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Often, in his sheer hubris, Shen Qingqiu had thought that little Luo Binghe would grow up to be a beautiful man - problematic, but it had an easy solution.

“Even prettier than your Liu-shishu, really, all of you should invest in veils,” he had said absently, admiring his shidi's numerous sword forms from a distance, which at the time had made his disciple accidentally crush the fan he was holding out and as if in tandem, Liu Qingge tripped over his own boots and into the crushed bones in the training yard, even though there was no possible way he could have overheard him from several metres away. Shen Qingqiu might be a self-actualized gay man, but he had self respect! He wasn’t going to overtly thirst over his martial brothers, especially when he was fond of them otherwise!

(It was all Airplane’s fault for making his male cast so damn attractive anyway!)

He had taken the fan back and brushed away Luo Binghe’s profuse, tearful apologies. Ah… this protagonist! Exactly like the kind of man he’d believe he would have been mooning over in high school, if his high school had any attractive men in the first place. He feels for Ning Yingying, he really does. Luo Binghe, for whatever reason, had seemed to be developing… less, than the original stallion plot? At the time, he had put it down to a better upbringing, less necessity to find comfort in the bosom of women who themselves were still children. Once Luo Binghe would acquire his demon heritage, Shen Qingqiu could retire in peace and become a rogue cultivator… surely, there had to be attractive men in other cultivation clans on different continents! He’d heard good things about that new Sect Leader of Yunmeng, for instance…

Well. That all went to hell in a handbasket when the Abyss opened up, and what followed after… but! It worked out in the end! 

If searching a brothel with Gongyi Xiao, feeling vaguely like a very fancy xianxia Sherlock with Watson tailing him, and then hearing those three words counts - 

“It’s no trouble -”

Shen Qingqiu’s breath catches, when he turns.

His student is standing on top of the stairs. Shen Qingqiu has no way to prove it - not a single official design of Luo Binghe could have done justice to his beauty, even in his teenage years, but this Luo Binghe… This Binghe -

He’s wearing a veil, the man on top of the stairs. It covers him from the bridge of his noble nose, falls around his chiseled jawline and comes to a stop at the hollow of his throat. His robes are very similar to those of the other Huan Hua Palace disciples, but there is a golden sigil on his sash, that proclaims him a favored disciple of the sect. Just like the token he’d given out to his head disciple, Shen Qingqiu thinks, his heart panging.

[System update has finished installing! Rebooting…]

He doesn’t need a System to tell him this, as irritated as he is at the horrible timing of these notifications, clogging up his mind’s eye so he can barely see Luo Binghe’s outfit. There is no way to recognize him, this man, just centimetres taller than he is, when he had yet not caught up to Shen Qingqiu before the - the Abyss, except his eyes. They are not the same colour, the warm dark hazel he had known blending into something like a redwood - ancient, sturdy, had seen a hundred battles and would not fall. Haunting. Shining, in his direction, with interest, before it closes off completely.

Shen Qingqiu almost swallows his tongue. 

His sheer hubris has come back to bite him. Even veiled, half translucent black silk concealing him from the world - surely the disciples don’t think this is a good disguise! - even then, Luo Binghe is by miles and miles, the most handsome man in the world.

An intrusive thought seeps in, when this little procession starts walking towards the two of them, with Gongyi Xiao standing stiff next to him.

How would he look if I took it off?

[The protagonist has gained +150 coolness points!]

The System notification snaps him out of his ogling. Shameless, shameless, how shameless of him - Shen Qingqiu snaps his fan open, unwilling to let any stray emotions show. Focus! Luo Binghe wasn’t even supposed to be out of the Abyss for two more years! 

“Shen Qingqiu,” the Huan Hua Palace Master says, oily as soiled parchment paper at a meal. “What a surprise to see you here.”

At a brothel with nothing but skeletons everywhere? Then pray, what are you doing here, asshole?

“I came to investigate the illness,” he replies, coolly indifferent. Does not curtsey, as is expected. Does not look, deliberately, at Luo Binghe, behind his mask of black silk. 

“We were misinformed, I see,” the Palace Master continues, still trying to one-up him. Bitch. “I was under the impression that Lord Shen didn’t care much for the troubles of the mortal world, especially since there are no disciples with him - we had thought it might be… a family matter.”

The way the words are spoken enrage him. He’s not supposed to know, but really, do they think he - that he doesn’t? 

That he wouldn’t know the boy he raised and loved?

“Imagine my surprise, then,” he says, unable to keep the bitter tone out of his voice, “when I expected no familiar faces, and got, perhaps a half of one.” Gongyi Xiao stiffens, and Shen Qingqiu knows that his little deceit may have been caught at least by one person. The boy looks too similar to the white lotus he had once known to not understand. “Besides… any disciples I may have had here, they have already chosen a different master to tail.”

[The user has gained +50 coolness points!]

The Palace Master, no less. Shen Qingqiu knows how this segment of the plot played out, due to all the pestering he had done whenever Shang Qinghua was available to answer his numerous queries about plot holes, about backstory, about every possible way he could have saved the boy.

It hadn’t done much in the end. Why would Luo Binghe care for a shizun that cut into his flesh to save his own hide? Shen Qingqiu, despite all his plans and whims, was a coward to the end.

And while the Palace Master was worse, so much worse, and would only hurt Luo Binghe in the end when he found out how truly evil he was - was Shen Qingqiu, given what he had done, any different?

“Peak Lord Shen,” Gongyi Xiao says, respectful - at least one of this horrible bunch is! “Sect Leader - he was with me, was investigating a potential infestation of demons here.”

Demon infestation. Oh, Shen Qingqiu knows that well. It’s in his heart, one demon, still crawling to get out, even though he knows that boy he raised is long dead.

“Do not speak when the elders have not yet spoken, boy,” the Palace Master snaps.

“I gave him permission to speak his mind,” Shen Qingqiu says immediately, feeling vicious satisfaction at how the man looks murderous in response. Don’t mind me poaching your disciple too, old pervert!

“So does that extend to the rest of us?” The Palace Master’s daughter is here, Shen Qingqiu realizes, a tiny thing with a whip that makes her far more dangerous physically than anyone here save Luo Binghe himself. “Let me, then - Peak Lord Shen, would you enlighten us on how you escaped the infection?”

His eyes automatically go to Luo Binghe, the way he’s covered, and his stomach lurches. He blurts - “None of you are infected, right? You’ve checked?”

The man - not his Binghe, never his Binghe - looks away. Another disciple looks most displeased at the murmurs that run through the crowd.

“Did you want us to be, Peak Lord?” one of them says, belligerent. “Perhaps that would be more useful to you -”

“Perhaps we should all… calm down,” another voice says, and Shen Qingqiu turns inquisitive eyes to the girl on the other side. Qin Wanyue, wasn’t it? He would have probably felt afraid in any other scenario, knowing that she had been in the vicinity when he had pushed Luo Binghe into the Abyss, but neither of them could afford to do anything to him without evidence. 

He’d been afraid for a split second that it was Qiu Haitang, to be honest. It seems odd that she wasn’t here today, but he could get an answer later from Shang Qinghua that wasn’t just details on her hairstyle. She had the same looped braid that the original used to wear his own hair in - something he had dubbed faintly sentimental before Airplane bro had confessed that it was probably (“probably? You wrote the story!”) Shen Qingqiu’s petty way of getting back at the Qiu family, at which point he had decided it was just mental. He privately believed the style still looked good on him, but it wasn’t like Luo Binghe was there to do his hair for him in the mornings, and thus he had gone with the high jade crown and zan for all the years after.

Taking care of so much hair really was a bother. It wasn’t like anyone would notice. And it’s paying off now, because Qin Wanyue seemed very, very confused about his existence and how he’s behaving right now. She has been looking at Luo Binghe this whole time, and now she’s looking at Shen Qingqiu like he’s a particularly interesting wasp, who had been building his paper wasp nest for a year in her shed and was not going to be particularly easy to flatten with her electric swatter.

Shen Qingqiu slowly raises his fan to his face again, his eyes unreadable. He would have to send for Zhangmen-shixiong. Shang Qinghua, that idiot, was definitely going to have to be sent for and Mu Qingfang sent away, and he’d have to be interrogated for this portion of the plot. Liu Qingge would be catching up with them any minute, and the War God’s reputation preceded him so they wouldn’t raise a hand. Not now.

They’d wait until they could have him cornered, and demolish his reputation. Shen Qingqiu refuses to have that happen. His reputation is doomed the moment Luo Binghe gets his hands on him, regardless, but…

“We apologize,” Qin Wanyue addresses him directly. Thoughtfully. “We had assumed you were mourning someone you lost recently, and were visiting family.”

Shen Qingqiu jolts behind his fan, going white in the face. His hand clenches a fistful of fabric, crumpling his equally white inner robe.

The man in the veil says nothing.

“So what if I am?” he says. His eyes sting. “I do believe you’re intruding into my personal matters, and I don’t appreciate it.”

[The user has gained +100 beauty points!]

He feels so very aware of his white on white robes, fresh-pressed, like he had learned to make them over the years, using the little hand-iron still in Luo Binghe’s old quarters. The only thing he had deliberately moved in there apart from cleaning, because it never quite smelled right whenever Ning Yingying or Ming Fan offered to iron his things. 

“No offense was meant, Peak Lord Shen!” Gongyi Xiao says. Ah, this kid. So eager to please and so naïve, unaware of the plots that unfolded around him even now.

“If your personal matters involve other people’s lives, then perhaps -” the Palace Master’s daughter begins, ready to unfold the newest plot point. Shen Qingqiu tenses.

And then he hears a piercing scream, as if of the wind itself being sliced through, and Liu Qingge jumps directly from Cheng Luan onto the stairs, spider cracks spreading out from under his boots, right in front of Shen Qingqiu . His sword swings down and points directly towards the Palace Master, his stance radiating aggression.

“You.” He states, with all the complete lack of social niceties that seem to have filtered into every decent disciple unfortunate enough to train under him over the years. Well. Fortunate for Shen Qingqiu. Yay, Great Master Liu! “I don’t like your tone.”

The disciples cower. Luo Binghe stands still. Shen Qingqiu would be impressed if he wasn’t so annoyed at the timing of all of this. 

… At least his favorite character still looked cool, unapproachable, with the veil that makes no damn sense, but he’s had no time to explain himself or progress the plot, damn it!

“Shidi, stand down,” he says softly. His hand comes up to clutch his shoulder, but Liu Qingge’s sword doesn’t waver. 

Ah, but the War God of Bai Zhan Peak is as headstrong as ever. He spares a glance too long towards him, and then his gaze catches again on the golden sigil on Luo Binghe’s hand, and he looks up into eyes that somehow -

Look absolutely furious. 

“We’ll be taking our leave now,” he says, heart thudding. Hesitates, at the tail end of his sentence. “If any business is to be had with our Cang Qiong Sect, we can convene tomorrow at the temple in this city.”

“Serious business,” Liu Qingge says. Surprisingly protective of him. Huh. “If you’re here to insult a Peak Lord’s honor, you can do so at the end of my blade.”

“Shidi, don’t antagonize them…” he starts to say, but he lets himself be led around regardless, nodding silently at Gongyi Xiao. He doesn’t dare to look back into Luo Binghe’s ancient redwood eyes, haunting and accusing.

Shen Qingqiu knows better than anyone else what he has done, so he flees.

*

Liu Qingge is unamused enough to be hard to dismiss after they reach their inn. When he does leave, Shen Qingqiu requests Shang Qinghua’s company, which makes him frown even deeper. Shen Qingqiu has to resist the urge to poke between his forehead lines.

“He said he was busy…” he mutters, looking into the distance, where some commotion seems to be going on. Ah. The sower must be at work again. “I’ll send a missive. Parlour?”

“No need, no need,” he says hastily, because Liu Qingge looks very, very interested in joining a fight again, and he doesn’t need him finding out about the demon who had brushed against him earlier. Or any of the other details concerning the plot. He’d already had to pull the man out of a qi deviation, he wasn’t sure what he’d do if he had another one if he wasn’t allowed to fight things. Which was apparently a core tenet of his cultivation and seriously, Airplane bro, did you have to give the bloodthirsty man an excuse?! “You should take Mu-shidi with you too, so any work the demons do can be slowly solved.”

He’s also probably not going to like the news of his disciple’s return, and it’s not like he can tell him what was going on in the first place. He shoos him out with success, and then contacts Yang Yixuan, who had sworn up and down that there were only room for you fancy cultivator folk in the basement, and pleads with him gently to put them up in another, even more tiny parlour. This weapons shop seems more versatile at first glance than he’d thought.

It is here that Shang Qinghua walks in, and almost walks back out when he sees Shen Qingqiu reclining next to a hookah, brooding over a set of scrolls.

“Fuckin’ thought I’d walked into a succubus den, bro,” his transmigrator brother offers, and Shen Qingqiu rolls his eyes. “What? You never take off the layers!”

“I get hypothermia easily,” he says with a straight face. He’s not entirely lying, given how he used to get sick at the drop of a hat with his previous body’s constitution. “Sit down, we have chrysanthemum tea.”

Mercifully, Shang Qinghua does not make an ass juice joke, which is great because Shen Qingqiu wants him alive for questioning. He lets him take a sip of the drink before he drops the bomb.

“Luo Binghe is back,” he states. “Has Mobei-jun warned you about anything?” 

Shang Qinghua spurts tea from his nose, inhaling some of the petals. “Oh. I had no idea.”

Shen Qingqiu’s eyebrows shoot towards the ceiling. “Tell me more of your non-ideas, shidi.”

Resident rat man, the Anding Peak Lord, logistics expert, seems to believe groveling is the better option. “I really didn’t know!” His eyes are huge, and his voice is trembling. “My king, er, Mobei-jun doesn’t tell me more than I need to know, and he reassured me that Jinlan City was nothing I needed to be worried about because there were definitely no demons here at work -”

“There are demons,” Shen Qingqiu pauses, to check the perimeter, send his qi out. No one is around. “A sower has infiltrated the city. I saw it slink away today, but I couldn’t catch it.”

“... That’s odd,” Shang Qinghua replies. “There’s… no, it couldn’t be… the Palace Master wouldn’t go to this extent this fast?”

He pulls back his sleeve, and Shang Qinghua goes paler, nearly spilling the tea he’s just picked up. “Be more careful!”

“That’s my line! How did you manage to get infected! That didn’t happen in the original either -”

“Your timeline’s already changed,” he reminds Shang Qinghua, fan tapping impatiently against the table. Shang Qinghua eyes the garish embroidered yellow silk and reddish wood of the object, and wordlessly stares up. “I know the plant body’s prepared, but I’d like at least a single plan B in case we don’t manage to escape from the city, and for that you need to be straight with me.”

Silence.

“I’m g-”

“You’ve been talking about clinging to all of Mobei-jun’s legs for ages, I know. ” 

“Wow, that’s observant of you -”

“Shang Qinghua. I will run you through with Xiu Ya, unironically and in the least sexy way possible.”

That seems to work. “He could be trying to ruin your reputation,” Shang Qinghua admits, finally serious. “But bro, I think it would have been far easier to expose you right there on the road. This part of the plot was just a lot of fucking because Qiu Haitang needed all the comfort she’d get -”

Shen Qingqiu’s heart lurches again, in that odd, horribly jealous way that it had earlier, and he wants to bang his head against the bamboo sliding doors until he stops thinking about it. “Plot. Not the fucking. Focus on the plot.”

“Right, right, gay, but what I’m saying is that Luo Binghe doesn’t really care about the fucking right now, he just wants answers, especially since someone wasn’t as cruel to him as the original novel.” Is he supposed to feel bad about that? Because he doesn’t!

Shang Qinghua reads his face, and shakes his head. “I know what you’re thinking - that’s not it. Bro, you always deflect when we bring it up, but even though you sent him down with every supply you could find, even though it was necessary, did you ever think how that would affect a seventeen year old?”

“Isn’t that my line! You wrote this shitty book!” he hisses at him. As if he could ever forget the kind of abuse the original had put Luo Binghe through, all because of his backstory bullshit!

“Yes, but in the original, the Abyss was what unlocked Luo Binghe’s powers,” Shang Qinghua begins to explain, like he asked for character meta and not an actual solution. “It was the first long span of time he’d been away from his abuser, and now he could study demonic cultivation freely without the interference of a righteous sect that thought he was dead, and he could also fuck his way through -”

“The. Point.”

“... In the original, he wanted power. One of the reasons was… he thought being kind made him weak, that being naive made him vulnerable to what he perceived as Shen Jiu’s machinations.” The Anding Peak Lord actually looks thoughtful, this time, and Shen Qingqiu can’t help but be drawn in, like he was at first to the story, to the rise and the fall - and the rebirth of a protagonist so vicious that he showed no mercy, as he had never been shown any.

“This one… he wasn’t as ambitious.” Shang Qinghua elaborates, taking a slow sip of his tea. “He could have lived in your little bamboo house and happily served you for the rest of your days until he took over the Peak Lord position.”

“He was meant for better things,” Shen Qingqiu mutters, and it’s true - despite how dearly he had adored that version of Luo Binghe, how he would have loved - nothing better -

Pipe dreams. 

“I know, bro. And I’m not blaming you - you did what you could, but,” Shang Qinghua leans forward, setting his cup down, both his hands on the table. “But... being pushed down by someone he trusted, instead of someone who had betrayed him at every turn? It’s not that simple anymore. It never was.”

Ah. Airplane’s good at that, the writing thing. Shen Qingqiu turns to his tea, and doesn’t respond. Perhaps the character meta had something to it.

His hands were shaking a little. He really had gone a long time without lunch, despite having cultivated to inedia. Perhaps he should start eating again, instead of sticking to beverages. Could cultivators develop hypoglycemia?

“He wants the truth, all right? That’s what Luo Binghe is like. He doesn’t understand if you don’t tell him things to his face.” Shang Qinghua’s voice is soft, a little too knowing for Shen Qingqiu’s liking.

“He’s the stallion protagonist who took over several continents,” Shen Qingqiu says flatly. “He can use his brain sometimes, I’m pretty positive.”

There’s a long pause, for the duration of which Shen Qingqiu feels some incredible judgment radiate off Shang Qinghua, which is bold for someone who used a dick joke as his official Zhongdian literature writer ID.

“Bro,” he begins, “remember chapter 788 -”

“We are not having a succubus seduce him to distract him from killing me -”

“He likes it when his wives are straightforward,” is the pointed response, like it means anything at all. What does Shen Qingqiu look like, Madame Meiyin? He’s a gay man, damn it!

“Also, he definitely doesn’t want to kill you. He’s mad, but I’d know? I mean, I think Mobei-jun would tell me.” How comforting, there’s only a sixty percent chance he’s going to end up a human stick. “You can’t tell?”

“He was wearing a black veil today, so no, I can’t really tell,” he says absently. “Is there a scar on his face or something?”

“Uh.” Shang Qinghua eyes him nervously. “I don’t know how to tell you this, but he’s kind of a hot commodity? Even in the demon world.”

“Don’t objectify people!” Shen Qingqiu thinks about it, and then accepts the compliment for what it is. Airplane is an idiot, regardless. “You made all the Peak Lords hot, though, so I don’t see what that has to do with it. I feel like I’m in Dream Daddy sometimes.”

“That makes Yue Qingyuan daddy.”

“That makes Yue Qingyuan daddy,” Shen Qingqiu confirms, and they go on thinking in a resigned sort of silence, interrupted by sips of tea.

“Wait,” Shang Qinghua says, a full ten minutes later, eyes bugging out. “That was kinda gay. You’re gay?”

He sighs fondly. Fucking moron. “Finish your tea, Airplane bro.”

*

His inner robes are too thin for the climate in Jinlan City, so he puts on another set. Everything in his wardrobe is different shades of white, these days. He shivers as he trims the candles, the light flickering in the darkness. His pleading (and probably Liu Qingge’s intimidating behavior from earlier) had paid off, and he was now in the high loft, which was slightly less damp than the horribly sketchy parlour, but also fairly colder. The window is bringing in a draft, but there’s no way to shut it without shutting off his only air supply, so it stays open. 

He cannot sleep. He had sent another pigeon to Liu Qingge earlier, intending to stick to plan A and escape from the city before his disciples’ and sect’s reputation were both at stake, but two hours - an entire incense stick of time passes, and nothing happens.

He’s antsy, he realizes. Ever since he had seen Luo Binghe in the morning, his body had stirred. Reacted. He had tried to hide how seeing the man had affected him, like every single nerve hadn’t been lit on fire just knowing he was alive, knowing he existed.

This was the same man who had been Shen Qingqiu’s sexual awakening in his first life, okay! He had to have some kind of reaction! 

It had been easy enough to dismiss that when Luo Binghe was a teen not too much younger than Shen Yuan himself, cheeks as round as baozi as the wild-hungry look slowly went out of them over years of careful nurture, eyes like stars every time he stared at his shizun. His borderline worshipful admiration was undeserved, but it had been everything Shen Qingqiu had needed at the time - a motivation to live well, to treat his disciples better, to treat his fellow Peak Lords and their disciples and staff better.

Now, with his shoulders filled out, the eyes that he didn’t stop thinking about every time he closed his own, the tiny bit of height he’d gained on him, Shen Qingqiu was afraid of sleep itself. Afraid of how his own brain would betray him, of what he’d find if he examined too close.

No, it was better to leave. Leave, before Luo Binghe decided that he could decapitate him a few years in advance, if not for pushing him in, then for -

Shen Qingqiu shakes his head, and pulls his hand away from the lamp. There’s a gentle knock at the door, and he exhales slowly. Time to face the music, then. He didn’t bother with his outer robe, having already put on a second one - he would have to discard it regardless, when he reached the destination he and Airplane had planned out and the ritual to transfer his soul into the plant body started. He’d need to knock out Liu Qingge for that bit, but he was going to deal with it as it happened.

Sorry, Great Master Liu! This one will be extra nice to you tonight to make up for it!

“Liu-shidi, I’ve been expecting you!” He says, extra cheerful, opening the door, and goes completely still. Somewhere in the distance, a crow caws.

Luo Binghe stares down at him, eyes gleaming, and Shen Qingqiu thinks - oh, you’re in for it now, fucking idiot.

“Luo Binghe,” he says.

“Shizun,” is the reply, and the name rolls across his tongue in the honeyed way that Shen Qingqiu thinks insects must feel before the flytrap plant snaps shut on them. “You recognized me. Were you, ah, expecting someone else?”

He looks like he’s going to eat him alive.

So Shen Qingqiu does the only sane thing possible, which is to turn and yeet himself out of the open window in a sheer display of bravado, much like the Crown Prince of Xian Le, except with a fan in one hand and a sword in the other.

He regrets it almost immediately, because fleeing only works when you’re 1. Attempting to be cool in the process, and 2. When your opponent is not Luo Binghe, to whom tailing his enemy of choice comes as easy as megafauna stalking a deer cub.

His ex-disciple follows swift on his heels, Xin Mo - it has to be Xin Mo, keeping up with Xiu Ya’s speed, and he dodges past several spiraling pagodas as they lead out of the city, each one narrower than the last. He lowers elevation to throw him off and finds Luo Binghe even closer, his words next to his ear. Shen Qingqiu shudders, goosebumps trailing down his neck, and urges himself on faster, the words echoing in his head. A reminder of guilt.

“During the day Shizun converses with Gongyi Xiao tenderly and intimately. Then in the evening lamps are lit and candles are trimmed as he waits for Liu-shishu with sincere affection until very late into the night. But when this disciple appears, two people are so estranged?”

He… all right, that had to be mocking. It makes him smile bitterly, thinking of how Yue Qingyuan had approached him, weeks after he had reforged and set up the remains of the boy he adored behind the bamboo house. Zheng Yang shone in the light through the bamboo leaves, and he had not noticed anything amiss before he had heard the soft steps characteristic to the Sect Leader.

They had sat down in silence awhile, hearing nothing but crickets and birdsong.

“Xiao Jiu,” Zhangmen-shixiong had said. “Do you truly miss him so much?” His eyes were on the sword, but he could tell Yue Qingyuan was still looking at his clothes.

The Peak Lords had all looked upon him strangely when he had first shown up in this outfit, the last one Luo Binghe had laid out for him, the only kind of white appropriate enough for his closet.

His head disciple was gone. Surely, they didn’t expect otherwise?

Apparently they did, because they had all started treating him like he was liable to shatter like Zheng Yang any second now. He couldn’t exactly tell them that his hands had pushed him in himself. Even as the years passed, he had only made himself more sets of clothes, and his martial siblings seemed to all form a wide protective circle around him.

He didn’t have the heart to tell them that in the end, the only one really harming his heart was himself.

And of course… this is the point when he slowly tips off Xiu Ya, the poison in his veins flaring, and Luo Binghe corners him completely. They crash into the side of what Shen Qingqiu swears is a chapel but is probably an old, old tower, and part of the wall caves in with them, the window wide open, a flatscreen television as Shen Qingqiu ends up pinned to the wall, Luo Binghe against him.

*

So it ends like this.

“Separated for many years, yet upon meeting each other under the golden evening wind and amongst the pure white early morning dew… Shizun only calls other people’s names. This disciple is a little sad.”

They are face to face, inches apart. The moon is full, and he still only sees darkness in his disciple’s face.

Shen Qingqiu has nothing to say to him. His throat hurts. It hurts to speak, to acknowledge someone in this situation. He wonders what they look like, under this full moon.

He wonders how Luo Binghe has been doing. It would be unseemly for his old master to ask. 

It would be unseemly, for him to pull out the sword he feels left imprints on his heart instead.

“The mourning period,” Luo Binghe says slowly, looking at his robes, “for an intended, is three years.”

Shen Qingqiu knows. He had taught them this himself. He scowls deeply. For a lover, one. For an intended three. For a husband, until you find another. That was how it worked.

There’s a quirk to Luo Binghe’s tone, one that he doesn’t like. He cannot see his face, so he snaps out his fan as well. Now they are both at a disadvantage.

Or so he would like to think. Luo Binghe’s gaze alone feels like it penetrates every barrier he has ever erected. A simple hand fan is nothing to the peerless protagonist, the star of everyone’s dreams.

Those fiery, thoughtful eyes had been so kind once. His heart aches.

“Shizun,” his ex-disciple says, voice dangerously soft, “hasn’t it been nearly four?”

What are you thinking!

Shen Qingqiu doesn’t hesitate to smack him softly with his fan on the cheek. He probably hits a little harder than intended, because Luo Binghe’s eyes widen with surprise, his head tilting a little at the motion.

“I’m aware that you think I’m not to be trusted,” not think, not think. He is. He winces. “But I would plead that you not - ”

“Then plead,” he says. “Plead your case, shizun.”

The rooftops go silent. The blast of demonic qi is concentrated, expert. Shen Qingqiu purses his lips, falls silent as it backs him up against the wall, as it spreads through his lungs and slowly starts to close his airways.

[The protagonist has gained 200 coolness points!]

He bites back a curse. [“Can’t you give me something useful? Not the goddamn jade Guanyin -”]

[Does the user want to activate the Small Scenario Pusher? It costs 200 points.]

Luo Binghe’s hand is on him, he realizes, and it really is difficult to breathe now. He lets go after a second, after he’s sure that he won’t move, his hand slipping to the side of his neck, warm against cool skin, against the bare neck he has never shown people for such a long time that he’d forgotten what it’s like to be face to face with an apex predator.

“Shizun,” Luo Binghe breathes into his ear, punching all the air out of his lungs in one go, “Who do you mourn?”

[Does the user want to -]

He shakes his head, eyes watering, brushing aside the notification. Shen Qingqiu is pinned by the force of his aura, a taxidermy exhibit for Luo Binghe’s pleasure. In this world, everything is the whim of the protagonist. Why would he be any different?

“Whom do you mourn, my dear shizun?” His voice is a croon, and Shen Qingqiu shuts his eyes, refusing to let the tears fall. “Whom do you mourn - when I -”

He is so close - right next to him - his hand - cups his face, tilts it up, one finger under his chin, breath on his lips. “When I am… right…”

Here. In front of him. Alive.

His little white lotus no more, and yet.

[Does the user - ]

Shen Qingqiu kisses him first.

Through the veil, his lips are soft, yielding. His - disciple’s - lips. Shen Qingqiu feels several warning bells go off in his head before he realizes they’re System push notifications, clogging up in his brain before he presses closer unconsciously, irritable at the spam. Luo Binghe makes a sort of choked up noise in his throat, like he’s the one who was being accidentally-on-purpose strangled earlier, and then his warm, large hands take hold of Shen Qingqiu’s waist, scalding him through his inner robes - he really should have grabbed something else to wear earlier - and slams him against the wall. Part of it crumbles, along with Shen Qingqiu’s rapidly degenerating sanity.

Oh fuck.

“I thought you wanted me to wear the veil, shizun,” Luo Binghe says, when Shen Qingqiu reaches up to pull it off. He swats the hand away, and slowly, slowly pulls it back, a bare sliver of lip showing in the glowing moonlight, before Shen Qingqiu’s mouth meets sharp, not quite human teeth. His fang - so cute, earlier, he mourns, the crooked teeth he’d had as a teen - catches on Shen Qingqiu’s lip, and he shivers in Luo Binghe’s grasp. The night is cold, and they’re in some kind of shitty ancient xianxia church tower with shit ventilation, and Luo Binghe’s collar is low, lower than he’s ever seen him wear and this is really, really inappropriate -

“You’ll catch a cold,” he says, stupidly, eyes stuck to the sliver of chest he can see. “The night air -”

“I’m a Heavenly Demon,” Luo Binghe replies. “Surely this shizun… has not forgotten so quickly?”

Shen Qingqiu couldn’t forget it if he tried. There’s no mistaking the aura that presses down on him, paralyzes him slowly, or his eyes, fiery and ice-cold all at once. 

This is a pretty bad time for the poison to be acting up, he thinks hysterically. The ice in his veins feels almost trivial compared to the shards in his heart. Shen Qingqiu, Grass type Pokémon, his brain rattles off. Weak to Fire, Ice, Poison -

The air bats at his inner robes, and he weakly swats away a mosquito. Flying. Bug. Apparently animals without qi could still infiltrate past the shield of a Heavenly Demon’s aura. Luo Binghe’s eyes are penetrating still, but it is as if he doesn’t see him at all.

Indifference. That hurts the most. He inhales sharply.

“And I’m a human,” he says simply. “Will my lord kill me for it?”

Binghe would be within his right, he does not say. He dares not address him familiarly, not when the indifference from this morning still scalds him so.

Wait. Backtrack.

My lo - no, back. Further back. His brain replays the last one minute.

#($*&TWUEIHSUHSIE*#&%Q($Q#HOLY FUCK

“And.” He adds, face on fire. “Whatever… whatever punishment he deems fit for -”

Say it, coward. How are you any better than the Palace Master?!

“For?” Too close. His face is too close, still, his hands sticky and warm now, indifference wiped clean. What does this mean, Shen Qingqiu screams internally. What does this mean. “What crime has shizun committed, pray tell, that deserves… punishment?”

You know.  

Shen Qingqiu could count them all. He tries to extricate himself from those hands, those warm hands, and then freezes as the pads of his fingers rub across a scar.

A raised, deep scar, across the palm of Luo Binghe’s hand.

“Shizun?” His voice is too close. Far too surprised, far too… too much. “Are you… crying?”

“Who’s crying?” he snaps, voice cracking. “This shizun is -”

He is sorry.

He hurt you.

I missed you, so, so much.

The palm from before is on his cheek now, and he leans into it subconsciously. Ashamed of the touch, delighting in every second. He looks up into a face still shadowed, still familiar - still so very beautiful.

There is too much turbulence in his heart for him to handle, with meridians weakened by the poison.

[The protagonist gained -]

“Lord Luo Binghe,” he says, voice as steady as he can make it. “Here, we can settle the debts between us. My only request is - that you not bring Cang Qiong sect or your disciple siblings into this.”

“Are they still my disciple siblings?” is the reply. Luo Binghe’s tone is contemplative. “Is shizun still my shizun? So many contradictions in a day.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I do not, either,” Luo Binghe confesses. His breath fans across Shen Qingqiu’s cheeks, blows past his veil. “Shizun tells me my destiny lies with the demons, and then believes I will kill him for being human.”

“It is deserved.” He says.

“Is it?” Contemplative still. “Shizun talks to everyone but this disciple with smiles behind painted fans, but when he sees me he hides blushes behind furious words.”

Shen Qingqiu closes his eyes. He is so, so fucked.

The moon hides in the clouds and smiles, and so does Luo Binghe behind the cover of his veil. Shen Qingqiu’s heart stutters.

“Shizun waits for others, very late into the night, expects visits, and yet here he is, trapped within my arms, still unmoving, as if he expects me to kill him.” His head tilts. 

“Stop,” he says weakly. “Stop -” He’s heard enough. 

“And shizun mourns someone, someone he will not name -” Luo Binghe whispers, and pulls him close, close - their lips touch - “but kisses me first.”

Spoiled child. Spoiled, spoiled, so terribly spoiled. He is so terribly fond.

He could almost forget why they’re here, the ice in his veins.

The ice that seems to be melting, slow and languid.

“My meridians,” he says, against a mouth nipping at him. “My - Lord Luo -”

“No, call me that again, shizun,” he says, and this tease. This horrible tease. His eyes are alight. They’re stars. Shen Qingqiu watches him, dazed, as his mouth is nibbled on, as his meridians start to function again. He nips back in retaliation, and his ears glow red when his hands slip below his waist.

“It’s cold, ” he snaps. “Not - not.” He stops.

Not here? What’s not here?

*

Shen Qingqiu wakes up. There’s a buzzing sound in his ear, and he swats it away. There’s cold dread coiling in his stomach, and the window blows in a gust of air that makes the hair on the back of his neck stand up. Cold.

The candles are out. He gets up, feet unsteady, to light them again. He could have sworn he wasn’t sleeping, that he was -

There’s a knock at the door. So he hasn’t missed Liu-shidi coming in yet. He wrenches the door open.

Luo Binghe leans against it, veil plastered across his damnably handsome face. The face he had - k-

Shen Qingqiu, in real time, experiences a violent flashback and a metaphorical punch to the gut.

He had k-k- kisse-

“Why are you here,” he says. Reaches for a fan, and doesn’t find it, because he forgot to take it with him like the fool he is when he got up from bed. 

“Shizun has some mosquitoes that’s been disturbing his sleep,” Luo Binghe replies easily, and then snaps his fingers, doing something that sends a gust of qi through the room. “Unfortunately, exterminating shizun’s troubles in the dreamscape is beyond this disciple’s abilities.”

They stare at each other, and Shen Qingqiu has the wild thought that if demons were like vampires, and needed permission to cross thresholds, then half his problems would be solved, just like that.

“…  Why do you think I’m here, shizun?”

“The dreamscape.” The answer comes to him, easy as breathing. “You invaded my dreamscape.”

“It would be more accurate to say that you invited me in,” Binghe replies blandly. Shen Qingqiu knows him - knows that in another life there would be a tiny, smug smile playing across his face he’d get smacked for. “I cannot enter your… dreams unless shizun wants me to, of course.”

He doesn’t say anything. Here, in the safety of his high loft, his disciple siblings sleeping downstairs, he feels more cornered than he ever has.

“But shizun won’t deny me, will he?” Luo Binghe takes a step forward, and he leans away before a single hand pulls his face towards his again, the other resting inappropriately low, far too close to the small of his back. “Shizun waits for others, but his heart leaps when he sees me. Is it fear?”

(He reaches into himself, and realizes that he does not feel fear. That even if this was as absurd, and easy, as keeping vampires out -)

“The sower - my lord Luo, you should not be here -”

“Did you think I didn’t notice?” His hand grips Shen Qingqiu’s, to raise his sleeve, wipe a finger across the marks. “There. Now tell me truthfully, shizun - do you fear me?”

(- Luo Binghe has always been able to get under his skin, easier than breathing, because he would let him.)

“I do not fear you,” he says, honestly. “But you should leave, lest they believe you, too, are involved in this infection in Jinlan City, and being seen with the old master they seem to despise -”

Luo Binghe laughs. “I don’t fear them . They beg for my help, but they know I have only one agenda. If they are mistaken about it, it’s not my business.” Oh. There’s the protagonist he’d read about, the one who cared very little about obstacles in his way when he had his mind set on a goal.

[The protagonist has gained +200 coolness points!]

“But tell me, shizun…” contemplative, “could it be, that I am not the only one who feels desire, anymore?”

Any more your father! Who do you think paid for three thousand one hundred and forty one chapters to read about you dicking girls down!

Shen Qingqiu doesn’t say that, unwilling to break the spell of the moment. He closes his eyes instead, sends up a prayer that no one comes into the room, and reaches out behind Luo Binghe, whose eyes widen -

- to shut the door behind them.

“Not on the threshold,” he says simply, and then lets himself be devoured.

His clothes really are too thin, he realizes, when large, unsure hands nearly rip through them in their hurry to disrobe him. Luo Binghe seems like a man possessed, unable to process anything beyond the skin revealed to him, the furrow between his eyebrows speaking of distress he cannot name. He bites back a gasp when fingers come up to pinch the red fruits on his chest, and he feels very glad that his own fingernails are trimmed when he brushes across the scar on Luo Binghe’s own. He’s the only one naked here, lying back down on the creaking bed - he’s really afraid it’s going to break under their combined weight - but he slowly slides the collar shut again.

There will be time to process how far he has hurt Luo Binghe, after he has collected on this debt. For now, he lies back, and pulls Luo Binghe over him. “We’re in someone else’s territory. Binghe will have to be...quiet.”

“What, no my lord , shizun?” His tone is teasing still, but there’s an undercurrent of danger to it. “This one wonders why Shizun waited up so late for someone else, and why he opens himself so freely to me instead when I show up.”

This one is definitely not telling you that he was considering self destructing in private!

“I had asked him to come to my room.” Wrong answer. Luo Binghe’s eyes darken, and Shen Qingqiu can’t even see behind his veil but he can tell that the expression he’s making isn’t any better. “It’s not a - stop being stupid, have you ever seen me give any sort of indication I like your Liu-shishu like that?”

“Mm, not him in particular.” He sounds aggravated about that, which makes no sense. “Shizun used to admire Yue Qingyuan’s shoulders greatly, and Mu Qingfang’s hands. I often heard praise of Shang-shishu’s writing, and Liu Qingge’s face . I suppose he still hasn’t invested in a veil.”

“You -” Shen Qingqiu is at a loss for words, even with Luo Binghe’s hands making quick work of his hair, letting it fall loose around his shoulders. “Why is Shang Qinghua shishu , and you call Zhangmen-shixiong by his name?”

“This lord outclasses most of them, but Shang-shishu is still useful. And shizun is lovelier than ever, even in his mourning clothes.” His voice drops the human cadence, moving into something Shen Qingqiu has only associated with monster porn, the reverb settling into his bones. “This one would like to see shizun in red, instead.”

Bloodplay? No thank you! I’m extremely gay, but not that kinky! “Not fond of that notion.”

“This lord will have to be convincing, then,” Luo Binghe says confidently, and lowers his mouth to take Shen Qingqiu’s cock, bobbing against his stomach, into his mouth.

Shen Qingqiu’s head hits the wooden pillow, and he slaps a hand over his mouth. For a punishment, this is far too much pleasure. Dimly, he thinks that this is probably the last way he’d expected to ever lose his virginity, which is a stupid concept anyway, but it’s… it’s important that Luo Binghe knows. “Gentle,” he manages. “It’s been -” never. First time. “A long time, since I’ve -”

“Shizun need not worry.” He pulls off, licking his lips, the veil stained. The next words are a promise. “I would never cause him discomfort on purpose - he must tell me if I do, however.”

That is precisely the problem. Every touch seems to spark a new sensation across the breadth of Shen Qingqiu’s skin. Every whisper across his face feels like an undeserved gift.

“Does shizun know?” His tone indicates the question is rhetorical. “There is a cure for the poison that ails him. When this one found out, he… he wanted to reach out, but my blood -”

His blood would fail him once, in the first year of the abyss. There were no details, only that it happened. That it was never a guarantee. Shen Qingqiu’s heart goes cold at the thought, at how close he must have been to death.

How lonely it must have been, while Shen Qingqiu looked at others no longer, and quietly lived his days in his backyard, longing for the presence of someone who would never come back, whom he had the capacity to save if he were not such a coward. 

“You’ve worked hard,” he says. I am so proud of you, goes unsaid. He breathes it instead, against the line of a mouth willingly yielding, so sweet. This is what Psyche must have felt when Cupid bedded her, this magical, knowing silhouette whom she could not ever see, a lover whose evening existence was enough to satisfy her every desire. How sweet the veil of night over them, how sweet the kisses he steals!

Shizun , he pleads again, and Shen Qingqiu crumbles like plaster on a government building, giving himself over before Luo Binghe even asks.

“Is shizun - does shizun want -” 

Shizun has wanted you before you were ever real.

Shen Qingqiu thinks he might die if he goes without getting Luo Binghe’s fingers in him for a single second longer. 

“Yes,” he breathes, wild and hungry like he hasn't been in years. Yes.

This, he thinks, this is his punishment. This is what he deserves, this cold floor, his robes rucked up to his hips, the mass of his disciple towering over him, stunningly beautiful, even while covered head to toe. 

“Didn’t take off my veil for years, shizun,” he says, and his palm grinds down, gentle and then firmer, harder. “Saved… saved all of me, every single bit of me, for -”

Shen Qingqiu kisses him again to shut him up. His head spins, heart thrills, restarts in double time. For him. Sweet, foolish boy, as if he needed to, for this old man -

“Does shizun want all of me?”

Yes, yes. Always yes. 

“When have I ever not?” he says, helpless, and Luo Binghe's answering kiss, the slow, deliberate line he maps across his body, the kiss to his navel and then the fingers he feeds into him, one by one, excruciatingly slow, says it all. He bites into his hand, and his other is tender, caught in Luo Binghe's locks, tugging gently so he stares.

“Begging shizun’s pardon, I don’t think we should -”

“I’ll be fine.” Coaxing Luo Binghe, like a spooked animal, Shen Qingqiu stops. His eyes fill with tears. It hurts. He can take more, just slower, slower - four fingers is enough for now, it’ll prepare him for what comes next.

“Shizun - I don’t… I don’t want to hurt you.” So sensitive, so good for him - how could he have ever thought this child would harm him? 

“Then…” A slow moment, like treacle melting, and he grasps Luo Binghe’s cocks together -

Wait. There’s two of them.

“This isn’t the dreamscape, right?” he confirms, and Luo Binghe’s cheeks go warm where he’s burrowed into the side of his neck. He feels rather than sees him shake his head. Well. That sure is the partial draconic transformation Luo Binghe was only supposed to unlock after chapter 1865.

That’s very hot, actually. Shen Yuan, in another lifetime, would have lost his shit. Shen Qingqiu, being considerably more capable of dignity in this body, suppresses a squeal, and goes back to using his hand for the good of all humanity, and also mostly himself. It’s hard to figure out exactly how to grasp them both at a time without having them slip, especially with one being scalier, rougher to the touch - Shen Qingqiu knows he’ll have actual calluses in the morning that have nothing to do with rough handling of his erhu - and the other nudging itself into his hand, seeking out pleasure like it has a mind of its own. It probably doesn’t, but he’s not discounting the other weird stuff Shang Qinghua might have written into his porn.

His other hand goes around Luo Binghe’s back, and scratches down the divot where he knows his fledgling wings are supposed to start budding. His disciple - lover, he corrects, lover - groans low, deep in his throat, and thrusts up against him. The smaller cock breaches his entrance, and Shen Qingqiu sees stars this time, crashing around him as it slicks and slips in, in - in -

“More,” he speaks, voice cracking. “Just - a little - more -”

“Shizun is so greedy,” Luo Binghe says through his transparent veil, like he isn’t straining to get his words out too, pushing further in, holding Shen Qingqiu’s legs up with hands around his ankles, nails digging in past the fabric of his cotton socks. “He always was… so content to sunbathe, to lie in late, to pass his days peacefully instead of at the edge of a sword. Content to take -” a thrust, one that has Shen Qingqiu riding up the bed, almost hitting the wall, “whatever I was possible of giving.”

Even though stamina fails him, his lungs collapsing - his teeth breaks skin on Luo Binghe’s shoulder when he goes deeper, blood slowly flooding his mouth - he has enough strength to push himself away, to pull Luo Binghe into another kiss. He feels flayed open, the cock reaching so deep he doesn’t know how he’ll ever get it out, the other one bumping into his when Luo Binghe presses up against him, nipping every bit of skin revealed to him, sucking at his chest until Shen Qingqiu has to pull his head away. A wild animal, all bites instead of barks, unable to keep his hands off him - domesticated at his touch, with his soothing words.

“Whatever Binghe gives, this teacher will accept.”

Shen Qingqiu will never refuse him, not for this. Not for love. And so he takes - and takes - takes. He folds himself in half, and lets Luo Binghe flood him, qi pulsating and stabilizing, poison fading in his veins. Ah, so it’s gone. There’s a stream of unread notifications in his head, and he wipes it away. 

He only whines when Luo Binghe pulls him up to set him on his lap, heart in his throat when he leans in for more, insistently soft kisses. Too soft, too much, and yet not enough. It’ll never be enough, but this is what he wants, if this is as much as he can give.

Whatever you need, I’ll give it to you.

*

Hours later, with Shen Qingqiu still mildly shell-shocked about accidentally becoming one of Luo Binghe’s harem acquisitions (he was supposed to be straight! What the fuck, Airplane, why didn’t you tell me this when we were brainstorming?), Luo Binghe finally decides its time to talk about something other than the fact that he doesn’t particularly want to pull out of Shen Qingqiu’s ass quite yet.

“You know, shizun,” Luo Binghe says, in the tone of someone talking about the weather, “I really thought you’d married someone in my absence.”

Shen Qingqiu’s brain screeches to a halt. “What. No.” Who would he even marry? Zhangmen-shixiong was very obviously still pining for someone who didn’t even exist in this timeline anymore, Liu Qingge was straight as Cheng Luan itself, Mu Qingfang was a fucking stoner - he didn’t want to kiss someone who was always surrounded by the xianxia version of weed smoke in his office!!!

And well, he didn’t say it, but sure, there were attractive men all around him, but… Shen Qingqiu kind of had high standards, so checking out men was one thing and actually pursuing a relationship was another, especially when none of them really… knew him, from the start. It would’ve never felt genuine within the Sect, and he could trust people outside of it even less.

Essentially, his options - mostly because he was picky! - amounted to zero, except for the one - the only person he’d transmigrated into this verse for. Who was perfect, really, but given the nature of this world -

Yeah, better not think about that when Luo Binghe’s about to embark on his harem starting process soon.

“Yes, I know that now, of course.” He kisses a strand of hair through his veil, holding it up against his lips, and it slams the brakes on Shen Qingqiu’s thought processes again. Luo Binghe! Please, have mercy on this undeserving one, I know you try to be romantic with your sexual partners! “It’s just that shizun had a lot of options, so I would have understood. I never…”

Shen Qingqiu doesn’t know what kind of self deprecation is going to follow that sentence. He’d rather not find out. His ass hurts in the delicious way, and Luo Binghe’s about to slip out. He grinds back down, clenching a little, and it distracts his disciple thoroughly.

At least they manage to not break the bed, which is a mercy. He’s not sure the same can be said about his pelvic bones.

*

When Shen Qingqiu wakes up in the morning, the bed is freshly made, he is scrubbed clean, and there’s a breakfast tray next to the bedside table. Nothing, save for about fifty mosquitoes lying dead on the floor, and the lingering smell of congee is indicative of any kind of midnight tryst having taken place.

Shen Qingqiu eats the congee he hasn’t tasted in several years like a starved man, and then promptly stuffs the bowl into a qiankun pouch before anyone can come up the stairs and question him about it. He can deal with the fact that he’s the first of Luo Binghe’s wives to eat food made by him later, when he can inappropriately scream into a pillow without his fellow Peak Lords reaching for their swords in his defense.

He can also deal with the, uh, inevitable harem thing later. Qiu Haitang is totally going to have his head now. Oh god. Oh fuck. Shang Qinghua is going to be so smug. That bitch totally told Luo Binghe where to find him. He reaches for Xiu Ya, absently checking if the edges are still sharp. Works for him.

Come to think of it… they made a lot of noise last night. Luo Binghe had put up a silencing aura, right? He certainly didn’t remember doing any such thing.

“There was a demon in the loft last night,” Yang Yixuan tells him when he descends the stairs and asks around (discreetly). “But he told me to not interfere, because you would apparently take him any day.”

Shen Qingqiu follows Yang Yixuan’s pointing finger to Shang Qinghua, who just sticks up his thumb. Shen Qingqiu sticks up his middle finger in response.

Shang Qinghua, without breaking eye contact, puts his thumb between two looped fingers.

“I’ll kill you.”

“You adore me.”

Zhangmen-shixiong is in the parlour, which makes everything even more awkward when he’s fussing over his health and his walking and “ your gait and how is shidi feeling and should I get you a new hairpin,” like good fucking hell Sect Leader you couldn’t do this shit while your Xiao Jiu was still actually around to hear that you cared -

Shang Qinghua makes eye contact with him again while the inquisition is midway, and then starts coughing into his tea. Good. Suffer. It has the effect of breaking the Sect Leader’s flow, and he can actually plead his case this time.

“I think they might be attempting to blame me for something,” he confesses. “I will be relying on Zhangmen-shixiong, but if something untoward happens…”

Well, there’s always a chance that Luo Binghe would feel pity for fucking him flat into the mattress last night, and he’s willing to take it. Qiu Haitang would be a problem, the moment she appeared, but his Sect wasn’t completely helpless. Qi Qingqi and the rest of the Peaks could handle the Sect business while they dealt with this side of things, so it wasn’t like they were leaving their Peaks completely undefended, just working double time.

Which is why when they reach the temple to reconvene and everyone, including Wu Chen, looks gravely anxious, Shen Qingqiu is beyond puzzled.

[“System, what’s going on?”]

[New Hidden Story Mission unlocked! Point and Click to get rewards!]

He closes the stream of instructions to see Qiu Haitang walking into the room, eyes suspiciously wet, followed by Qin Wanyue, who keeps looking from her to Luo Binghe, and then the Palace Master and him like she’s watching a tennis doubles match. The usual accusations start flying, and Luo Binghe produces a fan, which he taps against his mouth thoughtfully during a pause in the proceedings.

Everyone’s eyes zoom to him.

“Why does that man have your fan,” Liu Qingge says, in the most suspicious tone he has ever heard issued from him, save for the time they visited the succubi den together.

“That’s definitely not mine.” Shen Qingqiu replies absently. He reaches for where his fan usually hangs from his sash, and finds it missing.

Wait a second.

Across the hall, Luo Binghe snaps his fan open, Qing Jing Peak symbol in clear view, and looks at the Sect Leader with what Shen Qingqiu knows is a shit-eating grin. He had eaten him out with that mouth last night. 

Yue Qingyuan looks as if he is about to have a conniption. Mu Qingfang, Liu Qingge and Shang Qinghua all make direct eye contact with Shen Qingqiu, who looks directly back at Luo Binghe.

“Aha,” Shen Qingqiu says with a straight face, still feeling the phantom memory of a dick up his ass. “Probably dropped it somewhere. Wonder where he acquired it.”

They’re still talking, Qiu Haitang’s face twisted into hatred, when Luo Binghe finally speaks up. His clear, bell-like voice rings out, and Shen Qingqiu’s mouth twitches.

“If we’re done,” he announces, “This Luo Binghe would like to ask permission from the Cang Qiong Sect Leader, and invoke an ancient treaty.”

What.

“Luo Binghe?” Yue Qingyuan says, surprised. “Your… former disciple, shidi?”

He nods stiffly. He would be interrogated later, for sure, but this - what was this? What is Luo Binghe doing?

“My circumstances are not very well known to the world, but I demand recompense, except unlike Qiu Haitang… I have evidence.” The fan, pointed out towards the world, damnable in its colors. He should’ve never trusted this little brat! He’s definitely up to something! “The Palace Master claims that there was abuse of disciples, something that he believes I can corroborate. Qiu Haitang claims that he was well known to be his fiance… except that her only evidence is a burned family home, and a name that neither of us recognize. For me, all I have is this hand - this hand that I have only ever served one shizun with, as anyone who has ever known me can tell. This is the same hand that has scarred for him, and the same one that wishes to carry out his sentence myself.”

Silence. The whole hall seems to hold their breaths, waiting for what comes next.

“I can only confirm one thing, and that an eye for an eye, a hand for another is the only treaty that has been a longstanding agreement throughout the years, in both realms, among demons and cultivators both.” 

(In his sheer hubris, years ago, Shen Qingqiu had thought he was raising not a cub but Mary’s little lamb, a tiny sheep in snow white and green that would follow him everywhere. Whenever he had taken Luo Binghe’s hand, corrected his stance, knowing what his ultimate fate was, his heart had ached to abandon this wolf cub, that would have to lick its own wounds and grow - and finally come back to him, to devour what was meant to be its food in the first place.

In his hubris, Shen Qingqiu thinks now wryly, he had thought he would be different than Shen Jiu had been. That he would be special. )

And then Luo Binghe drops the metaphorical bomb.

“Thus, in return for peace between our sects, I ask for Shen Qingqiu’s hand.”

Shen Qingqiu jolts back to reality.

WHAT.

[Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations on the proposal! Important things must be said three times!]