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Whether We Like It Or Not

Chapter Text

To be among such splendors, to live among them every day, was something unimaginable to his younger self.

 

It’s been so many years now but he still catches himself taking in the vistas with awe, marveling at the craftsmanship of his own home, watching sunrises and sunsets and rolling clouds like it’s the very first time.

 

There is only one thing on the Twelve Peaks that Yue Qingyuan finds more beautiful.

 

The sight of his Xiao Jiu, cared for, thriving, safe and sound, sharing in this peaceful splendor that their lives have become, is the most beautiful thing in all the realms. He’s truly privileged to witness it. He’s “Shen Qingqiu” now, the “Xiu Ya Sword”, but in Yue Qingyuan’s heart he will always be Xiao Jiu.

 

When his Xiao Jiu allows him one or two more questions than usual, puts up with his chatter for a little longer, he feels blessed. It’s far more than he deserves. Sometimes he keeps his presence unknown so that he can listen for hours as Xiao Jiu plays the pipa or the guqin, staying silent in the shadows outside of the bamboo house, refusing to tarnish the other’s peace.

 

At times, he thinks he might trade all the splendors away, wear rags and beg on the streets gladly, if it meant Xiao Jiu would hold him at night the way he once did. This thought is always banished quickly--he would never take these new comforts away from him just for his own selfish desires.

 

Still, Yue Qingyuan’s bed always feels so terribly cold.

Chapter Text

One night on the Twelve Peaks, a snowfall began. It was fleeting at first, dropping just a few flakes here and there that didn’t last for long, but soon a soft grey settled over the sky and the entire landscape began to transform.

 

Not feeling inclined to sleep and plucking away at the guqin, Shen Qingqiu paused to allow himself a cup of wine. It was less work than preparing tea and helped warm his fingers all the same, girding them against the dropping temperatures so that he could return to his music.

 

He was barely settled in to continue playing when a faint sneeze caught his ear. He cut off the song right there and jumped to his feet.

 

Yue Qingyuan does this on occasion: he’ll linger where he thinks Shen Qingqiu doesn’t know he’s there and listen to him practice music or poetry recitations. It’s not half-bad, having an audience that stays quiet, never interrupts, never judges, never even shows its face. There’s no pressure, no eyes on him. When Shen Qingqiu is feeling particularly generous he goes on longer than he wants or needs to and it’s no longer just practice.

 

But to keep it up in weather like this? Foolish.

 

Has this idiot forgotten about his responsibilities to the Sect?

 

What would they do if Yue Qingyuan fell ill? 

 

What would he do

 

He managed to move quick enough to catch the Sect Leader hanging around outside his house, hastily brushing the gathered snow off his robes, pretending he was just meandering along even though there were almost no tracks in the snow around him. Shen Qingqiu didn’t allow him to start up his usual tiresome small-talk, interrupting just as the other opened his mouth to speak.

 

“Does the Sect Leader have some business with Qing Jing Peak this evening?”

 

A melancholy smile greeted him. “Just out for a stroll.”

 

“In these conditions?”

 

He had an answer ready for that, it seemed, “It is rare that we receive such weather, is it not fascinating?”

 

Shen Qingqiu frowned, deadpanning, “It’s cold.”

 

“And beautiful...” Yue Qingyuan abruptly stopped and shook his head. “Ah, apologies for interrupting Qingqiu’s practice. Shixiong will be on his way.”

 

As he began to walk away, Shen Qingqiu sighed to himself. 

 

If you really were strolling by only just now, how would you know--ugh, doesn’t matter.

 

Maybe the wine had loosened him up, but it was hard not to feel a measure of pity for Yue Qingyuan standing out there in the snow like that. It brought to mind old memories of him begging at the doors of homes and shops alike to let them both curl up on their floors when the weather got too rough.

 

“It’s dark as well. Shixiong should stay here tonight instead of going back.” 

 

-----

 

Xiao Jiu had hidden behind his folding fan before Yue Qingyuan could get a good read on his face, but he sounded sincere enough, even pausing at the opened door to wait for him.

 

He dared not say a word as they both settled in, extinguishing lamps and getting comfortable, and he didn’t want Xiao Jiu to lose patience with him and change his mind.

 

Yue Qingyuan was beginning to doze off when he felt a pair of long slender arms wrapping around him from behind. The body that pressed against his back was faintly trembling from the chill.

 

He felt his heart leap.

 

“Xiao--” but he was interrupted when slim fingers clasped over his mouth with an audible slap.

 

“It’s cold.” Xiao Jiu sharply interjected, lowering his hand to lock his arms around him. “Be quiet and sleep.”

 

Suddenly he wished the snows weren't so rare.

Chapter Text

“Esteemed Sect Master Yue Qingyuan.” Luo Binghe greeted as they came in, relaxed in his throne, his words respectful and his tone anything but. “And Peak Lord Mu Qingfang. Welcome, welcome. I consider every member of Cang Qiong Mountain Sect that sets foot within the walls of this Palace to be my personal guest.” The false sweetness was enough to make anyone sick.

 

Mu Qingfang, as ordered, stayed behind him when they entered the room and kept his distance. Yue Qingyuan performed a respectful but stiff bow and stepped forward to stand before the throne. “Palace Master Luo.”

 

“It’s wonderful that Sect Master Yue was able to find the time to attend the wedding. This one knows from experience how terribly busy things can become on Cang Qiong Mountain.”

 

His answer was stoic, “The well-being of my Sect and my fellow Peak Lords is my highest priority. Therefore...” 

 

Yue Qingyuan took a deep breath and knelt down to prostrate himself before Luo Binghe.

 

The Demon Lord let out a thoughtful, “Hm.”

 

“This Sect Master wishes to negotiate the release of Peak Lord Shen Qingqiu.”

 

Without a moment of consideration, “I cannot.”

 

“Cang Qiong Mountain has many treasures it would hand over without hesitation if he was allowed to return home with us.”

 

“Was the dowry I sent so insufficient as to spark a request for his return?” Luo Binghe sounded amused. “Or is Sect Master Yue trying to purchase him back from me with trinkets? My beloved bride is not for sale.”

 

Abandoning his kowtowing posture, Yue Qingyuan slowly stood up. Those… words. Purchase. Sale. Beloved bride. They struck a raw chord within his nerves and coaxed something dark to crawl out of the back of his mind, where it’d been locked away for years.

 

“Zhangmen-shixiong,” Mu Qingfang called softly from behind him, and it was enough to bring his clarity back. 

 

He didn’t even realize he’d been reaching for Xuan Su until then, and he forced his arm to relax, glancing over his shoulder to give the healer a reassuring nod.

 

“Allow us to see him and verify your claim that he is in good health, at the very least.” Mu Qingfang spoke up, stepping forward with his head low. “A… bride… is typically permitted to visit with family before the ceremony.”

 

“There is no need for worry,” The Demon Lord confidently laughed. “Huan Hua Palace has been seeing to Shizun’s every need, no matter how trivial. But if it will appease Sect Master Yue, he may follow along to Shizun’s temporary quarters to see if he will accept visitors.”

 

The two Peak Lords did the only thing they could and walked along in silence behind Luo Binghe through the lavish and bustling halls of Huan Hua Palace, dreading what they might find.

 

----------

 

“The Sect Master is right to be suspicious,” Mu Qingfang was explaining upon their return to the Twelve Peaks, where they found Qi Qingqi already waiting for them outside of the Sect Leader’s residence. “There is most certainly something sinister behind this.”

 

“Naturally there is!” Qi Qingqi snapped, exasperated. “The Huan Hua Palace has become a vipers’ nest.” 

 

There was a strong bitterness in her voice. Many of her own disciples, including particularly promising ones like Liu Mingyan, had wound up in Luo Binghe’s harem. It had never sat well with her. She could often be heard denouncing Luo Binghe as a lecherous beast unworthy of the women he surrounded himself with. And though she’d never particularly gotten along with her missing martial brother, it didn’t mean she wished this upon him.

 

Yue Qingyuan spoke up. “We tried for some time but it was made quite clear that we were no longer allowed to see Qingqiu-shidi. We took our leave, not wishing to incur further risk to him. So the information we have at present is quite limited.”

 

Qi Qingqi gave a dissatisfied ‘hmph’, crossing her arms. “Shen Qingqiu couldn’t have been truthful about wanting to stay. Something’s keeping him there. That Demon is holding something over his head.”

 

For a very uncomfortable moment in time, Yue Qingyuan realized that both gazes had drifted over to him, but they hurriedly caught themselves and turned away.

 

It might seem possible to these two, but they didn’t know the history of just how deep Shen Qingqiu’s resentment and anger toward him ran. It would be easy for others to believe the person that Shen Qingqiu hated the most had been Liu Qingge, but Yue Qingyuan knew that the true target of his enmity was himself. And rightfully so.

 

Qi Qingqi’s attention pointedly went back to Mu Qingfang. “And what of our traitorous An Ding Peak Lord? It would be no shock to learn that vermin had a hand in this.”

 

“Shang-shi… Shang Qinghua was present at the ceremonies.” the healer answered, “But we were unable to approach him, or even find him on Palace grounds in the following days.”

 

As they talked on, however, Yue Qingyuan’s attention drifted further and further away, delving into worse and worse possibilities, until he truthfully said he didn’t feel well and excused himself from his martial siblings’ company. 

 

The remaining Peak Lords would convene the following day, he announced. 

 

Xiao Jiu, you probably hate me more than ever, but I’m going to find a way to get you out of there.

Chapter Text

The newest episode of Proud Immortal Demon Way: The Animation was a much anticipated one. 

 

Fans of Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky’s original work had been talking about it for months on forums and social media. People were both excited for the episode and ready to castrate the animators if they did a subpar job, and no one was more ready to either praise or condemn than Shen Yuan, aka, Peerless Cucumber. Hundreds upon hundreds of words he’d typed, all about how this particular iconic fight scene should play out, ranting to anyone who would listen. Those who couldn’t be bothered to read the more than twenty million words of the original novel treated his word as the gospel.

 

People said he had a direct line to Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky himself… which was true, not that it did any him or his fellow fans much good, as Airplane-bro was too willing to trade integrity for a paycheck, and too lazy to listen properly. 

 

At least the animators were passionate.

 

When the time came for streaming sites and television to air the episode where Luo Binghe and Yue Qingyuan fought their very first battle, everyone was tuned in, including Peerless Cucumber. The episode was up on his screen and his phone was in his hand, he was surrounded by a wide selection of salty and sweet snacks, and he was ready to praise or complain about every detail as his hangers-on nodded along with him online.

 

And then…

 

Bluescreen.

 

Shen Yuan panicked. He pressed the reset button on his laptop over and over. Nothing.

 

“What the fuck, WHAT THE FUCK!”

 

Frustrated, he slammed his fists into the keyboard, and his heart dropped into his stomach when his monitor began flickering with colored nonsense.

 

“No no no no no--come on I didn’t hit you that hard, don’t break--!”

 

The nonsense gave way to dazzling light, and tucked away in his dark room, Shen Yuan’s maladjusted eyes couldn’t see a thing for several moments. While he was blinded something terribly heavy crashed into him and pushed him out of his nest of blankets and out of the bed entirely. Snacks rained over the room. His glasses were knocked clean off of his face.

 

Groaning, Shen Yuan pulled himself to his hands and feet and found his eyewear. Outside the door a female voice called, “A-Yuan? Are you okay in there?”

 

“Yeah,” he sighed, defeated. So much for posting along with the live broadcast! “I’m fine...”

 

But then, he looked up at what’d pushed him from his bed. He didn’t even hear his sister’s reply as he stood up, eyes wide. A tall, handsome man was picking himself up from the snack-covered bed, brushing crumbs from his blue and black xuan duan style robes, looking just as confused as the Peerless Cucumber himself.

 

Disbelieving, Shen Yuan asked, “...Yue… Qingyuan…?”

 

-----------


Shen Yuan didn’t expect Airplane-bro to call him while he was in the midst of trying to explain things--part of that explanation being why there were so many images of Luo Binghe plastered around his room and why it didn’t mean anything suspicious or unsavory, he was straight, he just thought Luo Binghe was kind of cool, okay? 

 

That lazy author was usually asleep or already halfway there when the broadcasts occurred. But this was perfect! He could be the one to explain things to his own creation!

 

And, barring that, he might be able to confirm that this was a hallucination and recommend a good hospital…

 

Shen Yuan put the call on speaker to answer it, only for the room to fill with:

 

“C-c-cucumber-bro, please, please call off your… y-your paid cosplayer, this isn’t funny anymore! He’s a little too--”

 

“STOP TALKING TO THAT SLATE AND ADDRESS ME PROPERLY, SWINE!”

 

A smacking sound and a pathetic cry came from the other end, and Yue Qingyuan’s eyes lit up in recognition. Unsure of himself, he looked for Shen Yuan’s nod, then asking into the phone  that was held out toward him, “Qingqiu-shidi…?”

 

Silence for a moment, then the sounds of another scramble. When it faded Airplane-bro was still complaining loudly, but that was far in the background.

 

The scum villain of Proud Immortal Demon Way, Shen Qingqiu himself, continued to shout into the phone, angry and tone-deaf. Shen Yuan cringed and held it far out from himself whilst hastily searching for the volume buttons with his fingers.

 

“WHERE ARE YOU!?” Shen Qingqiu demanded. 

 

“This Shixiong is … still learning, about that. But please, Qingqiu mustn’t harm anyone.”

 

“I BARELY TOUCHED HIM!" Smack. "STOP MAKING SO MUCH NOISE!" Smack. "WHO CAN BEAR TO LISTEN TO YOU!”

 

Airplane-bro wailed incessantly in the backdrop.

 

“We can be there soon,” Shen Yuan whispered to Yue Qingyuan in low tones, “I’ll hire a cab.”

 

Despite clearly not knowing what a cab was, the transmigrator seemed reassured at the prospect of getting there soon.

 

Secretly, Shen Yuan hoped the ride he ordered was a little late, and Airplane-bro would have to suffer a little longer under the tyranny of the scum villain that he himself had created.

 

-----------


On the ride over, Shen Yuan was occupied with his phone, reading the news and discovering that he and Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky weren’t alone in their predicament. Reports were flooding in from every corner of the country, each stranger than the last. There was a story of a man in violet standing in a busy street and hitting cars with a glowing whip… in yet another city there was a disruption caused when a drunk woman waved a fan and blew the roof off of several buildings. Someone even said they’d seen a man explode into silver butterflies. 

 

None of this lined up with any of the characters he knew from Proud Immortal Demon Way, so whatever was happening probably wasn’t limited to just one novel.

 

But, fuck, he’d gotten lucky! Yue Qingyuan was just sitting there, calm and focused, eyes closed in thought. Not beating him up or making a scene or causing millions in property damage. The hardest part had been sneaking him out of the house without anyone seeing him and teasingly asking what convention he’d picked up his ‘date’ at.

 

Though they’d probably at least congratulate him. Airplane-bro was a toilet-tier writer but he had a gift for creating characters that were nice to look at. It was for the women reading, he’d say. Yue Qingyuan was tall and refined and well-sculpted and he radiated an air of brotherliness and approachability...

 

Yue Qingyuan opened his eyes and his expression shifted to one of concern, “Are you alright?”

 

Shen Yuan realized he’d been staring. He quickly corrected this. “I’m fine!”

 

But wait, shouldn’t this be the other way around? He wasn’t the one that had just been dragged out of his world!

 

Zhangmen-shixiong, you really are too selfless!

 

-----------


Airplane-bro’s apartment was a disaster--far more so than usual. The door hung pitifully from broken hinges and almost fell off when Shen Yuan pushed it. The microwave, refrigerator, television, computer… everything was in pieces. Every piece of artwork from Proud Immortal Demon Way that had adorned his walls was ruined in some way or another. And perched in the middle of it all, preening, was the scum villain himself.

 

Yue Qingyuan ignored everything else to rush to Shen Qingqiu, taking his free hand and checking his meridians. Instinctively, Shen Yuan looked away, feeling like he was seeing something he wasn’t supposed to, something intimate.

 

This was how he spotted Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky, curled up in the corner miserably and surrounded by the scattered volumes of his own novel.

 

“Good,” Shen Qingqiu said, folding his fan as he reclaimed his hand. “Now we can leave. I can’t take another moment of this idiot jabbering nonsense.”

 

Sniffling, the author in the corner spoke with despair in his voice, “That’s no way to refer to your creator…”

 

“Again with that!” He raised his fan as if to strike. 

 

Whimpering, Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky crawled over to hide behind Shen Yuan. “Cucumber-bro, save me!”

 

“Perish.” Shen Yuan said coldly. “You made him like that.”

 

Shen Qingqiu’s attention snapped to him hatefully, “Now this one’s doing it too?”

 

Yue Qingyuan held up a hand, and the whole room seemed to calm by a margin. “Qingqiu-shidi, it is not nonsense.”

 

“...explain. Now.”

 

-----------


Over the next few hours, they listen while an author and a reader do their best to explain that the world they’re familiar with is nothing more than a novel and a television show in this one.

 

More and more reports pour in on the news the whole time. The author and reader admit they don’t know how the two got here, but they swear to them that they’ll search for a way to send them back.

 

Over the next few days and nights, they sit together in Airplane-bro’s small apartment and read Proud Immortal Demon Way in silence. They read about Yue Qingyuan’s battles with Luo Binghe, about Shen Qingqiu’s torture at Luo Binghe’s hands. They read about their own fated descent into a downward spiral.

 

And then, they read about how they died.

 

Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky had made sure not to be present when they reach the end. Setting the final volume down on the cracked table, pacing to and fro in the tiny apartment, listening as the clock on the wall ticks. The despair is palpable and they’re both thinking the same thing:

 

Everything we ever did was all for nothing.

 

“Pointless,” Shen Qingqiu finally vocalizes the thought, “That pathetic, sniveling author is no better than Binghe. They’re both overgrown children that make people suffer to amuse themselves.”

 

Yue Qingyuan nods and takes a long, shaken breath. What had happened to Shen Qingqiu was a thousand times worse than what had happened to himself. His own death had been painful, but instant, yet Shen Qingqiu had suffered endlessly, taken apart piece by piece like a doll in the hands of a reckless child. It was so bad that before the end, he’d been forced to set the novel down and go into another room to empty the contents of his stomach no less than four times.

 

It was after one of these purging sessions that he’d gotten an idea, but only now, now that they’d read all the way to the end, did he speak it.

 

“Qingqiu-shidi… let’s not return.”

 

The first look Shen Qingqiu gives him tells him that he sounds preposterous. But it’s fleeting. Those eyes lower contemplatively. When he looks back it’s with genuine consideration.

 

Yue Qingyuan finds a little more conviction. “Even if a way is found, let’s remain here. The fate of our own world is already written. We have no ability to stop it.”

 

Shen Qingqiu shook his head, “Right… you’re right, as always.” A little sigh. “If we go back we’ll just end up like... “ He made a disdainful gesture to the book. “That.”

 

“That book has no power over us here,” Yue Qingyuan said, and the other nodded along, deep in thought but already accepting. “We can become part of this world instead. We can take any path we choose.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“We can start over.”

 

Shen Qingqiu stares at him for a few silent moments, and Yue Qingyuan feels uncertainty rising in the back of his mind. Is he willing to do that? To let it all go, to discard all of the resentment and forget the broken promises? He hoped that if they stayed, their previous lives wouldn’t matter anymore. Both future and past could be thrown away, disregarded, seen only for what they were: the machinations of a sadist with a pen.

 

Finally, a smile tugs at the corner of Shen Qingqiu’s lips. 

 

“I’d like that, Qi-ge.”

 

“Then let’s take our leave, Xiao Jiu.”

 

They’ve no possessions here, nothing to gather together. They don’t even leave a note for their creator or his partner in crime. They simply walk out together, into an uncertain future and an unfamiliar world, hand in hand and not looking back.

Chapter Text

Shen Jiu wakes to the sound of the apartment door creaking open and high heels on a wooden floor. He sits up, shutting his eyes and cursing as the light comes on, sending a jolt of pain through his forehead. His stomach sharply protests the movement as well. Blindly he fumbles for the bottle of vodka. It has to be there somewhere. 

 

He takes a swift pull from it. Sweet relief. Finally he could open his eyes and see that he was being nervously watched.

 

“Well?” he asks sharply.

 

Yue Qi approaches with caution, producing a roll of money. Shen Jiu snatches it away with a scowl but his eyebrows raise upon flipping through it.

 

There’s over forty thousand yuan here.

 

“Not bad…” but any hint of praise is soon lost as Shen Jiu sneers, “I bet you had to do some sick shit.”

 

Yue Qi just stares at the floor.

 

“You probably loved every second of it.” He stood, closing the space between them. Still the other man won’t face him, so he grabs him by the chin, forcing eye contact and running his thumb through already-smeared lipstick.

 

All he sees is a silent plea.

 

Xiao Jiu… please… no more…

 

He can’t stand it. Shen Jiu crashes their mouths together to make it stop. Yue Qi presses into the kiss with a whimper, starved for affection, relishing in every little scrap of it he can get.

 

Yue Qi tastes like cigarettes and expensive whiskey and desperate men. It’s something about that last part that fills Shen Jiu with the need to do this every time. He starts pushing, and Yue Qi gives in, lets himself be pushed onto the dirty mattress they call a bed, lets himself be roughly stripped of all but the torn stockings and high heels. 

 

There are a few new marks--fresh bruises, some cigarette burns. Shen Jiu traces them with his fingertips while his other hand loosens his pants and strokes himself to full hardness, watching in fascination as the body beneath him reacts to every little touch even when he’s had such a long night. He glances up and sees that Yue Qi has an arm draped over his face to hide. Fine by him. If he was going to cry during sex again , Shen Jiu doesn’t want to see it.

 

He seizes Yue Qi’s legs by the back of the knees, spreads them, and hilts himself with a single thrust. There’s no need for preparation when he comes home so well-used. Shen Jiu doesn’t give him a moment’s respite and starts up a punishing rhythm. The bed creaks, skin slaps against skin, and Yue Qi lets out little sobbing moans. Peppered within the latter are occasional utterances of “I’m sorry”.

 

“Shut up,” Shen Jiu gasps out, hips rocking faster and harder until the steadily-increasing moans are all Yue Qi can manage.

 

At a pace like this, neither lasts very long. Nor do they linger in the afterglow. Shen Jiu is out of the apartment in less than a minute with the cash, off to procure what they both needed before withdrawals set in.

 

Situations like these don’t come into being overnight. They’re the result of thousands of little concessions made over time--one of them pushing and the other giving way over and over again until they’re both caught in a spiral.

 

On his way down the hall Shen Jiu wipes a stray droplet from the corner of his eye… probably sweat, he thinks.

 

This is probably rock bottom. 

 

At least, he hopes it is.

Chapter Text

It was beyond Yue Qingyuan’s wildest dreams that this day would ever come.

 

For so long it had seemed like happiness would be forever beyond his reach.

 

They had spent their childhood on the streets where they’d only had one another. Then distance and standing tore them apart. When they came together again, it was not a happy reunion. 

 

Misunderstandings. Doubts. Broken promises and dark secrets. They had allowed these things to come in between them even as they ascended in status together. Back then he was a dog begging for scraps at a table, but back then he had thought he deserved that.

 

But as time went on, the once-sparse conversations were on longer and longer. The more he sensed the resentment fading, the more his doubts faded with it, until he found the courage to tell Shen Qingqiu. About the truth, and about Xuan Su.

 

When he finished explaining, Shen Qingqiu was furious. Yue Qingyuan tried to reach for him only for his hands to be harshly smacked away as the other man shouted an agonized question,

 

“Why did you hide all this!? You think I didn’t want to forgive you!?”

 

Shen Qingqiu struck him in the chest once, then twice… then he staggered forward, gripped Yue Qingyuan’s robes, and sobbed into his shoulder.

 

“...stupid, stupid Qi-ge.” He said as he allowed himself to be embraced.

 

Things changed around the Peaks after that. The grumpy Shen Qingqiu who had once always been shooing the Sect Master away was now letting him follow him everywhere. Sure, he still verbally snipped at his Shixiong from time to time, but it never seemed as harsh as it had been before.

 

Years passed. Rumors spread, and they never denied them.

 

One day, Yue Qingyuan found the strength within himself to ask his Xiao Jiu to make their bond eternal.

 

“Hm, why not.” had been the response, but he could tell that he was hiding a smile behind his fan.

 

They kept it small, only their fellow Peak Lords and a few of their trusted disciples attending as witnesses. No banquets or parties, no music. Just the cheerful voices of their fellows and the watchful gaze of the Bai Zhan War God making sure nothing interrupted them.

 

Shen Qingqiu--no, Xiao Jiu, looked so striking in red, he thought as they joined hands.

 

It had all been worth waiting for.

Chapter Text

Peerless Cucumber was no athlete.

 

He had been out of breath before the trailhead even disappeared from view and now he just wanted to lie down and die.

 

But he’d made it! Before him stood a small wooden hunting cabin. Who it belonged to, he had no idea. But if they turned up right now they’d have a very strange surprise waiting for them, that was for sure.

 

Shoulders still heaving and lungs still burning, he knocked.

 

The door opened by a sliver and a glare met him. “You brought it?”

 

Always so polite, aren’t you, Shen Qingqiu?

 

Not able to answer verbally quite yet, he held up the convenience store plastic bag, and was granted entry. Shen Qingqiu snatched the bag from him without another word and Shen Yuan kicked off his shoes and collapsed into a chair.

 

It had been about two weeks since the Creations appeared, and still, no one knew why it had happened. Initially it was pure chaos. But as people started recognizing characters, artists and writers started being tracked down and questioned by officials about their Creations. It facilitated better communication with the Creations themselves. By now, most Creations and their respective Creators were cooperating with the government in the search for a way back, even as new ones kept coming out of the woodwork. No one had come around to question Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky however. This meant two things: Yue Qingyuan and Shen Qingqiu were successfully keeping a low profile, and none of the other characters from Proud Immortal Demon Way had crossed over.

 

As for these two, they’d vanished without a trace from Airplane-bro’s apartment initially. Shen Yuan found himself rather unsurprised by this. Why would they want to go back to a world where only death awaited them? And if not that, why stay around the man who had casually fucked them over? Wandering the modern world was preferable to either.

 

But two days later Shen Yuan had awoken in the night to faint tapping on his window. It was Yue Qingyuan, presenting him with a packet of roasted fish that turned out to be delectable and saying he’d never properly thanked him. And through multiple insistences, Shen Yuan had gotten his motormouth going and actually managed to talk him into staying in touch. ‘Just in case’, was the premise.

 

When he opened his eyes Yue Qingyuan was standing before him, handing him a cup of water. He took it gratefully and emptied it in one go.

 

“Sorry that it’s such a long journey up here, but you understand the necessity,” Yue Qingyuan said apologetically as he took it back. Behind him, Shen Qingqiu noisily emptied out the contents of the plastic bag onto the table.

 

“Of course,” Shen Yuan replied, but he was busy watching the scum villain sort through the pile of things he’d brought them. Time cards for the cheap little prepaid phone he’d given them, bottles of milk tea, books about history and geography and a couple of recent newspapers. But Shen Qingqiu was after only one thing, and as soon as he saw it he snatched it up: the bright red bag with a shrimp on the front, prawn crackers.

 

He’d really, really taken to those.

 

It wasn’t that he was starving, either. Living off the land was working just fine for them. The man was a cultivator, he didn’t even need to eat if he didn’t want to! He’d just really taken to prawn crackers. He tore open the bag and went at it right away, largely ignoring their guest.

 

That’s never going to stop being a weird sight!

 

“Well,” Yue Qingyuan said, regarding the situation at the table with a fond smile, “We certainly appreciate you going through all this trouble to help us.”

 

“We don’t need his help,” interjected Shen Qingqiu.

 

“All the more reason to be appreciative. He is under no moral pressure and is acting of his own accord.”

 

Shen Qingqiu let out a huff and popped another prawn cracker into his mouth.

 

Zhangmen-shixiong, would you be disappointed with me if I admitted I do this because it’s every fan’s #1 dream, and like hell am I missing that chance?

 

It was like knowing two really good cosplayers, but better! These were the original goods! He could tolerate buying books and snacks and hiking into the woods for that!

 

His voice a touch lower, Yue Qingyuan inquired, “And, what of our Creator?”

 

“Hopefully dead,” commented Shen Qingqiu.

 

For once you and I agree on something, Scum Villain Shen Qingqiu!

 

“He’s still complaining about his apartment a lot, but he’s fine,” Shen Yuan explained. “And I swear I haven’t told him where you are.” 

 

Yue Qingyuan sighed, frowning, “I wish we had some means to replace the things that were damaged.”

 

Shen Qingqiu made a ‘tch’ sound, “I’ll go down the mountain just to break them again.”

 

The mental image of that happening was just too much, and Shen Yuan broke into a laugh before he could stifle it.

 

Pointing at this, Shen Qingqiu nodded, “See? He thinks I should.”

 

Yue Qingyuan sighed again, much deeper this time, and looked between the both of them with disappointment in his eyes. He shook his head and made his retreat with, “I’ll make tea.”

 

Before he could even put the kettle on, there was a knock at the door.

 

Everyone glanced at each other questioningly.

 

The cabin’s owner? 

 

But, why would someone knock on their own door?

 

They weren’t confused for long. A blast struck the other side of the door right out of its frame and it fell inward, revealing the newcomer.

 

Luo Binghe!

 

The stallion novel protagonist himself stepped into the cabin, carrying with him a powerful aura. It was exactly the kind of entrance that one would expect him to make too! Putting on a show of force but his face was entirely unaffected, calm outwardly but that frown was hinting at a deep anger.

 

So, the pair of Peak Lords weren’t the only characters from Proud Immortal Demon Way to cross over, after all!

 

The two cultivators stood at the ready. Yue Qingyuan put himself between Luo Binghe and Shen Qingqiu, and Shen Yuan scrambled to hide behind both of them. 

 

It was like watching a knight protecting a princess from a dragon, he thought in passing. But, it was drowned amongst the internal screaming of OH FUCK OH FUCK I’M GOING TO DIE.

 

“Shizun. Sect Master. I’ve found you.”

 

“Scram!” Shen Qingqiu demanded, unsheathing Xiu Ya.

 

You’ve read the novel and you’d still tempt fate like that!?

 

Luo Binghe ignored him and reached into his sleeve, pulling something out and throwing it on the ground between them: a copy of the final volume of Proud Immortal Demon Way .

 

Yue Qingyuan looked to it, and back to him, “You’ve read it?”

 

Luo Binghe slowly nodded. “All of it.”

 

“Then you know what will happen if you fight me directly.”

 

“I will lose.” 

 

Polite as always, Yue Qingyuan nodded. “You understand, so I would suggest you take your Shizun’s suggestion, and leave us be.”

 

“Tell me where to find the one that wrote this.”

 

The cabin went quiet. 

 

“Tell me!” Luo Binghe bellowed. Was that… pain in his voice?

 

Within Shen Yuan’s fear there was also a spark of confusion. Why would the protagonist be upset with the novel? He wins! He conquers all his enemies in the battlefield and conquers all the ladies in the bedroom, who could be upset with that? Maybe it was the tragic backstory? He always thought Airplane-bro tried a little too hard to make it sad here and there. But Luo Binghe wouldn’t be as cool if he hadn’t pulled himself out of the dark times and rose in power. 

 

Then, Shen Yuan remembered how the novel ended--oh, how he’d tried to forget that ending. The realms united, no one left to fight, Luo Binghe outlived everyone and became a legend across the generations.

 

He couldn’t imagine how lonely that kind of existence would be.

 

“L-Luo Binghe…”

 

Shen Yuan froze up like a deer in car headlights as that fierce gaze shifted to him, but he cleared his throat and continued. “Hear me out. The guy who wrote that novel isn’t worth anything. You won’t get any good explanations from him. I can already tell you he just did it to make money.”

 

Shen Qingqiu was looking at him like he’d lost his mind as he stepped out from behind him, approaching Luo Binghe. And maybe he had. 

 

“But… but just because your author is crap, it doesn’t make your story worthless!” He was fumbling to find the right words, yes, but as long as he kept talking maybe Luo Binghe would listen. And as long as he was listening, he wasn’t fighting anyone and destroying things. 

 

“Look, here--” Shen Yuan held up his phone, showing Luo Binghe an image of himself in a striking pose on the lockscreen. “And that,” He pointed over to his bag and the chibified charm version of him hanging from it. “You’re an inspiration to me. And not just me--millions of people have read your story and cheered you on.”

 

“...is this true?” It wasn’t entirely clear who Luo Binghe was asking this as he looked between the three of them, his expression a combination of bewildered and overwhelmed.

 

“If you come with me I can prove it.”

 

With one final glare to the Peak Lords, Luo Binghe nodded. “Very well.”

 

Shen Yuan just nodded calmly back, but inside he was screaming nonstop. Holy shit, I managed to talk down the ultimate stallion novel protagonist!

 

Sure, that battle would’ve been cool to see in person, but when these particular powers clashed with one another nothing was safe for a hundred-kilometer radius!

 

And finally, HOLY SHIT I GET TO HANG OUT WITH THE COOLEST PROTAGONIST TO EVER EXIST! And just look at him! A thousand times more impressive than Airplane-bro’s toilet-tier writing could ever express, or any animator could ever render!

 

Shen Yuan glanced back into the doorless cabin one more time, and saw Yue Qingyuan perform a respectful bow in thanks. Shen Qingqiu had grumpily returned to his prawn crackers.

 

He’d call them later… once Luo Binghe had a better grasp on things.

 

-------

 

Yue Qingyuan broke the long silence in the cabin with, “We should repair the door.”

 

“Don’t bother.” Shen Qingqiu shook his head. “We should just leave when it gets dark and find somewhere deeper in the wilderness.”

 

Sighing, he picked up the door, thankful it was in one piece. “Xiao Jiu is right that we should move,” he reasoned, “but if we continue to destroy others’ property, we are making it that much easier to find us.”

 

“That author deserved it,” he said, but he set down his snack and came over to assist anyway. “And that brat was the one that did this but Qi-ge has a point… I suppose.”

 

With their combined efforts, it was a quick matter to put the door back in its frame. There was some slight splintering to sand down. But it could have been so much worse. If there had actually been a clash this place might very well be a crater now.

 

“Do you think Shen Yuan will be safe?” Yue Qingyuan wondered aloud.

 

“None of our concern,” Shen Qingqiu snapped, eyes not leaving his work.

 

“Hmm.”

 

“…truthfully… I have never seen a human or demon or otherwise able to handle the Beast like that. So he may yet survive.”

 

Such honest words from him were unusual, and therefore actually rather reassuring. Yue Qingyuan felt more at ease. 

 

Shen Qingqiu packed up the things that had been brought out to them while Yue Qingyuan cleaned up everything they’d used. They would leave this cabin as nice as they found it. It was the least they could do for their freeloading. Being out in the wilderness like this and fixing that door together had been… nice. It had Yue Qingyuan’s mind going.

 

“Xiao Jiu, what if we built our own home like this one?” He mused aloud as he put the cleaned dishes away.

 

“Where?” was the simple reply.

 

“Anywhere Xiao Jiu likes. High on a mountain above the clouds, perhaps. Or we could settle next to a river, spend our days catching fish and listening to the water.”

 

A little ‘tch’, “Qi-ge has been reading too much poetry.”

 

Yue Qingyuan’s next words had been on his mind ever since Luo Binghe left, but the time finally felt right to say it.

 

“No matter where we go, your Qi-ge won’t fail to protect you this time.”

 

He was facing the cabinet, meaning he didn’t have to see Shen Qingqiu’s expression in response to this. Nor did Shen Qingqiu have to see his. Their unexpected visit had left him more shaken than he’d like to admit, but not out of fear for himself. If his Xiao Jiu slipped through his fingers and into the hands of that demon like the events of Proud Immortal Demon Way, he’d probably take his own life in shame.

 

The silence was rather long--but Shen Qingqiu broke it with a sigh, and Yue Qingyuan heard his footsteps approaching. “Are you still worried about that?”

 

How could I not be?

 

He turned around, and Shen Qingqiu was standing quite close.

 

“Now that we know he is here as well, I--”

 

Yue Qingyuan was cut off, as Shen Qingqiu cupped his face with both hands and silenced him with a kiss--their first. His eyes went wide. The other’s face looked angry and yet he was doing… this.

 

“I trust you,” the flushed Shen Qingqiu said, looking him in the eyes. “Everything… it was all because of that stupid author. We’re starting over, like you said, remember? So no more worrying.”

 

He was given no room to protest as their lips met again--and that was fine by him.