Life for Shen Qingqiu could be considered pretty decent. Given what it could have been it might even be considered excellent.
He had a job where he was tolerated - definitely not beloved - enough to be able to mend ties with them despite his marriage. He had a darling doting husband who was also a powerful demon lord and surprisingly domestic. He had adoring students who always put up with his complete nonsense schedule.
Really, it was a decent situation for living the life of a man who originally had a grisly death at the hands of the protagonist.
He should have it made.
If it weren’t for the System, he probably bloody would!!!!!
“It’s been re-activating with notifications all morning, it’s doing some sort of update download! I thought the story was supposed to be over!” Shen Qingqiu hissed irritably to his companion.
“I don’t know, I don’t think I wrote anything that’d be worthy of an update at this point. Anything further I wrote for the story was entirely just further smut chapters with the Harem, nothing that should need an update...” Shang Qinghua,the idiot responsible for the universe they were stuck in, was completely unhelpful as usual.
“Well whatever it’s updating for, it can’t be good. We’re past the end of the main story and DLC is never worth it for this kind of situation!!”
“Maybe it’s just some sort of extras package to expand the world a bit? Something like more fun costumes or something?”
Shen Qingqiu didn’t even have to glare very hard at his friend to see him shrinking nervously already. Really, they were both worried but handled it vastly different. Shang Qinghua was one of the only people he could openly get angry with like this, and it was really helpful to vent when he was so anxious. Shang Qinghua, meanwhile, needed to be casual and talk incessantly, and that was just how he was.
“Anyway we can probably get through whatever it is. It’s just an extra or something right? You’ve gotten through all the major hurdles with your husband haven’t you? It’s probably just some silly genre stuff like sex pollen or something.” Shang Qinghua babbled.
“SEX POLLEN?!?! You’d better hope it’s not sex pollen, Airplane-bro, because my ass is on the line here! What kind of hack writer adds that to a universe already overflowing with such things - OH WAIT!!!! YOU!” Shen Qingqiu dared smack his idiot friend upside the head for even suggesting such a thing.
“Ow ow! Cucumber-bro, you’re so mean! Anyway I’m getting whatever update it is too so I’d be suffering if it happened too!” Shang Qinghua dramatically.
“Shizun? Is everything alright?” the doorway to the cabin opened briefly and Luo Binghe’s perfectly arranged head of dark curls poked through the door.
With a glance at the scene he was a part of, then to the patient yet concerned gaze of his husband, Shen Qingqiu straightened his posture with a soft cough and spread his fan to hide his face behind.
“Of course, Binghe. I was just reminding your shishu of his manners.” he spoke in airy tones, proper for his station and speaking to his beloved husband. “Did you finish catching fish like you wanted?”
“No, I was changing spots to stretch my legs and heard noises from the house. Should I escort Shang-shishu away?” Luo Binghe’s gaze towards their visitor was so very icy.
“I’ll be going anyway!” Shang Qinghua piped up quickly and gave Shen Qingqiu a helpless look. “I have shopping to get, no need to trouble yourself. I’ll leave you to your fish and your...whatever you were doing. Good day!”
With him hurriedly dashing for the door to escape the conversation - and the chance of being “escorted” anywhere by a territorial Luo Binghe - Shen Qingqiu was once more left to ponder his situation on his own. It wasn’t as if he could share these concerns with his husband, after all!
“Shizun? Are you sure you’re alright?” that soft tone reserved just for him pricked at Shen Qingqiu’s heart so easily.
With a gentle smile, he stood and walked over to brush some stray dirt off of his husband’s robes. He hummed and smoothed his hands over the fabric, “How about I come outside and join you while you fish? I can read a book and keep you company.”
He could put this nonsense out of his mind for not, to ease his husband and himself. There was no point dwelling on it till the system finished updating after all!
This mindset was successful at putting the entire business out of his mind...for the five minutes it took for the system to complete its update and start loudly declaring messages in his face.
[ Welcome, VIP user to this special extra bonus DLC event! ]
Whaaaaat?!?! System! System what are you even doing! What’s this fucking event?!?!
[ We hope you will enjoy your experience. This is set to be a fun event so sit back and enjoy as we enter the…
SITUATIONAL REVERSAL EVENT!
Safe travels! A fabulous prize awaits you.]
The book he’d been picking up clattered to the floor as the space where Shen Qingqiu vanished right out of his home.
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh! First time writing this series and these characters but just gonna have a good time an do my best on these ones.
Watching his husband vanish into thin air before him was one of the most heart-wrenching things Luo Binghe had gone through in recent memory. As someone who had been through a great deal of pain and downright bullshit through his life, he liked to think he had a pretty good perspective of how bad situations were. But every time he lost his shizun always hurt like a new thousand ton weight was dropped into his chest.
It took him all of a moment to move from panic into anger.
This was not some sort of choice - his husband had just been grabbing a book! It wasn’t like he was trying to leave or anything! So the obvious answer was that something or someone had taken him. And there was no way Luo Binghe was letting that stand.
His first thought was to try and track him by the Heavenly Demon Blood still inside Shen Qingqiu. It would be but an instant for him to reach out with his senses to try and locate it. That was the power of Heavenly Demon Blood after all!
But any stretch of his awareness for it hit a frightening void of information. His beloved Shizun was simply...gone.
His second idea occurred quickly after the first. It led him to storm after his cowardly shishu.
Shang Qinghua was frequently aware of more than he let on - it’s one of the traits Mobei-jun was so damn fond of about him! On top of that, he was also the closest to a confidant that Shen Qingqiu had about anything he wouldn’t discuss with his husband, so if he’d mentioned whatever was worrying him, it would have been to that person.
Between his long legged stride and taking off quickly onto his Zheng Yang, there was really no excuse for why Luo Binghe wouldn’t have been able to easily catch up to Shang Qinghua. No matter how fast the An Ding Peak Lord had scurried away to escape being thrown out, there was no way he could actually have gotten particularly far from the cottage at this point!
So why did he find no sign of him at all?!?!?!
After finding the trail of Shang Qinghua quickly proved futile, Luo Binghe returned to the cottage to see if Shen Qingqiu had been returned or if he could retrace any signs of the magic that took him.
He spent the better part of the next several hours looking through his home and trying to trace whatever magic had been used to spirit his Shizun away, using various means of detection. The fact it seemed to leave nothing behind at all bothered him deeply. There should be nothing so beyond his senses!
Just as he was about to get up and start an expedition to Cang Qiong Mountain Sect to see if they were holding his Shizun again - though he doubted it at this point - he found he had a visitor. Why should he have a visitor at all during this time was already an alarm bell, but this particular one knew better than to bother him at home so it had better be important.
The snap of cold in the air was familiar enough that Luo Binghe barely felt the need to glance at his general.
“What is it? I was about to set off on a journey.”
Mobei-jun rarely spoke if he didn’t have to, but knew better than to hesitate giving his reasons. “Your last visitor-”
“I haven’t seen him in hours.” Luo Binghe interrupted with a frustrated snarl, “I was trying to track him down too. My Shizun has vanished and your Shang Qinghua tends to know more about those situations than he should.”
The way the temperature dipped slightly was the only true sign of any distress an ice demon would really show in a situation like this.
“He has not returned home.” Mobei-jun spoke plainly, but his meaning clear, “He would have called for me if he was in distress.”
“If he was able to call, that is.” Luo Binghe glanced suspiciously in the direction of the book he’d placed carefully back on the table, dropped earlier by his husband. Perhaps someone was just in the habit of kidnapping demon lords’ husbands today?
It was as he thought this, that the room began to glow in an odd fashion, and a translucent visage of text appeared before him, as did a strangely toned voice that read the words out. Mobei-jun was looking about, seemingly seeing the same image.
[ Welcome Guest Users to the Situational Reversal Special Event! You are about to begin! We hope you enjoy! ]
What am I looking at? What is this? I have better things to do than this!
[ Thank you for your participation!
~Event Critical Mission - Retrieve Your Husband!~ is starting.
Please ring the System for any inquiries after you begin! Basic briefing will be given on arrival! ]
With a quick, wild-eyed look at Mobei-jun, Luo Binghe saw for an instant the world around them swirling, before everything went blank.
Just what was this?!?!?!
Realized I'm dumb and forgot to add that there will be chapters hhhh. Also yes, new to all these characters, having fun.
Ow ow ow fuck.
Why does everything hurt so much?
Shang Qinghua’s head was spinning and he ached like crazy.
The strange thing really was that it wasn’t the aches that came with any of his usual activities or strain or even the pains of combat. He felt numb, especially in his fingers but mostly he just ached like he’d fallen while stiff. It was so horrifically mundane that it took a little to register why that was weird. He tried to circulate spiritual energy through his body to get somewhere back to normal when it became apparent all at once what was wrong.
He didn’t HAVE spiritual energy!
Sitting up far too quickly, he gasped, becoming aware a moment too late of how bad that was going to feel. His head spun as he squinted and stared around a once-familiar room.
Before him was his computer, cords tangled and pulled out from the wall. A container of instant noodles had fallen, spilling all over the floor and his pants. HIs hand was outstretched with blackened fingertips from where...from where…
Fuck he’d been DEAD!
He’d been dead for many years and living as an entirely different person!
There were quite a lot of feelings going through him all at once. An overwhelming cascade from horror, confusion, all the way to joy at the things he now had access to again. His head spun - apparently so newly awake from an electric shock that SHOULD have killed him was not a point to try and process all of this.
Shang Qinghua passed right back out quickly.
When he woke again, emotions had to take a back burner to sorting out the absolute mess that was his apartment. Then it was getting acclimated to the place that he was apparently stuck in again. He was forced here by some System event in progress, so was there a possibility he was going home after?
And when had the story he wrote become home?
Tugging at the collar of his shirt, he realized just how overheated he felt. Shang Qinghua hurriedly looked about his apartment for a solution to this issue.
It took him a bit to find the electric fan he had by his bed for summer nights and switch it on.
Sitting in front of the spinning fan, he wanted to whine. This was so unsatisfying!
he considered if it might be time to invest in an air conditioner. He didn’t know how long he’d be here. It wasn’t exactly usual for the System to have events like this and he hadn’t been given any parameters for what he’d have to survive or any quests. Other than the sudden pop-up declaring the name of the event, he’d gotten very little information.
Sighing, he slumped in front of the fan to get more air on his back and wondered when the last time he’d thought of a fan as a device like this, and not the kind Cucumber-bro carried around. He snickered a bit at the image of that idiot trying to wave one of these about in his fancy robes and try to keep his stoic face in tact with it.
Come to think of it…
Sitting up once more, he dashed again to see if he could get his computer turned on again. The frantic slow boot-up process made his nerves jangle and he had to fumble about to find his phone instead. Shang Qinghua absolutely needed to send a forum message as soon as possible!
Phone in hand, he hunted through pages till he managed to find one of Peerless Cucumber’s comments at long last. He’d have had to search so much less if his computer hadn’t been unplugged! He had JUST been looking at one of his posts too…
Tapping the username, he went to the user’s page and sent him a private message, hoping against hope he was on the right track and not just out of his mind.
‘Hey Cucumber Bro,
If you’re reading this - and I really really really hope you are - and you’re the one I’ve met - again, really hope you are! - please hit me up back! I could use a bit of a sanity check here bro!
If it’s you, please text me here xxx - xxxx’
Soon as he hit send, he anxiously tossed his phone aside and went back to trying to clean up his apartment. That was a monumentally bad idea, giving his phone number to one of his most vitriolic fans. If it turned out this had all been a lie or a dream or something, he was in some deep shit just giving a random weirdo on the internet his personal contact info!
Trying to get his computer back in order was a very time consuming task, but a mindless one. He remembered when he’d first ended up in this situation, he’d been so distressed about losing thousands of words of whatever chapters he’d had ready and in progress. But so far distant from it, having lived through more...it felt like such a nothing.
In his past life, Shang Qinghua would probably have been completely disheartened by losing those chapters. He’d have been in the same kind of slump he’d gone into on losing his hard drive with all the serious plot developments! Stumbling blocks like that felt so weighty back then!
Living with demons and nearly dying so many times really could put things in perspective, huh?
Once his computer was actually on and functional gain - thank the heavens, it worked! - he was able to go through and actually have a look at the files he’d last worked on and see what was salvageable. Really it was a lot of meaningless papapa he could easily rewrite. But the story lacked taste anymore for him and it’d been dragging on into extras for a while now anyway…what was he going to do about this?
That was his project for the next few days. Posting the content he’d had queued up and figuring out what he was going to do about Proud Immortal Demon Way. He took a bit to decide, but ending the story was the ultimate choice. He did suggest wanting to work on a new story or go back and make an alternate edition, a bit more cleaned up, but posted that he was waiting for reader interest to decide which option was best. That at least gave him some wiggle room to work.
Going back over the initial chapters of the book now was a little heavy - especially having personally met Luo Binghe. It was exceptionally surreal to be rereading his early escapades from the lense of a person who’d seen him both nearly end the world, and be a happy househusband. The story would really never be the same if he brought back in the plot.
Somewhere along the line, during one of his reread sessions, Shang Qinghua was startled by the sound of his phone ringing. The only people who usually called him were his father and his landlord so he quickly dived to answer it. If he’d been in less of a hurry, he’d have realized it was an unfamiliar number, but the voice on the other end of the line made that clear very quickly.
“I hope you don’t make a habit of giving your phone number out to strangers on the internet, Airplane-bro. You’re going to get into some really bad situations that way.” the voice on the other end of the line was that of a young man who spoke with a soft voice that just barely missed the mark of sounding sharp. It was not helped by how tired and raspy he sounded.
“Cucumber-bro? You don’t sound good…” Shang Qinghua mumbled into the phone, still barely believing this might actually be happening. Please be the one he knew, please…
“I’ve been in the hospital so no, I sound like complete ass. Thanks for noticing.” that rasp did make the irritable growl to his tone more effective, eep! Still, the softness of his voice returned as he asked, probably trying not to sound as gentle as he did, “How about you? No lingering effects of electrocution?”
“I was numb and out of it for a bit, and I lost a lot of work on my computer, but I’m alright.” Shang Qinghua sighed with relief. Yep, that had to be his Cucumber-bro! No one else would know how he died, or that he’d died. Then again… “Wait what actually happened to you?”
“Nearly fatal food poisoning, apparently.” He spoke of it like it was a casual occurrence. “The worried relatives I haven’t seen in years was surreal to wake up to.”
Trying to play down such a serious concern, he was probably very upset then. He only ever seemed to deny when he was depressed and things of that nature. How many years had Cucumber-bro mourned his lost disciple and pretended he was alright? This was just more of the same.
“Well try to actually take care of yourself, ok? Otherwise when this event gets underway, your husband’s going to find a way to wring my neck for you being so bad off!” Shang Qinghua offered the joke nervously.
Thankfully, he got a weak chuckle in response, “I suppose. He’ll certainly be here to find me eventually.” That sounded so sad and wistful, didn’t it?
Shang Qinghua felt himself wince internally. Of course Luo Binghe would absolutely want to find his Shizun, and as soon as possible. He could be tearing apart the entire Cang Qiong Mountain Sect trying to find him, if the System didn’t provide some sort of avenue for this. He was pretty sure the same couldn’t be said for others…
Replaceable side characters rarely got such a search, even ones that had been loyal and cared about.
“I’m sure the whole Situational Reversal Event thing meant something at least…” Shang Qinghua offered, though he felt a bit distracted even saying it. He shook his head quickly, “Anyway, I have rereading to do. I was thinking of re-editing the whole novel to try and do it better. Wouldn’t you like that? Hah. Something new to rip me apart over.”
“Make sure you take a break while you’re here. You’re busy enough between An Ding Peak and your other duties, you could probably use the time off instead of overworking yourself before you go back to them.” Cucumber-bro’s voice was said in that firm but gentle tone he’d mastered as Peak Lord. The fact it still worked with this voice was a testament to just how much he’d owned the identity of Shen Qingqiu after a while.
“I still have to pay the bills, Cucumber-bro.” Shang Qinghua gave an awkward laugh but he did feel a little better. Just a vacation from his job and his partner, both things he’d go home to after. He wished he felt secure about that, but it was nice to hope for anyway!
“Pay them with something less trashy then.”
“Whatever. Stop talking on the phone, you need to rest and recover.” Shang Qinghua rolled his eyes, knowing the other party couldn’t see him. “I’ll text you later, man. Get well soon.”
“Yeah whatever. Text you then.”
The call ended with a click and Shang Qinghua found himself needing to go flop in front of the fan again.
He really needed an air conditioner badly.
This was absolutely no place for a great demon lord to be, not in the slightest.
By this, he could mean this world. Or this small living space, so plain and square. Maybe he meant this situation in general. They’d all be accurate, but incorrect.
No, right now, the place in question that a great demon lord shouldn’t be was on the floor.
Because that was exactly where Mobei-jun was.
Flat on his back, on this weirdly short furred section of the floor, in this room lit by the most irritating magic lanterns ever.
He was staring up at these lanterns - no, glaring. Definitely glaring up at them. Innocuous things were stared at. These were anything but, so deserved more ire.
That strange magic scroll had appeared before himself and Luo Binghe once before they were transported, then again after. It had quite a lot of information, but most of it was phrased with far more words and exclamations than necessary.
Most of the information had had nothing to do with how they were to locate and retrieve their mates either. He supposed they could be considered tactical details, but as they were mostly meaningless and about having ‘fun’ with an ‘event’, he was pretty sure they were worthless.
The important facts were as such: Some force called the System had absconded with their humans. He and Luo Binghe had been brought to a strange place. This was presumably because it was also the place their humans had been snatched off to. This system was taunting them with the game of chase but the worst part of it was what it had done to them.
Part of why Mobei-jun was lying on the floor right now, undignified as it was, had been due to the extreme inability to balance he’d ended up with on arriving. This was due to several usually very important balancing sections of his anatomy being absent.
His tail was missing.
His horns were just gone.
Even his proper regal attire had been replaced by...some strange substitute for robes that felt like it was more akin to underclothing than anything, with how it hugged his skin.
He felt unbalanced.
He felt weak.
Worst of all, he felt overheated.
Unable to stay vertical, he’d fallen to the floor. The lights overhead made him feel even more exposed and out of sorts, and he’d had to peel out of a black leather coat of sorts he’d had on.
His body itched and felt uncomfortable and...moist. Why was his hair wet? Disgusting. Why was everything the wrong temperature?
Being human was unpleasant and it made him both pity and admire his Shang Qinghua all the more for it. Which was awful because that made him worry about his Shang Qinghua instead.
His human was all alone in this place too? Was he alright? He was easily frightened by new situations and prone to crying and wailing about them...but he was also very resourceful. He might’ve figured out this place very fast, and he was already a human. Or did this place make him a demon?
A demon Shang Qinghua might be cute.
Would he have a little fluffy tuft on his tail? He definitely needed a tail.
“Please never make that expression ever again.”
Luo Binghe’s voice cut through his thoughts. The usually half-demon was seated in front of the glowing scrying box and had been pouring over the information left there for them. However, at some point his attention had apparently returned to the state of his lieutenant on the floor and he found something in that displeasing. Not that Luo Binghe didn’t find most anything that wasn’t his human displeasing at some time or another.
“What expression?” Mobei-jun winced at the sound of his own voice, so much weaker and lighter than it should sound. It might have still kept its proper low tone, but there was just something plain about it now, nothing augmented by his nature or power.
“Any of them, really. I am used to you having next to no change in your face, so seeing you go through an entire array of expressions is unpleasant.”
Since when was he making any sort of facial change at all? He was an ice demon and so had a naturally stiff face. He didn’t emote usually, except in extreme anger - and that tended to lead to more misunderstandings than anything.
Though...he did feel like his face was moving a lot. That was part of the general squishy discomfort of this body. His features just liked to move or feel gross randomly. Focusing on it, he could feel his brows knit and his lips twisted, the lower pushed out too far. Wait…
Why was his face doing things? That was just incorrect. He didn’t like it at all.
“Glad to see you’re caught up.” Luo Binghe turned back to the glowing surface before him.
Mobei-jun glared at his superior’s back.
From what he could see, Luo Binghe looked different as well. He was already half-human so didn’t lose quite so many visible features as Mobei-jun had. But there was still visible differences even in his general aura. His face had gained more softness, his build had thickened with weight as well as muscle, and his hair had lost its graceful and shining qualities, instead falling in a wild mess upon his back and shoulders.
Closing his eyes and blocking out the scenery around him, Mobei-jun tried to center himself once more. Lying on a floor forever being uncomfortable with his body wouldn’t achieve anything. If he wanted to stop being human - and more importantly if he wanted to retrieve his human - he had to get through this “special event”.
The information they’d been given initially had listed some important points, apart from its asinine blabber about the event. He and Luo Binghe were presumably meant to work together - or rather, have a shared base of opreations.
What he’d noted, pointedly, was the description of their way home. A mini-Xin Mo Token which would allow them a portal back to their own world. Such a weirdly specific descriptor of it, but that had been some of the sword’s function hadn’t it? He distinctly remembered the merging world’s business.
But the most important part of that whole business was that it was a single use token.
This meant they could only have a portal home once.
One chance to either fully give up or to return when they’d found their mates. There was no backing out of this and coming back later - they had to find their mates before they used the token, or lose them forever.
As Xin Mo’s master, Luo Binghe had the token. So their staying was at his whim. This was both a blessing and a curse.
Because Luo Binghe would absolutely not abandon his Shen Qingqiu. So there wasn’t a chance of him becoming impatient and giving up before he had been found. There wouldn’t be a chance of him just going back to their world and giving up on this quest.
The downside was that it was still Luo Binghe, and he only cared about his Shen Qingqiu. He was reasonably loyal, but extremely short-sighted when it came to his human. If he had regained his human, he would very likely chose to return immediately so there was no chance of losing him again.
If Luo Binghe found Shen Qingqiu first, they would leave shortly after, no questions asked. It was just to be expected when working with this person. Their partnership in this matter would only extend so far as Luo Binghe’s patience lasted, and he would have no patience for anything but his spouse when he was reclaimed. Mobei-jun understood it perfectly well, but knew it would put him in a bad position if he had not yet found his own mate.
The simple answer to this was that Mobei-jun had to make sure he found his Shang Qinghua as soon as possible. That way, he would be secure when Luo Binghe located his Shen Qingqiu and there would be no leaving him behind.
He would find his mate and be ready. That was the only option.
This meant that Mobei-jun was going to have to function in this world.
That meant it was time to get off the floor.
So far my favorite perspective to write. I hope you all enjoy as much as I did.
And yes, I like dragonly MBJ and fluffy big chested LBH. They might be full human and a bit different right now, but that's the base states I like for this.
Waking up in a body constantly thrumming with an undercurrent of pain was just such a joy. Truly, he wanted to remember how to navigate a minefield of ways he couldn’t move without his body protesting. This was just such a worthwhile position to be in again!
He’d clearly been so spoiled as a cultivator and a well loved husband.
Still, unpleasant as the body situation was, this wasn’t all bad. Returning home had brought Shen Yuan back into contact with the family he’d thought completely lost to him. He did still love his brothers and sister, loved his parents too. He hadn’t wanted to give up his husband, a husband who so needed him, just to return, but this was alright.
After all, a system event meant it had a designated end of some sort. A point he’d be able to be back in his beloved’s arms again. He’d see his family, get to enjoy this modern life for a bit, and return to his other life.
That note of hope still felt somewhat melancholy but he pushed that aside in favor of just trying to make it from day to day while he waited for whatever was going to happen.
His family came to see him a lot right now, still worried about him after his hospital stay. Their company was welcome, though sometimes unrelatable. He couldn’t exactly talk about his life with them anymore - he was too detached from it right now, and it would take a little to reconnect. Thankfully that was easily blamed on having just been grieviously ill.
More notably, Airplane-bro called him regularly. It was good - it meant Shen Yuan could keep his only transmigrator friend from overworking himself to forget their situation. He did wish that Airplane-bro didn’t sound so concerned about Shen Yuan being depressed whenever they spoke, however. He was most definitely not depressed. Just readjusting!
He found it easy to just sink back into reading other novels online. Whenever he tried to go back to reread Proud Immortal Demon Way, it was just upsetting and he was not here for that. Airplane-bro’s writing wasn’t worth the awkwardness!
To avoid being badgered for staying in his room all the time, Shen Yuan had taken to going on pointless outings. He could go for a short walk to catch the local public transit, then take another short walk from wherever he arrived to find somewhere to spend the afternoon. There were all sorts of places he could end up this way - provided he stuck to commonly known and easily accessed routes.
He just wished there was something more active he could do!
His energy was so low in this body and he tired so easily and everything felt worse because he couldn’t sleep. Every time he tried, he’d wake up too cold, tossing and turning, wishing for the comfort that wasn’t there. Just waiting like this, he couldn’t quite compare it to after the Immortal Alliance Conference….after all, he’d known roughly how long it would be, and he had things to do then! This was just so...empty.
The closest he had to an actual active situation was keeping Airplane-bro sane. They texted regularly and Shen Yuan let him bounce ideas for rewrites or new series off him. That was indirect enough to not bother him the way rereading would. Still it was unsatisfying - it did nothing to help his situation! How could Airplane-bro just get back to work this way?
At least Shen Yuan could take solace in the fact that if he got food poisoning again, it wasn’t from eating expired things left at his place, but trying the food at some new restaurant. That was an adventure, wasn’t it? Ha.
Binghe...please come get your Shizun soon. I want to go home.
This System had provided a list of amenities available at the onset of this “special event”. It was meant to be “fun” so the travelling demons were provided with what they’d need to survive in this place, as they now lacked their powers and demonic features.
The seemed to also lack things unspecified in that whole business. Raking his hands through the thick wild mess of curls that he could no longer easily tame, Luo Binghe was sure that something about this world itself affected him. He had never had such struggles with humanity before! This world just seemed to follow very different rules by nature alone.
A human where they came from seemed to naturally be different from a human here. That was a fascinating and terrible concept all at once. Cultivation was also not a thing here, but the technology was superior in ways that could almost make up for that deficiency.
One of the amenities the System had provided was something called a Computer. It was a device that was connected to a magic network of sorts that allowed information to be shared across vast distances. Entire libraries were made accessible in this form, accessible by using keys to access various things.
Luo Binghe was nothing if not adaptable. He had always been thrown into situations of various difficulty and pulled through anyway. This was no different. This Computer was the source of the One Clue the System had given them towards finding their husbands, and he was going to throw himself into learning it.
Since the intent behind the situation was some form of “fun”, the System had provided a great deal for the two “visitors”. They were human now, but had been given clothes, a living situation, some basic food and currency, and this device that accessed great knowledge. It was a very viable setup if one was clever enough to use it, and Luo Binghe was definitely going to prove he was that. He had to be if he was going to survive this new territory and rescue his beloved Shizun!
They had been given a single use item to return home with, of course, which would be held until they had their partners back. Luo Binghe hoped there would be no difficulty finding them both, because he wasn’t sure he could be patient about waiting if he found his Shizun first. But Mobei-jun was generally a very loyal subordinate, and Shizun was quite fond of Shang Qinghua too so Luo Binghe was mostly inclined to want to retrieve both. Shizun was priority, however. They’d just have to wait and see how things turned out..
The most important item they’d been given, besides their key to returning, was the supposed One Clue to finding their spouses - something held within this Internet on the Computer. It was a book known as Proud Immortal Demon Way and they had been given full access to the story, any comments on the various chapters - something viable with how stories were contained on this Internet - and discussion forums on the subject. These forums, rather than being physical places, were magically connected written archives of the discussions had on a particular subject.
Luo Binghe had found getting to know and use this Computer and Internet combination had been very useful to him. But their Clue was something else.
The story this clue was based on was all about him! However, it wasn’t the Luo Binghe of this timeline at all. It was another version of him, one who slept around with various women in his life in gratuitous fashion. A Luo Binghe without his Shizun.
He’d gathered that much just from the fact it was said to be so many chapters, almost entirely of him having sex with various women in his harem. He’d seen the descriptions of some of the later ones in the updates section. It implied a great deal about the content of the work.
He had hesitated to read the story, wanting to familiarize himself with the world and the vast troves of information provided on this Internet first. He would need that information to understand the story and to be able to function when he had finished reading it, so that had been paramount.
But on top of that...he just hadn’t wanted to read this about other person’s life.
What was the value in knowing the tale of his own horrible life, only to compound it by taking out the very person who brought him the most joy? Or taking away from that relationship by piling in more that all sounded like they existed purely for sexual convenience? What trash.
Eventually, he’d come back to this obscenely long story to sit and read it through. If this and it’s various discussions and the opinions on it were the clue to finding his beloved, he would suffer through reading it anyway.
What he found on reading it was that it was worse than he’d first thought.
This wasn’t just the story of a Luo Binghe who didn’t marry his Shizun. This was the story of a Luo Binghe who had been further tormented by that person, grow close to others instead, and eventually returned and wreaked horrific vengeance on those who had wronged him...including Shen Qingqiu.
Reading of hurts and cruelty he’d never experienced from the person dearest to him had been awful but confusing. However, reading of the fate of that person had struck him with such horror that Luo Binghe had actually had to flee the computer for a time, fearing he may even be temporarily struck ill by it.
The images of his beloved Shizun facing such a fate were sickening. He had dream powers in his home dimension, but here his mind was entirely weak to the whims of his volatile imagination. So he’d been trapped, curled on the floor, trying to chase the vile thoughts away on his own.
He would never hurt his Shizun, never again, and never like that! This other him was an absolute monster, wasn’t he?
A nagging voice at the back of his mind said if Shen Qingqiu had never shown him that mote of kindness, he could so easily have become that person. To not be shown kindness and caring when he most needed it, he’d truly have become just as blackened.
But that Luo Binghe wasn’t him. He was another person who had done those deeds. He would not feel guilt over that person’s actions.
It made his heart hurt just the same.
When his head was finally under control again, he stood and returned to the main room once more...and was surprised to find Mobei-jun had taken his seat.
Mobei-jun had mostly left the Clue to Luo Binghe, seeing as he had no interest in the various sexual escapades that took place in this alternate reality. He would glance over at interesting sections Luo Binghe found or at anything related to himself and his husband, but that was it.
However, this time Mobei-jun had taken up the position at the computer and was carefully scrolling through pages as he’d been taught. His blue eyes were quickly scanning over the pages, squinting and peering and working hard to analyze the words.
“What’re you doing?” Luo Binghe asked, voice quiet and breath still drawing heavily.
“Reading the next sections for relevant information. The content you were reading continues further into the chapter.”
It was an oddly thoughtful gesture for someone like Mobei-jun, who generally didn’t bother with gestures of that sort at all. Then again, it was of use to them both if they gained all possible information from this novel, and if Luo Binghe was hindered in that task, they may not progress.
“I appreciate your efforts. I will take over reading again when you reach a safer section.”
Mobei-jun nodded and returned to silently reading.
This gave Luo Binghe time to pick up the Tablet - a portable version of the Computer that they’d been given for more information access while traveling - and looked over the forums. He still had other avenues to research besides the main story.
Contrary to what they might think, certain cultivators were not always as subtle as they believed. Luo Binghe knew very well that his husband and shishu acted differently around each other in private, and had particular nicknames they liked to use when no one else seemed to be in earshot. He’d picked up on that habit of theirs years ago, but could never quite figure out what it meant.
Shen Qingqiu tended to call Shang Qinghua “Airplane-bro” and in return was called “Cucumber-bro”. Luo Binghe knew his husband liked to wear green frequently, but that seemed a strange moniker to go by.
He had thought for some time that the “Cucumber-bro” name had something to do with the time Shen Qingqiu had been in cognito and gave the false name of “Peerless Cucumber” to various villagers he met. Luo Binghe hadn’t learned about that nickname till after the fact, so it had seemed right, but that explained neither the reason to use it nor what an “Airplane” was!
It hadn’t been till he had come here and gained access to this amazing tool known as The Google that Luo Binghe had discovered what he really needed. The ability to simply inquire of this tool on the Internet about whatever he wished to know, and soon tons of information - some relevant, some very much not - was laid before him for his choosing!
With this tool, Luo Binghe had been able to learn what an “Airplane” was - albeit, after a great deal of trial and error and learning more about the term. Airplanes seemed to be something people of this world used to fly, as they lacked the use of swords for it. These large objects carried multiple people at once, flying above the ground, by power of machinery. It was rather fascinating, but didn’t explain what that had to do with Shang Qinghua.
On looking more in depth at the story, however, Luo Binghe had discovered that it’s author did not use a traditional name. Instead this person used an online “handle” or “username” to represent them, and this person had chosen the moniker of Airplane-Shooting-Towards-the-Sky. It hadn’t taken Luo Binghe long to take the leap in logic to realize that, with the content of the novel, and the type of person who’d pen that, it was very much a phallic reference.
Luo Binghe was no stranger to having people writing erotic fiction about his love life - after all, he’d read Resentment of Chunshan. It was pretty hard to avoid, actually! The nature of this book had been strange though, it hadn’t just detailed his sex life but been going into his past history, in rather intricate detail.
This person wrote from his perspective the very thoughts he’d had at the time, about situations he had never spoken to anyone about. Not even Shizun had been told of some details of his past and history, yet the person writing this work had known them? How?
Further confusion had come when he’d discovered a user called Peerless Cucumber who left frequent comments on the chapters and spoke often on the forums. At first, Luo Binghe had been excited on spotting this familiar name, hoping it was the real Clue to his beloved. There had been no such luck.
The person leaving comments was really nothing like his Shizun. Sharp, vehemently angry, full of very wordy vitriol, this person spoke horribly about every chapter yet still read on. The reader seemed to be very much in support of Luo Binghe, but he also seemed in fierce support of Shen Qingqiu’s death. He’d taken an immediate dislike of this person’s opinions until he saw some of the book!Shen Qingqiu’s later actions.
Now it seemed that person’s wishes had been fulfilled, in some fashion, and Luo Binghe returned to reading their posts to see if it gave any insight.
The forums were full of lengthy debates about all sorts of things. People Luo Binghe knew personally were spoken of very differently and most of the women were discussed almost like commodities. Simple playthings of the audience and his life a revenge fantasy they could follow. Did this Airplane-Shooting-Towards-the-Sky who wrote this trash have any relation to the wimpy little shishu he knew? Did this venom-spewing user have any relation to his beloved Shizun? And if they did...how? What did this System have to do with it?
His head hurt going over the dreck of the Internet and it was a relief when Mobei-jun slowly stood up from his position again.
“I have moved beyond that section. You should be able to read now.”
Mobei-jun, as an ice demon, had never had to control his facial expressions beyond a point - they schooled themselves naturally. This meant as a full human, he was unprepared to handle his face being more expressive. He really hadn’t gotten used to masking his emotions at all yet, and that meant it was easily clear that he was perturbed by something.
“Ran into another irritating section?” Luo Binghe asked, going to take his seat again.
“During the chapters detailing the fate of your...former master...it discussed the ultimate fate of that one’s servant.”
Mobei-jun had already had a distaste for the tone of the vague mentions of Shang Qinghua in this story, and for the nature of his own his visibly different relationships. The relationship between the two husbands had obviously been heading somewhere bad in that timeline, and now it seemed it had hit that point of the story.
“Hopefully not as bad.” Luo Binghe observed, looking to see where they had gotten to in the story now.
“No...handled swiftly. But a betrayal. The new section still relates to me, but I have no wish to read it.”
Luo Binghe looked at the section and his brow furrowed. Once he’d caught up, it became apparent why.
“This is about your ascension to your father’s powers. I had wondered about that event. You brought him with you, of course.”
The only interesting parts of the story for Luo Binghe were the ones describing events or topics he was unfamiliar with. Receiving a new angle on information was always worthwhile, even if the source was bizarre.
Yet, the more he read of this event - of the alternate Luo Binghe essentially only assisting Mobei-jun to hold the favor over him later - the more strange the outcome was. How in could something that took Luo Binghe’s strength to overcome, have at all been handled by Shang Qinghua? How was that possible?
“You had him with you for this? And did your uncle truly attack you during it?”
“Yes. And he did.”
Luo Binghe looked skeptical, “And your husband is still alive, how?”
“He specializes in surviving things.”
Luo Binghe snorted and returned to his reading.
He had a lot to get through if he was going to make use of this information to find his Shizun.
This new realm was frustrating to navigate.
Every small step, every task, was a struggle to adapt.
It made his contrast to his companion stand out even more starkly.
Luo Binghe easily dove into the devices of this world and learned of them, learned how to gain more information and fast. He was learning how to use their resources while Mobei-jun was just learning how to balance himself without his tail.
It was frustrating and disheartening.
He needed to be more adaptable and able to work if he was going to gain any ground in finding his mate. Persuading Luo Binghe towards patience wasn’t possible, not when he was already exercising so much of it being parted from his human. So the only choice was still find his Shang Qinghua first.
So far, apart from gaining minor mobility on his own, most of his acclimatization had come from Luo Binghe sharing what he figured out, allowing the work to be spread further. Mobei-jun was another person who could interpret the written clue or someone else to scout, if he was up to par. Wasting a resource like that in his own search was impractical.
For his part, Mobei-jun could now stand, had read any part of the novel relevant to himself - which wasn’t much - and begun scouting trips.
These were just short jaunts down from the living space to the ground level and around a short distance before returning. Each trip he expanded the distance he went, making a small circuit to understand the layout of the area.
Their living situation was small, plain space that rather reminded him of his Shang Qinghua and the quarters on An Ding Peak. There was something about how small the space was compared to what living required that he could easily see his human adapting to it. He adapted to most places he was rather well, but one of these little plain boxy sets of rooms would suit him.
They lived in one set of rooms among many other boxes similarly stacked within the building. It was like an inn that was expanded to be stayed in long term.
Below their building was the city. The roads were all hard and designed of materials he didn’t recognize. There were lines painted upon the darker ground and more colored lights that shine too bright and made no sense.
The people here moved either in covered metal carts or walking along designated raised sections of ground, or in the painted lines. It was hard for Mobei-jun to memorize the nuance of it - partly because he didn’t care to try. This place was too different to his senses and seemed deliberately made to impede him finding his human.
So far, he’d discovered the local animals were unsuitable for hunting and he had struggled catching one. The attempt had also drawn disapproving looks to him from passerby. The fluffy tailed rodent escaped to live another day.
This did present the problem of food, however. The two travellers had been given a basic allotment of starting food and currency. If they didn’t wish to starve when it ran out, they would need sources of more food.
Being human meant he could enter human shops to purchase goods the way other humans did. They weren’t going to all turn to an angry mob on sight of him as they would with a demon. This was good, but unhelpful when he had no experience with shopping in years - usually sending Shang Qinghua for that task - or any knowledge of how shops here worked.
Luo Binghe’s research had covered varied topics he thought were important, but knowing what an “Airplane” was not a step-by-step guide for an out of sorts demon as to how to acquire food. If he could not hunt, he must buy and trade. If he could not be taught it, he would have to learn it on his own.
This is what brought Mobei-jun and a wad of currency in his pocket to the store he had found. He knew it was a shop of this sort because he had observed many people entering and leaving with various food products. This would have to do.
He had chosen this store as it was not so near their living situation that it would give them away immediately, but was reachable without extreme difficulty. Mobei-jun was at least wise enough in how to acquire supplies when working from a base-camp in enemy territory, after all. The tactics for receiving the goods changed, but the basic ideas were still the same.
When he’d gone on this first venture inside the store, Mobei-jun had intended to just browse the wares, and get an idea of the layout of the place and cost of items. He did not intend to stay or purchase anything.
This entire business was deterred when he stepped between one series of shelves, and found himself staring at an array of available packages, all advertising the same item in different forms.
Why were there so many? Were they actually completed instantly? What magic was this? Did there truly have to be so many different forms of it? What was the point of this? Were they even any good? Did the variety of tastes matter?
Where was his Shang Qinghua to enjoy it?
He loved noodles so, didn’t he?
Where was he in this place? Why was he so hard to find? Why was any of this necessary?
Why did they have to come to this place?
He wanted his mate back!
Standing there, staring at these offerings, Mobei-jun couldn’t understand the what was happening. There was a blur to his vision and a wet heat on his face. He could identify their presence and that it was more reaction of this frail human form, but their meaning escaped him.
He had seen such wetness on Shang Qinghua’s face very rarely in the past, in times of great distress or injury.
Was that what this was?
Yes it must be.
He was suffering here without his mate at his side.
Here he was, standing in a place with a variety of his mate's favorite food before him, like waiting with a baited trap. Yet there was no way of drawing his human to his trap.
“Having that kinda night? No worries, we've all been there. 'scuse me!”
A small, mousey human was addressing him, before lightly shoving Mobei-jun back a little with his shoulder. He leaned in and dumped several packages of various noodles into his basket.
This human was short and plain, with messy hair and a roundness to his face that came from both feature and weight, for he was somewhat chubby. He had a basket packed with various disconnected seeming items, but now especially a great quantity of these instant noodles.
What sort of person could this be that he simply spoke casually to and moved Mobei-jun?
After all, even without his ice demon features, Mobei-jun was silent and seemed to intimidate most humans with his very presence. They frequently made to keep away from him. Even as a human, he was the sort to avoid.
So how was this human so unperturbed?
Mobei-jun continued to stare at this human and the aisle before him, still feeling overwhelmed at the vast quantities of information and questions he had before him. It was quite a lot and he was struggling to cope.
A soft hand was placed on his forearm, drawing him from his thoughts.
“Are you just having a moment staring at whatever, or are you struggling picking something out?” this small human was looking at him with a soft expression. He seemed gentle, but agitated all at once.
Deigning to answer, in the hopes of getting help, Mobei-jun gestured before him. “Noodles.”
Looking back between the shelf and the demon, the smaller man spoke. “There’s a huge selection huh? Are you trying to find a particular one, or are you unfamiliar with these maybe? I guess you could also just be still deciding. I have these all the time. I could recommend some?”
This was enough to just nod at. This human was agreeing to help him select noodles apparently. That was at least something compared to the situation he’d been in. It answered one of the many questions in his mind.
Reaching out, the small human pointed at a particular set of the noodles. “These are the best if you haven’t had a lot of them and just want something to eat,” he moved his finger along the shelf, “This set is better if you want more flavor, but if you haven’t had it before at all, just stick with the first. Does that help narrow it down?”
Mobei-jun nodded, but still felt overwhelmed. It was good he now knew which were the preferred ones, but now what?
The human gave him a reassuring pat and went on to explain all the different types of noodles available. Just pointing to each and babbling about how they tasted. He seemed to have tried all of them and so knew which he liked and vaguely how they tasted, even if the information was meaningless to Mobei-jun beyond a point.
It was...oddly soothing.
This person was a disaster of sorts - he definitely was dressed messy - but at least knew about this particular subject and was willing to share. Just listening to him talk and keep talking was relaxing compared to the turmoil of his own mind. This human was keeping control of the situation and keeping him informed while also just filling space with his own chatter.
He could take comfort in this familiarity.
So naturally, when the human started to leave, Mobei-jun felt an immediate internal panic. Rather than freak out, he instead turned and simply followed the smaller person along the aisle.
Clearly, his best choice was to stick with this helpful human.
After all, it was a tactic that had worked before. To great effect.
The small human seemed confused at first, but quickly gave a loose shrug of the shoulders and kept talking, leading him around as he did his own shopping. It was only when the basket was full of the various things he sought, that the human want to the front of the store to give currency to the humans there.
Having a human to watch and ask questions of made Mobei-jun feel more solid here. In exchange, he took the bags that were being held out to the human. He would carry these. This human didn’t look very strong.
Blinking, the smaller man shrugged again. “Alright, you can carry those. I’m just heading home though. So if you have to go somewhere else, you’ll have to give them back!” he smiled and went to leave the shop.
Yes, this is what he needed.
A competent little human to help him, until he found his own. One who could help him locate the one who had been so loyal to him for so many years. Someone to assist him finding his mate.
This was not so impossible after all.
A special nod to Silversouledcat who was thiiiis close to having the exact scenario for this chapter guessed in advance. Lolol my friends and I were so excited by your comments.
It was just supposed to be a quick run to the store, nothing more. A minor trip to get more food - because he’d actually started running out, distracted by other things.
So how did this result in him bringing home a man?!?!?!?
Where had his sense of self preservation gone?!??!!?
Alright...he knew what’d happened to that.
It wasn’t like Shang Qinghua was looking for death - despite what Cucumber-bro said about his working habits. It was more just...this wasn’t what potential death felt like to him anymore.
He’d lived a life of magic swords, bizarre monsters, over-complicated politics and demons for many years now! It changed everything about what felt like a threat to him anymore. Sure he was no longer a cultivator, but he was also much less timid around people.
On his quest to buy an air conditioner, some punks had actually attempted to mug him with a knife. Years ago, Shang Qinghua would have been terrified of that and cowered, letting them take whatever they wanted. Now, they were just an annoyance like some of his king’s lesser subordinates.
His own reaction had honestly been a blur. One moment some punks were drawing a knife on him, and him moving to react, then the next he was standing holding the knife and the punks were fleeing. So he had ended up going home with his money, his air conditioner and a knife, apparently?
This was definitely a new level of strange for him though! Just bringing home a stranger?!??!!
But he’d seemed so very...lost.
Shang Qinghua had gone to get his preferred noodles from that aisle of the store, when he’d found one of the most gorgeous men he’d ever laid eyes on - at least among human men anyway. He’d been standing there, staring at the noodles and clearing having an emotional breakdown of some kind. He was stiff and still, save a telltale shake from his shoulders down to his hands, and there were tears streaming down his face.
Everything about this scene made Shang Qinghua’s heart ache.
Maybe it was something about the guy - his beautifully cut features, gorgeous blue eyes, the perfect scowl to his lips...he really would have been Shang Qinghua’s type if he’d met him before.
In this instance, however, it just served to remind him of someone else he desperately missed.
Someone he was worried about coping without him…
Though that someone was probably fine, would probably just find a replacement, right?
Still, seeing someone else having a worse breakdown than him made Shang Qinghua want to help, even a bit. So he’d tried to ask about what he wanted and tried to help the guy work through at least this problem.
It seemed this man was foreign, which was no surprise. He looked like some kind of international model! Of course he was lost trying to buy noodles in the middle of the night! He probably usually had help to do his shopping for him.
Whatever it was, though, the guy had latched onto Shang Qinghua and followed him. So Shang Qinghua had let him follow.
It was probably a terrible idea.
Actually, it definitely was! The guy didn’t even seem to know he wasn’t supposed to wear his boots in the apartment!
Shang Qinghua had had to stop him in the doorway and nudge him to change them. Yeesh. Going to be as bad as his king at this rate! Mr. Boots-on-the-Bed was the worst about it, but he was a demon lord, you couldn’t do much about their manners.
At the very least, his foreigner was responsive to instruction. He didn’t have much to say and still seemed emotionally strung out, but he’d been willing to carry groceries and sat quietly letting Shang Qinghua talk. He seemed sort of like a large cat, tracking Shang Qinghua with his eyes but otherwise staying quiet and settled where he was left.
Taking the situation that was before him and rolling with it, Shang Qinghua went to put on some instant noodles for them to enjoy and just let the foreigner sit at his table and try to calm down.
“It’s very cool in here.”
This was the first full sentence Shang Qinghua actually got out of the guy, and he jumped in surprise at it.
“What was that?”
“Your quarters. They’re at a lower temperature.”
“Oh.” Shang Qinghua snorted. Definitely formal speaking. “Yeah I have the air conditioner on. I like my place a little chilly. Is it a problem?”
“No. This is optimal. Leave it.”
“Fussy fussy.” he laughed and left his guest to enjoy his ‘optimal temperature’ in the apartment, and just worried about preparing the two packets of instant noodles.
Really, how often did he have guests? Or ones that he could serve cheap noodles to? He knew he’d have to try for real food if Cucumber-bro visited, which he thankfully hadn’t so far.
After a short while, he was able to set out the noodle cup before his guest and sit across from him to eat his own.
“It’s not much but please enjoy.” Shang Qinghua dug into his own with gusto. He was hungry! “Not sure if you’ve ever had anything like that before since you were confused, but what would I know? I’m just a broke writer.” he laughed softly.
His guest didn’t react but did sit up again to start trying the noodles. Well that was good anyway, it meant he could eat. When you were feeling too depressed and couldn’t eat, that was extra bad. It’s part of why he’d been having to remind Cucumber-bro to eat on his “outings” lately. What was the point of going out for sunshine if he neglected himself other ways?
“Are you local? You don’t seem like you’re from around here at all.” Shang Qinghua tried to strike up a conversation now he was more responsive, just to see if he could figure out a bit more about what to do with this person.
“No. Just...visiting.” the slow, low voice of his guest was really nice, but it lacked something in a way that made Shang Qinghua want to pout. Why should he care though?
“That makes sense.” he nodded, “Are you just struggling getting used to this place or having some other life stuff going on? I don’t mean to pry or anything, just trying to get an idea of why you’re...well, like this. And why you’re following me, I guess.”
His guest paused for a time, and just concentrated on his noodles, before he answered. “Life stuff. But I am lost too.”
“Well, I can’t help with the life stuff, but I get being lost. I can try and guide you about a bit for a while? You seem like you could use the company. Are you here alone?” Hopefully he wasn’t! Who would let this guy alone in the city?
“I am not alone. I am here with another.”
“Oh? Friend or relative? Or maybe your...significant other?” Shang Qinghua felt so nervous asking that!
“No.” that response was said very sharp. “We work together.”
Ouch, touched a nerve.
“So just rooming with a coworker for now. I understand.” Shang Qinghua tried to think of another topic to get them off of the uncomfortable one, when the other man spoke again.
“My...partner, is elsewhere right now.” There was something very quiet about his tone, an involuntary note of distress to it.
Oh!!! No wonder he was standing around crying in a noodle aisle. If his romantic partner was elsewhere and he was stuck here, of course he might feel a little out of sorts. Being in a new place with just a coworker sucked. Or maybe he was projecting…
“I know how that is. My husband’s….” he trailed off and waved the topic away quickly. He’d just slipped and referred to Mobei-jun as his husband that way! Well, he was his husband, of sorts. But still!!!! No need to bring him up like that!!!!
The foreigner looked at him for a time before nodding. “You understand.”
Shang Qinghua nearly burst out laughing hearing it phrased that way. “I do.”
He definitely understood this.
Purely studying the novel and discussions on it was proving to be both fruitless and depressing. Luo Binghe didn’t have a way to even contact the one with the moniker his Shizun used, and was hesitant to do so anyway. This meant he was once more stranded with no way of finding his beloved.
Mobei-jun had been struggling with it further than Luo Binghe had, so had taken to scouting about and seeking his husband more directly. This was all well and good, but Luo Binghe didn’t feel he could just look and find his Shizun, so he needed to know more before he could progress.
However, since he was currently at a dead end, it was time for Luo Binghe to start searching as well.
He had made a point to study a little more on the cultures and customs of this time and place, so he felt prepared to interact with anyone he happened to meet here. He took the portable Tablet with him in case he needed to look anything up or to study the novel while on the go. Whatever happened, Luo Binghe felt he would be prepared.
That idea went out the window pretty fast when he found himself confronted with one of the most frustrating humans he’d ever come across.
One of the better places to people watch and still access information he wanted was a cafe he found. This place had free “wi-fi” which was a portable version of the Internet spell. This meant he could connect to it on the Tablet even away from his living space. That was very helpful in his pursuits and locating other places with this free “wi-fi” would be most helpful.
While there, Luo Binghe had taken up a position in a comfortable chair and had started a full reread of the Awful Novel in the hopes of spotting something he may have missed before. It was a hassle but better than giving up and doing nothing!
Scrolling irritably through the early chapters, having to read his own abuse from an outside perspective, he was naturally very distracted. He kept hoping, as he read, that something would change. That the world on the page would align to his memories. He just wanted the gentle Shen Qingqiu he knew and loved, not this one who never relented and never showed any goodness.
The first he noticed the person behind him was when he heard them speak. A derisive snort was followed by a comment, “You’re reading that? I’d stop now if I were you. It doesn’t actually get any better.”
Turning, Luo Binghe found himself facing the person who had spoken. Whoever it was had read the Awful Novel apparently. He didn’t know if he should be offended with him or agree!
By his chair, at the end of the long line of customers in the cafe, was the rather pitiful seeming human who had decided to comment on his reading.
He was short - well average by these people’s standards, but very short to Luo Binghe - but more noticeably was that he appeared shorter due to not standing straight. This person was leaning on a short cane beside him to support his weight. He was also rather excessively skinny - Luo Binghe could probably fit his whole wrist in the circle of his thumb and index finger with a gap left! He wore an accessory with large clear coverings over his eyes - glasses, apparently - but they barely obscured the sharpness of his eyes.
How strange! This person practically advertised his weakness. Was it a ploy for something?
“Do you usually give random opinions on strangers’ reading material?” Luo Binghe spoke to this person in a bored and dismissive tone.
Immediately, the young man’s face went from the sharp and cold disgust over whatever his problem was, to a dramatic look of annoyance. He huffed and his cheeks turned red, and he looked away quickly.
“When someone’s reading that particular trash, yes, I just might!”
Their discussion was halted immediately by the line moving so the young man being required to move away. So for now, Luo Binghe turned back to his reading and settled again.
Still, he was so agitated with this person! He wanted to know if this stranger knew anything!!!
Raking a hand through the mess of curls that fell loose and unruly over his shoulders, Luo Binghe huffed loudly. His hair was an impossible mess in this world and he hadn’t been able to do anything with it. It tangled like crazy and he kept wanting to cut it off. People here kept their hair short plenty! The only thing keeping him from it was the fear of not having it on his return home.
A cup was placed on the shared table near his seat and the nosy human took up the other seat by him, immediately pulling out his Small Tablet to look over.
“Did you want to keep talking to me?” Luo Binghe couldn’t help asking, raising a brow at this person daring to sit closer to him again.
Those sharp eyes flashed to him, “Not everything is about you. This seat looked comfortable and you took the seat I normally take.”
“Whatever you say. If you wanted to keep talking to me about my reading choices, you could have just said.”
Being a bit smug and getting this human to huff at him was fun. There was something really amusing about how quickly his face changed between calmer expressions and looking annoyed or surprised.
“You’re the one who was staring at it like you wanted to throw your tablet. I just wanted to save you from disappointment if you had some sort of hope that the story was going to go anywhere. If you’re just in it for the smut, you don’t need to bother with this part of the setup, and if you’re in it for the plot you’re wasting your time.” The young man sniffed and looked away from him, still obviously blushing.
Leaning on his hand to look at this person with interest, Luo Binghe asked with a bland voice, “What if I’m in it for the characters?”
Immediately, the young man looked back, “Then you’re in for even worse! Any character with potential in that book is sorely wasted! It’s not worth it at all. No development at all, and any development is questionable or hollow!”
How interesting....he really did seem to have a lot of opinions about it, didn’t he?
“Oh really? Tell me more.” Luo Binghe hoped poking at this would get him more information from this person.
Sadly, he had apparently prodded too much.
With an irritated huff, the young man picked up his drink and left without another word, storming away rather than staying to chat.
How frustrating! And Luo Binghe really had wanted to know what he knew…
That was their first meeting. Each subsequent one had been equally frustrating.
The second time they’d met, it had been in shop.
Luo Binghe had been looking at the specialty merchandise and accessories, out of a bland interest and also a vague hope of finding a gift for Shizun. Getting him something would ease some of the ache in Luo Binghe’s heart, and be something nice to win his affection on finding him again.
Luck was with him when he spotted the folding fan among the goods there. A nice quality one too!
But just as he’d been reaching for it...another hand managed to take up the item!
Turning to glare the person, Luo Binghe had found himself face to face with that person again! Of course he was glaring back too, and pulled the fan closer to himself quickly.
Oh there was no standing for that! Normally he wouldn’t pointlessly fight someone here, especially not someone clearly injured in some way, but this person was getting between him and a gift for his Shizun!
So of course, Luo Binghe had reached out to take the fan from him….and promptly been bwapped on the head with it!
He froze in that moment, as being lightly hit with a folding fan was a very familiar gesture. He absolutely would freeze before such behaviors, as it was how Shizun showed discipline and affection! Shen Qingqiu was so sparing with his affection outside of using his fan or light headpats so it always had an effect on Luo Binghe.
But this annoying human, he was no Shizun and he had used this trick on him!
Actually, he’d seemed just as surprised as Luo Binghe about it working, but took the chance to scurry quickly away. As quickly as someone with a cane could, anyway. It was good he’d fled, or else Luo Binghe would absolutely have gotten that fan from him.
Really, using such a thing against him! How dare he!
But then...he’d only had one free hand, hadn’t he? If he was supporting himself on his cane, he could only defend with one hand, and that hand held the fan, and if he didn’t want to damage it…
Yes it made sense. And Luo Binghe had been foolish to hope.
Still, what an awful meeting!
By their third meeting, he was sure it was just his luck they’d keep running into each other.
Luo Binghe had been debating if he wanted to try this ‘pizza’ that was advertised in a particular restaurant, when someone had walked right into his back.
“Ah, I’m sorry! I zoned out, I’m so sorry.” the familiar voice had said quickly and Luo Binghe just had to sigh, turning to give a dirty look to the same young man again.
“You’d better not have that fan on you or I’m taking it.” he grumbled, looking at him seriously.
Immediately his demeanor changed, and he narrowed his eyes, glaring at Luo Binghe. “I don’t have it with me, and that’s theft. Stop threatening strangers. Why are you blocking the walkway?”
“It’s a small area and if I moved any further, I’d be considered in line. I haven’t decided what I want yet.”
“Oh, so you do know some form of consideration? I’m amazed.” the young man brushed past him to stand in front of some of the glass cases with the food on display, but visibly out of line.
Ugh, no need to show off.
He hesitated a moment or two before following. He’d probably have a better idea of if the food was palatable by looking at it. So he moved beside the irritating human to look over the selection.
“Do you just like being in my personal space?” the other young man grumbled but didn’t move away. He was instead just peering at the quality of pizza, analyzing it scrutinously. He seemed to do that with everything.
“You’re leaning over a space I was trying to look at.”
“Keep telling yourself that. Your excuses might improve.” the young man rolled his eyes then stood. “I don’t know if I like this enough to get much. Troublesome.”
“Then why don’t we split one?” Luo Binghe suggested. A good way to get this person to stay still long enough to be interrogated and they could both try this ‘pizza’ without issue!
His companion looked him over with suspicion for a time. “I don’t even know who you are, why should I bother eating with you?”
“Because you want to give me all of your opinions and I’m interested in them?” Luo Binghe offered. This person, he did seem to have a lot of opinions and enjoy sharing them…
That got him a glare but after a moment, the young man pointed at him. “Fine but you’re buying. What’s your name?”
Luo Binghe had been about to respond when a thought struck him. This person had read the novel, so would recognize the name ‘Luo Binghe’ immediately and probably take it for a lie. People in this time and place didn’t use such names either, it seemed more of a fantasy name than anything. So he quickly came up with a substitute.
With a warm smile, he nodded, “I can pay. And you may call me Luo Zeyang.” The surname Luo was common enough he could keep it, whereas he’d had to think fast to come up with a proper substitute.
There was a brief look of surprise in the other young man’s face before it was quickly quelled. “Ah. Good to meet you then. Fine, if you want to talk about that trash novel over food, we may.”
“I think you owe me a name first. It’s only fair.”
That got a huff from the young man, who looked at him briefly before turning away.
The name is 洛澤洋 (Luò ZéYáng) and the wonderful Jay came up with it for me <3
“I just think that’s a disappointing ending.”
“What’s so disappointing? He got to be with the person he loved most.”
“Yes but he’s miserable in the process! A good protagonist deserves to be happy in the end! We’ve followed him all this way, why would we want to see that happiness taken from him?”
“You’re just too soft-hearted. It’s unrealistic.” Luo Zeyang was rolling his eyes again.
Ugh, this annoying person! How dare he!
“Unrealistic? UNREALISTIC? This is a land of magic and giant monsters, and one guy getting to be happy with the person he loves is unrealistic?”
Shen Yuan was now properly in Luo Zeyang’s face and poking him in the chest.
“You’re just such a cynic! I have high standards but you just take the cake! Such a pessimist. What am I to do with you?”
“You’ll have to defer to my husband for any punishments.”
“Your husband needs to come collect you and get you out of my way then.” Shen Yuan took his seat again and crossed his arms over his chest.
Since meeting him, he’d run into Luo Zeyang repeatedly. It seemed whenever he went out on his outings now, they ended up in the same places. And whenever they were in the same places, despite himself, he ended up drifting into this person’s company. How troublesome!
Maybe it was just they were both married men and making friends while they were without their preferred company. After all, if he had Luo Binghe to keep him company, Shen Yuan wouldn’t be able to focus on anyone else, his husband would want all of his attention.
The shared surname and similar features were some of the most bothersome traits about Luo Zeyang. They both were extremely attractive, with gorgeous curls, handsome faces and strong builds. Luo Zeyang’s features weren’t was perfect as Luo Binghe’s were, of course, but he was living in the real world not a fantasy novel! Of course his hair behaved like real curls and not the perfect mane that Luo Binghe’s did!
Really, the biggest difference was the softness to Luo Zeyang’s body from a bit of extra weight. Sometimes Shen Yuan suspected Airplane-bro had some sort of hangup about weight gain and appearance. No one in that world seemed to actually have much fat at all on them and no matter how they ate didn’t seem to gain it. There was some wiggle room but overall it was pretty clear no one in that world got fat.
But Luo Zeyang actually had a bit of weight to him, much like someone who played a lot of sports would. It wasn’t unpleasant but between that, his more humanly handsome face, and his uncontrolled hair, there was really no comparison to his husband.
Shen Yuan fiddled with the ring on his left hand. He’d taken to wearing one on his return because it just felt wrong, having nothing in this life that tied him to the other one, nothing that said he was very happily taken. Most who knew him would just blow it off as an accessory choice, but to him it meant more.
“For someone who wants me out of your way, you should stop suggesting reading material for me.” Luo Zeyang gave an amused snort from his own seat.
“I can’t help if your taste is terrible otherwise.” Shen Yuan blushed and looked away quickly.
He hadn’t meant to start giving Luo Zeyang suggestions, really! He’d just brought things up in passing during their discussions and when questioned, would of course share the sources. How was he to know Luo Zeyang would go out and look up every story he mentioned and speedread them? It was great for conversation but what kind of weirdo did such things?!?!
“You just want someone to argue with. Does your spouse not talk to you enough? Clearly you need more attention.” Luo Zeyang had a way of making even a jab sound charming and somehow that also made Shen Yuan want to smack him for it.
“We have different interests. My husband pays me plenty of attention. What would you even know about it?”
Shen Yuan threw a roll at him. He’d previously just been intending to pass him one of the rolls they’d gotten to snack on, but if he was going to be like this, he could try and catch it. Not like Luo Zeyang wasn’t athletic enough to grab a roll carelessly flung at him.
That got a soft chuckle that had no right to be that cute as Luo Zeyang caught the roll easily. “For someone who claims to have such good taste, though, you seem very invested in a book you hate.” he suggested.
“Don’t tell me you went back to reading that nonsense.” Shen Yuan groused.
“I did. And it’s definitely bad. Which makes me wonder why you don’t want to talk about it. You seem very eager to talk about anything you have a negative opinion of otherwise.”
That got another full blush from Shen Yuan.
How was he supposed to explain that?!?! If he got started on talking about all of his feelings about Proud Immortal Demon Way, he was absolutely going to slip up and say something stupid. Then he’d sound crazy! Still...he hadn’t been able to just talk about the damn novel as a novel for YEARS. The only person he could discuss it with was its author who was always going to be blase or defensive!
“It’s not exactly a novel you can discuss in mixed company. We’re out in public, I’m not going to go off about bad smut in front of a bunch of strangers, thanks!” Shen Yuan hissed, narrowing his eyes at his companion.
“Then we should talk about it privately sometime. Having read it all, I really want to hear just how fired up you’re going to get. Besides, I need someone to be angry with on it.” Luo Zeyang suggested.
“You’re terrible.” Shen Yuan chewed on his own roll, considering. “We could...perhaps talk it over at my apartment sometime. Just have coffee and talk books and see a movie or something. Don’t take that as anything though!” He’d already seen Luo Zeyang very coldly turn down people asking for his company plenty of times, usually with the very plain ‘I’m taken’ he liked to give. It was amusing as hell but he didn’t want to be on the receiving end.
“If I want to get you to talk to me about this novel, I guess that’s the only way. I’ll make dinner and make it worth your while then.”
Why did that have to sound so appealing?!?!?! Ugh!
“Fine! Thursday then?”
“Sounds good to me. I look forward to it, Shen Yuan. Let’s see your claws come out.”
“I’m going to pelt you with another roll in a moment here! Shut up!”
The sun was warm and the weather was clear as Shang Qinghua walked about town with his new odd friend. He wasn’t as used to walking in this body as in his other one, but it seemed like his companion wasn’t exactly as used to walking about as much either. He kept getting tired and inexplicably frustrated about it, which meant their walks frequently had breaks, which was good for both of them!
Foreigner-bro, as Shang Qinghua had taken to calling him, seemed to do better with some company who could give him a bit of firm direction. He was determined to look around the area but didn’t seem to grasp things that seemed below his notice. At the very least, he was open to being physically redirected!
More than once, Shang Qinghua had had to physically move Foreigner-bro away from some things. This usually involved putting his hands right on the taller man’s hips and pushing or pulling him in a particular direction. He was also open to being led by the hand but fully moving him by his admittedly beautifully sculpted hips was totally worth it.
He had to be super foreign because he definitely didn’t seem to understand how a crosswalk worked. Shang Qinghua’s first experience with having to move him out of a situation was when he’d tried to just cross the street on red, with cars coming. He’d had to act fast, throwing his arms around the man’s middle and dragging him back onto the sidewalk.
At least the touching wasn’t offensive and he’d appreciated the explanation. And oh but he was nice to hold. If Shang Qinghua could get away with grabbing his king that way, he absolutely would. Just press his face in between his shoulders and enjoy the cold and the feeling of his muscles. He definitely missed him.
Another nice thing about having Foreigner-bro around was he was a great distraction, and a good thing to keep Cucumber-bro off his back about supposedly being depressed! Cause he couldn’t overwork himself if he was busy showing this guy how to navigate a city.
His latest call from Cucumber-bro on that subject actually happened during one of the most recent walk breaks. He had just been settling into the bench when his phone rang.
“Heeeeeey, bro, where’ve you been?”
“Busy.” Shen Yuan definitely sounded more energetic than he had before. Cranky was his default state but there was totally a difference between sad cranky and energetic cranky with Cucumber-bro. “Anyway, I just wanted to check what you’re up to since I haven’t heard from you in a bit.”
“Oh, yeah I’ve just been helping this guy I met out. I think he’s foreign. Pretty cool though.” Shang Qinghua smiled over at where Foreigner-bro had sat down to stare suspiciously at the ducks in the pond. “He’s glaring at the ducks right now.”
“...so you’ve just taken to randomly helping a stranger out for no reason? What are you even helping him with?” Cucumber-bro sounded exceptionally incredulous.
“Mostly just...navigating? He’s super foreign. Like didn’t understand crosswalks or traffic lights foreign. But it’s alright. He’s pretty much harmless.”
“Do you even know what qualifies as harmless anymore? Didn’t you tell me you accidentally got mugged and didn’t even process it till you were home and ‘oh now I have a new knife i guess’?” Cucumber-bro sounded frustrated, “Does this guy have a name?”
Shang Qinghua felt his face heat up in a blush as he suddenly realized. Umm……
“Hey! We aren’t at that stage yet bro!” he said quickly, covering for his complete stupidity. Uuuuugh he didn’t even know this guy’s name! And now it’d be really weird to ask!
“You are the most useless person I have ever met.” Cucumber-bro grumbled, then heaved a deep breath.
“Bro, you ok?”
“Yes, I’m just cleaning my apartment. It takes a lot out of me.”
“...why the cleanup?”
“I’ve got some company coming over to have coffee and discuss books.” Cucumber-bro snorted, “Actually, yours. We’re going to be tearing Proud Immortal Demon Way to shreds so that’ll be fun.”
“Ow, cruel. Glad you’ve found a new friend at least.”
“Shut up, we aren’t friends.”
“......and he’s coming to your apartment? Whatever you say, bro.” Shang Qinghua rolled his eyes. Then he glanced over. “Ok I gotta go. I’m starting to see distress signs. I think Foreigner-bro is overheating and if I don’t catch him fast he’s going to jump in the water with the ducks.”
“...god you’re such a weirdo. Whatever. Bye.”
Before they’d even fully hung up, Shang Qinghua was striding over to get ahold of one muscular arm and pull Foreigner-bro away from the pond.
“Yes it looks nice, no you aren’t allowed to just jump in the water.” he said, arms wrapped around a pale and well muscled bicep and trying very hard not to think about that fact.
Foreigner-bro allowed himself to be pulled back from the water, though was visibly still displeased. “Pointless rules.” Was the closest he’d get to a comment on that.
“Yeah yeah, that water isn’t even sanitary man. Come on, let’s go get you something to cool off with, ok?”
He was so glad Foreigner-bro was willing to be led, because seriously, he could get into such trouble otherwise!
Shang Qinghua relaxed his grip on the man’s arm and instead just took hold of one of his hands. Best not let go of him till they’d secured something to cool him down. He was liable to wander in search of it if he got too antsy.
He’d picked up very quickly on Foreigner-bro’s habits when it came to wanting to cool off very quickly. He’d taken to sitting in front of Shang Qinghua’s air conditioner and practically melting when he was feeling uncomfortable. The guy had to come from Canada or Russia or something. Totally ridiculous.
At the very least, Shang Qinghua had been able to convince him that t-shirts or sleeveless shirts when he wasn’t going anywhere important were preferable to being in full sleeves. The downside to that was that this guy was absolutely a model and he had a glorious figure. However, Shang Qinghua had spent the last several years in the company of his unbelievably gorgeous ice demon boss/husband/it’s complicated….essentially, he wasn’t completely worthless around hot guys! Ok? Ok.
It was kind of nice getting to hold hands with said really handsome guy though. Seriously. He could never get away with that at home! Which was a shame. Things that’d absolutely improve hand-holding: your hands not getting gross and overheated in the process!
Dragging Foreigner-bro along, he was quickly able to spot the location he’d spied earlier and kept in mind for just this occasion. An ice cream stand! This would totally help!
He purchased a vanilla cone for Foreigner-bro and a popsicle for himself. “Here, have this. It should keep you out of trouble for a bit.” he laughed, handing it over as they walked away from the stand.
Foreigner-bro looked...confused, to say the least. He at least seemed to gather it was cold and held it closer to himself.
Shang Qinghua just unwrapped his popsicle and went for eating it, though he did keep glancing over to make sure Foreigner-bro did actually figure out his treat. Sometimes he was unaccustomed to the weirdest things. Maybe it was because he was a model - no treats allowed?
This occasional glancing to make sure his companion was ok was how he ended up catching Foreigner-bro staring at him with a blush covering most of his face.
Huh? Why the blushi-...whoops.
It was at that moment that Shang Qinghua remembered he was eating a popsicle. And his brain had been turned off. Let’s…..let’s not do that that way. That’s super gay. Don’t make this awkward.
“Ack. Woops. Sorry about that.” he turned away fast, moving the popsicle away from his own mouth and wiping it fast with a napkin. “H-how’s yours?”
Looking back at his own, Foreigner-bro nodded. “Good. Sweet.”
“Yeah ice cream seemed like something you’d like.”
“Yours seems to be more ice than mine.”
“That’s just the name of it, bro.” Shang Qinghua laughed and pat his arm. “Come on, let’s get back to our walk before we run out of daylight.”
The Small Human had taken to calling him ‘Foreigner-bro’ which seemed to suit. Mobei-jun was pretty foreign to this landscape and so long as the small human was helping him, he really didn’t care how he was referred to. He wasn’t a king here, wasn’t a demon, and had no reason to share his proper name so this would suit.
He’d made no progress on finding his mate, but he at least had a better idea of this environment and how to survive it. The small human made a point to show him different tips to keep from overheating - less clothing, particularly less sleeves; devices to cool one’s area; sweet frozen treats; It was all helpful in various ways.
Currently, he had put his head inside the cooling box in the small human’s “apartment” as he called this living space.
The apartment was nice, he preferred it to the one he had been designated. Besides it being colder, it also had a more familiar atmosphere to him.
Where Luo Binghe always kept his spaces a very particular kind of orderly with only his Shen Qingqiu to leave things about, and Mobei-jun himself tended to not have a reason to move things, Shang Qinghua was another story. He was messy, and his quarters on An Ding Peak were always some level of organized chaos. It was a combination of how much work he had to do that left no time for cleaning, and a personality that tended towards wanting to do anything but work when he had free time.
It made this living space, with books and papers and electronics scattered about in vague stacks so very familiar and comforting. It must just be a way people lived here, or maybe a small human tendency.
“Ok, big guy, time to get out of the freezer before everything inside melts. Or you get frostbite. Whichever.” Firm hands on his biceps pull Mobei-jun out of the freezer and guide him over towards the air conditioner again.
This human had a lot of nerve for his size. He was nowhere as strong as most humans Mobei-jun knew, nor as durable, but he still moved Mobei-jun about like it was nothing. He was steady and sure of his direction and it was easy to trust in it and follow him. He wondered if this is how he handled his mate, as he’d specified before that he had one.
“Is it common for you to move your partner this way?” Mobei-jun asked as he was settled upon the couch in front of the air conditioner.
“What, are you kidding? No way!” the small human laughed, going to make sure the fridge was securely shut.
How strange. “Why not?”
“Because I don’t want to get smacked for the audacity?” the small human snorted.
Mobei-jun frowned with concern, “I understood you were partners that way? Why would that result in punishment?” Sure, a demon would beat their partner multiple times a day as a show of affection, but that was between demons. He’d learned already that humans specifically did not generally express affection that way and didn’t appreciate it.
That got a furious blush from his companion. “I mean...yeah I guess we are? It’s very complicated.”
“Why’re you so full of questions today?” the small human put his hands on his hips and gave a soft laugh at him. “You usually don’t want to talk at all even when I ask you things.”
“I want to know more.” Humans were so hard to understand and knowing more about this one might give him more insight into his own. His Shang Qinghua...really didn’t tell him much.
He was very fond of his human. Shang Qinghua had been loyal and a fixture at his side for many years before they had become mates. He’d attempted to show him affection in demonic fashion but had set them back a great deal more. A lot between them was a push and pull of trying to figure out each other’s wants and needs without fully speaking the same language.
After a little staring, his companion shrugged and came to flop down on the couch by him. “So before I answer any more questions, I’m just going to say, he’s stubborn and an idiot about some things and gives me a headache, but he’s not a bad guy and I love him a lot. We just don’t always...mesh quite right.”
“Some is him, some is me.” He looked at his lap, fidgeting with his clothes. “He doesn't open up easily and he's very quiet so it's hard for me to know what he's feeling. Like if you haven't severely crossed a line he doesn't react at all. So I never know if I've pushed too far until then, and I really don't ever want to push that far.”
“If it isn't too far, why does it matter?” Mobei-jun asked, wondering at that.
The small human blinked up at him, “Because I'd like to know the ice is cracking before I'm walking on it and plunging in a hole.”
That was both reasonable and confusing. “But if you haven't gone too far, the ice has not yet cracked. If you only see anything when you go too far, that is the crack not yet the point you would fall.”
“I guess you could see it that way. I just don't know where we stand on that front.”
“You could ask.”
The small human winced. “I could..yeah.” He leaned on one hand, closing his eyes. “I'm just...very afraid of what he might say.”
That was troubling. Did this one think himself into a corner with everything? If he did, Shang Qinghua definitely did.
He remained quiet, puzzling over this, and let the small human elaborate on his own.
“A lot of this is weird for me because I'm in a relationship I don't understand how I got in. And I don't...I don't think I deserve it, but I don't want to lose it either.” He ran a hand through his unruly hair, “I don't want to ask him about these things or do something wrong and suddenly have him realize he's made a mistake choosing me.”
This distress was upsetting. He blamed it on the similarities with his mate and this more emotional body. These worries being expressed were choking him up. The tears were starting to happen again and that was no help.
Well, it was help in another way.
Seeing him upset, the small human reached over and pulled him into a loose embrace, letting Mobei-jun rest his cheek against his chest.
“Did that hit a nerve? I'm sorry. I know you miss your partner. I should shut up.”
“No.” He mumbled, “I like when you talk. And it helps.”
“Does it?” he didn't sound like he believed.
“We don't always understand each other. It frustrates me when he doesn't seem to believe my intentions or questions my interest. I had thought...that he doesn't trust me.”
Mobei-jun really didn't like being so vulnerable around strangers but this human had found a soft spot with him and was frequently around when he was vulnerable. He was earning trust. It was very like when he'd first known his mate, but this wasn't a life or death situation.
“You can trust somebody a lot but if your mind tells you different and sets you up to read everything wrong, it's much harder.” the small human agreed.
“I have felt that.” Mobei-jun admitted.
“There are things that make me distrust very easily. Make me want to hide what I feel, more than is already natural. It has made forming a relationship very difficult.”
“You're definitely an odd one, even if you seem pretty expressive to me.” The small human rubbed circles on his back in a soothing way.
“I am hesitant to express affection or ask for it. I've done it wrong before, and it kept my mate from me longer, pushed him further. I don't wish to do it wrong again or make him feel what I ask is required if he doesn't wish it...I don't want him to be forced. If he's forced he will become unwilling. He might strike back to escape.”
“You want to be loved, not feared?” The small human suggested, and rubbed at his back a bit more. “I guess it would hurt...to have someone you love afraid of you…” He sounded thoughtful.
“I want him to touch me as easily as you do.”
“Well you have to give him more leeway there. I'm weird, all my boundaries are totally messed up.” His companion laughed awkwardly. “Normal people have to judge on what they see and know so it depends how he reads you. I've had to deal with someone who is waaaaay more hard to read than you are so of course you're a lot easier. You show visible signs of distress and lean into comfort. It's subtle but you do. Compared to my husband, you're an open book. Yours may just be struggling because you're more difficult to read than what he knows.”
Mobei-jun found that a little sad. He was emotive in this body but in his own much less so. Could his Shang Qinghua not read him? He did often misunderstand too...He wanted his mate back so they could discuss this. He felt so tired by it all.
He sank in the small humans embrace and rested his head on his lap. “Tell me more of your stories.”
He had learned this human was a writer, that he created various tales.
“I'm glad you like hearing them.” His host laughed and idly tangled his fingers into Mobei-jun’s hair. “I don't get to tell anyone anymore. The one person who really knows I write doesn't really have time for my stuff these days.”
“Is that your mate?”
“No! Definitely not wasting his time with that. I don't want him telling me to shut up over it - that'd hurt a lot. No just a friend of mine. He's grouchy and says he doesn't care but he does. He's just very busy.”
Was being told to shut up do hurtful? Perhaps he didn't think of it much but another might. Especially if they were discussing something they felt was important.
His Shang Qinghua loved to ramble and he usually didn't mind listening. He liked the sound of his mate's voice. But when he reached the limit of his patience or interest, he would say to shut up. It wasn't meant as anything serious but did it sound so?
Did it make his human less likely to talk to him at all? Less likely to open up to him? Rather than ending the activity for the moment, was he seemingly discouraging it overall?
He was suddenly worried his mate might talk to him less than he used to.
The hand in his hair scritched at his scalp. “You're getting stressed out again. I'll go back to telling you the story, it's ok.”
Mobei-jun nodded and settled to listen. Between the voice and the soft hand in his hair, he relaxed easily. This human rubbed his head in just the right way. It would have followed the edge of his horns we're he in his right body.
Such nice touches and a distracting story sent him to sleep in no time.
Shen Yuan’s apartment was small and notably plain. He didn’t seem to put a lot of time or energy into decorating. It was tidy at least - not quite to Luo Binghe’s cleaning standards, but it was passable for sure. He didn’t seem to have guests often and it showed.
Once they were inside, he awkwardly directed Luo Binghe to just have a seat while he went to put on the coffee. Watching him putter about the kitchen to try and put things together one-handed, Luo Binghe almost wanted to help him out. Almost.
He wasn’t going to fuss with Shen Yuan about things like this. If he wanted to try and make coffee one-handed that was really his business and he shouldn’t be forcibly coddled. If he asked for help or wanted it done, Luo Binghe would help, but otherwise he was letting him be.
“So we’re out of public now. Do I get the traditional Shen Yuan rantings on your favorite least favorite book?” he waited till Shen Yuan was back over by him with the coffee to ask that.
“You just get right to it, don’t you? Drink your coffee.” Shen Yuan flopped onto the end of the couch opposite him, breath heavy.
“Oh I will, since you went to the trouble of making it. But I did come here for a reason.”
“What’s your obsession with getting me to talk about that book?”
“Call it avid curiosity. Our very first meeting you couldn’t hold back talking about it, yet you’ve never said a thing since.” Luo Binghe was honest at least. He wasn’t sure this person’s opinion could exactly help him find his husband, but he wanted it anyway.
Listening to Shen Yuan talk about things he enjoyed - or hated - was rather breathtaking. He just got so passionate!
He also didn’t seem to mind that passion being interactive. Luo Binghe would snip right back at him when he had things to say, and engaging with his rants just seemed to spur Shen Yuan onto more. That fervor just encouraged Luo Binghe too and by the time they were done, the pair usually had talked themselves to death but were glowing with exhilaration.
He’d never had someone interact with him like this, letting him be this sharp and cold with his opinions, and giving the same in return. His beloved Shizun was just as intelligent but Luo Binghe didn’t dare try this with him. He’d have scared him away even further than before, he was sure.
Chasing thoughts of comparison away quickly, Luo Binghe sipped his coffee. He was more used to tea, of course, but there was merit to this drink too. He’d have to investigate it when he returned home.
Shen Yuan had been quietly sipping his own drink but seemed to have finally regained enough energy to actually start speaking.
“Fine, what do you want to know about my opinions of Proud Immortal Demon Way? I’ve read the whole thing. Definitely never rereading it though, so don’t ask.”
“Oh?” Luo Binghe raised a brow, “Any reason why not?”
Crossing his arms over his chest, Shen Yuan groused. “I can’t take going through it again! All the people I most care about in the story die or end up miserable! It’s absolutely depressing!”
“Oh? Are you not fond of the protagonist or do you just dislike his final fate? You usually care so much about the protagonist getting a happy ending.” Luo Binghe was absolutely fishing here. He didn’t exactly like how that other him ended up either, but what did Shen Yuan think?
The derisive snort in response was exactly what he’d been hoping for.
“Happy ending? Happy ending?!! Please, the closest he gets to that is in the vulgar sense.” Shen Yuan waved away the idea for emphasis, “Married to a bunch of meaningless, interchangeable sisters - who didn’t even get a fraction of the development they deserve either! Wild pointless sex scenes...and for what? Does he have an emotional connection to any of them? Does he get any closure or care for any of the things he’s gone through? So he got all his revenge, now what? The punishment doesn’t suit the crime - the “happy ending” doesn’t suit the goals!!”
A wry smile cracked on Luo Binghe’s face, “A thousand loveless marriages with a great deal of sex really won’t heal a damaged psyche. People who fawn and fall over themselves or bend in fear won’t truly make someone feel wanted after a lifetime of rejection.”
“Exactly! And half of these relationships existed even before the blackening but could do nothing to stop it! Who holds him back from worse choices? Who asks him what it does to his heart to do such things? It’s an absolute tragedy. What a trash story, to watch someone you grow to sympathize with and care about, rather than becoming the hero they deserve to be, instead become the most frightening villain of the piece. Protagonist or no!”
“Were the other villains of the story not satisfying to see trounced?”
Shen Yuan huffed, “Not particularly. Not when the author puts no development into them so the victories aren’t hollow. I admit, I used to like watching the cannon fodder get crushed, watch the scum pay for their actions, but it’s completely hollow when they’re meaningless people who’s motivations don’t matter, who exist only to be trampled. You may was well just squash bugs and be done with it. If more effort were put into some of the other characters, maybe I wouldn’t care as much, but as it stands, the only person who is actually a realized person is Luo Binghe and as I said, he gets a boring ending.”
That got a soft laugh from the man himself. Shen Yuan was the sort of person who’d huff and protest and rampage, but he’d always let his biases show. It was very like Shizun in that sense, but where Shizun tended to be softer and subtler about it, there was nothing subtle about Shen Yuan’s opinions.
Said unsubtle human threw a pillow at him.
“Don't laugh! Why ask my opinion if you're going to laugh at it? You're such an ass!”
“Don't misunderstand me, A-Yuan, I'm just amused at your railing against an ending featuring ruling three kingdoms and having a 600 wife harem and multiple children as a 'boring’ ending. It's such a very…you assessment.”
“That is a boring ending if the wives are exactly as interchangeable and pointless as the villains. What's the difference between them? Especially when he treats his wives so poorly. Half aren't even willing most of the time. Then also cheating on them to have affairs with someone like Madam Meiyin? What is the point of having a harem if you aren't even going to respect your marriage vows? Why marry at all?”
“Was that a thing too?” Luo Binghe growled low. Really, couldn't this other him keep it in his pants?
“Did you skim the smut chapters? Well I wouldn't blame you if you did.”
“There are only so many times I can read about a guy I'm not interested in have sex with people I've forgotten in various pointless ways.” Luo Binghe didn't pretend to care about any of the cast really. “I prefer the plot and that was disappointing.”
Shen Yuan snorted, “That's because the author gave up on writing anything seriously fleshed out and just bent to the will of the readers. I think he's intending to write something new and avoid that, but we'll see.”
“I did see that noted after the last chapter was posted. Not much of an ending really.”
“That's because he should have ended it forever ago with the actual story's end! This isn't a soap opera that can just run forever unless you give the main character something new to do - besides his wives - or pick a new protagonist.” Shen Yuan huffed indignantly.
Luo Binghe shrugged. “A protagonist switch would have been welcome. I can't say I liked the one we had. A pathetic-”
He was interrupted by Shen Yuan crossing the couch to beat him with a cushion. “Don't! Don't you even dare! He's the saving grace of this whole thing!”
“His only interests are killing and sex, what's to like?” It was hard to defend against the pillow attacks and not laugh.
“He's written to be an archetypical badass, it's not his fault his writer is pandering! And even if he weren't a complete badass and cried up a storm at every turn, he'd still be worth caring about! He's a fascinating and interesting person and you- you-!!!”
Shen Yuan had hit the point where physical activity and talking were too exhausting and he slumped. He wasn't able to articulate further but his glare said plenty.
“Alright, alright, I won't talk of him anymore.” Luo Binghe was doing his best not to blush anyway. How would Shen Yuan react knowing he was sitting across from the real thing? His praises were certainly welcome.
Shen Yuan nodded and settled back against the couch to catch his breath.
“I do think it's depressing the author didn't even develop the wives. Even the ones around a long time like Ning Yingying. Liu Mingyan doesn't even get a face.” Luo Binghe moved to talking about some of the other disappointments.
It seemed like getting tangled up with him robbed his martial sisters and cousins of their lives. Ning Yingying had it the worst - mostly just a damsel in distress or ignored in favor of more dramatic or beautiful women. Perved on by the awful Shen Qingqiu of that world. How awful.
“They’re stuck in genre tropes, unfortunately.” Shen Yuan agreed when his breath was back. “If he'd written fewer sisters for various kinky bedroom antics and just focused in on the ones who'd matter, it would have been better. Even half the ones I can remember names of don't matter.”
“The times when it involves multiple women from the same sect or family are worst. They're already interchangeable, why remind us?” Luo Binghe grumbled. “And why such dramatic deaths for people? Removing someone's limbs should really only be a punishment for some severe crimes.”
“Like what?” Shen Yuan snorted, “Pushing someone into the abyss after years of abuse isn't severe enough?”
“Not if you're also using their limbs to try and convince someone who cared for them to fall into your trap.” Luo Binghe snapped. “It's the sort of thing to do in defense, when someone is madly trying to molest you or brag about their intentions to destroy your loved ones. Not so coldly..” He shivered.
He'd done things similar to that other him but it had been in fits of rage or states of apathy. Where he didn't care what happened as long as it wasn't his problem. Where his depression ate him alive, as did his weapon. He couldn't imagine doing them in cold calculated bliss.
“I’ll admit, when I first read it, I thought his fate was deserved if too light. I was one of the assholes calling for castration in the comments so I don’t get to talk. But my feelings softened A LOT later.” Shen Yuan admitted. “The difference between reading it through being protective of the protagonist, and going through it for everyone else.”
Luo Binghe chuckled at that. The one called Peerless Cucumber online had also called for that with regards to Shen Qingqiu, and he was the one who supposedly might be linked to him otherwise! At least Shen Yuan’s vitriol more obviously came from a place of love. For all he was protesting the story was bad, he was clearly very protective of them.
“Would you have done it differently?”
Shen Yuan blanched at that and looked away, “You can you up..” he mumbled then shook it off, “Who knows? I have a lot of feelings about the story but I’m also an idiot. I don’t want to explain how many years it took me to realize I was gay. I’d be useless trying to handle other people’s lives too. I just want better for people.”
“Even people in a story.” Luo Binghe teased, but it was fondly. He liked how much Shen Yuan seemed to care.
He stood to go investigate the kitchen. He’d brought bags of ingredients over to try and make them food. He wanted to experiment with some of these “modern” dishes, and since Shen Yuan had no idea how good his cooking usually was, it was no harm to experiment here. He’d already learned, the guy would absolutely eat whatever, even if he preferred better.
“So, A-Yuan, you clearly liked the protagonist, but you said the other characters you cared about died? Who else were you fond of?” he asked, cheery as could be while unpacking the bags he’d brought over.
“Well, obviously Ning Yingying was another favorite, and I think she ended up shafted too - no pun intended!!!”
Luo Binghe still laughed. Mostly because it made Shen Yuan huffy.
Settling again, Shen Yuan was distant, as if thinking over things, “I...was actually rather fond of Liu Qingge. I think his story could have gone better places and he had more potential as a character, before his untimely demise. Such a waste, really.”
Luo Binghe flinched. “I wouldn’t call him that interesting.”
“Oh don’t be a brat. It’s not like the author would have kept him around anyway. No men are allowed to live that’d be a threat to the harem.” Shen Yuan waved vaguely.
“I highly doubt he’d have been a threat to the harem, the man’s main interests were fighting and nothing else. Besides, he seems more likely he’d be gay.” Luo Binghe did his best to phrase that so he didn’t sound too sour or like he knew from experience. Because he definitely knew Liu-shishu’s preference, and it was for one very beautiful man he couldn’t have.
“That’s pure speculation. And anyway, he could have made a suitable friend for the protagonist if they got over themselves. Now THAT would have been something useful for healing emotional damage. A harem of 600 wives for meaningless sex, but no friends, no confidants, no one who works for him that isn’t doing so out of fear or blackmail...give the poor thing a few friends!”
“Someone to argue about things with?” Luo Binghe suggested playfully.
“Why not? What’s so wrong with having a bit of bite to your personality? Why can there be no middle ground between ruthless demon lord and charming husband? It might do wonders for him.” Shen Yuan settled himself on the couch cushions and huffed.
“You get so indignant about so many things. Aren’t you afraid of spoiling your reputation, A-Yuan?” he hummed, mixing a bowl in his hands.
“What reputation? I’m a cynical reader of online books and I look pathetic anyway. I can be as grouchy as I like. People who have actual good appearances and wish to maintain them can worry about those things.”
Luo Binghe just huffed fondly and let the point stand.
He saw Shen Yuan’s point about being able to let out a bit of his bite in a conversation with a friend. For himself, he only had Shizun really, and he didn’t dare show such behavior to him. Shizun had spent so long afraid of him or unsure of his intentions, he didn’t wish to lose any ground they gained.
But just as much, he’d love if he could get Shizun to let down his mask more. Because he really was one of those sorts who had good appearances and wished to maintain them - he was always so worried about how he looked that he’d hold back everything. It was hard to know if he was happy sometimes because of that mask of his. Sure, Luo Binghe could read him very well, but he wished he didn’t have to…
The distraction of his thoughts and cooking led to a lull in the conversation. This was probably needed anyway - Shen Yuan only started piling up cushions and draping himself over them when he was starting to get seriously tired. It was rather like when Shizun suffered from Without A Cure, the thing that made him weak enough to walk with a cane also tired him out very easily. It could reduce that fiery personality back to a quiet one.
Eventually, when their meal was in the oven and he saw Shen Yuan starting to perk up again, Luo Binghe asked him another question. “What about that whole business with Shen Qingqiu and Yue Qingyuan? Why go so far for such a traitorous person? Is the Sect Leader such a pushover?” He’d always wondered about those two, really.
Shen Yuan rolled his eyes, “Cut content and people being idiots. Those two had a history that the writer never actually included in the main series. They knew each other before they became cultivators and due to a misunderstanding and bad timing, fell out. Yue Qingyuan always forgave him because he was guilty but too caught up in his own things to just tell Shen Jiu the truth. And Shen Jiu was just like that. I feel more for them these days, but really, you shouldn’t let your guilt go so far as to letting someone abuse children. Shen Jiu should never have been in charge of students.” The last words were said with a snarl.
Luo Binghe could just grunt in agreement, the memory of hot tea pouring down his face still fresh in his mind. What had so changed between universes that took the man he’d known and changed him between the petty creature of the book and the pure and loving Shizun he’d married?
Really, them having history should have made him more uncomfortable. Yue Qingyuan was still very much a person in his Shizun’s life. But whatever history there was, that book had been firmly closed on his husband’s part. Liu Qingge was the one he was far more likely to call on and associate with, the Sect Leader really being more like a big brother or boss than anything. Exceedingly forgiving but nothing more.
Suddenly, he blinked, “If that was cut content how do you know about it?”
Shen Yuan sighed, “I asked the author.”
“You were able to contact him? How?!?!”
“Online of course. He responded to an email I sent him. I just got lucky, though. He doesn’t commonly reply to fanmail.”
Luo Binghe wanted to vault the kitchen counter to ask more about this immediately. “How did you get in touch with him for that?”
Turning, Shen Yuan gave him a dark look, “Don’t randomly stalk authors on the internet, did no one teach you manners? What do you need to know so badly?”
Sighing in frustration, Luo Binghe shook his head. He’d have to think of another way to get Shen Yuan to give him this information. He wouldn’t give it if it was just demanded.
“I think he’s a friend of my husband’s and I want to get ahold of him.” he said but was otherwise going to drop the topic.
“Just ask your husband for his contact information then.” Shen Yuan flopped back on the cushions again.
Explaining he wanted to contact the writer to find his husband wouldn’t be helpful. It would just make him seem more like a stalker. Definitely try another tactic later.
Thankfully, Shen Yuan changed the topic for him. “What did you make anyway? It smells heavenly.”
Luo Binghe snorted, “I was just trying those ‘calzones’ I read about.”
“I’m getting spoiled in my own apartment? I feel so special.” Shen Yuan acted dramatically sarcastic but there was a glitter of delight in his eyes.
“I highly doubt you want to make food yourself. You’re starting to lounge to the point I doubt you’d get up to answer the door for delivery.” Luo Binghe pointed out.
“Probably. Then someone would yell at me for not eating.” Shen Yuan agreed.
“A-Yuan, you do need to actually eat to survive. You’re not in a cultivation novel.”
“I know, I know. Actually eat and don’t eat bad things. I was just in the hospital for food poisoning, trust me, I know.” Shen Yuan waved him off.
“How do you not worry your husband to death?” Luo Binghe walked over to glare down at him, despite Shen Yuan being unable to see him, having an arm thrown over his face.
“He cooks if you must know.”
“Well, then I hope I don’t spoil you for his things.”
“You won’t. No offense, but no one is better than my husband at cooking.” Shen Yuan lifted his hand to glance up at him through one barely cracked eye.
“Tell me that after you’ve eaten it.” Luo Binghe suggested with a smirk and went back to the kitchen.
When the food was done, Luo Binghe was actually kind of excited to see how Shen Yuan reacted to it. Partly because he wanted to be right, but partly because there was something wonderful with how he reacted to anything. Whether he loved something or hated it, he’d always react. This person was full of opinions and it excited him getting to elicit more of them.
His heart hurt a little at the satisfaction he was taking from this. At home, he’d really only ever cook for Shizun. Not that Shizun would mind or care if he shared with someone else - he’d even once had him share a bit with Shang Qinghua - but it was still something special to them. He felt a little horrible that he so easily wanted to share it with someone else, just for a difference of reaction. Wasn’t his precious Shizun’s minute praise enough for him anymore? Little specks of enjoyment with another person and he was opening up to them this way! Was he just a little more tenderness from starting his own damn harem?
He was distracted from grousing about this by Shen Yuan finally trying his calzone, and practically squeaking at it.
Immediately, Luo Binghe’s eyes flew to him, hoping it wasn’t distress.
“Ugh! This is delicious! I hate you!” Shen Yuan reached out and smacked him on the arm. “You’re horrible, what a smug thing you are, look at that face!”
He laughed openly at his companion’s reaction. “A-Yuan just doesn’t get spoiled enough, clearly!”
“I do, you shut up! My husband is still absolutely better so don’t you get so high strung! He’s just been away awhile.” Shen Yuan looked distant but just went back to his food quickly. Did he realize he made happy hums as he ate? Too precious.
They ended their night after dinner by watching a movie Shen Yuan wanted him to see. They spent a lot of it talking and kept having to pause to discuss or argue a scene. Several times they’d rewind just to argue a point.
Somewhere in the middle of their movie watching, Shen Yuan had moved closer to his side. Partly due to his desire to pile up on pillows it seemed, and partly for easier access to swat Luo Binghe or fight over the remote with him. He didn’t think much of it till somewhere close to the end of the movie, Shen Yuan fell asleep.
Rather than staying on his pile of cushions, he’d ended up leaning the other way and resting his head on Luo Binghe’s chest. Nestling in close against him, he was fast asleep and looking cozy. Luo Binghe hadn’t even realized he’d draped an arm around Shen Yuan and pulled him closer.
His mind was a million different places and his heart was distant and aching. Just gravitating towards each other - did it have to be so easy? Was he doing something wrong by enjoying this person’s company this much? They were just friends - if that - and it was innocent affection...but it sometimes felt so much closer than what he got up to with his husband. They both concealed so much from each other, it was like a dance of how close or far they got. They had been through far more together, of course, but...he’d fallen deeply in love with the first person who had regarded him so dearly. Was that a mistake?
He tried to chase these thoughts away and instead focused in on the warmth of having someone openly snuggled into his side and how tired he felt. It was nice getting to exercise his clever side, getting to tire out his mind not just his body…
He slept, eventually, but with a mind and heart weighed heavily by other things.
When he first woke, he was not anticipating it to be as bad as it was. He’d slept very well actually - much better than he had been recently, thank you very much! Though, that was probably due to exhaustion - definitely not due to the warm and safe muscular chest he’d spent the night snuggled against.
Where had his dignity gone? As Shen Qingqiu he certainly didn’t just flop into his husband’s arms with such ease! And they were married!!!
This morning, however, did not want to afford him any return of dignity. Oh no, he knew it the moment he woke. That telltale crackle of feeling at the edges of his awareness. It was going to be a bad one.
Of course, soon as he’d woken, it refused to be denied, even if he moved, and Shen Yuan found himself stifling a loud whimper of pain as he tried to shift position and felt the pain shoot through him like lightning.
Yep, this was going to be a bad one. Just his luck.
“Mm - something wrong?”
It sounded like he wasn’t quiet enough to avoid waking his guest.
“Sorry. Woke up bad.” Shen Yuan lied through gritted teeth and tried to flop the other way onto the pillow pile he’d made the night before. He hissed at the sparks of pain that made his body want to explode.
Fuck it'd been years since he dealt with this! Shen Qingqiu didn't have to deal with such things. Without A Cure was nothing to this. A bit of spiritual energy blockage or being beaten in a fight...at least those had outside causes. At least his own body wasn't trying to betray him.
Luo Zeyang seemed to have caught on it wasmore egregious than he was saying. He'd gotten up quietly and gone to do something in the other room.
Shen Yuan curled in on himself. He was being a terrible host but just now he couldn't be assed to care.
Soon he heard something being settled onto the coffee table by him.
“Would you prefer to be in your room or out here?”
“Fuck off. I'll go to my room when I feel up to it.” He growled. He wasn't going to be coddled and carried about. He's the one who'd been living like this for years.
“Whstever you way. anyway I made tea.” Luo Zeyang said matter-of-factly. He sounded unperturbed.
“Thanks.” Shen Yuan tried rolling over to reach it.
“Do you have pills you need?” He'd seen Shen Yuan taking his daily meds plenty of times now.
“Pillbox on the nightstand, today's. Morning pills are in there and there should be painkillers in a bottle. Two works.”
“Two?” He confirmed.
“Less won't work and more will make me sick.” He agreed.
Letting this person hang around when he was having a bad pain day, truly he must be worse off than he thought.
Still, having his companion come help him sit up so he could drink his tea and take his pills helped. Someone else to run around for him. It felt like home, with his husband. Except he had to admit this was... easier.
He could call Luo Zeyang an ass and hit him with a pillow and he didn't cry and fear that Shen Yuan would leave. He could be a crabby young man in pain for a few hours and not invoke memories of past hurts that someone with his face had brought on. Or of things he himself had done.
He didn't begrudge his husband that, but his heart did ache some days thinking he'd only been married for his mask. That he'd only ever be able to be himself in brief stints with one friend. It was something he could live with but it still sucked.
“Does this usually last the whole day?”
Shen Yuan snorted but didn't open his eyes. “If not more. So if you're bored, get out.”
“I'm not asking out of boredom. Just trying to understand. Anything I can do to make this better?”
“Not particularly. You can't magically make my body behave. I appreciate it though.”
Luo Zeyang was quiet but didn't seem to leave. He sat on the floor next to the couch since Shen Yuan needed to stretch his legs out, and didn't complain about it.
Shen Yuan reached beside him to pet the soft fluffy curls his companion could never tame.
“It doesn't hurt as bad as it could.” He offered.
“You don't need to diminish your pain just because I'm worried.”
Didn't he? Well, maybe not.
Luo Zeyang nodded. “Feeling guilty for taking up space. For inconveniencing others…”
“Mm, sometimes. Sometimes I can be very comfortably selfish.” He rolled forward and buried his face in the mess of black curls, not thinking about it. “Or just not think about anything.”
“...You're good company, A-Yuan.” Luo Zeyang said those words very softly after a time.
“I'm a cranky ass who likes to yell about pointless things “
“That's still good company.”
Shen Yuan sighed and hugged him about his neck.
He slept off and on most of that day but Luo Zeyang hung about anyway to keep him company. It was nice. Nice to be able to be weak for a while but not feel coddled.
“I don’t know if I like this one yet but I’m still working on it. I used to write far more dramatic stories. I don’t do that anymore.”
Mobei-jun gave a soft hum to show he was still listening and continued to idly peruse his host’s books. “Why not?” he asked after a time, noting the small human had gotten lost in thoughts again.
“Well cause I...I used to write way more dramatic stories. More horrible things happening to characters gratuitously for the plot and then overblown retributions. Just everything was overdone and too much and none of my work had any heart.” He looked distant again, “Then things happened...I met people who made me think differently. Like...what if one day you get to meet all your creations, all the stories you told, and have to answer for the things you put your characters through? That’s heavy stuff. If they’re just words on a page, hahaha whatever, but then someone makes you care for real and your heart breaks everytime you remember what you made.”
“It’s kind of stupid, but I guess I just care too much these days. So I can’t write what I used to.”
Mobei-jun pondered this then glanced over, “Is that a bad thing?”
This got the small human to blink at him, “...No, I guess not. It’s just scary. I don’t know how to be better yet, but I want to be.”
“Then you will. If you work for it.” Mobei-jun reached out and pat the small human’s head.
“You know just what to say sometimes, huh?” his companion laughed and ducked shyly away to get back to the box he was reorganizing.
Mobei-jun snorted and went back to perusing the shelves. He had agreed to help clean and reorganize these things - something he had sometimes wanted to offer to help with on An Ding Peak but his Shang Qinghua would have insisted on not letting him. Or just been too afraid to ask.
He had wanted to sigh over these thoughts when something else caught his eye.
Pausing his hand over the spine of a book, Mobei-jun found himself pulling out what appeared to be a hard-copy of a novel he’d only seen in digital form. Was this...could it be?
Proud Immortal Demon Way?!
“Why do you have this?” he asked, turning to show the novel to the small human.
The reaction he got was a dramatic sigh. Quite an interesting response to such a question…
“Uuuuugh. I should get rid of that, really. But it’s my baby so I can’t. Gotta learn from the past and all, right?”
Mobei-jun waited for further answer but it seemed none was coming.
“I don’t understand.”
The small human turned and blinked at him, “You don’t….no of course you wouldn’t know, huh?”
Shaking his head, he stood and went to stand by Mobei-jun, “This is Proud Immortal Demon Way...premiere novel of one Airplane-Shooting-Towards-the-Sky. Namely, me. That’s my online handle and this was the first big novel I wrote. And it went on waaaaaay too long, but this is the first volume I published, so I have a hard copy.”
Wait he...he did what?
Mobei-jun stared at him for a bit, trying to size him up some.
Really? The small human was somehow responsible for the terrible version of their lives? Why? How? How did he even know the things to include?
“You wrote this?” he asked, disbelieving.
“Yes.” That got him more blinks, “I know it’s bad but I did. It’s one of the reasons I can’t bring myself to write like that anymore. It was really terrible. Unhappy for pretty much everyone! And I definitely didn’t know enough about sex when I wrote a lot of the smut.”
Mobei-jun reached out and took his wrist. “You need to come with me.”
They needed to go find Luo Binghe.
This was the closest he’d found to anything related to their clue at all. He hadn’t known quite why Luo Binghe had had an interest in the author of this piece, that hadn’t been shared with him, but it was something. This was the person who at least copied their world, if he didn’t have some hand in shaping it himself. It was definitely better than nothing of a lead.
“Whoa, let me lock up first, then I’ll go wherever you like.” The small human pulled away from him and darted around the apartment to turn things off and grab his keys. “You’re definitely more enthusiastic than usual, bro. What’s up?”
“You may be of use.” was the closest to an answer Mobei-jun would give him, instead just trying to recall where his fellow traveller had said he would be.
They moved swiftly along towards the cafe that Luo Binghe had mentioned he would probably be spending the afternoon at. It was one of his favorite places to meet up with someone he’d been socializing with. Mobei-jun hadn’t seen this person, but as they kept Luo Binghe from completely losing his temper over this whole business, he had to respect them.
He heard the other demon lord long before he saw him. He was arguing with someone, though sounded more frustrated than actually angry.
“If you’d have just let me fix it earlier, you wouldn’t be having this problem.”
“I didn’t think I’d go catching things in it! This isn’t a normal problem for me!”
“You’re so stubborn. Just hold still.”
When they finally came in view, it was to the sight of a skinny human sitting beside Luo Binghe and tying his hair up so that his curls were less in the way. It was something close to his usual controlled style of tying it back, but he’d been struggling to make that work on his own. It seemed at least this human could manage it.
“Oh hey, fancy seeing you here.” the small human at Mobei-jun’s side was the first to comment, looking sort of incredulous.
This attracted both Luo Binghe and the skinny human’s attention.
“You actually left your apartment for a change?” the skinny human finished his work on Luo Binghe’s hair and went over to greet the small human.
He walked with a cane and had clear glass before his face, and he spoke with both terseness and affection for the small human.
“I’ve been leaving it plenty. But I did get dragged out today.” he nodded to where Mobei-jun had been holding his hand.
Luo Binghe glanced between them and at Mobei-jun. Already, it was obvious he was frustrated. Both for their intrusion and for whatever he saw that bothered him. Mobei-jun could already tell this was going to go badly.
Standing in his personal space, Luo Binghe said very low and threateningly, “You had better have a good reason for dropping by, and it had better be more than just showing off the nice little replacement you’ve found for your spouse.”
Yes, he’d expected something like that, but it still hurt.
It was nothing out of the ordinary for him to be frustrated and impatient and snap at something that resembled things he didn’t like about himself. That was just a demon thing, they both did it. But it had also hit a nerve.
Luo Binghe had found a companion to socialize with and take the edge off while he searched. Mobei-jun had done the same. But it made any guilt over their lack of progress suddenly more stark.
He hadn’t been trying to replace his Shang Qinghua - nothing could replace him, he had been too loyal for too long. He wished to be a better mate, if anything, and was learning to do so. But having not found him and so little idea how hurt. He couldn’t bring himself to speak.
Were he in his own body, he wouldn’t have reacted at all. This was normal. But here, of course, he had this human body that just loved to emote at every little thing.
A sudden sharp slap drew all of their attention.
“You shut up. He’s doing his best and trying to learn about this place and get help on whatever you guys are looking for! Just because you have adapted well doesn’t mean everybody else will! You haven’t been helping him either so he’s doing his best with what he has! What help have you been exactly?”
The small human had slapped Luo Binghe.
The small human had slapped him and proceeded to yell at him.
Oh that was a bad idea, such a bad idea.
Luo Binghe had narrowed his eyes and been about to comment, when the skinny human stepped in the way, distracting him with his own glare. He may walk with a cane, but he apparently had a fiery personality but he was holding Luo Binghe’s glare easily.
Soft hands were pressed to Mobei-jun’s arms, guiding him further inside.
“Here, let’s not make a scene. Let’s just get you some ice water or something to chill you. You practically ran here.” the small human pat his arms. “Cucumber-bro will take care of him. They seem to be that kind of friends. Really, he even looks like...nevermind.”
Mobei-jun let himself be led and accepted the cup of ice water he was handed by his companion. He kept his eyes occasionally on Luo Binghe and the other human, but mostly his gaze was downcast.
He didn’t think of the small human as a replacement mate, but would his Shang Qinghua think that? He was very much the sort to think he’d be forgotten that way. And while both of them were very clearly just waiting for their partners and longing for them, it could still be taken differently. As the small human said, when your mind told you different, how could you believe even someone you trusted?
Luo Binghe could have also said much worse things - his rage seemed tempered by being human and by his choice of companion. That person seemed willing to fight with him, which was a good outlet for such aggressions. But if he felt any guilt over allowing himself to be close to someone besides his Shen Qingqiu, he might direct it outwards on seeing similar.
Those two seemed to be arguing over the whole situation and Luo Binghe’s impatience seemed to be starting to get the better of him. If he could be calmed, he might be willing to listen to why Mobei-jun had brought the small human here, then they could move on from this. But that calm was a big if right now.
The skinny human seemed to be growing more frustrated with him as well and finally snapped.
The skinny human knew his proper name?
That was strange.
He thought Luo Binghe had said he gave a false name?
“Uh oh…” at his side, the small human sounded nervous. “Cucumber-bro I know you miss him but that was probably a bad idea…”
Luo Binghe himself seemed to be having a strange reaction to the name being used. While his companion was looking utterly embarrassed, face red and looking away quickly, Luo Binghe almost seemed to be...pleased?
Oh...oh it was like that.
Immediately the skinny human was even more redfaced and hiding in his free hand.
Yes it was definitely like that then.
Mobei-jun felt a sudden aching despair grasp his heart.
The one thing he swore he’d do here, and he’d failed.
He hadn’t found his mate before Luo Binghe found his Shizun.
“Hey...hey, what’s wrong?” the small human’s voice at his side was just barely audible over the roar of his own thoughts, “You’re starting to have another of your freakouts. Talk to me. What’s wrong?”
“He won’t want to wait.” the words choked out, hoping there was some desperate way to fix this, some way he just hadn’t figured out. “He’s found his mate, he won’t want to wait till I find...He’ll want to go home immediately...he won’t wait.”
The grip on his arm where the small human was holding him tightened slightly, but he barely noticed it.
He’d failed so badly.
There was nothing for it. He was going to either have to stay here or lose the person who mattered most to him in the world.
What was he supposed to do? He’d found the closest thing to a clue now, and didn’t even know how to use it. The one who did would be leaving.
The world was crumbling around him and he’d tuned everything else out to try and calm himself. He hated this stupid human body so much. It felt this so much more obviously and fell apart so much more easily. At least as a demon he could keep his composure when distressed!
It was then that the familiar soft voice cut through his thoughts once more, a voice choked with hope and worry all at once.
Turning abruptly, he looked down at the small human once more. The one who’d been at his side and knew just how to comfort him, how to guide him. The one who he’d so easily been coaxed into relaxing with…
He’d missed it before now, but it suddenly seemed obvious.
His own blurred gaze met that of his companion - his mate!! - and he had to dart forward and pull him fully to his chest and held him tight.
“It is you…” the soft frame that had been tugging him about so easily since his arrival now dragged him closer in that hug, neither of them willing to let go.
In the end, he hadn’t found his Shang Qinghua.
His Shang Qinghua had found him.
It’s as it always was.
Why had he ever doubted that it would be?
It had taken a little...sorting out, to settle things again. At the very least, Cucumber-bro really had been able to keep his husband from murdering Shang Qinghua when it caught up to him who had slapped him and all of that.
It had seemed like a better idea to just get out of that situation and fast.
“Don’t leave without us, bro! Call me when you’re ready to leave!” Shang Qinghua had told Cucumber-bro while pretty much dragging his husband out of that cafe.
“We won’t leave you, don’t worry. Not if this one wants me to go back with him anyway.” Shen Yuan had turned and snapped his teeth at Luo Binghe, who was all but wrapped around him already.
Yeah...best to just leave them to that.
Soon as they’d gotten safely back into Shang Qinghua’s apartment, he found himself pressed into the wall and his king’s lips kissing him breathless. Not that he objected, because he was eagerly dragging the taller man against him and kissing back.
He’d missed this so much. He’d longed to be in his beloved’s arms again and all the things he had had with his foreign friend, all their deep conversations on topics just made him want to be close with his husband again so they could try and talk about those things together.
Well...they’d certainly talked about them! And apparently been very stupid about the whole thing!
Shang Qinghua let out a happy sigh between kisses, running a hand down that sleek chest he certainly didn’t have to feel guilty over liking to touch. His king was all his to touch, after all.
Still, there had been a lot said between them that probably wouldn’t be if they’d been aware…
He’d been calling his king ‘bro’ for the past while, how even!!!
Though, that was definitely low on the scale of terrible things. He’d babbled about his stories...and mentioned being afraid to get so handsy with his husband...oh dear…
Still, he tried to relax and get back to their reunion. Too bad other issues took his momentary weakness to rear their heads.
Having his husband touching and kissing him like this, he knew where it'd lead and that more than the embarrassment caused him to freeze up. Because while Mobei-jun was still stunning in this world, Shang Qinghua certainly wasn't. He had barely been passable in the other body but here? Never.
It seemed Mobei-jun’s mind was taking a similar turn because his eager affections from when they’d first entered the room had cooled and instead he just seemed to be pondering Shang Qinghua, stroking his cheek and looking at him intently. Even if he knew it was probably not exactly as he imagined him thinking, it still made Shang Qinghua feel more self-conscious.
“M-my king? You’re looking at me very intensely...what’s up?” Shang Qinghua dared break his own nervous habit by turning to nuzzle at Mobei-jun’s cheek. Just something to try and not be as nervous.
“Do you... want this?” He seemed puzzled about how to ask but then...they'd talked a great deal about their misunderstandings hadn't they?
“I do. I want this very much.”
Mobei-jun nodded and moved to slip his hands under Shang Qinghua’s shirt.
Immediately he squirmed away from that touch, blushing furiously.
Mobei-jun looked further puzzled and a little alarmed. Human features really made him so much easier to read!
Right, gotta communicate. “I'm sorry. I want this - I do! - I'm just feeling..shy. Can we go slower?”
His husband nodded but still seemed worried, returning his hands to just embracing Shang Qinghua loosely.
“Why shy? We have known each other for years and been close recently.”
Shang Qinghua's gaze lowered.
“We haven't been close quite that way here.. and our bodies aren't quite the same as usual…”
“Ah. You find this human form of mine less appealing?”
“What?” He looked up quickly, “No, you're still gorgeous, don't be absurd. My king is handsome even without being a glorious and attractive demon lord. I still find you very appealing.”
To emphasize his words, he kissed Mobei-jun's jaw and nuzzled at him. “My king is the epitome of desirable to my eyes. I don't want any other.”
Mobei-jun nodded at this but still looked lost. “So why…?”
Oh. Oh no he was going to have to say that out loud?
Shang Qinghua’s face lit in a blush. “I.. while my husband is still very attractive - obscenely so, you're very hard to keep my hands off of - while you're so lovely...I'm not.”
The incredulous eyebrow raise didn't help.
“It's true! You have eyes! I'm already not very attractive in that body but in this one I'm far worse.”
“You're softer.” Mobei-jun observed, poking a bit of fat on Shang Qinghua's hip.
He squirmed at that poke. “I know that, don't remind me...it's very unappealing.”
“It's unfamiliar.” Mobei-jun clarified, and ran his hand over the spot. “I don't mind. It does not diminish my desire for you.”
Shang Qinghua had to hide his face against his husband's chest. “My king, you're going to kill me, talking like that. It's very hard for me to feel desirable to you already and then being back as my old self…”
“Shang Qinghua.” His king’s voice may not have those extra powerful notes but it was still strong and very sexy. “Let me decide what I find attractive. That is not for you to decide.”
Oh yes, his husband was going to kill him being so charming.
Such a firm response made any more protests die in his throat and Shang Qinghua leaned back into the wall, pulling his king in to kiss again.
There was only one more brief pause before they got on with it. “Do not be afraid to show me your pleasure. I...I will not tell you to be quiet. I like knowing what my mate enjoys.” Mobei-jun asked that so earnestly but with such a blush that Shang Qinghua absolutely couldn't resist answering by pulling him right back in for a very deep kiss.
As it turned out, the one who most needed to be warned it was ok to be noisy was the demon himself. They had found this out when Shang Qinghua nipped a particular spot he knew his king liked and rather than a stilted grunt of pleasure had gotten a much more lewd sound, accompanied by a very deep blush.
Being forcibly human came with its advantages!!
Shang Qinghua had laughed fondly but grinned and told him, “I like knowing what my mate enjoys.” And that had definitely ended any discourse on the subject.
They didn't really do much talking at all till after, when they were both sleepy and sated, and Mobei-jun attempted to initiate some cuddling.
Shang Qinghua was pretty sure he could get used to being spoiled like this, held close to his mate's chest after and getting to be near.
“How did you write the book?” Mobei-jun had asked, voice low.
“I just wrote it. I took advice from readers sometimes of where to go with it but nothing special.”
“Is that why you suggested you were my father…?”
“I put that really weird, but yea. I created a character who was you and then later was dragged into my own story and got to know you.”
“You didn't write much about me. Or you.”
Shang Qinghua sighed through his nose and nuzzled in, “The Mobei-jun I created was added because I wanted someone of my type in the story. It was a shallow reason but that's it. You weren't the main character and you weren't for them so didn't get a lot of focus.”
A nod, “And you?”
“No one in the story was meant to be me. I don't like myself very much, so I definitely don't want to write about me. But I did give characters my traits.”
Mobei-jun pondered this then nuzzled him, “so the Shang Qinghua of the story who betrayed his king was never you.”
“Nope. I didn't even care enough about him to write in how he met you. Nothing between us was ever written beforehand.” Shang Qinghua ran his hand over his husband's arm, “Nothing about us came from a story. My king may have the features of a character I designed, but the one I fell in love with was all original. You're you.”
Mobei-jun nodded again, apparently satisfied. “The only one that matters to me is my Shang Qinghua. Not another with the same name. Not a story. Just you. The one I trust. The one I love.”
He frowned then because his eyes had started to tear up again.
Shang Qinghua smiled and leaned up to kiss him. “I'm going to miss being able to see you dealing with squishy human emotions.” He kissed his nose next, “but I definitely miss you being content with your body more. And your tail. I like your tail a lot. I didn't design that, you know. I didn't think about it at all and then I saw you and you had a tail and it was wonderful.”
“I like my tail too.” He smiled, just that slight subtle smile of his, and draped an arm across Shang Qinghua the way he'd usually drape his tail.
Shang Qinghua let out another happy sigh and snuggled up with him to sleep.
Shen Yuan didn’t keep his composure very well, not compared to when he was Shen Qingqiu. In his original body, he far more open about everything. So of course Luo Binghe had known the recognition the second it reached his face. No one else would know to call ‘Shizun’ in response to slipping and calling him ‘Binghe’, no one but his husband.
Of course, sticky child he was, Luo Binghe had not needed more confirmation than that acknowledgement to be all over him and clinging. Which, between that and their argument, it was sign that it was time to leave.
“Come on, Binghe. Let’s get back to my place before you glue yourself to me permanently. It’s hard enough to walk as it is, I’m not supporting your weight too.”
That got a soft, breathy chuckle from his husband, who just nodded and stood straight again, then casually moved into step with him. He didn’t take Shen Yuan’s free arm as he might when they were walking at home, which was appreciated. He didn’t like feeling ‘supported’ that way when walking about and hadn’t asked for the help. Still, having his Binghe at his elbow again was very welcome.
Once they’d let themselves in, however, Luo Binghe moved ahead of him to go pile up the couch cushions the way Shen Yuan liked them for settling in and lying on the couch himself, beside the pillows.
He was glad Luo Binghe had gone for the couch and not made any push for the bedroom - while they were certainly married, he still wanted a little time to get his head around this and talk some things out before they moved to anything like that. There was a lot to unpack between them.
“So, will Shizun join me?” He asked, face soft and tone playful. But his eyes held familiar uncertainty that was even harder to mask in this world.
“Do I have any reason not to?” Shen Yuan walked over slowly but with no fear and settled himself on the cushions, snug against his husband's chest. “I chose you already, Binghe. And I'm not going to stop choosing you.”
The strong arms moved to securely wrap around him now, and Luo Binghe rested his face against Shen Yuan.
He breathed deeply.
“Sometimes I really need to hear you say that.”
It wasn't a dramatic tearful plea, just a quiet admission.
His heart felt heavy at that, “I know you do. I'll try to be better about it.”
“I'll still love you even if you aren't some image of an aloof immortal, you know.” Luo Binghe idly traced his fingers over Shen Yuan's shirt.
That got a soft but incredulous snort in response. “I wouldn't be much of a shizun if I didn't act it.”
“You give yourself too little credit. That's not what wins you so many admirers and the devotion of disciples.”
Shen Yuan could feel the knowing smile against his shoulder. Such a brazen one, his husband.
“You are full of it, what admirers? What are you talking about?” Shen Yuan turned and snapped his teeth that direction but it meant nothing. Just a way to tease his husband back.
“What admirers, he says, like even Bai Zhan Peak’s War God doesn't run off blushing at too many smiles or bend to any request from Shizun.” There was that note of jealousy that tinged Luo Binghe's tone whenever that shishu was brought up.
“Liu-shidi? Binghe, really.” Shen Yuan rolled his eyes. “He's a very dear friend and I'm rather sure he's no idea how to have an interest in anyone or anything besides a fight. I told you, I've fought succubi with him.”
“Why should succubi matter to him? They aren't you.” Luo Binghe shrugged, the movement of his shoulders shifting Shen Yuan in his embrace but not unpleasantly. “Believe what you like. Shizun is very bad at recognizing romantic feelings directed at him, but it isn't offensive. So long as you recognize mine now.”
Shen Yuan felt his face heat up. “I was extremely biased beforehand in that case, of course it took a while - and I had my own denial about myself to deal with…”
He felt Binghe settle some and his hug grow a little tighter, more unsure.
“I wasn't sure what the pieces I had were adding up to. I'm still not and it's very confusing.”
Shen Yuan shifted in his embrace to be able to face him, and stroke through his curls soothingly. “Then let this teacher help you. What pieces have you got?”
“I know that long ago I had a teacher who was beautiful but cruel. Who hated me very deeply. And I know that later, I had a Shizun who was tender and doting, who was patient and cared for his students. Someone kind, though he hides it. Someone I love very much.”
Shen Yuan blushed again and pat his hand against Binghe’s bicep. Such a tease!
“I also know that when he was in another body, one with a somewhat different face, Shizun apparently told villagers a fake name that it took time to figure out - he asked to be called Peerless Cucumber for some reason. I was sure it was Cucumber and not something else also because when they think no one's listening, he and Shang-shishu call each other 'Cucumber’ and 'Airplane’.”
Shen Yuan felt that blush growing, though more from embarrassment. He could already see where this was going.
“The System thing that brought us here only gave us one clue - a novel with the comments on each chapter and the forums about it... Definitely an interesting read.”
“Really??!?! Ugh. That System. There was no need for that!”
Luo Binghe just chuckled. “It wasn't very helpful. Mobei-jun didn't see the point and it just threw me more. I suspected the author was connected to shishu but I couldn't see a connection between the Peerless Cucumber of the Internet and my beloved Shizun.”
Fully hiding his face, Shen Yuan whined, “Horrible! Horrible! Why would you read such things? They'd be no help at all. They're so oooold!”
“I think, with the right reading, I could see a connection between the commentor and one Shen Yuan. Very vitriolic but due to a deep passion for the subject.” Luo Binghe gave an affectionate hum, “And I've been trying not to compare Shen Yuan to my Shizun.”
He glanced up at that, “I know I'm very different but you don't have to put it like that!!!”
“No, Shizun misunderstands. I've been trying not to, because the similarities are very clear to me and it made my heart hurt. The differences just made me more confused - that I could even think I might like someone's manner in any way more than Shizun’s would just be wrong!...but if both are Shizun.. I am just liking even more of him when I see it.”
“Ohhh hate this. Stop being so charming. You already have this teacher in your palm, you sticky thing. Must you wrap me around your finger too?” Shen Yuan pat his hands more vigorously against his husband's chest. “If you have so much together what are you puzzled at?”
“The Shen Qingqiu of the book is a cold and petty person. The one I know was certainly not but they did start the same.” Luo Binghe looked down, thinking. “I never understood what changed. Why the person who had hated me so could stop hating me then.. sometimes hate me again, but differently.”
Shen Yuan winced and instinctively pulled Luo Binghe closer. “Binghe... I never hated you. I was an idiot and afraid but I didn’t - I couldn't - hate you.”
“Everyone at Cang Qiong Mountain Sect said that Peak Lord Shen had a qi deviation, it's why he fell sick and when he woke...it was like he was a different person.” Binghe's voice trailed off, “I never thought it might be... literal?” He gave Shen Yuan a searching look from against his chest.
Nodding, Shen Yuan stroked his fingers through his husbands hair again. “Shen Jiu was lost and Shen Yuan took his place. It makes things...very awkward with Yue Qingyuan obviously. No matter how he feels, the person he needed to apologize to and work things out with is gone and I can't be him or bring him back.”
“He may be the only one who wanted that person back.” bitterness tinged Luo Binghe's voice.
“Perhaps. It doesn't really matter. He should never have been allowed the reign he was with students. I cannot say I want the old Shen Qingqiu back at all.” He stroked Luo Binghe’s hair and felt the gnawing at his chest well up fiercely. “Of course...the one who took his place was plenty cruel.”
“Shizun…” Luo Binghe reached up to stroke his face.
“Don't give me that tone, I was. And I know it. Mostly for very stupid and selfish reasons... and you deserve an explanation.” Shen Yuan shook his head firmly.
“You know I only care that you love me now…” but he didn't sound like he fully believed it.
Narrowing his eyes, Shen Yuan put his hand on his husband’s chest, right over the scar he knew was there. “Binghe, we've both made enough excuses not to talk about those things. I'll tell you all of it, everything you need to know. No more secrets between us.”
He made a low noise and Shen Yuan was almost afraid of seeing one of his exaggerated crying sessions but instead his husband just lightly tackled him back into the cushions.
“It's really alright to ask? To know those things? I wondered more than I wish to admit…”
His sweet sheep of a spouse, what was he going to do with him? He would always have a weakness for when Binghe was like this.
“It's alright now. You've seen enough to believe the truth…I don't think all of the answers will please you but I'll let you decide how to feel about them.”
“I'll decide.” Luo Binghe nodded, “You're very opinionated but so am I. I'll draw my own conclusions.”
Shen Yuan nodded as well then sat up a bit more - as much as he could under his husband - to preface. “So you have to understand, I lived this life first. I read the novel and left those comments before...well... before my death, I suppose. Though bringing me back here sort of undoes this.”
Luo Binghe frowned, “This is not a promising start. Shizun, how many times have you died? Four?”
He waved him off quickly, “Binghe, don't do that. I'll lose track of what I'm saying.”
“This is getting to be a bad habit.” Luo Binghe fixed him with an incredulous look. “Don't go seeking death, Shizun.”
“I don't - in fact, that's how I ended up in half of the problems I was in, desperately seeking to avoid a grim death!”
They both shuddered at that and Luo Binghe hugged Shen Yuan about the middle.
“That fate was truly awful...did Shizun see that future whenever he saw me?”
“Not at first.” He admitted, “When I first arrived and knew who I was, I was determined to change my fate and my first thought was of course to hug the protagonists thighs however I could but the System quickly put a stop to that. By the time I saw you, I already had restrictions to work within.”
He cupped his husband's face and smiled fondly. “You were as beautiful as I imagined and more. I had been fond of the one I read about and I was fond of you even faster.”
“Shizun gave me medicine.” Luo Binghe agreed, looking up at him with both affection and deep consideration.
“Mm. Even when I told myself my motives were just self preservation, I knew I wanted to see you treated better.”
“I know.” Luo Binghe turned to kiss the palm against his face, “Shizun always pretends to have a serious reason, but no one who has known you long can fail to see you're soft-hearted. You care very deeply. You're very grouchy but you don't like being cruel.”
Eyes distant, he held that hand in his and kissed the cupped fingers, “It wasn't always obvious only knowing Shen Qingqiu but knowing Shen Yuan makes it clearer. Your barbs are only sharp when you truly feel it warranted.”
“I'm still an idiot and still at fault for judging by what I thought I knew and not what was before me.” Shen Yuan poked one held finger against his husband's nose.
“Perhaps.” Luo Binghe conceded, then looked at him more seriously, “you mentioned restrictions?”
“Indeed.” Shen Yuan looked up at the ceiling, pondering. “The System had a great deal of ability to affect our world and the link between them. It's complicated to explain. It functioned based on points, which could come from various actions or effects and enough points could unlock special effects, not that those were always clear. It treated things and people much like a game but that may also have just been it giving me a lense to relate to that world and how it functioned. I don't pretend to know or care.”
Luo Binghe huffed. “Given it was able to drop us here, make us human and give us access to certain things, I'll take your word for it. So what was the purpose?”
“Well as I died cursing the novel and it's characters-”
“-it declared if I thought I could do better, I needed to do it. So I had quests that I had to complete with a certain goal to gain points or be punished if I didn't meet my goals. I would also die if I did badly enough - well it said sent back here but since I was dead here…” Shen Yuan waved it off, especially before his love could dwell on 'punishment’, “I also initially had to deal with something called the OOC function till I finished a certain mission and had settled in as my new self and could do as I pleased.”
Luo Binghe raised his brow. They'd talked about terms like 'OOC’ during their time together in this world.
“So it required you to be like Shen Jiu too?”
“To a degree. I lost points if I didn't act as he would. Sometimes I still did and lost them or sometimes I could argue the system into not deducting as many or any. Then there was point gain for changing a scene, it was all very annoying.”
“How long did you have to deal with that function?”
“Till after we'd dealt with the Skinner.”
“That long?” Luo Binghe pondered then teasingly poked him, “About how many points did Shizun lose helping me that night with the leaves?” There was a sing-song in his voice.
“Something like 70 overall - 10 per leaf. It's the only reason I remember because I only started with 100. But after retrieving your Mother's pendant and things were done, I gained back 100 so it was overall positive. Teaching me I could gain and lose, I guess.”
“Why interfere if it was dangerous for you in terms of points and you didn't know you'd be alright?”
“Because you might notice I have a very hard timenot interfering when it comes to you. Even if you're the protagonist so should be alright.. “ Shen Yuan glanced up and moved to kiss the blank spot he knew his demon mark should be. “Even so I still care for you too deeply to want you to suffer or be unhappy.”
Luo Binghe smiled mysteriously and poked his love again, “How many did you lose letting me ride with you in the carriage?”
“None because I was able to argue it wasn't purely for you but to appease Ning Yingying and not disappoint her as teacher.” He pouted, “I did lose 5 for smiling at you though. That wasn't even a conscious decision.”
Luo Binghe chuckled, low and deep. “But it meant so much to me. I'm glad you did it.”
Looking distant, Shen Yuan tangled his fingers back in his husband's curls. “I still let myself be cowed into doing things exactly as I thought they had to be. And still only thought of it with regards to the you from the book not the disciple I'd raised.”
Glancing up, Luo Binghe looked at him with knitted brows, “Shizun? Are you talking about…” his hand reflexively moved to the mark on his chest.
Shen Yuan bit his lip and looked away, nodding mutely. He didn't trust his voice all of the sudden.
“Shizun?...” Luo Binghe's voice was quiet, coaxing, “Please tell me? I've wanted to know so long…”
How could he deny him? His faithful disciple thrown away so easily. Such a back and forth from how he treated him before... and the start of such painful miscommunication.
“10,000 point deduction if Luo Binghe does not enter the Endless Abyss.” Shen Yuan recited the words breathlessly.
His husband pulled him closer, “Shizun, shizun if I'd have known-”
“If you'd have known I needed it you'd have thrown yourself in. If I'd have asked you to, you'd have done it in a heartbeat even without an explanation. I know...I know you would have, love.” He looked up with tear fogged eyes, “I didn't let myself see the truth. I just panicked over having to do it... and that I'd have to destroy someone I cared deeply about and bring about the person that I feared would return. The one bent on revenge.”
Luo Binghe pressed his face into Shen Yuan's shirt. “I always wondered if you had begun to hate me when you found out I had demon blood. I couldn't understand it. Instead, you had always known that, but feared who I'd become and who you were forced to push me towards.” His voice was muffled but Shen Yuan could hear him.
Shen Yuan wrapped his arms protectively around him. “I mourned you but denied it in my heart. I feared someone who you weren't and gave you no chance to prove to be. I schemed to try and get both around our seemingly impending bad ending and my time trapped by the System... and instead I made you suffer more.”
“Is that what happened with your death and having another body?”
“Essentially. I hoped to be able to hide my trail and escape. It was meant to be small and private. Instead everything was going strange and you were being lost to Xin Mo - and I was already seeing proof you were not the person I was expecting but still ignoring what it meant…” Shen Yuan hugged him tighter, “I'm sorry. I did so many horrible things to you because of what I thought I knew. And I was lost over what each of us felt.”
Strong arms squeezed him in response and Luo Binghe nodded. “I have already forgiven Shizun these things.” He rubbed his cheek against Shen Yuan, “But at least now I...I know why you feared me... Seeing into his mind, into what he did, how he was...how could you know exactly how my mind and heart were truly different? You off all people knew he was a manipulator... and I was acting out so in my hurt...it had to have looked...so close.”
The soft sniffles in his shirt were true tears, not pressed and exaggerated to make soften his heart. His Luo Binghe could be similar in his own ways, but he wasn't that person.
“You aren't him and I should have known this.” Shen Yuan stroked his husband's curls again. “I was foolish and cold to doubt you as long as I did. You were a pain in the ass, and an overeager puppy that grew into a wolf, and you pushed me plenty far on your own...but you aren't him and haven't done what he has.”
“I did do things to hurt you though. Under Xin Mo’s influence and on my own.” Luo Binghe spoke dryly but the effect was hampered by his recent tears still clinging.
“We both did. I knew your reasons. Now you know mine.” Shen Yuan agreed.
They sat quietly for a time and just stayed in each other's embrace.
Eventually, Luo Binghe broke the silence. “I still love you. With all of my heart.”
Shen Yuan nodded, “and I, you, Binghe. And I am still yours, if you want me.”
“I will always want Shizun.” Binghe said then considered, “Shizun...we have acted...very different towards each other these past days.”
“... would Shizun mind greatly if we still could do this? When we return home?” He sounded so shy.
Shen Yuan raised a brow, “That depends on what you mean by 'this’. You definitely lay on me at home plenty.”
Luo Binghe snorted. “I like your wit.” He leaned in for a kiss. “I like your teeth too.”
“I already knew you were an annoying masochist, Binghe.” Shen Yuan snapped his teeth at him and nipped his lower lip, only teasing.
“A little. But it's because I like my Shizun's sharp edges as well as his softness. I like Shizun when he's grouchy and fiery and opinionated. I like my Shizun who rants about books and flails telling me I'm terrible for making such good food. I like my elegant beautiful perfect Shizun, and I always will...but I also like…” and he leaned in to whisper the words against Shen Yuan's lips, “...Shen Yuan, my A-Yuan.”
A shiver ran through Shen Yuan from his head to his feet. Reaching out, he dragged his husband against him by his collar.
“Say that again.”
Luo Binghe gave a coy smirk, “This husband will give whatever his A-Yuan desi-”
He was cut off by Shen Yuan's passionate kiss.
So...sex was apparently very different when one was a pure human in a world with rules like this one.
Luo Binghe had been pretty shocked to realize just how different, really.
He’d known his body was a bit changed but since Shizun had had no complaints on that front it hadn’t been a concern. Shen Yuan had been kind of pleased actually, and teased him about it. It’d all been in good fun, and they both laughed about.
They’d fallen asleep in each other’s arms after a relatively short night together and Luo Binghe hadn’t slept that well since he’d entered this world. He might even venture so far as to say he even before that, he hadn’t slept as well as this.
There was such a weight lifted from his heart, knowing so many different truths about the past that he hadn’t before. Knowing things he had spent years wondering about.
In the morning, he’d attempted his usual routine of getting up before his husband to make breakfast, only to be dragged back to bed by said husband.
“Don’t you dare. I don’t want to get up and eat, and I don’t want to give up my nice pillow either.” Shen Yuan was sleepy and his grumbles were content as he rubbed his face into Luo Binghe’s chest and settled against him again. “Making me choose between delicious food and being cuddled. Rude.”
Luo Binghe chuckled low, “Shizun, you actually dared to tell me you like to cuddle. Now I’ll never let you forget it.”
“I’ve always liked to cuddle you. You’re just obnoxious about it.” Shen Yuan looked up at him with only partly open eyes and stuck out his tongue briefly. It was adorably childish and very him.
Staying for a lie-in didn’t sound so bad at all.
Eventually, Luo Binghe settled into an idle doze, just holding his beloved close, thinking over all the things he’d learned. Really, that other him had it far worse - all those spouses but nothing like this. No connection so deep. Would that person envy him?
With a start, he realized…..he knew full well that answer to that.
The other Luo Binghe...he’d met him, hadn’t he? They’d exchanged worlds for a time...and he’d left in a huff after seeing how close this one was to his Shizun.
That one had tried far too much with his husband for this Luo Binghe’s liking.
“Binghe, what are you thinking of? You’ve gone all tense and you’re squeezing me.” Shen Yuan leaned up and pressed a lazy kiss to his chin.
“Just...remembering the other me, that we met.”
“Ah.” Shen Yuan’s soft and sleepy nature seemed to slip away at that and he looked more properly at him, face serious despite how his vision must be bad right now. His glasses were on the nightstand still, after all.
“He tried far too much with you. I didn’t like it. I like it less now that I know who he is.” Luo Binghe explained, stroking a hand along his husband’s cheek.
“Mm.” Shen Yuan made the sound of agreement and looked distant.
A few words tugged at the back of Luo Binghe’s mind again, especially with that distant look. That look usually meant Shizun was thinking of some uncomfortable memory.
“Shizun...what did he mean about seeing you before?”
He felt that shiver that coursed through his husband’s frame, and he didn’t like it at all. That boded very ill.
Laying his head against Luo Binghe’s chest again, Shen Yuan seemed to be puzzling how to say what he wanted to.
To ease that along, Luo Binghe stroked his fingers along his husband’s arm but that turned out to be a very bad idea.
Immediately, Shen Yuan had flinched away and yelped. Just as quickly, he glanced up apologetically.
“Sorry. You startled me, Binghe. I’m alright.”
He took the hand that Luo Binghe had retracted. He wrapped his own delicate fingers about the larger ones and bringing the hand close to kiss. Still, his gaze was so distant…
“If Shizun doesn’t want to talk about it…”
“No, I promised I’d tell you things. I need to be a good teacher and set an example, don’t I?” he tried to sound playful and composed but he couldn’t quite meet his husband’s eye.
“Tell me then.” Luo Binghe leaned in to kiss Shen Yuan’s forehead. “I’ll be here.”
With a sigh, Shen Yuan leaned into him.
“Do you remember when I said that the System would threaten to punish me if I didn’t meet certain goals or achievements? That I had to maintain proper points?”
“I do. It’s why you panicked over some tasks.”
“It is…” he glanced away again, “I...did fail a mission before. And I did have to face a punishment program.”
Luo Binghe’s eyes narrowed, “What was the punishment?” He already didn’t like where this was going to.
“..that’s where I met him. The System brought the other one to face me briefly. And I...it was very upsetting. I was just starting to realize how wrong I’d been about you, and realize my own feelings. It was one of the worst times it could have happened…”
“What...what did he do?” Luo Binghe felt his chest tighten. He had done some pretty horrible things to his beloved too, so the fact this still made him uncomfortable to talk about…
Shen Yuan closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, seemingly sinking into that distant place he went when he was trying to rationalize things that upset him. Luo Binghe knew the state well.
“You remember the fate of the original goods. It was...along those lines.”
“What?! No!!” Luo Binghe felt his own rage welling up and pulled his husband closer.
“It was just one arm and one leg, not the full deal, I promise!” Shen Yuan’s eyes had snapped open and he put his hands on Luo Binghe’s chest to try and settle him again. “It was just very traumatic…” his voice trailed off as he shuddered a bit, his emotional barriers visibly weak.
How could he stay angry in the face of his lover’s distress? This was far more important.
Calming himself, Luo Binghe rubbed his hand down Shen Yuan’s back, careful to avoid his limbs or moving his hands in any certain ways.
Shen Yuan didn’t meet his eye, but cupped his face and said softly, “it hurt so much. Before, I had been dreading such a thing but it was a distant fear. Every assumption I made, I was repeatedly shown to be wrong. We had escaped so much together, you were at my side again...and then I failed and...it hurt so much, to have this face look at me like that. To see you with eyes so cold, to see you hate me.”
His hands slid away and he curled in on himself, burying his face into the crook of Luo Binghe’s neck. “I needed to see you so much after that, for comfort. But instead...instead I ended up meeting with the Elder Dream Demon and having to go through Shen Jiu’s memories, memories I didn’t have. I learned many things but the next I saw you had to be one of his memories. Of the one time he made you cry.”
“Shizun…” Luo Binghe kissed his husband’s temple, holding him securely.
“...I wanted to promise to you there that nothing like that would ever happen to you again. It wasn’t the truth but I wanted to so much. And it was a memory and I could do nothing…”
Shen Yuan sobbed softly and just held onto him.
“A-Yuan, you need more rest.” Luo Binghe said, voice soft but firm.
He made the executive decision to roll over and safely cover his beloved with himself, holding him tight. They both needed to go back to sleep for a bit and be wrapped up in each other.
They could go home later. They could play and fight and talk about things at home.
Right now, they needed each other, and a last little bit of time to let go of the past.
Luo Binghe held him until they both drifted off and he kept him close the entire time after.
Some part of him was nervous that when they went back home, it’ll all be for nothing. They’d get back and it’d have been like a dream. His Shizun would be mysterious and distant and slow to coax any sign of his affection, and Luo Binghe would be left to wonder how deep he felt.
They met up with Mobei-jun and his human, and it took a great deal of restraint for Luo Binghe to not hit Shang Qinghua. This person had written all of his life, all of the hardships he’d gone through! But in the end, his most trusted advisor and his husband were both too fond of that person, and he stayed his hand. Maybe in time, he’d understand better why.
As they used the Token to open the way back, the four were faced with a big blaring image from the system.
[ Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations! Situational Reversal Event Completed Successfully! Full Marks!]
“Oh shut up.” Shen Yuan beside him now was a proper Shen Qingqiu again, but the irritated way he peered at the screen was so very like his other self. “What’s the fabulous prize we were promised for this? It’s probably something terrible.”
“If it’s sex pollen, I’m jumping out a window.” Shang Qinghua said and Shen Qingqiu reached over and smacked him upside the head.
“That is not a prize. That is a hazard.” Mobei-jun observed quietly.
“The System’s a hazard.” Shen Qingqiu grumbled.
[Fabulous prize loaded! Users and guests are now gifted with a better understanding of each other and a healthier relationship!]
“THAT’S NOT A PRIZE! That’s just what we earned doing this stupid event!” Shen Qingqiu’s face with Shen Yuan’s familiar frustration visible was…...far too attractive.
[In Celebration, Users and Guest Users now have the option to Selectively Avatar Switch without negatively affecting world state!]
“Excuse me?” Luo Binghe raised a brow. They had the ability to do what?
[Users and the Participating Guests can now switch to have previously unavailable or unusable features. These features were previously limited due to author hang-ups and genre tropes. Now with expanded horizons, these features can be ret-conned in to expand world building!]
“Hey! What hang-ups?” Shang Qinghua seemed positively terrified.
[Individuals will now express more varied body types and motivations. The Participants can switch between features or traits of their World State Selves or their Event Selves without negatively impacting the world or perceptions of them. Only Participants will recognize the changes.]
The group appeared puzzled but Luo Binghe felt like he almost...undrestood?
Peering down, consideringly, he looked at his own form. The perfectly toned muscles he’d never questioned till this day were nice...but if what this was discussing was true…
“Oh!! Binghe!” Shen Qingqiu looked surprised, watching as his husband’s softer build returned. Not completely - he still had his demonic features, thankfully, and he still felt the natural presence of this world’s powers, but he could now apparently have...hips. Hm...promising.
He let his appearance settle back to normal but nudged his husband affectionately. “I think this has promising implications, Shizun. At least for...some things we discussed.” he gave him a sly wink.
Shen Qingqiu’s quick turn away and plain expression might indicate he didn’t care...but Luo Binghe knew for sure it meant he’d caught exactly what was meant.
Mobei-jun spoke quietly, “Ah. So the soft can return.” He smiled and pat Shang Qinghua’s head.
Shang Qinghua blushed scarlet but smiled. “And you’ll still have your tail.”
Luo Binghe snorted and left them to that.
Soon enough the system image faded out and they were left where they’d been...in Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu’s cabin.
Crossing his arms over his chest, he considered heavily what should be done here then shrugged.
“Well, I guess since you’re both here, you can join us for lunch. If Shizun isn’t bothered by your company.”
All three looked at him with surprise. It was no wonder - he wasn’t usually known for letting things cut into his Shizun time.
“I...would not mind at all, Binghe. That’s very gracious and...friendly of you.” Shen Qingqiu spoke diplomatically.
“I was considering some advice I heard about friendships being good for me or something.” Luo Binghe said why a sly smile, and headed inside.
This...didn’t seem to be so bad after all. He could work with this. They all could.
Thank you all SO MUCH!!!