Actions

Work Header

The Prison of My Arms is All You Need

Chapter Text

Everyone knows about Peak Lord Shen Qingqiu’s son. That after a Qi deviation the man woke with a baby resting on his chest, the cultivator weakened but vicious to anyone who tried to remove the child.

“He came from my flesh, my blood. He’s mine. Don’t you dare touch what’s mine.” Shen Qingqiu had snarled almost delirious at Mu Qingfang. The healer fluttered around him and the child, trying to fix the man with serious signs of blood loss, weight loss, bone loss. 

"Shidi, please you need your rest!"

"I'll break every finger of yours that brushes him." Shen Qingqiu spits out. It takes heavy sedation and blood oaths to calm the man. Yet overall, Mu Qingfang declares the child healthy and whole.

There are only a few things they know about the boy. Only a few things Shen Qingqiu has allowed Cang Qiong Mountain to know. Each fact is expensive, each has a price even if you’re sect leader Yue Qingyuan.

The boy’s name is Shen Yuan.

He looks almost identical to Shen Qingqiu. There are slight differences here and there but the largest is Shen Yuan’s smile. The way it rests on his lips and flows gently from his gaze. A man can find peace from that smile. 

If Shen Qingqiu doesn’t rip out your eyes first that is. Some disciples swear that there is an actual jar in Shen Qingqiu’s study, a jar of six. 

The only time Shen Yuan had been seen in public was when Shen Qingqiu entered the seclusion caves. 

When he entrusted the six-month-old child to Yue Qingyuan. 

“Tell me what you need, Xiao Jiu.”

“I need to get stronger. Strong enough to protect him.” Shen Jiu said pacing the floor with Shen Yuan sleeping in his arms, tucked under his chin. He twists violently towards Yue Qingyaun. “Give me access to the caves. I will cultivate to the next level or die trying.” 

Yue Qingyuan closes his eyes in pain at the demand.

“Xiao-Jiu...the caves are always welcome to you. You know that. But why is this urgency necessary? Your A-Yuan will always be safe here. The mountain has hundreds of cultivators to defend him. I promise no matter what I’ll make sure he’s—“

 “Yes, you’re right. He is going to be safe, safe with me.” Shen Jiu bares his teeth. “You’re just a temporary measure, do you understand? Who could rely so wholly on you? I won’t make the same mistake twice.” 

Yue Qingyuan’s face twists at that. Shen Jiu continues. Each word is a knife but Yue Qingyuan will accept them all.

“It’s fine if you break promises to me. If you leave me. Hurt me. Abandon me.” 

“Xiao-Jiu, I–”

“The past is the past, honored sect leader. The present is that you, and only you, will care for my son and I will not tolerate even the slightest offense to him. You may break your word, but I keep mine. If even a hair on my A-Yuan is harmed in my absence, I’ll kill you.”

Shen Jiu stalks over to Yue Qingyuan, He unravels his son carefully from his body and pushes him securely to the sect leader’s chest. “I’ll kill you.” He repeats desperately. 

Yue Qingyuan helps Shen Jiu tie the cloth wrap tight. He doesn’t stare at Shen Jiu’s shaky fingers that smooth down the silk. Instead, he places one hand under to cradle Shen Jiu’s treasure, the other rests on his sword. A sacrifice that cost too much during his time in the caves. He’ll never tell Shen Jiu. 

“I understand.”

“Hmph. We shall see.” Shen Jiu reaches to gently brush one of the soft cheeks of his son, glares at Yue Qingyaun once more and then sweeps his sleeves behind him. “If you let him out of your sight, I shall make you pay.” 

Shen Jiu does not look back when he leaves, Yue Qingyuan does not stop watching his figure from the doorway until it disappears completely into the night. Yue Qingyuan whispers to the child. “I am always willing to pay, Xiao-Jiu. For both of you now.”

The days fly by and it was quite the picture with a baby strapped to the sect leader’s chest for a few months. Even during meetings and such with Yue Qingyaun pausing right in the middle of them to feed the child that was only barely starting to sniffle. The fabric kept Shen Yuan snug, his head peeking out with big curious eyes. It was an attack to the heart. No survivors. Everyone craved, wanted, needed to hold him. From the highest peak leader to the lowest disciple. 

“Just for an incense stick of time. Truly, the babe needs a motherly touch.” Qi Qingqi reasons with greedy, hovering fingers. 

The child is angled out of her reach and Qi Qingqi gives a demonic growl. Yet Yue Qingyuan only smiles. “I apologize deeply Shimei, but you will have to wait until our Shidi is present to ask.”

“But then I’ll never get to hold the child!”

“Then you’ll never get to hold him.” Yue Qingyuan repeats and gives the child his finger to suck. A tooth might be coming in, he must commission some teething toys immediately. 

So Yue Qingyuan lets people look but not to touch. Allows anyone who desires to approach, but never too near. 

He waits.

He cares for A-Yuan until Xiao Jiu’s return. Wakes at the boy’s first cry in the night and rocks him back to sleep, the child’s cradle only a foot from the bed. He keeps A-Yuan happy, fed and well until winter breaks its way into spring. When the peak lord finally does, successfully pushing through the bottleneck block his core suffered from, he graces Yue Qingyuan with a sneer.

His first words? “I am absolutely astonished. It seems you’re not as much of an oathbreaker as I assumed you were, Sect Leader.”

“Welcome back, Xiao Jiu.” Yue Qingyuan slowly unravels Xiao Jiu’s son from his chest. He offers the child. Shen Qingqiu doesn’t hesitate to reach for the babe, as if he can’t wait to snatch A-Yuan away from him. A stone lodges in the back of Yue Qingyuan’s throat. Already he misses the small weight he’s grown used to, his chest is cold when a small warmth used to rest right above his heart. Without it he doesn’t understand why the organ still beats. 

It was only for a season. Yet it’s bittersweet to part with this piece of Xiao Jiu. “I’m glad you’re back.” 

“Hmph.” Shen Jiu doesn’t mention the cave he found in his seclusion. The suspicious one where his name is scratched several times in the walls along with ‘I’ve failed,’ ‘he needs me,’ ‘I’m sorry.’

Even craved with one’s nails or any rock in reach, Shen Jiu would recognize that handwriting anywhere.

Most of the time, Yue Qingyuan escorts him to the caves, leads him to the ones burning with the brightest of spiritual energies. Now Shen Jiu knows the real reason behind such actions. 

He won’t forgive him.

Not when Qi-Ge never told him the truth, the why. 

Therefore Qi-Ge doesn’t need to know that spiritual cultivation isn’t the only vital thing he’s learned. He doesn’t need to know that Shen Jiu’s loyalty to him is constant until death. 

That will be his own little secret. 

So when he lifts his hands to receive his child if they linger on Yue Qingyuan’s own a little longer than necessary...the bastard better not say a word. 


Rumors terrorize the peaks.

They whisper that Shen Jiu is a changed man. That having a child has thawed him. That entering a new level of core development has made him more civil. 

That’s not the truth. 

For Shen Jiu’s waning animosity comes from something else. He had realized something in those caves. 

No matter how hard he works, how hard he bleeds there will come a time where his skills cannot progress.

There will always be someone better than him. 

He will never develop raw talent. 

But he could still own them. 

He could wield them in the form of his disciples. Why be jealous of those naturally gifted when they were at his disposal? He could use them to build his peak’s pride, use them to defend it, use them to protect his son. In fact, as peak lord, are they are nothing but his tools? They’re his. 

Why not make them as sharp as they can be? 

So Shen Jiu polishes his knives. He starts to acquire only the highest quality cultivation manuals for his students. He’s a poor teacher, but he can watch, see who picks up a concept fastest and make them tutor the rest. If he can’t be the best, then he can find them and manipulate them. 

He steals Yue Qingyuan. He abuses the fool’s obvious favor to request guest seminars from the leader. The overpowered man is so patient, so indulgent with his idiots. Shen Jiu taunts Liu Qingge’s strength. He eggs the fighter into public demonstrations and then ruthlessly interrogates his students for their analysis afterward. He teaches his disciples how to fight dirty. Lectures on how an opponent’s strength can be turned against them. What to do to win. What do to do to cripple them, find the opening and ruthlessly bite into it. 

Shen Jiu makes sure his weapons aren’t dirty, cracked or misused. He hires slightly better cooks. He commissions Ah Ding sect to make a public bathhouse. He punishes those that abuse or bully another for only Shen Jiu has that right to hurt if he so chooses. 

He hones their skills. 

Shen Jiu finds pride at how they cut. 

His ego stroked when he sends them on night-hunts and they return victorious. When they flutter about him so hungry for a single word of praise. 

Shen Jiu makes sure each one is costly. Each phrase must be bought with treasure, a monster’s head or rare herbs. 

His house floods with their spoils. 

And Shen Jiu has always been a possessive man. He doesn’t let go. He always takes decent care of what’s his. 

This shift in his viewpoint twists Qing peak respect into a kind of adoration. 

His disciples become desperate for his approval. 

Shen Jiu becomes addicted to how they frantically try. 

He is satisfied. 

They’re his. 

“You’re dismissed.”

“Yes, Shizun!”

Shen Jiu’s lips curl as his idiot disciples leave his side and the man walks sedately to where his son waits for his return. The bamboo house is not too far from here...though house is a term too humble for their abode. 

It’s more of a sprawling entity that slowly eats into the mountain with Shen Jiu’s every commission. He empties his peaks coffers routinely for such additions. The estate’s built like a labyrinth, with maze-like corridors that box in pools and spots of bamboo groves for A-Yuan to play in. His boots echo on the stones of the walkway and a voice calls out. 

“Father!”

Shen Jiu only smiles for one person.

It’s the expression Shen Yuan most used to. “Father, you’re back! Did you arrange for today’s training to be in the lower courtyard? I could see you from the window.” Shen Yuan barely comes up his chest when he presses close anyway for affection.

Shen Jiu gives it freely, lets the child pull him tug at his sleeves towards their rooms. “I did. A-Yuan mentioned curiosity about a certain fighting sequence.”

“I did!” Shen Yuan beams. “Thank you.”

He babbles on and on about what he’s read that day and each word is soothing to Shen Jiu’s ears. Shen Yuan is an eager child. Hungry to learn and he swings their sleeves to and fro as Shen Jiu’s thoughts settle...quieten. It’s odd. Shen Jiu can barely tolerate brats A-Yuan’s age, but Shen Yuan must be made of the best parts of him. The boy’s like a piece of sunlight that’s only for Shen Jiu. Even as they wind down for sleep Shen Jiu continues to ensure it shines brightly for him.

Shen Yuan’s hair is softer than silk. Shen Jiu hums, pleased at a newly purchased formula as he combs the long locks that go past the child’s waist. There’s not a single knot, not a single kink left, yet there’s something soothing in their nighttime routine that Shen Jiu allows it to go longer than usual. It calms his mind after a long day maintaining his peak of fools. 

“Father?” 

“Don’t mumble, my child.” Shen Jiu prompts, his son is such a quiet one. “Say what you want and I will get it for you.”

“Um...it’s not exactly a thing or object.” Shen Yuan fidgets on the small stool, doesn’t meet his father’s eyes in the mirror, but twists his hands in his robe. 

Shen Jiu’s hands stop in his hair, stern fingers raise his chin. “Head up. Speak.”

“May I leave the bamboo house?”

The fingers on Shen Yuan’s jaw become claws. 

The next words are cold. “You want to go outside.” 

“Is that really a bad thing?” Shen Yuan attempts to reason. 

But Shen Jiu jerks his son’s head back to hiss in his ear. “Do you know what the outside world does to pretty little boys like you?”

“F-Father please, I–”

“They’d rip you to shreds.” Shen Jiu snarls, dragging his son off the chair and onto the floor. He looms, his other arm twisting around the boy in an embrace both protective and harsh. “You’re too kind and naive, why they’d trick you with sweet just to lead you into an alleyway to rob you.”

“I wouldn’t fall for that! I know better, you’ve taught me how to fight.”

“A few ropes can handle that. All they need is a moment of surprise.” 

“I’ll call for help!” Shen Yuan argues with a yelp.

“They’ll gag you. And after they’re done tearing off your clothes for anything if worth, after they play with you awhile, they’d sell you. How could they not when you have a face like this? A face like mine?” Shen Jiu gestures towards the mirror, just to watch the way his son’s eyes fill with uncertainty. “You’re just the age I was when I was sold. Thirteen and so easy to hold down. Your pale skin would earn a lovely sum, so perfect for others to bruise, bite and suck.

“No!” 

“If you’re lucky, your new master will just be a letch. Someone to fondle your thighs,” Shen Jiu reaches down to squeeze one through the child’s robe but allows him shriek and squirm out of his grasp. He scornfully laughs and yanks the boy to crash against his chest. “And do other dirty things to your sweet flesh. But others like to hurt their property, my dear. Some masters only feel something is theirs if they damage it permanently, doing whatever it takes to break it, cut it, scar it.” 

“Father, please stop!” 

“You know...that’s what they did to me.” Shen Jiu face slides into a horrible smile, he coos and uncoils his arms only to cup both sides of Shen Yuan’s face. “Haven’t I shown you my scars before? It’s not as if I hide anything from you, my pet. Not whenever we bathe. You used to trace them. You used to ask me if you would get your own tiger stripes when you were older, do you remember?”

Shen Yuan shakes his head in denial.

“But you won’t. Nothing is going to harm you. Not while I’m around.” His son flushes and Shen Jiu pulls him closer, closer. Brushes his cheeks with his thumbs while his eyes grow vacant, his voice getting softer as a hollowed-out breeze. “His name was Qiu Jianluo. Everyone loved him. He seemed so kind. So good. I was supposed to be his sister’s slave. His sister’s toy. But he’d ask for me. Send for me. And once we were alone he liked to play games. He liked to tie me up, hit me. He liked to watch me curse and stare at the ceiling instead of the knife in his hand.”

His son is crying. Oh, what a tenderhearted fool he has. Yet thanks to him, Shen Jiu’s not completely lost to memories, he floats on top of the unpleasant things but does not drown. Instead, he’s here holding up a sobbing boy rather than under the blade of long ago. What a good boy. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry, you don’t...you don’t have to tell me anymore. I didn’t mean to–I shouldn’t have ever brought it up!”

“Shhhhhhhhhh. You’re sorry? Whatever for? You’re just a child who doesn’t know any better. Too young to know how horrible and filthy the rest of the world is. You wouldn’t last the length of an incense stick out there.” Shen Jiu gently brushes the wetness away from the child’s eyelashes.

Quietly, Shen Yuan whispers, “Is it really that bad?”

“The worst.” 

“...Oh.” 

“I just want you to be safe.” Shen Jiu presses one kiss on that small forehead, then another. There’s no safer place than the prison of his arms. “I apologize, my small one. Did I scare you? I don’t wish to frighten you, but as a parent, it is my duty to teach you the truth of these things. The dangers. The monsters outside our door that aren’t in any bestiary I acquire for you. I only want you to understand that I would do anything to protect you. Anything.”

Shen Yuan bites his lip. “I know.”

“I will always be there for you. I will always come for you.” Unlike others. Shen Jiu keeps his promises. He rocks his distressed child to and fro in his arms, half in his lap until his son’s face has no trace of tears. Then he says, “Now, A-Yuan...”

“Yes, Father?”

“Never ask me that again.” He orders darkly. His words in a final tone. “There is no purpose for you to leave the manor.” 

Shen Jiu waits for his son to look at him. Waits for the boy’s will to crumble into resignation. Waits until those tiny fingers unclench from his robes and his arms curl around his neck...right, where they belong. 

“...Yes, Father.” Shen Jiu presses another kiss on his cheek as a reward.

He’ll make it up to his longing A-Yuan. Already his training is coming along nicely. A new practice weapon is in order, or perhaps another book or two straight from the Sect Leader’s library will appease him. No matter. His son will have everything he did not. He will obtain Shen Yuan’s every desire, eliminating the need to take one step out of their home. 

He lets out a sigh and curls around his son, only raising from the floor to carry him to whatever bed is closest for the two of them to rest. 

“I love you, A-Yuan.” 

“I love you more, Father.”

“But I love you most.” Shen Jiu tightens his grip, if only he was a snake demon, then he could swallow his treasure whole. 

But nothing is going to happen to his son. 

Shen Jiu will make sure of that.