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Don't Ghost Me

Chapter Text

Yue Qingyuan doesn’t know how long he and Xiao Jiu have remained here, in the place where they died, where Yue Qingyuan failed to protect the one most precious to him, ever fighting off other spirits that want to take their haunting grounds. He doesn’t know how much time has passed until he notices metal carriages moving on strangely paved roads, carriages without horses, in the distance. Human ingenuity has advanced so much and yet he and Xiao Jiu are ever frozen between life and death. His time is ever static yet constant, being yelled at by Xiao Jiu for his incompetence yet being snatched up if he ever moves two rooms away from Xiao Jiu.

Maybe they will spend the rest of eternity haunting each other with Yue Qingyuan never able to fight off the guilt of how Xiao Jiu died (those damned Qius with their hands on his Xiao Jiu’s body, Yue Qingyuan tearing them apart, Xiao Jiu deciding to burn it all to the ground when the Qiu heir wouldn’t let go-- ) while Xiao Jiu’s anger never cools. They tore apart the Qiu heir’s spirit long ago. Now they chase off every being that dares to enter the Qiu estate ruins, living or dead. Now they can’t stand to be too close to each other or too far.

It hurts to see Xiao Jiu like this. But it hurts even more to stay away from him.

This is his punishment.

Time doesn’t start moving again until a young child stumbles into the Qiu estate’s ruins. The child is obviously living. His clothes are foreign, with long Western style pants and a short shirt. His hair is cut too short and he has strange glass things on against his eyes. Unlike other children that have wandered into the ruins, this child doesn’t quiver or come in a pack of children to vandalize the ruins. No, this child is humming, as if taking a casual stroll through a garden and peering at every detail with a fascinated hum. Too strange for a child! But so well-behaved!

At first, Yue Qingyuan merely raises his sword, ready to do the usual ‘leave or die’ speech he gives to all the living (not that they can hear him, but apparently his voice sounds like static moans which are enough to scare any living being away), until he sees the child’s face.

“Xiao Jiu?” he gasps, but of course the child can’t hear him. Instead the Xiao Jiu look alike skips past him, looking at the scorch marks on the still preserved library of scrolls (Yue Qingyuan's rather proud of his efforts to restore that part of the estate.)

Silently, Yue Qingyuan tiptoes further to get a closer look at the child. His feet hover just above the floor, but living habits are hard to forget. 

Seeing the child, it's like walking into the past but better. The child has Xiao Jiu's adorable features--his regal nose and chin, his intense eyes, and thin build. But the child is less skinny, with a sunny smile, the way Xiao Jiu might have been had they never been born as street orphans. The child's looks may be all Xiao Jiu but his quiet demeanor reminds Yue Qingyuan of himself… The child's innocent curiosity is all the child.

Yue Qingyuan moves closer, this new desire to watch the child burning through him. As a spirit, Yue Qingyuan doesn't have many desires besides destroying any evil spirits that come near Xiao Jiu. And protecting Xiao Jiu, of course (not that Xiao Jiu ever seems to need him.). And guilt. This feeling though is… new. But not unwelcome. 

The child continues to wander through the ruins. A few times, the child's fingers nearly graze against something dangerous and Yue Qingyuan gives a shout in warning. The child obviously doesn't hear him but thankfully always changes his mind at the last minute and continues on his way.

But then the child stumbles upon Xiao Jiu's old collection of fans, still preserved from the fire, and Yue Qingyuan wonders if spirits can have heart attacks. Child or not, Xiao Jiu will maim him!

"Please get away from there, young one!" Yue Qingyuan finds himself gently saying.

The child only steps closer to the emerald painted fan. Yue Qingyuan considers making his internal screams out loud. 

“So pretty,” the child says, leaning down so his nose is a breath away from the fan, while his little hands stay behind his back. “I wonder if it was made during Han dynasty? Or maybe it’s even older! How does it stay so pretty? Maybe someone came in and took care of them…?”

“I did,” Yue Qingyuan finds himself saying. “They were the first things I tried to restore with my powers… the first gifts I ever gave Xiao Jiu…”

But of course, that fan was just a shoddy thing he nicked from a festival stall when they were street children once. And yet Xiao Jiu carried it around everywhere, hissing if Yue Qingyuan tried to replace it with a newer one. And yet the Qius took that fan away from Xiao Jiu and locked it up…

“Whoever gave this gift must have cared about that person very much.”

Yue Qingyuan’s head snaps up, through the bitter tears, and he sees the child smiling tenderly at the fan, the way Xiao Jiu would in secret when they were younger.

Oh . He forgot he had happy memories like that with Xiao Jiu. He actually forgot…

“Ah!” the child looks down at a strange bracelet on his wrist. “It’s almost seven! I better get back before the maid notices I’m gone!” Then the child clasps his hands together and gives a little bow. “Thank you spirits for letting me visit today. I’ll come back tomorrow, same time!”

Then the child leaves.

“Who was that?” a cold voice says from behind.

Yue Qingyuan turns around to his Xiao Jiu, because of course Xiao Jiu was watching. Xiao Jiu knows everything that happens in the ruined estate.

“Ah, it was just a child, nothing that needed chasing off.”

“Oh?” Xiao Jiu holds up a ghostly fan and narrows his eyes. “And yet you normally chase them all away, young or otherwise.”

“He was harmless.”

“One brat is the same as any other brat.”

“Not this one!” Yue Qingyuan snaps, then stops because how dare he yell at his one and only? How dare he raise his voice when he’s unworthy? When all he can do is stain his hands so Xiao Jiu remains untouched?

Xiao Jiu’s face twists in rage. But as always, he keeps his face hidden behind his fan, never letting Yue Qingyuan see anything but his chiling eyes. 

“Fine. Then since you’re too incompetent to do so, next time, I’ll drive him off.”

“What?!” Images of Xiao Jiu traumatizing the poor child with visions of blood and corpses plague Yue Qingyuan’s mind. “No, Xiao Jiu, you can’t!”

The wooden frames for the doors fly into splinters. “ Don’t call me that. Not when you’re like this still!”

Xiao Jiu leaves to the next room, his chilling presence still ever frigid even with a wall between them, and Yue Qingyuan feels a deep ache he doesn’t know how to name…

 

::

 

The wait for tomorrow, for the child’s visit, makes Yue Qingyuan want to disintegrate himself. But finally, as if no time has passed at all, the child skips back into the ruined Qiu estate, carrying several scrolls and a book. 

“Hello, I’m back spirits! If you’re still here, I hope you weren’t bored! I just had to research what happened here and see if I got it right. Now, I don’t know if you’re here and listening, but if you are maybe you can, I don’t know, make things colder if I’m right and warmer if I’m wrong? Whoops,” the child stumbles, nearly dropping of the scrolls on his foot. “I’m fine!”

Yue Qingyuan whirls his head towards Xiao Jiu. If Xiao Jiu were a cat, he’d be hissing with all of his fur ramrod straight on his back.

“Not my fault the brat is clumsy. Maybe he’ll trip onto a sharp piece of wood and finish the job for us.”

Xiao Jiu!

Xiao Jiu only slaps his fan against Yue Qingyuan’s lips. 

The child sits down, unwisely, on the dirt and begins to flip open his books and scrolls. He hums for a moment then lights up and points at a few sentences on his left.

“It says here that the last people who lived here were called the Qius!” 

Xiao Jiu scoffs. “Any idiot could have figured that out.”

But the air grows colder.

The child lights up. “Good, I got the right book! Okay, um… let’s see… apparently they all died in a fire? All the men were killed. Miraculously, the women and children survived. Any attempts to rebuild here always fails. According to this scroll, people think that it was an accident. Just a fallen torch or pipe, then death.”

“Hmph, as if they could have accidentally killed themselves.”

“But I don’t think that’s what happened! See, I found this old scroll by the daughter who survived the fire! I think her name was… Qiu Haitang?”

Xiao Jiu and Yue Qingyuan go very still.

“She wrote down everything that happened to her. The Qius had a servant with them, someone named Shen Jiu, and while she treated him really well. I think, well I think the rest of the family… didn’t.”

Slowly, Xiao Jiu starts to hover closer to the child, to Qiu Haitang’s writings. 

“It says here that ‘A-Jiu must have tripped again, he had bruises hidden under his sleeves so I offered him some salve. I wish A-Jiu would come to me more often with his injuries.’ But if this Shen Jiu was so capable of balancing different trays when he served his mistress, and of cultivating in secret under her instruction, I don’t think he’d be clumsy enough to trip so often. He was smart . I think the Qiu heir did something bad to him. I can’t imagine what that would be like. I would have just given up. But Shen Jiu doesn’t seem like me. He seems like a fighter. I bet he fought back and then the fire happened.”

If Yue Qingyuan could still breathe, he would have stopped breathing then.

His Xiao Jiu still has his back to him, he can’t imagine what expression Xiao Jiu has from a mere child uncovering his past like this…

“So?” the child shyly looks around, “Did I get it right?”

Yue Qingyuan doesn’t dare move. Then Xiao Jiu’s hand twitches and moves towards the child. Yue Qingyuan nearly shouts at Xiao Jiu not to hurt him but…

Xiao Jiu only lightly taps the child on the head with his fan.

The child shivers from the cool breeze and then glows at the sensation, making Xiao Jiu blink back at him.

“So I did! Ah, I’m so happy! Okay, I’ll do more research and I’ll do my best to make friends with you, spirits! Maybe one of you is the Shen Jiu? Ahh… I wish I could see you, I could ask for more of your story!”

“YOUNG MASTER SHEN YUAN!” an elderly woman practically stumbles into the ruins, her hair in disarray. “ THIS is where you’ve been?! What have I told you about playing around in dirty places like this?! What if the Madame and Master here of this? Great gods, pick up those books and come with me right now!”

“But I was making friends--”

“With spirits? That’s bad luck,” the woman makes a sign against evil. “I will hear no more talk of this. Now come or no snacks!”

“Ah! Not snacks!” the child, Shen Yuan, races back to the woman’s side. Before he steps out, he turns back and whispers, “Be back later, spirits!”

“Young Master!” the woman scolds. “This is what I get for leaving those horror movies on the television… any child would be traumatized but this one feels sorry for the monsters… Aieee me.”

When the two living humans leave, Yue Qingyuan turns his bewildered stare towards Xiao Jiu.

Silently, Xiao Jiu stares at the spot where Shen Yuan sat. Then he says, “Tomorrow, if the child comes back, I’d better hear more about what he has to say about me.”

Warmth fills Yue Qingyuan’s chest, this tingling feeling that he forgot, this hope .

“So… you won’t chase him off?”

“Did I stutter ? He’s just a prattling brat to pass the time so I don’t have to listen to you all the time. Didn’t you want the child to stay and visit? Honestly…”

Ah, his eyes could fill with tears. Such kindness his Xiao Jiu has given him, such consideration…

“As soon as the child starts to bore me, I’ll chase him off,” Xiao Jiu insists, hiding his blush behind his fan. Another rare treasure! He hasn’t seen that blush in such a long time.

“Of course, Xiao Jiu,” he almost coos, thankful to the child for bringing this out.

“I said don’t call me that!”

But for the first time in centuries, Yue Qingyuan doesn’t shrink away from those words.

“We’ll see if the child returns,” he says placantly instead. Anything to please his Xiao Jiu, and ‘their’ child…

 

::

 

The child Shen Yuan does indeed return every day, to Yue Qingyuan’s delight, bringing back more and more uncovered facts about the “mysterious and cool Shen Jiu” to Xiao Jiu’s secret delight. Over time, the stories die down and A-Yuan begins sharing more theories of how the fans stay preserved, how the mansion must have looked when it was still standing, how cultivation techniques must have worked.

Xiao Jiu always stands and listens patiently. He never says he gets bored.

Yue Qingyuan and Xiao Jiu begin conversing again, the way they used to. Xiao Jiu is still sharp, still cruel, still cold because of his time with the Qius and yet Yue Qingyuan can see the tenderness in flashes. Yue Qingyuan learns to read to Xiao Jiu again and wonders why he never figured out how sooner. Death freezes so many things, so much time…

“I wonder what story A-Yuan will tell today,” Yue Qingyuan hums.

“Maybe he’ll tell us something useful about this era,” Xiao Jiu scowls. But his eyes are calm. Content even.

A-Yuan always has something new to teach them after school, something strange and inventive like cars or popcorn, to ‘catch them up on years past.’

But today is different.

A-Yuan looks dejected and too thin for his age. He wears a paper mask over his nose and mouth while his eyes are rimmed red.

The air grows frigid from Xiao Jiu’s presence. Yue Qingyuan has the forgotten urge to hunt whoever made A-Yuan like this…

“I wish I could keep coming here forever,” A-Yuan suddenly says. “My house is really big and I have lots of brothers and sisters… but they never pay attention to me. Mother and Father are never home. It’s just me and you spirits. I don’t feel lonely here.”

“Then keep coming here as you always do, little idiot,” Xiao Jiu snaps. “Tell us what has happened to you!”

His hand passes through A-Yuan’s head.

Then A-Yuan begins to cry.

Yue Qingyuan has never felt more helpless (except when he found out what the Qius did to Xiao Jiu and he helped Xiao Jiu make everything burn so beautifully-- )

But A-Yuan never tells them. 

Both Yue Qingyuan and Xiao Jiu watch in stunned silence as A-Yuan wipes away his tears, tries to smile, and murmurs a quick sorry before leaving.

Xiao Jiu’s eyes flash. He glares at Yue Qingyuan. “We’re following him.”

Yue Qingyuan nearly gapes. They’ve never been able to leave the ruined estate before. Not on their own.

“Take my hand. We can do it if we’re together. I won’t say it twice!”

What if it doesn’t work? What if they can’t cross the boundaries of the Qiu Estate?

“Our little human is being bullied and disgraced! We can’t teach him to fight for himself so we’ll have to haunt those who dare belittle our human ourselves!”

Ah. Yue Qingyuan has never felt this ecstatic joy before. Yes, of course. In the end, Xiao Jiu and Yue Qingyuan are bound together. Of course, this child, this Shen Yuan, is their child too now.

He takes Xiao Jiu’s hand, complete at last.

 

::

 

For the rest of his living lifespan, Shen Yuan notices that strange things happen to those who belittle him. His bullies or snooty classmates become oddly clumsy, bruises all over their limbs, or their things become easily ruined. Not very high quality things? 

These bullies and snooty classmates also stop looking at him or acknowledging his existence. Another form of bullying?

Oh well, Shen Yuan shrugs. More time to doodle about ghost theories and monsters.

Behind him, two spirits link arms and return to the Qiu Estate.

Chapter Text

Shang Qinghua spends most of his life running away from spirits or writing on his hands to ignore their presence. His parents died when he was young, not that he’s sad about it when he can’t remember them. But he curses the parent who passed the ghost-seeing gene to him--may they be reborn as bugs!

When he was younger, he was moved from distant relative to distant relative. He used to point and scream or whimper at all the strange spirits he could see--terrible things that always wanted him to either die or do things. His relatives would whisper in disgust about him and then onwards Shang Qinghua would move to the next home.

He learned to stay quiet after that, keep his head down. Thank god for Auntie Meiyin, who looked at him and said, “I’ll take this brat,” and happens to make a decent amount of money fortune-telling. She doesn’t bat an eye if sometimes Shang Qinghua flinches for seemingly no reason. She even bought him a brand new computer and the internet became Shang Qinghua’s oasis away from stupid ghosts!

A spirit moaning about how they were brutally murdered by cars and now wants to destroy all cars? Nope, got headphones on. Can’t hear you. Reading fanfiction now. Goodbye.

He doesn’t need anyone if he can just write and read and live under Auntie Meiyin’s roof.

He’s not lonely at all.

 

::

 

Auntie Meiyin drags him to University entrance exams kicking and screaming. 

“I don’t need to go to University! I’ll just become the next JK Rowling and be a rich writer! Then I’ll never leave my house!”

“Don’t be an idiot. You still need a back up plan in case your writing plan fails. Now chin up, I have a good feeling about these exams.”

“I haven’t even studied that hard!” He hadn’t. He just stayed up playing Final Fantasy. And ignoring the dog spirits barking at him from upside down. 

“You’ll pass. This university isn’t known for its academics.”

“Then why do you want me to go?!”

Auntie Meiyin glares at him. “Because you’ll make lifelong friends here. Now where’s your filial piety, Hua-er?! Work hard so you can take care of me when I retire!”

That shuts Shang Qinghua up. Someday Auntie Meiyin will get old and he’ll have to repay her for taking him in when he’s… well… him. Even if he’ll do a terrible job at it.

“...Fine.”

He’ll try just a little bit.

“Now that’s a good boy.” Auntie smiles and pats him on the head. He hates how he leans into it. Stupid craving for parental affection betraying him and making him go to exams… “You’ll do just well enough. And you’ll thank me later.”

“Hm…” he doubts it. He’ll probably be too scared of all the new ghosts on campus if he passes. Not that he’d try to fail now. Not when Auntie Meiyin looks at him like this.

“Oh. And you have to join a club as soon as you get into this school. It’s very important.”

“Yes, yes, Auntie, I’ll see you later…”

She rolls her eyes, muttering about spoiled children. Shang Qinghua smiles at that.

 

::

 

To his horror, he passes. His marks for the Entrance Exam are just above average and just enough to make it into the school at the bottom of the listings.

Shang Qinghua stares at Auntie’s fortune telling room in horror and wonders why all of Auntie’s other predictions for him never came true before.

(The answer? Because she loves messing with him.)

 

::

 

“Remember to join a club.”

“Hmmm, yup, I heard you. Hmmm.” Crap. What kind of club doesn’t involve moving around too much? Maybe a literature club?? Yup, that will do it. With any luck, everyone in literature club will be so busy reading that they won’t talk to him! Score!

“And make a friend!”

Urgh…

“Yes, Auntie.”

He could always make up a friend. Maybe use one of his characters… Wei Wuxian is a pretty friendly character before he goes crazy from dark magic. Yup, he’ll say Wei Wuxian is a totally-real-not-made-up friend. Done.

 

::

 

His first day at University is terrible. He thought he’d see a few ghosts here and there, maybe some teachers who still want to teach to the death or a cat. Nope. His first class, he saw a girl in long flowing white robes and long wet black hair just hovering near some dead rotting bushes like Sadoko from the ring. But more terrifying. He screamed and ran out of class before getting yelled at by the professor.

What’s creepier is that the Sadoko lookalike seems to wander all around campus and every plant she touches just seems to wilt and rot! What. Is. Up. With. That?! Shang Qinghua tried to hide in the cafeteria but its decorated in flowers that the Sadoko-like ghost just thought to investigate too! And she makes. A. Rattling. Sound. Like. From. The. Grudge. A. Sound. Like. Rattling. Bones. Sharpened. To. Stab.

Yup. He’s out. Especially when he sees the trails of blood all over her robes.

He hides in the Science Department, pretending to be a Biology major for the rest of the day. He might have learned something about plant life cycles. Who knows.

How will he survive the next four years of this? What’s it even like in the top University in China? He doesn’t want to know. Ever. 

Just as he’s about to slink away to the bus, to his oasis of cup noodles and video games, Auntie Meiyin texts him.

Have you made any friends yet? Make sure you go to a club today!

He whimpers.

 

::

 

The University’s literature club is held in one of the empty classrooms near the Sadoko-ghost’s dead garden. Shang Qinghua stands frozen in the doorway, staring at the window where all the bare branched bushes are in horror, for a good ten minutes.

He should leave. No, Auntie Meiyin will murder him. He should stay and just sit far away from the windows, pretend he doesn’t understand the local Cantonese dialect and just type up the latest chapter of his web novel. Okay. Done. No, nope, he can’t do this. He’ll just face Auntie Meiyin--

“Are you going in?” 

Ahhh, don’t kill me, SADOKO! ” he jumps.

Soft laughter answers him instead.

A slender guy dressed in a soft green sweater and nice jeans smiles down at him serenely. Judging from the designer glasses and pretty haircut, the guy must be a rich young master, and yet he’s dressed like a cuddly immortal that’s deigned to come visit Earth.

“I’m pretty sure Sadoko doesn’t kill people that way. There’s usually tv screens involved.”

Because Shang Qinghua’s brain has a one track filter, he gasps, “You’ve watched The Ring? It’s my favourite horror movie!”

The handsome youth’s face twitches a little. “It’s… okay.”

“Okay?!” How dare today’s youth mock the classic horror films of all time. “What do you mean by ‘okay’?!”

“Mediocre. Could have been better. Subpar. Okay special effects. Contrived story. Need I go on?” 

Ouch goes Shang Qinghua’s heart. This youth sounds just like one of his favourite anti-fans Peerless Cucumber. He even has the best resting bitch face. Like a surly cute cat.

“First of all, the story is amazing and really well done. I’ve never been so genuinely scared from a horror movie before,” mostly because real ghosts are so much scarier than the movies. Sadoko is pretty close to the types of things Shang Qinghua sees. “Have you heard the score? The timing is on point! And secondly--”

He continues on his rant for a good twenty minutes before he realizes that this is the most he’s talked to someone other than Auntie Meiyin before.

Also that’s when he realizes the most beautiful man in the world is standing behind the youth, waiting for the doorway to be cleared, and glaring ice daggers at Shang Qinghua. The most beautiful man in the world has several ear piercings and spikey hair dyed bright neon blue and somehow it fits so? Well??

“Gah,” Shang Qinghua says mid-rant about how The Ring is really a metaphor for how attached humans are to technology and memories are fleeting.

“Hm,” the most handsome man in the world replies, his glare somehow even colder. Why is that so attractive. Why brain why.

“Oh!” The handsome youth brightens. “This is Mobei-Xuezhang. He graduated from this University last year but he said he wants to stay and help out with the club! I’m Shen Yuan. I just started my Chinese literature degree here but I came to this club during high school.”

“Gah,” Shang Qinghua says again because he’s stupid.

Mobei-Xuezhang frowns deeper. “Name.”

“Huh?”

“What’s your name?” Shen Yuan asks.

“S-Shang Q-Qinghua. Wow you’re pretty. I mean, pretty enthusiastic about literature. Huh. Wow, I held up the time. Is it time for the meeting to start? Where are the other members? Do we all read in separate corners or do a book club or...”

“Oh, there’s no other members. Just us.”

Wait what.

“I guess paranormal literature isn’t that popular anymore?” Shen Yuan muses while Mobei whatever-his-other-name-is just nods. “So me and Xuezhang just pick a random paranormal title and then rip it to pieces debate style.”

“Ah… I might not be very good at that…” 

“Are you kidding?” Shen Yuan’s smile could power a thousand suns. “That lecture on The Ring was pretty good.”

Tears fill Shang Qinghua’s eyes. “R-Really?”

“Yup. Even if I didn’t agree with any of it.”

Ouch. But Shang Qinghua can’t fight the smile on his face. “Alright. I’ll give it a try.” Club might not be so bad with the handsomest man in the world and the nicest kid he’s ever talked to. Even if said kid is in the same year as him. “What are we talking about today?”

Shen Yuan sighs. “Mobei-Xuezhang’s favourite web novel series. At least once a week we read the newest chapter together and talk about it.”

“Novel?” Nice, he has something in common with this Adonis! “Which one?”

Mobei-Xuezhang actually doesn’t glare! A hint of emotion!

Then, to Shang Qinghua’s horror and delight, Mobei-Xuezhang says, “Proud Immortal Spirit Way.”

Well shit.

Is it narcissistic of him to talk about his own book with two fans?! But this handsome prince likes his book! He has to hear!!

As Shen Yuan and Mobei-Xuezhang take turns reading about the protagonist’s descent into the Endless Abyss, Shang Qinghua wants to die of embarrassment and delight. He never thought he’d hear two strangers talk about his book like this before! Or that his novel was this well known! Tears! But gah, please don’t read the protagonist’s lines so monotonously Mobei-Xuezhang! Is this really your favourite series?!

“So… what did you think?” Shang Qinghua asks after Shen Yuan and Mobei-Jun (finally found out his name) go quiet. 

“Meh,” Shen Yuan shrugs.

“Amazing,” Mobei-Jun says without smiling. 

Oh god why.

“What? How can it be amazing? There were bits of potential--Airplane could be a phenomenal writer if he put more nuance and explored his characters better--but why all the random papapa in the Endless Abyss of all places?! Shouldn’t the protagonist be more worried about survival?! I just don’t know where the plot is going… I hope we hear more about his Shizun’s past… I want him to be a complicated villain…” Shen Yuan pouts.

“He is a complicated villain!” Well. Was. Before Shang Qinghua let his audience dictate what he should write next. Anything to distract him from the ghosts he sees. “You’ll see more about him and the sect leader soon!”

“I hope so… I don’t like 2-D villains, period.”

“I like the author’s prose,” Mobei-Jun says without any change of expression, and yet it makes Shang Qinghua swoon, “and revenge storylines.”

“But at what cost?” Shen Yuan insists. “We’re getting a glimpse into more of the world in this story but no depth at all! I know the protagonist is angry and has to kill to survive down in the Abyss but I wish we could get more on how demon culture works. I can’t help feeling bad for them. They’re only doing what’s in their nature…”

“Huh…” Shang Qinghua says slowly, he never really thought of his demonic characters (besides the protagonist) as more than, well, demonic. He should write this down… “That’s a good point.”

“Right?” Shen Yuan beams at him. “What about you Shang Qinghua? What did you like and dislike about this chapter?”

Shang Qinghua smiles back. It’s strange to comment on his own work with strangers like this. And yet, he likes it.

“What you said before… about the potential of the book, that’s what I like too.”

Maybe he should stop doing what he thinks the readers want and go back to his original vision. 

 

::

 

“How was it?” Auntie Meiyin asks him when he comes home.

Shang Qinghua thinks about how Mobei Jun and Shen Yuan insisted on driving him home (apparently Mobei Jun is Shen Yuan’s chauffeur?!), how they stopped by a bbq place to eat dinner together, and Shen Yuan’s insistence that Shang Qinghua come back to the club tomorrow. He thinks about Mobei Jun and how their shoulders brushed together just once and Shang Qinghua wanted to float to heaven.

“It was great,” he says genuinely for once. “I… made friends.”

Auntie Meiyin smiles warmly at him. “Of course you did.”

 

::

 

The rest of the week goes by quickly. Shang Qinghua has never been so happy, or unafraid to walk outside. Shen Yuan and Mobei Jun drive him to and from school. In fact, Shang Qinghua is relieved to see he shares several classes with Shen Yuan. He finds out Shen Yuan is actually two years younger than him and teases him by calling him Yuan-er. When Shen Yuan calls him Qinghua-ge in return, Shang Qinghua can’t help but feel a bit proud.

They talk about different web novels, anime, and games. The literature club meets almost every day except weekends.

It’s not until the second week of school that Shang Qinghua realizes that people… avoid Shen Yuan like the plague.

“Don’t go near that guy,” he hears other classmates whisper, “or bad things will happen to you.”

Honestly! Shang Qinghua scowls at the rumours. Shen Yuan is like a really cute marshmallow. What bad things? The only bad things Shang Qinghua has seen around campus is that ghost that makes plants wilt…

“Maybe you should get to know him first before you judge,” Shang Qinghua finds himself saying.

The girls glare at him with pity. “You’ll see when it gets you next. His curse.”

Shang Qinghua scowls. In another life, these people are NPCs for sure.

 

::

 

Then he sees Shen Yuan in the very garden where ghost Sadoko hangs out, the dead garden of twisted thorns and skeletal bushes. Then he sees ghost Sadoko with her creepy long hair staring straight at Shen Yuan, only inches away from his face, and he freaks. Out.

“Yuan-er, what are you doing here, you could cut yourself on a thorn, let’s go back inside so I can flirt with Mobei Jun!” Shang Qinghua practically yanks Shen Yuan towards the door.

“Ah, wait!” Shen Yuan’s glasses fall askew as his arms flail around. “I’m not finished yet!”

“What do you mean you’re not… Oh.” 

The Sadoko-like ghost makes an ‘awww’ sound.

In the middle of the garden, are bundles of bouquets. Several white chrysanthemums and pink peonies tied together in cute pale green ribbons. The same green as Shen Yuan’s favourite colour.

“Do you have a secret admirer that I don’t know about?!” Who does Shang Qinghua have to interrogate?!

“No! Nothing like that! I was just giving an offering to the spirit that lives here.”

The Sadoko-like ghost and Shang Qinghua gasp a loud, “What?!” in unison.

“Well. I think there’s a spirit here? I can’t see them but I can feel them, sometimes I see vague shadows… Maybe I need new glasses, but I like to think they’re spirits. I did some research about this school and I found out that one of the girls in the first generation of classes was murdered by her betrothed! Her name was Ning Yingying. She was really pretty and so young… barely fourteen! But because her betrothed was a student here, and no one could prove it, he got away with the murder. I heard that she liked to garden and I noticed that nothing really grows in this school… so I brought her flowers. Hopefully she likes them.”

“I do!” the Sadoko-looking ghost, Ning Yingying (?) brightens. Her hair parts and she smiles adoringly at Shen Yuan. Now she looks like a less menacing ghost with blood on her. “No one’s brought me flowers in so long! I thought they all forgot about me…”

Shang Qinghua stares at Shen Yuan in stunned silence. All these years that Shang Qinghua’s seen ghosts, he’s never really thought about them as… people. Just really scary entities that ruined his childhood.

It’s why he started writing. Proud Immortal Spirit Way was an outlet for him to vent and let the protagonist kill all the demonic spirits he wanted, without any consequences. No wonder reviewers like Peerless Cucumber can see through that.

“Sorry,” Shen Yuan looks away, “that’s probably really weird to hear. You must think me childish to believe in spirits at my age…”

“What?” Shang Qinghua gapes, “No! Not at all! I’m just… so surprised,” and so happy, “to find someone else who believes in spirits too!”

“You… you believe in spirits?”

More like he can see them and he’s traumatized by them every day.

“Yeah! I think it’s amazing you researched the spirit here and everything. You even noticed how everything wilts here because of where she goes.”

Shang Qinghua doesn’t notice how Ning Yingying studies him with narrowed eyes.

Stars fill Shen Yuan’s eyes. He’s never seen his friend so alive before. “I have folders and folders of theories on all sorts of spirits in the region! Actually, I’ve been wanting to explore all of these places over the summer. Do you want to come with me?!”

A whole summer. Chasing ghosts. No. Nope. He can’t. Argh but Shen Yuan has those puppy eyes and this is the first time he’s met someone who doesn’t think spirits are fake so…

He nods slowly. “Maybe on one or two of them.” That should be enough.

“Ah, that’s so great! Mobei-Xuezhang said he’s only come if you were! I better start getting ready! Do you think we could make this into a web series? What should we call it?” Shen Yuan races off into the club room.

Shang Qinghua smiles. This won’t be so bad if Mobei Jun and Shen Yuan will be with him.

… Wait why is Ning Yingying following Shen Yuan like a little lost lamb?

Shang Qinghua races into the club room.

Sure enough, Ning Yingying hums and floats by Shen Yuan’s side. Somehow, she’s pulled out some ghostly flowers and begun braiding them together into a ghostly flower crown to put on Shen Yuan.

“Eep,” Shang Qinghua says again, swatting away the ghost flowers. Who knows what they’ll do to his bro’s head?!

Ning Yingying frowns.

Shen Yuan blinks up. “What was that for?”

“Uh. Fly.” Shang Qinghua says.

“Oh. Okay. Just say something next time.”

“You can see me,” Ning Yingying says.

“Nope.”

“Pardon?” Shen Yuan blinks again.

“I mean, I’m happy to take care of any bugs for you, bro!”

“Bugs, hmm?” the air grows cold.

As soon as Shang Qinghua turns around, he sees two tall and menacing looking ghosts, dressed in robes that were in fashion centuries ago. Both ghosts tower over him, wearing icy expressions. One has an eerie smile that screams happy yandere time while the other could out-frigid Mobei Jun in icy glares. Their robes are tattered with blood. Compared to Ning Yingying, they could have come out of a massacre.

“What bug is buzzing around our A-Yuan this time?” the smiling one muses.

“We go away for a honeymoon once and this filth is near our human .” The cold one pulls out a sword.

Definitely ghosts.

Definitely.

Shang Qinghua faints.

Chapter Text

He wakes up to see Mobei Jun fanning him, and takes a moment to admire Mobei Jun’s biceps, before internally freaking out again because those murderous looking ghosts are looming over Mobei Jun’s shoulders! Immediately, Shang Qinghua sits up, his forehead slamming itself against Mobei Jun’s chin.

“Ahh!” Shang Qinghua leans back, hands flailing. “I’m! So! Sorry! Ice! We need ice! What if that bruises your handsome face?! Ahhh! I’m so sorry!” 

“...Handsome?” Mobei Jun says, staring down at Shang Qinghua incredulously.

What kind of humility is this, has no one, not even your mother, told you how devastatingly handsome you are?! What kind of hate crime is this?!

Wait why is Mobei Jun blushing? It’s kind of cute…

Oh god, Shang Qinghua just said all of this out loud, didn’t he?!

Laughter fills the room. Shang Qinghua jumps as Shen Yuan walks in with a pack of ice, a medical kit, and a bag of steamed bao because he is an actual saint. Trailing behind Shen Yuan, still, is Ning Yingying, who somehow acquired more ghostly flowers. How the heck does that work?!

“Sorry, sorry,” Shen Yuan says between laughs, lifting up the ice for Mobei Jun to snatch up. “I, uh, didn’t know what you might need? Do you need bandages? Um… food? I always want food when I faint.”

“Yes. Please. Gimme.” Shang Qinghua practically inhales the offered food. Still so fresh!

“This rude piece of garbage, taking advantage of our human’s kindness and eating his food!” hisses the cold ghost.

Rude. This is food that his bro so kindly gave him so kindly back away, ghost! Not that Shang Qinghua would ever say that out loud. Nope. Not with the level of murder vibes he gets from these two hand-holding ghosts. And what’s with this ‘our human’ thing?!

Wait. Do they mean his bro Shen Yuan?!

Shang Qinghua stares at Shen Yuan in horror.

Shen Yuan blinks back in confusion.

“Uh… Yuan-er…”

Listen to that, Qi-ge! This leech dared to call him Yuan-er?! I’m going to rip out his liver and feed it to--”

“Those rumours about weird things happening to people around you are just rumours right?!” Shang Qinghua blurts out quickly, anything to drown out those profanities. He does not want to picture his own death, thank you very much.

“Oh yes,” Shen Yuan smiles. “They’re definitely not true. Everyone who’s kind to me is always fine. I mean, look at Mobei Jun, he’s fine!”

“Your family pays me to drive you to and from school,” Mobei Jun says with a straight face.

“But he’s fine! He’s never suffered any weird accidents!”

“...” says Mobei Jun somehow.

Seriously?! Shang Qinghua begins to panic. Have accidents happened to Mobei Jun?! Is Shen Yuan this oblivious? Are these ghosts haunting him or what?!

“Though I do think it’s weird that the butler changes every week… and we’re always short on staff at home… and people do tend to avoid me… maybe I’m just unlucky. But I doubt the rumours are true!”

Is it just him or is the murder couple looking at Shen Yuan fondly like one might look at a beloved pet or child? Shit, Ning Yingying just cooed and she’s about to put a flower crown on Shen Yuan’s head! Stop that! No!

Shang Qinghua leaps up, waving the crown away.

This time, Ning Yingying huffs, cheeks puffed out. It would look cute if it weren’t for the cold sharp glare somehow more scary than anything Sadoko ever pulled off. Shang Qinghua eeps and slams his hand down on Shen Yuan’s head as a terrible head pat.

“How, uh, terrible for you to deal with these rumours!” That are probably true. Shit.

Shen Yuan blinks up in confusion. “Uh. Thanks? I’m fine…?”

“Mmm-hmmm!” Shang Qinghua nods vigorously, as Ning Yingying keeps throwing up ghostly flower crowns while Shang Qinghua brushes them away via headpat. Flowers. Headpat-smack. Flowers. Headpat-smack.

Shen Yuan winces and tries to politely move aside to no avail. “Honestly, Qinghua-ge, I’m fine! I have you and Mobei-Xuezhang as friends after all.”

Shang Qinghua feels as if someone injected his heart with needles of oxygen, until it puffs up like a balloon. Friends. Shen Yuan and Mobei Jun call themselves his friends too. It’s not just one-sided, he’s not alone anymore. He has friends…

Then the two hand-holding murderous ghosts phase right between him and Shen Yuan and he backs away with a shriek.

“Ahhhhh!” Shang Qinghua’s back hits Mobei Jun’s very muscular chest (wow, does he work out? No, stop getting distracted!)

“What’s wrong?! Are you okay?!” Shen Yuan reaches out, Ning Yingying peeking over his shoulder.

“Who do I have to kill.” Mobei Jun does not look like he’s joking. Please change your facial expressions at least once, please.

“Ah, nothing, it’s a cockroach, ahaha… oh look it’s gone…”

“Call me cockroach one more time, filth!” the cold one pulls out his sword again.

“Now, now, Xiao Jiu… patience… we need to get him alone after all…”

Shang Qinghua pales even more.

“I, uh, I’m not feeling well. So. I’m gonna, go home.” Where Auntie Meiyin is. Away from these ghosts. “Seeyoulaterbye!”

He rushes home at full speed, shuts the door, and hides under his blankets. It’s fine. He’s fine. It’s all. Fine.

He just has to learn how to exorcise three spirits away from his bro on his own. Without any help. Yup.

 

::

 

It is not all fine. The next three days at University are far more terrifying than anything Shang Qinghua has ever experienced. Sure, these two handholding ghosts don’t look objectively monstrous but the way they keep popping up and terrifying Shang Qinghua is! He’ll be walking into class, and boom, there they are looming over his desk scratching death threats into the desk with their swords. Goodbye professor, going to hide in the back now. Every time he tries to hang out with Shen Yuan, they appear, and then Shang Qinghua has to make an excuse to run away.

He even tried to go to the bathroom once and there they were, staring at him in the mirror and he nearly wet himself.

Shang Qinghua has taken to researching random protection items (not that he’s ever needed them before, what with getting really good at pretending ghosts aren’t there, and never being targeted) and throwing them at Shen Yuan before he runs away. Crosses, holy water, salt, purification beads from the internet, silver ore--he shoves them all (in a box) at Shen Yuan.

At this rate, Shen Yuan and Mobei Jun are going to drop their status as friends soon.

It doesn’t  help that Mobei Jun thinks Shang Qinghua is anemic now and keeps bringing him food and being so cute. It doesn’t help that Shen Yuan keeps giving him sad dejected looks when Shang Qinghua runs away. It REALLY doesn’t help that the weird Ning Yingying keeps giggling every time he runs away, while she seems to be in her own cold war with the handholding ghosts.

What is his life.

 

::

 

“Is someone bullying you?” Shen Yuan asks the next day, before Shang Qinghua can take off for the bus stop. 

“No, no, what are you talking about. Do I look like a target for bullying? Ahaha…” 

“Yes you do,” the cold ghost sneers. 

“Be patient, Xiao jiu. We’ll be rid of him eventually.”

“Eat it, Qi-ge.”

The other ghost seems to sigh, besotted at that comment. Why.

Ning Yingying only hums. Shang Qinghua’s given up on trying to wreck her ghostly flower crowns. His eye twitches whenever he sees them on Shen Yuan’s head. Please don’t be dangerous, please don’t be dangerous…

“It’s just… you’re always busy and running off… and you look pale. Mobei-Xuezhang thinks you’re just frail but… I think it’s something else…” Shen Yuan frowns and it hurts. “Did I… Did I do something wrong?”

“What?! No! Absolutely not!” Oh no, he’s a terrible friend for making Shen Yuan, marshmallow incarnate, sad. How are those teary eyes so beautiful and heart wrenching at the same time? How do you make tears stop?! How do friendship?! “I’ve just been a bit jumpy because… I’m not getting enough sleep!” Which is true. The ghost dog that lives in his house won’t stop barking all the time, so Shang Qinghua’s grown used to listening to loud music when he has to go to bed. Which doesn’t help for the sleep thing actually.

“You’re not sleeping?!” Shen Yuan puts his hand against Shang Qinghua’s forehead. “Be careful that you don’t develop a fever too! I often get fevers when I don’t sleep well. Is it class? Can I help with anything?”

Ah, Shang Qinghua thinks shamefully about all the times he ran away this week. I don’t deserve this. 

“No.” He shakes his head. “I just need to get used to the workload.”

“Well let us know what we can do. You don’t need to do this alone,” Shen Yuan smiles. 

Right. He’s not alone any more. He can do this. Speaking of which…!

Shang Qinghua pulls out the latest protection item out of his pocket. A plain white fan with little pandas and bamboo painted on it, with what some internet shamen swears is a good charm for protection on the tassle. 

“For you!” 

Shen Yuan’s mouth drops. Oh no, does he think this is as weird as the cross (“Qinghua-ge… you know that I’m a practicing Buddist right…?”), or is he going to try to return it?! 

“This is beautiful!” Shen Yuan smiles.

A strangled noise comes from the cold looking ghost while the creepily smiling ghost… well, his smile turns more sinister and Shang Qinghua eeps. Ning Yingying only puffs her cheeks and mutters, “I could make a fan too if I could find the right paper… and wood… and some paint…”

“Just perfect for our first episode of that web series!”

“Wait what?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you? We’re going to explore and film the first episode tonight if you’re free! The first place we’re investigating is on the outskirts of town, not too far of a drive.”

“What?! You can’t go!” What if Shen Yuan somehow attracts another real ghost and aids more scary stalkers to the University?!

“Are you busy? We could go on the weekend. It’s just, Mobei Jun promised to be the cameraman and he’s only free tonight, so I guess you’d have to film and--”

“Sure I’ll go,” Shang Qinghua’s heart says before his brain. Stupid beautiful Mobei Jun and Shang Qinghua’s inability to say no!

“Awesome! We’ll pick you up at 6! I gotta go home and get my notes ready!” Shen Yuan practically skips away…

Leaving Shang Qinghua alone with three ghosts. And no one to hide behind.

“Stay back, I have holy water! And salt! It’s salted holy water because I don’t know which religion is right!” Shang Qinghua shouts, holding up his spray bottle (once a windex bottle) of holy water from the nearest Catholic church and blessed salt from the internet.

“Hm. So you can see us, you filth. What a waste to give the sight to someone like you!” the cold one sneers. “We should drive him away from A-Yuan now while we have the advantage!” 

“As Xiao Jiu wishes,” the creepy smiling one seems too eager to attack now, when normally he exercises patience. Why now?!

“You squashed my flowers,” Ning Yingying murmurs, because she too has a one track mind. 

“Bad ghosts, stay back!” Shang Qinghua shrieks, eyes slammed shut as he squeezes the trigger.

The next thing he knows, he hears a loud ‘shit!’ and ‘put it out!’ and when he opens his eyes, he sees that flames have caught against the cold one’s sleeve and the creepy happy one is hurriedly putting it out. Ning Yingying has hidden behind a table, even though it doesn’t cover her at all, and Shang Qinghua stares down at the spray bottle in renewed wonder.

Thank you internet. Thank you so much for your fanfiction and trash and beautiful, beautiful shady vendors who sell strange occult things online! 

Shang Qinghua could kiss this bottle.

“Yes! I’m free!” He throws his hands up to victory punch… only for the bottle to fly up in the air… and land behind the ghosts… with the lid too loose… and the holy water blessed salt soaking into the carpet…

The ghosts stare at him.

Shang Qinghua stares back.

...Shit.

“Wait, wait, wait, you can hurt me all you want, just don’t hurt Yuan-er!” Shang Qinghua yell-stutters, knees shaking into one another.

“Hurt him? Why would I hurt Gege?” Ning Yingying gasps as if it’s blasphemy, which… fair. She just… wanted to put flower crowns on him. And follow him like a duckling apparently. Which Shang Qinghua still isn’t convinced is entirely benevolent.

Us? Hurt A-Yuan?” The cold one hisses it like it’s forbidden. “We’re the ones stopping filth like you from courting or bullying him away!”

Wait what.

“I… I’m not courting him! And I’m definitely not bullying him, we’re friends!” Ah, friends. He could say that word forever. 

“Sure you are. I know how filthy men like you think. Those gifts you keep giving him, those wide eyes. You want him and I won’t let your dirty hands ruin our human!” 

“What?! Those were protection items against ghost like you!

“Oh?” the room gets colder as the smiling one… stops smiling… “So you want to separate us from our child?”

OKAY HOLD THE PHONE. BACK UP.

“Yuan-er’s parents are dead?!” Ah shit, he messed up. Does he have to be nice to them?! Are they protecting Shen Yuan even now from the dead? What an inspirational and emotional story, wait why are his parents both men, was he adopted overseas and then they moved to China later, what is happening--

“His live parents can hardly be called such,” the cold one sniffs, pulling out a fan and hiding his face behind it. “ We are more his parents than they are.”

The creepy one is back to the happy yandere smiling again. Okaaaay.

“...So you want to protect him.”

The glares are enough of an answer.

“Then, we’re good! We’re all good! I’m just Yuan-er’s friend! So I’m just going to go home and…”

The cold one pops up in front of Shang Qinghua so fast that he screams.

“Oh we’re not done. Do you think I’d really believe anything a degenerate man would say about our human? You gave our child a fan .”

Oh god, is giving a fan to someone like some outdated courting custom that Shang Qinghua never learned about in history class? Oh god, oh god. How to live, how to live?!

“I’minlovewithMobeiJunandwanttoadoptfivekidswithhim!”

Crickets could chirp in how empty this silence is. And perform a concerto.

“Hmph,” the cold one turns away from Shang Qinghua. He’s alive?! Given mercy?! “He’s an idiot.”

Shang Qinghua’s not sure if he should be insulted or not.

“But he is useful. After all, he can see and talk to us.”

A bone chilling look crosses over the cold one’s eyes. “An astute point, Qi-ge… very astute…”

Shang Qinghua glups as the two ghosts tower of him.

The cold one snaps his fan shut and snaps, “You will address us as Master Shen and Master Yue. When we tell you to jump, you jump. If we need you to fall, you fall. You’ll be our tool while we drive away any pests from our human and your payment will be your life.”

Shang Qinghua gapes at them both.

“Your answer?” he snaps.

“Uh, yup! Masters Shen and Yue. I, uh, I’ll do that.”

“Acceptable,” Master Yue, the happy creepy one, says.

“Still filthy,” Master Shen hisses. Then they both disappear. 

Shang Qinghua looks to the corner where Ning Yingying was… She’s gone too.

Huh. That went… well...

Chapter Text

Shang Qinghua shows up at the door with a bag full of more stocked up holy-water-blessed-salt mixture (he’s still not sure if it’s the holy water or the salt that worked on the ghosts, or just both) and what’s left of his nerves. He makes sure to tune out the way the ghost dog with three heads stalks his ceiling fan above him, and waves bye to his Auntie Meiyin.

“Careful of suitors coming for your precious friend!” Auntie says, mirth dancing in her eyes.

The dog with three heads, in the meantime, just bark-snarls at him. Thanks dog. 

“Not funny, Auntie!”

He’s not sure any human suitors would survive the wrath of Master Shen or Master Yue. Or be able to stand Ning Yingying’s creepy giggling. (Honestly, what is up with Ning Yingying? )

Shen Yuan and Mobei Jun wait for him in the car. Unsurprisingly, as a young master, Shen Yuan sits in the back, but he eagerly gestures to the front seat for Shang Qinghua... the seat next to the driver’s seat. Mobei Jun’s seat. 

Shang Qinghua goes completely red.

Hastily, he sits next to Mobei Jun, as directed, and nearly trips into the car. “Thanks,” he mutters to Shen Yuan, who only winks.

Mobei Jun stares at Shang Qinghua, looks him up and down, before shoving a bag of pork bao into Shang Qinghua’s hands. “For anemia.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, Shang Qinghua does not swoon. He just sighs besottedly. And frantically tries to remember what to say when a hot guy gives you a gift.

“Tell the servant to drive already,” Master Shen suddenly appears in the backseat, next to Shen Yuan, with a scowl. 

Shang Qinghua jumps so high with a loud “eek!” that his head hits the ceiling. 

“Qinghua-ge!”

“Qinghua!” Mobei Jun says, grabbing Shang Qinghua immediately to inspect the bump forming on his head. Not that Shang Qinghua is complaining. Thank you scary ghost who guards Shen Yuan for letting Shang Qinghua’s head rest against Mobei Jun’s lap!! Insert Manly Tears!

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Shen Yuan frets, as Mobei Jun starts the car. “Do you want to lie down in the back seat?”

“Let the filth stay where he is. He’s fine,” Master Shen crosses his arms. Beside him, Master Yue pets his arm, as if trying to console a growling panther. Ning Yingying peeks over Shen Yuan’s shoulder and just goes back to trying to braid Shen Yuan’s hair while dodging Master Shen’s attempts to hit her with his fan.

“I’m fine!” Shang Qinghua says while Mobei Jun replies, “I don’t mind him staying here.”

He didn’t think it was possible to blush even darker red, but it is.

Eyes glittering in amusement, Shen Yuan only shrugs. “If you insist! But if we get pulled over by the police because the front seat passenger is practically cradled on your lap, I am not paying that fine.”

“We won’t,” Mobei Jun says.

Cue actual swooning.

The ride to wherever they’re going is peaceful. Mobei Jun expertly weaves the car through rush hour traffic like a speed demon. Normally Shang Qinghua would feel sick from all the swerving and quick turns, but with his head on Mobei Jun’s lap, he can tolerate anything! Buildings and apartment complexes fly by the window as the three humans in the car fall into a comfortable silence.

Even the ghosts seem to feel peaceful in the lull of traffic. Shang Qinghua thinks he catches Master Shen looking fondly at a snoozing Shen Yuan (looking as cuddly as a kitten) while Master Yue has his arms around Master Shen’s shoulders. Somehow Ning Yingying has succeeded at moving strands of Shen Yuan’s hair around into small braids. 

Finally, Mobei Jun brings the car to a stop by an abandoned looking path leading up to an ominous building on top of a hill. The hill is completely barren, no grass or bushes in sight. Only barren trees, like wooden corpses standing guard over a clearly haunted looking building from god knows how many centuries ago. Shang Qinghua even spots a few rotted wooden signs that say something about a ‘Bai Zhan Martial Arts School’, along with a few more blunt signs that say ‘stay away, danger!’

“Uh…” Shang Qinghua shoots up from Mobei Jun’s lap to see that the sign does indeed say danger. “Are we allowed to be here?!”

“He does bring up a good point,” thank you creepy ghost Yue! “A malevolent spirit resides here.” His eyes take on that creepy yandere tint again. “We should leave before something bad happens.” To the ghost or to Shen Yuan?! “A-Yuan tends to attract wicked spirits by him.”

“What?! Why didn’t you tell me this?!”

“We are more than enough to ward away a few minor spirits,” Master Shen hisses.

Okay but what if the spirit isn’t minor?!

“Who are you talking to?” Shen Yuan asks, making Shang Qinghua tense up. “Oh! Do you mean the danger signs? They’re nothing! Lots of professional ghost hunters have scoped out this site. The building is still structurally sound, even though it was built during the cultivator age, it’s quite amazing! Did you know--”

“Yes, yes,” Shang Qinghua has learned to halt Shen Yuan’s passionate ramblings if he needs to say something important, especially if it’s anything related to the cultivator age, where humans supposedly could become immortal provided they did the proper cultivation. But hah, some crazy historians even think demons were real. Yeah right. “But then what’s the dangerous part?!”

“Hmm… probably the ghost? People get scared away from this place quite easily. Something about seeing a monster… but it’s probably just a misunderstanding!”

A monster.

Shang Qinghua whimpers.

“Uh, can I just stay in the car? I don’t, uh, feel very good.”

Shen Yuan’s face falls. “Does your head still hurt? Should we turn around and get a doctor?”

The menacing glares that Master Yue and Master Shen give Shang Qinghua behind Shen Yuan’s back tell him to shut up and smile.

“Uh, no. I’m fine! Just, a bit, uh, tired. And, well, peakish… and, uh… wow, look at the time, I should eat something!” He stuffs the pork bao into his mouth all at once.

“Well… if you’re sure… I think you should rest in the car, just in case. Mobei-Xuezhang, will you stay with him?”

“Absolutely,” Mobei Jun says just as Shen Yuan finishes his question.

“Great! I’ll just go up and do some scouting and filming myself. It can be a like a found footage episode! We can always come back when you feel better Qinghua-ge, and try filming again!” Then Shen Yuan skips off without a word towards the creepy abandoned martial arts school, followed by three equally menacing ghosts.

“What?! Wait, it’s dangerous!” Shang Qinghua calls after him.

Too late, Shen Yuan is gone. How does such a thin and fragile looking young master have such stamina and speed?! Also Ning Yingying might have stuck out her tongue at Shang Qinghua (clearly still bitter over the flower crown incident) while Master Shen sneered a smug sort of ‘I’m-braver-than-you’ kind of way before leaving, which is really insulting?? Of course, Shang Qinghua, mere human being is afraid of ghosts! 

Immediately, Shang Qinghua jumps out of Mobei Jun’s lap and says, “We have to go after him! Something bad could happen!” 

Mobei Jun just stares.

“What if a piece of the roof falls on him?! Or he trips?!” Or a monstrous ghost that’s more powerful than Masters Shen and Yue attacks him?!

“He’ll be fine.” Mobei Jun stares down at his lap, then back at Shang Qinghua, then back at his lap again. 

Shang Qinghua shakes his head. “Well I don’t know that! Come on!” He grabs Mobei Jun’s hand and drags him up the hill. More safety in numbers. Totally not an excuse to hold hands nope.

By the time they catch up to Shen Yuan, they spot him wandering the worn out halls of the second floor. Shang Qinghua nearly cries in relief. On the way up the stairs, he’s spotted at least ten creepy tiny malevolent spirits crawling on the ground, huddled in corners. Shrieking, he just tugged Mobei Jun in a faster run, not noticing how said malevolent spirits seem more interested in trying to merge with the corner than run after any living souls.

It really doesn’t help that the general aura around this building screams, ‘Go away or suffer a lot of pain!’

“Oh thank god, Yuan-er! You’re okay! Good! Now, let’s go. I changed my mind, I need to see a doctor!” Shang Qinghua says, screw his new ghost overlords, he’s getting his buddy out of here before they all breathe in too much bad mold and die.

Shen Yuan turns to Shang Qinghua in surprise, while holding a giant rusted sword that practically bleeds evil and malicious intent. “What?! Really?! Okay, I’ll go back down right away, I’ll just take this sword with me.”

“What?!” If Shang Qinghua could have a heart attack right now, just so Shen Yuan could drop said sword and get the hell out of this creepy obviously haunted old gwoon, he would! “Why are you holding that?!” He bats the sword out of Shen Yuan’s hands. “Do you know what kind of germs those things can have?!”

“That’s what you said,” Master Yue says to Master Shen.

“Well if our human could see and hear us, he would have listened to us first. You hear that, filth?! Next to us, you are second priority!” 

Shang Qinghua glares at them, then turns back to Shen Yuan who’s picking the sword back up again!

“Yuan-er!” 

“Ah, sorry, I just, don’t want it to be damaged! Just wait, I brought plastic gloves, will that make you feel better, Qinghua-ge?”

Ahhh, how is he supposed to say no to that innocent looking face?! Is this what having younger siblings is like? Go back, go back!

“Shang Qinghua is supposed to be resting,” Mobei Jun cuts in. 

“Yes, of course!” Shen Yuan takes the sword with his plastic gloves and heads towards the exit. “Lead the way.”

“On my lap.” Mobei Jun adds, then stares at Shen Yuan.

Wait what. Shang Qinghua wants to explode in blushes. 

“Urgh, disgusting. Stop your flirting and let our human explore this damn place as much as he likes!”

“I think it’s sweet!” Ning Yingying cuts in.

“Shut up, banshee.”

“Rude!”

Master Yue only looks amused by his Master Shen trying to slap a little girl. Monsters. All of them.

“Oh!” Shen Yuan’s face brightens. “Congratulations! Sorry I cut into your time together. Do you want to take Qinghua-ge to the hospital alone then? I’ll just stay here and call a taxi later.”

What?! No, Yuan-er, you are sweet but why are you misunderstanding the situation?!

“No, no, nope!” He’s not leaving Shen Yuan here alone, even if spending more time with Mobei Jun is very tempting. “Actually, I feel better now! Let’s get what footage you need and then go. Quickly. As quick as possible.”

It’s fine. It’s all fine. Shang Qinghua has his salted holy water mix, it’s fine…!

Shen Yuan lights up like the sun while Mobei Jun… actually pouts? As Shang Qinghua’s heart begins to flutter, Shen Yuan excitedly hands the video camera to Mobei Jun and begins monologing a brief synopsis of the history of Bai Zhan Martial Arts School.

“So glad you’re feeling better, Qinghua-ge! Let me catch you up on why we’re here! All I did was film a bit of the scenery for atmosphere. I didn’t want to do commentary without you! Still don’t know what we’ll name our web series, so we’ll just go with it until we figure out a title! Anyways, did you know that Bai Zhan Martial Arts School is rumoured to have been built on the ruins of an actual cultivation sect?! One called Bai Zhan Peak! Not much was known about it, only that it was a peak known for its fighters and martials arts… All the schools that have been built on these grounds have always taken up the same name to honour that memory!” 

“Right… right…” That explains all the ominous scratch marks on the wooden walls. Probably people training with swords. Did they train with swords back then? Urgh.

“This land has actually been in the Liu family for generations but hasn’t been occupied in nearly two centuries! I read up on it, and apparently the last school master who was here went on a journey to get stronger but never returned. His students and his sister waited for him to come back but only got a severed arm and sword in return! They were told that the school master had gone on a rampage, murdering innocent people in a village. Out of shame and grief, the school master’s sister shut down the school and swore never to continue the Liu style of martial arts. And so this building has been here ever since.”

Shang Qinghua closes his mouth, not realizing how enraptured he was in his bro’s story. He wonders if he can use this story has inspiration in Proud Immortal Spirit Way… 

“So, why haven’t they sold the land?” he asks.

Shen Yuan grins wider. “Not sure. There have been a lot of interested buyers, people who want to turn the land into a resort or a hotel, but they always back away from the deal in the end. They talk about being visited by a reaper with a sword, and they won’t say anything more.”

“Oh my god.”

“I know,” Shen Yuan sighs too, though this sigh is more enraptured. “Isn’t it amazing?”

“What.” Shang Qinghua wonders how many brain cells Shen Yuan has.

Mobei Jun just stares, though Shang Qinghua suspects this stare is full of long suffering too.

“Just think, whoever this spirit is, they’ve managed to protect this school with all that they’ve had for almost two hundred years! That’s just… amazing!” 

“I managed to protect our estate for more than that,” Master Yue actually pouts.

“Obviously we are the more superior protectors,” Master Shen nods. “Tell our human that.”

Shang Qinghua will not tell Shen Yuan that, thank you.

“Then what’s to stop that ghost from confronting us?!”

“Oh! Do you think they might actually come visit us?!” Shen Yuan practically bounces on his heels. 

That’s it, Shang Qinghua thinks, Yuan-er must be protected at all costs.

“Let’s just get out of here as soon as possible! Okay, we’ve explored the hallway, into the next room,” Shang Qinghua pushes Mobei Jun and Shen Yuan onwards. Please nothing show up on camera, please!

“This must have been the other training area,” Shen Yuan says when they see nothing but empty space and scattered wooden swords.  This room feels oddly colder than the rest. Way too cold. Shang Qinghua doesn’t dare linger. “I wonder what year these swords were made. Probably not as old as this beautiful blade,” Shen Yuan lifts up the sharp and rusted sword he picked up before.

“I told you to put that down!”

Shang Qinghua can feel the murderous intent from that sword. He’s surprised Masters Shen and Yue haven’t picked up on that aura yet.

“But it’s a priceless relic! It must have been very important. We shouldn’t just leave it lying around!”

“Why not?!”

“Well, we should return it to the current Liu family heir. They’ll probably want to preserve it for their family history.”

“Yeah, a family history they abandoned. Who wants to remember that their ancestor was a crazy murderer?!” Shang Qinghua demands. 

The sword seems to flicker out and lash its dark aura towards him in retaliation. Shen Yuan needs to drop it now!

“...I don’t think that he was a murderer.”

The harsh malevolent energy from the sword, Shang Qinghua’s high blood pressure, even Masters Shen and Yue’s glares, falls. 

“...What do you mean by that?” 

“I read the student testimonies on this school master, Liu Qingge. A lot of them wrote daily reflections as part of their practise. All of his students seemed to respect him, even if he was distant. He was strict and driven towards his martial arts, but he wasn’t cruel. He talked a lot about honour in battle. Someone like that wouldn’t murder an entire village in cold blood. Not an honourable man like that.”

Ning Yingying starts to sniff again, wiping away tears from her eyes. “Gege is so very kind.”

“Foolish,” Master Shen says, but there’s no bite to that remark. 

“Our A-Yuan is very perceptive when he wants to be.”

Shut up peanut gallery, not helping.

“That doesn’t change the fact that,” there’s something malevolent in this place, “you don’t know for sure!”

Shen Yuan only frowns and shakes his head. “No, I don’t. But we should honour the dead as we would the living. And I say innocent until proven guilty.”

Shang Qinghua struggles to keep his strict big-brother face on but seeing his friend so resolute and calm like a cool xianxia protagonist, Shang Qinghua can’t say no.

His shoulders slump down. “This means a lot to you…”

“Of course!” Shen Yuan smiles. “Ghosts are just people who have held onto strong emotions. We should try to understand and help them.”

Ghosts aren’t people anymore, Shang Qinghua almost says. But how would he explain that? If he said that, he’d have to admit that three ghosts are stalking Shen Yuan now. And would Shen Yuan believe him? Probably not. He pictures Shen Yuan and Mobei Jun looking at him with hurt and repulsed faces before leaving him behind. He pictures Masters Shen and Yue being free to torment Shang Qinghua at school until he drops out. How could you say that? Shen Yuan would say, and then everything would be over.

Shang Qinghua would be alone again.

No, he can never tell them.

“...I’ll try,” Shang Qinghua crosses his fingers behind his back, holding onto the spray bottle of salted holy water tight. I’ll try to protect you both.

Shen Yuan smiles at him while Mobei Jun brushes his shoulder against Shang Qinghua’s. 

For them, Shang Qinghua can be brave.

Neither of them notice how the malevolent energies from the sword twist and calm, how the rust on the blade fades, or how the sword seems to sing as it swings in step with Shen Yuan. 

 

::

 

The rest of their exploration remains uneventful. Shang Qinghua doesn’t know whether to be relieved or not when nothing happens. He knows there was something malevolent in this former school, but he can’t sense it anymore. Instead, he feels the overwhelming presence of something more powerful than him just haunting the air. For some reason Masters Shen and Yue don’t seem to notice this powerful presence, which freaks Shang Qinghua even more… How precise can ghosts be when they sense each other? 

Shen Yuan keeps stopping to fanboy over the sword he found, remarking on how resilient the craftsmanship must have been to last till now. He speculates on the meaning of the engravings on the hilt and whether the sword used to have a tassel. He also calls the Liu heiress (because apparently his sister-who he doesn’t talk to much-knows her), to return the sword.

At first Liu Mingyan thinks it’s a joke.

“No one’s been able to touch that sword and bring it out of Bai Zhan. Bad things happen to them,” Liu Mingyan says over the phone. “This better not be a prank.”

“The sword is haunted?!” Well, Shang Qinghua knew that. Still, this needs to be said. “See? Drop it right now, Shen Yuan!”

“Hmm…” Shen Yuan frowns. “It doesn’t feel haunted. Why don’t you have your driver come by and we can show it to you?”

Fifteen minutes later, said heiress arrives via sports car at Bai Zhan. When her eyes fall on the sword in Shen Yuan’s hands, she almost topples over. “It’s really here, out of that cursed school… Cheng Luan…”

Jumping up like a kitten at the sight of food, Shen Yuan asks, “Is that this sword’s name? It’s a good one.”

Tears fill Liu Mingyan’s eyes. She looks like a noble princess from a faraway time. “I never thought that this sword would return to our family again. Thank you for retrieving it. Other attempts have always failed… I’m in debt to you, Shen Yuan.”

Shen Yuan looks away, uncomfortable with the praise. “It’s nothing. Just take good care of this sword. I’m sure its owner would appreciate it.”

Liu Mingyan studies Shen Yuan’s face for a long time, longer than Shang Qinghua (or Master Shen, judging from his hisses) would like, before she nods and takes the sword. “I still insist on owing you a favour.”

“Then I’ll just never cash it in.”

She leaves and finally Shang Qinghua lets himself relax.

“Well, that wasn’t so bad.” If every place that Shen Yuan scopes out turns out this well, then the web series will be successful after all! Boring but successful and most importantly, safe!

“Thanks so much for your help, Mobei-Xuezhang, Qinghua-ge! Let me treat you to a meal!” Shen Yuan insists, taking out the fan that Shang Qinghua gave him to fan himself. 

That’s when Shang Qinghua notices something off about that fan. Something powerful that wasn’t in the fan before.

“Um. Wow. You’re… uh… using my gift…” Shang Qinghua says nervously, wanting to snatch it out of Shen Yuan’s hands.

“Oh yes! It’s really great for cooling off. It’s a good friendship gift ,” Shen Yuan stresses, staring at Mobei Jun for some reason. 

Mobei Jun just nods, then returns to gazing at Shang Qinghua again. Not that he keeps track or anything.

“Ah, well, you see, I just remembered that that fan has a scratch on it! I meant to give you a different fan and grabbed the wrong one, if I could just grab it…” Shang Qinghua reaches his hands out.

Suddenly another ghost appears, his hand outstretched to stop Shang Qinghua’s. Immediately, Shang Qinghua screams and falls on his bottom, staring up at this tall man with white robes and a long ponytail and a deep frown.

“Don’t touch my weapon,” says the new ghost.

“Oh my god,” Shang Qinghua says, putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. The malevolent presence in the sword… has transferred to the gimmick fan that Shang Qinghua gave Shen Yuan!

“What the hell is this?!” Masters Shen and Yue roar.

“Interesting…” Ning Yingying nods, “I wonder if I can learn to possess objects too…”

Oh hell no...

“Qinghua-ge/Shang Qinghua, are you okay?!” Mobei Jun and Shen Yuan ask at once.

“Anemia,” Shang Qinghua says immediately.

They can never know.

 

::

 

Interlude: Liu Qingge 

 

::

 

He’s always angry. He doesn’t remember, at first, who he is or why he’s here. All he knows is that he’s stuck in this sword, he’s stuck in this place, and he wants to fight everyone who comes into his space. They can’t come in here. This is his place.

So he fights.

He fights anything, any spirits, any living beings that come in. He makes sure they can feel the cuts he inflicts, he makes sure they run when they see him. This anger that burns and burns through his veins, he feels like he’ll collapse if he doesn’t destroy something

And so he destroys.

The walls fall into ruin. All the spirits trapped in this building with him, he beats them up every day and still it’s not enough. 

He burns the hilt of his sword and blade whenever any humans come in to try and take his sword away. He makes the ceiling tremble if they try to leave with his sword. He rips into their dreams, lets them see the blood drenched, armless being that he is, and they flee.

How many years has he been here? When has he ever stopped fighting? 

When he hears another intruder step into his domain, he rises up, he waits for them to take the sword but--

This person, something about his presence, feels… soothing. Like the cool touch of waves by the river, or the soft breeze playing with the leaves. He can’t help but pause, studying the intruder and the intruder’s weak looking frame, when suddenly the intruder spots him, his sword.

Quietly the intruder steps closer, until he’s a step away from the sword. Suddenly the intruder kneels down, the first time that anyone has done that.

“This is a beautiful sword.”

Pride fills him. Yes, his sword is the best. 

“You must have fought very hard with it, to protect people.”

That’s right… he… he used to berate his disciples if they used their swords for anything but self-improvement and protection… He wasn’t always like this… Yes, he loved to fight but he never used to mindlessly destroy…

“I wonder if you belonged to the last school master, Liu Qingge?”

Memories begin to come back. Liu Qingge. His name. Of course, that was him. How could he forget? His sister Liu Ming must be dead by now… He failed as an older brother…

“Don’t worry,” the intruder says with a soft smile. “I can take you back to your family. If it’s alright, I’m going to take this sword and I promise I’ll bring it to the current Liu heiress.”

He wants to bite back, make the blade burn so the intruder will drop it. But curiosity wins out over the urge to fight. He waits, as the intruder picks up his sword, and feels that calm wash over him again. It’s a calm that comes after a good fight, when he can relax against the ground and sleep, it's a calm that comes with the taste of a warm meal, with the high of swinging sword in the exact pose he needs. He hasn’t felt this in so long…

Then other intruders come in and begin shouting at his human. They tell his human to abandon Cheng Luan, making Liu Qingge want to lash out and slice the new intruders to pieces. It’s only the human Shen Yuan’s voice, his belief in Liu Qingge’s story, that makes Liu Qingge calm down.

He wonders how this human can have so much faith in him, a stranger that he’s never met. Liu Qingge finds himself quieting for the first time in hundreds of years, and watching. He sees that other spirits follow this Shen Yuan too. They also seem at peace around Shen Yuan, and protective. Liu Qingge resists the urge to chase those spirits away too. It’s not his place. He wants to return to his family…

Finally he sees the current Liu heiress and if he had any breath, it would be gone at the sight of her. She looks so much like his sister, Liu Ming, only her name is Mingyan.

So this much time has really passed… he’s truly alone…

“Take good care of the sword. I’m sure its owner would appreciate it,” he hears Shen Yuan say.

Liu Qingge doesn’t know if he agrees anymore. This sword has trapped his form for so long, so has his anger. Now, after all these years, Liu Qingge realizes he must have died from qi deviation… and continued to have that qi deviation nonstop in his afterlife. Only Shen Yuan’s presence saved him. Only Shen Yuan’s aura calms him. If Liu Qingge keeps possessing this sword, and leaves Shen Yuan, what if he falls into madness again?

What if he hurts this woman who looks so much like his sister?

No. He needs to stay with Shen Yuan.

So Liu Qingge latches onto the nearest weapon on Shen Yuan’s body, this fan used to exorcise spirits. A fine weapon.

Fine. Liu Qingge will become Shen Yuan’s sword and shield and repel any spirits that come near him… starting with the three pests flying around him now...

Chapter Text

To Shang Qinghua’s horror, the mystery ghost (who must be Liu Qingge) pulls out the ghostly form of Cheng Luan (which… how does that work? Didn’t he stop possessing that sword?! ) and begins to swing it at Masters Yue and Shen. Ning Yingying manages to take cover by hiding behind Shen Yuan while Shang Qinghua muffles his own screaming but throwing himself at the nearest person’s shoulder. That person being Mobei Jun. Which he totally didn’t do on purpose.

Masters Yue and Shen, in turn, have their own weapons raised, meeting Liu Qingge’s strikes in flurries of high speed strikes that could make any shounen anime fan weep with awe and fear. Gusts of wind lash out from the sword strikes, knocking tree branches to the ground and splintering the abandoned school walls. 

One sword slash even comes close to slicing apart Master Shen’s arm, and Master Yue narrows his eyes, a forboding aura rising up from around him.

“How dare you hurt Xiao Jiu!

Cue the ground shaking and flashes of light that even Shang Qinghua can’t see clearly that literally explode.

“Oh shit, a storm!” Shen Yuan cries out, ducking his head down from all the dirt and debris. “Get back in the car!”

“You idiot, you’ll hit our human!” Master Shen roars over all the chaos.

“He was fine. You protected him.”

“Just focus on banishing that brute!”

“Yes dear.”

Red sparks jitter around Liu Qingge’s eyes. “Looks like you’re a danger to him after all,” he murmurs, then continues his attacks… which makes more tree branches fall on unsuspecting grass and brushes. Yup.

“What are you doing?! Stop that!” Shang Qinghua roars. Then pauses, when he sees Mobei Jun and Shen Yuan’s startled stares, and blurts out, “I’myellingatthestorm.”

Both his friends exchange a glance before saying, “Hospital,” and Mobei Jun moves over to scoop him up in his arms.

Shang Qinghua does not go limp in his arms, nope.

Mobei Jun, beautiful and amazing Mobei Jun, actually princess carries Shang Qinghua over to the car, dashing over two stair steps at a time. That’s it, Shang Qinghua has to ask him out at some point. He pledges his loyalty to this man forever.

Behind them, Shen Yuan stumbles down the steps, quickly opening the car doors for them all, making Mobei Jun and Shang Qinghua get in the car first, before they all drive away as if a tornado is chasing them.

Ning Yingying, the only ghost with any sense, hugs Shen Yuan’s shoulders with relief.

“You are the only one I won’t exorcise anymore. You are a good bean,” he says, slumped against Mobei Jun and the steering wheel.

Mobei Jun raises an eyebrow, somehow looking more attractive with that simple yet cute move. “Thank you?”

Ning Yingying, on the other hand, beams at him. It would be a touching moment if her smile didn’t look like a serial killer’s victory smirk before stabbing you in the heart.

Shen Yuan only frowns thoughtfully at him. “Don’t worry Qinghua-ge,” he says after a few moments, “we’ll take you a doctor to have you looked at and then we’ll take you home. I’m sorry our trip ended up with us in a storm… normally, I wouldn’t force everyone into a car to escape a storm but it was either that or take shelter in the abandoned school…”

Yeah. No. Nope. He thanks whatever deities might exist out there that Shen Yuan has some semblance of common sense sometimes and decided not to take shelter from a storm in an abandoned building. 

He closes his eyes and curls in closer to Mobei Jun’s chest. At least for now, he can relax, now that the worst ghosts are behind them.

 

::

 

They arrive at the doctor’s clinic within fifteen minutes of Mobei Jun’s very illegal u-turns. Shang Qinghua, content to be carried forever in Mobei Jun’s arms, sleepily looks up at the clinic before he squeaks, “How did you get here so fast?!”

Sure enough, Liu Qingge, Master Shen and Master Yue are all hovering in front of the clinic door, bickering (well shouting at each other while Master Yue smiles as if he’s plotting how to secretly poison and kill Liu Qingge and hide the body later as if ghosts could even be poisoned.) Then they see Shang Qinghua and collectively glare at him.

“This is A-Yuan’s doctor. She always comes to do house visits for him when he’s ill. What kind of guardians would we be if we didn’t know everything about him?” Master Yue smiles as serenely as a horror movie soundtrack before a jumpscare.

“Where our human goes, we go,” Master Shen adds.

“He holds the fan,” Liu Qingge says as if it’s enough explanation.

With a squeak, Shang Qinghua feels like his soul will ascend from his body and never escape fast enough to get to heaven.

“Qinghua-ge, are you alright?! Do you know where we are? How many fingers am I holding up?!” Shen Yuan waves his hands around. “Do you think he forgot that we drove here?” he asks Mobei Jun.

Silently Mobei Jun only squeezes Shang Qinghua tighter. “The doctor.”

“Right, right! I’ll go get Doctor Qingqi right away!”

As Shen Yuan rushes into the clinic full speed, Mobei Jun follows after at a slower pace, still holding Shang Qinghua in his arms. Shang Qinghua could die happy. 

If not for Liu Qingge staring at him mere centimeters away from his face. 

Shang Qinghua yelps, probably cutting off Mobei Jun’s blood circulation with how tightly he holds on to him. 

“You…” Liu Qingge glares. “You keep trying to separate me and my human.”

The sparks from before fly on Shang Qinghua’s face and he whimpers. He almost has a heart attack when Mobei Jun begins awkwardly petting his head. If only he could enjoy the moment.

Your human?! He’s ours! ” Master Shen bellows. “And I’ll be damned again if I let some brute like you go near him! You’ll dirty his air!”

Liu Qingge’s eyes glow blood red. “ What did you say. Do you want to meet my blade again, you pouncy--”

Master Yue steps in front of Master Shen, his smile like something monstrous carved into flesh. “And do you want to meet mine , lowly one?”

“Argh, just stop talking! ” Shang Qinghua hisses, just as Mobei Jun steps into the waiting room. The poor patients waiting there, a little old lady and another elderly couple, gasp in shock. “Ah! I, uh, don’t mean you! I meant, well, oh ow, my ears hurt so much, everything is SO loud!” Shang Qinghua glares at the ghosts. “If everyone could be quiet please , this visit will go much more SMOOTHLY .”

“Well, how rude. Young people these days don’t have any filial piety at all,” the elderly couple whisper to each other, turning their chins up.

The little old lady, bless her, only tears up and nods in understanding.

Abruptly, Mobei Jun plops down on one of the chairs and positions Shang Qinghua close to him. Then, before Shang Qinghua can say anything, he cups his hands over Shang Qinghua’s ears as one might hold a cute little creature. Shang Qinghua finds himself blushing, unable to look away, before he murmurs a “Thanks,” and a quiet sorry for lying.

“I don’t need to look at this love drama,” Liu Qingge crosses his arms. “I’m going back to protect Shen Yuan.”

Shang Qinghua huffs. Good riddance!

“Get back here, you brute!”

“You are absolutely not allowed to go within 100 li of A-Yuan!”

Was that a crash?!

Shang Qinghua shoots out of Mobei Jun’s lap, not noticing Mobei Jun’s widened eyes or lingering outstretched hand. He can’t let those ghosts damage this clinic, which they will , if they keep battling like they did in front of Bai Zhan school! He rushes over to the receptionist and blurts out, “Do you know where my friend went?! He was supposed to get a Doctor Qi or something?!”

Please let Shang Qinghua through before those ghosts try to stab each other with needles or something and/or accidentally maim his friend.

“Yes, I know little Yuan! They should be here shortly…”

“It’s an emergency! I’m in pain! I need them right now!

“Oh! Then I’ll give them a call right now…” The receptionist grabs the phone, just as Shang Qinghua sees an entire wall of needles pointed towards Liu Qingge courtesy of Masters Yue and Shen.

“NO DON’T!” Shang Qinghua shouts, just as the needles fly.

“Huh? But it’s just a quick call--”

The needles fall in a crash.

“What the heck?!” The receptionist jumps in her chair, narrowly missing being hit. “I thought those needles were sterilized in plastic. How did they all end up here?! The janitor must have been careless… excuse me… Oh, this is a mess…”

“Stop doing this!” Shang Qinghua hisses at the ghosts, “Look at the poor lady!” He points at the poor lady rushing about, trying to find a pan and rubber gloves to use for needle disposal. “What would Shen Yuan think?!”

Liu Qingge’s defensive stance actually falters at those words. Good. Feel the guilt . Feel it ALL . He’s not surprised that Masters Yue and Shen don’t seem that bothered at all. 

Urgh, he wishes he could use his salted holy water spray bottle without looking like a lunatic in public.

“Shang Qinghua!” Mobei Jun shouts, spinning Shang Qinghua around. “What was that noise?! Are you alright?”

And…. goodbye brain. Shang Qinghua’s brain chooses this very moment to shut off all intelligent function. The only thing that comes out is a very articulate “Uhhhh…” which accurately translates into You are so beautiful and perfect, and I don’t know why you care about me, but please go out with me. Also this is the first time I’ve heard you speak more than three words at a time. Slay me.

“Qinghua-ge, Mobei-Xuezhang!” Shen Yuan comes running with a well dressed lady that looks like she steps on people for a living. “This is Doctor Qingqi. She’s looked after me ever since I was little. She should be able to help you, Qinghua-ge. Come on.”

Yes, an excuse to leave this very awkward situation! Go! 

Shang Qinghua latches onto Shen Yuan’s side, leaving Mobei Jun to stare at him with a complicated expression.

Liu Qingge grips his sword tightly but murmurs, “Truce. Temporarily.”

Master Shen narrows his eyes. Master Yue plots. Ning Yingying benefits the most out of all them, unnoticed while she braids more of Shen Yuan’s hair.

 

::

 

“I’m fine,” Shang Qinghua says for the thousandth time since he stepped foot in Doctor Qingqi’s room. She’s checked his temperature, weight, height, pupils, blood pressure, pressure points, and more. She’s painfully thorough, telling him from the pressure points on his pulse and state of his tongue that his liver isn’t producing enough energy and he needs to drink more water and eat more vegetables. Who knew. 

“His immune system might be a bit weaker than others. Tell his auntie to feed him more vitamin rich foods. You need more sleep too.”

“I sleep just fine. Better now actually.” Before, he used to get nightmares about spirits. Before meeting Shen Yuan and Mobei Jun, he didn’t sleep very much at all. 

“Hmmmm,” Doctor Qingqi frowns, still not convinced. “In any case, take these vitamin tablets and come back in a month and I’ll check on you.”

“Thanks doctor,” Shen Yuan bows.

For the first time in their visit, Doctor Qingqi’s face breaks into a smile. “Don’t bow so low, brat. I’m not that old yet.” She ruffles his hair. “How about you? Are you taking your medicine? Did you have anymore episodes?”

“Ah, yes, yes, I’m fine. I’m in perfect health,” Shen Yuan waves her off. “And speaking of health, for Qinghua-ge’s continued health we should get going so he can sleep.”

“Fine, fine, take your friend home. But don’t think you’re off the hook. I’ll be seeing you for our regular appointment this week, alright? And don’t forget to visit Luo Mei! He misses you.”

“Of course, doctor,” Shen Yuan says politely, his smile a bit too bright. 

Masters Shen and Yue even bow their heads to the doctor as they leave. Strange.

 

::

 

“...Are you sure you’re okay?” Shen Yuan asks in the car. Somehow, Shang Qinghua has ended up back in Mobei Jun’s lap. Not that anyone is complaining. Absolutely not.

“Yes, yes, I’m fine. Sorry for worrying you. I don’t want to be a burden…” He’ll never be a burden on these two. Not if he can help it.

“You are never a burden,” Mobei Jun says bluntly. Wow. Shang Qinghua’s heart practically stops. He can’t look Mobei Jun straight in the eye when he says something like that, not that Shang Qinghua was very good at looking Mobei Jun in the eye before.

“Listen to Mobei-Xuezhang. We’re with you. If you need a break before we do the next shoot, just say the word.”

“Um…” Shang Qinghua glances over at Masters Shen and Yue who shake their heads and scowl (Master Shen) and murmur, ‘it will be fine,’ (Master Yue.)

“Tell him to get rid of that fan!” Master Shen hisses.

“No, absolutely not,” Liu Qingge’s eyes glow again.

“Urgh,” Shang Qinghua groans. “Um, Yuan-er… do you think you could give that fan back to me? I meant it when I said that one is shoddy compared to the one I was going to give you…”

He’ll have to order another fan, something fancier but with the same rumoured level of spiritual power. 

“Oh that’s fine, Qinghua-ge. I’m happy with this fan.”

Liu Qingge nods, looking irritatingly smug. Inwardly, Shang Qinghua cheers when Master Shen kicks Liu Qingge.

“But I insist. It won’t offend me if you let me just switch the fans!”

“And I insist that it’s fine. It’s the first gift that I’ve received from a friend after all. So I’ll be keeping it!” Shen Yuan beams.

Shang Qinghua splutters. “No way. It can’t be your first gift from a friend! What about Mobei Jun?!”

“We give each other food,” Mobei Jun answers.

“Yeah we’re foodie buddies.”

For some reason, he can’t help but imagine Shen Yuan dragging a blank faced Mobei Jun to every restaurant in town and both of them scarily rating each restaurant on a foodie website with a slightly demonic smile (Shen Yuan) and icy indifference (Mobei Jun). Suddenly Shang Qinghua wants very much to know what kind of food would make Mobei Jun smile…

“But you had to have had friends when you were in elementary school? Or high school?”

“Hmmm. Not really. I was sick a lot as a kid so most people avoided me.”

Shang Qinghua has a feeling it wasn’t the illnesses but the two ghosts stalking him. He gives a considering gaze to Masters Yue and Shen. He really needs to figure out how to get rid of them soon. And safely. And without risking himself.

Both Masters, unaware of Shang Qinghua’s thoughts, move to put their hands on Shen Yuan’s shoulders. They look so alike, like a family, that Shang Qinghua almost forgets they’re ghosts.Still, he reminds himself not to be fooled. Them being around Shen Yuan 24/7 can’t be good for his friend.

Why can’t they just be content with trying to make ghost flowers like Ning Yingying why.

“It’s fine,” Shen Yuan interrupts his thoughts, “I never really felt I was alone. It’s going to sound silly but… I always felt like something was watching over me. Maybe it’s just my imagination, but when I’m alone, I feel like something’s with me. And it’s… warm. It’s… safe.”

Huh. Shang Qinghua’s mouth almost falls open. That almost sounds like Yuan-er might be able to sense Masters Yue and Shen… He’d forgotten about it but Shen Yuan did mention being able to see ‘shadows’ sometimes. Was that seriously true? 

“Still…” Shang Qinghua speaks up, thinking of his own childhood, of taking refuge in stories and burying himself in comic after comic until they couldn’t satisfy him anymore, until he had to write his own or he’d explode. “You’re still alone.” There’s no one to talk to, no one to share things with.

Shen Yuan stares out the window, at the passing buildings and shops, at the reflections of ghosts he can’t see. “Maybe so,” he admits, “but I’m not alone now. I have you. And this fan.” He brings the fan up to his face. “When I carry this around lately… I feel safe. So please,” Shen Yuan snaps the fan shut, “let me keep it.”

Well, Shang Qinghua thinks, when you put it like that, how can I say no?

 

::

 

“Good,” Liu Qingge huffs needlessly later, after the car has gone silent. “Otherwise, I would have just possessed his glasses or something instead.”

“Why you dirty and lecherous brute!

“Xiao Jiu, not in the car! Think of A-Yuan!”

“Should I just push them onto the ceiling?” Ning Yingying wonders quietly.

“Please do,” Shang Qinghua mutters.

“Sorry what?” Shen Yuan asks.

“Uh, I meant, please do keep the fan, I am so touched to be your friend.” Yes nailed it.

He does not shrink towards Mobei Jun when Master Shen starts throwing Ning Yingying’s flowers at him, nope.

 

::

 

Interlude: Life of a Ghost

 

::

 

Liu Qingge follows Shen Yuan towards a big estate. He’s not sure of much in this new century, but he doesn’t think ordinary people live in houses this big. His Shen Yuan’s family must be wealthy. Quietly, he and the other ghosts hover along as Shen Yuan enters an empty hallway.

Shen Yuan doesn’t say anything, only goes to the kitchen to grab some snacks (that make the Shen Jiu person scoff, “I thought I told you to hide the cup ramen, Qi-ge.” “But he’s hungry, Xiao Jiu!”) and walk up long winding stairs into his room. If the rest of the house feels like an empty tomb, Shen Yuan’s room is vibrant with life--papers and scrolls strewn across the floor about various spirits and creatures, sketches of local wildlife, scattered paint jars, and books. 

“Ah,” Shen Yuan flops on the bed like a spoiled kitten. “I’m so tired…” 

“Then you shouldn’t have gone out so late,” Shen Jiu tisks. 

“He’s still young. He should enjoy life with his friends. We both know he didn’t get to before,” Yue Qingyuan, the seemingly more diplomatic one says. Liu Qingge keeps a wary eye on him. The amount of power from Yue Qingyuan’s aura alone is overwhelming… almost as strong as Liu Qingge’s.

“Why do you talk to him when he can’t hear you?” Liu Qingge asks. He doesn’t see the point. Shouldn’t they just watch over and protect him like the ideal bodyguard would? 

“Shut up brute,” Shen Jiu glares. “We may have decided to tolerate your presence for now, but you aren’t allowed to speak to him like we do.”

I never said I wanted to, Liu Qingge thinks. There’s little point in conversing with someone will never talk back to you. Even if that someone feels warm.

“You only say that because the two of you are evenly matched with me.” The three of them know very well that if Liu Qingge was stronger, he’d banish them and vice versa. 

Shen Jiu looks ready to throw another fit, but Yue Qingyuan only puts his arms around Shen Jiu and whispers intently in his ear. After a few moments, Shen Jiu abruptly turns away, dragging Yue Qingyuan with him so they can sit by Shen Yuan. 

“You know, just because he can’t hear us, doesn’t mean he doesn’t try talking to us,” Ning Yingying suddenly appears beside Liu Qingge.

He nearly jumps, wary of this small spirit with barely any aura…

“How can he know we’re here?” It’s enough just to be by this warm person’s side. He doesn’t need anything else…

Ning Yingying smiles. “Just listen,” she insists.

As if hearing Ning Yingying’s cue, Shen Yuan rolls on his back and murmurs, “I hope that spirit isn’t angry anymore. I hope he’s happy with Liu Mingyan. I hope I did the right thing...”

Liu Qingge blinks in confusion. “Who is he…”

“Sh!” Ning Yingying clamps his mouth shut. 

“Maybe I should send up a prayer for Liu Qingge? I’ll ask the spirits at the Qiu estate later. Maybe Shen Jiu might reveal himself! A sword mound might work as a good monument to him, like the flowers I got for Ning Yingying… but I don’t have the sword anymore. I wonder what I could use a symbolic substitute? Oh well…” Shen Yuan closes his eyes, looking suddenly very faraway, as unattainable as a celestial being, or as distant as an immortal cultivator. “As long as they’re at peace…”

Shen Jiu and Yue Qingyuan, looking the most relaxed since Liu Qingge has met them, both smile. “We are.”

Oh, Liu Qingge’s heart, if it still exists, could ache.

He understands.