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Joyed to be Forlorn

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Luo Binghe couldn't decide what to do about the issue of the sowers.

It was tempting to stay quiet, to let the accusations mount up so that Shizun could never ever leave him.

But the look on Shizun's face as he asked if Luo Binghe had brought the sowers kept flashing through his mind. Shizun thought Luo Binghe had done it. Shizun thought he had brought in sowers and caused so much death simply to make up a fake accusation to add to the real ones.

If Luo Binghe let this accusation that he knew was false stand, would Shizun ever believe that it had been someone else? The easiest way to prove otherwise was to find who really brought them, and he couldn't do that if everyone thought it must be Shizun.

Shizun hadn't brought the sowers. Luo Binghe was sure of that.

He didn't know if Shizun had killed Qiu Haitang's family. Luo Binghe had seen his master turn from a cruel man into a kind one just for want of a few memories. He knew what it looked like when Shizun was hiding something (when he was avoiding something, when he wouldn't tell Luo Binghe why). He knew what it looked like when Shizun was unsure. The slight shift of his stance, the way his hands clutched at his fan.

When Qiu Haitang had accused him, Shizun had been unsure. Shizun couldn't remember.

Luo Binghe wasn't an idiot. He knew some things could change a person. Shizun had forgotten something terrible enough that simply not knowing it had turned him kind. The question was, was that memory from before he'd been taken in by the Qiu's or not?

The question was why he'd hated Luo Binghe so terribly before he lost that horrible memory. Was it something Luo Binghe had done or something he was or…or was something in Shizun broken that had mended with that qi deviation?

Would that Shizun, the one from before, have murdered so many people in cold blood? Or was Luo Binghe doing exactly the same thing that Shizun had done when he had looked at Luo Binghe and assumed Luo Binghe must have been behind the sowers just because he was a demon?

Shizun hadn't brought the sowers.

Luo Binghe would look into Qiu Haitang's story, he decided. That would have to be enough. Shizun had forgotten but…but Shizun had been cruel, before. Shizun had thrown Luo Binghe into the abyss, even after. Luo Binghe still didn't know if that was because Shizun had remembered or for some other reason.

Shizun might have killed those people.

But he hadn't brought the sowers. He hadn't brought them and he thought Luo Binghe had.

It was a selfish reason. He should want to clear Shizun's name for the sake of clearing it. He should want to clear Shizun's name because it was the right thing to do.

There was an ugly part of him welling up, louder and louder every day (every hour, every second) that wanted to let it stand. The more Shizun was accused of, the less likely he could run away from Luo Binghe ever again. Some of it was Xin Mo, he knew that. But most of it was himself.

He almost listened to it.

He might have if Lao Gongzhu hadn't mentioned the sowers. Mournfully, properly, lamenting how far another immortal had fallen to send demons to devour a city. It would have been very convincing, this old man standing in this golden Huan Hua hallway and gracefully lamenting another's sins, if Luo Binghe hadn't known it wasn't true.

It set Luo Binghe's blood on edge, and for a moment the surge of irrational anger was enough to push the ugly whispers back.

"Shizun didn't bring the sowers." At Lao Gongzhu's surprised look, Luo Binghe elaborated, the words suddenly easy now that the first ones had been spoken. "Shizun thought someone set him up after they called to him. He was surprised and looked for the real culprit."

Shizun had looked right at Luo Binghe.

Lao Gongzhu sighed, face a picture of grandfatherly concern. "I know you want to think the best of your old master, but who could have possibly set up such an elaborate trap? The simplest explanation is often the correct one."

"This time it is not." Luo Binghe insisted. "I don't know who could have done it, or why, but Shizun did not bring them."

When Lao Gongzhu looked like he might argue more, Luo Binghe let all the firmness he could pervade his voice. "I'm certain."

There was silence for a moment, then a sigh, "If you're sure, then this master will look for further clues. While I believe Shen Qingqiu to be guilty, I won't risk allowing such wickedness to be left uninvestigated. There are some days until the trial. With the crisis over, that will be time enough to pursue all other possible leads."

Luo Binghe wanted to feel relieved. Instead his nerves hummed, disquieted.

It was probably because of the trial. Cang Qiong would be preparing. If Qiu Haitang's accusations were false, they would find proof. The entire Qing Jing peak would be willing to refute the accusations of abuse. And as for Luo Binghe's own grievances….

He was quietly aware that it was very possible his clever (scared) Shizun was waiting until the trial to reveal Luo Binghe's heritage before the entire cultivation world. With the other accusations disproved and Luo Binghe revealed as a demon….

Luo Binghe clenched his jaw, fighting off a wave of betrayed anger. "I would like to see him."

Maybe, maybe, Luo Binghe would get answers. Maybe he could convince Shizun to see. And then he could cut a portal to his palace and bring Shizun home (safe and his and no one else's) and let the cultivation world hold their trial in his absence. Or not. If he had Shizun, then what did it matter?

Lao Gongzhu sighed. "So you've said. If you can't be dissuaded…after the evening meal, you may speak to him."

Luo Binghe spent the rest of the day simmering in anger. Why should he have to wait to demand answers, when he was the entire reason that Shizun was even captured, really? The Huan Hua disciples swarming around him were more annoying than ever. Every other word was about how evil his Shizun was, and couldn't they see that Luo Binghe wasn't in the mood? Xin Mo was no help. Every time he thought of just going to the prison and threatening until they let him in, the sword surged in approval.

And at the same time he was dreading the conversation. Shizun had been running and running and running from him. That might seem impossible now, with him bound and imprisoned, but Luo Binghe knew better than anyone how his Shizun could close himself off.

The evening meal, once it finally came, was tense, with Lao Gongzhu sneaking looks at Luo Binghe whenever he seemed to think Luo Binghe wasn't looking. Luo Binghe knew the old man wasn't pleased about him going to talk to Shizun, but he didn't care.

Before Luo Binghe left for the water prison, the old man reached out to grab his arm. "Are you sure of this? Any answers you find, I fear they will not be the ones you wish to hear."

"I'm sure," Luo Binghe answered, resisting the urge to shake off the grip. Lao Gongzhu seemed almost tempted not to let him go, his grip tightening enough that it might have been painful if Luo Binghe had been anyone else, but after a moment he reluctantly stepped away.

Luo Binghe felt increasingly ill as he made his way to the prison. It was almost enough to push back his anger, which wasn't good because his anger was the only thing holding down the part of Luo Binghe that just wanted to pick up his Shizun and take him back to Qing Jing and lie on the walk in front of the bamboo house until Shizun stopped hating him again.

He couldn't do that. If he did that, then they'd throw Luo Binghe out, Shizun would never leave again, and Luo Binghe would never get so much as acknowledgement, much less answers.

Xiao Gongzhu was menacing Shizun with a whip when he arrived.

Shizun's robe was tattered, and even the immortal binding cable had been nicked badly enough to be obviously fraying. Luo Binghe wanted to be furious as he caught he whip. It was wrong no matter who the prisoner was.

Xin Mo was strangely quiet, and with that voice went Luo Binghe's anger.

"Just leave," he said after a moment of frowning at an increasingly wide-eyed Xiao Gongzhu. She looked like she was going to say something, but Luo Binghe turned away until she left, the other disciples trailing after her. His skin itched with his annoyance. He didn't even want to fight, just for things to be less of a mess.

Maybe he should take Shizun home if Luo Binghe couldn't even manage to be angry about this. Maybe he should--was any of this going to result in anything? Was he only making it worse? Was he numbing himself to everything to the point that even if he did get his answers, it would make no difference to him? Maybe Shizun was right and Luo Binghe was cursed to be a beast of a demon, capable of feeling no concern for anyone but himself.

Luo Binghe clenched his jaw, struggling to think of the right words to say. That ill feeling kept rising and rising and at this point he was clinging on to that numbness where the anger had lived mere minutes ago. He had to, or he was going to fall at Shizun's feet and cry for him to take him back, and that wasn't going to help at all. The disquiet was enough to make him almost dizzy.

It was…

It was actually making him dizzy.

Luo Binghe realized that what he'd blamed on his own emotions was actually poison at about the same moment he lost his balance and tipped forwards.

"Binghe!"

There was a snapping sound, which Luo Binghe dimly identified as the immortal binding cable breaking, and then soft hands were turning him over.

There was concern plainly on Shizun's face, and seeing that was enough to make Luo Binghe tear up.

Shizun's concern only grew, and he grabbed for Luo Binghe's wrist. The flow of qi was quick, there and gone so fast that it felt like a dream, but whatever he found seemed to sooth Shizun's worry.

"Poison." Shizun frowned down at Luo Binghe. "You shouldn't be this out of it from poison. That should be something you can deal with easily."

It was.

Really, the fact that this poison had managed to get far enough to even affect him said some rather concerning things. Mostly that someone knew Luo Binghe was a heavenly demon and had given him a poison very specific to that. The only person who should know was Shizun, but if Shizun hadn't told Cang Qiong (and he hadn't--Luo Binghe doubted Liu-shishu would have let him anywhere near Shizun if he had), then he definitely hadn't told anyone else.

So there must be a demon working with someone in Huan Hua Palace. And...whoever it was, they were hoping that Shizun would harm Luo Binghe?

That wasn't a bad solution. It would be easy for Shizun to kill him right now. The cable must have been carefully selected to be one Shizun could break out of, and they were surrounded by acid. Even if he failed, Shizun would be the one blamed for all of it.

It would be so easy for Shizun to toss him into the acid, just like he'd tossed him into the abyss.

Luo Binghe gazed, somewhat unfocused, up at his Shizun, who was frowning down at him.

Would Shizun push him into the acid?

He could distantly feel anger at the concept. Xin Mo slipped in with the emotion, whispering for him to deal with the problem now.

Luo Binghe should cleanse the poison. He should ready himself for a fight at partial strength. Even at partial strength, he should be a match for Shizun now.

It seemed, all of a sudden, like an awful lot to do.

Shizun wasn't attacking him, he noted somewhat distantly. Shizun just looked like he was thinking about something that worried him. It wasn't the look of someone who was about to take advantage of a poisoned enemy.

Unless he thought Luo Binghe was faking it.

Because Shizun knew that poison couldn't affect him.

Would he assume that Luo Binghe had poisoned himself, to try to trick Shizun into attacking him?

Probably.

Luo Binghe could feel his eyes filling with tears at that thought. It was so frustrating! It wasn't fair! No matter what he did, Shizun would think the worst of him! He could be the most graceful most righteous cultivator, he could be attacked, and Shizun would just think that Luo Binghe was a demon setting a trap.

"Binghe!" Shizun scolded, voice wavering just the slightest bit. "Get up!"

Luo Binghe shut his eyes stubbornly.

"Binghe! What are you--you shouldn't be able to be poisoned! You should be fine! Get up!"

Luo Binghe could hear Shizun kneeling down beside him again and feel Shizun taking up his wrist.

Luo Binghe knew that he really should clear the poison.

But…

Shizun was touching him.

Shizun wasn’t trying to shove him into the acid.

As soon as Luo Binghe got back up, Shizun would be scared of him again.

So, instead of doing the thing he knew he should do, Luo Binghe just lay there. The poison was crafty for it to be something that could even affect him. It would be easy enough to deal with now that he knew about it, but…

Shizun didn't know that Luo Binghe would be able to do so. Shizun didn't know that there was no reason to worry.

And there Luo Binghe went again, playing the evil manipulative demon and pretending to be hurt so that Shizun would show him a bit of care. He knew it was wrong. He knew that Shizun would trust him even less if he found out. He knew--

Shizun patted at his face, and Luo Binghe blinked his eyes open, wondering idly when his lashes had gotten so wet.

Shizun looked upset. In that way he had where he obviously thought he was hiding it completely behind a mask, but anyone who knew him could see it so very, very easily.

"Binghe, you need to clear out the poison right now. Your blood can't deal with it on its own, and if it knocks you out, it could do you actual damage!"

Probably not. Luo Binghe had found that even when that should be true, it usually worked out.

But Shizun didn't know that.

He let his eyes flutter closed and tried not to enjoy Shizun's worried intake of breath too much.

"This has to be targeted, who could--? Binghe who here knows that you're a--?" Shizun cut off, sounding frustrated. "Binghe someone has poisoned you very specifically. You need to--Does Binghe know how to clear poison?"

Luo Binghe did know how to clear the poison, but now he also knew how to get Shizun to not be scared of him for five seconds, so he was prioritizing that at the moment. He could feel his skin growing clammy and his muscles cramping and his qi damming up and it was uncomfortable but...it would be easy to erase when he needed to.

Shizun's hand brushed against Luo Binghe's forehead, confirming that playing helpless had actually been the best idea.

Then Shizun shook his shoulder slightly. Luo Binghe blinked his eyes open, staring sadly up at Shizun's worried face.

Still the best idea. Way better than his other ideas. He should have just gone and gotten himself poisoned and collapsed at Shizun's feet in the city, and then they could have skipped this whole mess. Of course, getting that sort of poison would have been...nearly impossible. Luo Binghe definitely didn't have any. His Shizun hadn't said what poison it was, which meant he probably didn't know. So...whoever had done it had resources.

The sort of resources and knowledge that could lead to someone using sowers to set up a peak lord.

Shizun didn't, at least, seem to think that Luo Binghe had poisoned himself. So, maybe...maybe Luo Binghe could convince him the two things were related?

They probably were.

Luo Binghe's attention snapped back to reality as his Shizun pressed a finger against Luo Binghe's temple, sending qi to him as though he was trying to wake someone out of a daze.

Which was probably exactly what he thought Luo Binghe was in?

He wasn't far off.

"Binghe, listen to me. I need you to follow these steps to get the poison out of your system," Shizun said.

And then Shizun told him what to do.

Luo Binghe already knew, because of course he did. Of course he knew how to use his blood to clear poison from his veins. He'd had to learn through trial and error as something or another tried to tear him apart from the inside and--how did Shizun know?

Did...a steadily shrinking part of him wanted to assume that Shizun knew because he was plotting to do something awful to Luo Binghe but….

The other option was that Shizun had learned it, since Luo Binghe had gone into the abyss, because knowledge was always Shizun's first step in regaining control over a situation.

Shizun had secretly learned about heavenly demons. He had secretly learned about heavenly demons in the three years since Luo Binghe was gone and he had somehow learned about how Luo Binghe could heal himself.

And even if he had originally learned it to fight Luo Binghe, he was now using it to help him.

Luo Binghe blinked his eyes back open. "This disciple will do as Shizun says."

His voice sounded a little unsteady even to his own ears, which probably wasn't a surprise considering how far he'd allowed the poison to advance. It bothered him, because that wasn't--he was supposed to prove that he was strong and righteous? Not a weak demon? And here he was, being a weak and manipulative demon.

But Shizun looked slightly relieved.

Luo Binghe didn't get to find out what would have happened next, because suddenly the entryway was sliding open.

"Shen Qingqiu, what have you done!" Lao Gongzhu yelled.

Shizun left him, turning and rising to his feet. Luo Binghe could imagine the sort of cold and calculating look that was probably on his face.

It was incredibly annoying. Things have been going so well! For a certain sort of well. Shizun hadn't been scared of or hated him for several minutes in a row and at this point Luo Binghe was willing to count that as a win.

He struggled to push himself up on an arm, somewhat regretting that he hadn't started clearing the poison sooner...but only somewhat. He'd gotten valuable information and proof that Shizun didn't actually want him to die. Or at least that Shizun didn't want him to die while Shizun was alone with him in a prison.

Regardless, both he and Shizun knew that this wasn't Shizun's fault and it was very important that he not let this turn into another sowers complication. "It wasn't Shizun," he explained, glad that he managed to keep his voice level as he pushed himself into a sitting position. "I was poisoned, and he aided me."

"I'm sure he wanted it to seem that way," the old man said. Behind him was Xiao Gongzhu, looking absolutely gleeful, and several disciples, looking eager.

Gongyi Xiao was nowhere to be seen. A few hours ago Luo Binghe would have been happy about that, but it seemed important somehow that they hadn't brought the only person in the palace who was willing to defend Shizun despite Gongyi Xiao having been scheduled for guard duty that night.

None of them looked surprised about any of this. They should have been. There should have been shock and worry and surprise and wariness and instead there was just...eagerness to fight.

Luo Binghe knew, with a sudden cold clarity, exactly who had poisoned him. The little, mean part of him that was at least somewhat Xin Mo, quieted by the poison and his Shizun's care, whispered kill them.

Unfortunately that part of him was going to have to wait, because this poison was harder to cleanse than Luo Binghe had anticipated. He should have expected that. It was made specifically to target heavenly demons. Of course it was hard to cleanse.

"He did not poison me," Luo Binghe said, letting the tone he usually reserved for demons he was ordering about sneak into his voice. "Don't touch him."

"Think," Lao Gongzhu insisted, with all the lack of urgency of someone who knew full well that Luo Binghe was in no danger whatsoever despite being on the ground with an unbound Shen Qingqiu standing between them and acid behind him. "There are poisons that can be activated with qi and he obviously was able to do so. The only logical explanation is that he somehow poisoned you earlier--did he ever touch you in the city?--and activated it when you entered the prison."

Luo Binghe could see Shizun going still, and with this new clarity, it was so very clear that Shizun absolutely expected him to believe the old man.

Had Luo Binghe proven to be so gullible? Or did Shizun assume he was evil enough to grasp onto every excuse?

Or, the likely option, was Shizun expecting that Luo Binghe had been part of the whole plot now that it was obviously a plot against Shizun.

Well, it was easy enough to prove that Luo Binghe hadn't been involved, at least not with this. And maybe prove himself innocent of the sowers as well.

"That would be the most logical option," he agreed pleasantly. Then he let his demon mark shine and sent his blood to aggressively eradicate the poison still hampering him. Lao Gongzhu already knew what Luo Binghe was, he had to, so why keep playing along?

The Huan Hua disciples went wide-eyed with shock.

Lao Gongzhu did as well, but not before Luo Binghe could see the frustration flashing over his face. Did the old man think he could act so well, now that Luo Binghe was paying attention? He'd been raised by Shen Qingqiu and there was no one with a better mask. No one.

Shizun looked sharply behind him and that mask cracked ever so slightly in the form of slightly widened eyes and a quick step to stand more fully between Luo Binghe and the Huan Hua forces.

It was a bit too late, but fondness flooded through Luo Binghe at the attempt. Shizun was--Shizun was trying to protect him!

"Demon!"

"Yes, of course." Sounding coldly lazy in that way he had, Shizun continued, "After all, few things could cause a mass illusion of that sort, and even fewer could be brought into the water prison unnoticed."

Luo Binghe wasn't sure exactly what Shizun was trying to do. If he wanted them to attack Luo Binghe, then why step between them as soon as he saw the mark? But surely no one could be stupid enough to hear that and immediately jump to assuming--

"You can't fool us, Shen Qingqiu! You cast an illusion to try to trick us into thinking Luo Binghe was a demon!" Xiao Gongzhu yelled.

Apparently some of them were stupid enough.

From where he was, safely blocked from view and able to study his Shizun as he pleased, Luo Binghe could see Shizun relaxing slightly, just slightly. The other disciples must have taken the bait. All that remained, however, was to see what Lao Gongzhu would do.

Luo Binghe decided that he didn't care.

"I know you were the one that poisoned me, Lao Gongzhu. Did you think this one wouldn't realize that the poison triggered before I entered the prison?"

Shizun almost made to glance over his shoulder, and then steadied his stance instead, likely in response to whatever was on Lao Gongzhu's face.

"Shen Qingqiu has tricked us and sent his demon disciple to infiltrate Huan Hua palace," Lao Gongzhu said, frustrated anger lacing through his voice. Luo Binghe would have wondered if the disciples were actually stupid enough to not realize that their master wasn't reacting correctly to the situation, but since they had fallen for Shizun's earlier ruse, he wasn't expecting much intelligence from them. The only one with a brain was Gongyi Xiao and, well, predictably, that disciple was also the only one who liked Luo Binghe's Shizun.

Shizun gave an almost imperceptible sigh and shifted to a stance that would allow him to fight.

Of course, that was the flaw. Luo Binghe pulled at his qi and felt it respond in a haphazard flurry, sluggish and too quick all at once. His blood was cleansing the poison, but not fast enough.

"Shizun!" Luo Binghe called. "This disciple has regretfully not yet cleared the poison. Please use my sword!"

Shizun looked fully back at him this time, eyes wide in shock. Luo Binghe almost expected him to refuse, but at that moment there was the sound of movement. Luo Binghe tossed Xin Mo towards him, and Shizun caught it midair, spinning to clash the blade against the first attacker.

For a dazed moment, Luo Binghe just watched him fight. Shizun was a peak lord and that showed in his every movement. Xin Mo sung in Shizun's hands, calling for Luo Binghe to watch (to do other things, later, with this in mind).

But Luo Binghe couldn't just watch. Lao Gongzhu had moved back, likely trying to judge how much of a threat Shen Qingqiu actually was, and Luo Binghe needed to have the poison cleared from his veins before the old man joined the fray. Luo Binghe had never seen him fight, and Huan Hua had needed Cang Qiong to have any hope of taking down Tianlang-jun, but that didn't mean that Lao Gongzhu should be underestimated.

If Luo Binghe had cleared the poison immediately, instead of taking advantage of the opportunity to have Shizun not be scared of him--

He would beg Shizun's forgiveness for not immediately clearing the poison later.

Because that was an option.

Shizun was fighting for him. Now that Luo Binghe wasn't so consumed by anger and despair (Why had he thought that was such a good thing? Why had it seemed so important?), he was certain that he wasn't going to stop holding onto this moment unless Shizun threw him back into the abyss, and probably not even then.

The poison was stubborn, clinging to Luo Binghe's demonic qi and muddying it with his human qi. It had almost certainly been created to disable him for long enough that he could be killed by more mundane means.

It might have worked, except his Shizun was all but dancing in battle and none of the disciples could even get close. The only reason it wasn't a bloodbath was because Shizun was obviously trying to keep them away from Luo Binghe rather than kill them, presumably trusting that Luo Binghe had some sort of plan.

(Trusting that he had some sort of plan!)

It could have worked perfectly, except suddenly Shizun's steps faltered and Luo Binghe suddenly remembered the other poison that they had to deal with.

Of all the times for Without a Cure to act up, why now?

Luo Binghe could feel Lao Gongzhu stepping into the fight, coward that he was, taking advantage of Shen Qingqiu's sudden weakness before his idiot disciples would have been able to see it.

But he didn't try to attack Shizun.

The old man was in Luo Binghe's field of view in the space of a moment. Luo Binghe could feel the blast of qi as it shot towards him.

Luo Binghe flung an unfocused blast of black qi towards Lao Gongzhu in response. It wouldn't kill him, but it should buy Luo Binghe time to finish clearing the poison enough to help fight now that Shizun was struggling.

Luo Binghe sent the blast out moments too late for Shizun to see it as he moved, and Luo Binghe saw his Shizun moving too late to stop the attack.

The qi blasts caught Shizun between them, shattering whatever defenses he had left. Almost in slow motion, Luo Binghe watched his Shizun fall to the floor.

He launched to his feet, poisoned qi lashing around him, violent and uncontrolled. He called Xin Mo to his hand and all the anger that had been dampened by the poison returned with the sword.

Except, this time, his anger was aimed at the right target.

It didn't take long.

He might have been lost to it again--he was nearly lost to it again--but someone grabbed at his arm and called his name, and, instead of whispering for him to kill, Xin Mo said: Fuck them. Luo Binghe forcibly pushed that shameful thought back as he had so many times before, because the only one he wanted to do anything with was--

Oh.

It was Shizun.

"Binghe!" Shizun called, sounding scared and worried. He was trying to send qi into Luo Binghe's meridians even though Without A Cure was obviously blocking him.

Shizun was bleeding. His robes were shredded and soaked in red, and Luo Binghe could feel his own demonic qi clinging to Shizun's back.

He came back to himself with a startling suddenness, like he'd been thrust into cold water.

He'd hurt Shizun. He hadn't meant to. Shizun had been protecting him and the first thing Luo Binghe had done was--

"Binghe! Focus on me!"

He needed to--He could hear a commotion outside the cell. Shouting. Maybe one of the disciples had gotten away, or maybe one had noticed the fighting. Maybe someone had noticed the fighting was done and realized that the battle hadn't ended as intended.

"Apologies, Shizun," Luo Binghe choked out. Then he wrapped an arm around Shizun's waist, and picked him up, slashing the air with Xin Mo as he did so. Shizun let out a barely audible pained sound that went straight into Luo Binghe's heart like a knife.

He stepped through the portal and closed it behind him, right as whatever disciple was causing the commotion showed up to yell something about monsters at his back.

Maybe they'd think it was a rescue mission, maybe they'd think it was a kidnapping. Luo Binghe didn't care. That was a problem for tomorrow.

Today's problem was Shizun's blood dripping on the floor as Luo Binghe strode over to his bed. It was the way the blood soaked the tatters of his robes and the ashen, unfocused look on his face as Luo Binghe set him down on the bed.

Luo Binghe reached out, thinking to heal it, but he could feel his qi ready to lash out in a muddled mess. He couldn't--he couldn't help.

Shizun pulled his hand away from the wound, frowning at the blood. Luo Binghe was seized by the sudden urge to grab Shizun's hand and clean it off, but that would fix nothing.

Logically, Luo Binghe should have taken him to Qian Cao. Even if Mu Qingfang wouldn't have returned yet, there would be healers there. There would be people there who were trained for this sort of thing.

If he returned Shizun to Cang Qiong, there was a good chance that Luo Binghe would lose whatever opportunity this whole mess had given him to try to fix things. Would Shizun be more likely to believe him if Luo Binghe brought him home or if Luo Binghe healed him himself? Which was the more trustworthy action?

Was Luo Binghe a terrible person for that being what he focused on, with Shizun bleeding in front of him?

It was all moot unless he could find a way to either heal it himself or make it so Shizun could heal it. There were artifacts--but Luo Binghe had none at hand. He didn't need them himself so why keep them close? Cleansing Shizun's meridians was the obvious answer--but Luo Binghe's qi was a roiling mess from the remnants of the poison and he couldn't be sure he wouldn't just cause different problems. What if he accidentally transferred demonic qi into Shizun's poisoned meridians?

If he could find a way to only transfer spiritual qi, then that would be ideal, but there wasn't--

There was.

He couldn't do that could he?

He could, in the most strict sense of the word. He was capable of it. Luo Binghe could remember that lecture clear as if it had just happened, with Shizun explaining how to use this sort of energy transfer technique and why it was able to naturally cleanse qi and--Could he do that?

"Shizun…" he started, then stopped as Shizun's head jerked up unsteadily, almost as if he had somehow forgotten Luo Binghe was standing there. That decided him.

"Shizun, this disciple apologizes but my qi isn't safe to transfer normally," he said. And then he leaned down and kissed him.

Kissing was strange and weird, and Luo Binghe was probably doing it wrong, but transferring energy was easy. Shizun let out a startled sound and almost moved away. Luo Binghe wouldn't have stopped him, not for this, but thankfully Shizun seemed to have heard and understood enough of Luo Binghe's explanation to realize why it was necessary.

Luo Binghe tried to focus on the feeling of Shizun's meridians instead of the voice in the back of his head telling him to climb into Shizun's lap, shove him flat on the bed, and kiss him until they both died of it.

He couldn't push Shizun down. If he did, it would push Shizun right onto the injury that Luo Binghe had given him.

Luo Binghe shoved the intrusive thought away. He was only cleansing Shizun's meridians. That was it.

Shizun let out a barely audible sigh as Luo Binghe pulled away from him, and Luo Binghe clung to that last thought like a lifeline.

Shizun hid half his face in his sleeve for lack of a fan. It didn't hide anything. Not his blushing face or flustered expression. Not the fact that his robes were halfway to sliding off, they were so shredded. Not the fact that he was--he was still wounded.

"Shizun, please. Heal yourself," Luo Binghe begged, taking a step back out of some half thought through need to give Shizun more space after having invaded it so thoroughly moments before.

Shizun stilled, blinked, and then, with a very slight shake of his head, he reached his hand back for the wound and started to heal himself.

It was very tempting to stand there and watch...which was why Luo Binghe turned right around and went to find more robes. Shizun was--it wasn't appropriate, Shizun being like that. It was even less appropriate for Luo Binghe to look.

He had meant to have robes for Shizun here. Green ones, because that was Shizun's favorite color. Instead, all Luo Binghe had were his own red and black robes.

He should have gotten green ones for himself, too. If Luo Binghe had shown up in front of Shizun in green instead of red and black, would Shizun have been just as scared?

Luo Binghe had been wearing green when Shizun cast him into the abyss.

He shook the thought off and grabbed a set of his own robes at random.

When he returned to the bed, Shizun's wounds were healed beneath the blood. Shizun looked about to collapse, but from mere exhaustion rather than something more worrying.

Luo Binghe carefully set the robes besides Shizun, trying not to look at his half-dressed state.

Shizun eyed the robes warily, as though he wasn't quite sure what to do with them, and for half a moment, Luo Binghe felt that familiar despair rise up. They were just clothes. Could Shizun really not bear to wear a demon's clothes? Even after he'd defended that demon? Even after he'd tried to hide Luo Binghe's nature? Everything about Shizun so so confusing that Luo Binghe could hardly bear it.

"Shizun needs something to wear," he said helplessly. "This disciple will find something more appropriate tomorrow."

That seemed to be enough reassurance to ease whatever worry was on Shizun's mind. If it wasn't about wearing a demon’s clothes then--then what? Did Shizun think that wearing black and red once would require him to wear it always? He'd worn green and white almost exclusively since the qi deviation. Maybe it was part of that?

Luo Binghe needed to remember that sometimes his Shizun made absolutely no sense. All of the disciples had agreed to ignore it, back on Qing Jing. It was fine. Sometimes Shizun was odd. He was alive and affectionate and brimming with knowledge and the best possible Shizun he could have been, so covering for Shizun's new bouts of strangeness was merely the price they paid for that level of perfection.

It would be more reassuring if those nonsensical reactions had never been aimed at Luo Binghe himself.

Right now, Shizun was struggling to get his robes off, looking increasingly frustrated. The newly healed skin of his wounds would have hampered him even if his robes had been easy to remove. With how badly the robes were shredded, between Xiao Gongzhu's whip and the qi blasts, it was more of a trial.

"This disciple could help?"

Shizun watched him for a moment, his wariness so obviously warring with his exhaustion, and then nodded.

Luo Binghe didn't wait for long enough to second guess himself. He didn't even pause until his hands passed over the back of Shizun's robe.

There was blood soaked into the edges of torn robes still tingling with black qi.

"Binghe?" Shizun asked, obviously sensing something wrong.

"I hurt you," Luo Binghe said, miserably. Of course he had--they'd both known that for awhile, but--

"This master jumped in front of the blast," Shizun stated firmly. "It isn't Binghe's fault."

It was tempting to argue, because Luo Binghe had hurt someone who was trying to protect him and that shouldn't have even been a possibility in the first place. If he'd cleansed the poison affecting him immediately it wouldn't have been! The whole situation was his fault!

But Shizun was looking at him with an odd sort of worry in his eyes, so instead Luo Binghe set to removing the tattered robes and tried not to focus on the increasing amount of bare skin in front of him or the feel every time his fingers brushed against it. It was, at least, a distraction from his own wrongs.

Getting his robes onto Shizun was easier. It might have been disappointing if the sight of Shizun in Luo Binghe's own black inner robes hadn't made him pause for breath. They were so clearly Luo Binghe's own robes. They were too big and--he'd never seen his Shizun in black before. Only green and white and sometimes other pale colors. Never black. Never red. Not even as little red as the accents on Luo Binghe's robes.

He wanted to see Shizun in so much red.

Luo Binghe didn't even try to touch Shizun's pants or boots. He hadn't even brought replacements. He would--he would find something appropriate later, or else hope that the cleaning charms woven into Shizun's clothes were able to deal with the worst of the blood. The white fabric would certainly stain, but there were ways to clean that. Luo Binghe certainly had enough times before.

He hesitated only a moment before reaching for the pin that had somehow managed to keep Shizun's hair aloft through this whole mess. It wouldn't be comfortable to sleep with. Shizun's hair came tumbling down, loose and soft except for where it was tacky with blood.

Luo Binghe froze again at the sight, and apparently that moment of inaction was enough for Shizun to decide that they were done, because all of a sudden Shizun shooed him away and tugged his own boots off and then just...lay down to nap.

That was fine. That was--that was the goal.

Luo Binghe probably should have...gone somewhere or done something, but he felt rooted to the spot. After a few moments, he let himself sink down to kneel beside the bed, pressing his forehead against the edge of it and trying to steady himself.

Nothing had gone according to plan today. Things were better--they were much better! But everything had only gone better by accident, and if that hadn't happened then who knew how badly things would have gotten. Luo Binghe had done everything wrong and made all the wrong choices and even now, with Shizun not running away from him, there was no guarantee that Shizun wouldn't remember to be afraid the moment that Luo Binghe tried to get answers again!

A hand touched his hair.

"What are you doing there?" Shizun scolded. When Luo Binghe looked up, it was obvious Shizun was a little confused. "Don't--Is this Binghe's room?"

"This is the safest place for Shizun right now."

"I'm not taking your bed."

"Shizun is recently injured. I'm not moving you and I'm not leaving you alone." Luo Binghe belated wondered if it wouldn't have been better to have left Shizun alone. He could sleep in the side room, or nearby, and it would make this seem less like another prison.

Was it another prison? He didn't want to let Shizun go, but the only thing that had made Shizun stop running from him was when Luo Binghe hadn't been able to stop him. It was--what had Shizun called it, a lifetime ago. Reverse psychology? He needed to reverse psychology Shizun?

But the kissing had made Shizun blush, and Shizun hadn't been disgusted. Luo Binghe didn't want to take that back.

Maybe it counted as reverse psychology because it was for a medical reason?

Luo Binghe could think of a dozen different situations where that sort of qi transfer could be necessary. He wouldn't let Shizun get injured just to get the chance to kiss him--Luo Binghe would never do that--but Shizun was underestimating how skilled Luo Binghe was about certain things. It would--if Luo Binghe were injured in those ways, or seemed to need qi desperately, would Shizun…?

He shelved the thought for another day.

"I'm not taking your bed," Shizun repeated, oblivious to the machinations in Luo Binghe's mind. "I am especially not taking your bed while you sleep on the floor."

The side room was right there. It didn't have a sleeping mat or bed, but that would be easy to remedy.

"If Shizun insists, then we can share the bed, but he is not moving," Luo Binghe said instead, as though that was a reasonable sentence. As though Shizun wouldn't immediately call him on it. Perhaps he could pass it off as sarcasm? Or--

Shizun rubbed a hand over his face, then laid back down. "Fine."

Luo Binghe lost the ability to think for several moments.

Surely Shizun couldn't--No. Of course he had taken Luo Binghe's statement as sarcasm and was allowing Luo Binghe to remain where he was, as no other solutions had been presented.

Shizun tilted his head to look at Luo Binghe, frowning. "If Binghe isn't amenable to that solution then he needs to find this master another bed. Get off the floor."

Shizun had been serious. Shizun had actually taken the suggestion seriously and then accepted it despite it being so wildly inappropriate.

Luo Binghe had the most confusing Shizun in the entire world.

He was quite certain, as he quickly circled the bed and climbed onto the opposite side, boots and all, that he was going to be absolutely incapable of napping.

That was fine. Shizun was here. Shizun was here and sleeping less than an arm's length from Luo Binghe. That would be enough, for now. If Luo Binghe was honest with himself, that would probably be enough for centuries. He didn't need much, just...something.

The rest could wait.