Mobei-jun doesn’t understand Shang Qinghua.
He meets him for the first time on a very bad day. He is in a particularly sour mood, having just killed his way through an ambush from Huan Hua Palace. The scent of blood is still fresh in his nostrils, but he can’t shake off a vague feeling of unease, like his body is not responding properly. Meeting another group of cultivators, even consisting of a bunch of disciples from the most worthless of the Peaks, doesn’t do anything to improve his day.
He wants them silent and gone, so that he can go back to his castle.
Shang Qinghua’s face is like many others, with no particular features to set him apart from the group of screaming humans that are evidently trying to find a way to escape. Mobei-jun’s attention isn’t drawn to him, and he just snorts when he sees them brandishing swords that have clearly never been used. He’s not nice enough to let them finish their nonsensical speeches, and he kills a bunch on the spot.
It is laughably easy, even expected. The humans fall as fast as the leaves when winter comes. All of them are weak.
What he doesn’t expect is Shang Qinghua throwing himself at his feet.
He doesn’t know why he doesn’t kill him on the spot, instead focusing on tearing to pieces every single one of his fellow disciples that are oh so bravely running away - as if they ever had the chance. The ice mixes with the red of blood, and Mobei-Jun sort of expects the human to let go at this point, horrified and scared to death. Instead… he is scared - that much is very clear - but he still clings to him, pleading loyalty and eternal devotion. Claiming usefulness.
It’s perhaps because the mere notion is ridiculous that he doesn’t run him through immediately with a shard of ice. Or, maybe, it’s still that vague feeling in his chest, his weirdly fogged brain.
He even spares time to mock him, until his whole world sways and he is falling.
In all his years - which admittedly aren’t that many, but he has fought his share of battles nonetheless - he has never been brought to his knees. Something inside him roars, outraged, but he’s out before he can fully comprehend what happened.
When he wakes, it is to a warm body wrapped around his own.
It takes him a split second to remember what happened - a surge of shame and anger washing over him - and to recognize who exactly is in bed with him. He kicks Shang Qinghua to the floor with little regard.
What follows is a lot of pleading and poorly constructed excuses that Mobei-jun only vaguely pays attention to, too busy trying to find order in his weirdly chaotic thoughts. The sharp pain right over his left kidney is likely the source of his earlier loss of consciousness - The Mobei clan has fought against Huan Hua Palace enough times for Mobei-jun to be familiar with their Ling Hua darts, but this is the first time he actually fell victim to one of them. The fact that he can feel the pain now means that not only did the human bring him to a relatively safe place, but that he also pulled out the dart - thus effectively removing the anesthetic effect.
For a demon of his status to be seen like this, to show weakness, to be helped - it’s the greatest shame. Had it been anyone else but this puny human out there, Mobei-jun would’ve been dead, and rightfully so. There is no place for the weak in the demon realm.
His hurt pride tells him to kill Shang Qinghua now, so that no witnesses to his failure will remain; but he has his own sense of honor and the idea, somehow, doesn’t sit well with him.
Mobei-jun keeps Shang Qinghua at a distance, satisfied in seeing him cower and hide under a table like a dog.
He doesn’t understand why Shang Qunghua saved him.
Mobei-jun tells himself that this human is just like all the others - terribly afraid of death and overly attached to his pathetic life, ready to sell his Sect for one more day of living. If anything, his terror seems too genuine for it to be anything but that. He doesn’t deny Mobei-jun’s accusation of wanting to use the demon’s realm influence to rise in status, but neither does he confirm it. It leaves the two of them in a weird territory of uncertainty, one that Mobei-jun isn’t sure he likes.
Nevertheless, he can test his resolve.
He wants to serve, Shang Qinghua says. And so Mobei-jun makes him wash and mend his clothes, giving him orders like he is just another new attendant. He wants to follow him for life , so Mobei-jun leashes him to keep him close and ready to answer his every request.
Shang Qinghua curls up on the floor with tears in his eyes that night, and Mobei-jun just sneers and goes to sleep. The human is not a threat.
The human disappears one day, and Mobei-jun doesn’t like it.
He has regained his energy enough that it isn’t a problem for him to open a portal and step, undisturbed, into Cang Qiong Mountain. The cultivators of An Ding Peak don’t have the same sharp senses or abilities of their neighbours, and Mobei-jun manages to slip among them undetected. He follows Shang Qinghua like a shadow, and gets himself comfortable in his little hut.
Why he does all of this is a question he doesn’t really feel like dwelling on.
The human did swear an oath of loyalty, after all. A king takes these things seriously, and punishes those who don’t accordingly.
At the very least, Shang Qinghua seems to know he is in trouble, because he almost faints the moment he sees Mobei-jun lounging on his bed. He tries to construct half-assed excuses and barely acceptable reasonings, and then, again…
… he promises loyalty.
Mobei-jun has scoffed at it before, but now, for some reason, he decides to accept it. He tells himself it’s because the human could indeed prove useful in the long run, one way or another. At the very least, he could just feed him to some lower demon if one day he tries to cross him.
Shang Qinghua has to learn both his place and the consequences of a misstep, however.
Mobei-jun gets up slowly, smirk slowly growing wider as Shang Qinghua’s face gets paler and paler the closer he gets to him. The first strike sends him flying straight into the wall.
He is careful with his beating, in a way. He doesn’t want to alert the inhabitants of the Peak, nor does he want to kill him. He looks pathetic already, curled up on the floor with arms over his head, trying to protect his face and leaving his vital areas awfully exposed.
Mobei-jun leaves him there once he’s satisfied, positive that the lesson has been learned, and takes up his place on Shang Qinghua’s bed.
That is only the first of many portals to An Ding Peak he ends up opening in the following years. Shang Qinghua is always terrified but overly courteous, a mix that doesn’t fail to leave Mobei-jun satisfied.
When he finds himself showing up more often than necessary in the little hut, he tells himself it’s to keep a close eye on the human, as he doesn’t trust him at all.
It’s certainly not because he is curious.
He gets curious.
His interactions with humans are limited, and generally restricted to kill, fight, destroy. He doesn’t like to remember his first contact with them, back when he was just a child - it’s too tangled with emotions that Mobei-jun has no need for.
Right now, humans are terrified of him, and he takes pride in that.
Shang Qinghua is too, but it’s different. Mobei-jun can feel his heartbeat go crazy every time he shows up unexpectedly. He notes the pungent smell of sweat, the stuttering in his voice, the nervous way in which Shang Qinghua walks around him. He couldn’t be screaming prey more obviously than that, to Mobei-jun sharpened senses. The flavor of his fear, however, is different from what he’s used to.
Sometimes it feels excessive. Sometimes, it feels too little.
He doesn’t know why.
He gets more curious.
Mobei-jun is convinced Shang Qinghua’s loyalty is worth as much as his life - which is to say, not very much. But as long as the little human doesn’t show signs of betrayal, Mobei-jun is going to uphold his own part of the deal. As such, every demon under his command knows that Shang Qinghua is valuable; they know that they can’t harm him because that’s a right reserved for Mobei-jun alone; they also know that they have to be of assistance whenever the need arises.
The fact that they know doesn’t necessarily mean that they will do so, but at least the majority of them fear Mobei-jun enough not to go against his wishes.
Shang Qinghua benefits from his help - Mobei-jun has honestly lost count of all the times one of his servants has saved his ass in the middle of a battle - and, true to his words, he manages to climb up the ranks of An Ding Peak at a surprising speed.
When he finally becomes Peak Lord, Mobei-jun is satisfied. The amount and quality of inside information that he receives now are on another level, and he can finally start to make better plans.
Shang Qinghua calls him “My King”.
It is another thing that is expected and, frankly, the minimum requirement from one of his servants, but the way it rolls off Shang Qinghua’s tongue makes something satisfied stir in Mobei-jun guts. It also makes him want to test the boundaries of this flaunted loyalty, to expose the lie that he is sure is concealed somewhere underneath.
Mobei-jun beats him everyday. He’s always careful not to cause permanent damage, as the human’s constitution is laughably fragile in comparison to his strength, but he knows that beneath the layers of clothes Shang Qinghua’s body is painted green and blue.
Shang Qinghua keeps coming back to him and calling him his king - which means he understands, at least, the implications of his vow.
Mobei-jun enjoys wreaking havoc at the Immortal Alliance Conference. Shang Qinghua plays his role well, takes his beating like it’s the first time, and the Cultivation World is in disarray as the Endless Abyss opens under their eyes.
He meets an interesting boy, and he’s intrigued enough by his mixed heritage that he lets him live.
Time passes, and Shang Qinghua stays by his side. Mobei-jun would be lying if he said he wasn’t surprised. Gradually, he begrudgingly has to recognize his merits.
During his visits to An Ding Peak he’s witnessed Shang Qinghua bent over expense sheets and new projects more times that he can count, and all of them have always run smoothly. The human evidently doesn’t put a lot of importance in his own skills, and Mobei-jun himself has scoffed at the mere existence of a Peak focused on logistics - but as time goes on and Mobei-jun grows more and more in his role, he comes to realize the importance of a good management.
It’s to reward Shang Qinghua’s continued loyalty and in recognition of this skills that he starts to give him more and more tasks involving the demon realm. Not everyone is happy, of course, but a glare from the ice king is enough to make them shut up.
Giving Shang Qinghua access to official documents of his palace is a great concession that comes with a lot of trust. Mobei-jun makes sure Shang Qinghua doesn’t forget what would happen in case that trust is broken.
The boy he spared at the Immortal Alliance Conference comes back from the Abyss, and turns out to be a force of nature.
It’s the first time Mobei-jun has to fight an opponent whose strength is so evidently above his own. He’s not really surprised when he ends up losing, even if the feral, prideful part inside him snarls and roars and tells him to get up again.
Mobei-jun spits a mouthful of blood and waits for a death that doesn’t come.
Instead, Luo Binghe asks for something else - his loyalty. It’s also the first time that someone requests this from himself and not the other way around, and Mobei-jun hesitates for a single moment before giving his answer.
He looks at that boy turned demon lord and thinks that yes, he is someone worthy of his respect, and not just because of his strength. What he can see in Luo Binghe’s eyes satisfies him.
It’s reason enough for Mobej-jun to follow him, and he does so willingly.
Overall, life under Luo Binghe’s command is not bad or particularly different from the one he had before. There are periodic councils, necessary to keep the situation in the demon realm under control, and those can get pretty annoying due to the sheer number of demons ready to debase themselves just to make Luo Binghe notice them. Mobei-jun is bored easily by those antics, especially when Sha Hualing becomes unnecessarily loud in her latest futile attempt to make their lord notice her. He ignores the majority of the nonsense with ease.
He brings Shang Qinghua to the meetings. Luo Binghe doesn’t seem to mind.
It’s a sign of respect for the human’s skills, since Shang Qinghua has been managing the Northern Desert’s affairs flawlessly ever since Mobei-jun tasked him with them. Maybe it’s something derived from the years spent as a spy for the demon realm, but his observation skills are also not laughable. He’s become a surprisingly valuable subordinate and a useful secretary for these boring meetings where Mobei-jun always ends up not listening to all the unnecessary babbling.
It’s also way more trust than he has placed in anyone else in years. He doesn’t like to think about that too much, either.
Ever since Luo Binghe imprisoned a certain someone in the Water Prison of Huan Hua’s palace, his mood has been increasingly difficult to deal with. Mobei-jun has no interest in the relationship between his Lord and his former teacher - he doesn’t really understand all the fuss surrounding it either - except for when it makes Sha Hualing’s whining even more unbearable, disrupting his rest.
This day, however, Luo Binghe drops an unexpected question.
“If,” he begins, and all the scattered attention in the room is suddenly focused on him. “If your heart is out of sync with a certain person’s, how can you make them understand your true feelings?”
Mobei-jun is not an expert in this matter.
He hasn’t had to consider something like feelings in a long time. All his adult life has been a continuous path scattered with fights, duty and achievements. Fear, pride, anger, bloodlust, satisfaction - these are all the things he's familiar with. If his Lord were to ask how to kill someone in the most painful way possible, or how to manage a dispute with an unruly demon, he could easily give his insight. Instead, matters concerning softer feelings are completely alien to him.
Still, he tries to think.
How does he make sure that someone understand his feelings? Mobei-jun never let anyone close enough for this to be a problem. He hasn’t put this kind of trust on someone in a long time now.
Mobei-jun's brows furrow, realizing that isn't really true. He sneaks a glance at Shang Qinghua, who is looking at Luo Binghe as if he just sprouted another head.
Shang Qinghua is close to him. He isn’t really sure when that happened, but the way he ensured that was…
"Beat them up three times every day?"
Shang Qinghua is still with him, after all. It should mean that he understands, and that Mobei-jun’s method is right.
The thing he doesn't expect, however, is Shang Qinghua spending twenty full minutes talking about the best way to be liked by a man, forced first by Sha Hualing’s sneers and then by his Lord's interest. Despite having known him for years, Mobei-jun still can’t figure out the human, and he is curious enough that he lets him talk without interfering.
He is aware that humans and demons have different values and cultures, but this is the first time he is confronted with a practical example of this simple fact.
Shang Qinghua’s method is ridiculous.
Be sticky? Be pitiful? No demon would fall for this kind of humiliating act - or so he thinks. Luo Binghe looks intrigued by the idea, but then that could simply be his mixed heritage talking, and Shang Qinghua seems very sure of his words.
Mobei-jun, therefore, listens.
And realizes - what else has Shang Qinghua been with him, if not pitiful and sticky? He thought it was just a behaviour born from fear and weakness, but maybe he's been trying to tell him things in his own way for a long time.
The thought is unexpectedly gratifying.
As Shang Qinghua continues to talk, passionately gathering the attention of the whole business hall, Mobei-jun thinks idly at all the time that the human has spent by his side. He could maybe reward him in a different way, do something more… human-like, to make him know that his king understands. He's not going to degrade himself to the point of looking pathetic , however.
Which is why, when Shang Qinghua hurries back to his side to seek shelter from Sha Hualing’s murderous gaze, he reaches out one hand to lightly tap the top of the human’s head.
Shang Qinghua’s automatic flinch turns into a surprised stare, eyes wide and puzzled, and Mobei-jun stalks off in a surprisingly good mood, sure that the message has gotten across. His human hurries behind him, as usual, and Mobei-jun feels like he got a little bit closer to solving the puzzle that is Shang Qinghua.
Shang Qinghua, sometimes, knows too many things: things he shouldn’t know, and things concerning demons and the world that seem excessive even for a Peak Lord. It’s been useful on several occasions, so Mobei-jun hasn’t questioned it too much.
Gradually, however, the thought that he doesn’t know anything about Shang Qinghua starts to bother him.
He has never cared before.
“Who are you?” Mobei-jun asks one day, after the human has carelessly thrown out a valuable piece of information in his haste of being useful.
“My King?” Shang Qinghua raises his head from the documents and looks up at him with puzzled, worried eyes. It’s clear he doesn’t understand the question. “I’m… Shang Qinghua, your loyal servant..?”
“Forget it.” Mobei-jun scoffs, annoyed, and waves a hand in the air. Shang Qinghua curls into himself, evidently expecting a beating for his answer, but Mobei-jun just walks out of the room without sparing a glance behind.
He has thought he was starting to figure the human out, but he is still way out of his depth.
Shang Qinghua’s undercover work is brought to the surface, and Mobei-jun doesn’t think much about it. It was bound to happen sooner or later, especially now that Cang Qiong Mountain is set on fighting Luo Binghe on a daily basis for the sake of a corpse. Mobei-jun doesn’t really get the obsession, but it’s not his place to criticize his Lord’s actions as long as the affairs of the demon world are taken care of.
What surprises Mobei-jun, however, is how Shang Qinghua doesn’t try to double cross him. Granted, it could be just because pleading innocence with his superiors would have been useless and he values his life too much to risk it, but still he watches the human crawl to him in the aftermath with something akin to glee in his chest.
Of course, Shang Qinghua has been loyal and useful till now, so Mobei-jun gives him a proper place in his palace without thinking too much about it. It’s a small but comfy room in the servants’ quarters, and all the demons living at his palace know that it’s not their place to mess with the human, or even touch him.
(A stupid one actually dares to hit Shang Qinghua shortly after he moves in. Mobei-jun makes sure no one else would think themselves above his orders, as he leaves a bloody trail in the hallway. It should have been known that nobody can lay a finger on what is his.)
Shang Qinghua’s presence is surprisingly familiar, and matters in the palace run even more smoothly from then on.
When Mobei-jun gets repelled by Xuan Su’s spiritual aura and tossed down from Maigu Ridge, he is shocked. Nobody other than Luo Binghe has ever managed to catch him this unprepared, getting rid of him without even moving an inch. Just how powerful is the Cang Qiong Mountain’s Sect Leader?
He is still reeling from the surprise when something even more unexpected happens: a hand closes tight around his own, brusquely interrupting his free-falling toward the ground and almost dislocating his shoulder in the process.
The voice gets stolen by the vehemence of the wind, but Mobei-jun hears it clearly - it’s the same voice that has been calling him that for years now, but laced in some new kind of fear that he can’t really point out. If he didn’t know any better, he would say it sounds like worry.
Shang Qinghua’s eyes are hilariously full of disbelief, and his hand trembles as he tries to both control his sword and carry Mobei-jun’s weight. Mobei-jun’s own expression is not that far from the human’s, as layers of judgements and misconceptions shatter under a single, panicked look.
He doesn’t have that much time to think about it, however, because Shang Qinghua’s grip is threatening to slip at any moment.
“My king,” comes the call again, “Please come up here, I can’t hold on much longer!”
That seems to snap Mobei-jun out of his trance, and he quickly climbs onto the sword without making a fuss. He can feel Shang Qinghua’s relieved sigh as well as his full body tremor as he presses against him in the limited space. There’s sweat building on his forehead, likely due to the effort of maintaining his concentration to get both of them safely to the ground.
Silently, Mobei-jun just grips his shoulders and creates an ice platform out of thin air, stretching all the way from the earth to where they are. It consumes a lot of his energy, but by the way Shang Qinghua’s knees almost give out when they finally land, it’s a good call.
They reach the ground without further problems, and Shang Qinghua leans against the ice steps they just used like all the strength has been sucked out of him.
He is clearly trying to find something to say, but Mobei-jun just places a hand on his shoulder, forcing him to sit down.
“Stay,” he says. Shang Qinghua might have been a Peak Lord once, but the people on An Ding are not as used to expending spiritual power as the other cultivators, and Shang Qinghua just used a lot. He has to replenish his energy, and Mobei-jun needs to go see how the situation is holding up.
He waits for Shang Qingha's nod before storming off, ignoring the wide-eyed stare directed his way.
He doesn’t have time to think about it in the moment, but he certainly has time afterwards.
Once the situation settles and both humans and demons are counting their losses and trying to regroup, once he is sure Luo Binghe is somehow fine and the merging has been stopped, Mobei-jun looks at Shang Qinghua now again on his feet, ready to take over with the logistics side of things, and wonders.
In his mind, some things have always been clear - Shang Qinghua is a coward. Shang Qinghua is a lowly human that cares only for his little life. Shang Qinghua would be the first to flee in the face of danger, foregoing loyalty and everything else. Shang Qinghua is only loyal for his own good, because it provides him with protection.
Those are the things he was sure he understood about the human.
And yet - Shang Qinghua has saved him.
Mobei-jun is not a common demon and while he doesn’t know how to fly, he certainly would have survived the fall. He doesn’t know if Shang Qinghua didn’t think about it at all, or if it was irrelevant in the face of him falling from the Ridge. What Mobei-jun is sure of is that the single act left him with a strange, warm feeling in his chest.
His entire view of Shang Qinghua changed in the span of an instant, and Mobei-jun doesn’t like being wrong - even less, he doesn’t like misjudging a person, or repaying true loyalty with distrust.
Shang Qinghua is not a coward, that much is clear now. What’s worse, he could easily be his most loyal subordinate.
It gets even clearer when Cang Qiong Mountain restores his status as Lord of An Ding Peak, and Shang Qinghua doesn’t interrupt his relationship with Mobei-jun or the demon realm. To reward him, Mobei-jun increases his wages and benefits; remembering what Shang Qinghua said about feelings, and how to be liked by men, he even tries not to beat him up as much as before.
(It’s not that easy, because it’s something that’s almost second nature by now, born from years of habits and disciplining, but he tries. He is sure the message gets across, because Shang Qinghua seems happy with his life.)
Surprisingly, Mobei-jun finds himself thinking that he can sort of understand his Lord’s obsession with his human teacher.
His father dies.
Mobei-jun is not really sure what he is supposed to feel, aside from the mild surprise that the day he’s been preparing for all his life has finally come. He’s been estranged from that man for years now, but he can still recall faint memories of childhood - of strong arms lifting him up, of someone coming to save him from a strange, mocking world.
He supposes he could grieve a little.
What he is feeling, however, is nothing in the face of his responsibilities: Mobei-jun knows by heart what he has to do now, from the rituals to the timing and the implications. He will go into the heart of the northern desert, spend seven days and seven nights in his family’s ancestral palace, and he will assimilate the strength of the previous kings.
Mobei-jun will be a king no longer just in name.
It’s not that easy, of course. Harnessing the amount of power that he’s going to take in comes with its own risks, as Mobei-jun will be left vulnerable for the entirety of the time needed to digest that energy.
The smart thing to do would be to ask for Luo Binghe’s help. His lord would be reluctant to separate from his teacher for a whole week now that he has finally managed to win him over, but he would probably do it anyway.
Mobei-jun, however, doesn’t like the idea at all.
Which is how he finds himself dragging Shang Qinghua from his leisure house on An Ding Peak to the barren, cold lands of the northern demon world without a moment’s notice.
He doesn’t think about asking him, or inquiring if Shang Qinghua has other plans or even if he is willing to stay with him. The human has stayed by his side under far worse circumstances and proved his loyalty over and over again - it feels right, somehow, to have him witnessing Mobei-jun coming into his power. It’s a reward in its own way, but also...
Mobei-jun will be vulnerable, and he will be weak. It’s not a side of him that he exposes easily, and the mere fact that he is willing to do so with this tiny human of all people should speak volumes.
He is in a good mood thinking about the presence at his side. He takes one of Shang Qinghua's fingers in his hand and watches with amusement as he stops jumping the moment the frost gets sucked out of him. Mobei-jun’s own cold energy dances around the human now, protecting him from the low temperatures, and he resumes his walk without freeing Shang Qinghua’s finger from his grasp.
“Have I just gotten used to the fortune of this twisted lifestyle?”
Everything suddenly screeches to a halt.
Shang Qinghua seems to be muttering to himself, but the words are clear enough to make something heavy sink into Mobei-jun’s stomach.
“If I really did return and I’m nowhere to be found when Mobei-jun wants someone to beat up… I’d feel sorry. Sort of like those actors that leave mid-play and then you have someone else playing their role.”
Mobei-jun’s lent energy leaves Shang Qinghua’s body all at once.
“Return where ?”
He doesn’t think about it twice. He doesn’t even want to hear the human’s excuses - the mere sight of that panicked face, the mere thought that Shang Qinghua’s words were clearly not meant to be uttered aloud, that Shang Qinghua wanted to leave without even telling him so is enough to turn his stomach.
(That Shang Qinghua has a place to return to that isn’t by his side.)
“You’re saying you want to leave now?”
“No, no, not right now!”
“Not right now?” Anger burns into Mobei-jun’s being like venom. “ What did you say to me? ”
Is this the moment the value of Shang Qinghua’s promises, of Shang Qinghua’s loyalty, is exposed? Mobei-jun feels like a fool for having fallen for the human’s words, for allowing him so close to himself and even deeming him worthy to see his most vulnerable moment.
The feeling just fuels his anger.
Shang Qinghua’s slackened face and lack of reply tells him everything he needs to know.
“If you want to leave, then leave right now. You don’t need to wait seven days.”
“My king… if I really leave, we will never see each other again from now on.”
The sentence is another slap to the face. It shouldn’t hurt this much, and the mere fact that it does is enough to make Mobei-jun’s gaze turn even colder as the familiar sense of betrayal washes over him. Never like in this moment has he ever wanted to beat the human to a pulp - but the weight of Shang Qinghua's words is so heavy, and his value so insignificant in his eyes right now that he doesn’t even want to spare the energy for that.
“What makes you think I would care about that?”
He turns around, and doesn’t even look back. The satisfaction of sending Shang Qinghua flying until he hits a pillar - far, far harder than he ever has during the years they’ve spent together - leaves a bitter feeling in his mouth.
“ Get out. ”
The thing is, he does care.
Mobei-jun can’t fool himself as the days go by and he gets closer and closer to the ritual, with his uncle’s eyes watching him like he would look at a succulent prey. He has no doubt Linguang-jun is planning to stab him the moment he will no longer be able to retaliate, but there’s also nothing he can do about it.
Maybe if Shang Qinghua had been here…
No, he reasons. It’s probably for the better that the human went away. Shang Qinghua is not a fighter, and Linguang-jun would have just used him for his amusement and killed them both. Then again, he shouldn’t even spare a thought for Shang Qinghua - the traitor - right now, not when he finally showed his well hidden true colors.
The days go by, and Linguang-jun doesn’t go away. He keeps looking at him and smiling in a way that makes Mobei-jun grit his teeth.
Sometimes he wonders if he himself is the problem. Maybe he shouldn’t put this much value in people’s words and promises.
It always ends like this.
Except it doesn’t.
The heat of the celestial fire crackles around him, and Mobei-jun’s eyes are wide as they fix on the flames, his mind in turmoil. There’s too much going on around him - too many twists, too many conflicting emotions for him to make sense of it all while his body is both trying to assimilate the previous kings’ energy and fight off his uncle’s poison.
Surprise, anger, pain, disbelief, hurt. He can’t understand.
What he knows is that Shang Qinghua has saved him yet again - Shang Qinghua who apparently stayed hidden for seven days and seven nights without eating, just for… for what? Why didn’t he go away when Mobei-jun told him so?
He has no time to think about anything. Across the flames, he can see Shang Qinghua’s small form curled up on the floor as Linguang-jun’s hits fall on him like stones. Rage burns through him like venom at the audacity, up until the point when Shang Qinghua cries out as his arm is almost torn from his body.
Mobei-jun’s body moves on its own, past the heaviness of his limbs, past the poison and the fire and the pain as his mind screams at him to protect . Protect the human that is risking his life yet again to save him. Tear to pieces the one who dared touch what is his.
It’s over so fast he can barely make sense of it.
He falls, thinking that will be the end of it - but nothing is that simple. He still doesn’t know how to make sense of everything that's happened, and his body doesn’t respond to his commands anymore as the adrenaline slowly seeps from his system, replaced by the heaviness of his limbs. He can still feel his predecessors’ energy trying to merge with his body, marked by the faint blue light glowing around him: it’s a wonder he managed to move in the first place.
At least Shang Qinghua came back, he thinks, and then familiar anger surges through his mind like a flood - anger at having made a fool of himself, anger at Shang Qinghua’s careless words, anger because he is spouting nonsense again, belittling himself when he clearly was the one that saved Mobei-jun, anger at…
“First, I will leave.”
Mobei-jun’s entire body goes rigid. If he could move, he would have seized Shang Qinghua by the throat. How dare this human play with him like this?
"You still want to leave?! Don't you dare!"
Then, Shang Qinghua screams .
“ Why not?! I've put up with you for too long, you spoiled, bad-tempered, second-generation demon!"
It’s so sudden and unexpected that Mobei-jun’s horribly tangled mix of anger and hurt gets washed away by disbelief. Nobody in all his life has ever dared to speak to him like this, let alone this tiny human who has always treated him with the utmost deference. He is spouting such nonsense that Mobei-jun’s mind is reeling, unable to understand the words.
He does the only thing he knows how to do: he threatens, but it sounds weak to his own ears, more like a plead than anything else as something inside him cracks and bleeds.
Mobei-jun’s name is his title.
He is a king, and a demon lord, and people follow and respect him for it. They fear his strength; they crave his power or his protection.
But Mobei-jun realizes, as Shang Qinghua keeps crying and shouting and pinches his cheeks in a way that should be ridiculous but instead is impossibly, unbelievably hurting him - he realizes Shang Qinghua isn’t treating him like a king at all; that, maybe, he didn’t save him time after time because that is what a loyal subordinate should do.
As Shang Qinghua shouts his hurt and his pain, and Mobei-jun realizes that maybe he never understood him at all, he looks into those angry eyes and thinks - Shang Qinghua is treating him like a normal person.
How long has it been since Mobei-jun was anything other than his role? There is a name somewhere - his own name - forgotten during the years of his childhood. He’s been Mobei-jun for so long he doesn’t know if he can find it again, or even if he wants to.
But now, now that Shang Qinghua has saved him yet again, now that he has torn down all the walls that separate a king from a servant to reach with bloody hands for the person underneath, now that he has exposed his pain and Mobei-jun’s faults - Mobei-jun wants him by his side.
He wants to protect him.
He tries to get him to stay, but it’s evident that his words are not the right ones, that they never have been, and that he doesn’t know how to reach him at all.
This time Shang Qinghua is leaving for real, dragging his broken body out of the palace, and Mobei-jun is no longer sure he can blame him for it.
Chapter 2: Part 2
Very much delayed, but part 2 is finally here. I hope you all will like it!
It takes a full day for Mobei-jun’s body to completely absorb the previous kings’ power.
During that time, he lies motionless on the floor of the empty hall, with only the howling of the icy winds as company. His previous burst of energy left him drained, unable to move no matter how much he willed his body to obey him. He is lucky that Linguang-jun ran away as fast as he could, believing him to have already mastered the energy: were he to come back now, Mobei-jun would be powerless to stop him.
This kind of vulnerability is not easy to accept, and the feeling just fuels his rage. He grits his teeth, spats out threats and orders that sounds awfully close to pleading long after Shang Qinghua’s figure has disappeared from the room. He is angry - at Shang Qinghua, at his uncle, at himself. He’s like a caged beast, futilely clawing at the walls of his own mind in hopes to soothe the hollow feeling that settled in his chest. There is no outlet.
Gradually, as the light dims and an eerie silence settles in the empty halls, his anger fades.
He has never understood the meaning of defeat this well, not even when Luo Binghe held him at sword point, demanding his loyalty. He has never felt such a feeling of failure before in his life. The shame that arises in the wake of this realization is way worse than the hot rage that consumed his thoughts until a moment before.
Time slowly trails on.
Linguang-jun doesn’t appear again, but neither does Shang Qinghua. The poison has slowly faded from Mobei-jun’s body, but the energy is still pulsing through his limbs. He can’t do anything, except wait. And think.
The knowledge that he will survive this day only out of sheer luck is humbling.
When night finally falls, Mobei-jun can move again. The blue halo that surrounded his body has disappeared, but the ordeal of the day has left him weak and exhausted. Slowly, feeling as if every single muscle of his body has been used way past its own limit, he gets up. His body is brimming with his newly inherited power, but his steps echo in the empty hallways as he stumbles into his room and on the bed.
Shang Qinghua’s scream as Linguang-jun tried to tear off his arm still fills Mobei-jun’s mind. Shang Qinghua risked everything to protect him even after being driven away, and Mobei-jun failed to protect him.
The possibility of Shang Qinghua’s death fills him with dread.
As Mobei-jun lets unconsciousness wrap around him, his last thought is for a tiny human that he never managed to understand, whose absence feels like a physical wound.
There is only silence to hail the birth of the new king of the northern desert.
It doesn’t get easier in the following days.
Mobei-jun tries not to think about it too much, to leave Shang Qinghua in the back of his mind as he informs Luo Binghe of the success of the ceremony and attends to his duties with newfound power and authority.
Obviously, it doesn’t work.
There is also the unresolved matter of his uncle, who disappeared after his sneak attack in fear of retaliation, and Mobei-jun has ordered all the people under his command to keep an eye out for him. Every time a messenger comes back to report on the matter, however, Mobei-jun finds himself wishing the updates weren’t about Linguang-jun, but someone else.
A week after the incident he gives up pretending and opens a portal to An Ding Peak. He isn’t surprised to find Shang Qinghua’s room in the same state he left it when Mobei-jun dragged him out to the northern desert. Shang Qinghua is not a fool: he is obviously on the run and doesn’t want to be found.
Maybe - a small, vicious voice in the back of his mind whispers - Shang Qinghua left for real this time, went to a place where he cannot reach him.
Mobei-jun doesn’t want to believe it.
The emptiness of the Leisure House resonates with the one in Mobei-jun’s chest. He doesn’t look back as he returns to his palace, but that same day he issues a new order: find Shang Qinghua, and report back to him.
If Shang Qinghua left because of Mobei-jun’s treatment and mistakes, Mobei-jun will make up for it. Be sticky , the human had said in reply to Luo Binghe’s question a long time ago. If you want to reach a man’s heart, be pitiful.
Mobei-jun is willing to swallow his pride if that means he gets to have him back.
Mobei-jun’s rage is like a cold, unmerciful blade. His aura collides with that of his uncle and leaves the other no room for defense or escape, shattering bone and cartilage like it’s frail clay. The sound of Linguang-jun’s knees breaking elicits a vicious satisfaction in him, even if it’s not nearly payback enough for what he was going to do to Shang Qinghua.
Finding the human at the right time was merely a matter of luck. Mobei-jun was already pursuing his uncle when he received a rather curt message from Luo Binghe, informing him that the An Ding Peak Lord had showed up at one of his… vacation residences. He felt Linguang-jun’s energy spike as soon as he stepped out of the portal.
He is smug that Shang Qinghua has called for him in his time of need, and glad that he arrived in time to answer that call. He hopes that Shang Qinghua will understand, now, that Mobei-jun wishes to protect him.
Still, as he turns away from the ravine he just pushed Linguang-jun in, the sight of Shang Qinghua’s shattered knee brings a sour taste in his mouth.
He wasn’t fast enough.
What hurts most, however, is that Shang Qinghua is trying to crawl away, cowering and covering his face because… because it was Mobei-jun who told him to never show it again; and when Mobei-jun tries to pry those hands away, the human flinches and curls in even tighter on himself.
Mobei-jun is left speechless, as the weight of the fear he instilled in Shang Qinghua fully sets in. This might have been what he wanted at the beginning, but somewhere along the line his desires have obviously changed, because the sight of it just fills him with bitterness.
He is ready to give up his pride for this human, but he realizes with a start that he doesn’t really know how. Everything he says seems to be the wrong thing, and Shang Qinghua is trembling and saying that he wants to leave again. The idea is intolerable, but Mobei-jun doesn’t know how to make it better, what he can offer to change his mind, and so he does the only thing he can think of in the moment - he tells Shang Qinghua to hit him. Surely that is pitiful enough, that the king of the northern desert is willing to be beaten up by an An Ding Peak cultivator without retaliating. He is ready to let Shang Qinghua get his payback for all the years of beating, if that means the human will stay with him.
In the end, however, Shang Qinghua doesn’t even hit him, and Mobei-jun manages to whisk him away on a broken cart. He walks slowly, dragging him along while being mindful of his broken bones, and half of the demon realm would most likely laugh if they were to see him now.
It’s surprising to find out that he doesn’t care.
Shang Qinghua is not trying to run away. Granted, it could be because of his injury and because Mobei-jun didn’t leave him much of a choice, but he did ask for a doctor. And most importantly…
“Ramen noodles. You make it.”
Mobei-jun wants to refuse at first, if only because he has no idea how to make those. The embarrassment at his current situation burns through him. What gives him pause, however, is the realization that this is the first thing that Shang Qinghua has asked of him in all the years he’s spent by his side.
In the end, he can’t help it: he agrees.
Shang Qinghua’s breath catches, and his surprise is confirmation enough that, maybe, this time Mobei-jun managed to do the right thing.
The silence gets gradually more comfortable, and after a while Mobei-jun glances back, curious. Shang Qinghua is not looking at him, but he seems at ease on the cart, his posture relaxed, his gaze fixed on the valley below.
There is a small, soft smile on his lips, and Mobei-jun is struck by the realization that he would sacrifice many great things just to protect it.
It shouldn’t be that hard to make noodles, right?
Mobei-jun scowls, shifting his gaze from the trembling old man in front of him to the sad lump of flour and water sitting on the counter, a remnant of his first disastrous attempt at making noodles. He glares at it like it’s a personal offence.
The old cook he personally dragged through a portal looks close to fainting, having been kidnapped without much of a reason and brought to the demon realm. Mobei-jun’s silence is probably not reassuring either, but he needs a moment to steel his face for the request he needs to make.
“You,” he begins, and the human jumps in terror, falling to his knees.
“G-g-gret demon Lord! I beg of you, please don’t eat this lowly human. My body is old and--”
“I don’t eat human meat,” Mobei-jun sighs, realizing the misunderstanding. They are in a kitchen after all. His words don’t really manage to reassure the man, but at least are enough to stop his babbling. “Ramen noodles,” he clarifies, gritting his teeth and swallowing his pride. The gesture must look way more menacing than intended, because the man shrinks in on itself. “Tell me how to make them.”
There is a moment of silence, during which Mobei-jun’s embarrassment only grows heavier, before the old cook gathers the courage to speak. “If… if the great Lord wants to eat noodles, this cook can prepare them for him.”
“No,” he interrupts, displeasure clear on his face. “I will make them. You will just tell me the procedure.”
The man scrambles to his feet, even if his legs are clearly still trembling. Mobei-jun crosses his arms and looks at him expectantly.
“Very well. S-so, for starters…”
He listens to the man attentively, but it isn’t long before he realizes that he has no idea how to do half of the things that the cook is speaking of. Mobei-jun has never set foot in a kitchen - there have always been servants for that - but he’s not about to tell that to a human.
Scowling, he stops him. “Again. From the beginning. Be clearer.”
After the third time Mobei-jun asks him to repeat his words with an increasingly annoyed voice, the cook chances a look up at him, twisting his hands. “What if… what if this lowly one were to cook one bowl? This way, the Lord can directly observe the procedure.”
Mobei-jun glares again, trying to understand if the human is making fun of him, but he seems too afraid to do something like that. He cannot deny that the proposal fills him with relief either, and so he relents.
“That is acceptable.”
It takes way less time than he expected. Once the cook has finished and presented him with a full bowl of ramen, Mobei-jun nods and pushes him through a portal without sparing the man another glance. He should be back roughly where he found him anyway.
Finally alone, he allows his shoulders to relax, and pushes away the aborted remnants of his first try. Silently, he gets to work.
Cooking for a human should feel like a debasing act, but Mobei-jun couldn’t bring himself to say no when Shang Qinghua asked, nor does he want to do so now. First of all, Mobei-jun does not back down from a challenge. Secondly... he knows very little of human courting rituals - just enough to be aware that they differ greatly from demon ones - but he does know that Luo Binghe frequently cooks for his husband. Mobei-jun can be honest enough with himself to admit that he probably wants something of what they have, too: there is nobody in his life that can stir his heart as much as Shang Qinghua does, for better or for worse. Even if his cooking will not be received as a courting gift, he still wants to show Shang Qinghua that his presence in Mobei-jun’s palace is greatly valued, and his desires are taken into consideration.
In the end, the bowl of ramen that he manages to prepare looks pitiful and nothing like the one that the human cook left behind. Mobei-jun is ready to throw it away in a fit of rage when Shang Qinghua slides the door of the kitchen open.
“ What are you doing here? ” He snaps, more aggressively than he intended to. Shang Qinghua flinches, and Mobei-jun curses inwardly. “You’re still injured,” he adds, hoping to soften the blow.
Surprisingly, it works. Shang Qinghua blinks twice, surprised, and then gingerly steps into the kitchen, leaning his weight off of his injured leg and on a stick. His eyes trail from Mobei-jun’s flour-stained hands to the ramen bowl. “Apologies, my king. I got curious.”
Mobei-jun frowns, then sighs, and lifts Shang Qinghua up without as much as a second thought. The human squeaks, a truly undignified noise, but he is set down at the table before he can protest.
“Since you are here, eat,” Mobei-jun says, placing the bowl in front of him. He was going to throw it away and make a new one, but he cannot possibly lose face like that now that Shang Qinghua saw it.
“You…” Shang Qinghua seems starstruck for a moment, forgetting formalities as he keeps shifting his eyes from Mobei-jun’s face to the objectively sad-looking ramen. “My king, did you make this?”
An offended noise is Mobei-jun’s first reply. He crosses his arms, glaring down at him. “This king did promise, Shang Qinghua.”
“Yes! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I’m just…” Shang Qinghua trails off as an attractive pink flush appears high on his cheekbones. “Never mind. Thank you, my king.”
The noodles cannot possibly taste good, if the way Shang Qinghua almost chokes when he takes the first bite is any indication. Still, he doesn’t say anything and keeps eating under Mobei-jun’s watchful gaze. The sight fills Mobei-jun with contentment, but after a while even he cannot deny that the expression on Shang Qinghua’s face looks pained. He is probably too afraid that Mobei-jun will lash at him again to say anything.
Sighing, Mobei-jun takes the hand holding the chopstick in one of his own. “Stop it. There is one portion made by a cook, I will heat it up.”
“No!” Shang Qinghua’s vehemence startles them both. He clutches the bowl to his chest before Mobei-jun can try to take it away from him, and looks up with wide, weirdly panicked eyes. “No. It’s true it’s not the best but… my king, you made this for me.” Then Shang Qinghua averts his gaze again, clearly embarrassed, and adds, so soft that it would be difficult to hear for anybody else, “Nobody has ever cooked anything for me. Thank you. I will eat it all.”
The flush on Shang Qinghua’s cheeks is back with a vengeance.
Mobei-jun can only think that he is lucky that Shang Qinghua is not looking at him now, because his face feels awfully hot too.
As the days pass, Mobei-jun finds himself in the habit of watching Shang Qinghua work. He has come to find the messiness and all the muttering weirdly relaxing in their familiarity. He usually lounges on a chair or over a pile of cushions, and just observes.
Shang Qinghua used to be way more tense at being scrutinized, but he’s gradually gotten used to it.
Today he seems more jittery than usual, frequently pulling at his hair and hissing at some of the reports he is trying to reply to. There’s a brush sticking out from his usually nicely tied bun, causing his hair to escape from the updo and slide against his cheeks - overall making him even more annoyed.
Mobei-jun watches him rummage through a pile of scrolls with increasingly frustrated gestures for a while, before realizing he’s probably searching for the brush.
“Shang Qinghua,” he calls, and the human actually jumps at his voice.
Shang Qinghua’s annoyance drains out of him immediately as he tries to make himself as small as possible. He clearly forgot Mobei-jun was even in the room.
“I’m so sorry! I was too loud, I’ll be more quiet from now on, I just couldn’t-”
Mobei-jun frowns, and Shang Qinghua’s mouth snaps shut. His eyes widen when Mobei-jun gets up and walks closer until he’s looming over him. Mobei-jun doesn’t like the way Shang Qinghua shrinks when he raises his hand to pluck the brush from his hair, but he doesn’t mention it. The gesture disrupts the updo enough that more than half of the hair escapes, draping across Shang Qinghua’s shoulder and framing his surprised face.
He looks… good, like this. Enough so that Mobei-jun feels like removing the hairpiece entirely, placing it together with the brush on the table.
“Here,” he just says, eyes sweeping over the faint reddish color that rose to the human’s cheeks. It has happens more frequently ever since Mobei-jun cooked for him.
Shang Qinghua stutters his thanks, and Mobei-jun returns to his lounging position without saying anything else.
Shang Qinghua doesn’t tie his hair up again.
Mobei-jun hasn’t seen Shang Qinghua for a week.
It’s the most they’ve been separated since Shang Qinghua came back, and Mobei-jun would be a liar if he said he didn’t worry at all while he was busy taking care of a rebel demon tribe at the southern border of his territory. As he steps foot into his palace, however, nobody hurries to tell him that the human has disappeared or something equally upsetting, so he gradually relaxes.
He doesn’t exactly sprint down the hallway, but he does ignore every other duty in favor of reaching the room where Shang Qinghua usually works. The thought of hearing the familiar tune of “My king!” brings a faint smile to his lips.
When he slides the door open, however, he finds Shang Qinghua fast asleep, huddled in a blanket and taking up very little space. His cheek is squished over some important-looking documents, and there’s a smudge of ink on his forehead.
Mobei-jun frowns, moving silently to stand over him and taking note of Shang Qinghua’s tired appearance, as well as his too-pale lips. He reaches down to feel the side of his face, confirming what he already suspected: the energy that Mobei-jun gave him before departing is greatly depleted, and the human is starting to feel the cold again. Silently, trying not to wake him up, Mobei-jun shrugs off his fur cape and places it around Shang Qinghua’s shoulders.
He stalls, awkwardly.
Then, after a moment of hesitation, he wraps the furs more firmly around the human’s small frame, and gathers him in his arms. Shang Qinghua snuggles unconsciously against his chest, and Mobei-jun is suddenly filled with an emotion that leaves him pleasantly warm as well.
Mobei-jun has seen the way Luo Binghe looks at his teacher, and how they constantly gravitate towards each other now that they’re married. He has no clear memory of his mother, but he idly wonders if that is how his father felt with her.
The word love feels strange on Mobei-jun’s lips when he considers it in the privacy of his own rooms, too soft and warm for who he is and the lands he rules; still, soft and warm is exactly how Shang Qinghua feels to him, and he knows there is no truer way to describe his own feelings.
Shang Qinghua’s expression, for once not shadowed by worry, is open and relaxed. He looks impossibly small and fragile like this, dwarfed in the furs and cradled in Mobei-jun’s arms. Even knowing how strong and resourceful Shang Qinghua can be in reality, it makes Mobei-jun’s protective instincts flare up.
As he calmly walks towards his private chambers, he can’t help but hug him closer to his chest.
Mobei-jun is careful - way more careful than he used to be. He doesn’t want to scare Shang Qinghua away again, now that he has a taste of what life with him can be. Ever since he made peace with his own feelings on the matter, however, it’s gotten difficult to step back.
Sometimes Mobei-jun stares at the human that he always, in one way or another, considered his , and is struck by how much he wants. He’s not sure when it started, but it’s a need that has been building steadily, making it difficult to concentrate when Shang Qinghua bites his lips or tilts his head just so, exposing the unblemished skin of his neck. It’s not easy to tame the instinct that tells him to conquer, to embrace, to claim. He finds it interesting, if strange: he has never had to deal with this kind of thing before Shang Qinghua crashed into his life.
Shang Qinghua isn’t easy to read either, especially now that Mobei-jun has become wary of assuming the human’s intentions. Sometimes his heartbeat speeds up, but Mobei-jun can’t always tell if it’s a reaction born from nervousness or something else. It’s not fear, at least - he knows the taste of that way too well. Shang Qinghua is probably not completely oblivious or uninterested in Mobei-jun’s growing interest anyway, if the way his scent changes subtly whenever he gets too close is any indication.
It drives Mobei-jun crazy.
It’s a day like any other when Mobei-jun forces himself out of his musings and sweeps his gaze over his little human, currently busy replying to some kind of requests from Bai Zhan Peak. He takes his time, lounging lazily besides the working table, and doesn't even bother hiding his stare. Shang Qinghua must feel it, because there is a very tantalizing flush spreading down his neck.
An Ding Peak is obviously not cold like Mobei-jun’s lands, but it’s no longer wrapped up in the stifling heat of summer; still, there is a certain weight to the air, a special kind of electricity that hums all over Mobei-jun’s body. He is not an anxious person, but sitting still is proving difficult at the moment. His body is reacting like before a fight.
Shang Qinghua chooses that instant to raise his head, immediately meeting Mobei-jun’s gaze. He looks ready to say something, but whatever he sees in Mobei-jun’s eyes makes him hesitate. He licks his lips, stalling, and his heartbeat speeds up.
“My king, can you--”
Mobei-jun’s control snaps .
He isn’t sure what exactly set him off, but before his mind can catch up to his body he’s already leaning over the table and kissing Shang Qinghua like he’s a battle to be won. His lips are dry, chapped, and bitten almost bloody, but they part beautifully under Mobei-jun’s own. Shang Qinghua makes a tiny, surprised noise and goes rigid for the entirety of a second before clutching Mobei-jun’s shoulders and returning the kiss almost violently.
Mobei-jun is no expert in this field, but it’s easy to follow the instinct to be closer, to lick into Shang Qinghua’s mouth when it opens in a needy moan. It’s satisfying to finally drag him on his lap, to press his smaller body against his own and feel all that heat, all that passion burn just for him. Shang Qinghua is beautiful as he yields, and Mobei-jun can’t help but be smug that his human has accepted his feelings, and seems to be enjoying this as much as he is.
Unexpectedly, though, it doesn’t last long.
He’s about to press Shang Qinghua against the table when his eyes snap open and he begins to struggle to break free.
“My king, fuck--” he gasps, and his voice sounds ruined already. “Wait-”
Mobei-jun tears himself away from Shang Qinghua’s mouth with a growl. It takes all of his self control not to chases the taste with another deep kiss, but he manages, and gives him a puzzled look. Shang Qinghua’s cheeks are red and he’s still breathing heavily, looking everywhere except at Mobei-jun’s face. His hands, rigid and pressed against Mobei-jun’s torso in an attempt to keep some distance between them, are trembling and utterly useless. Mobei-jun could overcome that feeble strength without a second thought, but he sits back on his heels and just waits for an explanation.
Shang Qinghua seemed to like that, so what is the problem?
Finally, with a deep breath, his human gathers the courage to look up at him again.
“My king what… what is the meaning of this?”
The hesitant question startles him.
What other meaning can this have? Mobei-jun can’t believe Shang Qinghua doesn’t know at this point. He doesn’t go around kissing people just for fun, and Shang Qinghua should be well aware of it with all the time they spend together. Does he want Mobei-jun to spell it out?
That is… embarrassing.
Nevertheless, it’s true that he hasn’t told Shang Qinghua anything after dragging him back to his palace, so he probably should put in some effort. The problem is how to tell him something that Mobei-jun himself has a hard time putting into words. His thoughts constantly circle back to the way he felt watching Shang Qinghua walk away from him, while he was helpless to do anything about it. It’s not something he’s willing to live through again.
He supposes that is the simplest way to put it.
Straightening his back, he forces the words out of his mouth. It’s formal, because he wants this to have as much weight and importance as possible, but also stiff. He’s really not good at this.
“This king doesn’t want you to leave his side, Shang Qinghua.”
There is a moment of silence, during which Mobei-jun fights the flush trying to spread on his cheeks, and then, for some reason, Shang Qinghua’s face seems to fall.
Mobei-jun doesn’t have a lot of time to dwell on it, because Shang Qinghua blurts out a “This servant understands” and then he’s already standing up and stuttering an apology. He’s out of the door before Mobei-jun can stop him.
Shang Qinghua might have simply been flustered by the confession, but the emptiness of the room leaves a bad taste in Mobei-jun’s mouth despite the lingering feeling of the kiss.
Shang Qinghua avoids him the following days. It’s painfully evident in the way he buries himself in work and tries to seek everybody’s company except Mobei-jun’s own, a sharp contrast with his usual habits.
At first, Mobei-jun lets him be, on the assumption that he might just need some space to process everything. After a week of such behavior without the slightest hint of change, however, he starts to get worried. The only reason he hasn’t pushed the matter immediately is that Shang Qinghua doesn’t seem to want to leave, but every day spent without that jittery nervous mess beside him is already weighing on his nerves.
Mobei-jun is not pining , but he does miss his human. Even if he’s still living under his roof.
It gets to be too much when Shang Qinghua crosses him in an empty hallway by accident. He stops dead in his tracks, sweeps nervous glances all around, and then turns back as if Mobei-jun is personally out to kill him. Mobei-jun glares at the corner when Shang Qinghua just disappeared, and makes up his mind.
He corners him in the servants’ quarters.
It takes a single look from Mobei-jun to make everyone else scram. Shang Qinghua tries to do the same, but a threatening growl freezes him in his place. He presses his back to the wall like a cornered prey, and Mobei-jun has to gather all his patience not to snap at him.
He manages, but it also takes a while - and, as the silence stretches, Shang Qinghua tightens his grip on the scrolls he’s carrying, trying to make himself as small as possible.
“You’ve been avoiding me,” he cuts to the chase, and he’s proud that his voice feels calm enough despite his inner turmoil.
“Ah. Ah, that. I apologize, it’s just…”
Shang Qinghua lowers his gaze and doesn’t reply. Mobei-jun suppresses a frustrated sound, but he does step forward. When he speaks again, his voice seems awfully close to pleading.
“I told you this king doesn’t… I don’t want you to leave.”
“But I’m not leaving!” Shang Qinghua shouts, and lets the scrolls fall on the floor. “That’s the thing, my king! I don’t even want to! Not anymore! I thought that was clear!”
“Let me talk!”
Mobei-jun is stunned by the sudden outburst, even if it’s far from the first one at this point. Shang Qinghua starts to pace the narrow room, one hand tugging on his hair and messing up his bun.
“It’s… my king, you’re so frustrating!”
He’s frustrating?! Mobei-jun frowns, but Shang Qinghua goes on like he isn’t even in the room.
“I’ve been here ever since I came back! And even when I was on my Peak because of my duties, you were with me! Even if I wanted, there’s no way I could have run away! And I don’t even want to. I- I like being here, okay?! It’s just. Fuck. So…” His shoulders sag, and he lowers his gaze. The fight suddenly drained from him, Shang Qinghua looks close to crying, his voice soft. “So you don’t have to… to do things like kiss me to ensure that. It’s just very unfair to me. I won’t leave anyway.”
It takes a moment for the words to sink in and for Mobei-jun to understand how badly Shang Qinghua misunderstood him.
“That’s not it,” he replies as soon as he gets it, through gritted teeth. “Shang Qinghua, if this king wanted to simply have you at his service, he could have just forced you.”
Shang Qinghua looks at him with something in between surprise and confusion. It’s so frustrating, that Mobei-jun can’t find the perfect words or the right way to use them.
“I do not need to kiss people to enforce their loyalty.”
To be honest, the thought is downright insulting; Mobei-jun would be offended if he didn’t have more pressing matters to worry about. He takes one final step forward and tilts Shang Qinghua’s face up. If he’s going to swallow his pride and make a fool of himself trying to better voice his feelings, he’s going to have his human’s full attention at the very least.
“ I want you by my side.”
Not as a king, but as a person. He wants his company, his struggles, his energy and his passion. He wants Shang Qinghua to smile at him and fight him without fear of being hurt.
“Not as a servant,” he goes on, in the face of Shang Qinghua’s wide and disbelieving eyes. Keeping a firm grip on his face, he bends down to breathe against his lips. “I want you .”
Shang Qinghua’s breath catches. He looks ready to flee again, but he has no way of escaping.
“M-me? But… my king, I’m just a useless human, an average cultivator. I’m not strong or refined, I can’t even fight, I’m only good at being beaten up, how can you--”
“ Stop ,” he snarls, and Shang Qinghua’s mouth snaps shut. Mobei-jun is livid with anger. “You are none of these things, Shang Qinghua, don’t you dare let me hear any more of this. I will not allow this disrespect!”
Mobei-jun shuts him up with a growl and a firm kiss.
It’s… preposterous, that Shang Qinghua would think so little of himself. It hurts to realize that Shang Qinghua thinks himself worthless and probably undeserving of this kind of affection. It’s also shocking to realize how much Mobei-jun craves it instead, when he had convinced himself he was above trivial matters of the heart.
Turns out, he was probably just afraid.
“I am not… used to all of this,” he murmurs on his human’s damp lips, in a tone that is way more hesitant than anything he has ever used. It’s not easy to admit it. He grits his teeth and forces himself to go on. “This king is choosing you. I want this.”
Mobei-jun puts some distance between their faces then, searching the human’s eyes for clues. What he finds is encouraging enough, even if Shang Qinghua looks like the only thing keeping him upright is the wall behind him.
“Do you want it, Shang Qinghua?”
Shang Qinghua doesn’t repy immediately, but buries his face against Mobei-jun’s chest. There’s a furious blush on his cheeks, and he presses himself closer like the space still existing between them is unbearable, clutching at Mobei-jun’s robes.
Finally, he nods with uncharacteristic shyness. “I do.”
The feeling that erupts in Mobei-jun’s chest at that simple response is strong enough to shadow anything he’s felt until that moment.
The kiss that follows is long, and lingering.
They manage to keep things under control for the entirety of a couple of days before they stumble into Mobei-jun’s room, kissing like their life depends on it. Mobei-jun loses himself in the feeling of Shang Qinghua’s body yielding willingly under his own, pressing him down into the covers of the bed.
It gets messy and confused after that. Mobei-jun doesn’t really know what needs to be done except for the basics, but is confident enough to let his body guide him.
Everything goes well until it goes very, very wrong.
Mobei-jun is not sure how they reached this point. One moment Shang Qinghua was clinging to his shoulders, and the next he was thrashing and squirming away from under him, shouting for Mobei-jun to let him go. Now, he’s putting as much distance between them as he can in the narrow space of the bed, snapping back and insulting him and Mobei-jun doesn’t understand.
Shang Qinghua is hurt, that much is clear, but he isn’t saying why and Mobei-jun is getting angry as he asks, no, demands an explanation.
“Stop this and tell me what’s the matter!”
“I’m really sorry,” Shang Qinghua finally retorts in a way that makes it clear he’s not sorry at all. He looks like he doesn’t really want to say what comes next, but Mobei-jun’s insistence might have been too much, and so he blurts everything out without even the space to breath. “I really- really wanted to enjoy this my king but your technique is horrendous!”
Mobei-jun recoils as he immediately feels the sharp sting of embarrassment and hurt pride. His temper flares up before he can really realize it.
“What did you say?!”
Sure, the act wasn’t exactly smooth but it’s not like Mobei-jun has something to compare it to, and Shang Qinghua shouldn’t either, should he? Has Shang Qinghua done this before?!
“You asked for it!”
Preposterous! How dare Shang Qinghua put everything on him?! If only he’d held still-!
“If only you’d just listened to me!”
That’s nonsense. Of course Mobei-jun’s listens to him, that’s ridiculous! He’s about to tell him as such when his eyes catch something on the sheets for the first time, and it’s with a start that he realizes it’s blood. He stills, the retort dying on his lips. He doesn’t know how he managed to miss it: now that he noticed, he can feel very clearly the tang of iron in the air, mixing with the smell of sex and and sweat.
Mobei-jun’s anger drains out of him so quickly it’s startling, as he realizes that yes, Shang Qinghua had tried to tell him things in the middle of everything, but that he was simply too focused to notice it. He takes a deep breath, and when he lets himself look again, it’s like he’s seeing everything for the first time: there are tear-streaks on Shang Qinghua’s cheeks, and his eyes are still wet and wary. He’s huddled in a corner of the bed, and winces every time he tries to move.
This is… not what he wanted.
Suddenly, the knowledge of how much he hurt Shang Qinghua without even noticing is almost too much to bear.
Mobei-jun’s silence gets long enough that Shang Qinghua’s snapping remarks gradually die down. He must see something on his face, because he takes a longer, more measured look, before calling hesitantly, “My king?”
A part of Mobei-jun wants to reach out, but a bigger part of him is too horrified to even attempt it. He’s not sure his touch would be welcomed at the moment, when it’s what caused all of this.
When Shang Qinghua tries to scoot closer and winces yet again, Mobei-jun stops him.
“My king? Please talk to me. I’m sorry I snapped.”
“No,” Mobei-jun frowns, and then immediately adds. “You don’t have to apologize. I hurt you.”
“I… well, yes. A bit. But I overreacted and-”
“I hurt you,” Mobei-jun says again, giving more weight to his words, “When I said that I wouldn’t.” He looks up with all the gravity he can manage while naked in the middle of rumpled and stained sheets. “This king apologizes. I am sorry, Shang Qinghua.”
Shang Qinghua’s breath catches.
Ah, it’s probably the first time that Mobei-jun has properly apologized to him. He might need to get better at that, if he values this human as much as he says he does.
“My king, that’s…” Shang Qinghua suddenly flushes. This time, when he tries to get closer, Mobei-jun moves first so that he doesn’t have to. “I… Thank you. I accept your apology.”
The formality of the phrasing should sound silly given their current state of undress, but it doesn’t. Shang Qinghua leans into Mobei-jun’s body, pressing his forehead into the crook of his neck, and a weight lifts from Mobei-jun’s chest. He presses his lips against Shang Qinghua hair, without really knowing what to do.
“There are… other things we could do, my king,” Shang Qinghua says, and his voice is so low that it sounds insecure. “But… maybe another time?”
Mobei-jun is quick to agree, glad that the possibility of a next time hasn’t been ruled out altogether. Careful not to jostle Shang Qinghua too much, Mobei-jun gathers him against his chest and settles down comfortably against the pillows, covering them both in furs.
“Rest,” he just says, and starts sending a constant stream of energy into the smaller body pressed against his own, both to help the healing process and to stave off the cold.
Shang Qinghua makes a pleased noise, and cuddles closer.
That night, Mobei-jun cooks him a bowl of noodles. It’s not as bad as the first one.
Their second time having sex is also not as bad as the first one.
The sight of Shang Qinghua’s lips stretched around his cock gets Mobei-jun off way faster than he expected, but his restraint and stamina can only go so far. Shang Qinghua looks like there is no other place where he’d rather be, making tiny choked out noises and looking utterly debauched when he finally lets Mobei-jun go.
Mobei-jun returns the favor with equal pleasure, enjoying the way Shang Qinghua turns into a writhing, moaning mess.
Neither of their technique is probably the best, but they make up for it in enthusiasm.
Mobei-jun, however, is nothing if not methodical.
Asking people for bedroom advice is not as easy as asking for a noodle recipe, but he approaches the matter with the same seriousness he reserves for political affairs.
It’s not like he isn’t enjoying all the alternative activities that Shang Qinghua has suggested, but he does want to be able to make him his properly. It has to be possible without hurting his human. He just needs to learn how.
Which is how he ends up in a brothel. He makes sure to choose one in the human realm, bustling with activity and crowded enough that one more person won’t really attract anyone’s attention. Not even fear of retribution would stop the rumors from spreading if he were to ask someone who is familiar with his status, and Mobei-jun would rather like his reputation to stay untarnished - and his private matters to stay private.
He gets out of the establishment several hours later, taking new knowledge and a few supplies with him.
Money goes a long way to buy silence among humans.
It’s not perfect, far from it, but it’s not horrendous either. It’s actually good enough to satisfy them both, and to prompt Shang Qinghua to ask for more. Mobei-jun is happy to oblige, relishing in his human’s enthusiasm and appetite.
They work through it, and they get better. Surprisingly, or maybe not, their progresses in the bedroom go hand in hand with those in their everyday life.
Mostly, Mobei-jun has learnt two very important things: Shang Qinghua will rarely say what he really wants or needs, but that kind of talk is necessary if he wants to avoid hurting him time after time by accident.
Of course, talking is not Mobei-jun’s forte either.
It’s very awkward, and it isn’t rare for Mobei-jun to storm off to vent his frustration on some demonic beast or on the training grounds, or for Shang Qinghua to just fall back into his usual pattern of apologies and retreats.
But it also isn’t rare for Mobei-jun to come back with some treats, or for Shang Qinghua to wait for him at the entrance of the palace with a small smile on his lips - and that has to count for something.
There are some fundamental things that Mobei-jun has learnt about Shang Qinghua.
The man is focused, resourceful and creative. His talents are invaluable but also unconventional, which means that they get frequently overlooked in the face of his average cultivation and low-level fighting skills. Mobei-jun doesn’t care about those - he’s strong enough to protect them both - but it does bother him that Shang Qinghua’s eyes are always fixed on what he lacks, rather than on what he does have.
Shang Qinghua has solved more practical problems than Mobei-jun can count during the years he’s served him. It’s not that his human is not aware of that, just that he doesn’t see any worth in his actions. Mobei-jun knows he’s probably at fault for that: the added value of Shang Qinghua’s creative brain is something that he’s always took for granted. He can’t remember ever praising his human’s work before they got together.
Point is, Shang Qinghua truly doesn’t think much of himself. He thinks himself a coward, even if he’s put his life on the line and saved Mobei-jun more than once. He thinks himself useless, even if he’s managed seamlessly the affairs of both his mountain and Mobei-jun’s palace for years. He thinks himself unimportant, even if he’s an immortal Peak Lord.
He thinks himself average, when he’s anything but that.
It doesn’t make sense to Mobei-jun. But it’s easy to see, once he knows how to look, and it puts a lot of Shang Qinghua’s behaviors into perspective.
(He doesn’t like it. He can’t punish who is belittling Shang Qinghua, if he’s the one doing it to himself).
There are setbacks, sometimes, in an otherwise relatively peaceful life.
Old habits are hard to shake off, and even harder are those born from fear and pain.
They still hurt each other without really meaning to on occasions, but they’re learning. Mobei-jun makes conscious effort not to take things for granted, and Shang Qinghua is gradually finding the courage to voice his opinions.
And yet, there are still times when Shang Qinghua flinches and shrinks in response to Mobei-jun’s temper. It happens rarely, but his reactions are way worse than what they used to be. It’s probably because Shang Qinghua is no longer living on high alert, expecting a beating every time he’s at Mobei-jun’s side: his guard is lowered, and thus the threat that Mobei-jun’s anger represents gets him by surprise, and sends his mind into a frenzy.
At least, this is how Shang Qinghua described it to him.
Mobei-jun hates it, but it’s not like he can blame him. He knows that he left deep scars on Shang Qinghua, and that the only thing that can heal them is time.
Shang Qinghua, despite everything, trusts him, and that is the greatest gift. Mobei-jun is never more aware of it than when he looks at the small body curled up against his own in bed, sleeping soundly and drooling on the pillow. He’s not sure how they managed to reach this point without killing each other, but he is acutely aware that he would lay waste to entire kingdoms just to keep Shang Qinghua safe.
Shang Qinghua’s room in the servants’ quarters has been vacated for months now.
Everybody knows he’s living with Mobei-jun and sharing his bed. Mobei-jun doesn’t hide it, and he’s pretty sure every servant has heard them having sex at least once by now, with how vocal Shang Qinghua has gotten in bed.
But, even without that, Mobei-jun’s imprints are all over his human.
There is something about having Shang Qinghua walk around the palace with Mobei-jun’s scent all over him that sates some of Mobei-jun’s most possessive feelings.
Mobei-jun’s rooms might have become more chaotic, with scrolls and ink and brushes scattered all around, but there is also a distinct warmth in that chaos that was lacking before.
He likes it.
The idea has been brewing in the back of his mind for some time, but it’s an innocent question that brings it to the surface.
They’re back from a meeting with some of Mobei-jun’s potential allies, and Shang Qinghua keeps talking about this and that demon and why their support is critical for the stability of the borders of Mobei-jun’s territory. His mind is evidently still in the room, because his manner of speech still retains the formal qualities that he usually reserves for these kinds of meetings.
“I understand,” Mobei-jun interrupts him, placing a hand on the small of his back. The way Shang Qinghua just leans into the touch never fails to put Mobei-jun in a good mood. “Your opinions are valuable. I will talk to Luo Binghe about them.”
Shang Qinghua squirms, still not used to the compliments.
“This servant is thankful,” he replies without thinking, as if they were still in the middle of the meeting. It’s a slight slip, one that usually would go unnoticed, but it’s been a long time since Shang Qinghua has addressed himself as such when they’re alone.
It doesn’t sit well with Mobei-jun.
He frowns, and Shang Qinghua raises his head to look at him, puzzled.
“No what, my king?”
“You’re not my servant anymore.” Well. Technically, Shang Qinghua is still working for him. It’s not like he has a better role that he can use to refer to himself in official occasions, especially in the presence of demons whose loyalty still hasn’t been tested. To him, however, Shang Qinghua is much more than that. “You shouldn’t refer to yourself like that when we are alone.”
“Oh.” Shang Qinghua nods, stopping in front of the door to their room and opening it with a pensive hum. “What should I refer to myself as, then?”
Mobei-jun steps inside and turns to look at his human, who is staring back at him with a sort of expectant expression. He frowns, realizing with some surprise that he doesn’t really know how to answer. The seemingly innocent question does hide an issue that neither of them have really breached; Mobei-jun can sort of hear the underlying inquiry, what am I to you, my king?
They... never really talked about it.
There aren’t specific titles in the demon world for Shang Qinghua’s position, and those that may be used are either not flattering or downright insulting. He’s not about to consider Shang Qinghua his concubine or anything like that.
“Do you have a specific title in the human world that can work for our situation?”
Shang Qinghua seems to choke on his own tongue for a moment, babbling something indecipherable before staring at him with a lost expression. Mobei-jun doesn’t know what just happened, but waits for an answer with a slightly raised eyebrow.
“Our situation, my king?”
“We’re--” Mobei-jun realized belatedly that he drove himself into a corner. Luckily, they’ve both had some practice voicing their thoughts by now. “You’re my companion. But that can’t be used as a title.”
‘Lover’ would just sound silly. ‘Mate’? Even worse.
He gets a light chuckle in response, and Mobei-jun would think Shang Qinghua is making fun of him if not for the delighted smile that blooms on his lips.
“I think the closest thing would be cultivation partner, my king.”
“That doesn’t work either.”
“No, I’m afraid not.”
Mobei-jun frowns, distracted by the amusement written all over Shang Qinghua’s face, but even more so by a sudden realization. He’s thought about doing this idly for a while now, never bringing it up before because he wasn’t sure about Shang Qinghua’s response, and because he wanted to do it properly . He’s a king, after all.
None of that seems to matter in the face of that smile.
“What about, then,” he says, sounding way more confident than he actually is. His heart is hammering in his chest. “Calling yourself my husband?”
Shang Qinghua nearly falls to the floor.
Mobei-jun is fast to catch him, wrapping an arm around his waist to help him stand on wobbly legs. Shang Qinghua grasps Mobei-jun’s robes instinctively, gaping up at him like he can’t believe what he just heard. He stutters, then blushes, then tries again.
“M-my king?! Are you- are you serious?”
His human, sometimes, is really silly. He should very well know by now that Mobei-jun doesn’t say or do these kind of things as a joke. Mobei-jun just nods, and watches the emotions flash and change into those eyes until they are brimming with happiness and unshed tears.
“Then I… yes. Yes, I would like that very much.”
Shang Qinghua is the one who gets on his tiptoes, cupping Mobei-jun’s face and tilting it so that he’s at the right angle to be kissed. Bending down to meet his future husband’s lips, Mobei-jun sighs contentedly, feeling Shang Qinghua’s heart beat crazily against his own.
It feels right.
Mobei-jun didn’t understand Shang Qinghua for the longest time.
There were moments when he thought he did, but his human managed to prove him wrong time and time again. Time and time again, Mobei-jun was drawn even more to the mystery that is Shang Qinghua.
Even now, years later, he can’t say he completely understands him; there are things that Shang Qinghua doesn’t say and Mobei-jun doesn’t ask, trusting him to reveal them when he feels ready or the need arises. He can say, however, that he has learned. Through trials and errors, he has managed to uncover the layers that make up Shang Qinghua’s personality: he’s seen the strengths and the insecurities lying underneath the mask, and accepted them as a fundamental part of the man he’s chosen to have at his side.
Perhaps even more surprising, however, is how much Shang Qinghua has managed to uncover Mobei-jun’s hidden layers in return. His human’s pushed directly through the shield made of ice and titles to reach the person underneath, and in so doing managed to carve a place for himself in Mobei-jun’s heart.
There is no one else in the world who could hurt him as deeply as Shang Qinghua at this point, if he so chooses. It’s a risk he is more than willing to take.
Mobei-jun might not understand Shang Qinghua entirely, but he takes pride in how far they’ve come. He knows him now, and is known in return. Of all the great achievements he’s reached in his life, this is perhaps the one he treasures the most.
I’ve been rereading your story. I think it’s about me in a way that might not be flattering, but that’s okay. We dream and dream of being seen as we really are and then finally someone looks at us and sees us truly and we fail to measure up. Anyway: story received, story included. You looked at me long enough to see something mysterioso under all the gruff and bluster. Thanks. Sometimes you get so close to someone you end up on the other side of them.
- Richard Silken