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Maybe Just a Little

Chapter Text

Liu Qingge can feel the irritation crawling under his skin at the sight before him. He didn't expect anything out of the ordinary when Yang Yixuan requested his audience in Liu Qingge's private study. Expecting the usual comings and goings about sect affairs, he casually invited him in, but now his foolish disciple is kneeling on the ground before him, positioned in front of the bleeding corpse of a Black Moon Rhinoceros Python.

 

A small part of him can't help but be impressed. Killing a demonic monster of this caliber is not a task for the weak, and it reflects well on the cultivators of Bai Zhan Peak. That bastard Binghe is the only other person known to have slain the creature.

 

Liu Qingge inwardly smirks. As expected from my only disciple! But the stream of thought is immediately interrupted.

 

"Shizun," the young man says. "This disciple wishes to formally court you. Please accept this beast as a token of my affections."

 

A flash of white light is the only warning before Yang Yixuan is flung backwards in an explosion of wood and shattered porcelain. Hot tea splatters on the floor where a teapot once stood on a low table. He rolls head over heels twice until his body slams against the back wall. The room spins in front of his eyes before he finally sees a slim figure stop in front of him.

 

"What insolence!" Liu Qingge points Cheng Luan at his throat and frowns. "How dare you utter such nonsense in front of me!"

 

Yang Yixuan pauses only for a moment, mouth agape, before he steels his eyes in resolution and bows again before his master.

 

"I, Yang Yixuan, disciple of the mighty Bai Zhan Peak Lord requests to enter a romantic relationship with his master."

 

Liu Qingge swears he feels the all too familiar sensation of qi deviation pass through his core when Yixuan meets his gaze, devotion and affection visible in his dark eyes. He lowers his sword and slowly returns to his desk at the front of the room. He sits and lets his mind process this absurd request.

 

What fit of madness has overtaken this disciple? A romantic relationship? He had no need for such a thing. In fact Liu Qingge never even entertained the idea of pursuing such trivial matters. Obtaining strength and the power to crush anyone who might dare oppose him has always been his sole priority. Not to mention, just because he refuses to show affection for the opposite sex does not make him a cut-sleeve.

 

But isn't this situation eerily similar to that of Shen Qingqiu?

 

Qingge pushes the thought away. As if he'd ever let his disciple push him down and dishonor him like that.

 

"How long have you lusted after men this way?" Liu Qingge asks, voice cold. "Have you been looking at me with such dirty intent when you should have been memorizing the way of the sword? Or is this all a plan to steal my position as Peak Lord?"

 

This scheming brat! Is this actually just an underhanded ploy to defeat him? It wouldn't be unheard of. Everyone knew the position of Bai Zhan Peak Lord could only be won in battle by defeating the previous leader. Liu Qingge himself was only able to secure the position himself when his powers were unparalleled by any other cultivator in the Cang Qiong sect. The many cultivators of Bai Zhan peak toiled away in the sun everyday, running through stances and fortifying their golden cores, in order to reach the status of Martial Lord. But pride and their unbending sense of justice wouldn't allow for such a vulgar method as this.

 

Yang Yixuan stood up at this, anger causing his body to shake. "Shizun! I would never resort to such acts of deceit to surpass you! The principles of Bai Zhan Peak are my own, and I could never imagine defeating you with anything but my strength alone." His expression became grim with his next statement. "No matter how many times you've beaten me into the earth, I have always come back to stand by your side. This one has failed as a disciple for you to doubt me so."

 

"But what other reason could explain your absurd behavior?!" Liu Qingge yelled in response, knocking over a stack of papers as he felt himself rise from the table. He paid no mind to the growing mess, not when he still couldn't understand what could make his disciple get… feelings… for him.

 

"To answer your previous question, I have not lusted over you as a man," Yang Yixuan says. "I only see a person of unparalleled beauty and strength who fights for justice in this world. The absurdity lies in how i am willing to pursue you when I am not worthy."

 

This time Liu Qingge was speechless. He stood frozen above his desk, scowling at his disciple. Should he be angry? This disciple of his dared to call him beautiful. There is nothing beautiful about a god of war except for the fountains of blood that rain from his sword! But somehow he couldn't stop the wave of heat rising up the back of his neck.

 

Liu Qingge is not flustered. He would gladly accept death before succumbing to such tender words, but another glance at the way Yang Yixuan stands firm and unmoving convinces him that maybe his disciple is serious in his pursuit.

 

"Tch."

 

Yang Yixuan watches as Liu Qingge once again stands and walks toward him, sword still by his side. Yixuan has grown a lot since he was first accepted as a disciple. The scrawny weapon shopkeeper's son now stood at eye level with his master.Yixuan wouldn't be able to avoid his Shizun's gaze even if he wanted to. However, where Liu Qingge had a strong body composed of lean muscles and a narrow waist, Yang Yixuan was broad shoulders and thick arms. His large physical presence kept him from cowering in front of the intensity of the scowl the man before him was sending him. Liu Qingge finally stopped, close enough for Yixuan to feel his heat against his chest.

 

He gulped.

 

"I have heard your request, and I will respect it."

 

Yang Yixuan felt his heart start beating uncontrollably in his chest. He approached Liu Qingge with all the sincerity he could muster, but he couldn't even begin to predict what kind of response he would get. He doesn't remember when his feelings of admiration turned to love, but he could no longer stop himself from acting on these feelings when all he could think about was his Shizun flying majestically on Cheng Luan, his Shizun covered in blood as he drags a demonic beast in both hands into the training grounds, his Shizun staying up late to spar with him despite having battled earlier in the day. And also that sexy birthmark right under his left eye. He wandered the entire Cang Qiong mountain range until he found the fabled Black Moon Rhinocerous Python next to a small chasm to the demon realm. He engaged it in battle for two whole days before he emerged victorious, all for the sake of his beloved Shizun.

 

"However," Liu Qingge continued, "I will say it bluntly. I have no other feelings than that of master and disciple towards you. In other words I feel nothing when I look at you. I can't even begin to comprehend these feelings of affection you might hold for me, and you shouldn't expect anything more from me."

 

"Shizun…" Yang Yixuan could feel his heart dropping towards his boots. Being rejected so outright--!

 

But he is suddenly pulled forward by the collar of his robes, face mere centimeters away from Liu Qingge's face. "Lucky for you, the Bai Zhan Peak Lord does not back away from a challenge."

 

Liu Qingge releases him and begins to pace the length of the room. "Yang Yixuan, you have made your intentions clear and even prepared an offering. This action has not gone unnoticed. You are well aware a trophy as dangerous as this would impress me." He stops and glares at Yang Yixuan. "But you are also aware of how Bai Zhan Peak deals with all manners, correct?"

 

Yang Yixuan nods earnestly.

 

"Direct confrontation," Liu Qingge says. "You may come at me with any means to convince me of your feelings during this… courtship of yours, but I will also not hold back on destroying those attempts. The stronger will will win in the end."

 

"And also." Cheng Laun glints dangerously. "If this is actually a challenge for position of Peak Lord, my sword will always be ready." Liu Qingge abruptly turns away and stomps out the door.

 

Yang Yixuan stares at his Shizun's retreating back. Is it possible he actually has a chance? The energy in his legs finally gives out and he slumps to the floor. He feels a wry smile form on his face.

 

And so begins the battle for the Fearless Bai Zhan Peak Lord's heart.

 

Chapter Text

It's been three days since Yang Yixuan appeared before Liu Qingge to confess his hidden feelings, but things have been surprisingly normal during this time. 

 

Liu Qingge had immediately left the next day to settle a dispute in one of the towns under Bai Zhan Peak's protection. Two merchant families began to fight over a missing caravan of produce, accusing each other of sabotaging the route to its destined market. It turned out the large shipment of radishes attracted the appetite of a nest of demonic tree lizards that inhabit the area. It took only a moment for Liu Qingge to dispose of the lizards and ensure the caravan made it back to its original course. He even took time out of his day to angrily yell at the two merchants about disrupting the peace with useless arguments.

 

(If the townspeople were thinking about the hypocrisy of those words, they didn't dare say it.) 

 

But if Liu Qingge decided to take a couple extra days to deal with some minor monster sightings, it definitely wasn't because he was avoiding returning home to a certain disciple. It was not uncommon for him to be away from the mountain for several days at a time. Rather he was probably more often gone than present, rushing into battle whenever it called. His peers and their disciples never anticipated his return, not that it mattered because cultivators of Bai Zhan Peak trained independently except for sparring. Only his personal disciple would wait for him to return late into the night, ready to patch up any wounds he may have sustained during his mission, calling out "Shizun! Shizun!" as he descended his sword. 

 

And once again those dreaded thoughts of his young disciple made their way into his head. Why does Yang Yixuan keep making his way into his mind? He never gave much thought about the young man before the person in question decided to confess of all things. Yang Yixuan was just a familiar presence that followed behind him whenever the opportunity arose. Sometimes Liu Qingge would spar with him to mark his progress, and more often he would place the less important responsibilities (everything that didn't have to do with fighting) into his hands. Liu Qingge thought he was stronger than this, letting emotions rule over his mind, but clearly there is room for improvement. 

 

He countered Yang Yixuan's request with a challenge of his own. Come at me directly if you want my acknowledgement. But what kind of tactics could his disciple even pull to get the kind of response he wants from him? And how would he defend against them?

 

Regardless, Liu Qingge would march onto Bai Zhan Peak as stoic as ever. His followers will not catch him in a moment of weakness. 

 

With matters having been taken care of, Liu Qingge steers Cheng Luan towards Bai Zhan Peak having reported his activities to Yue Qingyuan earlier this morning. At long last he couldn't justify neglecting his duties any longer. The sun was still low in the sky, illuminating Liu Qingge's white robes in gentle light, but he could already tell today would be a hot one from the drops of sweat forming on his brow. It urged him to fly faster so he could arrive before the sun reached its peak. 

 

After a couple hours in the air, he lands on the compact dirt of the training ground. Bai Zhan Peak's courtyard was built to prepare for war. The large expanse of dirt encompasses the majority of the mountaintop with barracks and administrative buildings framing the perimeter. The open layout provides space to practice military formations if necessary, but ever since Liu Qingge became Peak Lord, the disciples training at Bai Zhan peak fought their way across the field, developing their own cultivation path. Power comes to those who take it. 

 

His methods have been criticized by other cultivators before. Something about having to pave a path for young recruits, but Liu Qingge is not a babysitter and he doesn't have time to teach children how to hold a sword when battle can get the job done just as well. Also, no one would ever dare to actually confront him about it.

 

Today as usual, men and women are clashing against opponents or practicing their forms. Liu Qingge walks briskly past them. The disciples turn to salute him, but he pays them little mind until he comes across an unexpected scene. 

 

He abruptly stops where he sees a young man barking instructions at two children wielding practice swords. They are clumsily swinging the wooden blades in front of them as if they were fighting an invisible enemy.

 

What does this disciple of mine think he is doing?

 

Liu Qingge doesn't even have time to think of the implications of who is standing before him because of the momentary shock of seeing Yang Yixuan teaching these kids.

 

Yang Yixuan senses a presence behind him and pauses his yelling to turn towards the approaching footsteps. "Shizun! You've returned early. I wasn't expecting you till the evening."

 

"I finished my business faster than expected," Liu Qingge says, "but Yang Yixuan, can you explain what you are doing here?" 

 

Yang Yixuan opens his mouth to speak but is interrupted by a girl around 12-years old wearing the black training robes of Bai Zhan Peak. Her hair is tied into a long braid that runs down her back. 

 

"Shixiong is teaching us the basic sword forms, Lord Liu Qingge," the girl exclaims energetically, her small wooden sword waving in the air along with her arms. A smaller boy a couple years younger, dressed in similar attire, clung onto the back of the girl's robes, silently peeking his head out from behind her.

 

Liu Qingge scowls as he looks down at the children. He turns to address Yang Yixuan. "Who are they?" 

 

"A-Mei!" Yang Yixuan flicks her on her head. "How dare you speak to Shizun without proper introductions!" 

 

"Ow!" She recoils and covers her head in protection. "I was just about to!" 

 

The girl collects herself and salutes Liu Qingge, the young boy removing himself to also follow suit. "This one's name is Shang Mei and the one behind me is my brother Shang Zhen. We are new students of the honorable Bai Zhan Peak." 

 

"Shizun," Yang Yixuan bows his head before him. "I came across these two children fleeing a burning house as I was returning from a trip to Qing Jing Peak. Their parents didn't survive the flames." 

 

Wait, Qing Jing Peak? What business would he have there? Liu Qingge will ask about this later, but there are more pressing matters at hand.

 

"And so you decided to bring them here?"

 

"Yes," Yang Yixuan continues. "I detected faint spiritual energy coming from them and decided it would be a waste to leave them at a common orphanage. I apologize for this disciple's rashness."

 

This situation is certainly unexpected, but Liu Qingge won't punish his disciple for helping those in need. While Liu Qingge may be known for the force of his destruction, he cannot stand the thought of injustice. If these children do indeed have potential to become cultivators, it only makes sense to take them into their care. 

 

He glances at Shang Mei who is returning his gaze without any sign of fear most young recruits show when they meet Liu Qingge. She has fire in her eyes and a strong spirit. She will be a powerful cultivator one day. Shang Zhen who is still cowering behind his older sister is young and can be molded into a warrior yet. 

 

"They may stay." The answer is curt.

 

"Thank you, Shizun." Yang Yixuan bows one more time before finally raising his head. 

 

"However, that doesn't explain why you are acting as a teacher to these students. You know how we operate on Bai Zhan Peak."

 

Yang Yixuan looks uncertain for a moment, but then grins his charismatic smile. "These children are common born. I don't want them to flail as badly as I did the first few years into their training."

 

Liu Qingge does indeed remember the reckless way Yang Yixuan would challenge him to a fight anytime they crossed paths. He would send Yang Yixuan flying across the field countless times in a day, but his disciple never failed to rise back onto his feet, spitting out blood as he did so. It was only later in his training that Liu Qingge would personally share some of his own techniques that could not be learned from martial texts. 

 

He scoffed. "You learned on your own and you are plenty strong. I don't see a problem." 

 

"Shi- Shizun!" Yang Yixuan grabs Liu Qingge's hand in both of his own. The intensity of his admiration can be felt in the tight grip against Liu Qingge's palm. "This disciple has never received such kind words from his master!"

 

It takes less than one second for Liu Qingge to singlehandedly flip Yang Yixuan over his shoulder and into the dirt. 

 

"Shixiong!" Shang Mei lets out a yelp and scrambles to help Yang Yixuan up while Shang Zhen lets out a little whimper.

 

Yang Yixuan pushes himself up and dusts off his robes. He pats the two kids' heads, reassuring them that he's fine. However, the unsure look is back on his face, and he pauses his motions before hesitantly continuing.

 

"Shizun… are you not bothered by what the other peaks say about you?" 

 

This catches Liu Qingge's attention. Why would this be a matter concerning his disciple?

 

"Of course not," he replies cooly. "Why would I concern myself about other people's opinions. If they think they can rule Bai Zhan Peak better than me then they are free to challenge me for my position."

 

"But Shizhun!" Yang Yixuan raises his voice and turns to face Liu Qingge fully, hands clenched. "I can't stand back while they criticize you unfairly. Especially when they don't know anything." 

 

"Exactly. They don't know anything thus their opinions don't matter."

 

It is no surprise to anyone Liu Qingge has few friends, and more often than not he is prone to leaving bad impressions. Liu Qingge would give his all to fight for the sake of the Cang Qiong Sect, his strong loyalty keeps him bound to his duties, but that doesn't mean they can control him. The fearless Bai Zhan Peak Lord will continue to do as he pleases, however he pleases. Of course people would talk behind his back, but Liu Qingge doesn't see why it would be an issue with his disciple now of all times.

 

"Yang Yixuan, what has caused you to become so concerned with my affairs?" 

 

The sun finally made it's way to the center of the sky. As he thought, today is a hot one and Liu Qingge's patience is slowly fading as he starts longing the cool interior of his private quarters. Sweat is already beginning to drip down his face into the high folds of his robes, and belatedly he finally notices the state of dress of his disciple. 

 

Yang Yixuan's robes are completely open in the front, only loosely held together by a sash at his waist. His skin is bronzed from long hours training under the sun, and the defined muscles of his pectorals reveal the fruit of his efforts. The high ponytail he is currently sporting also does nothing to conceal the chest bared before him. Liu Qingge watches in muted horror as a bead of sweat rolls down his neck and pools into a sharp collar bone. His eyes follow the droplet down and jump back up to properly look his disciple in the eyes. 

 

How dare Yang Yixuan walk around in such an indecent state! Who does he intend to seduce on the training ground of all places?!

 

An unwilling thought enters his mind. I guess I'm the only one he wants to seduce .

 

The thought bounces Liu Qingge back to reality where his half naked disciple is looking at him worriedly. He clears his throat as Yang Yixuan begins to speak. 

 

"Several members of Qiong Ding visited the mountain a while ago to observe our cultivators. As your sole disciple, I showed them around, but… they weren't subtle about their criticisms."

 

Liu Qingge's eyebrows furrow. This doesn't come as a surprise, but they have nerve criticizing him in his own domain.

 

"Those stuck up officials went on and on about our cultivators roaming the grounds like wild animals, despite them not complaining when we win them battles," Yang Yixuan grits out. "And they even had the nerve to insult you, insinuating you abondoned us to focus on your own cultivation!" He glances down at the two children watching intently. "So I… I decided to take these two under my tutelage. There should be no more grounds to disrespect you any further."

 

"So you've decided to take it upon yourself to protect my honor despite me never asking this of you, " Liu Qingge says. "For all you know, I have abandoned you."

 

"Never." The answer is firm. "And if my actions can help Shizun even a little, I am willing to stake everything."

 

Foolish. This disciple is foolish. Why does he go to such lengths for something as insignificant as his reputation, which he abandoned a long time ago. His victory count is the only thing that matters to him now, but Yang Yixuan is now moving to protect him from the words of others.

 

"Shixiong is a great teacher!" Shang Mei chimes in. "Even if he does like to yell at us sometimes." Shang Zhen nods in agreement. 

 

Yang Yixuan smiles fondly down at the two of them, and Liu Qingge feels a hint of warmth creep up within him. The sun is particularly hot today, afterall. Liu Qingge should pummel Yang Yixuan for this, but maybe he appreciates his disciple's loyalty just a little.

 

Not that he'd ever show it, though.

 

"Do as you wish," he retorts, turning his back to the group. "I can't stand this blasted heat any longer. I'll be in my room, and don't you dare disturb me."

 

"Shizun, wait!" Yang Yixuan panics when he sees his master begin to make his exit. He collects his belongings in a rush.

 

"Forgive this disciple, Shizun! I shouldn't have left you unattended after arriving from your journey for so long! I will prepare your quarters for your arrival and fetch food as soon as possible." 

 

"Aren't you busy with your new students?" 

 

"We are done for the morning. They may practice on their own," Yang Yixuan says.

 

He places his hands on his hips and shouts out his orders. "A-Mei! A-Zhen! Practice your forms in the training hall. All twenty we covered today. Only after you've finished, may you eat lunch." 

 

"But Shixiong, it's already late afternoon. Can we practice after we eat?" Shang Mei whines.

 

"It's already late afternoon because you two spent so much time stuffing your face at breakfast! No complaints! Go now!"

 

The two children run off towards the training hall, and Yang Yixuan relaxes his position with a sigh. Finally the two of them are alone together, and with this realization, things become quiet. 

 

Yang Yixuan shuffles his feet as Liu Qingge is discreetly avoiding his gaze, but Yang Yixuan makes the first move to break the silence before Liu Qingge decides to march on without him. "Shizun, let me accompany you to your quarters." 

 

Liu Qingge glowers at Yang Yixuan. His disciple wants to follow him to his room? A servant could just as easily prepare his quarters for the afternoon. Is this the beginning of his pursuit? Yang Yixuan's confession has had Liu Qingge questioning every motive of his disciple, and he knows he is overthinking everything. It's not unusual for his disciple to follow him around the peak, but now Liu Qingge can't predict when the young man might confront him with expectations he can't meet.

 

There is only one person Liu Qingge may have had… positive… feelings for, and that endeavor was left fruitless and amounted to nothing. He could never figure out if his feelings were making it through to that other person despite the actions he took to convey them. Liu Qingge isn't suited for such things, and Yang Yixuan should know better than to try to court him. He smoothly channels his internal discord into his usual stoicism and lets out his response.

 

"Is this part of your plan to win me over?" The reply is purposefully short, and Liu Qingge hopes it's as scathing as he wants it to be.

 

Yang Yixuan realizes the double meaning behind his words and a flush spreads across his cheeks. "No-! Shizun, this disciple only wants to make sure you are rested after your journey! I merely want to make sure your meal is properly served!" 

 

"Really?" Liu Qingge looks skeptical. "You take on all this extra work, and I must assume you have no indecent intentions?"

 

"My intentions are pure, Shizun. This is all still within a disciple's work." However, a dark glint flashes through Yang Yixuan's eyes. "I have yet to properly make my feelings known."

 

Oh, Liu Qingge thinks. This is more like it. Liu Qingge doesn't know how to handle the simpering disciple and his sweet words, but he can understand a fighting spirit. Otherwise, he wouldn't have challenged his disciple to begin with. Another attack is another rebuttle, and one more step towards ending this nonsense.

 

The barest hint of a smirk forms on Liu Qingge's face. "I see. You may serve me my lunch, but there is no need to accompany me." He shoots a glare towards his disciple and the state of his undress and makes his disgust known. "First you need to put on proper clothing before you stand in front of me again."

 

Yang Yixuan laughs, and then stands in front of Liu Qingge to salute him before leaving. "As Shizun wishes."

 

But he stops momentarily, meeting his master's eyes. "But perhaps Shizun enjoyed this disciple's appearance today."

 

For the third time today, Liu Qingge is shocked by the actions of his disciple. He couldn't have caught him looking, could he? 

 

"I am not one to gaze upon naked beasts!" Liu Qingge says in indignation. "Now hurry and go before I punish you for this insubordination!" 

 

Finally, Yang Yixuan retreats to carry out the task ahead of him, and Liu Qingge can only scowl where he stands. It's this heat that is riling him up, Liu Qingge decides. He's been standing under this sun for way too long. 

 

He walks past the training field towards his own room in the back of the compound where he will wait for his disciple.

Chapter Text

Liu Qingge didn't have to wait long for his food to arrive. He was sitting by a low table in his room when Yang Yixuan came running back a half hour later with a tray of hot food grasped firmly in his hands. His dirty black training robes from before were replaced with a clean set of white robes similar to those of Liu Qingge's. The fine, silk robes were given to Yang Yixuan when he reached mid-level cultivation, and Liu Qingge deemed him worthy enough to stand by him as a proper disciple.

 

Yang Yixuan gently placed the tray in front of his master and sat silently to the side, face serious and hands clenched tightly in the fabric of his robes. Liu Qingge assumed he would leave after delivering the food, but maybe he wanted to take the tray back with him to the kitchens?

 

The meal in front of him consisted of a hearty stew of beef and radishes with a side of steamed vegetables and rice. Unlike the lightly seasoned, bland food of Qing Jing Peak, the food in Bai Zhan Peak was often flavorful and heavy on the meat. Warriors of Bai Zhan peak needed the heavy meals to fuel the long hours spent training, and the well staffed cooking team was one luxury the Peak Lords continued to indulge in. And personally, Liu Qingge much preferred a well seasoned dish anyways.

 

He could tell from the aroma that this stew was savory, and his stomach gave a low grumble of appreciation. Liu Qingge carefully lifted his chopsticks and moved to grab a piece of beef, but he could feel the strong gaze of his disciple boring into his side. He spared a quick glance at the man beside him, and Yang Yixuan was still sitting stiffly on his knees, his brows furrowed in concentration as he watched Liu Qingge. The corner of his mouth twitched in irritation, but Liu Qingge didn't have the patience to deal with one of his disciple's moods right now.

 

He put the bite into his mouth and let the flavors dance across his tongue. As expected it was savory, but there was an underlying sweetness to it. The food didn't appear out of the normal from the usual meals Bai Zhan Peak's cooks prepared, but Liu Qingge couldn't help but notice the flavor was a little different today. He let out a pleased grunt as he picked up his rice bowl and continued eating.

 

Almost instantly, Yang Yixuan's posture relaxed as his master ate without any complaints. He was finally able to let out the air he was unintentionally holding in his lungs. "Shizun," he said. "If you are satisfied with your meal, this one will make his departure."

 

Liu Qingge gave a wave of his hand to dismiss his disciple, too preoccupied with his food to give a verbal command. Yang Yixuan grinned and bowed before scurrying out of the room and down the hall.

 

Odd, Liu Qingge thought, but everything about their current situation was odd.

 

Only this oddness continued for the next week.

 

Yang Yixuan was always an attentive disciple, but he only ever took care of matters dealing with the sect. He diligently was in charge of writing correspondences between the peaks and directly reported news of current affairs to Liu Qingge. He also oversaw the daily activities of the cultivators of Bai Zhan Peak and made sure things ran smoothly whenever their Peak Lord was gone (which was often). Yang Yixuan never hesitated in challenging the cultivators to brawls and embodied all the aspects of the martial peak perfectly.


However, household chores were often delegated to servants or lower disciples. Yang Yixuan's consistent presence in his quarters was unusual.

 

At first, it was only at meal times. Yang Yixuan would bring him his meals and wait patiently on the side until Liu Qingge took his first bite. If there were no problems with the food, he would dismiss himself to carry on the rest of his tasks. But later, Liu Qingge would catch him at random times straightening his bed or dusting a shelf. His disciple would be training under the hot sun one moment then laying out a change of clothes for Liu Qingge once he returned after a day of brawling. On another occasion, he caught Yang Yixuan placing a bundle of medicinal herbs meant to relieve muscle pain next to his tub in the evening.

 

Odd. So very odd.

 

Liu Qingge knew with absolute certainty this was some method to gain his favor, but what could make Yang Yixuan think acting like his maid of all things would work?!

 

It was another hot day when Liu Qingge dropped gracefully from Cheng Luan down into the training field. To no surprise of his own, he could hear the loud shout of his energetic disciple directed towards him from across the field.

 

"Shizun! This disciple has been expecting you!"

 

And it was apparent by Yang Yixuan's formal attire. He could tell his disciple was waiting for him unlike last time, though Liu Qingge briefly wondered why he was wearing so much clothing in this heat before mentally scoffing and chiding himself.

 

My disciple may have an impressive male body, but it's not something to be fixated on.

 

Yang Yixuan came up near him and laid a hand on his shoulder, speaking into Liu Qingge's ear. "It's particularly hot today. This one has prepared some refreshments for your return." The heat was only made more pronounced by the additional body heat radiating from his disciple's close proximity.

 

Liu Qingge swatted the hand off his shoulder as a slight flush of irritation rose on his neck. He took a small step back to separate himself from the man gluing himself to his side. Why did his disciple have to be so sticky?

 

"Don't cling to me in this heat!" Liu Qingge snarled and shoved his disciple back for extra measure.

 

Yang Yixuan held his ground and had the nerve to look unapologetic when he said, "Forgive this disciple, Shizun. But if you follow me, you can rest till the evening."

 

Reluctantly Liu Qingge followed. "Training" these disciples could wait till later when the sun wasn't burning his skin.

 

But what waited for him was another display of his disciple's overzealous housework!

 

This obedient, doting behavior didn't suit his disciple. Yang Yixuan had a bold brashness that Liu Qingge admired and initially made him consider taking in a disciple in the first place. But this Yang Yixuan was cloying in a way that only served to anger him whenever he saw the young man.

 

Currently, Yang Yixuan is pouring hot tea into an ornamental cup. He had once again scampered off to the kitchen after lingering by the doorway to straighten Liu Qingge's boots, bringing back a small tray of refreshments. Liu Qingge can finally stand it no more when Yang Yixuan sets down a dainty lotus shaped cake and the cup of tea on his desk. The cake is crusted in white and pink sugar, and its presence is at odds in the sparsely decorated bedroom. Liu Qingge eyes the delicate treat with a look of mild disgust. He wants to ask Yang Yixuan what his deal is, but his disciple just stares at him with some kind of expectation in his eyes.

 

Liu Qingge slams his fist down on the table and snaps. "How long do you plan to act like some maiden's house girl?!"

 

The sudden outburst startles Yang Yixuan to attention. "Shizun?"

 

"You've been spending your time hovering around me as I eat and cleaning my quarters like a maid!"

 

Yang Yixuan looks distressed, clearly not expecting this response from his Shizun. He crawls closer to address his master. "But Shizun! Do you not like this disciple taking care of your needs?"

 

"We already have people for this kind of job," Liu Qingge sneers. "I didn't take on a disciple so they could carry food back and forth from the kitchen." His eyes narrow and meet Yang Yixuan's. "If this is what you want out of cultivation, I'll let Shang Qinghua know An Ding Peak is getting a new disciple."

 

Panic flashes across Yang Yixuan's face. This isn't how things are supposed to go! "Shizun! It was never this one's intention to insult you!" Words keep jumbling up in his head, and he can't find a way to fix this situation. "I… This disciple… just wanted to be of use…"

 

"Where are the demonic beasts from before? You could've brought more of those if you wanted to impress me."

 

Liu Qingge has never mentioned it before, but he quite likes the demonic monsters, as can be seen from the Rhinoceros Python head mounted on his wall. They're edible and fun to slaughter, and Liu Qingge's go-to gift for people he looks favorably upon. He wouldn't have minded a couple more carcasses brought before him, but instead his disciple decided to act in a way unfitting for Bai Zhan Peak.

 

Liu Qingge lets out a wry laugh. "You said you wanted to be of use, but all I've gotten are your stupid stares. You think watching me eat will save me from poison?"

 

Yang Yixuan continues to stammer. "Yes, in a way… This disciple has only just begun learning how to cook. If Shizun had disliked the food…"

 

Learning how to cook?! So all the meals this week were actually made by his disciple? Liu Qingge looked down at the little cake with all its pink detailing. Even this horrendous sweet!

 

Irritation wells up in Liu Qingge again at this revelation. He should have noticed. The meals may not have differed all that much from their usual fare, but there was always an extra level of care to the dishes, whether it was the way the garnishes were plated or a slight change in flavor. And no matter how damaged in the head his disciple might be, there was no reason to stare at him during meals like Yang Yixuan wanted to gauge a hole through him with his eyes unless he was looking for a reaction.

 

Cooking meals. Cleaning. All of this was too domestic... and too familiar. This stickiness was too much like that demon Binghe!

 

And suddenly that visit to Qing Jing Peak make sense.

 

Liu Qingge leans forward abruptly to bring himself face to face with his disciple. Yang Yixuan stops his stammering enough to take in the sudden coldness in his master's demeanor and braces for his next words.

 

"And where did you learn to cook?"

 

Ah, there it is, thinks Yang Yixuan. Shizun is going to be angry.

 

Yang Yixuan thought he would be more terrified in front of his Shizun's impending outburst, but he finds himself oddly calm. Though calm isn't the word he's looking for because Yang Yixuan has a lot to say on this matter that has been building up over time. He steels himself and answers.

 

"This disciple may have made a quick visit to Qing Jing Peak to ask for some advice."

 

The table separating the two explodes in a flurry of wood and enamel, and Liu Qingge is on Yang Yixuan in an instant, hands grasping at his throat.

 

"You dare ask Luo Binghe, the disgrace of Cang Qiong Peak, for advice just so you can learn how to bake?! To learn how to lay your hands on your master?!"

 

The grip on Yang Yixuan's throat tightens, and he knows Liu Qingge won't show mercy to any opponent even if it's his disciple. Maybe especially if it's his disciple. Survival instincts kick in and Yang Yixuan lands a strong kick into Liu Qingge's stomach and sends him flying back far enough that Yixuan can stand back on his feet. His hands automatically land on the hilt of his sword, ready for the next attack.

 

"Shizun! Listen to me, please!"

 

Which was a foolish request because Liu Qingge never listens.

 

Cheng Luan shoots through the air in a gleam of white, and Yang Yixuan barely deflects the blade before it can embed itself into his chest. He parries the blade and tries to speak again. All formalities are lost as his own frustrations bubble forth and begin to spill over.

 

"Shizun! You must know I'd never consult that demon if I had a choice!"

 

Liu Qingge steps lightly and spins to strike Yang Yixuan's shoulder. The blow is met by a counterstrike when his disciple leans briskly to the left.

 

"And yet you went to Shen Qingqiu's residence to learn how to be a house wife."

 

Yang Yixuan grits his teeth, focusing on keeping Cheng Luan from making contact. He is not proud about going to Luo Binghe for advice. The man, if he can even call him a man, tormented his master for years. He is an enemy through and through. It took all the power within him to keep the outright disgust from showing on his face as he begged on his knees for help. It was without a doubt the most shameless thing he had ever done, even including the days he struggled to get by in the aftermath of Jinlan City. He almost gave up too, as an attempt to save face, until he saw how gently the demon held Lord Shen Qingqiu around the waist. He couldn't contain his envy or his want. Luo Binghe had everything he wanted and Yang Yixuan was running out of options.

 

He has to create some space between him and his master if he wants his Shizun to listen to his reasons, otherwise the demolition god would have his head. Yang Yixuan has been training at Bai Zhan Peak for countless years now, and his training allows him to trade blows with Liu Qingge for a while, but it's not often Yang Yixuan can turn the tides of a battle. He continues to match his master blow for blow until he sees a brief moment Liu Qingge relaxes his stance. Yang Yixuan ducks low and delivers a sweeping kick at his left leg. Liu Qingge sees the kick from his periphery and flips backwards in a graceful arc to the back of the room. The attack didn't hit but it creates enough space for Yang Yixuan to catch his breath and yell his response. He knew the chances of winning his Shizun's heart were low when he first proposed this courtship, but the things he could gain if he succeeded far outshone the loss.

 

"You may see this as a betrayal, Shizun, but know that I am desperate!"

 

Something about the grief in his disciple's voice, underlying the anger, makes Liu Qingge pause for a moment. There is a longing and passion in his eyes that Liu Qingge has a hard time meeting head on.

 

Yang Yixuan continues his tirade, his voice getting stronger with every statement. "I am desperate because I know you think little of me, if you even think anything of me at all. I am desperate because I love a man who doesn't love me back."

 

Yang Yixuan begins to tremble a little though his voice doesn't falter. He can't bear to look at his Shizun as he finally admits the biggest hurdle to him ever getting his feelings returned. "And I am desperate because I know you love someone else."

 

Silence fills the room and neither make a move to continue the fight. A cold feeling of dread fills Liu Qingge, gluing him to the spot.

 

No.

 

There has never been anyone I "love".

 

Because Liu Qingge has tried to reach out. Has given that person his attention, given him monsters. But ultimately he lost that person to someone else and was never even spared a second glance.

 

So no, he has never loved anyone because Liu Qingge doesn't lose, and those five years fighting Luo Binghe were not for some doomed love.

 

Shen Qingqiu…

 

"You're wrong!" he practically screams before reigning in his anger. "There is no one."

 

"Shizun. You wouldn't spend five years of your life charging Huan Ha Palace, fighting that demon, if feelings were not involved."

 

The sadness in Yang Yixuan's voice returns and he grips his sword harder in frustration. "I watched you come back bruised and bloody everyday for those five years. You don't know how useless I felt when all I could do was welcome you home and bandage your wounds at most. And for what? A man who would never return your feelings?"

 

Liu Qingge can only stand there and listen as his inner feelings are said out loud. Was he really so obvious when it took him years to even figure out his own emotions?

 

But Yixuan continues. "And like a fool, it was only after I was kidnapped to become the demon's vessel and freed by Sir Peerless that I understood just how much pain the monster was causing you."

 

Yang Yixuan pauses, remembering the words that forever changed his outlook on life. "Hate born from love."

 

What? What kind of rubbish is this disciple spouting now? Somehow the conversation was going a direction Liu Qingge didn't understand.

 

"Luo Binghe is despicable for what he has done to you, Shizun! He stole the body of your good friend, Lord Shen Qingqiu, forcing you to fight him everyday until you were left ragged. Truly only a demon would take advantage of a Peak Lord's noble devotion to his comrade to hurt the man who loves him. And all the while dangling his true affections in front of your face!"

 

It's a good thing Liu Qingge is standing still because he would have toppled over at the sheer absurdity of what he just heard.

 

"You think I'm in love with Luo Binghe?!" Liu Qingge actually screamed this time, anger and disbelief pulsing through him.

 

"I'm sure of it," Yang Yixuan replies completely serious. "Sometimes burning hatred can arise from the need to possess. From feelings of love. You have never showed such devotion to anyone else. He became an obsession."

 

Of course he became an obsession! He kept Shen Qingqiu's body like some freak!

 

"You are out of your mind!" Liu Qingge can't take any more of this. What kind of masochist would he be if he had feelings for the man that beat him hundreds of times! Just the thought of him and Luo Binghe together makes him want to stab the nearest living creature ten thousand times. And in this case it would be his dumb disciple.

 

"I am out of my mind, Shizun, to beg my love rival to help me. But he somehow won the heart of his teacher who had already cast him away. I'm willing to set aside my pride if you'd only look at me."

 

Liu Qingge unsheathes Cheng Luan once more. Yang Yixuan dropped his sword at some point during his outburst and now his disciple is defenseless in front of him. He can get a few good strikes in to wipe those delusions from that head of his, but before he can make his move, Liu Qingge hears the familiar snap of a fan opening from beside him.

 

"This one must apologize, Liu Shidi. It appears we have arrived at a bad time."

 

Standing in the entryway of Liu Qingge's demolished bedroom, with all the cool elegance of an autumn breeze, is Shen Qingqiu, and like a massive shadow behind him stands Luo Binghe, face twisted and grim.

 

Chapter Text

It was curiosity that finally broke the last thread of restraint stopping Shen Qingqiu from traveling to Bai Zhan Peak, because he never would have expected the events that occurred a week ago to actually happen in this second lifetime. 

 

Which, honestly, he should stop being surprised nothing goes as expected in this bizarre world.

 

Shen Qingqiu and Luo Binghe had just returned to Qing Jing Peak from their usual residence in the demon realm. The two were relaxing after the long journey, Shen Qingqiu with a book and Binghe wrapped comfortably around him, when the commotion started. 

 

Without any warning, Ming Fan burst through the front door of the bamboo house, sweat dripping down his face as if he had just run twenty laps around the mountain. Amidst his wheezing, he glanced at Binghe wrapped around their master, arms possessive, and scowled before relaying the news. "Shizun, we have a problem! Bai Zhan Peak's head disciple has just broken through the main gate and is charging towards us this very second!" 

 

Bai Zhan Peak's head disciple? Shen Qingqiu vaguely recalled the spirited youth from Jinlan who followed the grumpy martial god all the way back to the sect. His growth as a cultivator has been great, and you could almost say he is the reason Bai Zhan Peak has leveled up from a mountain of apes recently. 

 

He raised his fan to his face. "Yang Yixuan? What business does he have with this master?" 

 

"This one is not sure, Shizun, but he has already sent two disciples to the infirmary," Ming Fan replied looking distressed.

 

Shen Qingqiu sighed at this, flapping the fan to direct some cool air to his face. "I had hoped my last conversation with Liu Shidi would have stopped this violence, but alas."

 

Shen Qingqiu couldn't help the burst of anger after hearing the news. I was sure my "lessons" with Liu Qingge would've been enough to stop these hooligans from breaking my gate, but I guess not! I'm really going to have to talk to Liu Shidi.

 

The arms wound around Shen Qingqiu tightened as Luo Binghe spoke. "This disciple can take care of him if Shizun wishes."

 

"No need," Shen Qingqiu said. "We will see what he wants."

 

And it took only a couple moments for a flash of light from a spirit sword to shine through the windows before severe stomping could be heard from outside. 

 

"Demon! Come out right now!" 

 

The air grew cooler as Binghe's demonic aura spilled from behind him. Shen Qingqiu placed a comforting hand over his and rubbed slightly.

 

"Go," he said, "but remember. This master will not be happy if you hurt Liu Shidi's disciple."

 

Luo Binghe just smiled in return, though the expression in his eyes was not quite as innocent as his smile let on. "This one will not lay a hand on him, as long as Liu Shidi's disciple behaves."

 

Reluctantly, Binghe peeled himself away from his master and walked out of the house, any trace of a smile melting away. What waited for him was a young man equally unhappy to see the other, vitriol already leaking from his mouth.

 

"Demon! You've arrived!" Yang Yixuan spat out. 

 

Binghe didn't have time for this, not when he could be snuggling with Shizun or even preparing for their next meal. He decided to end whatever nonsense this insignificant figure could want as quick as possible.

 

"Yes, as you can see."

 

The dismissive reply only served to anger the disciple further, and he bristled with anger. It appeared he wanted to say something in response, but to both Shen Qingqiu and Binghe's surprise, Yang Yixuan shut his mouth and fell to his knees, almost bashing his head into the ground with how hard he prostrated himself. Shen Qingqiu let his book fall shut and quickly rose to join Luo Binghe at the entrance. 

 

Yang Yixuan was positioned on his knees, with his forehead on the ground. The man didn't dare lift his eyes less he caught the two of them staring at his shameless position. Regardless, he finally was able to bite out his request.

 

"This disciple, Yang Yixuan of Bai Zhan Peak, requests the assistance of Luo Shixiong." 

 

Well, well. This is weird, thought Shen Qingqiu. Bai Zhan Peak disciples would normally want nothing to do with Binghe with how much they hate him. What could he need that only Binghe can help him with?

 

Luo Binghe looked back at Shen Qingqiu, looking equally as confused. Shen Qingqiu could tell Binghe was assessing whether this was some kind of trap and was already preparing to send the man flying, but Shen Qingqiu didn't exactly want the rest of Bai Zhan Peak's disciples descending on the premises. He gave a nod to his disciple to tell him to stand his ground and continue.

 

Binghe obediently followed and returned his attention to Yang Yixuan, expression flat. "And what kind of assistance would Yang Shidi need from this Shixiong? You've never even pretended to respect me before. Shidi must be desperate to come to this 'demon'." 

 

Yang Yixuan's ears flushed red and he opened his mouth to speak, but the words got caught in his throat. Instead he let out a growl and dug his fingers into the dirt. 

 

Shen Qingqiu came forward to stand next to Binghe. He couldn't help the strong urge to see what problem Liu Qingge's disciple might possibly have despite the few remaining parts of his common sense telling him all the ways meddling could lead him to trouble. (It wasn't too hard to ignore.)  

 

"Shizun!" Binghe squealed. "You don't need to trouble yourself with this one!" However, with Shen Qingqiu back in his proximity, Luo Binghe had already wrapped an arm around his waist and leaned closer to nuzzle his neck. Yang Yixuan raised his eyes slightly at the sight, and his mouth fell open before he caught himself and shaped it back into a scowl.

 

Shen Qingqiu considered shaking Binghe off, but he could tell from his sour expression Binghe wouldn't let go. Shen Qingqiu internally sighed, but also couldn't help feeling fond. He really does see everyone as a threat.

 

 "Do not be afraid to speak. We are willing to offer assistance if needed," He said to the man kneeling before him. Yang Yixuan just continued to get redder as the minutes passed and Shen Qingqiu couldn't help but raise a quizzical eyebrow. Had a Bai Zhan disciple finally gone brain dead from being knocked around too much?

 

Finally, Yang Yixuan was able to collect himself enough to rise off the ground. His face was smeared with dirt, but he paid it no mind, glancing one more time at where Shen Qingqiu and Luo Binghe stood close together. Shen Qingqiu saw a flash of longing in the young man's eyes before he heard the quiet question pass from his lips.

 

"Shen Shishu, do you really not detest your disciple after everything he's done?" 

 

Shen Qingqiu was momentarily shocked. He wasn't expecting a question like this from Liu Qingge's disciple of all people. Binghe turned his head to look at him expectantly, waiting for the answer. 

 

He cleared his throat. "My disciple… Binghe has amended for his past actions and we have resolved our misunderstandings. We are on particularly good terms now." Shen Qingqiu averted his eyes in embarrassment but he could feel Binghe's smile pressed into his hair at the reply. 

 

Yang Yixuan continued to stare resolutely and, this time more firmly, asked "How can I get my master to love me?"

 

A moment of silence passed before Shen Qingqiu's mind could reboot.

 

Wait… what? 

 

He could feel a mouthful of blood trying to make its way up his throat as the shock settled on him, but he choked it back down with an elegant twist of his fan to draw attention away from his mental breakdown.

 

Liu Qingge, the great peak lord of Bai Zhan Peak, the god of war, forever frigid, and the straightest straight guy to still remain in this goddamn book is being pursued by his own MALE head disciple?! Shen Qingqiu tried to wrack his brain for any moments that might explain his Shidi's new -preferences- but the more he tried the more he drew a blank. It's true Liu Qingge never showed an outward interest in women, but the man also has never shown an interest in anything besides fighting or his sword. If Shen Qingqiu went on outward interest alone, he'd think Liu Qingge was into monster fucking with how much he goes on and on about the types of beasts he's encountered in his life. Any time the two were together, Liu Qingge never mentioned being close to anyone. He just kept bothering Shen Qingqiu with battle tips and news from the other peaks, though he can't deny he doesn't enjoy his Shidi's companionship and the shy way he averts his eyes when they talk. Liu Qingge is still new at making friends after all. 

 

Shen Qingqiu sighed briefly before saying, "And why does Liu Shidi's disciple think this master and his own disciple can help you?"

 

"You wanted nothing to do with Luo Binghe for years, and now…" Yang Yixuan blushed, "You are married. I have stuck by Shizhun's side for so long and he has never glanced my way. I- I don't know what else I can do to win his favor."

 

"In other words, you've fallen for that mindless, meathead and you want him to somehow accept your romantic advances," said Binghe. "Liu Shishu has the emotional intelligence of a toad. You're better off giving up."

 

I can't necessarily disagree, thought Shen Qingqiu. Liu Shidi doesn't even know how to, umm… take care of himself. Yang Yixuan is going to struggle down the road at this rate.

 

Yang Yixuan bristled with anger. "How dare you insult my Shizhun that way, Demon! You have no right to talk after you fought him and threw him away. You must know of his feelings that brought him to you day by day, and you dare call him unable to love." 

 

Luo Binghe looked at Shen Qingqiu in his arms and nodded. "I do know of his feelings, but those are things of the past. This disciple has already gained Shizhun's affections. What exactly draws you to Liu Shishu?" 

 

"Does one need a proper reason to love someone?" Yang Yixuan challenged, face concentrated in a glower. "He gave me the strength to stand back up and continue moving forward when my hope was quickly being lost to the darkness. That's all you need to know."

 

Luo Binghe grew quiet and appeared to contemplate those words.

 

Is Binghe actually considering helping out Shidi's disciple?

 

"Binghe…" Shen Qingqiu began to say, but he was cut off when Binghe began to speak again.

 

"This one agrees to help Yang Shidi."

 

Yang Yixuan perked up at these words and gave a deferential nod. "Thank you, Luo Shixiong. I will follow any advice you give and endure any training I might need. It- It can be the same techniques you used to win over Lord Shen Qingqiu." He looked down again at the dirt he was still kneeling in. "I wouldn't be here begging you in such a shameful state if I wasn't desperate."

 

 "Fine," Binghe retorted. "We will begin immediately. I expect you to follow suit without complaints."

 

He turned to Shen Qingqiu a final time and gave him a quick embrace before leaning back with a smile. "Forgive this disciple, Shizhun. We will be making use of the kitchen for the rest of the afternoon. If Yang Shidi makes something that is not to your taste, I will gladly beat him at your command. Now excuse us." 

 

Luo Binghe grabbed Yang Yixuan by the back of his robes and hoisted him over his shoulder. The young man let out a yelp (though he will never admit it) before the two of them disappeared to where the kitchen was. Shen Qingqiu stared after them, suddenly standing alone in the courtyard of his bamboo house.

 

I hope you are prepared, Liu Shidi. Our disciples are surprisingly hard to resist. 

 

For the next two days, Binghe led Yang Yixuan all over Qing Jing Peak as the two toiled away in the kitchens. Shen Qingqiu could smell the vast variety of aromas wafting from the open windows late into the night, and sometimes he was even allowed to taste one of the dishes if it first passed Binghe's approval. Yang Yixuan was surprisingly adept at cooking despite having never cooked anything more complex than porridge in his youth, but he had to admit, the young man who was able to convince Liu Qingge to finally accept a disciple had to have some hidden surprises up his sleeve. When the two weren't hard at work in the kitchens, Yang Yixuan could be found cleaning the guestrooms, aligning the sheets and creating flower displays that would put some of the grandest inns to shame. Other times, the two would talk late into the night, voices low and hushed, with only the faint light of a lantern illuminating the room, and the sight left Shen Qingqiu feeling slightly ominous about what exactly they might need to talk about away from prying ears. 

 

But all too soon, Yang Yixuan finally presented himself to Shen Qingqiu and gave his departing words. "This disciple thanks Lord Shen Qingqiu for his hospitality these past three days," he says with a bow. "I shall now depart to be with my Shizhun. I…hope the results will be favorable." 

 

He turned to look at Binghe, who stood with arms crossed and expression neutral. The animosity between the two was not completely gone, but a sense of comradery bloomed between the two disciples in their endeavors to win over their masters. Yang Yixuan gave a nod in acknowledgement. "Thank you, Luo Shixiong. I will take your teachings to heart." And then in another flash of white light, Yang Yixuan was gone as abruptly as he had arrived.

 

Luo Binghe sighed and leaned down to press a kiss against Shen Qingqiu's temple. "He's finally gone. This disciple is sorry to have neglected his Shizhun for so long." 

 

He melts into Binghe's embrace. Maybe he had been a little lonely with Binghe so preoccupied with Liu Shidi's disciple, but he won't be the one to say it aloud. Instead he asks the question that has been weighing on his mind the past couple of days.

 

"Why did you help him?"

 

"Because," Binghe replies, "I think I can understand how he feels about getting the strength to move forward. Also, this disciple can rest easier knowing Liu Shishu is out of the picture."

 

Shen Qingqiu looked at him quizzically, and Luo Binghe just gave an affectionate laugh. "Do not worry Shizhun. Let's just hope Yang Shidi succeeds." 

 

"Yes, it would be nice if Liu Shidi had someone to watch over his more impulsive tendencies," Shen Qingqiu agreed.

 

Liu Shidi, it appears we are fated to fall for men, but worry not. This may be your road to happiness. 

 

Shen Qingqiu didn't expect results right away, but when five days passed and then later a week with no contact from Yang Yixuan, he couldn't help but feel antsy. Did Liu Qingge approve of his disciple's feelings or did he kill the young man on the spot? A flash of dread crept up into his stomach. Surely Liu Shidi wouldn't kill his own disciple?! 

 

But honestly it wouldn't be entirely out of character, he thought with a grimace. 

 

Shen Qingqiu became easily distracted and noticed his thoughts drifting in different directions the more time passed, and Binghe finally had enough. He paused the trail of kisses he was planting on Shen Qingqiu's neck when he noticed his master zoning out in bed.

 

"Shizhun, if you are so worried about Yang Shidi, we can pay Bai Zhan Peak a visit," Luo Binghe murmured in his ear.

 

Shen Qingqiu felt himself flush at being caught thinking of other things during these kinds of activities. "Sorry, Binghe. This master is always unfair to you. You don't have to step onto Bai Zhan Peak if you wish not to. They are not kind to you there."

 

Luo Binghe nips him on the ear in response, and Shen Qingqiu lets out a little noise of surprise. "This disciple will go anywhere that will make Shizun happy, and if I must fight a hundred Bai Zhan Peak disciples for Shizun's peace of mind, so be it."

 

"Also… This disciple wants Shizun to only think of me!" Binghe ducked his head into Shen Qingqiu's shoulder and began to whine, tears already clinging to his long eyelashes. "You've been distant this past week!" 

 

Shen Qingqiu ran his fingers through Binghe's hair, working through a rogue knot in his otherwise perfect hair. Really, I can't neglect him for a second, can I?

 

"This master apologizes."

 

Luo Binghe pouted and looked up with wide eyes. "Will Shizun make it up to me?" 

 

With a small sigh, Shen Qingqiu leaned down to pull his disciple into a deep kiss. 

 

….

 

The two of them finally made the decision to visit Yang Yixuan at Bai Zhan Peak under the guise of "official business" but the scene in front of them is enough to show how well Yang Yixuan's attempt at courtship is going. 

 

Shen Qingqiu snaps open his fan to hide the way his mind is racing and tripping over itself. “This one must apologize, Liu Shidi. It appears we have arrived at a bad time." 

 

Because what he sees is Yang Yixuan and Liu Qingge going head to head in the demolished ruins of Liu Qingge's private quarters. A table is left in shards, retaining none of its previous appearance and official sect documents are scattered over the floor like a decorative rug. Though what catches Shen Qingqiu's eyes is the shocked, pale face of his Shidi, further draining of color. 

 

Liu Qingge is in love with Binghe?! How could he not see this?!

 

"Shen Qingqiu! Do not misunderstand!" Liu Qingge yells desperately, but Shen Qingqiu was already trying to figure out this new development in his head. 

 

So, to get things straight… or maybe not straight… Yang Yixuan loves Liu Qingge but Liu Qingge loves Binghe and Binghe loves me and I love him back. When did this book become a shoujo manga and how did things get to this point?! All this time, he had assumed Liu Shidi held no feelings for anyone, but to think Shen Qingqiu recruited his help to save Binghe so many times only to keep Binghe for himself. It makes sense why Liu Shidi was so against him leaving with his disciple to the demon realm. Binghe is the only one who can beat Liu Qingge in battle. Could it be Liu Qingge fell for him during one of their spars? What other courtship ritual could a man obsessed with fighting have?

 

"Liu Shidi. I was never aware you thought so favorably about my disciple." 

 

Luo Binghe grabs Shen Qingqiu's shoulder. "Shizun, you mustn't be so hasty…" But he continues.

 

"I'm afraid I have been incredibly inconsiderate to your feelings."

 

Liu Qingge looks on in mortification as the object of his affections announces his love for his sworn enemy. Have his feelings been so weak Shen Qingqiu never noticed him once? A sense of shame and regret fills him. As expected, Liu Qingge is not cut out for love. He grits his teeth and responds in anger, "I have never loved this demon disciple of yours! In fact, nothing could disgust me more than the idea of lying with him!" 

 

Luo Binghe makes a sound of agreement from the side.

 

"But Shizun!" Yang Yixuan says from across the room. 

 

"You! Be quiet!" Liu Qingge yells back at him. "You accuse me of wanting the demon on unfounded assumptions, and then try to convince me to accept you?! How do I know your feelings are true when you know nothing about me?!" 

 

Yang Yixuan flinches at those words. "I'm sorry if I was mistaken Shizun, but… I always thought your heart belonged somewhere else." 

 

It had. But then Liu Qingge sealed it away, and now these fools are trying to destroy it along with the box. Every misguided statement paints him further the fool, and is another blow to the numerous walls he's built to keep face and stand tall as an unmovable god of war.

 

"Liu Shidi," says Shen Qingqiu, "I do not know your history with romantic affairs, but your disciple is dedicated to you. He visited this master at Qing Jing Peak to ask about you." 

 

"Shizun! I wish to cause you no troubles! If only you'd consider me…!"

 

Liu Qingge can feel himself reaching his breaking point. Spiritual energy radiates from his golden core in sporadic waves, bursting forth to his fingertips. Everyone has so many opinions about how I should feel! He can barely even look at Shen Qingqiu right now, too afraid his buried feelings will spring forth to right this misconception, to finally reveal how long he has treasured the man who once saved his life. But Liu Qingge has nothing to gain from admitting this weakness. Shen Qingqiu is married to a man he loves and loves him in return. The only option open to him is rejection. Loss. And then there is his disciple, Yang Yixuan, who was never subtle in his intentions, always fixing his unwavering attention on Liu Qingge, protecting his honor along with the sect. But Liu Qingge can't handle his attention anymore. Can't handle feelings anymore, and won't risk another fall. 

 

He meets Luo Binghe's eyes from where he stands behind Shen Qingqiu, hand resting comfortably on his shoulder, and the look he gets in return is one of pity, because of course he knows. He always knew how Liu Qingge really felt about Shen Qingqiu even before Qingge himself knew. 

 

Finally, he snaps.

 

The building qi in his body bursts out in wave, pushing the people around him backwards from the force of the explosion. Liu Qingge is standing in the center of the blast radius seething.

 

"I have NEVER loved anyone, nor do I intend to!" He yells, directing a cold glare at Yang Yixuan. He takes a couple steps towards the cowering disciple and Cheng Luan glows a bright white as if warning anyone who dares approach him. 

 

"I have humored you and your game for too long. We will end this farce for good."

 

Yang Yixuan was knocked to the ground in the previous wave of spiritual power and could only helplessly look up at the devastating rage of his master. "You can't be serious, Shizun?"

 

Liu Qingge ignores him. "We will settle this properly as cultivators of Bai Zhan Peak. A one-on-one duel. If you are able to bring me to my knees even once, we will pretend none of this ridiculousness today has happened, and you are free to continue to do as you wish. However…" Liu Qingge narrows his eyes. "If you lose, you will resume your position as a mere disciple and you will never dare approach me with any sense of familiarity." 

 

Shen Qingqiu interjects. "There is no reason to be this harsh, Liu Shidi."

 

"I have decided. The proper arrangements will be made tonight," Liu Qingge snaps. He turns on his heels and quickly brushes past Shen Qingqiu out the door.

 

Once again, Yang Yixuan can only watch as Liu Qingge walks away. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Liu Qingge spared no time separating himself from the wreckage of his bedroom where arguably the people closest to him saw him at his most vulnerable. He stepped quickly past Shen Qingqiu, the adrenaline of his outburst urging him forward, ignoring the worried look on his face. 

 

The breeze from the open courtyard is a relief from the stifling pressure of the eyes focused on him, focused on his shame, and Liu Qingge can finally breathe. He's no longer trapped, but he's not far enough away. He still can't think with how blood pulses through his head and qi still rushes throughout his body. Cheng Luan unsheathes itself and soon Liu Qingge is weaving through the forests on the outskirts of Bai Zhan Peak. 

 

The location he chooses to stop at proves to be a soothing one. Towering, old trees block the heat of the harsh sun with their sprawling branches, shading a pool of water and keeping it cool. There is a waterfall fueling the small pond with rainfall from higher peaks. He sits by the shore of the pond and the constant crashing sound of water pelting stone helps Liu Qingge finally calm his thoughts enough to sort through the events that occurred earlier in the day. 

 

Liu Qingge had run away like a coward with his tail between his legs. He rests his face in his hands as the mortification washes over him. Everything about this is unlike him. He shouldn't be getting flustered because of matters of the heart of all reasons, but it took only seeing Shen Qingqiu and his disciple in the same place to push him to the verge of qi deviating. And Liu Qingge is actually surprised he didn't finally meet his end, but death has to be preferable to showing his face to them again. 

 

But I still need to set the terms of this duel later today, thinks Liu Qingge with dread.

 

Yes, the battle that will finally end his disciple's pursuit of him and return things to how they were before. Liu Qingge will travel across the land fighting whoever he wants, and Yang Yixuan will be just a familiar face in the background. Nothing more. At most they'll interact during Bai Zhan Peak's monthly "examinations" or during official sect business, but otherwise Liu Qingge will spare him the minimum amount of attention like before when he merely sparred with the boy on a whim. 

 

And then Yang Yixuan will stop directing that blindingly warm smile at him for good. 

 

Liu Qingge growls in frustration. He let this go too far! Why should he miss his disciple clinging onto him like a burr on his robes? He could've rejected him the first night Yang Yixuan came to him with that extravagant gift and those sweet words, and till now Liu Qingge doesn't know why he didn't. He had said the Bai Zhan Peak Lord doesn't back down from a challenge, but that was a thinly veiled excuse if there ever was one. There was nothing setting Yang Yixuan apart from any other cultivator on the mountain. Liu Qingge was much too distracted with returning Shen Qingqiu's body from Luo Binghe's control to pay attention to the young man who bandaged his bruised body everyday. He could've beat Yang Yixuan to a pulp and dismissed him immediately, but a small part of Liu Qingge had wanted to see it through. To see if someone could actually want him. 

 

So he issued the challenge, and it's embarrassing how quickly Liu Qingge latched onto it despite how he pretended to be unaffected. The idea of companionship never crossed his mind, but seeing how comfortable Shen Qingqiu is with Luo Binghe opened his mind to what ifs. The unyielding look in Yang Yixuan's eyes also spoke of possibilities that Liu Qingge wasn't ready to destroy. However, the notion Liu Qingge was capable of having a relationship was foolish of him and it was inevitable he would destroy it with his own hands. He had devoted his life to cultivation and becoming a master of the sword, and he needs not stray any longer. He is Bai Zhan Peak's one-man demolition army, there is no room for another. 

 

Liu Qingge raises his head. His features school themselves into the familiar scowl and furrowed eyebrows. He finally feels a little bit more like himself, more in control. He is about to stand to make his way back when he hears a sound from above. The leaves on the trees rustle briefly before Shen Qingiu drops down from on top of Xiu Ya. 

 

He lands with a soft thud, and Liu Qingge glares at him where he stands. 

 

"What are you doing here?"

 

Shen Qingqiu has enough sense to look mildly ashamed and hides behind his fan. The situation was more than awkward. "This master apologizes for the sudden intrusion, but we are all worried about Liu Shidi."

 

Liu Qingge grunts. He wraps his arms tightly around himself as if they can protect him from lashing out again. Now that he has made his decision, he does not need to dwell on what he felt for Shen Qingqiu in the past. "You did not need to worry about me. I've decided to move on from all this nonsense." 

 

But Shen Qingqiu does not look convinced and the fan cannot conceal the sadness in his eyes. He begins to speak. "Look, Liu Shidi. This one does not want to force you to make decisions you are unwilling to, but if you carry on with this duel, it will truly be the end of you and Yang Yixuan." 

 

"I gave him a handicap," Liu Qingge responds curtly. "He only has to knock me to my knees." 

 

"But even then, you know he is no match for you," Shen Qingqiu says. 

 

Liu Qingge's chest puffs up in indignation. "No one is a match for me besides your husband. That is something everyone has to deal with." 

 

"Besides," he continues."If my disciple ever wishes to be Peak Lord, this is just one trial he will have to undertake to surpass me." 

 

Liu Qingge glares at Shen Qingqiu, and his shoulders droop in resignation. He snaps his fan shut to look directly into Liu Qingge's eyes. "And this decision… will make Liu Shidi happy?"

 

Liu Qingge opens his mouth to answer, but the words escape him. He turns his head to the side and barks out a resolute "Yes!" 

 

What was that pause?! I've made up my mind, and there is no going back now!

 

He doesn't want to waste any more time here. The longer he drags things on, the more muddled his brain gets. Liu Qingge turns his back to Shen Qingqiu and begins walking out of the clearing.

 

"Let's go," he says. "We must work out the logistics of this fight."

 

Shen Qingqiu just follows silently behind Liu Qingge, unable to say anymore. 

 

However, when the two return to Bai Zhan Peak, they are surprised to see another battle going on.

 

"Shizun! Help me!"

 

Luo Binghe had been knocked to the ground, and two assailants currently have him subdued.

 

A young girl is clinging from Luo Binghe's neck, arms wrapped in a tight chokehold. She is laughing, looking up at him with hearts in her eyes, but the dark expression on his face reveals Binghe has a different opinion about the situation. "Luo Shixiong! You promised to train with us!" She whines.

 

"I did not! I agreed to keep an eye on you- Ouch!" 

 

The smaller boy grabbed Luo Binghe's hair and is tugging hard. "Let go of my sister!" he yells. 

 

Luo Binghe can only look up pitifully at his master. His lips are trembling, and his already shiny eyes are collecting a sheen of wetness. Shen Qingqiu lets out a little chuckle while Liu Qingge scoffs in disgust. 

 

"And who might these two be?" Asks Shen Qingqiu, curious at the presence of these high spirited children on Bai Zhan Peak.

 

"Our two newest students," replies Liu Qingge. "They are currently under Yang Yixuan's care."

 

The young girl pauses for a moment when Liu Qingge mentions the two and quickly remembers the manners Yang Yixuan has been drilling into their heads. She loosens the grip around Binghe's neck, much to his relief (even as a powerful demon, one does not want to be caught in a grapple with a disciple from Bai Zhan Peak). She steps forward lightly and salutes the two peak lords.

 

"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lord Shen Qingqiu. We are Shang Mei and Shang Zhen. Lord Liu Qingge was kind enough to take the two of us in as students of Bai Zhan Peak," she says. 

 

Shang Zhen has not moved from where he still has Luo Binghe captive by his hair. I see this boy at least can feel the threat of Binghe's protagonist halo, Shen Qingqiu inwardly thinks , but I'm not going to be the one to explain why he doesn't have to worry about his sister. 

 

But then a sudden thought hits Shen Qingqiu. "Liu Shidi, it's unusual for you to take on new students outside of a selection trial. She mentioned you took them in." 

 

It was unheard of, but if Yang Yixuan wanted to take on full responsibility, and especially after all he said about improving Liu Qingge's reputation, he had no reason to refuse. "The two children lost their family and home. They had potential and my disciple took on full responsibility. I did not see a reason to turn them away." 

 

Shang Mei fiddles with the sleeves of her robes and hesitantly speaks up. "Umm… Lord Shen Qingqiu. Shang Zhen and I grew up in your jurisdiction, and we are grateful for the protection the Cang Qiong sect has always offered us, especially the cultivators of Qing Jing peak." Her expression becomes somber, and even Shang Zhen forgets he is battling Binghe, clinging onto him instead. 

 

"Our house caught on fire one day while the two of us were fishing in a stream. We saw the smoke and quickly ran back, but when I ran into the house, our parents were already dead. The flames were too strong to drag their bodies out." She roughly wipes at her eyes with her sleeve before continuing. "Yang Shixiong saw us by the wreckage and brought us here."

 

Shen Qingqiu frowns and shoots a look at Luo Binghe. They make eye contact and Binghe looks just as grim as Shen Qingqiu. This event had to have occurred as Yang Yixuan was returning to Bai Zhan Peak after his so called "training" with Binghe, but they did not hear about any fires in their area. News of unaccounted corpses would easily make its way to Qing Jing Peak. An unpleasant feeling began to settle in Shen Qingqiu's stomach. 

 

"This master apologizes he could not be of more service in your time of need. Are you satisfied living here at Bai Zhan Peak?" 

 

The light returns to Shang Mei's eyes and she responds enthusiastically. "Yes! The people here can be scary sometimes, but Yang Shixiong teaches us very well. I'm sure our parents would be proud to know we have been accepted into such a revered sect. Though that reminds me…" She turns to look at Liu Qingge, who looks back disinterestedly. "We came to help Yang Shixiong fix Lord Liu Qingge's chambers, but he refused all assistance." 

 

Shen Qingqiu smiles behind his fan. "And so my disciple has taken the role of Shixiong today."

 

Distantly, Liu Qingge can hear the mixed excited screams of the two children and Luo Binghe, but his attention is already directed towards his room. His disciple is there dealing with the aftermath alone, and he feels a familiar frustration building up in him again. Why doesn't he give up?! 

 

He slips away from the chaos, sending a glare signaling "don't follow" to Shen Qingqiu on the way out. When he reaches the door to his room, Yang Yixuan is picking the last shards of the broken plate off the ground. The crushed remains of the small lotus cake were already swept up with the rest of the dirt and tossed with the rubbish. Otherwise, the room is immaculate. Every piece of furniture and loose document was returned to its rightful place. Fabrics draping from the windows were straightened and even a new vase was placed on the table next to Liu Qingge's bed.

 

Yang Yixuan looks up from his task and locks eyes with his master.

 

It's a small movement, but Liu Qingge recoils.

 

Yang Yixuan's eyes are flat, devoid of the usual fire burning deep within his brown irises. What's left is a hollow shell of his energetic disciple. 

 

His disciple turns to him and salutes him. He does not bother raising his head again. "Shizun, this disciple is pleased to see your return. Is the room to your liking?"

 

Liu Qingge is speechless for a moment, unsure how to respond. This is what he wanted, but something about his disciple's behavior is so wrong.

 

Regardless, he crosses his arms and clears his throat. "It's fine. You've done well cleaning this mess." 

 

Yang Yixuan only deepens his bow, eyes not rising once. "Thank you for your kind words." 

 

"Yang Yixuan," Liu Qingge bites out. He wishes his words were smoother, his conviction from moments before seems to be fading. "I want to discuss the terms of our duel."

 

The disciple nods. "Yes, Shizun." 

 

With the table having been destroyed in the earlier brawl, Liu Qingge leads him to the adjacent sitting room. He scowls from across the table, but his disciple remains in that same despondent state, a polite smile and dim eyes.

 

Liu Qingge knows he basically just broke the young man's heart in a very public bout of violence so he shouldn't be the one complaining. But this dead expression of his disciple's is pissing him off. There's a niggling feeling that he knows why he hates it so much, but Liu Qingge pushes it down.

 

"First, the time and location," begins Liu Qingge. "We will battle in the main training field exactly an hour after sunrise. Failure to show up will count as a forfeit." Liu Qingge waits for any objections and continues when he gets none. "We are allowed to use only our swords and cultivation. No underhanded techniques will be tolerated."

 

"As for the conditions, they are the same from this morning. If I am able to incapacitate you or you give up, I win. You will no longer be able to approach me with any familiarity besides those of strictly master and disciple. We will accompany each other during official sect business and training, but you will no longer need to tend to me personally." Liu Qingge waits again and receives only silence. "And… you will never mention your feelings for me ever again."

 

Yang Yixuan nods again. "Yes, Shizun." 

 

Is that the extent of his determination?! Monosyllabic answers?! Liu Qingge grits his teeth. At this rate, he shouldn't even bother mentioning the winning terms. 

 

"However, if you can get me to my knees even once or incapacitate me, you may continue whatever plan you may have. I can't promise you anything will change, and you run the risk of trying for something you'll never get in your life." 

 

Yang Yixuan's head finally rises and his hands clasp together under the table. Slowly, he opens his mouth. "I… I agree to the terms." 

 

Liu Qingge surges forward just enough to meet the other face to face. "You know, no matter the outcome, I will likely never love you," he says.

 

"I know." 

 

The two stare into each other's eyes. Liu Qingge glares with all the frustration he can muster, but he is unable to read the steady gaze of his disciple. Finally, Liu Qingge sinks back into his seat. He waves his hand. "Fine. You may go." 

 

"Then I shall take my leave." Yang Yixuan rises and gives his final regards. 

 

"Goodnight, Shizun."

 

The door slides shut behind him, and Liu Qingge is left alone with his thoughts. He lets out a wry smile. Once again, he gave his disciple the option to indulge in whatever fantasy that makes him appealing to the young man, but of course he would lose interest after seeing how much of a single-minded fool Liu Qingge is. Yang Yixuan is better off chasing some girl who can give him all the open affection he needs. A girl who would willingly curl up in his arms and whisper him sweet nothings. It would be time better spent instead of chasing some war god who can barely recover from being rejected once, limping away like some wounded deer who was able to escape a hunter with just an arrow to the flank. Liu Qingge has no right to regret the decisions he's made.  

 

And yet he is the one who can't turn away from the sight of that closed door. 

 

….

 

The sun is just barely peeking over the horizon when the first signs of a crowd can be seen on the training field. Word spread fast that the head disciple would be fighting the peak lord. The soft murmuring of gossip buzzes like bees between the gathered Bai Zhan Peak cultivators as people try to guess what could have brought this battle about.

 

"I heard Yang Yixuan is finally challenging Liu Qingge for the position of Peak Lord," one man whispers.

 

"No, no," another one counters. "It isn't anything as formal as that. I heard Yang Yixuan couldn't handle being disrespected any longer. Did you know he does all the work around here? Bet he couldn't stand getting only beatings as rewards."

 

A young woman raises her hand to her mouth to quiet her words as she also enters the fray. "I walked past Lord Liu Qingge's private quarters yesterday, and they were completely destroyed. I think those two have already been fighting."

 

"Really, his bedchamber?!" A voice exclaims almost excitedly. "I heard Yang Yixuan forced himself on our lovely master, and this is a battle for his honor!" 

 

"What?! Have you been reading those novels again?!"

 

The chatter continues until exactly half an hour after the sun rise when the war god makes his appearance. He is as pristine as usual, not a hair out of place from his high ponytail, with his white robes fluttering in the morning breeze. The golden rays of the morning sun only highlight his delicate features and the fierce set of his brow. The warriors of Bai Zhan Peak can only look on in awe at the splendor of one of the human realm's strongest cultivators, and the man they pledged their unwavering loyalty to.

 

Liu Qingge takes his place at the head of the training field and stands still as a statue.

 

Minutes pass and soon it is five minutes till the arranged battle time. The crowd has expanded till people encircle the entire fighting area on all sides. The quiet murmurs from the morning are now a dull roar as excitement and anticipation permeate the air. Shen Qingqiu and Luo Binghe had made their way to the arena not long after Liu Qingge had arrived, and chose to spectate from the middle of the field.

 

The only one who hasn't arrived is Yang Yixuan. 

 

The minutes tick away and soon it is a minute before the starting time. Liu Qingge still hasn't moved at all from his position, and his stoic expression gives none of his thoughts away. If Yang Yixuan doesn't arrive in the next moment, they will have to call the fight. 

 

A mousy little man scuttles from the sidelines and approaches Liu Qingge nervously. "My Lord, I need to begin the countdown."

 

Still, Liu Qingge does not even blink, only staring ahead at the other end of the field. The man gulps and raises his arm. "W-well then," he stutters. "I will begin the countdown! Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five--"

 

With five seconds to spare, a lone figure shoots down to the training field like a blazing comet. The force of the impact sends dust flying in every direction in a thick cloud, and when the debris finally settles, Yang Yixuan is standing proud with his blade out. 

 

Yes! Shen Qingqiu mentally fist pumps. The hero always arrives at the last minute! 

 

The crowd is silent for only a moment before people are cheering and waving their arms in the air. The mousy man lowers his arm and quickly runs back for safety. It's only then Liu Qingge finally breaks his silence.

 

"I thought you might've run away."

 

The man standing before Liu Qingge now is not the same moping disciple from yesterday. Yang Yixuan's eyes are firm and there is a burning determination simmering under the surface. He places his hands on his hips and leans back before yelling.

 

"LIU QINGGE!"

 

There is a collective gasp from the audience, and even Liu Qingge's eyes widen a fraction of a centimeter at the outburst. The other Bai Zhan Peak disciples would never dare call Liu Qingge without a title straight to his face, unless they were welcoming death. 

 

But Yang Yixuan was not finished. "I have not had peace for even a second knowing I have wronged you, and I have reflected on my mistakes! You accused me of being untrue of my feelings, and you are right to be unsure!" 

 

Liu Qingge panics briefly. Does he intend to do this here, in public?!"

 

"I thought only about what I could do to win your favor, knowing your heart belonged elsewhere, but I never truly showed you the man that is Yang Yixuan! And… regretfully it is as you say! I don't know you. Not in the way that I can become your support. But that changes today!" He points at Liu Qingge. "I will prove myself here on the battlefield as a proper head disciple of Bai Zhan Peak. And thus I renew my proposal!" 

 

"This disciple wishes to formally court his master! To stand by his side as a cultivation partner and support him in his times of need!"

 

Yang Yixuan is breathing heavily as if he just ran laps around the mountain. He stoops just a little as the condensed courage drains from his body. 

 

Meanwhile, the crowd is whipped up into a frenzy.

 

"Did you hear that?! The head disciple is after our master!" Someone yells, while in the distance there is a faint, "I can't wait to see what new stories we'll get next week!" 

 

Shen Qingqiu can feel many sets of eyes staring at his back and rapidly fans himself as Binghe drapes a comforting arm around his shoulders.

 

You can stare all you want, but I don't have the power to turn people gay! He thinks angrily.

 

Liu Qingge, on the other hand, is doing all he can to contain the blush rising up his neck. He knew there would be no way to avoid the reasoning for this battle, but he did not expect everything to be screamed out towards the heavens! His face is too thick to allow his whole peak see him flustered towards his disciple. He steels his face back into a stoic mask.

 

"If you are no longer hesitating, show me what you got," he says.

 

Yang Yixuan replies, "Gladly." 

 

And then suddenly the battlefield is alight with the glow of two spiritual swords. 

 

Those with lesser cultivation would not be able to see the two men clashing swords, their movements too fast for the human eye. However the sound of steel against steel rings out throughout the mountain peak. Yang Yixuan takes the offensive with a myriad of strikes aiming for Liu Qingge's chest. He concentrates on every possible opening and focuses on the speed of his blows to reduce his own weak spots, but Liu Qingge does not break a sweat as he calmly dodges each of the attacks. He steps lightly on the dirt ground and turns suddenly, spinning on his right foot.

 

Yang Yixuan doesn't have time to react before a blast of spiritual energy hits him in the face and he is hurled backwards. He hits the ground hard and the earth forms a crater where he lands. The air is punched out of his lungs, and he struggles to stand but the action is futile as a kick is landed on his face and the man is sent crashing into the ground once more. 

 

Liu Qingge peers over the blood on his boot to look at his disciple. "I could have sworn I taught you better than this." 

 

Yang Yixuan's sword glows again. "You did." 

 

The sword flies out from Yang Yixuan's grasp but not before flinging a shower of stones in Liu Qingge's direction, and the action catches him by surprise. Liu Qingge jumps back and swings Cheng Luan in an arc, knocking the stones out of the way, but it's in that instance when Yang Yixuan grabs his sword once more and leaps above Liu Qingge to drive the blade into his unprotected neck. Liu Qingge feels the sudden presence above him and blocks the blow just as the sword knicks him on the cheek. He channels strength into his arms and repels Yang Yixuan backwards. His disciple lets out a grunt of pain as he is sent rolling against the ground, but this time wastes no time getting back up again on shaky feet.

 

"Not bad," Liu Qingge says with a hint of a smile.

 

Yang Yixuan grimaces in pain but counters with a wide grin of his own. "This disciple has a good master."

 

The fight continues in much of the same pattern. Yang Yixuan launches an attack and Liu Qingge defends, but for every gambit Yang Yixuan is able to land on his master, he receives ten times the amount of damage. He is the head disciple and no one denies he has the skillset to stand as the top cultivator beneath the venerable Liu Qingge. However, Yang Yixuan has still only mastered mid-tier cultivation. He may have stopped aging in his early twenties, but immortality still lies just barely out of his reach. The spiritual energy needed to close that gap though is exponential to the amount he has now, especially with Bai Zhan Peak's methods of cultivation, and he feels it every time he gazes upon the unwavering confidence his master carries himself with. In his eyes Liu Qingge is truly a god. It was foolish of Yang Yixuan to challenge a Peak Lord, but he refuses to give up on hope. Luo Binghe overturned every expectation the cultivation world set for him, as if he was some protagonist of a novel, and Yang Yixuan can only cling to the possibility that fate somehow favors him too. 

 

The sun has risen high into the midday sky. The crowd is no longer cheering, but rather they watch with rapt attention for the final moment is near. Yang Yixuan can barely stand any longer and must use his sword to support his body. Bruises marr his face and blood has already started crusting around his mouth and nose. Liu Qingge still stands firmly on both feet with only faint traces of dirt on his white robes and a thin cut on his face indicating he has been fighting for the past several hours. 

 

Liu Qingge looks at the pitiful condition of his disciple. "Give up, Yang Yixuan. You can't go on any longer."

 

The young man doesn't answer immediately, chest heaving with the strain of staying on his feet. He coughs once and spits out a mouthful of blood before replying in a raspy voice. "Shizun, you've put me in worse conditions before. My position as your disciple was well earned."  

 

But that doesn't mean I want to see you hurt.  

 

Liu Qingge clenches his fists beside him. "Fine. Let's put an end to this." He sheathes his sword. He does not need Cheng Luan to knock his disciple out cold when the man in question is barely clinging to consciousness. Liu Qingge predicted this outcome from the moment he issued the terms of the battle, but now the finality of the outcome begins to hit. This is the end. The end of a battle, and the end of a possibility. His disciple couldn't overcome the odds and now he will be just a Peak Lord.

 

(Now he will be alone.)

 

With a final glance at the hunched form of Yang Yixuan before him, Liu Qingge charges. The distance between them closes in an instant, and he draws back his fist, ready to strike his disciple hard in the abdomen. 

 

But the impact never comes. Yang Yixuan grabs the arm extended towards him and pulls. Shock paints itself over Liu Qingge's face, and he stumbles forward as his forearm is pulled past Yang Yixuan's prone form and twisted away. Arms wrap around him from behind and pull tight, keeping Liu Qingge immobile in his hold.

 

A chokehold?! Liu Qingge adjusts his footing and reaches for the arms wrapped around his shoulders. There's no way Yang Yixuan has enough energy to pull this off!

 

Though something is wrong, because while the hold is tight, the body behind him is limp. It's more of an embrace than a chokehold, and Yang Yixuan's head rests on Liu Qingge's shoulder.

 

"Shizun."

 

The voice murmured into Liu Qingge's ear is weak, barely a whisper. "I'm sorry." 

 

Liu Qingge could easily throw his disciple to the ground now. End things properly. But he finds himself frozen stiff. He somehow can't bring himself to move away from the tickling breath and fragile voice. 

 

"I'm sorry," Yang Yixuan repeats. "I messed up everything between us."

 

"What is the meaning of this?" Liu Qingge struggles against Yang Yixuan's hold, but he makes no move to loosen the grip.

 

"I don't blame you for doubting my feelings, Shizun. You were always out of my reach, and I have always treated you as if you were placed on a pedestal above me. You were strong in a way I couldn't be and desperately sought. I tried so many times to suppress my feelings for you, but I couldn't erase you from my mind." 

 

Yang Yixuan lets out a huff of air as if laughing. "Did you think me a fool when I came to pursue you?"

 

"Of course I did!" Liu Qingge hisses.

 

This is met with another laugh, but Yang Yixuan falls still. It's another few moments before he asks, "You don't remember what you said to me in Jinlan City?"

 

"Remember what?"

 

"It doesn't matter," says Yang Yixuan. "You always meant much more to me than I to you." 

 

Yang Yixuan starts to slip down Liu Qingge's back, and he unconsciously reaches to grab his disciple's hands in his own. He won't be able to hold on much longer.

 

"You know Shizun. I've always dreamed of holding you like this."

 

Liu Qingge finally cranes his neck back to look at Yang Yixuan. "Do you have no shame?!" But his retort falls on deaf ears. At last Yang Yixuan slips the rest of the way down falling unconscious at Liu Qingge's feet. 

 

Suddenly it's not just the two of them anymore as people begin to talk frantically around them, but Liu Qingge can only stare at the immobile form of his disciple. 

 

Finally, it's over. This is what he wanted, and this is what he got.

 

"Take him to the infirmary." 

 

And with that, he turns his back and walks forward.