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Mu Qingfang's hands are steady as he prepares the tea, taking to the task with less haste than Liu Qingge is accustomed to seeing from him. Not to say that Mu Qingfang ever rushes his tea preparation, but Liu Qingge is much more accustomed to seeing him prepare medicinal blends. This pot of tea, on the other hand, is purely to facilitate the social call that Liu Qingge had reluctantly convinced himself was necessary.

While still focused on the teapot, Mu Qingfang says, "You shared your qi with him."

It's not quite an accusation.

"If you say so," Liu Qingge returns. He definitely hadn't been attempting to do so, but Mu Qingfang already knows that.

"The ritual you interrupted was scraping his qi out of him, and it's natural for a cultivator to absorb the qi circulated through their meridians even without that additional complication." Mu Qingfang begins filling up their tea cups, leaving unsaid everything he knows Liu Qingge already knows.

Cultivators who've hit the bottom of their qi reserves — by exhausting themselves during a fight, for example — are particularly susceptible to outside influences like the ill effects of demonic qi and qi poisoning from cursed areas. They're at a higher risk of qi deviation, as well, and it's more dangerous to both healer and patient for healers to use direct qi manipulation to aid in healing. Liu Qingge has exhausted himself to that extent a few times in the past, and he had always been packed into a bed for a week and lectured to within an inch of his life while his injuries were left to heal with nothing but poultices, pills, and extremely bitter tea.

Shen Qingqiu is probably going through roughly the same thing right now, but hopefully without the lectures. It wasn't as if he'd asked to be kidnapped and used for a deadly qi-stealing ritual.

Mu Qingfang sets the tea pot down. "You saved his life when you interrupted the ritual. And you saved it again when you circulated your qi through his system." He takes his first sip of tea, but although it's surely perfectly prepared his mouth doesn't take on the pleased curve Liu Qingge is expecting. In fact, Mu Qingfang's expression is entirely serious and maybe even a little grim when he says: "There are, however, serious consequences to your actions."


Liu Qingge sits by Shen Qingqiu's bedside.

Around them, outside this peaceful room, Qian Cao churns through all the daily tasks required to attend to their patients, teach their disciples, and research new treatments. The light that spills into the room is soft and diffuse. Shen Qingqiu is asleep — unconscious — but still noticeably unwell. "He'll wake when you've circulated your qi," Mu Qingfang had said, before abandoning Liu Qingge to his fate. Having witnesses, they had decided, wouldn't improve the treatment.

Carefully, Liu Qingge takes up Shen Qingqiu's hand. He holds it just as he'd held it before, a loose grasp with one hand on top and one hand below, Shen Qingqiu's hand pinned securely between them. Held, almost cradled, the way Liu Qingqiu might have held a bird captive for Liu Mingyan. Like it's something delicate that nonetheless might bite him.

There's still a scratch there over his thumb and a deep bruise around his wrist. Probably more injuries lingering under the patient robes Qian Cao had changed Shen Qingqiu into overnight. Or maybe Shen Qingqiu had been able to change his clothes himself. He had been capable of standing very precariously when Liu Qingge had landed on Qian Cao Peak with him, and it couldn't be said that Shen Qingqiu would be unable to bully Qian Cao's healers into allowing him to exert himself for the express purpose of saving his thin face. He hadn't deteriorated back into unconciousness until after he'd given his report.

It will be like that from now on: Shen Qingqiu slipping away if Liu Qingge is gone for too long. Liu Qingge has so far avoided thinking about the long term implications of such a situation, aided by the way Mu Qingfang had hustled him straight from tea in one of the visitor's pavilions to sitting at Shen Qingqiu's bedside. Shen Qingqiu isn't yet in danger, he'd said, but more contact with Liu Qingge's qi will improve his condition immensely. And how could Liu Qingge do anything but put aside all his other responsibilities, in the face of that kind of duty?

He sinks his qi into Shen Qingqiu's meridians. It's easier than it was the first time, so easy that Liu Qingge shudders as he forges ahead, threading through Shen Qingqiu's spiritual veins and finding absolutely no resistance. For all that Shen Qingqiu's body still feels like a foreign place, circulating qi through it feels as easy as circulating qi through Liu Qingge's own body.

It's pleasant. Disturbingly so.

When Shen Qingqiu wakes this time it's slowly, and the yank of his hand from Liu Qingge's grasp is less immediate. He looks worse awake than he had conscious. Looks worse even than he'd looked the day before, maybe because the dirt and blood have been cleaned off. "You again," Shen Qingqiu says, his tone accusatory. He holds his hand to his chest like Liu Qingge might try to grab it back. "Has Qian Cao Peak really become so overwhelmed that they're now recruiting from Bai Zhan?"

Liu Qingge leans back in his seat, casual, keeping himself relaxed. He's not ready to have this conversation, but putting it off won't make it better and letting someone else explain hadn't sat well with him. Liu Qingge wouldn't take back what he did — doesn't think not doing what he did was really a choice he could have made, when the other option would have been to carry Shen Qingqiu's corpse home instead — but that doesn't change the fact that this is, technically, something Liu Qingge has done to Shen Qingqiu.

"You fell unconscious last evening when the effects of my qi circulating through your spiritual viens faded," Liu Qingge says. "You will need frequent contact with my qi to recover. And to stay recovered."

For a moment the air in the room is still and dangerous. Shen Qingqiu's gaze is so sharp it could cut him, so venomous it could drop a rampaging steel wool buffalo. If Shen Qingqiu were capable of getting out of bed, Liu Qingge almost suspects a physical fight would break out.

But Shen Qingqiu is still injured and exhausted. Still lacking in qi, frail and bed-bound. Trapped in this room as surely as he had been trapped by his captors. "Get out," Shen Qingqiu hisses, his only defense, and Liu Qingge does.

"You weren't in there nearly long enough," Mu Qingfang observes mildly when Liu Qingge finds him nearby, working on some poultice. "He'll collapse again before lunch."

"Tell him that," Liu Qingge demands, crossing his arm and leaning against the nearest wall. Shen Qingqiu isn't going to want to hear any further information from him; it isn't as if Liu Qingge is a medical expert.

Mu Qingfang's lips twist. "Hopefully he'll be too busy being angry at you to be angry at me."

Liu Qingge lets out an amused huff of air — not quite a laugh — but as he watches Mu Qingfang walk away he considers the slight tremor he'd seen in Shen Qingqiu's shoulders, and the careful way Shen Qingqiu had watched him. Like prey inching around a predator that might spring at any moment.

It's strange to think about, but Shen Qingqiu had probably been frightened. Of Liu Qingge. It's an unpleasant thought.

Mu Qingfang calls him back into the room after more than half an hour. Shen Qingqiu is looking resolutely away from the doorway, out the window into the carefully crafted garden. He doesn't acknowledge Liu Qingge's presence.

"Circulate your qi together for at least ten ke[1]," Mu Qingfang gestures helpfully at the water clock now settled on the table beside Shen Qingqiu's bed, which will indeed help Liu Qingge keep track of the time, and then leaves Liu Qingge to his fate once again.

Shen Qingqiu says nothing, only holding his hand out towards Liu Qingge as Liu Qingge settles into the chair. He doesn't even look away from the garden, or otherwise acknowledge in any way that there's someone else in the room.

Standoffish and rude, Liu Qingge decides, but when he takes Shen Qingqiu's hand and begins to push his qi into Shen Qingqiu he catches Shen Qingqiu's swallowing out of the corner of his eye.

He frowns at himself, disappointed in his own judgemental nature, and forgoes any attempt at conversation. If Shen Qingqiu is more comfortable pretending that this isn't happening, Liu Qingge is content to play along. For now.


It's likely that Shen Qingqiu will need another treatment before the day is out, but Mu Qingfang says they don't have enough information to be able to pin point the time accurately. Instead, they'll simply send a disciple for Liu Qingge when it's time. A set schedule will have to come later. Of course, that means Qian Cao will need to know where to send for Liu Qingge for the foreseeable future, and that Liu Qingge can't leave Cang Qiong Mountain Sect any time soon.

Liu Qingge doesn't like that, but it's still better than having to carry Shen Qingqiu's corpse home and break the news to Yue Qingyuan.

"I'll probably be on An Ding for the remainder of the morning," Liu Qingge informs Mu Qingfang.

Mu Qingfang raises his eyebrows. He clearly wants to ask why, but doesn't, only nodding and turning back to his work.

It's just as well.

Liu Qingge doesn't want to explain.

The first three An Ding disciples Liu Qingge spots once he's stepped foot onto the peak take one look at him and duck back the way they came as if they've coincidentally remembered they forgot something. The fourth disciple he sees is Shang Qinghua, who clearly considers pulling the same move but realizes that it won't do him any good and resigns himself to his fate.

"Liu-shidi," Shang Qinghua says nervously. "I heard you were back. With Shen Qingqiu. But I don't think I sent any An Ding supplies with you..."

"You didn't," Liu Qingge acknowledges.

Shang Qinghua looks up at him. He shifts foot to foot a little.

Liu Qingge might understand Shang Qinghua even less than Shen Qingqiu, come to think of it. He sighs. "Is there a place where we can speak, shixiong?"

"Oh!" Shang Qinghua squeaks, and hurries them into a meeting room.

It's not like the airly, pleasant pavilion on Qian Cao, where Mu Qingfang had served tea. It's enclosed, lit by economy-class night pearls in the ceiling, and has a large rectangle of slate attached to the back wall. There's a table in the center of the room clearly set up for a group of ten or so people to sit. It looks like the kind of place An Ding disciples pile into so they can balance complex budgets, which makes Liu Qingge instantly hate it. Shang Qinghua seats them on either side of the table and doesn't materialize any tea.

But then, Liu Qingge doesn't want any tea, so that's fine.

"You've known for a long time that Shen Qingqiu wasn't trying to kill me," Liu Qingge says.

Shang Qinghua smiles nervously. "Ah, it was so long ago, let's not bring up the past!" He has that look about him that suggests he's about to pretend to drop dead, in hopes the threat will go away.

Liu Qingge leans forward. He tries to pin Shang Qinghua down with his look alone. "Why do you think Shen Qingqiu didn't want me to know?"

"Haha, well, he stopped me from telling you," Shang Qinghua says, and when that obviously doesn't answer the question Liu Qingge had actually asked he winces. "Why would I know, huh! What's this interrogation for!"

"If he has a friend in our sect, it's you," Liu Qingge accuses.

"What!"

"Everyone else was content not to go looking. Except you. You knew him well enough to know he was probably in trouble, and then you sent me after him."

This appears to stun Shang Qinghua for a moment, and then he deflates, not so much out of arguments but tired of exerting himself to argue. "Why are you even that interested?" he asks instead, a little suspicious.

Liu Qingge explains, in the briefest possible terms, the situation at hand.

"Okay, he's going to destroy you if you don't figure him out," Shang Qinghua bemoans. "Shidi, this is the hardest topic. Why do you think he didn't want me to tell you?"

"Pride." Liu Qingge shrugs his shoulders. "Spite?"

Shang Qinghua says, "Listen, the real problem you're having is that you're unable to challenge your assumptions once you've made up your mind. Shen-shixiong is scary and mean and prideful! But you don't just look at baozi2 and think, 'That's made of wheat,' do you? No, you have to find out if there's pork inside. Or red bean paste." Shang Qinghua nods decisively. "It's never dough all the way down, that'd be weird."

"Baozi?" Liu Qingge isn't a fan of metaphor.

"I was on my way to lunch," Shang Qinghua explains miserably. He casts a desperate look at the door of the meeting room, as if thinking about escaping, and even stands up from the table. "Look, Liu-shidi: if the lord of Qing Jing Peak just wanted a spoiled, prideful young master to be his successor, why did he wait so long to pick? You can't throw a stone on Qing Jing without hitting a horrible, cruel young master! Think about that!"

Liu Qingge is caught so off-guard by the question that he allows Shang Qinghua to slip out of the room and onwards to lunch.


Qian Cao sends a disciple to find Liu Qingge on Bai Zhan in the evening, just after dinner. He and Shen Qingqiu don't speak when Liu Qingge enters: Liu Qingge is still thinking about what Shang Qinghua had said, and Shen Qingqiu is still sulking by looking out at the garden as if the room were still empty.

Pale evening light cascades through mountain fog, slumping its dim glow across the blankets of the bed and highlighting his face and tangling in his hair.

The room is a little chill, and Shen Qingqiu is without much extra qi to warm himself, but Liu Qingge doesn't suppose that that's any of his business. He only cycles their qi together in motions that are beginning to feel familiar, and it's only later that he can focus on the details he'd unconsciously noticed: the hard-won callouses indicating that Shen Qingqiu works often with his hands, for example, and the way the flow of Shen Qingqiu's spiritual veins crinkles and weaves around the fine bones of his hand in a way that probably means it was once broken or crushed.

Back on Bai Zhan that night, he lies in bed and thinks about Shen Qingqiu's hand slowly warming when held between his own.


The next morning, Liu Qingge has to return to Qian Cao Peak once again to be ignored, then come back again after dinner. It goes on this way for the rest of the week, two visits to Shen Qingqiu every time and ignored soundly the entire time, until finally at the end of the week Mu Qingfang ducks his head into the room just as Liu Qingge is releasing Shen Qingqiu's hand.

His hands tingle where they'd been in contact with Shen Qingqiu's hand, but that's just the aftereffects of qi circulation.

"Shen-shixiong is returning to Qing Jing Peak this afternoon," Mu Qingfan says, stepping fully into the room when he sees that they've finished. "Have you given any more thought to our conversation yesterday?" he asks Shen Qingqiu.

For the first time in days, Shen Qingqiu looks away from the garden, although he still doesn't look at Liu Qingge. "It will be manageable," he says.

"Ah, we still disagree," Mu Qingfang says. "Unfortunately for you, I'm actually in charge of your medical decisions until and unless our sect leader overrules me. Liu-shixiong, your efforts have helped Shen-shixiong recover, but it isn't sustainable. Let's share a pot of tea and talk about options."

Liu Qingge glances at Shen Qingqiu. He catches Shen Qingqiu looking back at him, as hateful as ever, as if he's thinking about picking up the flower arrangement on his side table and using the vase as a bludgeoning weapon.

Probably because he doesn't want Liu Qingge and Mu Qingfang to go talk about him over tea, a sentiment Liu Qingge can relate to.

"A Qian Cao disciple will see him to his room safely," Mu Qingfang says blandly, as if he hasn't noticed Shen Qingqiu's mood. "Shall we?"

Liu Qingge follows him out of the room, the back of his neck prickling from Shen Qingqiu's gaze. They go to the same pavilion they'd sat in earlier in the week, and Mu Qingfang uses the same tea pot. The tea is still good, but Liu Qingge could really use a lot less polite host manners and a lot more getting directly to the point. He gives one-word answers to Mu Qingfang's courteous, idle small talk until Mu Qingfang finally breaks down and tells him what the meeting is about:

Shen Qingqiu's condition is holding stable, but only stable, with barely any margin for error. If he exerts himself, or if Liu Qingge is significantly late to provide treatment, Shen Qingqiu will wind up back on Qian Cao for emergency treatment. Or worse.

"I can't spend more time every day cycling his qi," Liu Qingge points out. Not if he or Shen Qingqiu want to ever actually get anything done, that is, and of course there are other, farther out concerns — like wanting to travel separately, or go more than a night or a day between seeing each other.

"We won't know if any of our proposed cures will be possible or effective until Shizun returns," Mu Qingfang says. "All we can do is adjust the treatment. If you and Shen-shixiong cycle a higher volume of qi, you'll be able to go longer between sessions, in theory. However, you're probably cycling the maximum safe amount of qi through his hand already...?"

Liu Qingge nods. He knows some cultivators — like Mu Qingfang, in fact — can control the amount of qi they emit as easily as breathing, but it's a hard-won skill for him. So hard won that it hasn't even come into the picture while cycling his qi through Shen Qingqiu's system, because Liu Qingge has only ever learned to lower his qi output to that safe level and never any further.

"The only other option," Mu Qingfang says slowly, "is to increase the surface area. More points of contact would allow for a safe increase in the amount of qi you exchange."

Heat rises to Liu Qingge's face. "Shidi—" he starts, protests about the sheer impropriety of what's being suggested coming quickly to his tongue.

"Nothing is impermissible if it saves a life," Mu Qingfang tells him ruthlessly. "But it would be nothing scandalous."

In fact, Liu Qingge is quite certain that anything involving more skin contact with Shen Qingqiu will absolutely feel scandalous, but he doesn't know how to argue his point.

Especially not after Mu Qingfang says that Shen Qingqiu has already agreed.


Cooperation and collaboration with other peaks is rare but, for a succeeding disciple like Liu Qingge, expected. He has not recently frequented the scholar's peak, however; both Liu Qingge and everyone else had thought it best to keep him and Shen Qingqiu as separate as possible, in hopes that their tempers would eventually cool and bring forth a productive (if not harmonious) relationship once they'd ascended.

Reflecting on the events of the past week or so, Liu Qingge can't help but feel that his elders might have done himself and Shen Qingqiu a disservice by never forcing the issue.

But the point is, Liu Qingge has been to Qing Jing Peak before, of course, and Qing Jing hasn't changed at all since Liu Qingge last came to sit in on a history lesson. Unfortunately, knowing where the classrooms are and where the students go to study and who to ask about library access won't help Liu Qingge complete his current goal. No, finding Shen Qingqiu will require talking to someone. Liu Qingge asks the first disciple he sees, a young boy wearing a hair crown just slightly too ostentatious to be reasonable for his rank and age.

"Yes, Shen-shixiong turned up again," the boy says, in nearly the same tone Liu Qingge has has heard his uncle say they've found evidence of mice getting into the warehouse again. "He strained something, doing whatever it was he was getting up to off the peak for so long, so he's resting in the bamboo house. I'll show you."

Liu Qingge follows the boy, reflecting that this is exactly why he'd never liked Qing Jing disciples even before Shen Qingqiu had followed Yue Qingyuan home: they made it clear with their tone and their choice of words exactly how they felt about a person without ever coming right out and saying it. It was frustrating and, usually, insulting — although Shen Qingqiu had been much more willing to fling actual insults than any other Qing Jing disciple Liu Qingge had ever had the displeasure of meeting.

This Qing Jing disciple leading him to Shen Qingqiu is even worse than any before him, though: he reminds Liu Qingge of the bitter and dismissive way he had heard the Qing Jing disciples speak of Shen Qingqiu's disappearance, and even more uncomfortably about how satisfied Liu Qingge had been to realize that even Shen Qingqiu's closest martial siblings couldn't stand him.

The bamboo house is understated and private, just secluded enough to lend it some privacy from the rest of the peak. The disciple who'd guided Liu Qingge doesn't stick around, for which Liu Qingge is glad, because it means there's no one around to see him clench his fists nervously before approaching.

He almost wishes he'd insisted that he and Shen Qingqiu do this elsewhere, although such thinking is both cowardly and impractical.

Liu Qingge steps forward and knocks at once, so as to not put it off any longer. There's a long, long pause before Shen Qingqiu opens the door and lets him in without a word. They traverse a well-appointed room that Liu Qingge figures must belong to Qing Jing's Peak Lord, and are soon settling into a much more plain room out back. Only the proliferation of fans denotes that the space must be Shen Qingqiu's personal, private room. Shen Qingqiu might project the image of a young master on a peak full of other young masters, but it's clear his private space is given over to work and the arts.

It's hard to say whether being in Shen Qingqiu's bedroom or finding that the room looks nothing like what Liu Qingge would have imagined is more unsettling, but it's not with the effort to debate because Liu Qingge knows that what he's here to do will exceed both in strangeness and discomfort.

"You could have refused," Shen Qingqiu says when they're seated on their cushions, close enough to lean into each other's space easily. "Mu Qingfang must have told you that they could just keep me asleep in the caves." Shen Qingqiu is lazily waving a fan, wafting a lazy breeze into his own face. He must be glad to have his prop back. It's always seemed to make it easier for him to feign apathy.

Liu Qingge had never entertained the thought of allowing Mu Qingfang to seal a comatose Shen Qingqiu away into the Lingxi Caves until a cure could be found. "You could have chosen that option too," Liu Qingge points out, rather than air his own feelings on the matter.

Shen Qingqiu snaps his fan shut. "Let's get it over with, Liu-shidi. I'm sure you have a brawl to get to later today."

It could easily be the start of a fight — it makes Liu Qingge's blood jump, and a sharp retort could easily come to his tongue — but Liu Qingge only shrugs. Shen Qingqiu is feeling vulnerable, probably, and lashing out like a cornered hippo-dragon. Maybe he's waiting for Liu Qingge to change his mind, which Liu Qingge will not.

To prove he won't, Liu Qingge starts stripping his upper layers off without another word until he's bare chested.

Shen Qingqiu stares at him for a long moment, almost as if he might change his mind, and then proceeds to take his own robes off, only looking away from Liu Qingge when he's folding each layer properly and setting it out of the way. He wears about twice as many layers as Liu Qingge has ever bothered with, some of them not even meant to be seen but instead meant to make his robes take the right shape and movement.

He takes each layer off slower than the last, and Liu Qingge cannot look away. Bare chested, Shen Qingqiu looks different. Not weak, but less like something polished, impeccable, untouchable.

"I'm ready," Shen Qingqiu announces when he's folded his last layer away. He holds himself stiffly, and waits.

Liu Qingge moves forward, in a slightly awkward shuffle, until their knees are brushing. Until he could count Shen Qingqiu's eyelashes. Then he leans farther still, leaning slightly to the side, so that they won't have to make eye contact. He brings his hands up and puts them over Shen Qingqiu's shoulderblades. He holds his hands very, very still and Shen Qingqiu's hands eventually settle against his back in roughly the same position.

At the last possible moment occurs to Liu Qingge that this is technically a very, very rudimentary dual cultivation technique. Mu Qingfang had never used the term, but there's no doubt that that's what it is and that Liu Qingge is doing it. With Shen Qingqiu. In Shen Qingqiu's bedroom.

It's much, much too late to back out. This position allows a much better balance of qi, because Shen Qingqiu is able to participate fully, and allows them to move a lot more qi, so they have to proceed. Liu Qingge pushes his qi into the meridians in Shen Qingqiu's back and a moment later feels Shen Qingqiu do the same to him.

Liu Qingge can't help the sharp breath that's startled out of him at the feeling of Shen Qingqiu's qi seeping into his spiritual veins. It's like having ice trailed across his skin on a hot day, just slow enough to chill but not quite so slow as to hurt, leaving a trail of cold, refreshing water in his wake. It's like that but inside, on parts of Liu Qingge that Liu Qingge hadn't even realized existed until Shen Qingqiu was touching them with his qi.

It feels amazing, and it suddenly stops. Shen Qingqiu demands, "What is it?" unhappily, like an apology that's accidentally come out as criticism.

"Nothing." Liu Qingge focuses on keeping his own qi steady in Shen Qingqiu's system. "Start again."

Shen Qingqiu scoffs at him, but his qi returns, just as refreshing as before. It moves slower, this time, inching forward cautiously, and Liu Qingge might have thought to reassure anyone else — there's no reason for Shen Qingqiu to worry he's doing it wrong when Liu Qingge was only surprised — but he has no doubt that Shen Qingqiu will take any comment at all on his technique as a criticism, no matter how positively Liu Qingge might phrase it.

Better, then, to turn his attention back to what Shen Qingqiu needs.

Under Liu Qingge's hands he can feel the whip marks he'd gotten used to feeling only through Shen Qingqiu's spiritual veins. The scars themselves aren't very dramatic, just barely noticeable to the touch, but the spirit remembers what the body does not when it comes to immortal cultivators. If Shen Qingqiu lives for a very long time and advances his cultivation far enough then eventually even the traces of old injuries recorded in his spiritual pathways will disappear, but for now it's easy to tell that the whipping was as thorough as it was brutal. Someone had gone at Shen Qingqiu like a drunkard after an uncooperative beast of burden, and the spread of scars from the whip indicate that it had either been an incredibly long beating or a reoccuring punishment.

Does Yue Qingyuan know? Liu Qingge can't even begin to imagine how he'd approach asking Yue Qingyuan something like that, so wondering about it is probably useless. Liu Qingge's not sure he'll ever even be able to bring himself to ask Shen Qingqiu about it, even though Shen Qingqiu must know that Liu Qingge knows about the scars.

It's just not something that could be pried into. Shen Qingqiu already guards himself so closely, shuts himself off from everyone so completely, that trying to directly learn more seems impossible. Liu Qingge will have to come to his own conclusions.

For example, Shang Qinghua must be right that Shen Qingqiu is no spoiled young master. It's almost blindingly obvious, now that Liu Qingge has actually considered the information in front of him.

When Liu Qingge finally judges that they've sat together long enough by the way his knees ache and the way the sunlight has inched its way across the floor, he pulls his qi back into himself. He feels Shen Qingqiu doing the same, but slower, and holds his position.

His position which, he realizes, has slowly crept forward — or maybe Shen Qingqiu had been the one to lean in, as unlikely as that seems — and he's now pressed chest-to-chest with Shen Qingqiu. Each of Shen Qingqiu's inhales are easy to feel by the motion of his shoulders and chest. Each of Shen Qingqiu's exhales ruffles Liu Qingge's hair and brush past his ear. Liu Qingge, meanwhile, is a bare inch from having his face planted in Shen Qingqiu's hair.

When Shen Qingqiu's qi finally leaves his system and they can break their embrace, Liu Qingge only barely stops himself from squeezing Shen Qingqiu exactly as Liu Qingge would end a good long hug. He resists, and pulls away, and feels like the room has grown colder while they'd circulated each other's qi.

"Get out," Shen Qingqiu says immediately, before Liu Qingge has even begun to redress.

Liu Qingge gives him what he hopes is an obviously tolerant annoyed look. "Patience." He's not exiting the bamboo house without putting all of his clothes back on, no matter how secluded the path outside seems.

Shen Qingqiu looks away from him, clearly content to simply imagine that Liu Qingge has already left. It's incredibly rude, but Liu Qingge strangely finds it amusing rather than infuriating. It's almost endearing, which isn't a word Liu Qingge would have thought anyone could ever apply to Shen Qingqiu.

Of course, since Shen Qingqiu is ignoring him Liu Qingge gets the great satisfaction of having the last word. Mu Qingfang had suggested that every other day would probably be fine, maybe even every third day, but since they're not sure there's no reason to risk it. "I'll see you tomorrow at the same time," Liu Qingge says on his way out of the room, throwing a casual wave over his shoulder like he would when leaving a meeting with one of his Bai Zhan martial siblings. It'll probably confuse Shen Qingqiu, which means Liu Qingge at least won't be the only one suddenly standing on uncertain ground.