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“You’re going to the feast, right?

Shang Qinghua pauses in the doorway, looking over his shoulder with a look of confusion on his face. “What?”

Mu Qingfang closes the file that he’d been perusing and stands up, coming around to the other side of his desk. “Liu Mingyan’s birthday celebration. Are you going to be there?”

“Of course!” The An Ding peak lord scratches the back of his head sheepishly. “Honestly, I think Liu-shidi might beat me up if I forget. I don’t know why, since it’s not like I’m close with Liu-shimei…. But, I’ll be there for sure!”

Mu Qingfang rolls his eyes. “He won’t. He hasn’t beaten you since you miraculously befriended him. And since you’re friends, of course he’s going to expect you at things like this.”

Shang Qinghua blinks, befuddled. “Wait. Liu Qingge and I? We’re friends? When did that happen?”

“When did —?” It’s Mu Qingfang’s turn to pause, and he takes the moment to pull up short and give his fellow peak lord a look in examination. 

“No, seriously,” Shang Qinghua says, stepping back into the room and shutting the door behind him. “You think Liu Qingge sees me as a friend? He hates weak people! He sees me as weak. Qingfang, he hates me!”

“Dear heavens,” Mu Qingfang runs a hand down his face, looking close to astonished, before giving his head a slow shake. His expression smoothes out into something more close to a realization. “Qinghua, Liu Qingge sees you as a friend. Why else do you think he’s been bringing you a part of his hunting bounties? He only does that for his friends.”

“Is that why he keeps dropping monster carcasses on top of my terrified disciples?” Shang Qinghua asks, aghast. 

“I thought I told him to stop doing that,” Mu Qingfang mumbles, fingers pinched at the bridge of his nose. Then he continues, louder, “But, yes. That’s why he does that.”

“Does he do that to you, too?”

Yes , he does,” the doctor says almost tersely, “because he and I are also friends! Qinghua,” he adds quickly, like his mind is reeling, “Qinghua, you do know that you and I are friends as well, right?”

“Uh,” Shang Qinghua stammers, hands fidgeting with his sleeves and gaze darting wildly around the room. Anywhere but to meet Mu Qingfang’s eyes. 

The doctor stares at him for a long, tense moment, and then lets out a heavy sigh. 

“I should have guessed.” He says, quietly. “You’re... not exactly the brightest when it comes to interpersonal relationships.”

“Hey,” Shang Qinghua complains, a little offended. 

He shuts up when Mu Qingfang takes a step toward him, then another. The doctor strides across the room, and crowds the nervous Shang Qinghua until his back hits the door. 

“Um, Qingfang—”

“Why would you assume that I don’t see you as a friend?” The man asks softly. 

“I—I just,” Shang Qinghua says, hands hovering between the two of them because he’s not sure what to do with them. “I mean, you are my favorite out of all the peak lords, Qingfang, honestly, but I just, I don’t — I mean, I kind of thought you were only nice to me because I make a good missions partner? Or, I mean!” The An Ding peak lord hurries on, once he sees how upset the other man appears at this reason. “That’s just what I thought in the beginning! I’ve realized over the time we’ve known each other that you’re definitely not like that at all! And, I mean, I like you of course, Qingfang, but I just didn’t realize — I didn’t think you thought of me as a friend , that’s all! I mean, that’s not generally what people want with me, so I guess I just… Um....” 

Mu Qingfang watches him silently, a serene neutral mask firmly in place, and Shang Qinghua shifts awkwardly as his nervous stammering finally begins to trail off. Mu Qingfang hasn’t used this expression with him in ages. What has he done wrong? He didn’t know! Shang Qinghua doesn’t know a lot of things, ok?! Oh, well, sure, there’s a lot of things that he does know, most of that being things that he definitely should not know, but none of that oh-so special knowledge pertains at all to relationships with other people. That sort of stuff is all organic! No cold, hard data whatsoever! Shang Qinghua is a fish out of water when it comes to this sort of stuff. Mu Qingfang knows that! You can’t blame him, Qingfang!

He’s getting a little hot under the collar, since the doctor has crowded him back against the door and now stands so close that he could reach out or touch him if he wanted, and Shang Qinghua sweats anxiously. 

“I just… I didn’t think....” He whispers, feeling shitty now that he’s realized how deeply he’s fumbled. Is Mu Qingfang upset with him, now? Shang Qinghua, he… doesn’t want that. He doesn’t want that at all. 

He has to fix this somehow. 

But, maybe first, just to confirm?

He bites his lip, feeling suddenly shy. “We — Are we friends?” He asks, hopefully. 

“Qinghua,” Mu Qingfang sighs out in exasperation. Shang Qinghua can feel his breath on his face. He blinks. Mu Qingfang reaches up with a hand and slots his palm gently against Shang Qinghua’s cheek. He gives it a few soft pats. “We call each other by our given names.”

“So, then,” Shang Qinghua hedges, poking his fingers together like some knock off anime girl, because he’s an absolute loser and this ridiculous media-born habit has followed him into this second life of his just like the rest of the sins of his past. “That’s a yes? That is yes, right? You’re my friend, Qingfang? I’d, um — I’d really like that.”

He’s rambling now, his face heating up likely akin to a tomato, but he can’t shut up. “I didn’t know you thought I’d make a good friend, but I’m really glad that you do—”

Mu Qingfang is staring at him. There’s an incredulous and exasperated look on his face. He looks unbearably fond

Shang Qinghua glances helplessly away from him, at the far wall, and mentally begins booting up the process of silencing himself. It’s gonna take a while, since he’s so incredibly flustered, what the fuck. But he’ll manage it in a second! Hang in there, Qingfang!

“—because I’d really love to have a friend, and that’s kind of pathetic now that I say it out loud, but —“

Mu Qingfang huffs. “Qinghua.”

It sounds kind of like a laugh, but his voice is thick with some kind of emotion that Shang Qinghua doesn’t really have the knowledge or experience to name. 

He shakes his head, a little wildly, because he’s almost there! He’ll shut up soon, thanks for sticking with him, Qingfang! His friend is so patient, what a godsend. 

“I think I have to apologize now? Because I didn’t notice, and uh, how long has it been like this? We’ve been friends and I didn’t even know? I’m kind of an idiot, I’m sorry —”

Qinghua .” Mu Qingfang says, and ends up silencing Shang Qinghua himself. 

Wait. 

Shang Qinghua stops. Everything else might keep on going, in this second, but Shang Qinghua is having a moment of absolute bluescreen, because Mu Qingfang — beautiful, smart, kind Mu Qingfang’s lips are on his , and Shang Qinghua doesn’t know what to do. 

Does Qingfang mean to do this? To him ? What if it’s a mistake? Surely, he can’t —

Mu Qingfang pushes forward. Shang Qinghua’s back hits the closed door behind him, and their chests are suddenly pressed together. It’s warm. Shang Qinghua feels like he’s on fire. Is he still blushing? It’s probably worse now. Mu Qingfang’s arm comes forward and wraps securely around Shang Qinghua’s small waist, tugging him ever closer. His other hand has moved up from his face to tangle gently in Shang Qinghua’s hair. 

After a moment, the Qian Cao lord pulls back about an inch and rests his forehead against Shang Qinghua’s. He stares into his eyes, silent, and then squeezes the arm around his waist. 

“You haven’t been eating again,” the doctor comments idly, as eerily spot on as he always is. “You really need to stop forgetting to do that.”

“What’s happening,” Shang Qinghua says, breathless and dazed. He realizes his hands have come to rest against Mu Qingfang’s chest, and he absently moves them to curl in the wide collar of the man’s robe. 

“I’ve realized that if I ever want you to notice, then I’ll have to be more forward with you.” Mu Qingfang replies, matter-of-factly. 

He tilts his head to the side, the tip of his nose barely sliding against the side of Shang Qinghua’s, and the doctor presses another brief yet firm kiss into his mouth. 

Incredibly so,” he says, sounding both annoyed and amused in equal measure. Then, he carefully, pointedly seals their lips together once more. 

Shang Qinghua’s hands clench in the man’s robes, and he leans forward into Mu Qingfang’s grasp, standing up on his toes — all the other peak lords are so damn tall, it’s not fair! — and tilting his head back to allow for better access, because. Because Mu Qingfang is still kissing him and Shang Qinghua —

Shang Qinghua doesn’t want him to stop