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New Faces Stream Steadily Through the Palace

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Luo Binghe wakes to a stranger nestled in his arms. 

Whoever he is, he fits there flawlessly. Long, lean legs meld in a perfect tangle with his; one arm is slung across his back in a half-embrace; the slope of a narrow waist to broad shoulders is a perfect angle to wrap his arms around, and the man is just small enough compared to his own frame that engulfing him is all too easy. Though the man’s face is buried in Luo Binghe’s chest, the perfect pink shell of an ear poking out between dark strands is enough indication for Binghe that whoever he is, he’s certainly of a comely appearance. The lightly tanned skin of his bare neck is covered by a spill of night-dark hair that only manages to hide a purpling love bite by half. 

He does not remember going to bed with a man last night, but memory is a fickle thing in a world so overrun by aphrodisiacs as this one. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Especially not with such a delectable vision in front of him. 

Flower connoisseur that he is, Luo Binghe always finds that there’s nothing else quite so lovely or captivating as waking up with a beautiful thing in his arms. Still sleep-addled, he lightly, thoughtlessly squeezes, drawing a satisfied little hum out of his drowsing bedmate and a futile attempt to burrow deeper into Binghe’s warm embrace. Truly, adorable. In rare, precious times like this, he thinks it’s almost a shame he cannot bring men into his harem. But it can’t be helped; he doesn’t want any children that aren’t his running around his palace. 

Then his bedmate raises his head with a sigh, and Luo Binghe goes very, very cold. 

Sleepy hazel eyes peer up at him out of a face that haunts his dreams. A slow smile spreads across familiar lips in a way Luo Binghe has never seen before: not malicious or derisive, but... soft. Lazy. Contented. 

Shen fucking Qingqiu, alive and whole, nuzzles back down into Luo Binghe’s embrace. A hand that should be long gone traces hypnotic, featherlight patterns between Luo Binghe’s shoulders. “Good morning, Husband,” that hated voice murmurs so lovingly, with a puff of warm breath against Binghe’s bare chest that sends shivers down his spine. Shen Qingqiu must feel the tremor, the tensing of his muscles, because he stops with his fidgeting and instead presses those dexterous fingers firmly into a knot under his shoulder blade and starts rubbing the tension away, far too expertly to be anything but intentional. As if he already knows that it’s one of Binghe’s regular problem spots. 

What the fuck is going on here. 

Although it feels—although the man is definitely hitting the right spot, Luo Binghe’s muscles just coil even tighter. He feels Shen Qingqiu frown against his chest; the massaging hand stops before he turns his face to Luo Binghe again. An unfamiliar light shines in those eyes. Helped along with a twist in Shen Qingqiu’s lips and a slight furrow between his long, thin eyebrows, Binghe might place that uncanny glint as concern if he was delusional enough to believe that his heartless Shizun was capable of such an emotion. “Binghe?” Those treacherous lips ask, voice smooth and sweet as honey. The arm slips out from under Luo Binghe’s own and comes up to gently cup the side of his face. Long fingers cradle the shell of his ear; a thumb swipes tenderly over his cheekbone back and forth, back and forth. “Love, what’s wrong?”

Luo Binghe just stares down at his old shizun, uncomprehending. 

Shen Qingqiu’s eyebrows crinkle even more. He traces up his temple to brush the fringe from his forehead, fingers carding through his roots and gently scratching. Luo Binghe closes his eyes in a moment of startled bliss that makes his stomach turn when it’s over. 

Cool, soft skin against his forehead draws his eyes back open: the back of Shen Qingqiu’s hand, testing his temperature. “You’re burning up,” he murmurs, frowning. He seems to think for a moment, hazel eyes slitted and glittering, before he comes to a resolution. “I will call for a physician.”

When Shen Qingqiu starts to pull away, Luo Binghe catches that wrist in a tight grip. Shizun’s bones feel like a bird’s: fragile, delicate. It wouldn’t take much to snap them. Just a quick flex of his hand, and then...

Before he can enact that fantasy, soft lips brush across his knuckles. Surprised, he instinctively releases the wrist; his cunning shizun seizes the opportunity to catch his paralyzed hand and... kisses his palm, presses his cheek into the cup of his hand, attentive as the spider wrapping its prey. A reassuring smile crinkles his shizun’s eyes and twists his cruel, uncaring face into something unrecognizable. “Be at ease, Love. I won’t be gone long.”

With that, he lets go of his captive hand, leans forward, and presses the softest of kisses upon Luo Binghe’s brow, right across his Heavenly Demon sigil. There is enough time and space for Binghe to pull away, but... for some reason, he doesn’t want to. Then Shizun slips away: quickly extricating his legs from the tangle and pushing himself up. The silken sheets glide over naked skin as he stands. 

A shaft of early morning sunlight spills through the window above the bed and scatters across the bare skin of Shen Qingqiu’s back, highlighting the gentle dip of his spine. When the man reaches up for a semi-sheer white robe carelessly tossed over the privacy screen, his hair slips from its drape over his shoulder and exposes a dozen more love bites trailing from the junction of his neck all the way down to the bottom of his shoulder blade. Never one to pass up a view, Binghe’s eyes follow the fall of his shizun’s dark hair down to a well-formed ass and further: finding even more love bites just peeking out from his inner thighs and a matched set of purpling streaks just above the backs of his knees. 

His scumbag shizun draws the daopao over his shoulders and turns halfway around to face him. From this angle, Binghe is able to catch a glimpse of another, larger hand-shaped bruise starting to color around the curve of his hip before the thin white silk flutters closed over it. 

It seems that Shizun has no real reason to turn back; he simply looks at him for a long moment, still and quiet. Luo Binghe meets that dreaded gaze steadily, hiding his tumultuous thoughts behind an impenetrable wall. His shizun’s expression flexes in a peculiar way, becoming far too soft in the pink light of dawn, before he sweeps around the privacy screen and out of sight. 

Luo Binghe rolls to lie on his back. He stares up at the ceiling, unsettled beyond comprehension. What in the Three Realms was all of that? How did his shizun manage to come back from the dead, with all of his limbs attached no less? And what kind of trick is he trying to pull with this tender act? Who is he trying to fool? If he thinks he can pretend to—to—if he believes he’s going to trick Binghe into thinking he’s changed, he has another thing coming. 

So wrapped up in his thoughts, he doesn’t notice when he reaches up to touch his forehead. The sensation of plush lips lingers on his skin like dew. Only after a moment does he realize what he’s doing—caressing the mark like that, blushing like a maiden—and he snatches his hand away lightning quick. He grinds his teeth. 

Well. Whatever little game his shizun is playing, he’ll play along. For now. Just to see how long Shen Qingqiu can last.