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QiJiu Week

Chapter Text

Things were not happy, but they were simple. They weren’t happy, not content with their lives, but the two of them had one another. Small blessings.

Such small blessings -- so limited, too -- that Shen Jiu had to keep what he had to himself, hoard it away, and that included Yue Qi. It would be demeaning to think of him as just a child being possessive over a playmate. Things were simple, but not that simple. They were not like other children, not so blessed as to have truly simple circumstances.

Shen Jiu was possessive, to be sure, but Yue Qi was more than a playmate (though he was that as well -- when they had the time, the energy, or the heart to play). Yue Qi was an ally, a confidant, a rock, and as they neared adolescence, perhaps the object of Shen Jiu’s affections as well. Yue Qi was all important to Shen Jiu, and he would not be relinquished if it could be helped.

It wasn’t, exactly, that Shen Jiu needed Yue Qi; he had learned in difficult ways that he could get by on his own, that he was clever enough to do so. But Shen Jiu wanted him, and perhaps his heart needed him, even if he could manage without him.

After all, Shen Jiu could see how Yue Qi was weak to him. He used it at every opportunity to draw the two of them closer together, and closer still. He really wanted their bond to be unbreakable, for Yue Qi to be with him always, care for him always. If he could depend on this one thing, this one person, he knew he would be able to content himself with that.

In the middle of the night, he would cling to Yue Qi for warmth -- consciously and otherwise. He would listen carefully to his companion’s breathing to know how he had affected him. Shen Jiu would learn the very pattern of Yue Qi’s heartbeats if it would mean something.

He would share any necessities he was blessed with only with Yue Qi. It was a harsh world -- one where, Shen Jiu had learned, people could only afford to watch out for themselves. But he made an exception for Yue Qi, his one and only trusted confidant.

“One day,” Shen Jiu whispered against the warmth of Yue Qi’s chest under the cover of night, “we’ll have our freedom. Whatever way we have to seize it. Only… don’t go without me.” Shen Jiu’s voice was full of pleading, and he could feel the way Yue Qi hugged him tighter, but it was not the chill in the air that made him do so. That sort of hug felt different.

“I won’t leave you.”

“It’s a promise.”

Inseparable. Something more. Not miserable, but more than that. Happy, together, alive and well, free. There were so many things Shen Jiu wanted to be, and he knew his heart was set on being them with Yue Qi.

“Qi-ge?”

Shen Jiu knew Yue Qi liked that name. He never said so, but Shen Jiu knew him too well not to notice. He never protested, but it was more than that. There was a speed to his heart rate, a particular way he breathed, and a look in his eyes. Shen Jiu knew them all.

“What is it, Xiao Jiu?”

Yue Qi had an affectionate name for him in return. It made Shen Jiu smile, made him feel--

“Do you love me?”

The question was as much to draw on Yue Qi’s feeling as it was for Shen Jiu’s own assurance. That show of vulnerability was also a show of trust, particularly in their circumstances. He hoped it would foster closeness, attachment -- even more than they already had.

Yue Qi’s hand stroked his back before he opened his mouth.

“I care deeply for you, Xiao Jiu, you know this.”

That was important, of course, but not the answer Shen Jiu was looking for. Attachment was the first step. Then came care. They had made it al the way to caring deeply, but that left love. Shen Jiu, despite his self reliance born of necessity, did want to be loved. What form the love took, for the time being, wasn’t important. They were young, and there was time to sort it all out.

But Shen Jiu wanted to be loved by Yue Qi.

“I do know. But do you love me?” It was a further show of vulnerability too, and made Shen Jiu pause to consider, but he decided to take the leap. In a soft voice, he added, “I love you.”

Yue Qi’s breathing did something, then, that it rarely did, and seemed to stop completely.

There were other children their age who would call Shen Jiu manipulative for lesser things (and greater). He’d grown to believe some of the type of character they assigned to him. If it was what got him by, he would be manipulative.

But here, the difference was that Shen Jiu said those words with the utmost honesty. He wanted something in return, but he offered his own sincerity first. For once, too, he couldn’t say whether it would sway the results.

Perhaps Yue Qi was afraid, in the same way Shen Jiu was afraid. Was Yue Qi afraid that anything he loved would be taken away? Did he hesitate because of this, or because of genuine uncertainty of his own feelings?

For Shen Jiu’s part, he feared the person he loved dearly not loving him back. He feared that the one person he had opened his heart to would not feel the same.

Such big fears for such small beings.

The silence stretched on for much too long, leaving Shen Jiu vulnerable.

But Yue Qi has always been the only one capable of catching Shen Jiu. He pulled him closer, holding him tight, firm in his arms; safe and protected.

“I do love you, Xiao Jiu. More than anyone.”

Shen Jiu relaxed, and even in the chill of the night, felt warm enough to rest easy. In that moment, even in this dark, cold world, Shen Jiu felt capable of believing in the power of love.

Chapter Text

Yue Qingyuan doesn’t want to believe it when he sees the last of the Shen Jiu he knew leave the eyes he’s known so well, has stared into many a time. They’re Shen Jiu’s eyes, ought to still be his Xiao Jiu’s eyes, but Yue Qingyuan is only in denial. There was too much left to say, too much he wants to find time to say still.

This can’t be over; Shen Jiu can’t be gone.

He didn't even get to watch him go. Shen Jiu was just gone one day. But the regret never leaves him.

Until the end of his days, Yue Qingyuan wonders whether he’ll get another chance. That seems impossible, but he wants to believe that somehow, someway, Shen Jiu will hear his apologies and his feelings, whether or not that means forgiveness. It started out being something for Yue Qingyuan’s sake, but that changed over time. His concern for himself flickered out, and he came to care only about Shen Jiu knowing the truth, hoping it would bring him even the smallest speck of relief, hope, anything.

Guilt consumes him until the very end, his life fades away, and his regrets remain.

And then they start over.

They don’t realize they’ve started over, of course. Hardly anyone ever does. That’s the nature of starting fresh, after all.

Until they reconnect, lock eyes in a moment that feels like fate.

And maybe it is.

"I look forward to working with you."

All Yue Qingyuan can say for certain is that Shen Jiu is the most beautiful person he's seen in this life, and maybe any past lives too. He feels like it's true that time slows down when he sees him, because he has determined this is love at first sight. Perhaps they're soulmates.

(He should think about how appropriate it is to have these thoughts about a new subordinate with whom he ought to have a professional relationship, but too late.)

"Pleasure."

But it's not all flowery, sunny, lovely feelings. Yue Qingyuan is hit with a faint but intense remorse, and need to do something to absolve himself of it. It's all to do with Shen Jiu, but he doesn't know the solution. Just that distance in his voice, his response, seems to hit a weakness in Yue Qingyuan he didn't know existed.

Love at first sight? Perhaps not. Perhaps tragic lovers from another life, soulmates across lifetimes. Yue Qingyuan doesn't want to abandon Shen Jiu for even a moment. It feels like it would be a crime to do so, and a repeat offense at that.

If Shen Jiu feels these intense sort of feelings on their first meeting, he does a miraculous job of not showing it.

"We'll be working together closely. I hope to get along."

Perhaps he's trying harder than he would normally, compelled by these mysterious feelings, but it's not as though not trying or not caring are options to begin with.

"Likewise."

Still, a one word answer.

For Shen Jiu’s part, he feels a myriad of mixed feelings. He’s defensive person by nature, or perhaps something long forgotten. He’s often cautious of men, which makes this rather typical behavior for him.

But not all the feelings are typical. Even the negative, cautious feelings are stronger, but there’s more -- attraction, maybe. Which he resents, because attraction is something others should feel for him, something he can use against them if he needs to. This leaves him oddly vulnerable instead. Yue Qingyuan has a kind face, one filled with nothing but good intentions.

But the worst sort of people have the most convincing masks, he reminds himself. He would know, since he’s sometimes among them.

Nothing ever happens, though. Yue Qingyuan does nothing to suggest he’s of poor character in any regard, and Shen Jiu would know -- has been watching him closely. He’s a fool sometimes, but more than his face is full of good intent, too. It’s in his words, his actions, his very demeanor. It is actually driving Shen Jiu up the wall, because the closer he watches, the less reason he has not to fall for him.

Damn it.

For his part, Yue Qingyuan seems unaware of the effect he has on Shen Jiu, but also seems to favor him, somehow. Shen Jiu hasn’t given him special treatment, nor has he tried to be even a little charming to the man. The thought of what that might do excites and terrifies him in equal measure.

And it’s always on his mind.

He watches Yue Qingyuan do stupid, boring deskwork and thinks about ways to distract him. They start out rather innocuous, such as a small grin or compliment -- something he hasn’t done before, but easily seen as friendly and nothing more. They get bolder, from subtle flirting to outright flirting.

Suggestive but innocent touches can be effective -- a touch on the shoulder that trails a little way down the back, or towards the collar bone, for example (entirely incidentally, of course). Shen Jiu prefers to see what he can do without coming to physical contact, typically, if he can help it.

He knows he’s getting carried away, that something is truly wrong with him when he thinks of kissing Yue Qingyuan and doesn’t stop there. What lewd things they could do at his desk, on his desk, even under it… The most telling part of this is that these methods are usually the means to some end or, more often than not, a defense mechanism of sorts. But there’s nothing to defend against (except Yue Qingyuan’s stupid, sweet, charming face), and no end for the means to lead to.

Except actually doing those things with Yue Qingyuan.

Horrifying, but undeniable.

The frustration wins out, because it’s something Shen Jiu has no defense mechanism against. He’s always been the one inciting it instead.

He clears his throat, gentle but pointed.

"Thanks. For working with me. I haven't, ah, given you my appreciation."

Yue Qingyuan smiles so good-naturedly it makes Shen Jiu well up with enough fondness to make him sick.

“Pleasure.”

Such a short response is uncharacteristic of Yue Qingyuan, usually. Shen Jiu would expect “it’s been my pleasure,” or “the pleasure is all mine,” or even just “my pleasure.”

But he remembers, all at once, how he had first spoken to Yue Qingyuan. In fact, that had been his exact response, and this new teasing side of his colleague is so endearing it makes him squint in his direction.

“Very funny.”

“It really is a pleasure, though.” There’s so much warmth in the sentiment, so much driving Shen Jiu up the wall, he really can’t take it anymore.

“Have dinner with me.” Shen Jiu considers, for a second after he’s spoken, that he should approach this differently. He’s used to being a little bit demanding, not allowing for much softness between himself and others. But usually others are doing the asking, and he is keeping them at arm’s length. This is different. He wants Yue Qingyuan close, now, he knows it.

“Whenever you like.” There’s not a hint of displeasure on Yue Qingyuan’s face. He’s insane, thinking it’s really a pleasure working with Shen Jiu up to now, but it’s just the kind of insane Shen Jiu wants in a man, it turns out.

They enjoy a reasonably priced, but not cheap, dinner that evening at Shen Jiu’s insistence. Perhaps he only wanted to see if Yue Qingyuan would really follow his whims, if he could really be that perfect.

“Take me home,” Shen Jiu had insisted as well. Perhaps it was a test of sorts, as if there hadn’t been small tests ever since they began working together. It would be an easy request to misinterpret if one so wished, however, as well as withstanding another demand. And truth be told, sometimes Shen Jiu really does worry. He can handle himself, but maybe he really does feel a little safe with Yue Qingyuan. Maybe, one day in the future, he’d like to cling to his side as they walk, tucked away safely.

Reaching his door is like a movie, though -- the moment of uncertainty about what to do. He can almost feel the rest of the scene play out from there, but he’s not one to get his hopes up too high.

“Are you coming in?” Shen Jiu asks, after a beat too long for comfort.

Yue Qingyuan smiles at him, fond and full of restraint. “Maybe not this time.” Implying there will be another time, which Shen Jiu should shake his head and tsk at, but instead hopes for. And then he truly surprises Shen Jiu, more perceptive than he thought anyone could be. “I don’t think you want me to. Not yet.”

He softens his surprise into a smile. “Perhaps you’re right.”

“There is one thing I would like to do, though, if you’ll let me.”

“And that is?”

It’s just like a movie after all -- the way Yue Qingyuan leans in, the intent Shen Jiu can see. Except that he kisses Shen Jiu’s cheek, and not his lips.

It’s almost frustrating that it’s not his lips precisely because he’s so perfectly respectful, so kind, so handsome… Shen Jiu is forced to admit he has it bad.

“That. Is it okay?”

“It’s okay.” He might be blushing. Can he blame the cold? For his own peace of mind, just for now? “We should do this again, then.”

“I’d like that.”

Shen Jiu’s smile is warmer than he remembers it being in some time as he offers a, “Goodnight, then.”

“Goodnight.”

A smile, and Yue Qingyuan turns to leave. Before Shen Jiu has time to allow himself to hesitate, he reaches out on impulse and grabs Yue Qingyuan’s shoulder, turning him back and kissing him abruptly, but chastely on the lips. The rush of it all leaves him a little breathless.

“A proper goodnight kiss. Is that okay?”

Yue Qingyuan was taken off guard, it seems, and takes a moment to respond. “The other was proper enough. But it’s okay. More than okay. So long as you’re not forcing yourself.”

“Not at all.” For once. “Goodnight. I’ll… see you tomorrow.”

And almost before Yue Qingyuan can respond with his own “Goodnight,” Shen Jiu has scurried into his apartment. He’ll be spending his evening reflecting, replaying scenes in his head, imagining new ones and berating himself for getting his hopes up.

But some familiar feeling tells him Yue Qingyuan loves him like no one else could. He would like to trust in that.

Chapter Text

Shen Jiu thinks he could cry. He’s hearing the words he’s hoped to hear for longer than he cares to count.

“Xiao Jiu -- I came back for you. Finally, I came back for you!”

He had been beginning to think he could no longer trust the one person in his life that he’s ever trusted. It was an awful empty feeling, and he’s almost as relieved to be rid of that as he is to be rescued. It’s still easy to believe this is a dream. He’s dreamed of it many times.

But Yue Qingyuan’s voice has never been so clear, so full of genuine emotion. He sounds on the verge of weeping.

Despite his similarly emotional state, Shen Jiu snaps, “It took you too long!” But he sounds near tears as well.

“I know. I know it did, I’m sorry, so sorry… But you don’t need to spend another minute here. I won’t let them keep you a second longer.”

Yue Qingyuan is truly too good. He accepts all the blame Shen Jiu heaps on him. But he deserves more credit and appreciation than Shen Jiu knows how to show him right now.

He’s never been good at that sort of thing, not like Yue Qingyuan is. Yue Qingyuan is soft and kind and gentle and good, and yet a fierce fighter when he needs to be -- probably all the fiercer now. It’s been some time since Shen Jiu has seen him fight, which hurts in more ways than it ought to. He struggles to express his distress at missing time with Yue QIngyuan, only to recognize his hate for falling behind. He wants to catch up, to surpass.

They’ve both been hurt in many ways, robbed of childhoods and wronged as humans. Yet Yue Qingyuan has impressively retained traits that Shen Jiu feels vulnerable simply imagining himself displaying. He could blame his time waiting here, being harmed further, physically and emotionally alike, but he was already this way to a degree. If Yue Qingyuan is the shield, the protector, then it is Shen Jiu’s duty to be his blade.

But he wants to be protected, too, if only by Yue Qingyuan.

He clings to Yue Qingyuan like he never has before, like it's the first time he can feel his warmth for real.

"Even one more second is far too long! We're leaving, tell me where we'll go!"

Shen Jiu had been growing to hate the company of men; to distrust them for all they had wronged him. He's only suffered more horrors here, and his wounded heart will ask Yue Qingyuan why, but he knows. He knows being powerless too well

It's a relief, at least, that Yue Qingyuan's arms still feel like safety. They were the safest haven he knew, and that hasn't changed. Shen Jiu hopes it never changes.

They return to Cang Qiong Mountain on Yue Qingyuan's sword, and he never loosens his grip on Shen Jiu, not even for a second. He knows, still, how best to make his Xiao Jiu feel as safe as possible.

He's Sect Leader Yue Qingyuan now, Shen Jiu learns. He has power, and Shen Jiu likes being able to align himself with power. He wants power of his own even more, but it's enough for now to be safe.

"I had quarters prepared for you," Yue Qingyuan explains, leading him to a room, decorated with care. Every amenity Shen Jiu can imagine and more, they're all present. It leaves him feeling a little guilty for what he's about to ask.

"Qi-ge…" He's trying pointedly to appeal to Yue Qingyuan, despite that guilt. He wants to see how much he's still loved, and it wouldn't hurt to get his way as well. "I would rather stay with you."

For a second, he wonders if he's misjudged how Yue Qingyuan loves him, if someone else has claimed his Qi-ge's heart. It troubles him more than he could have expected. He had bigger worries up until now, but faced with this… What will he do?

"Xiao Jiu… are you sure? However you would be most comfortable…"

"I feel most comfortable with Qi-ge." And he means that in so many ways.

It makes Yue Qingyuan frown, though, looking concerned. Shen Jiu meant it as a compliment, but maybe it's not wrong to be concerned that he prefers to have someone trustworthy by his side.

Shen Jiu is only grateful he still feels comfortable with Yue Qingyuan, though. He wants to treasure that.

Yue Qingyuan's expression softens. "Anything Xiao Jiu likes. You are welcome in my chambers, and by my side is where I best like to have you. These chambers are still yours should you want them."

But by Yue Qingyuan's side is where Shen Jiu stays, where he sleeps. He sleeps better than he has in a long while, though he wouldn't say soundly. When the nightmares wake him and anxiety threatens to keep him awake, the sight of Yue Qingyuan beside him eases those feelings.

He's safe. His Qi-ge made sure of it, and will keep making sure of it.

He wakes before Yue Qingyuan sometimes and simply lies beside him, watching him, feeling fond and safe. Life could be better; so much of it could have been better. But everything feels surreal in that it feels okay, like this. Shen Jiu feels happy looking at this man’s face, lying in his bed. Maybe for the first time in his life.

Their childhood had moments of happiness, but they were fleeting and unlike this. This is more of a state of being than a moment. It’s not a constant state of being; life is not perfect, and the horrors of the past still torment Shen Jiu, and surely Yue Qingyuan, too. There are regrets, and scars both physical and emotional that they will carry for life.

But Shen Jiu takes incredible comfort in the knowledge that he can wake in this place, in this way, every morning.

Only perhaps he would like something more. He’s a greedy being, but he embraces the trait. After all, it was a survival trait at one time, in some ways. Now, perhaps, it should come with a touch of caution, but if it eases some worries, brings them more happiness, what’s the harm?

Quietly, softly, slowly, Shen Jiu lifts himself to lean in Yue Qingyuan’s direction, and even more softly presses his lips to corner of Yue Qingyuan’s.

“Qi-ge,” he whispers, voice soft, watching the other man’s eyes flutter open with a hint of surprise and confusion in them. It makes the corner of his own mouth quirk up a little. “Consider that thanks for everything.” More direct thanks than Yue Qingyuan likely expected, but not nearly as much as he deserves. “As many of those as you like.” So Shen Jiu offers more.

For Qi-ge, and only Qi-ge, he’d offer his all.

“Xiao Jiu… where is this coming from?” There’s concern on his face now, like he isn’t sure something like this is okay. But there’s something he doesn’t understand, and though it’s vulnerable, Shen Jiu knows he won’t regret saying it.

“It’s coming from the fact that I love Qi-ge.”

Yue Qingyuan reaches up slowly to brush back Shen Jiu’s hair, like he’s seeing something in his expression for the first time, and maybe he is. “I love Xiao Jiu, too.” His voice is softed, sweeter, and more fond than Shen Jiu could have ever imagined, saying just the words he wants to hear, the meaning in them clear.

He leans down again to show his love and indulges deeply, not pulling away from Yue Qingyuan’s lips again for quite some time.

Chapter Text

When Yue Qingyuan had wished he could do something to improve his favorite character’s life -- say, write a fix it fic or draw some soft art of him smiling, being loved -- he certainly didn’t think he could do anything directly.

He had never fancied himself a reader of romance novels -- not especially. But this one had become overwhelmingly popular and managed to elude his understanding entirely despite that. So, at long last, weary of feeling so lost, Yue Qingyuan had picked up a copy of the book, and before he had known it, found the thing impossible to put down.

It wasn’t the main couple he felt for, though. Against all odds, he found himself feeling quite sympathetic for and fond of a character that didn’t seem the author meant anyone to like. But perhaps it’s just that! The man is rough around the edges, does harmful things, and seems jealous and possessive. But Yue Qingyuan can’t help feeling that he must have a reason for being that way, that the author simply didn’t care enough to write him those reasons.

Something about that character, perhaps read between the lines or inserted between the lines by Yue Qingyuan’s own mind, always seems so sad and hurt beneath the sharp exterior.

Yue Qingyuan wants to know why, and laments the fact that his suspicions about the author lacking a reason are spot on. Thousands and thousands of words for no reward. Why couldn’t Shen Jiu have a happy ending?

He gets the chance to make that happen one day when he wakes up in the novel, as the love rival of Shen Jiu. In the book, the two characters had clashed terribly, fought over the female lead…

Honestly, that had been a complaint of Yue Qingyuan’s, too. Fighting over someone feels demeaning when they ought to be able to choose for themselves. The male lead had been aggressive, and truly, not much better than Shen Jiu.

But the author had drawn out the audience’s sympathy for the male lead, and therefore, bias abounds.

In the end, Yue Qingyuan doesn’t think the main couple should be together, and neither should Shen Jiu and the female lead. So he’s not entirely sure what his fix it fic would have looked like, or who he would have drawn giving Shen Jiu his due affection.

For the female lead, perhaps there was someone. The male lead has a trusted right hand man at work -- extremely blunt but capable at his job, and proper despite his bluntness. But it's not that right hand man he thinks would make a good fit for the female lead's love interest; it’s his younger sister.

There had been some suspicious lines about their interactions, though entirely too brief in Yue Qingyuan's opinion, and he could think of no one who had treated her with more respect.

But it still left Shen Jiu unspoken for, and that left Yue Qingyuan with eyes peeled for opportunities and an open mind. He suffered restrictions from a mysterious System along the way, but by now has earned enough points to act out of character. He’s seen his kindness surprise Shen Jiu multiple times now, but he hasn’t seen the opportunity he, himself, created.

In his determination, Yue Qingyuan has failed to consider an important possibility even as he increased its chances.

He had also never visited the section of the internet with character/reader fic, and as a result, living out the situation had never occurred to him.

It almost doesn’t even as he finds himself in it.

He knows this scene, remembers it well. It had been a turning point in the relationship of the male and female leads.

Only the female lead isn’t here (spending time with that subordinate’s sister, after many an effort from Yue Qingyuan to bring them closer) and… Shen Jiu is, instead.

It’s at this point that, firstly, Yue Qingyuan realizes he has made a grave mistake in neglecting the fate of the male lead’s romance plot. The problem was that he didn’t much care for the male lead, nor was he seeking out a soulmate in what could end up a very long and elaborate dream.

But of course it would come into play. Of course Yue Qingyuan couldn’t stop every plot point, couldn’t prevent those romance novel conventions that shove two people together. It’s a workplace romance, so naturally, the “being stuck in an elevator” trope was bound to happen in the course of the story.

It just wasn’t supposed to happen to Shen Jiu.

On the bright side, this means Yue Qingyuan has managed to give Shen Jiu his own romance plot! On the other, he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and definitely would never have shipped this in the original work. Some of his own theories about Shen Jiu involve bad blood between the two of them, so this pairing had never occurred to him even once.

But… the saying does go that if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. Yue Qingyuan doubts he will find anyone else in this book as intent on making Shen Jiu happy as himself. Maybe, just maybe, he really is the right man for the job.

It’s awkward and silent in the elevator for a time as Yue Qingyuan ponders this, but Shen Jiu doesn’t seem able to take the silence. If ever there’s a time for him to ask Yue Qingyuan about the sudden change in character, it’s now -- seated in an immobile elevator.

Though frankly, if he asks in too much detail, Yue Qingyuan isn’t sure he’ll have a convincing answer.

With a sigh, Shen Jiu opens his mouth to speak but keeps his eyes averted. “I don’t know your goal, but it’s beyond suspicious. If you want something from me, just say it. Kindnesses and guilt are useless on me.”

This isn’t the first time Yue Qingyuan has thought the tone of voice has validated him in seeing that sadness and hurt in Shen Jiu. But this time feels like the most telling.

“No guilt,” he promises, waving his hands a little nervously. “I don’t want anything.”

“That’s not like you. If you aren’t after her, you must be after something.”

Making Shen Jiu happy might be more difficult than anticipated, if this is his view of the world, and of Yue Qingyuan. But this is a defining moment! A stepping stone in the male lead’s romantic storyline! For Shen Jiu’s sake, Yue Qingyuan now wants that to remain the case.

“You won’t believe me if I tell you,” he settles on saying after a few moments. It isn’t a good answer, but neither is the truth, and he can’t think of a good lie.

“Try me.” There’s a dare in Shen Jiu’s voice.

Yue Qingyuan can’t seem to defy that.

“I realized I want you to be happy.” This is entirely true, if not a little misleading about when he had his realization.

To his surprise, there’s more disbelief than disgust on Shen Jiu’s face, and a considerable amount of surprise. Yue Qingyuan is not the sort to hold back his sincerity, and it must have taken Shen Jiu aback. Had anyone ever wished for his happiness before? Certainly not enough fans of the book had, in Yue Qingyuan’s opinion.

Finally, Shen Jiu recovers from his shock, averts his gaze, and mutters, “Suspicious.”

That’s expected, and it makes Yue Qingyuan laugh a little -- sad, but fond, letting his eyes fall to his lap. “That’s what I thought you would say.”

“Suspicious,” Shen Jiu nearly cuts him off, “but I want to believe you.” There had been a shuffle between words, and by the time Yue Qingyuan had lifted his head, Shen Jiu was much closer than before. It’s like he’s scrutinizing every tell that could possibly show itself on Yue Qingyuan’s face, but there’s no dishonesty to what he’s said.

“Take your time believing me.” Rushing him would only be suspicious too, after all. And it really is better if he feels comfortable and trusting in that belief. “I don’t mind doing my part to convince you.”

There it is. Without realizing it, he’s put up a flag, made this the defining moment it was meant to be with nothing more than his honesty. But this is a moment Shen Jiu will remember as being where he may have fallen in love with Yue Qingyuan.

Shen Jiu takes pause for a moment, and then seems to make a snap decision.

“You can start with this.”

And perhaps he’s judging the sincerity of the way Yue Qingyuan kisses him back when their lips crash together, or the look in his eyes when they pull away, panting. Either way, he dives back in, and they hardly even notice when the elevator doors slide open until a hapless maintenance worker has to clear his throat.

It’s embarrassing, but Yue Qingyuan is pleased with the result, and his blush may be more of a happy thing than an embarrassed one. After all, who can love Shen Jiu better than he can?

Chapter Text

This is, perhaps, the most harrowing decision Shen Jiu has ever faced.

That’s definitely saying something, but in this moment, there is no doubt in his mind that he has never faced a more difficult choice, had a more heated internal debate.

When Shen Jiu had told Yue Qingyuan he was trying a dating app, he had been surprised to be met with a, “Ah, is that so? Me too.” But even then, he hadn’t considered the possibility that the two of them would be matched.

There are about twenty reasons he can’t decide what to make of the situation.

None of this has gone at all according to plan. Shen Jiu had only said he was trying this to gauge Yue Qingyuan’s interest. Now he has to actually discuss it with the man, so he had only been moping his way through person after person, disappointed at all the prospects that are not Yue Qingyuan.

And then there’s Yue Qingyuan.

He wonders about the odds of them choosing the same dating app, about them showing up for one another on that same one.

Apparently, better than he could have guessed. There’s a small hope welling up inside of him at the fact that they have any sort of chance to match, but it quickly deflates. If Yue Qingyuan wasn’t interested to begin with, a dating app isn’t going to change that -- not when they know each other in person already, better than they could from these profiles.

But!

But…

The dilemma Shen Jiu is truly facing is all to do with whether to swipe on Yue Qingyuan or not. It’s his chance to find out for sure, either way. As disappointed as Shen Jiu had been with the idea of Yue Qingyuan on a dating app, uninterested in him that way, he knows he can be further disappointed by confirmation of the fact. Thinking he has no expectations and actually having no expectations, he has found, are two different things.

Shen Jiu sighs, drops the phone on the bed, and buries his face in his hands to think, to let the possibilities weigh on him.

They’re heavy.

But the possibility that Yue Qingyuan, somehow, is interested anyway and Shen Jiu could simply pass that by, never finding out, is the heaviest of all.

It’s frightening, difficult to do, so Shen Jiu does it quickly, on a moment’s impulse -- like ripping off a bandage, only he can’t determine until it’s over whether he’s inflicted the wound or applied the bandage, in reality. He swipes right to indicate his interest, thinking about a million outcomes to this, preparing to say it was an accident if it comes to that.

He wants to avert his eyes from the result, but they’re glued to the screen. He can scarcely even process what he’s seeing as he feels the adrenaline from such a small motion coursing through him.

It’s a match. They’ve matched.

So what does that mean?

Shen Jiu’s immediate reaction is to close the app, lock his phone, and drop it because there’s nothing more in a dating app to interest him at this point. And this has to be figured out.

But he quickly picks up his phone again, realizing he could send Yue Qingyuan a message about this right now.

Is that wise, though? Will he seem too eager? Or maybe accusatory? He drops his phone again.

The indecision is going to kill him, along with the agitation.

His phone buzzes with an email -- only spam -- and his eyes snap to the screen so quickly that Shen Jiu wants to throw himself across the room more than the phone. He shakes his head vigorously and decides to do something he rarely does: turn off his phone for the night.

No rash decisions will be made. He’ll take a warm bath to relax. And tomorrow he’ll see Yue Qingyuan as planned and act normal until Yue Qingyuan sees fit to bring it up.

All of that goes according to plan except acting normal. The calm Shen Jiu had achieved leaves him abruptly the moment he sees Yue Qingyuan.

In fact Yue Qingyuan seems to be doing a far better job of maintaining his cool, which agitates Shen Jiu further, makes him speculate on Yue Qingyuan’s intentions. Is he really interested? Or was it to see what Shen Jiu would do? Yue Qingyuan isn’t that kind of schemer, though; Shen Jiu is sure of it.

It’s one of the things he loves about Yue Qingyuan, probably.

“Xiao Jiu,” he greets with a smile, and that fond nickname. Nothing about this is set out to make things easy for Shen Jiu. Yue Qingyuan looks so handsome, too, seated with his coffee, near the window, and that sort of thought is what tells Shen Jiu how gone he is.

Normally quite good at keeping a composed expression, Shen Jiu can feel that crumble as he takes his seat across from Yue Qingyuan.

“I swiped right.”

Yue Qingyuan’s smile falls in what appears to be confusion. “I know… is there something wrong with that?”

Hm. Well, there’s not necessarily something wrong with that…

“That depends. Why did you do it?”

Yue Qingyuan looks rather lost, as though he didn’t know there might be more than one reason why someone would swipe right, but he also looks a little sheepish, maybe even ashamed or embarrassed.

“I wasn’t brave enough to say I was interested… but it felt too dishonest, I couldn’t lie. Not about my feelings for you.”

Shen Jiu finds his head in his hands again. How can Yue Qingyuan be this foolish? But if Yue Qingyuan is foolish, Shen Jiu is twice as much of a fool. What an idiotic, roundabout way of gauging interest! Perhaps if he had just asked outright, Yue Qingyuan would have had the bravery to answer honestly. They could have avoided so much of this! No dating apps, no confusion, no debating the pros and cons of swiping right.

It could have been straightforward, but Shen Jiu is a schemer, which is precisely why he values that Yue Qingyuan is not.

Without a word, he grabs his phone, unlocks it, and deletes the app.

“Forget this ever happened. Delete that right now.”

Shen Jiu is aware he isn’t making a lot of sense, but thankfully, Yue Qingyuan follows his instructions and sets his phone down.

“Good. Very good. Now let’s start over.”

“Start over? Xiao Jiu--”

“Qi-ge.” He cuts him off. “Are you interested in me? No-- in being together?”

Yue Qingyuan looks like he wants to protest that Shen Jiu knows the answer, now. But his features smooth out, a look of understanding spreading across his face. Soon enough, it becomes a smile.

“Very interested.”

Shen Jiu can smile now, too, having righted the misunderstanding, having heard that response. It’s definitive and to the point. He really should have done this in the first place, and when he says, “That’s what I was hoping to hear,” he means it for that time a few nights ago as well. Maybe even longer ago than that.

“Is it alright, then, if I call you my boyfriend?”

“It sounds a little… juvenile.” But Shen Jiu is still smiling, because despite what he says, it makes his heart leap. “But I suppose it doesn’t hurt.”

Chapter Text

“I’ll come back for you, I promise. And then we’ll have a life together.”

“You had better.” Venom and tears alike are in Shen Jiu’s voice, mingled together. Above all, it’s vulnerability.

He had known what he risked, falling for a merchant. He had been reluctant to fall for him, but the kindness Yue Qingyuan displayed day in and day out, the genuine care for Shen Jiu like no one else had ever shown, were simply too strong. Shen Jiu was no match for that kind of weaponry.

It’s the type of weaponry the wielder himself hardly even knows he’s striking with. Perhaps that’s the stealth of it, the source of its strength.

He’s agreed to marry Yue Qingyuan, but there’s an immense amount of fear about it. Not about the marriage itself, as many might suspect, but about everything before it. This journey Yue Qingyuan is off on will be lengthy, and is intended to get them the means to marry and start a life together.

Shen Jiu is worried, deeply, that this journey will take Yue Qingyuan, his best hope for a happy life, away from him.

But Yue Qingyuan has never broken a promise to him yet. Shen Jiu won’t let him break this one.

Paying no heed to the fact that his crew is waiting on the ship, Yue Qingyuan embraces Shen Jiu tightly. Shen Jiu pays even less heed to the presence of anyone and kisses his fianc é passionately, relentlessly, trying to feed as much of his love into it as possible. It will have to tide them both over for who knows how long, after all.

When Yue Qingyuan boards his ship, he doesn’t take his eyes from Shen Jiu, and Shen Jiu doesn’t move from his place on the shore until some time after Yue Qingyuan and his ship alike have disappeared entirely from view.

And he waits.

He waits, and does what he can to prepare for their life together, saving up this and that, making small household purchases, and taking note of what he would like on a grander scale, when Yue Qingyuan comes back. Not if. When.

He has to come back, or Shen Jiu doesn’t know what he’ll do.

But time passes; it wears on without word from Shen Jiu’s betrothed, and in turn, it begins to wear on Shen Jiu. He becomes restless, fretful. His emotions begin to run high, and he begins to pursue word of any kind about Yue Qingyuan.

The man is worth waiting for, but he is also worth pursuing -- saving, in the worst case.

At last, one day, word comes.

Unfortunately, it’s anything but good. The vessel Yue Qingyuan had been traveling on had shipwrecked, and there was no account of him. He was proclaimed dead at sea, drowned and lost to the depths or the creatures therein.

Shen Jiu refuses to believe it. Yue Qingyuan had promised, and his heart can’t accept this result.

It isn’t what he had planned, nor is it ideal, but Shen Jiu is grateful he has the money all the same, and he immediately puts it towards a one way passage to the country Yue Qingyuan’s ship is supposed to have wrecked near. The return voyage is something he’ll worry about later, when he has a reason to return at all.

It won’t be an easy task, searching in a foreign land whose language he barely knows at all. That doesn’t matter, though, when the thing that matters most to him is on the line. These past years since meeting Yue Qingyuan, he has thrown himself into establishing a life for the two of them, like he’s never known before.

They both came from difficult backgrounds, but this opportunity is what gave Yue Qingyuan a chance, and the love and care Shen Jiu received from Yue Qingyuan are what gave him hope. He could carve out a future for himself, with shrewd means, sharp words, and perhaps misdeeds. But with Yue Qingyuan, it wouldn’t be necessary. Shen Jiu didn’t want to turn back.

Turning back will be his absolute last resort, he swears to himself as he traverses the streets, speaking to those who will hear him out. His urgency doesn’t seem to sit well with the locals, or perhaps he comes off rude. He wouldn’t know, but there is no way to approach this without urgency. If Yue Qingyuan is alive, who’s to say he will be for long? And without him…

A lead presents itself at last.

A large house sits in the depths of the forest. Many rumors surround it, and the locals can’t seem to agree whether or not the place is harmless. Admittedly, those who claim there’s something sinister living there only make Shen Jiu scoff, but regardless of their stance on who or what dwells inside the house, the people Shen Jiu speaks to always advise him not to go.

Advice like that leaves him only the choice to disobey it, no matter how much he’s cautioned, no matter how harshly or gently.

If no one can tell him, after all, he must find out for himself.

Shen Jiu makes his preparations, unsure how long a walk it will be, and ventures into the forest. It’s only a little ways before he can see his destination. For all the danger some locals speak of, they would be so close to it, he thinks. They’re urban legends at best, though they may have a basis in something.

It’s a hope he’s holding on to, a weapon against a bleak future.

It’s almost more valuable than the sword he has in hand, if not for the fact that sword might ensure he has a future at all.

He treads carefully, wanting nothing more than to keep his gaze locked on the house, but knowing better, checking his surroundings. Shen Jiu makes it to his destination without incident, but if the villagers’ words have any merit, there may be something more dangerous inside.

As he draws near to the door, Shen Jiu hears something that makes his blood run cold, and he knows why the villagers have spoken as they have about this house. However, he also knows immediately that their fear was misplaced.

He wastes no time bursting through the door then, knowing the site inside will not be pleasant. But how long has his Yue Qingyuan suffered? How long has he spent in this land, feared, misunderstood, and nearly out of his mind from qi deviation?

This land is unfamiliar with cultivation, and all of its risks and rewards.

The locals are right about one thing, though: it is dangerous. Shen Jiu doesn’t hesitate, despite that. This is a man in need of help, a man he loves dearly; the man he wants a future with, so risking any future he has to save him goes without saying.

He takes Yue Qingyuan’s hand, but this qi deviation is persistent, will take something stronger. In an ideal world, Shen Jiu would have only done this with Yue Qingyuan in his right mind, the better to appreciate it and their reunion. But in an ideal world, he would never have gone missing, never suffered this way to begin with.

Never releasing his hand in the slightest, Shen Jiu forces his lips against Yue Qingyuan’s. It isn’t at all like the kisses they’ve shared before, and Shen Jiu has to focus entirely on restoring a balance to his fianc é , channeling out the bad and feeding in the good. It’s tiring, but Shen Jiu is certain it’s nothing next to what Yue Qingyuan has gone through.

And at last -- at long last -- it’s done. Yue Qingyuan slumps in exhaustion, with one brief flicker of recognition on his face for Shen Jiu. But at last he looks peaceful.

The house doesn’t seem to be up to date, to have many modern or even simply functional means in it, so Shen Jiu rests Yue Qingyuan’s head in his lap, and waits for him to wake. Even knowing he’s safe now, it isn’t until his eyes open and the recognition truly spreads across his features, that the relief hits Shen Jiu in full.

“Xiao Jiu…?” His voice is weak, but full of all the affection Shen Jiu recalls.

“They told me you were dead, but I wouldn’t believe it…” And the tears are spilling from his eyes without warning. “I came to bring you home. I couldn’t wait forever.”

But he knows in his heart that he would try, if he had to.

There’s a soft, weary smile on Yue Qingyuan’s face when Shen Jiu blinks away enough tears to get a clear picture of it again. “I’m lucky. If I had waited for help any longer…”

The thought of losing him, now that he’s safe and in his arms, is even more unbearable. Having something just saved torn away is like a victory stolen, retracted, cancelled. Shen Jiu satisfies his urgent need to cling to Yue Qingyuan with another kiss, soft but intent this time.

“None of that,” he whispers, brushing Yue Qingyuan’s hair back. “You will be fine. You will return with me. And you will marry me. We will build whatever life we must, so long as we do it together.”

Yue Qingyuan smiles again. “As you say.”

And so it was.

After a few days of recuperating, the pair secured passage home, and though life was not always kind, it went just as Shen Jiu had said.

They clung to one another in times of difficulty and they were inseparable.

Chapter Text

They’ve done this many a time, but every touch still sparks the same heat between them, and every roll of Shen Jiu’s hips feels as though it could crumble any resolve Yue Qingyuan had.

His hands and mouth aren't merciful either. They claim Yue Qingyuan over again and again; claim his attention, his pleasure, his heart. Shen Jiu wants every sound, every jerk of his hips -- every, ah, drop of pleasure he can wring from his husband.

Shen Jiu is greedy for what is his, not relinquishing in the least, not even the smallest bit.

And Yue Qingyuan enjoys succumbing to his whims. It's clear in how much pleasure Shen Jiu is truly capable of bringing him. No one has more sway over Yue Qingyuan, not when Shen Jiu can have him in bed at a word. Not when Yue Qingyuan will go eagerly, feeling affected by the mere suggestion (more request, or perhaps even demand than suggestion, and maybe he likes the idea of a demand from Shen Jiu’s lips).

Even when it takes but a word, Shen Jiu doesn't end his seduction there. He wants the very best results, after all, and the easy way is no way to get them.

At times, he kisses Yue Qingyuan, deep and filthy, then takes him by surprise when he takes him in hand while he's caught up in the kiss. The way he gasps is something Shen Jiu eats up, swallows whole, greedy.

Tonight is for spoiling Yue Qingyuan with slow torture, however. Mouth and hands make thorough work of everything above the waist, sure to test Yue Qingyuan’s infinite patience (though Shen Jiu has found he has less patience in bed, which is entirely gratifying). Shen Jiu takes his time, leaving the most sensitive areas with only a moment’s attention.

His hands are just shy of everything, on every inch of Yue Qingyuan’s chest except his nipples, but tracing the outlines of muscles, the lines of scars. Where Shen Jiu knows Yue Qingyuan most craves firm, perhaps even rough, kisses on his neck, he leaves only feather light ones. Leave him wanting and then give him more than he can handle; that is his mantra.

And he slides lower, hands on Yue Qingyuan’s abdomen now, tracing muscle lower and lower, until he’s dangerously close to the hip -- and then he traces back up again. Meanwhile, his mouth imitates what his hands have just done on Yue Qingyuan’s chest. Shen Jiu kisses each scar, traces muscle with tongue, but only comes tantalizingly close to the nipples. The way Yue Qingyuan inhales, like he’s bracing himself, is such a rewarding sound.

Having teased enough to content himself -- nearly -- Shen Jiu shifts back up, hands gently gripping Yue Qingyuan’s shoulders.

A kiss at the corner of his mouth, as if Shen Jiu won’t even kiss him directly on the lips, earns him a hum, and a brush of fingers over a nipple earns him something that might be a whine. Those sounds earn Yue Qingyuan a smile, and a deep, claiming kiss in return -- this one as direct as possible. It’s no accident, the way Shen Jiu lets his hips dangerously near to Yue Qingyuan’s, so the heat is practically tangible, but he likes to play innocent, and he knows Yue Qingyuan won’t press the matter -- even though he knows better.

Being known so well, yet indulged -- Shen Jiu can only conclude this is what love is.

So as his show of love, he’ll have a little mercy.

“Is Qi-ge impatient?”

Shen Jiu doesn’t allow him the chance to answer. He presses their hips together, lets Yue Qingyuan feel him equally hard and hot, relishes in the way they groan in tandem.

“You are now, aren’t you?” he nearly purrs the words, voice slightly gruff from his own pleasure, and his manner coy in everything he does. He could see Yue Qingyuan’s patience wearing thin clearly even before this; there’s no need to ask. But he thinks perhaps the talk does something for his husband, and he enjoys it anyway.

Still, Yue Qingyuan is ever gracious and loving and soft -- a stark contrast to how sharp Shen Jiu is by nature. It’s a good balance, and Shen Jiu would be with no one else.

Already, he can see he’s left Yue Qingyuan breathless, but he’s nowhere near finished, and he won’t be until he’s finished his husband.

“Do you want it like this?” His hips rolls against his husband’s with purpose, slow and sweet, feeling every inch, every degree of heat, seemingly. “Or would my mouth serve you better?”

Breathlessly, Yue Qingyuan answers, “Anything Xiao Jiu does will satisfy me plenty.”

Shen Jiu knows the answer that will come before it does, and he has a rebuttal of his own for the cop out: “Husband may be speaking the truth, but his preference is of interest… If he won’t answer, he’ll have to accept both.”

He might have received protests once, but Yue Qingyuan seems to have learned that it’s no use arguing. Shen Jiu likes this. But for all their time together, for all he’s learned, he still won’t give a proper answer. It’s enough to make Shen Jiu sigh, but he swallows it like his husband swallows his protests, and like he’s about to swallow his husband’s cock.

He kisses only the places he neglected before on his way down, lavishing attention on one nipple, then the other; kissing, licking, biting just hard enough. He kisses his husband’s hips, until he’s kissing the length of his cock, tongue poking out to play a part as well.

Yue Qingyuan is vocal, and Shen Jiu is grateful. It’s a reward for his efforts, hearing the pleasure, the want for more. The more he can work his husband up, the harder Shen Jiu is likely to work, and so the cycle continues. It’s the case when he passes over the head of his husband’s cock with his tongue, so pleased with the moan it elicits that he ceases teasing altogether and takes him in his mouth.

For that, he’s rewarded further with a gasp. Perhaps he’s not merciful at all, hearing Yue Qingyuan breathless from this and plunging further, taking him deeper. With time, bit by bit, he can take him all the way, bob his head just so, create just the right friction with his lips as he caresses each inch that passes them with his tongue as well.

It’s only a matter of time, being so practiced at this, until Yue Qingyuan comes down his throat, and he takes it all, licks his lips as he lifts his head -- almost more for the effect it will have on his husband than anything else.

Without a word, he’s up at his husband’s side again, kisses him open mouthed and filthy, sharing the taste. And likewise, without a word, Yue Qingyuan takes Shen Jiu in hand, makes him moan against his lips.

He builds up the pace, just right, strokes the head with his thumb -- as Shen Jiu is practiced at sucking him off, Yue Qingyuan is practiced at this. He knows just how to stroke him, until he’s thrusting into his hand, and then coming all over it.

And then they lie there, both content and spent in one another’s arms, until Yue Qingyuan whispers, “I love you.”

“And I love you. So don’t think I’ve forgotten. There’s more, yet… once we’ve rested.”

With that, he presses himself to his husband’s side, lets out a sigh full of content, and lets his eyes drift shut as he soaks up this perfect, intimate moment.