe’s thumbs rubbed thoughtfully against the skin of his wrist, as his gaze turned more contemplative. But still far too shrewd to allow for much optimism.

 

His response thoroughly dashed it.

 

“Shizun already repaid that matter when he died in this disciple’s arms,” he observed, quietly. “The past was all paid back to him, whether this disciple wished for it to be paid back or not.”

 

Shen Qingqiu let out an unsteady breath. This was quickly getting more and more out of control...

 

“So it is a punishment, then,” Binghe added to himself, in a murmur.

 

His blood froze.

 

“No!” he blurted. “Being with Binghe is not-”

 

“Being with this disciple is perhaps not, on the whole. But if Shizun still feels there are debts to be paid, has he has kept his silence on this matter for that reason?” Luo Binghe interrupted him. “This disciple is currently punishing himself for his past transgressions. With such a matter on his mind right now, he cannot help but wonder - is this what Shizun has also been doing? Letting himself be hurt as punishment for the past?”

 

Shen Qingqiu’s mouth moved silently for a moment, before he closed it, and reached for his fan with his other hand.

 

Luo Binghe mercifully let him hide behind it.

 

“Preposterous,” he said.

 

His disciple nodded, as if he’d agreed with his theory instead.

 

Shen Qingqiu felt an urgent need to dissuade him.

 

“Binghe speaks as though this master has been disguising the situation for all this time. But what has been left unsaid? That some matters in the bedroom involve pain is not a secret!” he argued.

 

“En,” Luo Binghe agreed, in that soft, devastating voice of his. “This disciple knew he was causing pain. That should have been enough to stop him. For his own foolishness, he can hardly blame Shizun. But the degree was not clear to him. As it stands, if Shizun were to castrate this disciple, it would only be fair. If that is his wish, this disciple will find him a good knife. Or do it himself, to keep from dirtying Shizun's hands.”

 

Shen Qingqiu reeled as if struck.

 

What?!

 

“Binghe! No!” he protested. “Do not ever suggest such a thing again!” Was this troublesome protagonist trying to kill him on the spot?!

 

Luo Binghe’s eyes slid shut, as his expression took on a devastatingly self-deprecating tone.

 

“Shizun…” he sighed.

 

It was the sort of sigh that wordlessly asked ‘what am I going to do with you?’ As if Shen Qingqiu was somehow the difficult or unreasonable one in this matter, when Luo Binghe was the person currently bleeding in a bath tub from self-inflicted wounds he refused to heal, and interrogating his master on the nature of their already-established bedroom habits, and offering to castrate himself!

 

Such dramatics!

 

Letting out a sigh of his own, Shen Qingqiu gently tugged his hand free, and then used both of them to frame Luo Binghe’s face.

 

That face, he really was far too weak to it.

 

“Hasn’t this master said he’d gladly endure everything?” he asked, unable to keep some of the confusion from slipping into his tone.

 

Really, he was making so much fuss, but wasn’t this a matter that had already been resolved? It wasn’t as if Shen Qingqiu didn’t voice his grievances if it was too much! He’d kicked Luo Binghe out of his bed on several occasions by now. If he chose to refuse, then he was also choosing to submit, right? Nothing was inflicted without his consent. Even the unpleasant parts were still something he had agreed to, knowing their unpleasantness.

 

But Binghe didn’t look appeased in the least.

 

“Shizun misunderstands,” he concluded, but also leaned into the hands touching him. “He shouldn’t have to ‘endure’. Even if his heart is in it, this disciple’s own breaks to think of how badly he has hurt him. If he had known it was like that…”

 

Shen Qingqiu tutted, and brushed his thumbs across Luo Binghe’s cheeks until he opened his eyes again.

 

“What Binghe did undoubtedly hurt him much more than is usual,” he insisted. “Doing such things alone, on the floor, by his own hand - and it was his first time, too! Those factors would make it harder to take.”

 

Mentions of first times were a bad idea, as Luo Binghe’s expression darkened. Shen Qingqiu, guessing rightly at what he was recalling with regards to 'first times', hastened to move on.

 

“It’s different,” he insisted. “With… when it’s Binghe doing it. There are aspects of the situation that wouldn’t compare to just injuring oneself, in regards to that sort of experience.”

 

Really, Shen Qingqiu should have known better than to let the conversation turn in that direction. In hindsight, he could almost see himself picking up the metaphorical gun, loading it, aiming it right at his own foot, and then pulling the trigger.

 

Resolution sharpened in Luo Binghe’s gaze.

 

“Is that so?” he asked.

 

Feeling foolishly relieved, as if they might be edging out of dangerous territory, Shen Qingqiu nodded firmly.

 

“It’s so,” he insisted.

 

“Then, Shizun must demonstrate the difference to this disciple,” Luo Binghe insisted. “Shizun must show how it is different by doing this disciple properly!”

 

…Wait.

 

What?

 

Oh… fuck.

 

He really walked right into that one, didn’t he?

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

Was there any force on this earth that was more stubborn than Luo Binghe, once he set his mind to a task?

 

Probably not!

 

Shen Qingqiu was weak. It was true, he could only concede it. At the end of the day, deep down inside, he was just a lonely transmigrator who had managed to stumble his way through surviving a messy disaster of events, often more despite his best efforts to be strategic and cunning than because of them, and somehow ended up in the arms of his favourite fictional character and the world of his least favourite novel. He couldn’t even feel ashamed at being outwitted and manipulated by Luo Binghe, considering that Luo Binghe was utterly peerless and impossible for most anyone to beat.

 

But that didn’t mean he couldn’t rue it!

 

Or panic a little!

 

Honestly, inside he had been screaming his head off ever since the moment when he found Luo Binghe lying in pain on the floor of his old room. This entire situation was like a cocktail of everything that would make Shen Qingqiu uncomfortable. Minus someone deciding to write an entire ballad about the matter, thank fuck.

 

…In hindsight, it was kind of amazing that he had any face left to lose at this point.

 

But he did! He’d held on to precious little of it, maybe, but that just made him all the more determined not to lose the rest of it!

 

Luo Binghe, on the other hand, had transitioned from injuring himself and crying, to approaching the situation with a kind of serene immovability. Like he had become made of stone, he outlined his new perspective on events, and refused to budge from it even an inch.

 

“Since Shizun is not so good at communicating these things, then going forward, this disciple will not do anything to Shizun that Shizun will not also do to him. Not even if Shizun asks. To be clear, this in regards to bedroom activities,” Luo Binghe had told him, somehow not even blushing despite the incredibly awkward subject matter.

 

Shen Qingqiu was reeling.

 

Honestly, he didn’t know what to do! This was Luo Binghe, after all. While he knew, intellectually, that no one ever died from being deprived of sex, that was a standard of the other world he’d come from. In this one… well, if there was such a person who could expire from a lack of ‘putting it in’ someone, definitely it would be Luo Binghe! Shen Qingqiu almost wrote to that useless sack of traitorous garbage, Shang Qinghua, to ask if it was possible for the protagonist to get sick from lack of papapa, but he couldn’t figure out how to phrase it without being absolutely mortifying.

 

Instead he spent an hour stewing over an empty sheet of parchment, before his gaze drifted over to the cursed letter that Airplane-Shooting-Towards-the-Sky had written.

 

Specifically, the part with ‘tips’.

 

Just thinking about it made goosebumps raise all over his skin, and filled him with a kind of uneasy agitation that had him pacing out into the bamboo forest, to mutter deprecating things amid the greenery.

 

It took him the better part of two days to calm down.

 

During that time, Luo Binghe had banished himself from Shen Qingqiu’s bed. Since he didn’t necessarily need to sleep, his disciple had spent the past couple of nights heading off to go and hunt some troublesome creatures further down the mountain. Despite knowing full well how invulnerable Luo Binghe tended to be, the matter left Shen Qingqiu sitting up at night as well. Disquieted, frustrated, and unable to sleep either, while he worried over the situation and tried not to think about it at the same time.

 

After those few days had passed, though, Shen Qingqiu managed to calm himself down.

 

Even as stubborn as Luo Binghe could be, wasn’t this making too much of the situation? Admittedly, having a break from certain bedroom activities was something of a relief. Even a very big relief. And… well. Thinking about it, despite his stubbornness and resolve, it wasn’t as if Luo Binghe had ever been very good at holding himself back on this matter. If he really grew desperate, and Shen Qingqiu was willing, surely he’d give up?

 

…Bullshit. Wishful thinking! Luo Binghe, give up? That sticky, stubborn person would probably die of deprivation before going back on something he’d vowed to his shizun!

 

Even conceding that point, though, things didn’t necessarily need to get so far as Shen Qingqiu… doing… doing that to Luo Binghe, before they might change. And in the meanwhile, the distress caused by the situation only served to highlight the earlier problem that had been nagging at him, which was Luo Binghe’s apparent lack of purring!

 

Shang Qinghua could claim what he wanted to, but the truth was that the odds of Luo Binghe not inheriting a trait from his demon bloodline were slimmer than the odds of a ball not hitting the ground when a child dropped it. Was there a single trait that Luo Binghe hadn’t gotten yet? No! Not one! This wasn’t even just speculation based on the nature of narrative bias and shitty writing for an OP protagonist, either. It was a fact of Luo Binghe’s dual nature, and how it had manifested in the story, and therefore in the world and actual person involved.

 

While some mixed demon and human children would favour one side over the other, if they survived conception, Luo Binghe was that rare one-in-a-million combination that had a ‘human’ nature and a ‘demon’ nature, like equal copies layered one over the other. It was how he could impede his regenerative physiology, for example. Anything a human could do, Luo Binghe could do. A human body would endure wounds delivered to it, so Luo Binghe could choose to heal at a ‘human’ rate, or scar in a ‘human’ fashion. Of course, most of the time that was just nonsense, so - with equal ability to do as a Heavenly Demon would - he could also simply heal himself as he pleased. Whatever one side could do, Luo Binghe could do. He wasn't a random assortment of traits, he had won the entire lottery.

 

So if demons purred, then Luo Binghe could certainly purr.

 

Shen Qingqiu was not an expert on cats. However, he knew what caused them to purr. Contentment! Happiness! Being petted! Presumably, Shang Qinghua’s writing being what it was, demons were exactly the same. This made the situation between them far more dire than any concerns over bedroom activities, because previously, Shen Qingqiu had been under the impression that Luo Binghe was happy and content, and of course quite frequently petted, too.

 

And yet, apparently, he was being neglected in these categories. Particularly so, if Shang Qinghua was getting Mobei-Jun to purr, while Shen Qingqiu couldn’t even recall one instance of getting Luo Binghe to do such a thing!

 

Was he… truly that bad at… matters of romance?

 

Thinking about it, Shen Qingqiu could only reluctantly conclude that, in fact, he was.

 

He was probably horrible at all of this.

 

Honestly, he wasn’t even a gay man before! He still wasn’t even sure that this was the case, entirely, given that he was only gay for Luo Binghe, and Luo Binghe was so beautiful that anyone would surely make an exception for him. Liu Qingge was the same as well, and Yue Qingyuan, except of course that the both of them were so straight that they were unbendable. Mobei-Jun was somehow bent, but that was definitely because of Shang Qinghua, and as for Shang Qinghua himself - who knew how someone who had written an entire harem novel full of straight papapa had ended up in this situation? It was a mystery. But for a previously single, previously virginal, previously straight man like Shen Qingqiu to try and deal with all the ins and outs and ups and downs of replacing an entire harem full of women for Luo Binghe… it wasn’t surprising that he would be a letdown in a lot of departments.

 

Though if Airplane (that fucker) wasn’t 100% certain that Luo BInghe could purr, then that at least meant that in the original story, none of his entire harem full of wives managed to get him do it either!

 

So there was that to help him save a little face!

 

Anyway, the important aspect of the whole situation was that Luo Binghe was being neglected, and felt terrible, and both of those things were incredibly troublesome and couldn't be allowed to persist.

 

At least the matter of the argument about ‘bedroom activities’ meant that Shen Qingqiu had less cause to be cautious in his affection, since he didn’t have to worry as much about events leading from one thing to the next and then rendering him in need of recovery time. Deciding to put that matter aside in favour of taking advantage of the openings afforded to him, Shen Qingqiu opted to put himself more boldly to the task of figuring out how to make Luo Binghe happy and content enough to purr! That seemed as though it might solve some of the other problems, too.

 

Also this intimate matter was still very embarrassing. But much, much less mortifying than the other intimate matter, which he immediately opted to no longer think about, unless absolutely necessary.

 

Step one on the issue of getting Luo Binghe to purr, he decided, was to figure out just how much physical affection he could offer Luo Binghe before the other man would be the one to pull away or offer some kind of objection. Normally, it was Shen Qingqiu who would call a halt to things or decide when enough was enough in 99.9% of the cases. The only exceptions were a few times when Luo Binghe had noticed that something dangerous nearby.

 

But everyone had their limits. Even if Luo Binghe’s were a lot deeper than Shen Qingqiu’s, still, there had to be a way to max them out! Figuring out where those boundaries were would ensure that he didn't go too far in his efforts, or inadvertently cross any lines n the wrong direction.

 

So on the third day after their fight, Shen Qingqiu waited until the afternoon, when there weren’t any tasks that needed to be seen to right away. Not by either of them. He cornered Luo Binghe while his grown disciple was busily attending to some paperwork at the writing desk.

 

Leaning over the back of his chair, Shen Qingqiu slid his hands across his shoulders, and down his chest.

 

Luo Binghe stilled.

 

“Shizun,” he acknowledged.

 

With a soft hum, Shen Qingqiu hugged him from behind. He tilted his head so he could rest it against Luo Binghe’s, and breathed in, noticing the scent of his hair.

 

He made sure the pose was comfortable enough to endure for a while, so that he could really test and see how long it would take for Luo Binghe to chase him off and get back to whatever he was doing. He had to keep track of the time in his mind.

 

After a moment, Luo Binghe reached up and rubbed one of Shen Qingqiu’s arms. His touch was light and gentle.

 

“Does Shizun need something?” he asked.

 

“No,” Shen Qingqiu assured him. “This master simply wished to come over. Is that alright?”

 

“Of course it is. Shizun needn't wonder.”

 

Luo Binghe tilted his head and nuzzled against him a little. It was a really cute gesture. Shen Qingqiu’s heart clenched, and he squeezed back for a moment, before relaxing his hold again. He let some more of his weight settle against Luo Binghe’s shoulders, while Binghe himself seemed to realize - after a moment - that his hands were still free, and that Shen Qingqiu didn’t plan on moving for a while yet. He started going through some of the papers again, but his diligence was halfhearted at best.

 

Still, he made no move to shrug Shen Qingqiu off either. The minutes dragged on.

 

And on.

 

And then on some more.

 

Even at a reduced pace, Luo Binghe managed to get through the entire stack of paperwork before even suggesting that Shen Qingqiu should go somewhere else or do something different for a while. Not even indirectly. Shen Qingqiu might have worried that his presence had been forgotten, but he made sure to change up the contact between them every now and again, to offer reminders. Sometimes carding his fingers through Luo Binghe’s hair, or pressing a light kiss to his temple, or stroking his hands over the broad muscles of his chest. Every time he offered a little gesture or pet, Luo Binghe responded in some small way. Either leaning into the touch, or shifting a bit in order to offer one of his own.

 

By the time the light had changed, and the work was done, a great deal of tension had bled out of Luo Binghe’s shoulders.

 

He stayed sitting where he was.

 

Shen Qingqiu was beginning to worry. It was getting close to dinner time, and his back was beginning to ache a little from bending at an angle for so long, and still, Luo Binghe hadn’t even suggested that he stop cuddling him!

 

At last, if for nothing more than the sheer awkwardness of remaining in such a position when there was no reason for them to both still be at the desk, he admitted defeat, and pulled back first.

 

It was hard to feel bad about not meeting his goal, though, when Luo Binghe turned in his chair and gave him such a soft look in response.

 

“This disciple will go and prepare dinner,” Binghe said.

 

Opening his fan, Shen Qingqiu nodded, and then went to go sit a while and realign his spine, and restore proper circulation to his legs.

 

He made his next effort after dinner.

 

“Binghe should relax,” he decided. “He’s been hard at work. This master will attend to the cleaning up.”

 

Having considered matters, Shen Qingqiu felt that one of the points in common between his Luo Binghe and the original was that they were both very busy people. Busier than he himself would ever wish to be! Really, Binghe did almost all of the chores, and helped with running Qing Jing peak, and looked after matters pertaining to his status as demon sovereign as well. Aside from their relationship, being so busy undoubtedly made it harder to take breaks and relax.

 

So creating more opportunities for that was probably a good idea!

 

Luo Binghe looked aghast at his decision. This wasn't entirely a surprise. He usually reacted that way to such suggestions.

 

“Shizun, no!” he protested. “Let this disciple look after it!”

 

Shen Qingqiu tutted.

 

“It’s alright, Binghe. This master must insist. For just this evening, Binghe ought to relax and be at ease.”

 

Something conflicting crossed Luo Binghe’s expression, as he seemed to go to war with himself for a moment. Really, a person might think that Shen Qingqiu was so utterly inept that he couldn’t even wash a single dish without breaking it! He could, thank you very much! And he even had a general idea of where to put them when they were clean, too, though admittedly, the last time he’d helped Luo Binghe in this department, he had noticed the other man discreetly reorganizing things afterwards.

 

He’d thought he’d put everything away in reasonable places, but witnessing that, he had tried to pay more attention to where Binghe liked things to be. After all, Luo Binghe knew his own preferences entirely. And Shen Qingqiu wasn't the sort of person who liked to 'help' when it just led to more work after the fact.

 

After a few more halfhearted protests, and some inexplicable blushing, the protagonist finally subsided on the matter.

 

“If Shizun thinks this disciple ought to rest up for something, then he will do so.”

 

Nodding approvingly, Shen Qingqiu dropped a kiss onto Luo Binghe’s head. The way his cheeks coloured further inevitably reminded him of when Binghe was younger, and more bashful. It had been a long time since he’d seen such a look on that face. His resolve solidified. Even if cleaning up was boring and tedious, it was a small price to pay if it actually brought Luo Binghe’s mentality back to simpler days and happier sentiments.

 

With diligent care, Shen Qingqiu cleaned up. He couldn’t quite muster up the same amount of reverence for every item or surface that Luo Binghe tended to display, but he got everything clean, and he was sure that most of it was put away properly too. When he had dumped out the dirty dish water, he came back and found - approvingly - that Binghe had settled onto the bed, wearing only a light inner robe, and was brushing out his hair. Good! No more of this 'not deserving Shizun's bed' business!

 

“Here, let me,” Shen Qingqiu requested, warmly. Walking over, he took the wood-handled brush, and began passing it through Luo Binghe’s hair himself.

 

The soft, steady motions were familiar and soothing to both of them. Luo Binghe’s hair was thick and luxurious. It liked to fight with most brushes, of course, as any thick hair tended to, but Shen Qingqiu had become a master of figuring out how to hold certain locks, and use the right angles, and make sure that he could get everything loose without yanking on any knots or causing any pain. Even thoroughly brushed and then combed, Luo Binghe’s hair never lay flat. In fact, brushing it out usually just made it fluffier, as all the hairs were separated and the air reached his over-burdened scalp, and let everything go loose.

 

By the time he was just uselessly passing the brush through the familiar locks, simply for the pleasure of it, Luo Binghe’s eyes had slid shut, and his posture was at ease. Shen Qingqiu leaned forward to press a kiss to the tip of a nearby ear.

 

He rubbed a hand up and down Binghe’s back. With that touch, it was easy to coax him into lying down.

 

As Luo Binghe settled against the pillows, Shen Qingqiu quietly got up, and attended to his own nighttime regime. He did so more quickly than usual, changing out of his clothes and only giving his own hair a brief pass through with the same brush, tying it comfortably before climbing into the bed and getting them both settled under the covers.

 

He found himself unusually eager to be there, with a relaxed Luo Binghe. To climb under the blankets, and then move in close. It was as if something he had never quite acknowledged, some knot of anxiety, had also been gently worked loose with the brushing of the hair. Deciding not to think about what it really was or why he might have felt it in the past, he left himself with no recourse to his own eagerness except to pull Luo Binghe into his arms.

 

He had to keep him close, because of course he needed to pet him, to further test and examine this matter of a purring deficiency. It might even be important to Binghe’s health! Who was to say?


Shen Qingqiu couldn’t risk it.

 

Binghe sighed and offered no resistance, only let Shen Qingqiu move him as he pleased until they were comfortably entangled under the blankets. When Shen Qingqiu dared to press a kiss to his lips, Luo Binghe’s mouth softened and yielded, but didn’t hungrily chase anything more. When Shen Qingqiu rubbed at his back, Luo Binghe melted against him, snuggling into his chest and all but covering him like some massive, additional blanket. When Shen Qingqiu worked his fingers into his recently-brushed and feather-soft hair, and gently ran his nails across his scalp, Luo Binghe sighed and nosed against the side of his neck.

 

“Shizun,” he crooned. “Shizun can do it.”

 

Shen Qingqiu shushed him, having no idea what he was so sleepily referring to. If he meant that Shen Qingqiu could do the dishes more often, well, that was fine. Especially if it led to more evenings like this.

 

“Binghe should only feel good things,” he opined, quietly. A feeling almost like agitation - but not quite - was spreading through him. It seemed to start at the top of his head, but then sank down through the rest of his body. At all the points of contact between himself and Luo Binghe, it melted, and grew warmer.

 

Luo Binghe drew in a long, soft breath.

 

Something warm and wet began to sink into the collar of Shen Qingqiu’s inner robes, around where Binghe’s eyes were.

 

He fought back a sigh, not knowing if it would be too fond or exasperated.

 

Really?

 

“Don’t cry,” he chided. “What’s there to cry over?”

 

Luo Binghe responded to the question by squeezing his eyes shut, and burying his face against Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder.

 

His heart twinged, and some of the weird, electric warmth in his body faded into a simpler sort of somberness. Luo Binghe had accumulated a lot of hurts in his life. Too many, in fact. It was a well-known phenomenon among human beings who had been through hardship that, once they felt safe again, this was the only time in which to process these pains. Maybe Shen Qingqiu’s shouldn’t scold him so much, really. Maybe it was important that Luo Binghe let out the sadness, and be comforted, so that it would eventually leave him, and he could relax enough to truly feel at ease.

 

Maybe this was all just part of it?

 

Another thing that needed to be done, in order to make matters better? In order to let Luo Binghe feel at ease enough to let go, to be comfortable and feel safe?

 

It was a theory worth entertaining, at least.

 

Shen Qingqiu decided to keep doing what he was doing, and offered no further commentary to Luo Binghe’s tears. He only let them soak into his shoulder, petting and soothing until they finally seemed to stop. By then the routine had become so steady that it almost felt hypnotic. So it wasn’t much longer before Shen Qingqiu sighed, and shifted so that his arm wasn’t pinned beneath Luo Binghe, and then drifted off to sleep.

 

When he woke up, he found that the two of them had changed positions during the night. Shen Qingqiu was resting on his side, with his cheek pillowed on Luo Binghe’s shoulder and one of his arms slung across his chest.

 

As he blinked his eyes open, he barely became aware of the situation before Luo Binghe leaned in and began peppering his face with kisses.

 

Grumbling a little, Shen Qingqiu turned his face towards Binghe’s shoulder. He just woke up! What was this assault on a sleepy old man?! Luo Binghe offered him no quarter, and when he turned his head, just nuzzled at his hair instead.

 

Just who was petting who, here? Wasn’t Shen Qingqiu the one with the plan to get the other person purring?

 

He almost scolded Luo Binghe to stop, but at the last moment, he caught himself.

 

It was still early morning, judging by the light. They had no place to be with any kind of urgency, not for hours at least.

 

So wasn’t this the ideal situation to test things more…?

 

For Luo Binghe’s health!

 

Making up his mind, Shen Qingqiu fought back the impulse to reprimand, and instead decided to retaliate. Pushing some of his hair out of the way, he fixed Luo Binghe with a determined look, and pulled himself over so he was resting more of his weight on top of him. Binghe’s eyelashes fluttered, and his cheeks darkened again as he shifted beneath Shen Qingqiu.

 

“Shizun… about last night…” he began.

 

“Hm?”

 

Leaning up, Shen Qingqiu stamped down the inner voice that was screaming at his shamelessness, and pressed a kiss to the side of Luo Binghe’s mouth instead. He decided not to actually kiss him, though, considering that his own breath was probably no good. Luo Binghe’s morning breath was nonexistent, but not everyone could be so lucky. Instead he left the other man’s lips free to speak, and dragged his mouth tentatively down the side of his jaw.

 

“Ah… Sh-shizun! This… um, if Shizun wants to… to try it now instead, that’s fine, too…”

 

Try what now?

 

Morning cuddles…?

 

“If Binghe feels like he’s had enough of this, he can say,” Shen Qingqiu decided to mention, just in case there were any doubts on that front.

 

Luo Binghe settled a hand against his lower back, and made a soft sound of agreement.

 

Shen Qingqiu continued on his course, retaliating against the gestures he’d woken up to by peppering Binghe’s skin with soft kisses, and running his hands across the planes of his body. Stroking his sides until Binghe shivered - ticklish? - and trailing his mouth down the side of his neck. He even felt bold enough to push aside Binghe’s collar, and slide a hand into his robe.

 

A sense of simmering anticipation, sparking between them, gave him pause.

 

This was… probably the wrong direction to go in…?

 

He gave it moment to see if Luo Binghe would become agitated, or try to roll them over. But the man beneath him did no such thing; he just lay back, placid enough that Shen Qingqiu could only conclude, with an embarrassed blush, that the spark of arousal had only been his own.

 

Putting it aside, he let his hands pet Binghe more firmly until a thought occurred to him.

 

What was more relaxing than a massage?

 

Very few things!

 

New idea in mind, Shen Qingqiu pulled back a little. There was colour in Luo Binghe’s cheeks, and his breaths sounded a bit unsteady. Definitely not relaxed enough.

 

“Roll over?” he suggested.

 

Luo Binghe licked his lips, but didn’t argue in the least as he shifted himself onto his stomach. With some slight rustling, he shrugged his way out of his loose robe as well, and dropped it beside the bed. Shen Qingqiu kept his eyes above the belt as he leaned over and fetched a jar of oil out from underneath it.

 

Binghe shivered when he heard it open.

 

Shen Qingqiu made certain to warm it on his hands before he began to touch the broad, muscular back laid out on his bed.

 

Their bed, really. As it should be. 

 

As his hands pressed against Luo Binghe’s shoulders, he felt a slight amount of tension in them.

 

“Shizun…?” Binghe asked, turning his head to the side.

 

“Mm?”

 

Shen Qingqiu’s hands started to work their way lower, and whatever question Luo Binghe seemed to have died in a breath, as his fingers found a particularly good spot and summoned up a soft sigh instead.

 

“Binghe should relax. Well and truly,” he said.

 

“Ah. Is this disciple still too tense…?”

 

Obviously. He wasn’t purring yet!

 

“Let this master take care of it,” he requested, and dropped a kiss onto Luo Binghe’s shoulder.

 

He worked his hands expertly over Luo Binghe’s muscles, even daring to go low towards the back, in order to follow the anatomy and loosen everything up. The state of Luo Binghe’s muscles wasn’t bad, of course. No body that regenerated itself so well would be prone to aches or pains. But muscles were still muscles, and even with demon blood and high level cultivation, it was still possible for the frequent tensing and over-use of certain muscles to make them stiff in some places, or sensitive in others. A massage, therefore, could always help and feel good! In fact, it was one of the chief services that Luo Binghe’s many wives had provided for him in Proud Immortal Demon Way, apart from the obvious. Many a chapter had begun with Luo Binghe lounging in his baths or hot springs or one of his wives’ bedrooms, being groomed and massaged by several of them, until inevitably some disaster or important message interrupted things. In the later novel, anyway.

 

Shen Qingqiu applied more oil, and knew he was on the right track when Luo Binghe’s breaths began to even out, and his eyes kept fluttering shut. As things went on, he found himself becoming somewhat entranced by the proceedings as well. Luo Binghe’s body really was like a work of art. His beauty was inarguable. Anyone with any sort of appreciation for the human form would find poetry in the hard angles and gentle slopes, the curvature of his spine, the strong muscles of his thighs, which of course led into the graceful swell of his backside.

 

There was something purely artful about coaxing all that strength into relaxation. Shen Qingqiu felt as if he was in a kind of trance, lost in the moment as he ventured more daring touches, and found Luo Binghe melting further into the mattress.

 

The urgent knocking on the door that came then was like a bucket of cold water being dumped over both of their heads.

 

Shen Qingqiu snatched his hands back as if Luo Binghe’s thighs had suddenly burned him.

 

A flare of black qi, surprising given the amounts of restraint which Luo Binghe ordinarily demonstrated and the level of relaxation he'd been enjoying only moments before, cracked through the air. Shattering all of Shen Qingqiu’s hard work to achieve some semblance of calm.

 

“Shizun?” Ming Fan’s voice called from the other side of the door. “This disciple brought the new schedules requested!"

 

Luo Binghe sat up, and smiled with disconcerting serenity.

 

“I’m going to kill him," he said, voice silky smooth and alarmingly sincere.

 

“Do not,” Shen Qingqiu chided. He’d worked far too hard to keep that cannon fodder alive for it to all end this way! Reaching over, he pushed Luo Binghe back down to the bed, and threw the blankets over him for the sake of some vain notion of modesty. Then he gathered his robe more securely around himself, and called out towards the door.

 

“Don't come in!”

 

He would swear he could hear Ming Fan awkwardly shuffling and glaring.

 

That boy had to have the worst timing in the world.

 

Shen Qingqiu felt frustrated enough with the situation that he only made a cursory effort at getting presentable. Ignoring his head disciple’s exasperated looks, he accepted the schedules and then went back inside to drop everything onto the desk.

 

Luo Binghe sighed.

 

“By Shizun’s grace, Ming Fan lives another day,” he intoned, dry as a desert.


It wouldn’t be appropriate to laugh.


Shen Qingqiu snorted.

 

“Binghe,” he scolded, to make up for it. But still, all that work and Luo Binghe had tensed up again! It was ruined! They’d have to start over, and honestly, it felt like they were really working their way up to something there. Definitely, if he’d kept going and there had been no interruptions, he would have gotten Luo Binghe to purr!

 

But the light was brighter and the morning was later, and clearly, the day was going to catch up to them.

 

Oh well.

 

At least he had some ideas of what to try next time…

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

As things went, Shen Qingqiu could only conclude that he had drastically over-estimated himself by assuming he could ever outlast Luo Binghe on the topic of physical contact.

 

Despite this, he still put in his best efforts to figure out what forms of petting and contact seemed to bring on the most contentment and pleasure from his target. It was all in the name of Binghe’s good health! And intellectual curiosity towards the quirks of demonkind! So even though a significant part of Shen Qingqiu wanted to fling himself into a closet and hide from his own actions until the shame wore off, he mustered the internal strength needed to quiet that impulse down.

 

It wasn’t as if he behaved shamefully in public. Too shamefully, anyway. Most of the time. He wasn’t at that stage! Everything too lovey-dovey that he tried, he still reserved for private moments, when the two of them were together. But as he gave it is best effort, he found it… really…

 

It wasn’t bad.

 

In fact, initiating more affection with Binghe like this… holding him more, touching him for longer, offering soft kisses and gentle caresses…

 

It was surprisingly easy, when he wasn’t listening to the incoherent voice in the back of his mind that kept hissing over the embarrassment of it all.

 

And while days passed and he and Luo Binghe made no progress on the purring front, Luo Binghe seemed to luxuriate in the increased amount of affection he was receiving. Turning none of it away, and offering a lot of it back in return. If Shen Qingqiu rubbed his shoulders, invariably the gesture would be reciprocated before the end of the day; if he showered the other man in soft, butterfly kisses, this would also happen in reverse, before too long. When he held Binghe close, he could expect to be held as well. If that coloured the nature of some of the gestures he offered, in addition to his own observations on what Binghe seemed to respond best to, well.

 

No one could prove that he was offering the same kind of affection that he best liked to receive.

 

The only stumbling block was his worries over their actual ‘bedroom’ activities. But even those began to fade, after a while.

 

It wasn’t as if he and Binghe completely abstained, after all. After a few more nightly cuddle sessions ended in them dozing, Shen Qingqiu woke to kisses being trailed down his stomach. Anticipation warred with familiar hesitance in him; along with a voice that whispered that it was only to be expected, after all. This was Luo Binghe; whatever the dramatics involved, he had needs.

 

Really, it was a relief! Right? He must have gotten over things. Shen Qingqiu braced himself to endure a session that was bound to be all the more lengthy, for Binghe having been pent up so long.

 

But rather than following the usual pattern of interaction, Luo Binghe just used his mouth on Shen Qingqiu. His fingers didn’t stray anywhere else, and his tongue robbed his poor master of most of his sense. Unexpectedly, Shen Qingqiu found it was harder than usual to swallow back the sounds he made as well. It wasn’t all that different from letting out some sighs or even moans of pleasure when he was getting a massage, and he found himself thinking that. Especially when Binghe hummed in approval after a particularly wanton sound escaped him. In the dimly lit room, he at least couldn’t see too much of what was going on, and that was definitely a relief. But the wet noises of Binghe’s mouth on him were almost worse that way, too, and as it went on and became clear that - for now at least - nothing else was expected, Shen Qingqiu found himself struggling to keep his hips still, biting his bottom lip against the fiery pleasure singing under Luo Binghe’s ministrations.

 

He finished with a gasp and a cry of his lover’s name. Dazed and sated, already sleepy from their earlier interactions, he couldn’t really fend off the urge to drift to sleep.

 

He wasn’t woken during the night.

 

The next morning, however, he opened his eyes to find himself spooning Luo Binghe - while Luo Binghe sported an impressive and worryingly unattended hard-on.

 

Fair was fair, and Shen Qingqiu found that the prospect wasn’t as intimidating as usual as he urged Binghe onto his back in order to repay the favour.

 

“Binghe should have woken this master up,” he chided, starting out with his hands. Luo Binghe had stamina to spare, so just using his mouth alone wasn’t really… feasible. Even an immortal jaw had limits, after all.

 

“Shizun looked too beautiful, I didn’t want to,” Luo Binghe replied, brushing his fingers through Shen Qingqiu’s hair. Achingly fond and embarrassingly earnest.

 

So much emotion on that face again! It really was lethal! And really, talking about him being beautiful! As if Luo Binghe himself was not the most beautiful person ever conceived by man or god or shitty novel writer!

 

Shen Qingqiu lamented the bright daylight that spared him none of the sight of Luo Binghe’s massive cock, as he steadily worked himself up to putting his lips around it. But the lack of his usual trepidation had a strange effect. He felt… almost confident, in fact. He’d been rubbing so many parts of Luo Binghe lately, touching his skin so often, what were a few touches more? What was yet another sensitive place? The anxiety to get his partner off, to have it done with quickly, to make sure he could do it and that it would be satisfying, was also nowhere to be found.

 

It was almost as though he felt more like he could just… take his time. Like it wouldn’t actually be a bad thing if it took him a few hours to satisfy the beautiful man in his bed.

 

Huh.

 

Pushing through what remained of his reservations, Shen Qingqiu found that taking his time worked even better than his usual approach. Luo Binghe’s stamina being what it was, he took breaks when he wanted to, and used his hand a lot, and didn’t attempt to choke down as much length as he could or suck harder than was comfortable. Since he was actually letting himself pay closer attention, it was suddenly apparent which places were the most sensitive, and actually benefited most from having his mouth on them, too. The cool air could be a problem, so using his hands to make up the difference in fact worked very well.

 

And despite it taking so long, Luo Binghe… didn’t seem to mind? There was no impatience, not even when Shen Qingqiu pulled back and just languidly stroked him, despite the fact that it obviously wasn’t enough to appease the heat simmering beneath his skin. When Binghe finally came, it was in a hard rush, and with a low, loud groan that seemed to make the ordinarily shameless man bashful.

 

Shen Qingqiu swallowed a little, but ended up with most of the result on his palms.

 

Wiping off his hands with a spare cloth from the bedside, he eased his way up the mattress, and claimed a kiss. Luo Binghe’s breaths were ragged, and his limbs were shaking as he wrapped them unsteadily around him in return..

 

That set the tone for a few more similar encounters. Shen Qingqiu worried a little about the fact that Luo Binghe still hadn’t asked about… doing a certain thing again, in either direction. If anything, Binghe seemed to have forgotten that anal sex existed! But as they resumed having fairly regular sex, it didn’t seem as important, either. Hands and mouth and thighs all still worked fine, it turned out!

 

Even though he would never in a million years admit it out loud, when Binghe figured out that he could slot his cock between Shen Qingqiu’s oil-slicked thighs and rub their erections together like that, gliding over slick, hot skin, the contrast in their sizes so clear to see as Luo Binghe’s massive pillar dwarfed his own… it was possible that Shen Qingqiu… really, didn’t mind his size so much at all, when those were the sorts of activities they were getting up to. Having his back to Binghe’s chest was the only downside, but the voice whispering in his ear never let him forget who was holding him. Even if, of course, Binghe said things that made him die a little of embarrassment.

 

And If Shen Qingqiu found himself curiously reading through the second half of Shang Qinghua’s letter a few times, wondering… if… if following the advice would make it feel like it had that time but also… inside… even closer…

 

If he did that, then it was solely for the sake of intellectual curiosity! And because he had to boggle at Shang Qinghua’s shitty world-building, once again!

 

Definitely!

 

Considering how things were before, the prospect of going back to that sort of sex was actually becoming a thought that made him feel queasy all over. He hadn’t thought that there was anything wrong with how they did it, but having so much sex that didn’t leave him hurting the next morning, sex that never made him feel like his guts were being rearranged or left him profoundly grateful that a cultivator couldn’t contract sepsis from a damaged colon, was spoiling him.

 

The part of him that was still waiting for that Stallion Protagonist penny to drop, for the interlude to end, was becoming increasingly reluctant. Even anxious.

 

But it also kept getting smaller. Quieter. Every day that passed made it feel less like a reasonable or inevitable thing to expect, and more like…

 

…Like he’d been mistaken all along?

 

Even though it was a relief, the thought ate at Shen Qingqiu a little bit too. Hadn’t he promised himself that he would stop making assumptions, and stop misunderstanding Luo Binghe? And yet, it was starting to seem like he’d done that again. But it really wasn’t… it wasn’t Binghe, it wasn’t that he thought Binghe wanted to hurt him, he knew - or believed - that the pain was just incidental. An inevitable part of having this kind of relationship.

 

Another, quiet corner of Shen Qingqiu’s mind, one that he listened to far less often than the other, whispered that it wasn’t Luo Binghe had misunderstood this time.

 

It was sex.

 

It… he’d just… he thought he knew what sex was supposed to be like. In general, and then in specific after they’d done it a few times. But the things they’d begun to do recently, while they made him embarrassed and sometimes left him hiding his face into a pillow - in lieu of a fan - were different. In a way they seemed a lot more perverted, because it felt like they weren’t having traditional sex anymore. But had they ever been? They were two men, after all - however one looked at it, the ‘traditional’ format didn’t fit in the first place. Still, the basics were comparable. Right?

 

Shen Qingqiu felt like he didn’t really know anymore, actually. On the one hand, this new sex felt good and seemed much more relaxed and peaceful and even intimate than the other kind. It was easier to recover from - in fact, most of the time he felt really energized the next day! Not at all like he wanted to lie in bed for a week and never show his face in public again. But on the other hand, they were being much more creative, and he was spending more time feeling heated and agitated at the least provocation, too.

 

He was sure his skin hadn’t been so sensitive before all of this… Luo Binghe’s keen observational skills really didn’t help, either, since he seemed to pick up on absolutely everything. Or maybe Shen Qingqiu really had started getting so much worse at hiding his reactions.

 

The whole situation was confusing enough that he felt at a loss. Pleasure was much harder to endure with a stoic face than pain, all in all.

 

At least his quest to get Binghe to purr was easier to focus on, even if it had been fruitless so far. That hadn’t discouraged Shen Qingqiu in the least. He was going to manage it! He would get Luo Binghe to relax enough and feel comfortable and safe and good enough, even if it was the last thing he ever did! Because he was sure that Binghe could purr. He literally got every other demonic ability out there, he had to be able to purr. Had to!

 

If Shen Qingqiu needed to cuddle him for a thousand years to unlock that bonus skill, so be it!

 

In fact, thinking on it all, Shen Qingqiu realized that he hadn’t had much chance to shower Binghe in his daily dose of affection yet. Despite the current upheaval in his private life, matters at Qing Jing were still continuing. The latest batch of disciples had turned up to dig holes - and no, he still wasn’t over that initiation test, Airplane-bro.

 

Shang Qinghua was among the peak lords who had opted not to take on new disciples this time. Probably because he knew Shen Qingqiu wanted to kill him, so he was clinging Mobei-Jun’s thighs in hell. Shen Qingqiu honestly didn’t want to take on any new disciples either, but somehow he’d managed to agree to in order to avoid drawing out any more awkward conversations with Yue Qingyuan.

 

Not that the content of their conversations was actually bad, at all. It was just… awkward. It felt awkward. Shen Qingqiu didn’t know how else to describe it! He felt like he was involuntarily catfishing the man in a really weird way.

 

Anyway, between one thing and another, Shen Qingqiu had decided to send Luo Binghe to go assess the new children and choose two new disciples for Qing Jing peak. That would get their numbers in order, pacify some of the other peak lords, and satisfy the sect leader, without overwhelming them or keeping them too busy. It wasn’t uncommon for peak lords to send trusted disciples to observe the initiation test in their stead, but normal laziness wasn’t the reason for sending Luo Binghe this time.

 

Shen Qingqiu just hoped that if Binghe picked out his new disciple siblings himself, he might be a little more invested in their cultivation and progress. Then, perhaps he would bond with them, and coming back to Qing Jing Peak would be less stressful for him.

 

Not that Binghe ever complained about the stress. But Shen Qingqiu knew it wasn’t easy, to go from being a person of distinction among demons, to someone just barely tolerated - if that - in the place where he grew up. No matter how many times his former disciple insisted that he only cared about his opinion, and not anyone else’s, Shen Qingqiu knew that couldn’t be strictly true. Binghe was still human, after all.

 

Looking around, Shen Qingqiu determined that the first day of testing was probably about done. He made his way towards the mountain gate.

 

Sure enough, it didn’t take him long to spot Luo Binghe on the return trip.

 

There was a child with him.

 

Just one.

 

Very small. Small enough that even at a distant, he seemed too young to have participated in the sect’s tests.

 

Shen Qingqiu frowned a little, brow furrowing. Binghe was walking; they must have taken the road up, rather than flying, which meant that they’d likely left town long before the initial trials were done. Had something gone wrong? Shen Qingqiu tapped his fan against his palm and then made his way down to meet the pair.

 

The closer he got, the more worried he became. The child was small, and also very dirty. Whether it was a boy or a girl was hard to say. Shen Qingqiu was far from an expert on young children, but at a guess, he’d suppose they were perhaps five years old? Or thereabouts? Their hair was grimy and tangled, and the clothes they were wearing were worn and had holes and rips in some places. They were too skinny by far, and had a large but fading bruise on the bottom of their chin.

 

Luo Binghe was holding their hand. It looked impossibly tiny compared to his. Despite their ragged appearance, the child was talking. High-pitched and enthusiastic, explaining… how to figure out what food was still good to eat from a dump mound?

 

…Shen Qingqiu sped up a little.

 

When he drew near, the child went silent. Luo Binghe hesitated, too, looking as though he had been unexpectedly caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to.

 

“Shizun,” he said. “Forgive us, this disciple hasn’t had time to make his new shidi fit to greet you.”

 

Shen Qingqiu raised an eyebrow.

 

The child was really obviously too young to become a sect disciple. But…

 

Under the circumstances, if Luo Binghe was bringing him back, they could discuss that later. Wide little eyes stared up at him, and he could tell that the small boy was nervous. His skinny legs were trembling. But he didn’t back down, or even duck his head, either. Bold little thing!

 

Shen Qingqiu’s heart clenched.

 

He smiled.

 

“No matter,” he said. “Who did Binghe find?”

 

“Yingying,” Luo Binghe answered, and playfully shook the tiny hand in his grasp, while the boy beamed.

 

Shen Qingqiu’s smile widened.

 

“Another Yingying, hm?” he asked. “Your Ning-shijie will be thrilled. We’ll have to call him Little Yingying, I think.”

 

“Okay!” the child chirped. Then he let go of Binghe’s hand and, to Shen Qingqiu’s surprise, managed to make a proper salute. “Many thanks to Shizun for accepting Little Yingying into his sect!”

 

Luo Binghe patted the boy’s head.

 

“Too soon,” he said. “Remember? That’s for after we serve him tea.”

 

“Oh, right!”

 

Shen Qingqiu’s heart, already aching, twisted profoundly at that. He swallowed past a lump in his throat, and the unwelcome recollection of a much younger Luo Binghe having tea flung at him. It made it utterly impossible for him to ask any of the questions itching at the back of his mind, or even mention that Binghe was supposed to bring back two disciples. Both definitely of age to actually train! Instead, he shook his head a little, and then moved to lead the way back up the last leg of the path.

 

While he walked a few steps ahead, Yingying began to whisper to Luo Binghe.

 

“Uncle,” he said.

 

“Yingying should address me as shixiong,” Luo Binghe corrected, patiently.

 

“Oh. Okay. Um, Xiong-ge, Yingying heard that if unclean people try to walk past the magic gate, they’ll get vaporized. Yingying hasn’t had a bath in a long time…” the boy whisper-spoke, his tiny steps much louder on the path than either Shen Qingqiu’s or Luo Binghe’s.

 

“It’s fine,” Luo Binghe assured him. “That’s just a story. Little Yingying can have a bath when we get inside.”

 

Binghe was being amazingly patient. Not even with his thin veneer of civility, that he sometimes wore when he was ‘being nice’. That combined with the child’s earnest chatter, and his pitiful appearance, was just… utterly ruining Shen Qingqiu. Just what kind of situation was this? What was he supposed to do? He was half tempted to ruin his robes by turning around and lifting that dirty little child up and carrying him, because he surely he must have been exhausted. But the boy still kept pace with Luo Binghe, and might have been startled by such actions besides. So he kept on going, not even thinking twice about leading them both back to the bamboo house.

 

“Shizun, we can use the facilities at the dormitories,” Luo Binghe offered.

 

“Nonsense, Binghe, it’s fine,” he replied. They were already at the house anyway. “I’ll have someone fetch some clean clothes. They’ll undoubtedly be too large, but…”

 

“Shizun doesn’t have to trouble himself…”

 

“Wow! This is a nice house!”

 

Shen Qingqiu smiled behind his fan as the child stared around the bamboo house, and then notably started wiping his hands on the front of his shirt; as if worried he might get fingerprints on something nice. Of course, that filthy, torn shirt wouldn’t make anything cleaner, but still.

 

“Thank you, Little Yingying. This is where Binghe and I live,” he said. “I’ll be back shortly. Binghe, use whatever you need.”

 

Luo Binghe finally seemed to give up, and nodded in acknowledgement. Shen Qingqiu decided, under the circumstances, it would probably be best to give the child some breathing room with a person he’d already developed an attachment to. So he went to go collect some spare clothes from one of the store rooms himself. He’d have to send a note to one of Airplane-bro’s disciples, requesting some things in smaller sizes be sent over, because he was pretty sure that Little Yingying would be swimming in even this much.

 

While he was about, he also stopped to talk with some of his older disciples. Word had gotten around already that Luo Binghe had been seen heading up the path with a small, dirty child. Shen Qingqiu smoothly reminded his disciples that digging holes was messy business - even though he highly doubted that Little Yingying had actually participated in the sect test - but otherwise didn’t see much point in denying it. Too many people had seen the unlikely pair on the long walk up the mountain.

 

When he’d determined that enough time had passed, he returned to the bamboo house.

 

He’d underestimated the level of filth on the Little Yingying, however, as the boy was still in the wooden tub when he got back. Upon spotting Shen Qingqiu he only smiled and waved, though, so rather than heading back out, Shen Qingqiu came in. He set the fresh clothes down where they could be conveniently reached, before he rolled up his sleeves.

 

Luo Binghe was focused on carefully teasing the tangles out of the little boy’s hair, and washing the newly-freed sections, while Little Yingying seemed utterly fascinated by the amount of dirt coming off of his body.

 

“Look!” he exclaimed, and cupped a handful of grimy bathwater to show Shen Qingqiu.

 

Fighting back a grimace, Shen Qingqiu nodded instead.

 

“The bath is in need of fresh water. This master will fetch some.”

 

Binghe only sighed rather than protesting this time.

 

“We were going to get Little Yingying all cleaned up before presenting him to Shizun,” he said, and then added to the boy, more quietly: “don’t show Shizun gross things.”

 

“Is it gross?” Little Yingying asked, while Shen Qingqiu pretended not to be listening.

 

“It is.”

 

“Oh. Okay. Sorry Uncle Shizun!”

 

Luo Binghe let out a puff of laughter. Shen Qingqiu found his lips twitching once again as well. He shook his head, and fetched some fresh bath water. It would be cooler than ideal, but not uncomfortable; and it was only needed to rinse the poor child off. By the time it was ready, Luo Binghe had finally finished untangling Little Yingying’s hair to the best of his abilities. The boy was scooped up and left to stand in a warm cloth for a minute, while Binghe insisted upon changing the water himself. Then Shen Qingqiu helped him back into the tub for a quick rinse and final scrub, and then another round through his hair, since it needed it.

 

By the time it was all finished, Little Yingying was unable to keep his eyes open. The child still tried to stay on his feet, and kept talking; not that anyone could actually understand what he was saying anymore. In the end the fresh clothes were mostly left aside, as Binghe just wound up drying the boy and then wrapping him up, and Shen Qingqiu motioned for him to be tucked into the bed to rest for the time being.

 

When it was clear the Little Yingying was entirely unconscious, Shen Qingqiu finally pulled Luo Binghe aside.

 

“Well?” he asked.

 

Luo Binghe attempted to play innocent.

 

“Shizun sent this disciple down the mountain to bring a new recruit-”

 

“I sent you to bring two new recruits, from the actual recruitment tests,” Shen Qingqiu countered. “Which that boy is nowhere near old enough to participate in.”

 

Luo Binghe sighed, and relented.

 

“This disciple did observe some of the hopefuls at the test, but none were suitable,” he said.

 

None?” Shen Qingqiu repeated with obvious skepticism.

 

“None,” Luo Binghe insisted. He folded his arms. “Shizun would have agreed. Most of the early arrivals have been locals from well-off families, they are here because they can afford to take a chance on it, but this disciple did not see any potential for successful cultivation among them. This disciple intended to return empty-handed and see if anyone of genuine talent turned up tomorrow, but then he heard dogs barking. They were chasing a street child.”

 

“Yingying,” Shen Qingqiu easily determined, frowning in displeasure.

 

Luo Binghe nodded.

 

“Shizun mustn’t think it was just pity that moved this disciple,” he said. “The boy climbed a tree to try and evade the dogs. He got very high. Shizun saw his scrapes and bruises - the one on his chin happened earlier, when a branch hit him while he was up there. It already looks at least a day old now.”

 

Slowly, Shen Qingqiu nodded. Healing quicker than most would was definitely a sign of great potential.


Tactfully, he didn’t point out that Luo Binghe wouldn’t possibly have known that until more than an hour had already passed in the boy’s company.

 

It wasn’t as if he disapproved.

 

“Be that as it may, he’s still too young to take on as an official disciple of the sect,” Shen Qingqiu pointed out.

 

Luo Binghe shrugged.

 

“So make him an unofficial one until he is old enough?” he suggested.

 

That was… actually, not a bad idea?

 

Thinking about the matter more, it wasn’t even entirely unprecedented. Although usually when such things happened, it was because a member of the sect had given birth to a child, or sired one, and naturally wished to raise their offspring. Some left the sect on such occasions, but other times different arrangements were made. The only condition was typically that the child had to train under a different master once they were old enough, in order to avoid too much nepotism or peak leaders trying to create their own familial dynasties within the sect.

 

That wasn’t really an issue with Little Yingying, though, considering the boy was just an unlucky street child.

 

Like…

 

Shen Qingqiu looked at the exhausted, sleeping little person all wrapped up on his bed, and then at Luo Binghe, before looking down at himself.

 

He let out a soft breath.

 

This situation was already a given, wasn’t it?

 

It wasn’t as though he was going to just kick the child back onto the streets. So…

 

“Alright,” he agreed. “I’ll speak with the sect leader and sort things out. But Binghe still has to find two official disciples before the recruitment tests are done.”

 

“Of course, Shizun,” Luo Binghe agreed. He moved a little closer. “Thank you.”

 

“What is Binghe thanking me for? By now, are such formalities needed between us?” Shen Qingqiu asked, suddenly worrying about their relationship again. But Luo Binghe just smiled and shook his head, agreeing, something hard to parse written in his eyes. It reminded him of earlier, when he’d mentioned Little Yingying presenting him with tea; a subject that never failed to make Shen Qingqiu feel like he needed to wrap Luo Binghe up somewhere and keep him from harm forever.

 

Giving in to the urge, he finished closing the distance between them, and boldly settled his arms around Luo Binghe’s waist, before resting his head against his shoulder. Luo Binghe seemed surprised only for a moment. Then his expression softened, and he returned the embrace.

 

“Did Shizun miss me?” he asked, quietly.

 

You weren’t gone so long, Shen Qingqiu almost said. Not even the entire day. Just a few hours, really.

 

He nodded instead.

 

Luo Binghe hummed. The sound reverberated gently in his chest. Shen Qingqiu held his breath. One second, then another, but nothing more happened. It was so fast it might have been his imagination. Wishful thinking, he could only conclude, as a soft sigh escaped him. He squeezed Binghe for another moment, before reluctantly withdrawing.

 

There was a guest in the house, after all.

 

Before he could entirely escape, Luo Binghe leaned down and pressed their lips together. It was a quick kiss; started and then done within the span of a minute, affectionate and soft in a way that made Shen Qingqiu feel embarrassingly fluttery inside. He nevertheless let himself chase the gesture, stalling Binghe for a moment to steal a second kiss before relenting. When he took a step back, he lifted his fan to disguise some of the colour in his cheeks. Even though he knew he had been thoroughly caught anyway.

 

Luo Binghe beamed at him.

 

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

Ever since the incident with Shang Qinghua’s letter and its subsequent revelations, Shizun had become so much more comfortable and affectionate that Luo Binghe wanted to go back in time, find his old self, and punch him directly in the mouth. And then explain everything he had learned, so that he would stop hurting Shen Qingqiu in bed a lot, lot sooner.

 

Preferably right from the beginning, in fact. The very beginning. Although his regrets over their first time were much more longstanding than recent revelations. It was hard not to find himself thinking about it again, under the circumstances. After all, he had thought he had stopped hurting this person; he had resolved to never let himself become so far gone that he was a danger to Shen Qingqiu again.

 

And yet…

 

Luo Binghe shook his head at himself.

 

He had spent so much time working so hard to cajole every scrap of affection he could from his Shizun, relishing those rare moments when the other man initiated anything, using tears and coaxing and whatever else he could to get past the lingering walls that Shen Qingqiu had kept between them. But all along, he had been reinforcing those walls, too, unwittingly creating a barrier of fear because of the pain their intimacy was causing.

 

Honestly, Luo Binghe had expected to give up and lose a certain degree of intimacy between them when he decided to stop putting it in Shizun. It was the only acceptable answer, of course, but part of him had supposed that without that sort of activity, they wouldn’t touch as much either. Or that there would be a need to avoid touching as much so that things didn’t become worked up and awkward. He had prepared his heart for feeling more distance between them again, for losing the reason to press himself to Shen Qingqiu’s skin, feel his heartbeat so close, trail his lips across his body, scoop him up and hold him near and look after him in the wake of it…

 

But not even a day had passed since their new resolution before Shen Qingqiu starting taking more initiative with him than he ever had before!

Luo Binghe couldn’t help kicking himself. Looking at the full picture, of course it made sense! Even if he feared losing Shizun’s love, and even if there were times still when he lay awake and wondered if the day would still come when he finally proved to be too much trouble, he knew that love existed. Shizun was shy and could get flustered and self-conscious very easily. But he had always shown Luo Binghe more affection than anyone else in this world, too. After they became lovers, shouldn’t it naturally have increased? Shouldn’t Shizun have gotten comfortable with touching him more?

 

Realizing that Shen Qingqiu had been hesitant because he must have been afraid of encouraging Luo Binghe to have sex with him was horrifying.

 

It was such an ugly feeling. The only thing that made it possible to stave off the urge to go injure himself again was the knowledge that Shizun would intensely disapprove, and the comfort offered by his actual increase in affection.

 

Luo Binghe couldn’t change the past, but he could… maybe he could fix it? Going forward?

 

He knew that Shizun was trying to work up the nerve to put it in him, in return. He also knew that it would probably take a while for him to get there. Their first few attempts, Shizun had just devolved into touching Luo Binghe, massaging him in cuddling him; shying away from the act. It would be frustrating, except that Luo Binghe’s heart kept twisting in his chest with the knowledge that Shen Qingqiu was that worried about hurting or harming him.

 

How could he not feel moved?

 

(How could he not kick himself even harder?)

 

The more time passed, though, the more Luo Binghe decided that it was fine even if Shizun never mustered up the nerve. There were other ways that they could please one another; using their hands and mouths and things he knew only felt good for both of them. He didn’t feel like they were missing much. If anything, taking out the factor of pain, if Luo Binghe had known how Shen Qingqiu would react to not being penetrated anymore, he would have traded the situation out for this one anyway. Ever since they’d stopped those kinds of activities, Shizun had become much less quiet, hesitant, or reserved about everything between them.

 

Luo Binghe loved it. He loved hearing Shen Qingqiu gasp and moan, loved hearing him call his name, loved feeling him lean into his touch and seeing him look towards him with eyes that begged for more. He loved that there was more affection between them now. Loved that Shen Qingqiu had started quietly demonstrating some things for him, too, like how he preferred to be held, and kissed, and cuddled. It was still subtle in many ways - Shizun was never not going to be a reserved person, and Luo Binghe loved as much for that as anything else - but it was still apparent what was going on, too.

 

Shizun liked to be kissed a lot. Since Luo Binghe started reciprocating his gestures, he’d been kissed more often, and found returning the kisses even more delightful. Shizun liked to be held to his chest, too. He liked for Luo Binghe to wrap his arms around him, and Luo Binghe wondered if it made him feel safe, the way it did whenever Shizun tucked his head beneath his chin and stroked his back. The thought that Shen Qingqiu would find comfort and security in the strength of his arms made him feel amazing.

 

In more lewd things, he was also discovering that he really should have tried more stuff out a lot sooner. In his defense, Shizun got embarrassed so easily, and was always so hesitant to try new things, that Luo Binghe hadn’t wanted to press his luck too far. It had never occurred to him that the ‘standard’ way of making love was, itself, a major problem for them. But since that revelation had been made, Luo Binghe had discovered so many new things that Shizun liked.

 

Not really ‘adventurous’ stuff, not like the incident with the wine for instance, but just… things. Positions. Gestures. Certain ways of moving. Shizun liked seeing his face, he already knew that, but if he couldn’t see Luo Binghe’s face, then he seemed to also really like hearing his voice. The discovery made Luo Binghe’s heart skip several beats, and the warm feeling in his chest didn’t let up for days afterwards. Because it wasn’t just that Shizun liked to see his partner’s face, this meant that he liked knowing it was Luo Binghe who was touching him. Being constantly reminded of who he was with, and that this person was him!

 

No one else!

 

Luo Binghe couldn’t stop himself from talking during intimate moments after that; couldn’t help but whisper things that made Shen Qingqiu squirm delightfully, embarrassed but pleased as Luo Binghe commented on whatever came to his mind; whether it was how beautiful Shizun looked, or how much he adored him, or how cute his tiny pillar was.

 

That last point got him smacked.

 

“Mine is normal sized!” Shen Qingqiu insisted, before his voice broke as Luo Binghe stroked them together.

 

Shizun liked it a lot when he did that. Their size difference was very apparent with such actions, too, so Luo Binghe thought that maybe, he also liked seeing the comparison.

 

“Of course,” he replied in a deliberately exaggerated, placating tone that got him smacked again.

 

It still wasn’t a hard smack.

 

He didn’t know if he was more delighted or disappointed over that.

 

Maintaining any degree of cockiness around Shizun was bound to fail him sooner or later though, and that time wasn’t an exception. But as their interactions started to change, he found it was easier to keep a clear head when they were having sex as well. It didn’t feel as urgent as before. Not in a bad way; they still got worked up. It just didn’t feel as if it might be their last time ever doing such things. Luo Binghe hadn’t realized that this was a feeling that was permeating their interactions before, that the sense of ‘now or never’ had somehow stuck with him even after they had moved away from the stage in their relationship where he felt like Shizun could up and leave at any moment.

 

But he was starting to realize it now, just how desperate some of their interactions had felt. The thing about desperation was that it couldn’t sustain things in any good way. He had learned that after he crawled out of the Endless Abyss. When a person was in a place where closing their eyes for a moment might let an enemy get the jump on them, then it was advantageous to rest lightly, and stir at the slightest sound. But when that place was gone, and one was safe, then stirring at the slightest sound just made it easier to become needlessly exhausted. Being constantly vigilant towards threats that were only imaginary was exhausting and dangerous in and of itself.

 

Being constantly afraid of losing Shizun had made him hold him so tight that he hadn’t noticed how painful it was. Having sex like it might be their last chance just meant that he had been missing out on the opportunities to take their time, to experiment with soft things, to laugh at harmless mistakes, to find out how Shizun’s dry sense of humour could come out at the most unexpected times. To even hold an entire conversation about something mundane and unrelated while also stroking and kissing and touching one another.

 

These were not things that Luo Binghe would have guessed would be part of intimacy, but having discovered them, having found how comfortable things could be and thus how much more abundant gestures both big and small might become, he was loathe to part with them ever again.

 

And much of the insecurity he felt over having done badly for so long was soothed by how sticky Shizun had become, not even just in bed at night when the lights were low, or in the mornings when he was sleepy and so close by already, but also during the day. Even sometimes when there were other people around. Shizun had taken to holding his hand more, to embracing him often, to coming up behind Luo Binghe whenever he was working quietly on something and just draping himself against his back, as if he couldn’t get enough of touching him. Sometimes it was even to the point of inconvenience, but Luo Binghe wouldn’t dare interrupt or remotely discourage him.

 

The fact that Shizun so clearly still wanted him, wanted to touch him and be close to him, was a comfort. One sorely needed, maybe even more than Luo Binghe had realized.

 

That morning before he set out for the day’s tasks, Shizun lay in bed with him a while and petted his hair. His body was a warm weight against Luo Binghe’s, fingers a little clumsy with sleep as they pushed aside an errant curl, and trailed blunted nails across his scalp. Luo Binghe sighed, deep and content, and wished they could stay like that forever. His heart itched. With the ease of long practice he swallowed back the odd vibrations that always wanted to come out at such moments, and turned them into a comfortably human smile instead.

 

Shizun probably wouldn’t mind too much even if he did something weird, but Luo Binghe hated to remind him of how inhuman he could really be sometimes.

 

But time didn’t stop. The day still wanted to progress. And Shizun had entrusted him with a vital assignment, so, after indulging for a few moments more, Luo Binghe got up to make a hasty breakfast. The only downside to this increase of affection was that he kept lingering in bed for too long to make his usual, more elaborate morning meals.

 

If Shizun had any complaints, he didn’t voice them. Luo Binghe did his best anyway, scolding himself a little that he was going to have to get it together again sooner or later and make Shizun his favourite congee instead of just soy milk and youtiao with a small bowl of rehydrated noodles. He frowned at the offerings when they were ready, and then tossed some nuts and scallions in with the noodles. There was no more leftover meat; Luo Binghe scolded himself twice over for neglecting to restock the kitchen in time, and resolved to get more supplies once he was finished with his other duties. He barely had enough to make a lunch to set aside for Shizun! And it was all going to be vegetarian, what a disappointment…

 

“Binghe?”

 

Putting aside the matter, Luo Binghe carried the meagre breakfast offering out.

 

“Here, Shizun!” he called. “Does Shizun want to eat in bed?”

 

“Don’t be silly. I’ll be right there,” Shen Qingqiu replied, and then grumbled a little. “Binghe didn’t have to leave the bed so soon…”

 

Luo Binghe knew he wasn’t supposed to hear that second bit, but he smiled at it anyway.

 

“Apologies to Shizun, this disciple forgot to properly restock the house kitchen, so breakfast is a little plain,” he said.

 

Shen Qingqiu waved this off.

 

“Ridiculous, this looks delightful,” he said. Reaching out, he dipped one of the youtiao’s into his tiny dish of soy milk straight away. Luo Binghe smiled as Shizun’s eyes closed, a visible sign that he was enjoying the warm fry bread and sweet milk. Only then did he feel at ease enough to pick up his own bowl.

 

The noodles were edible enough to serve Shizun, but only just barely. Luo Binghe frowned at them while he thought about where he could improve with the same ingredients next time. He should have thought of the nuts ahead of time and started roasting them while he was frying the youtiao, instead of just adding them plain at the last minute. Roasting always improved the flavour…

 

His thoughts were interrupted by Shizun nudging his shoulder.

 

“Binghe, it’s delicious,” Shen Qingqiu said. Picking up another bread stick, he ripped off a piece, dipped it into the milk, and then popped it straight into Luo Binghe’s mouth. “Stop glaring at the food and eat it.”

 

Since his mouth was full, he naturally had to chew before he could answer.

 

“It’s not up to standard,” he insisted.

 

Shen Qingqiu laughed and shook his head.

 

“Binghe’s standards are very high, because his cooking is excellent. But he shouldn’t fret so much. This teacher used to eat far worse things for morning meals in the past. And also evening meals, and midday meals, and that was when he even remembered to eat at all! Even the worst of Binghe’s cooking is still better than…”

 

Shen Qingqiu trailed off.

 

Luo Binghe frowned a little.

 

Better than what? Better than someone else’s cooking?

 

It was rare for Luo Binghe to catch himself wondering about his Shizun’s past. Shen Qingqiu was the kind of person who often didn’t seem like he had one. It was easy to think of him as someone who had somehow just sprouted up on Qing Jing Peak one day, fully-formed as the intended lord; a lofty immortal who never had to go through the indignities of something like childhood or adolescence.

 

But of course, that wasn’t actually the case. Every time Shen Qingqiu alluded to that fact, Luo Binghe felt strange. He wanted to know more, of course - he wanted to know everything about Shizun. However, he also knew that there were some things which his Shizun would never speak about. Pressing too hard would just make him close off and never yield anything.

 

“If Shizun likes it, then that’s good enough,” he decided, worrying at the far-away expression in Shen Qingqiu’s eyes.

 

The other man looked back at him. His expression eased. He nodded, and then playfully stole a strip of scallion from Luo Binghe’s bowl.

 

“I like it,” he confirmed. “Now eat, Binghe, it’s going to be a busy day.”

 

That was true enough, and there wasn’t much more time for them to waste either. Luo Binghe had to go down to assess the trials for the hopeful disciples once they started, if he wanted to make certain that none of the other peaks stole away any good ones before they got a chance at them.

 

In all honestly, he found himself surprisingly excited at the prospect of new Qing Jing disciples. While the thought of dividing Shizun’s attention still left him a little sour, it had indeed been a while since anyone new joined their peak. Luo Binghe hadn’t ever really had the chance to be anyone’s older disciple brother, or to enjoy the role. He was curious if the newcomers would make anything of him.

 

He also appreciated - a lot - that Shizun was trusting him with the task of selecting them on his behalf. It had been a long time since he thought of himself as Qing Jing’s head disciple, and just as long since any of his disciple siblings treated him like it, even if he still did handle a large number of the peak’s matters. Most of those were behind closed doors, though, things like paperwork and supplies and organizing records and archives. Being sent to select new disciples was a very public thing; everyone would be able to see that he was acting on Shizun’s behalf, that he was… well.

 

Still a disciple of Qing Jing. Even if he was also a demon lord.

 

Luo Binghe hadn’t thought that sort of thing would matter to him, or at least he had told himself that it didn’t for a long while. But that didn’t really resonate with the way he felt, the odd strain of nervousness that had overtaken him along with a certain pride and excitement. It reminded him of when he was younger, and Shizun used to send him on all the most important missions for the peak; assigning them in front of the other disciples, even, with his eyes bright and his tone matter-of-fact as he declared that this or that prestigious mission would be ‘best suited’ to Luo Binghe.

 

Ming Fan had looked like he was drinking vinegar every day for a few months there.

 

He didn’t look much better when Luo Binghe passed him at the gate. He offered his shixiong a mocking smile before hopping onto Zheng Yang.

 

“You better not bring back any riffraff like yourself!” Ming Fan instructed him. Nearby, Ning Yingying rolled her eyes.

 

“Ignore him, A-Luo! Just pick the cutest ones!”

 

“I’ll find an extra cute one just for Ning-shijie,” Luo Binghe promised, ignoring Ming Fan’s sputtering. He took off towards the village where the trials were being held.

 

Disciples from Qiong Ding and An Ding Peak were already there, of course, and had been since the day before in order to set everything up. Most of them were older, being closer to Shizun’s generation than to Luo Binghe’s. Wan Jian Peak’s head disciple was already there as well. Luo Binghe narrowed his eyes. She must have arrived before dawn; scoping out the hopefuls before the trials even began. Smart, and potentially inconvenient. He ignored her, and most of the others as well, but didn’t hide his presence away. A few wary looks were sent in his direction.

 

No one questioned why he had come, however.

 

The field set up for the test was large, and covered in delicate meadow flowers that were doomed to meet a messy end once the gaggles of children began churning up the terrain. Luo Binghe remembered digging his own pit; trying not to stare at the intimidating immortals who were observing, wondering if he was doing it right or not. Later on, of course, he had learned what the sect leaders were looking for with the test. Digging was tiring work, and required a lot of things from one’s body. Most youths would get impatient with the task after a while, or insecure, wondering if they were digging deep enough, or wide enough, or fast enough. A lot could be inferred by watching them. Which children focused best on their own tasks? Which ones were distracted with looking at and comparing it to others? Whose body was flagging the quickest, which hopefuls were actually demonstrating burgeoning spiritual energies by bolstering their strength with their innate talent? Who was getting fed up and leaving early?

 

All were things that tied to certain aspects of cultivation. The ability to focus on one’s own progress, to push through uncertainties, to display the right aptitude, and also the right attitude.

 

Now an adult, Luo Binghe knew what to look for.

 

In all honesty, he was surprised that Shizun had even chosen him in those early days. He had been horribly distracted, hadn’t used an ounce of spiritual energy at the task, and had been on the verge of crying the entire time because he didn’t know what he was doing, and if no one wanted him, he had no idea where to go next.

 

But Shizun had. Shizun had chosen him, even back when he had been plagued by constant qi deviations that left him vicious and unstable. Way back before the deviations finally stopped and he became properly Shizun-like instead.

 

The thought gave Luo Binghe pause as he surveyed the field and chose a good place to watch from. Even as a brand new and very unpopular disciple, it hadn’t taken long for him to learn about Shizun’s frequent qi deviations. It was impossible to disguise when they happened, because the sect leader would always come over while Shen Qingqiu vanished from public sight. At the time Luo Binghe had just assumed that suffering intermittent deviations was a normal part of being powerful, but thinking back…

 

There really was a lot he still didn’t know about his Shizun, wasn’t there?

 

Not that it would change anything about Luo Binghe’s feelings. But still. Why did Shen Qingqiu suffer so many setbacks, even as a powerful peak lord? And why had they seemed to stop as the same time that he seemed to also stop hating Luo Binghe?

 

Most qi deviations derived from a combination of physical or mental disorders. Cultivation could be dangerous in its capacity to stress one’s limits, and without care, cause a person to break themselves instead of build their strength. It was why doing it incorrectly could be so disastrous. But in an established sect like Cang Qiong, with so many approved and expert manuals available to its disciples, improper technique was an unlikely cause of trouble. Unless some degree of sabotage was involved, of course.

 

Had someone been sabotaging Shizun?

 

Given the level he had been at during Luo Binghe’s early training, the only possible person who could do such a thing would have to be the sect leader himself.

 

Luo Binghe paused for a moment, but then shook the thought away. No, Yue Qingyuan wouldn’t sabotage Shizun’s training. It might have been suspicious for him to be around so often while all that was happening, but Luo Binghe knew how to recognize his own desires in other people. Yue Qingyuan had cared about Shizun. He wouldn’t have risked his life, and if he had been trying to arrange to keep him weak, he would have used it as an excuse to move him closer by; to take away his authority and keep him on Qiong Ding with him instead. Luo Binghe knew how such dark thoughts worked. He’d had them himself, after all.

 

So if it wasn’t the techniques, then the alternative was that Shizun had been suffering from injuries of the body and mind that made even proper cultivation risky for him.

 

The thought left Luo Binghe unsettled. Even with recent revelations of what he had been doing to Shen Qingqiu, still, the other man hadn’t suffered any qi deviations at all lately. And that was despite being in a body that had been through poisonings, many injuries, and even death and resurrection.

 

So what had he been through before…?

 

The thoughts were not good ones, and having no answers made Luo Binghe unsettled in a way that he hadn’t been in the past. It was starting to feel like leaving too many things unsaid was a bigger problem than he had realized. Especially since it was becoming clear that he couldn’t always trust Shizun to be honest about his struggles, or even voice any suffering he was going through.

 

As the first hopefuls were sent out to the field, Luo Binghe’s countenance grew darker.

 

Just where did Shizun come from? Really? He knew where he came from, and despite having to struggle with many obstacles in his mind he could still count on one hand the number of qi deviations he’d suffered. Although, he’d had Shizun to help with many of them once the man’s own troubles seemed to even out. The first nightmare brought on by the Elder Dream Demon, for instance, probably would have gone much worse if Shizun hadn’t been there to help guide him and explain. Remembering that, Luo Binghe also couldn’t help but remember the days before he came to Cang Qiong.

 

Even though being the least liked disciple of Qing Jing was difficult, it was still better than the life he’d had after his mother died. During that brief window of time as a homeless and unwanted child, he had gotten a taste of misery that not even the Endless Abyss could quite compare to. There were no words for the sort of desperation that came from having nowhere to go and no one to belong to, not even the hope of someone to win back. It still wasn’t the worst of Luo Binghe’s memories, not even what he would consider the most miserable time in his life, but it was definitely the time when he had been the most frightened for his life.

 

Even something actively trying to kill him was better than the cold disdain of the world towards a child with no family.

 

Thinking such things, Luo Binghe found his eyes narrowing as he watched the hopeful would-be disciples being instructed to dig. Not a single one of them had arrived without family. Some of those family members were bothering the other Cang Qiong representatives, trying to make this or that case for their child’s credentials, no matter how kindly or plainly the disciples explained that none of these things mattered; it was for the peak lords or their representatives to decide whose aptitude was best, and the whole point of these initiations tests was to assess the children based on their own merits and not the say-so of this or that ‘important family’.

 

Shifting his stance, Luo Binghe let his expression turn judgmental and a little disdainful as he looked out towards the field; at the well-dressed children and their nattering relatives.

 

What were they even doing here? They had homes. They had people. For these families, getting their children into the sect would just be another point of pride; something to brag about. And every one of them who was chosen would take up a spot that would be closed to everyone else for a long while after.

 

Suddenly, Luo Binghe couldn’t stand it. He made himself stay and watch for a while longer, even so, looking to see if any of the children would nevertheless acquit themselves well. If they showed some sign of being good, of bringing something worthwhile to Shizun’s peak, then it didn’t matter if he was in a bad mood.

 

But none of them stood out to him in a good way. Most just seemed especially ill-suited. A few stopped digging and started whining before an hour had even passed, and even the ones still going clearly looked as though they were just waiting for it to be over. Waiting for their parents to pave the way for them. None of them were really trying.

 

With a scoff, Luo Binghe decided enough was enough. He’d head into the village to get some ingredients to cook for Shizun, and maybe come back later. Or tomorrow. There was no longer any worry about the other peaks snatching up the best candidates; if these were the ‘best’, then they could have them. If it was really an issue, Luo Binghe could arrange for some tests of his own somewhere else instead; he’d get Shizun worthwhile disciples.

 

He was making his way down the village road when he heard the dogs.

 

His first thought was that some family had been foolish enough to bring their pets along to the trials, and Luo Binghe found himself gritting his teeth at the disrespectful implications. This was the test to get into one of the most prestigious sects in the world! Who brought dogs?

 

But then he realized just how far along the road he’d gone, and that the barking wasn’t the yapping of some excitable lap dog, or the alerting of a trained hound. It sounded more chaotic; the unwelcome but familiar cadence of a small pack converging on something.

 

Another sound broke through the barks. Brief, but recognizable as a human cry.

 

Frowning, Luo Binghe followed the racket. The road he’d taken wasn’t the main one to the field. It was a dirt path, small and somewhat overgrown; probably used by farmers and sheepherders more than traders or travelers. He knew it himself because it was more convenient to use to avoid people, back when he’d been a popular disciple who was frequently waylaid by young men and women looking to pester him. Off the path was a scraggly copse of trees, not far from some farmer’s garbage mound.

 

Had some stray dogs found something in the mound?

 

Luo Binghe almost turned away again, but something about the situation bothered him. He looked, and it didn’t take long to find the pack; three dogs, all about the same size but different breeds, with mangy fur and skinny bodies. Still strong enough to bark and snarl at something hanging out of a nearby tree.

 

That something was a child.

 

One of the dogs was gnawing on something on the ground. Whatever prize the boy had probably dropped to try and deter the animals. The other two were more vicious, though, snapping at a small dangling heel only to paused and snarl at one another every so often; fixated on getting this target before the other did.

 

Luo Binghe didn’t need to do much more than let a bit of his demonic aura out to send all three animals racing away with their tails between their legs, terrified and yelping as if they’d been hit.

 

The child in the tree struggled to keep their hold. The branch he was on wasn’t a good one. Before Luo Binghe could move, part of it bent, smacked the little creature in the face, and then the whole thing broke.

 

A sharp cry rang through the air.

 

Luo Binghe’s reflexes were good. He caught the child before he hit the ground.

 

For a moment, the child simply stayed in his arms with his eyes squeezed shut. Their breaths were ragged, and a few terrified whimpers escaped their lips. They were a tiny thing. Much too tiny to have made it into the tests for entry into Cang Qiong. Luo Binghe wondered if they’d been turned away. They was absolutely filthy, smelled terrible, and were covered in scrapes and bruises.

 

As Luo Binghe stared and felt unwelcome nostalgia, the child slowly opened their eyes.

 

They blinked uncertainly up at him, before looking around; noticing the tree, and then the distance to the ground, before staring back at Luo Binghe’s face. Their jaw was a little slack.

 

“Wow,” they finally said.

 

Luo Binghe carefully set them back down.

 

“Hurt anywhere?” he asked.

 

The child shook their head, even though a big bruise was clearly blooming right on their face.

 

Luo Binghe didn’t have a lot of experience in dealing with children. What would Shizun do? He reached over and gingerly patted the messy head of hair in front of himself, before crouching down so that the two of them were closer to eye level.

 

“Uncle caught me,” the child noted, seeming very awed about it.

 

Luo Binghe nodded in understanding. He knew what that feeling was like, to be used to just hitting the ground, only to unexpectedly find arms there instead.

 

It was easy to be awed.

 

“Who did I catch?” he asked.

 

The child ducked their head and mumbled something. With a little more patience and coaxing, Luo Binghe finally got something like ‘ying’ out of them. He suspected that they’d forgotten part of their own name; they’d probably been alone for a while, with no one to use it or remind them of it. A few more carefully placed questions revealed that the child was a boy, wasn’t terribly offended to be asked, and thought he was four - but had probably been abandoned for a year or two, so most likely, was actually five or six. His parents had gone out hunting one day and hadn’t come back. The landlady they’d left him with had waited an extra week before selling him to a wealthy family; how that had led to the boy being alone in the village wasn’t clear, but Luo Binghe gathered that a lot of running from dogs had been involved.

 

Although that might just have been what was one the child’s mind at the moment, all things considered.

 

“Okay,” he decided, holding out a hand. “Uncle has an idea, but Yingying looks hungry. How about we go get something to eat in the village, and then talk about it?”

 

The child hesitated for a moment.

 

But in the end, he reached out and accepted Luo Binghe’s offer.

 

It looked like he would be bringing back a new disciple to Shizun after all. He’d have to handle this carefully, considering how… unorthodox this particular choice would be.

 

 

 

 

~

 

 

 

 

The thing about Mobei-Jun was that he was Shang Qinghua’s ideal man.

 

But he was also a real person.

 

Some things about relationships, Shang Qinghua had found, just couldn’t exist as ideals the same way that they might in fiction and fantasy. For example, back when he had been a starving writer living off of instant pot noodles and thinking to himself that he was probably gonna die alone and unloved, the prospect of hundreds of adoring wives seemed pretty good. One could gently fan him in lieu of his broken air conditioner, one could rub his aching tendons, another could listen sympathetically while he vented his frustrations and miseries, a fourth one could hand-feed him frozen lychees…

 

Lonely college student slash hack writer Airplane-Shooting-Toward-the-Sky had really thought he was onto something.

 

Peak Lord Shang Qinghua, charged with managing the logistics of an entire sect, ostensibly the master of a whole mountain of devoted disciples, could no longer consider the prospect of hundreds of wives without breaking out into a cold cold sweat.

 

So really, he was very glad that his apparent wealth of closeted gayness had spilled out through his writing and made it so that Luo Binghe just fell madly in love with Cucumber-bro. And probably also contributed to Mobei-Jun being extremely into the sex with other men, also. That last point was not something he ever would have consciously put into the character design of his ideal man ‘back in the day’, but even if it had never found its way into the notes there were maybe a few pre-transmigration fantasies of being fucked against walls that could have possibly influenced the overall direction of events.

 

Who could say?

 

Definitely not Shang Qinghua. Honestly any time he thought too hard about how all of this was actually working, he once again broke out into cold cold sweats. The System alone was one of those things that seemed like it made sense only up until the point where he actually contemplated how powerful and utterly unpredictable it truly was, and then he always peed a little.

 

Anyway the point was that Mobei-Jun might have been imbued with a lot of traits that Shang Qinghua liked on paper, but some of those traits were more of a mixed bag to actually live with.

 

Like the gigantic dick. That was probably emblematic of the whole thing, really. Shang Qinghua loved Mobei-Jun’s gigantic dick, but a smaller one definitely would have been easier to work with. Not that he’d really change anything. Maybe. He couldn’t, and anyway he was on the fence about if he would or would not if some System bonus suddenly popped up and was like ‘new user feature - shrink Mobei-Jun’s dick down to normal size’ and had that accept/decline thing at the bottom. Which would he click? What would be the moral implications of changing a man’s dick size when it’s current magnitude could be ascribed to Shang Qinghua’s poor or possibly brilliant authorial choices anyway? Should he find some way of asking Mobei-Jun if he’d ever consider downsizing his crotch rocket? Was there a way to ask that kind of question without implying he wanted to castrate him?

 

But even beyond complex hypotheticals involving improbable alterations to genital size, there were more mundane things, like the perpetual resting murder face. The constant cold body temperature, which required spiritual energy transfers to not become temperature play any time they were intimate. The demon stamina. The actual realities of locking themselves away and having sex for several days straight because it was a demon tradition and oh thank fuck he hadn’t gone with that idea for public sex displays being a thing because no. Just, just no.

 

Not that it was all bad.

 

But Shang Qinghua had a lot of things to oversee, despite him not actually wanting to oversee anything, maybe, except that he did, and it was complicated, and spending several days not doing his actual jobs was great but also meant that he kept pulled into really good and almost worryingly addictive sex only to find himself fixating on other things he wasn’t doing during what should have been the peaceful post-coital purr-snuggling phase.

 

An Ding Peak wasn’t really the problem. His disciples knew how to run things in his absence, and if anything came up he had special alarms that would let him know about it. He estimated that he could be away from his peak for about a year, if need be, without causing anything major to go awry. Which was good because considering that letter he’d sent, he would probably need at least that much time before he could show his face there again.

 

It was actually Mobei-Jun’s shit that was the problem.

 

Because all of his servants had an IQ of 40 - if that - and never listened to Shang Qinghua anyway.

 

So while his relationship was going great, barring some occasional quirks and unexpected consequences of reality, his mind kept turning over things like the tax reports that no one else kept proper track of, and how it was tribute season which meant someone had to go through all of Sha Hualing’s father’s offerings because he always tried to skimp and if they didn’t actually catch him out at it then he’d be insufferable and even worse next year, and how he needed to check in with the mercenaries he’d hired for dealing with that small time southern warlord who kept attacking the ranches near the border, because if they hadn’t handled things yet or were just drinking their first pay away then he needed to actually bring the matter to his king’s attention, and also trying to remember whether or not he’d actually assigned someone to clear out the east courtyard’s store house because he’d been thinking that he needed to but he couldn’t actually recall if he’d managed to get a servant to really move on that or if he’d just thought about it and even if he had asked someone they probably weren’t doing it without him breathing down their neck but that store room had some of Mobei-Jun’s grandmother’s trophies in it and Shang Qinghua was absolutely not lifting and carrying seven whole musty dragon carcasses out of that place by himself no matter how much more convenient it would be for storing tributes than the current store room they were using which was frankly way too deep into the palace anyway and also required people to turn down that narrow deathtrap of a corridor with the gigantic icicle spikes on the side walls and…

 

Mobei-Jun stopped purring, and glared at him.


Or, wait, no. That wasn’t his glare-glare, that was his ‘confused’ glare. Look. Not a glare.

 

“The servants do not listen to you?” he demanded.

 

Shang Qinghua suddenly realized he’d been muttering out loud. Again.

 

He chuckled awkwardly.

 

“Well… not really, my king?” he confirmed.

 

Mobei-Jun’s eyes narrowed.

 

Okay now that was a glare. But he didn’t seem to actually be directing it at Shang Qinghua. More like the wall.

 

“Why not?” Mobei-Jun demanded.

 

Shang Qinghua coughed awkwardly.

 

“Why would they?” he countered. “This servant isn’t exactly intimidating.”

 

The ice demon underneath him seemed to consider that. Shang Qinghua didn’t think it was a particular revelation, but then again, he was starting to realize that the way that Mobei-Jun saw him was sort of different from how everyone else did. He still wasn’t sure exactly what was going through his king’s head when he looked at him, in specific, but sometimes in the back of his mind a tiny voice repeated some of Feng Yanming’s comments about him rescuing Mobei-Jun a surprising number of times and… maybe that was a factor? To some of these things?

 

He liked it! Appreciated it! Although not really knowing what was causing it could make him anxiously wonder if Mobei-Jun would ever wake up and suddenly realize that Shang Qinghua was absolutely beneath his notice after all. Even after transmigrating he was barely a six, maybe seven with good lighting, while Mobei-Jun was obviously a twelve.

 

They were still working on communication. Shang Qinghua was starting to think he should maybe just ask Mobei-Jun why he liked him. He was only about forty percent terrified that asking the question itself would make Mobei-Jun realize he couldn’t actually think of a reason and then dump him, which was progress on that front!

 

After a minute, his king seemed to reach some kind of internal conclusion on his glare-thinking. Lifting a hand, he petted Shang Qinghua’s cheek.

 

“Shang Qinghua does not have to be intimidating,” he decided. “This Mobei-Jun is the one who has neglected to be sufficiently intimidating.”

 

A little bemused, he nevertheless shook his head and patted the chest underneath him.

 

“My king is very intimidating,” he dutifully insisted. “The most intimidating. My king can scare people to death just by looking at them.”

 

“Mm. Leave it to me.”

 

Weird moment of insecurity about his badass-ness apparently over, Mobei-Jun’s petting got bolder then. He tilted his head and exposed his neck in a way that Shang Qinghua had recently learned meant ‘I want you to bite me here’, which was kind of odd maybe but he was a thousand percent not complaining about it because any opportunity to put his mouth on his king was a good thing. Smiling a little, he leaned in and obliged.

 

He couldn’t really bring himself to bite down hard, but that didn’t seem to be what Mobei-Jun was after with the neck stuff anyway. He just nibbled, dragging his teeth along in a way that he’d first discovered by accident, but that always made the purring louder or the fucking harder depending on what else they were doing. This time wasn’t an exception. As Shang Qinghua nipped and kissed and even licked a little, Mobei-Jun shuddered and started up with his purring again. One of his hands brushed down Shang Qinghua’s back, slipped beneath the blanket he’d thrown over them, and then settled in a frankly proprietary fashion on his ass.

 

“My king, I really do need to get some other things done some time today,” he murmured, the protest admittedly pretty halfhearted, even though it was definitely true.

 

Mobei-Jun’s purr tapered off into an inarticulate grumble. To Shang Qinghua’s mingled relief and disappointment, he moved his hand to the safer territory of his lower back. Ever since they’d figured out the ‘one weird trick’, having tons of vigorous sex was a lot easier but they still had limits. Shang Qinghua especially. His body wasn’t indestructible, everything from his lips to more southern points of entry felt swollen and over-used, there was chafing on his thighs, he was pretty sure he was going to get a handprint shaped bruise on his left butt cheek - if it wasn’t there already - and his nipples felt like they’d somehow been licked too much.

 

His own neck was also covered in bite marks. Not serious ones, obviously, but he knew Mobei-Jun had left imprints and sucked more than a few bruises.

 

As the thought came to him, he settled his lips over one that he’d left not too long enough, and gave it a vengeful play-bite in return.

 

He felt Mobei-Jun’s cock twitch against him.

 

“Shang Qinghua,” his king growled in warning.

 

Relenting, he offered an apologetic kiss to the lovebite, and then rested his head against Mobei-Jun’s shoulder instead. A heavy sigh escaped him.

 

“It really is a shame I can’t run things here more like my peak,” he mused. “I could be gone from my job there for actual months. Months my king! Months where we’d never have to get out of bed! Maybe not all the time but still. We could have honeymoons! But if I tried it here there’d just be anarchy and things would fall apart and someone would probably try and stage another coupe, and they wouldn’t even leave us alone long enough to finish enjoying ourselves. I really wouldn’t mind taking it easy, you know? In books the powerful demon lord’s spouse usually doesn’t have to do anything except dress sexy and lounge around and alright maybe scheme or politic a little bit, but I could be spending my days wearing nothing but some artfully arranged pieces of jewelry - if I had any jewelry anyway - and having sex with my king whenever, and then probably writing erotic novels about it but with the names changed of course, except demons are so unruly so it’s not even an option…”

 

He glanced up.

 

Mobei-Jun’s brow was furrowed.

 

“What?”  

 

Without answering, his king rolled them over, and suddenly Shang Qinghua found himself staring at Mobei-Jun’s naked backside as the man got up and hastily dressed.

 

“What? What’s wrong? My king? Where are you going?” he asked, a little alarmed at the abrupt turn of events.

 

Mobei-Jun leveled a stern finger at him.

 

“This Mobei-Jun will not be found wanting,” he declared, before marching out of the room in nothing but his pants and coat. Which was definitely a hot look, Shang Qinghua was absolutely not forgetting that mental image any time soon, but seriously, what?

 

‘Found wanting’ at what? Was it something he said? Wasn’t he just whining about work…?

 

“My king, I’m sorry I complained too much! Please come back! I won’t talk anymore!” he called in futile placation. He was pretty sure his king had already gotten too far away to properly hear him.

 

When no answer came back, he sighed, and flopped down against the bed again. So much for their progress at communicating.

 

Well.

 

At least they’d managed to stop having sex for a while?