Nobody was quite sure how Shen Qingqiu and Shang Qinghua's friendship had bloomed. Qi Qingqi was taking bets that Shen Qingqiu had somehow blackmailed Shang Qinghua into befriending him, but the truth was far less sinister.
"Ah, Shen-shixiong! Come in, I got some of those Osmanthus pastries you like."
"Do you know what the latest rumour is?"
Shang Qinghua simply poured him a cup of tea. There was no telling how Shen Qingqiu would react when he was in a mood.
"They think I've taken your wife and child hostage! And that is why you entertain my ‘eccentricities’. Pour me another cup of tea."
"But I don't have a wife. Or children."
"Oh, well-spotted. Nothing gets by you."
"I thought we agreed that you weren't going to be mean," Shang Qinghua grumbled, taking the plate of pastries away from Shen Qingqiu's grabby hands.
"But Shang-shidi makes it so incredibly easy."
Shang Qinghua pouted.
"Fine, fine. Just don't make that...face again. It's a horrible sight, no need to subject me to it."
Shen Qingqiu mimed gagging and let go of the topic so that they could speak about something else. Like the newest idiot trying to win Wei Qingwei's favour.
Their friendship, if you could call it that, had bloomed after the botched mission where Shang Qinghua had witnessed Shen Qingqiu saving Liu Qingge's life. (And the subsequent verbal diatribe that Liu Qingge had let out after misunderstanding the whole situation.) Shen Qingqiu had forced him to keep his mouth shut, and he was honour bound to listen.
But even if he was good at it, Shang Qinghua really didn't enjoy unnecessary lying and deceit. It went against the bro-code.
For weeks he drove himself mad, struggling over the thought of confronting Shen Qingqiu. Until he finally stormed to Qing Jing Peak and did it.
"You horrible, horrible man. I can't think, I can't sleep and worst of all, I can't work. Why did you stop me from telling Liu-shidi the truth? You know he's destroying your reputation as we speak right? I know you don't care about it but come on! It's driving me up the wall! Say something bro!"
The silence should have warned Shang Qinghua that he had possibly gone too far, but he didn't particularly care. At least if Shen Qingqiu killed him, he wouldn't have to deal with this bullshit anymore.
"Well, Shang-shidi, I must say you have quite the backbone to come and scream at me in my own home. Where is the snivelling rat that accompanied us on missions a few days back?"
"You made him anxious."
Shen Qingqiu let out a sudden bark of laughter, startling Shang Qinghua.
"Oh, I like this version of you," he said, with a wicked grin.
"There is no version! I want to go to sleep without the threat of you murdering me if I let the truth slip!"
Shen Qingqiu waved his hand dismissively.
"It's too inconsequential for me to care anymore. That brute talks more than he should anyway, far be it for me to deprive those lesser than us their entertainment."
Shang Qinghua stared at him blankly.
"I can never understand what you're trying to say."
With that, he turned around and left Qing Jing Peak before Shen Qingqiu came to his senses and actually killed him.
The only thing the confrontation achieved was Shen Qingqiu visiting him every week like a particularly stubborn rash. Shang Qinghua did not sleep for the first two months of their "friendship" until Mu Qingfang kindly told Shen Qingqiu to stop terrifying him.
"We're friends, Mu-shidi."
'Save me,' Shang Qinghua mouthed from the sick bed.
But they did slowly develop a friendship, enough for them to speak casually to each other and enough for Shen Qingqiu to loudly badmouth people who were dismissive of Shang Qinghua.
His stubborn, weekly appearances at An Ding Peak became a tradition instead of a nuisance. Something that Shang Qinghua was loath to admit.
While Shen Qingqiu seemed to have comfortably settled into this, Shang Qinghua was still wary. He knew this man; he had tortured this man through his writing. Happiness for Shen Qingqiu was not meant to happen, in any timeline. But Shang Qinghua had fucked it up by himself. If he hadn't gone to Qing Jing Peak that day, this would have happened.
But, well. Having the friendship of a powerful villain was better than no friendship at all. Maybe he could even help change Shen Qingqiu's future!
The loud clatter of the teacup brought him back to the present.
"What's on your mind then, if you're so distracted? Is it that demon lover you're pretending not to have?"
Shang Qinghua spluttered.
"What! No! I don't have a demon lover! Shen-shixiong must be confusing me for someone else."
"Yes, because all our martial siblings are simply bursting at the seams to fuck demons," Shen Qingqiu said, drily. "Don't lie to me, demonic qi leaves a faint signature and you're practically drenched in it."
Another thing that Shang Qinghua had realised, is that their relationship had somehow stabilised Shen Qingqiu's foundation and made him stronger. As if basic emotional support was all he needed to get through a bottleneck in his cultivation. This newly self-assured Shen Qingqiu was twice as insufferable as the original one.
Shang Qinghua stood his ground.
"I do not have a demonic lover."
"That's not what Li-shizi told me."
"Stop bribing my disciples!"
"Then stop behaving irresponsibly!"
Shen Qingqiu's eyes narrowed dangerously, and all at once Shang Qinghua was reminded of the time he was on the other side of that hateful glare.
"Are you being coerced, Shang Qinghua? Is there threat to your existence? I don't care about this sect, nor the dull creatures that live on it. But I will not see you dead, if I can help it."
"You do care for me!"
"Of course, I do! Get off me, you oaf, Li-shizi told me you haven't bathed in three days."
By the time Shen Qingqiu had successfully pushed Shang Qinghua off and dusted himself of whatever perceived dirt that had transferred during the brief hug, the mood was lighter again.
"I will ask again, a little seriously. Is someone forcing you? You cannot count on the imbeciles that are our martial siblings but I can help."
"No, Shen-shixiong, no one is forcing me,” said Shang Qinghua.
Suddenly he turned to Shen Qingqiu with a manic gleam in his eye.
“In fact, I think I can help you.”
“Can you, now?”
“Mmhmm. How would you like to help rule the demon realm?”
Shen Qingqiu’s sharp, interested look was all Shang Qinghua needed.
Three days later, the Peak Lord of Qing Jing Peak had disappeared without a trace. There was no note, no goodbyes and even Shang Qinghua did not know where he had gone.
"I wish I knew he were safe," wailed Shang Qinghua, unconvincingly.
But no amount of searching answered their questions. Shen Qingqiu was simply gone.
Years later, after Shang Qinghua's betrayal was revealed, there was a tall cultivator standing next to Mobei-Jun in battle. He was dressed as lavishly as the ice demon himself, but carried a sword with a green tassel at the end of it.
When the time came for it, everyone had been shown exactly where Shen Qingqiu's loyalties lay.