【Error. Error. Error. Activating System Scan.】
【Error Code: The Protagonist’s Unbeatable Golden Halo.】
【Initiating System Restore.】
“Immortal Master Shen? Immortal Master Shen!”
Strong hands caught at Shen Qingqiu’s shoulders as he stumbled, saving him from falling to his knees. That grip tightened as he swayed; dizzy and disoriented, Shen Qingqiu pressed the heel of his palm against his forehead, his eyes squeezed shut against an incoming headache.
What was this? Where was he, and why was he standing? Hadn’t he died? Shen Qingqiu searched his memories, trying to figure out what had happened. The last thing he could remember seeing was Luo Binghe staring down at him, the world breaking apart around them, and then…
Had the System said something? He had the vague impression of having heard its voice, but at that point, he’d been too far gone to make out what it had said.
Could it be… Had he somehow transmigrated again?
His heart clenched with fear, the adrenaline breaking through his grogginess. Dropping his palm, his head jerked up to look at who was holding him—only to find himself staring at an utterly familiar, utterly unexpected face.
Wasn’t Gongyi Xiao supposed to be dead???
Was this a dream? No, wait, Shen Qingqiu was supposed to be dead too. So could it be the afterlife? But then, why was it Gongyi Xiao with him and not Luo Binghe? The two of them had died together; shouldn’t that have counted for something?! It wasn’t that he had anything against Gongyi Xiao—he was a fine, upstanding young man! very much worthy of the accolades he’d been given in life, and very pleasant to converse with!—but the fact remained that he wasn’t Luo Binghe!
But as Shen Qingqiu began looking around at his surroundings, another suspicion began to fall into place.
These richly decorated rooms, their walls shadowed by an unnatural silence and emptiness… Didn’t he know this place? It took him a moment to place why it felt so familiar to him, but... wasn’t this the pleasure house where, years ago, he’d chased the sower who had infected him?
Looking through an opened doorway, he saw a familiar set of stairs, leading up.
Maybe he was dreaming; maybe this was really the afterlife. Or maybe—just maybe—
Silently, he asked, “System, where am I?”
【Current Location: Jinlan City.】
His heart began to race. Ignoring Gongyi Xiao’s concerned protests, he pulled himself out from his supportive grip and strode towards the stairs, taking them two at a time.
If he was at that place, together with a Gongyi Xiao who should have been long-dead… Then couldn’t it be possible that somehow, against all logic, that he’d also gone back to that time? That waiting somewhere in the rooms above him was—
Three gentle words floated down the stairs. “It’s no trouble.”
Uncaring of his immortal image, Shen Qingqiu raced up the last of the stairs and rushed into the room.
And there he stood.
Without a beat of hesitation, Shen Qingqiu closed the distance between them and dragged him into his arms.
The Huan Hua Palace disciples surrounding them exploded into a storm of murmurs and startled exclamations. But for Shen Qingqiu, all that noise faded against the sound of Luo Binghe’s quick, sharply inhaled breath. Burying one hand into that silky, luxurious hair, Shen Qingqiu tugged Binghe’s face against his shoulder.
“Binghe,” he murmured, his voice embarrassingly ragged and open. His eyes felt hot. “Binghe.”
“Shi-Shizun?” Luo Binghe said, or stuttered, his voice just as open and aching as Shen Qingqiu’s. He sounded like a child, utterly lost, and the thought made Shen Qingqiu tighten his grip around him.
Luo Binghe was alive, alive and healthy and well.
He hadn’t yet hit his breaking point; if Shen Qingqiu had his way, he never would again.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t embarrassed. The baffled whispers of the Huan Hua disciples around them, Gongyi Xiao’s confused, “Master Shen?” coming from the doorway behind them, the scene that they must be making here, in this world which did not yet have Resentment of Chunsan—Shen Qingqiu was horribly, acutely aware of it all. But he refused to let go or turn away.
Binghe had already died once because he couldn’t allow himself to admit just how much he cared for him. He wasn’t going to make that mistake again.
Shen Qingqiu pulled back, just enough so that he could see Luo Binghe’s face. Luo Binghe lifted his head, responding to the movement, and Shen Qingqiu’s heart broke at the yearning, disbelieving look in his eyes.
Even this early on… even when Luo Binghe had played the confident, domineering cultivator so well, even then he’d already been so insecure. Shen Qingqiu couldn’t believe that he hadn’t seen it before; now that he knew to look for it, it seemed so horribly clear.
This was the child that he’d run from. The one he’d feared—and for what?
“It’s really Shizun…?” Luo Binghe whispered. He lifted his hand, reaching out to touch Shen Qingqiu’s cheek. But just as it would have reached its destination, he faltered.
His hand began to drop. Before it could fall back down to his side, Shen Qingqiu grabbed it.
Luo Binghe’s breath caught in his throat.
Shen Qingqiu felt a flush crawling up his face. Catching Luo Binghe’s hand had been an instinctive reaction; he hadn’t been able to bear the sight of him pulling back like that, so utterly certain of rejection. But now that he had Luo Binghe’s hand in his, he didn’t know what to do with it. Placing it against his face seemed almost too intimate, considering that this was a Luo Binghe who hadn’t even kissed him yet, but simply holding it was also…
Through the fingers set against his wrist, he could feel the throb of Luo Binghe’s pulse.
Before he knew what he was doing, Shen Qingqiu entwined their fingers together. Sliding his other hand out from Luo Binghe’s hair, he cupped Binghe’s cheek, his thumb slowly brushing back and forth over Binghe’s cheekbone. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Binghe’s face.
Luo Binghe stared back at him, his breath quickening. Shen Qingqiu thrilled at the sound of it, just as he’d thrilled in the feel of his pulse.
Luo Binghe leaned into his touch, tipping forward, and before Shen Qingqiu could think about what he was doing, he closed the rest of the distance between them, pressing his mouth against Luo Binghe’s.