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you got a way (of making me feel insane)

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The first time they met, was also the only time Liu Qingge would admit to being at fault. He hadn’t meant to ruin things, he just seemed to have a natural proclivity for making an ass out of himself in front of Shen Jiu.

He had followed some of his disciples to a nearby brothel, intending to give them a good thrashing and then send them to the Sect Leader for a lecture. Instead, he found his head disciple kissing the guqin player in a room full of unconscious merchants.

“Meng Fei!” he roared. “Explain yourself!”

The poor disciple pulled away in shock, and the guqin player gave Liu Qingge a dirty look.

“Is this your teacher, A-Fei? Much less impressive than you described.”

Meng Fei pinched the bridge of his nose and waved his hand dismissively.

“A-Jiu, please. We’ll leave now, thank you for everything.”

He kissed ‘A-Jiu’ on the cheek and dragged a spluttering Liu Qingge outside.

“Shizun before you kill me, please let me explain.”

Liu Qingge just raised one unimpressed eyebrow at him.

“I’ve been seeing A-Jiu for years, no not like that, at least not until I was of age. He would never. A-Jiu is someone that keeps track of the slave trade in nearby towns and cities and exposes the merchants. I just help him on occasion.”

“Then why were you kissing him like that?”

Meng Fei flushed down to his neck.

“A-Jiu said it was a reward for not messing up his plan too much.”

Incensed at the sheer audacity of this ‘A-Jiu’, Liu Qingge stormed back into the brothel, and created enough noise to wake the dead. ‘A-Jiu’ rushed out after a few minutes with a glare that would have made a lesser man quiver.

“What do you want?” he hissed. “Isn’t it enough for you lofty immortals to judge us from your mountains? Are you upset that I drugged those slavers? Do you want a kiss as well? Why are you standing here and making noise like a child?”

“You can’t take justice into your own hands,” said Liu Qingge. “You should let the local magistrate and law enforcement deal with them.”

A-Jiu laughed at him mockingly.

“And they’ll help? You’re a naïve sort, aren’t you Peak Lord Liu? At least A-Fei had common sense.”

Before Liu Qingge could retort, there was muffled noise from upstairs. A-Jiu cursed under his breath.

“If the drug has worn off and those bastards escape, I will climb up Bai Zhan Peak and castrate you myself.”

With that, he rushed back upstairs, not sparing another glace in Liu Qingge’s direction.

“Ah Shizun, you’ve made a dangerous enemy. A-Jiu doesn’t take too kindly to people interfering with his plans.”

“Shut up, Meng Fei. Get the rest of the disciples and head back to the peak if you want to survive tomorrow’s punishment.”

“Yes, Shizun.”

**

He made it a point to go back to the brothel two days later to check if he had really ruined A-Jiu’s plans. It wasn’t quite guilt that he felt. People that took the law into their own hands were dangerous and unpredictable, Liu Qingge thought darkly. If left alone, A-Jiu could cause more damage than he sought to fix.

Liu Qingge was made to wait at the entrance, like a shamed customer that was not allowed in while one of the women fetched their madam. Madam Wang had a reputation for ferociousness, even hiring people to kill customers if they treated her people poorly. Liu Qingge wondered if A-Jiu was the one who carried that out as well, and his mood worsened.

“Peak Lord Liu, you are not welcome here.”

“I wouldn’t want to enter your fine establishment either. I’ve come for information. Did A-Jiu’s plan work out?”

Madam Wang’s lip curled.

“Don’t speak about him so familiarly. His name is Shen Jiu and thanks to your interference, the men got away and he was injured. I was under the impression that Cang Qiong Sect fought against injustice. I suppose I was wrong. Please do not come again, none of your students will be welcome either.”

She left him like that, feeling shamed and angry. He pulled out his money pouch and thrust it at the girl who was waiting for him to leave.

“Tell Shen Jiu to contact the authorities next time,” he barked and stormed off.

(He received the money pouch back a few days later when he was sparring with Meng Fei. In it was a note written in beautiful calligraphy, that had Meng Fei laughing as soon as he saw it.

Keep your money, rich bastard.

Liu Qingge felt extra smug as he beat his disciple to the ground that day.)


 

After that incident, it seemed that every mission he received would ensure a run-in with Shen Jiu. Liu Qingge wasn’t sure where the man got his information from or how he survived so long without a spiritual weapon. Their interactions only created more animosity amongst them, with neither acknowledging how terrible their first impression of each other had been. Liu Qingge had only attempted to bring it up once, but let it go when Shen Jiu’s face darkened. It did not need a particularly smart person to know what happened after the slavers escaped.

Out of the setting of the brothel, Shen Jiu wore exclusively black robes with red accents. He wielded a mortal sword of excellent craftsmanship, but was equally comfortable launching spiritual attacks. He fought pettily, with underhanded means and managed to get to the source of trouble before Liu Qingge ever did. Liu Qingge despised him.

“Are you an idiot as well as a brute? One would think Cang Qiong Sect would only send their best, instead of their most pathetic.”

Liu Qingge grit his teeth and sent another flurry of attacks on spine-tailed tiger they were fighting. Shen Jiu had appeared a little later than him, and had managed to thoroughly agitate the tiger, which caused it to shoot spines at Liu Qingge.

“You provoked it instead of attacking head on. Your ability is not enough to fight spiritual beasts. Move out of the way before you get yourself killed.”

Shen Jiu sneered at him and snapped open a fan, bringing down a wave sharpened leaves on the tiger. The tiger howled and charged at them, frustrated that none of its attacks were working. They had barely a minute to get out of the way thanks to the animal’s speed.

Shen Jiu stepped in front of Liu Qingge before the tiger sent him flying, and was thrown into a tree for his efforts. Liu Qingge grit his teeth and quickly subdued the tiger, jumping out of the way when it pounced and knocking it unconscious. He was meant to take the tiger to Tian Yi Overlook, where they would study it and release it back to its natural habitat. But now he had an injured person to take care of, one that was not supposed to be there in the first place.

Cursing Shen Jiu the whole time, he set up an array around the unconscious tiger and made a mental note to have someone from Tian Yi Overlook pick it up. Liu Qingge then picked Shen Jiu up and stepped on to Cheng Luan, hoping that the man wouldn’t chew him out for taking him to Mu Qingfang.

 

“Liu-shidi, a word please.”

Mu Qingfang sighed and fixed him with a stern look.

“Have you been fighting with this man? He has a lot more scars than the ones you told me about.”

“No. We try to avoid each other when we can.” Liu Qingge paused. “What kind of scars?”

“That is not my business to share. In any case, he only stayed unconscious for so long because his foundation is unstable. Perhaps Liu-shidi can help him strengthen his core later.”

“Perhaps. Thank you, Mu-shixiong.”

Liu Qingge caught one of Mu Qingfang’s disciples and had him fetch Meng Fei. If Shen Jiu was going to get angry, it would be best to have a familiar face around.

Meng Fei arrived just as Shen Jiu woke up, all but pushing his shizun out of the way to get to the bed.

“Is A-Jiu alright? Was it a difficult fight?”

Liu Qingge scoffed.

“It would have been easier if he hadn’t put himself in harm’s way and gotten injured. Do not interfere again, or the next time you won’t be so lucky.”

“That’s far too many words for someone that should be thankful,” said Shen Jiu with a sneer. “Gratitude is not practiced in Bai Zhan, I can see that now. No matter, Peak Lord Liu I will stay out of your way.”

Meng Fei helped him get up and fix his robes and got a kiss for his efforts.

“Take care of yourself. I don’t want to find out that you’ve gotten hurt because you tried to be a hero.”

With one last lingering look towards Meng Fei, Shen Jiu turned around and walked away from them.

“I’ve never seen Shizun get so riled up about anyone. Why does A-Jiu bother you so much?”

“He fights like an animal, desperately and with underhanded means. It is not how someone should behave.”

Meng Fei hummed.

“A-Jiu grew up on the streets. Desperation and underhanded means are the only tools he had. Only the rich can afford nobility, Shizun. People have to do all they can to survive. Please consider that the next time you run into him.”

“Meng Fei.”

“Yes, Shizun?”

“Why does Shen Jiu target slavers?”

Meng Fei gave him a sad smile.

“Because he was also a slave once.”

The conversation with Meng Fei helped clarify many things for Liu Qingge. It certainly explained the scars that Mu Qingfang had seen on Shen Jiu’s body, and the way he fought. The man had a propensity for kindness, even if he hid it under a harsh demeanour. Why he did that was what bothered Liu Qingge more than anything else. There was so much more he could achieve with kindness.

Liu Qingge scowled and sat down to meditate. How and why Shen Jiu behaved that way was none of his business and he intended to keep it like that.


 

The next few missions Liu Qingge was assigned to were free of Shen Jiu’s presence. He spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder, waiting for someone in black to call him an idiot and found himself oddly disappointed when no such thing happened. He had gotten used to Shen Jiu and his acidic tongue, regardless of how much of a distraction it had proved to be.

Meng Fei, the unfilial disciple that he was, refused to share details whenever Shen Jiu wrote to him. So Liu Qingge was pushed to desperate measures. Every person in black robes and a ponytail would receive a second glance from him. He would end up following some of them discretely, only to be met with dead ends. Until one day he didn’t.

Liu Qingge had caught only a glimpse of black robes before following the person into a narrow alleyway. Except, he wasn’t the only person following them. The other person snuck up on them and slammed them against the wall, with a knife to their neck.

“So you’re the whore that’s going around making things difficult for the slavers, huh?”

“Better than the one that gave birth to you.”

Liu Qingge recognised the sneering tone instantly. The man pressed the knife closer, hand trembling with the effort of holding back.

“I would slit your throat but then I wouldn’t get paid. Even your pretty blood isn’t enough to match what they’re offering me.”

“Coward,” spat Shen Jiu. “Just admit that you’re some spineless idiot they sent because they couldn’t afford better.”

Liu Qingge could see that he was preparing for an attack and talking to buy time. Only the faint trembling of Shen Jiu’s limbs gave away his fear. Liu Qingge refused to take the risk. He silently landed behind the assailant and snapped his neck, pushing him away from Shen Jiu.

“Are you hurt?” he demanded. “Why didn’t you fight back?”

Shen Jiu slid to the ground, still shaking. There was a drop of blood slowly rolling from his shallow neck wound.

“Being restrained doesn’t bring pleasant memories,” he said, bitterly. “I just…froze.”

Liu Qingge knelt next to him and carefully pulled Shen Jiu into his arms. He had seen Mu Qingfang do this with patients that had undergone traumatic experiences.

“You’re safe with me,” he said, stiffly. “I will make sure no one hurts you.”

Shen Jiu slumped against him with a shuddering breath. Neither of them mentioned the hot tears that fell on Liu Qingge’s chest. They stayed like that for an hour, until Shen Jiu shifted uncomfortably.

“Thank you,” he murmured.

“You keep telling Meng Fei to take care of himself. Follow your own advice.”

Shen Jiu gave him a faint smile.

“I’ll take that into consideration, Peak Lord Liu.”

 

There was a subtle shift in their relationship after that. Shen Jiu’s insults were more fond than hurtful and Liu Qingge gave into the urge to spoil him. Their fighting improved with the grudging respect they shared, leading to successful missions with little to no injury. It was still rare for them to spend time together after the work was done, but after each mission, Liu Qingge found himself looking forward to seeing Shen Jiu again.

Shen Jiu had even began sending him little notes with the letters he wrote for Meng Fei. Mean, heartless words designed to hurt him but only left him feeling strangely fond.

He would look at fans and think about what could have been. A Shen Jiu in lighter robes with a fan to hide his sneer and an elaborate hair crown. It would suit him, Liu Qingge thought. Far more than the black robes he preferred. But the black helped him blend in and was easy to wash blood off of. And Liu Qingge definitely knew the benefits of hard to stain robes.

 (He still bought the fan, a delicate black and red thing. Perhaps one day he could give it to Shen Jiu without feeling like a complete ass.)

**

Realization only struck when they were both doused in a terrible smelling goo, after the demonic creature they had been fighting exploded. It was a vague, shapeless thing and only died after Liu Qingge ran Cheng Luan through it fully.

“You did that on purpose!”

“I’m so sorry I didn’t consider the state of your hair while fighting,” Liu Qingge scoffed. “I was under the impression that we were supposed to be killing the thing.”

Shen Jiu flung a rock at him and stormed away in the direction of a river they had spotted on their way. Liu Qingge followed at a slower pace, not enjoying the idea of being covered in goo either.

By the time he reached the river, Shen Jiu had stripped down to his waist, tied up his hair and was scrubbing his outer robe against a rock. His back was covered in a multitude of scars. Liu Qingge could identify the whip marks and the ones done by a cane and felt a surge of anger. Just below Shen Jiu’s neck, where his hair usually covered it, was the brand of the family he once belonged to.

Liu Qingge had grown grudgingly fond of the man, even considering him a friend. But seeing the scars up close brought an overwhelming need to protect and treasure Shen Jiu. He could understand why Meng Fei valued their physical intimacies so much. He wanted to write over those scars with a touch of his own. Maybe he wanted to kiss Shen Jiu as well.

He shook the thoughts from his head and focused on getting clean. It had taken a long time for Shen Jiu to tolerate him, he would not ruin it by confessing his lukewarm feelings.

 

They flew to the nearest town, with Liu Qingge now used to flying with Shen Jiu clinging to him. They had argued about it constantly, but neither could deny it was the most convenient way to travel. (And if Liu Qingge liked having Shen Jiu’s arms around his waist that was his business.)

They managed to snag the last empty room that the inn had, after Shen Jiu haggled with the merchant that wanted it and had Liu Qingge pay to compensate the man.

“I can’t understand why you’re so stingy. Is your sect not one of the richest?”

“I don’t know why I like you,” Liu Qingge grumbled. “All you do is question my decisions and call me an idiot.”

Shen Jiu froze.

“What did you just say?”

“I said that I don’t. Oh.”

“Yes, oh, you blithering idiot. Explain yourself.”

“I don’t hate you anymore,” he said, then winced. “That came out wrong. I’m not good with words but I misjudged you and I am willing to admit it. You are an infuriating man, who puts on airs and pretends to be cruel in order to not get hurt. When I finally got to see who you were and not who you wanted to be seen as, I began to like you and enjoy your company.”

“Is that a confession of love, Peak Lord Liu?”

“Not love, no. It is a confession for the possibility of love.”

Shen Jiu looked into his eyes searchingly, as if to root out any untruths Liu Qingge may have uttered.

“Okay,” he said, and began disrobing.     

“W-what are you doing?”

He hastily pulled up the robe that Shen Jiu had slipped off his shoulders. He had seen those scars and marks before, but to be shown them willingly was a level of intimacy Liu Qingge was not quite ready for.

Shen Jiu tilted his head at him curiously.

“Is this not the next logical step? You tell me you have feelings for me, I spread my legs for you and you leave the next morning, never to be seen again.”

“I don’t know what kind of men you have been seeing,” said Liu Qingge, struggling to hold his anger. “But that is not how this is going to work. I may be socially inept, a brute and an idiot. What I am not going to do, however, is abandon someone that I care for.”

“Don’t promise me something you cannot fulfil,” Shen Jiu hissed. “I grew up on the streets, the only thing emptier than promises of happiness and forever were our stomachs. You are an immortal and I am just something new that has caught your fancy. You don’t have to pity me, I’ve been abandoned before. But don’t you dare feed me false assurances with the hope that I’ll fall for.”

Liu Qingge caught his trembling hand and pulled him close to his chest, holding on tight when Shen Jiu started to struggle.

“I do not make promises I can’t keep. I may not see you every day or live with you, unless you come to my peak, but forgetting you is something I am incapable of doing. Trust me, I’ve tried.”

Shen Jiu went limp in his arms and raised his head to look into his eyes. He stared for a bit before nodding and kissing the hollow of Liu Qingge’s throat.

“Okay.”

That night confirmed the fact that Shen Jiu was a notorious cuddler, clinging to Liu Qingge and murmuring in his sleep. They woke up with Shen Jiu’s hair in Liu Qingge’s mouth and Liu Qingge’s hand dangerously low on Shen Jiu’s stomach. Shen Jiu pushed the hand down lower and laughed as Liu Qingge jumped away, muttering curses.

“Indecent!”

“Really, for you to expect decency at this stage is a bit much.”

Liu Qingge took in the ridiculously infuriating man, sitting up on the bed and smirking at him. Shen Jiu crooked one finger at him beckoning him closer.

“Peak Lord Liu, let me show you exactly how indecent I can be.”

Liu Qingge decided then and there that if indecency meant getting to touch a little more of Shen Jiu’s lovely skin, he would simply have to learn how to deal with it.


 

Bonus +1

“Do I have to do everything myself? Get a hold of your wits and move like you mean it before I find one of your disciples to finish the job.”

Sex with Shen Jiu was like everything else with Shen Jiu, loud, passionate and with far too much biting. Every one of their fights had devolved into them ripping each other’s clothes and bending Shen Jiu over the nearest flat surface. But even with one leg over Liu Qingge’s shoulder and his cock pressed inside, he still had the audacity to complain.

“I am trying to be gentle.”

“Well, why don’t you try to do something useful instead?”

With a growl, Liu Qingge flipped them over so that Shen Jiu was on top and brought his hand down on Shen Jiu’s ass with a loud smack.

“Move then, since you’re the expert.”

Liu Qingge leaned back with his arms folded behind his head, fully taking advantage of the fact that Shen Jiu enjoyed looking at his muscles. Shen Jiu had gone red on top of him, shuddering at the rare display of dominance. Obediently, he raised himself to his knees and slowly sank down on Liu Qingge’s cock.

“You should, ah, do this more often,” he panted. “Your face finally matches your personality when you take control.”

Liu Qingge huffed and pinched Shen Jiu’s ass.

“Even like this you find time to insult me. Clearly I’m not doing a good enough job.”

Shen Jiu wrapped his arms around Liu Qingge’s neck, pressing in as close as possible and rubbing up against his firm stomach.

“Everyone can’t be perfect. Now lay back down and enjoy the show. ”