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Welcome To My Table (Bring Your Hunger)

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Saying that they would find it and then actually finding it was a lot harder than Shen Yuan thought it would be. Maybe he should have guessed that it wouldn’t be a cakewalk.

The forest was old and deep and stretching on endlessly. Primeval almost. And the wish-granting demon had been obviously doing this for a long time. It was like trying to find a needle in the haystack… or it would have been if it was just Shen Yuan doing the searching. But he wasn’t alone.

Luo Binghe was with him.

Luo Binghe, who was the protagonist of this world.

It was a given that their search wouldn’t be fruitless with the protagonist on it too. It was just a question of time when they would catch it.


 

Shen Yuan’s crow perched on their windowsill, sitting in Luo Binghe’s pot of mint and knocking on the wood with its beak. Shen Yuan woke up from his sleep, looking around for Luo Binghe who must have put him to bed but there was only a note left that the cultivator went out to the nearby stream to top up their water jugs.

He grabbed a wrinkly apple from the table and a handful of seeds to share then went outside. The crows all but mobbed him and he sat down with a huff to eat his breakfast watching the flock of black birds eat their fill. They weren’t starving, they had a few feeders that Luo Binghe set up next to the tree their nests were in; they were just dicks.

His crow hopped over to Shen Yuan and looked at the apple in his hand with a soulful stare and Shen Yuan threw it to the ground with a scoff. “Where did you learn how to beg?”

He wrapped the heavy blanket around himself and watched as the sun came up. In the golden light, a figure appeared and Shen Yuan swallowed hard as Luo Binghe carried home two full jugs the size of a man on his shoulders like they were nothing but feathers. There was a faint sheen of sweat on his forehead and Shen Yuan had to duck his head as the older man stopped before him once the jugs were in their proper places and used the edge of his robes to wipe away the sweat.

Shen Yuan was sure that his blush could be seen from space and that the way his suddenly dry throat clicked when he swallowed could be heard from miles away.

“Good morning, A-Yuan, what would you like for breakfast?”

Shen Yuan shrugged and stopped himself before he could blurt out something completely inappropriate. It took all of his willpower and it felt like Luo Binghe took his sweet time getting back to the house.

Shen Yuan hid his face in his hands and muffled his groan in them too. Would it be impossible for someone to sneak into their home and smother Shen Yuan with one of his pillows before he did or said something stupid and ruined the best thing in his life? He didn’t know how long he could hold out.

He didn’t even notice when his feelings for Luo Binghe took such a turn, it was such a slippery slope. The crow pecked at his bare feet and while it didn’t hurt, Shen Yuan still felt the pressure against his scaled skin. “What do you want?”

It blinked at him before cawing twice mockingly.

“Harr, harr, yeah I know. Stop laughing at me.”

Then he stood up and went inside grumbling about disrespectful birds. At least it managed to take his mind off the predicament he found himself in.


 

Months and months ago when Luo Binghe brought up his demonic heritage, Shen Yuan told him that he didn’t want to control his crows any more than he wanted to control anything else.

That conviction didn’t change and would never change.

It still gave Shen Yuan an idea and they experimented a bit and now Shen Yuan had an army of birds that would look for things in the forest and bring him back small objects. Or they would alert him if they found something important.

Now, a bird’s definition of important and Shen Yuan’s were vastly different things, but it was still a system that worked, and once he had set them on trying to find the wish-demon they had results. Nothing groundbreaking at first, but they covered a lot more ground than Shen Yuan and Luo Binghe did on their own.

Just a few minutes before, Shen Yuan’s crow dropped off a broken horn and Shen Yuan had been turning it over in his hands, feeling the groves in it. Something was familiar about it; he knew the energy emanating from it from somewhere. There were other demons in the mountains aside from him, it didn’t mean that whoever or whatever was the original owner of the horn was also their wish-demon, and yet, the thought niggled at him.

Luo Binghe came up from their small garden, putting away the last of their harvest before the temperature started dropping below freezing and the ground froze over. “A-Yuan, what is it?”

Shen Yuan willed away the blush and threw the horn to him; Luo Binghe caught it with effortless grace. “The crow brought it just now.”

Luo Binghe’s eyes glazed over in thought and Shen Yuan felt his strange spiritual energy swell as it washed over the piece of keratin and bone. “Feels familiar.”

“Do you think it could be our killer, or is it from one of our neighbors?”

They never talked about the other demons living in the same area, they didn’t have tea together or visit them for a cup of sugar. They kept to themselves and neither had any desire to reach out to each other.

“Killer.” The verdict came swiftly and Shen Yuan stood up and whistled once with his arm held out. His crow perched on him, its mate watching them from a nearby branch too. Luo Binghe gently touched his other side and Shen Yuan turned to him with a small frown, noticing how quiet he was.

“When we go… bring Xin Mo just in case.”


 

They set off within minutes, jumping from tree to tree while the crows flew before them. Xin Mo was a warm weight against Shen Yuan’s back, the sword wrapped up in layers of fur and fabric.

Shen Yuan couldn’t decide whether he liked bringing the sword with him or not. Luo Binghe was right that as a sentient demon sword, Xin Mo was dangerous even if it was very picky with whom it interacted. Shen Yuan still didn’t know what made the sword speak with him and he didn’t think it was simply boredom anymore.

No, Shen Yuan knew that Xin Mo had an important role in the story of Proud Immortal Demon’s Way, he just didn’t know exactly what. He had his suspicions though he didn’t want to voice them because that would give them form.

On the other hand, if Luo Binghe wanted the security of having a proper sword with them then something unsettled him about this wish-demon.

Maybe it would be a recipe for disaster to take a demon sword to a fight like that but only time would tell.


 

They camped out in the woods for the night before they approached its home. It was an abandoned building something ancient and built to last that still couldn’t stand against nature and the passage of time.

Most of the still-standing walls were crumbling and covered in all manner of plants. Shen Yuan circled around to see if there was anything else to it and there was an entrance to a cellar that seemed more intact. He showed Luo Binghe and they managed to get it open with a barely a creak of the hinges.

Down in the basement, it was much warmer than outside and there was a damp smell of something rotting. Not vegetation but meat, which stunk so much worse than rotting plants did. Shen Yuan wrapped the scarf more securely around his nose and mouth so that he wouldn’t get an entire lungful and he could see Luo Binghe doing the same from the corner of his eyes.

They kept their steps quiet and slow to avoid stepping on anything crunchy or crumbly. There were small pieces of bones here and there and they didn’t have to think too long about its diet. That was proven when they found some broken human skulls both older and newer and bones broken with the marrow sucked or scraped out.

Luo Binghe stopped him from walking further with a hand pushing against his chest and placed a finger over his mouth before pointing over to a corner. Shen Yuan leaned out to see better and there was something breathing, curled up on the floor. It was big even laying down and there were curved horns on its head. One of them was missing its tip. Something creaked behind them and then there was a loud bang and Shen Yuan remembered that they didn’t close the doors in case they needed to make a quick getaway.

The demon snoozing on the floor woke up and Shen Yuan felt his eyes widen at the sight. It was still hunched over because it was too tall for the cellar. Four hands, two legs that looked more like hooves. It was also covered in jewelry and Shen Yuan could see mounds of valuables strewn carelessly in the corners from countless people offering their precious items hoping for a wish.

The demon smelled them before it saw them.

Five eyes turned towards them after it took a deep breath and Shen Yuan was yanked back by his scarf out of its charge. It fought like a stag, horns forward, ready to skewer the intruders. It didn’t try to reason with them, it went for the kill immediately.

They were at a bigger disadvantage in such close quarters and they needed to lure it out in the open. Shen Yuan shouted at it, called it names and the angry growl showed that it understood him. It just didn’t care or want to answer or speak. Shen Yuan and Luo Binghe ran through the small corridor leading out, the demon hot on their tail. It needed to crouch down and crawl essentially but it was still very fast and Shen Yuan almost lost a few feathers when he slipped on some moss and Luo Binghe barely had a split second to haul him up and away from its snapping mouth.

Shen Yuan was grateful to be outside because at least the air was clearer even if he couldn’t enjoy it for too long because the demon was almost on them. Luo Binghe made an attempt to kill it while it was climbing out of the cellar and halfway-stuck in the door but his long bone knife broke when it struck its skin. The cultivator scowled and threw the broken handle away while bringing out the other blade he had on him.

It would be most likely useless too; the steel was of low quality and it probably would snap before piercing the demon’s hide. Shen Yuan and Luo Binghe played off on each other, Shen Yuan distracting it while Luo Binghe made a strike then Luo Binghe dodging its retaliation, and Shen Yuan attacking. It was a good strategy, only it was ineffective because nothing they did hurt the demon. It just got more enraged, which made it sloppier, but they couldn’t use the numerous openings it gave them in a way that would matter.

Shen Yuan jumped back from another swipe that would have split him open and he unwrapped Xin Mo. “What do you need now, brat?” It asked, like a cranky old man, but clearer than any time he heard it speak since they got out from the Abyss.

“There is this demon that is trying to kill us.” He said out loud, avoiding the next attack as Luo Binghe tried to divert its attention away for longer than a few seconds.

“What’s in it for me?” Xin Mo asked and Shen Yuan couldn’t answer because the moment the blade slid out of its sheath; the wish-demon seemingly went wild. Its eyes turned in their sockets in a truly alarming way before settling on Shen Yuan and after no matter what Luo Binghe did, it only cared about eviscerating Shen Yuan. It was like drawing Xin Mo painted a giant target on his back.

Under such constant assault Shen Yuan didn’t have the time to think, he could only react. And he couldn’t keep that up forever, something had to give soon enough.

Shen Yuan tripped on a root that was sticking halfway out of the ground; he was just a second too slow in dodging and Xin Mo was knocked out of his hands. The beast was on him, pushing him into the dirt with all its not inconsiderable muscle mass and Shen Yuan struggled to breathe under the weight. Two large hands wrapped around his throat and Shen Yuan clawed at them, gouging into the skin, bathing him in the demon’s blood.

It screamed in pain and if he had enough air Shen Yuan would have wondered whether this had been the first time in a long while it got injured by something.

It still wasn’t enough to stop it.

And then there was a blade sticking out of its throat. It didn’t die, but it let go of Shen Yuan to try to grab at Xin Mo. Luo Binghe was on its back hanging from Xin Mo’s grip before he had to let go to escape its trashing.

He landed on his feet then sprinted to Shen Yuan to help him up. The demon was turning around in circles trying to reach it with its upper arms, the lower ones flailing in aborted movements.

“We got to get Xin Mo back!” Shen Yuan rushed out through his aching throat and Luo Binghe nodded. He was angry, Shen Yuan could tell as the older man checked his throat quickly. Shen Yuan would have one hell of a bruise in the shape of the demon’s hands but he would live. “Not my blood, don’t worry.” He said and patted Luo Binghe’s hand.

With that short interlude done they threw themselves back into the fray, now with a new goal: getting Xin Mo back then going to town on it.

To be honest, now that they knew that Xin Mo could hurt it, it was a rather quick fight. Within minutes they had the demon sword back and Luo Binghe chopped off its head cleanly. Maybe it would have eventually bled out because for some reason neither the wounds from Shen Yuan’s claws, nor the one from Xin Mo healed properly.

Only after its head rolled on the ground did Shen Yuan become aware that it had black streaks from him all over its hands wherever Shen Yuan touched it. “No. No, no, no.”

The miasma from the Abyss seeped into its skin making black lines spread following the blood vessels. Shen Yuan looked up in horror at Luo Binghe who touched him during the fight, whom Shen Yuan touched too carelessly. There was a black smear on his skin too.

The cultivator looked at him in confusion, not understanding Shen Yuan’s mounting horror. The miasma corrupted all demons it touched and devoured spiritual energy.

But Luo Binghe was still standing. He wasn’t screaming from the pain of starting to rot from the inside out. He showed no signs of hurting.

“Are you alright? Luo Binghe, are you alright?” He asked, hands hovering over the cultivator’s arms, not daring to grab him. Shen Yuan was beyond aware of the black liquid he was sweating from his pores.

“I… yes. I’m alright? Are you alright, A-Yuan?” Luo Binghe grabbed his hands in his and Shen Yuan watched the smear of black do nothing when coming into contact with Luo Binghe’s skin. It even seemed to absorb it slowly now that Shen Yuan saw things from a step away. “What’s happening, A-Yuan?”

Shen Yuan had an idea. It was preposterous.

“Why did you take me back to Cang Qiong back then?”

The question obviously came out of the left field for Luo Binghe but Shen Yuan wanted to know the answer. That was a question that haunted him day and night in the first few years he was Luo Binghe’s personal disciple and he never dared to ask.

“What, A-Yuan? Why ask this now?” Luo Binghe didn’t answer. He was confused but there was also a note of panic in his voice.

“Can you tell me why did you take me back to Cang Qiong? Why did you take me, a demon to a cultivation sect, why did you help me hide, why did you teach me?” Shen Yuan asked and watched Luo Binghe try to find the words.

“I… I don’t… Why is it so important to you now?” Luo Binghe never really lied to him; Shen Yuan remembered thinking. He just avoided answering questions that he didn’t want to answer.

“Oh.” Shen Yuan let out a breath and sagged in Luo Binghe’s hold, ignoring the way he scrambled to hold him up. He could see Xin Mo on the ground, carelessly tossed away.

Oh, he thought. Luo Binghe wasn’t human.

That was the big secret.


 

In hindsight, it should have been obvious.

The strange feeling to his spiritual energy, how he reacted to certain stimuli, how Xin Mo let him unsheathe it, how the demon sword looked like it was forged anew the first time Luo Binghe held it.

The fucking title of the novel.

Proud Immortal Demon’s Way.

It was a groundbreaking realization and yet it changed nothing.

It changed fucking nothing.

Shen Yuan was still in love with his old Shizun who would never look at him as a romantic option. Shen Yuan was still living together with a Peak Lord who also seemed in no hurry to return to his home in Cang Qiong.

And it changed nothing about the events that followed their triumphal return to the village with the demon’s head. Word was already out about the murderous shrine and a team of disciples from Huan Hua Palace arrived to take care of the matter.


 

The story started like this.

There was a small village close to the mountains in the North where only the hardiest could survive. These mountains often gave home to lost souls and those who wanted some peace and quiet. Most of the villagers who lived in this small village minded their own business, except for one or two who didn’t exactly choose to live there but didn’t have the means to leave the only home they knew.

When Shen Yuan arrived for the first time, everyone realized that he wasn’t completely human from the first few visits he made to the market. Consensus varied between him being a half-demon or a full one, but the villagers didn’t care. He was polite, didn’t trade in stolen goods, and never stayed longer than he needed to get what he wanted.

The philosophy of everyone should worry about their own business only held true in their minds.

When Luo Binghe turned up, they also took notice. He was head and shoulders above the tallest man in the village and it was clear by just one glance at his perfect skin that he wasn’t a commoner either. Cultivator, Auntie Mei told them with a nod as she puffed away on her pipe.

"Why do a demon and a cultivator live together," the younger ones wondered.

"Star-crossed lovers," said the old hunter with a decisive nod.

Neither of those was ever questioned; all signs pointed to the rumor being true. The nicknames they slipped up with occasionally, the new bed where both of them would fit, A-Yuan asking for rare spices to give to Luo-gege as a present.

To the villagers, it was all clear as day.

The villagers didn’t care, the villagers minded their own business… except for one or two of them. Every few weeks merchants and such would leave for the neighboring villages to stock up on supplies and to share news about recent events.

Who married who, who broke up with who, who came into money, and so on. Idle gossip, nothing more. Only, when they ran out of their usual fare, someone mentioned the new handsome residents on the nearby mountain and their story.

It wasn’t done maliciously, but as rumors usually did, the simple story twisted and changed with each retelling until it was almost completely unrecognizable.
And that is usually when the trouble starts.


 

“Did you hear it? Someone says a cultivator had been kidnapped by a demon and held captive in the mountains!”

“Nonsense, it wasn’t a cultivator, it was a prince!”

“Bullshit, it was a cultivator whose own disciple kidnapped him to sacrifice him to a Demon Lord!”


 

Shen Yuan ducked under the awning of the closest house to avoid the boisterous yellow-clothed cultivators. It had been a few weeks since they killed the wish-demon and Shen Yuan was supposed to receive a package from Auntie Mei.

Only the moment he stepped into town, one of the kids grabbed his hand and dragged him to the side to tell him that she was out of town and wouldn’t be back for a week because her sister fell ill.

That was when Shen Yuan noticed the place swarming with Huan Hua Palace disciples. “What are they here for?” He asked with a nonchalant nod at them and the kid brightened up.

“They finally came because of the notice!”

Shen Yuan snorted. This part of the world wasn’t officially under any of the bigger sects’ territories. If the locals had any issues, they had a much better chance of a rogue cultivator passing through than any of the sects sending someone to investigate. It didn’t matter how many letters were sent or how many people died.

Entire villages could go silent at the drop of a hat and sometimes nobody would care.

Cultivation sects had to worry about their own territories, the villages there first and foremost. Not even Cang Qiong had the manpower to answer every call for help. Seeing Huan Hua Palace disciples in this remote place was almost unheard of, much less the number that currently tore up the place.

Something was strange, Shen Yuan thought and thanked the kid before turning around. If Auntie Mei wasn’t in, then Shen Yuan had no business to stay for any longer.

He tried to stay out of sight of the disciples milling around, greeting the locals when they came upon him hiding in their bushes. One or two even ushered him through their homes to let him out in the back. He almost felt like he was a mistress hiding from the wife.

It was a strange morning.

When he got home, he would tell Luo Binghe that the town was crawling with disciples from Huan Hua and the older man would get a strange look on his face. Shen Yuan didn’t quite know what to do about it, so he started telling him about his mad dash through town.

It dispelled the strange tension, but Shen Yuan wouldn’t be able to forget that moment.


 

Shen Yuan tried to put it all out of his mind. They didn’t go into town, stayed at home to get ready for winter.

Shen Yuan finished the harvest and the groundwork necessary for planting in the spring. Luo Binghe canned and pickled what they still had, cured the meat they had from hunting.

They built up their stores of firewood, secured their newly built cellar. Shen Yuan knitted clothing, blankets, and whatever he decided they needed while Luo Binghe tanned hides.

It was peaceful.

And then they woke up one morning to a bunch of people camping on their doorstep and threatening to burn their house down ‘if the demon didn’t release the esteemed Peak Lord Luo immediately’.

It put a little damper on the mood.


 

Luo Binghe and Shen Yuan watched the mob from their window, trying to decide whether to worry about the threats they were hearing.

“We did fireproof the house, right?” Shen Yuan asked as he blew on his steaming mint tea counting how many yellow robes he could see within a minute. Whatever this was, it was most likely orchestrated by Huan Hua Palace.

Which made no sense, because the ‘esteemed’ Peak Lord he supposedly kidnapped had never been part of Huan Hua Palace, thus they had no reason to demand his release.

“We did.” Luo Binghe confirmed. “We carved those waterproof spell arrays into the foundation at the same time.”

Shen Yuan took a sip and then accepted Luo Binghe’s offer of more honey while nodding to the yellow-robed cultivators outside. “Have any idea what is that about?”

“Other than meeting during the Immortal Alliance Conferences and the occasional run-ins during hunts, I had no business with Huan Hua Palace on my own.” Luo Binghe admitted then dropped a bomb that made Shen Yuan almost spit out his tea. “However, my mother had been their Head Disciple before I was born.”

Shen Yuan coughed, trying not to choke while Luo Binghe rubbed his back. “What do you mean your mother was the Head Disciple of Huan Hua Palace?”

“It just wasn’t something important. It doesn’t matter, it had been a long time ago.” Luo Binghe didn’t shrug but it was a close one, Shen Yuan thought.

Luo Binghe had been an orphan when he had been taken in by Cang Qiong. Shen Yuan didn’t remember his mother being mentioned in the chapters he had finished reading, but maybe it became an important plot point later. “Would they nurse a grudge that you joined Cang Qiong and not Huan Hua?”

It didn’t seem like a grudge, but Shen Yuan had to ask.

“Lao Gongzhu had always been kind enough to ask about my health.” Luo Binghe shook his head. “And he offered me a position in Huan Hua Palace a few times.”

Nope, Shen Yuan thought. That wasn’t a grudge at all. It was an entirely different beast. Outwardly he tried not to show anything and asked idly. “How often?”

“Once or twice…” Then under his breath, he continued. “During every conference.”

“Excuse me, what? Did you just say the Old Palace Master of Huan Hua offered you a position in his sect every four years for the last century and you declined it every time?”

Another mumble and Shen Yuan looked at his old teacher who had a very pretty blush on his face. “Twice.”

“What do you mean, twice?”

“He offered me a position during every conference twice.”

They stared at each other before Shen Yuan looked out the window with a long-suffering expression at the highest-ranked yellow-robed cultivator. “A-Yuan, what is that face for? A-Yuan!”

Who would have thought that the Lao Gongzhu, a man older than dirt, would be his biggest and most persistent rival for Luo Binghe’s affection?


 

A commotion broke out an hour in and Shen Yuan watched it all go down from the window. Luo Binghe didn’t let him go out alone and neither of them thought it to be a good idea to verify that Luo Binghe was inside the house too.

From what they heard; they weren’t sure about that despite Luo Binghe standing right next to him the whole time in plain view. People really got stupid when it came to the protagonist.

Luo Binghe froze and then suddenly walked to the door. Shen Yuan scrambled to catch up. “Luo Binghe?”

He walked right out, Shen Yuan following him behind still wrapped up in his knitted blanket. In times like this, he missed his old blanket back in Cang Qiong. The one that Luo Binghe gave him years ago, the one that was like an electric heater. He never asked what happened to it after he fell into the Abyss.

It was almost blinding outside and Shen Yuan had to shield his eyes for a few seconds before he could take a look at all those assembled outside. It was a legitimate Immortal Alliance Conference in the making. And right in the middle stood the Old Palace Master and Sect Leader Ning arguing with each other, the mob of commoners carrying pitchforks off to the side observing the much shorter woman tear the old sect leader a new asshole.

“Ning Yingying?” Luo Binghe took a step forward, bringing all the attention to him.

“Luo Binghe!”

“Peak Lord Luo, you are safe!”

The two sect leaders both spoke up at the same time; the old man’s booming voice attempting to drown out Sect Leader Ning’s. Shen Yuan wasn’t aware that she was capable of showing such distaste towards anyone with just one glance.

Then it was just a cacophony of sound with a bunch of people speaking over each other, but Sect Leader Ning managed to cut through it all with just three quiet words. “Peak Lord Luo.”

“Sect Leader Ning.” Said cultivator bowed before his sect leader and Shen Yuan belatedly did it too, though he probably wasn’t a disciple of Cang Qiong Sect anymore.

“I’m happy to see you safe, Peak Lord Luo. I trust the rumors of your kidnapping have been somewhat exaggerated?”

Luo Binghe looked as baffled as Shen Yuan felt like and the two of them shared a look. “Yes, I haven’t been kidnapped at all.”

There was an outcry from the Huan Hua side of the gathering, but it was quelled by one sharp look from Ning Yingying. Peak Lord Liu glowered at those that didn’t heed her Sect Leader’s chiding and that shut up the rest.

“I see. Shen Yuan… It’s good to see you safe too.”

Shen Yuan had to be nudged by Luo Binghe to figure out that he needed to say something he was so surprised. “I… yes. Thank you, Sect Leader Ning.”

He pinched himself just to see whether he was dreaming or not. It hurt and still nothing made any sense.

Sect Leader Ning turned around and looked at the commoners. “Go back home, this matter doesn’t concern you.” Then she looked at the disciples from Huan Hua. “Cang Qiong Sect would like to thank Huan Hua Palace Sect and its Sect Leader for their concern regarding our Peak Lord but as we have found out, Peak Lord Luo of Cang Qiong Sect is here by his own free will.”

‘So, leave as this matter doesn’t concern you.’ She didn’t say so but it was heavily implied and from the shifting of the disciples, it was a message received.

They waited until everyone else left and then the disciples from Cang Qiong made sure that they really did leave. Sect Leader Ning and Peak Lord Liu stayed behind.

“Vultures, all of them.” Peak Lord Liu spat out once they were far away and Luo Binghe laughed. Shen Yuan just felt relieved that no pitchforks were used against him in a way that was different than their intended use. Sect Leader Ning was watching him and Shen Yuan froze like a deer caught in headlights.

“You caused us some troubles, Disciple Shen.”

“I didn’t kidnap Luo Binghe if that’s what you meant.” Maybe the denial came a bit too quick, but it was the truth. “I found him injured in the forest and helped him.”

“And he never left.” Ning Yingying’s voice was dry as a desert and Shen Yuan found himself unthinkingly echoing her. “And he never left.”

“A-Yuan!” Luo Binghe’s voice was wounded and Shen Yuan abruptly figured out where the crow learned how to beg. And then he saw Ning Yingying’s face and the only thought running through his mind was ‘oh, shit’ when he saw the pure glee she was staring at them with.

“A-Luo, you should have at least invited us to your wedding!”

Shen Yuan spluttered, Luo Binghe was suspiciously silent and Sect Leader Ning smiled like a cat that ate the cream then caught the canary too. It was kind of hard to see what was going on behind Sect Leader Liu’s veil but she was obviously very amused too.

It was starting to feel like the circus was in town and Shen Yuan and his unattainable crush was their main attraction. “Would you like some tea?” He asked in a rush then didn’t wait for an answer as he hurried inside to boil some water.

It was the only way to stop them all from seeing his full-body blush.


 

Not much changed once Ning Yingying and Liu Mingyan were gone with the rest of the mob. Not much changed but some things did.

They started getting letters and messages regularly, Luo Binghe got entire stacks of paperwork from his second-in-command. Paperwork that made Shen Yuan’s normally unflappable Peak Lord almost pout, which made Shen Yuan try everything he could to make him smile again.

Luo Binghe stayed. That was maybe the biggest worry of Shen Yuan right after he realized that Cang Qiong was there to take back their Peak Lord, though Shen Yuan didn’t want to admit it. Not even to himself in the safety of his thoughts.

But Luo Binghe stayed.

“Would A-Yuan like me to leave?” The cultivator asked once they were alone and Shen Yuan dared to bring the topic up. To tell the cultivator that he could go if he wanted.

Shen Yuan couldn’t say what he wanted to say with those soulful eyes on him, looking so hurt and questioning.

“No, of course not!” He ended up blurting out much to his mortification but it was all worth it when Luo Binghe smiled at him in such an unrestrained way. Shen Yuan mourned his own dignity in the face of such joy and knew that he would do whatever he could to keep the older man smiling. “I want you to stay! I want you to stay…”

He couldn’t finish the sentence. He couldn’t finish it; his skin wasn’t thick enough to bear it.
It wasn’t!

But then, Luo Binghe looked at him and Shen Yuan ended up forgetting all about his embarrassment. “… with me.”

Luo Binghe cradled his face gently, oh so gently, soft bare fingers against Shen Yuan’s mix of feathers, scales, and skin, smoothing over and over his jaw without saying anything. Shen Yuan felt his eyes close as he whispered, just for the two of them. “I want you to stay with me.”

Luo Binghe didn’t answer but his smile widened and Shen Yuan watched from under his eyelashes as Luo Binghe’s eyes flickered red briefly. “Let’s go inside… it’s getting late.”

Shen Yuan nodded, letting out a yawn as he did so, feeling drained after the rollercoaster of emotions they went through after so many peaceful days. Luo Binghe didn’t hesitate to bundle him up and lead him back to their home with a hand on his back.


 

The next time they went into town most of the residents they met apologized for not stopping the cultivators and assured them that none of the locals were part of the mob. Shen Yuan – without wearing some sort of hood for the first time in public in a long while – told them they didn’t begrudge any of them for not going against cultivators and that they noticed that the mob surrounding their home was full of strangers.

That there was no need for apologies because there was nothing to forgive.

Maybe in a few years down the road that would change, maybe the locals would eventually grow tired of living in the close proximity of a well-known demon like him. Maybe not.

It was just one more thing that Shen Yuan didn’t want to worry about at that moment and he would put it out of his mind as long as he could. He wouldn’t be able to delay the inevitable if it came down to it, but he could enjoy whatever time he had until then.

After all, he was fairly sure that his lifespan vastly outstripped theirs.

Unless something truly catastrophic happened to him he would outlive them all.


 

Winter came quickly and with heavy snows.

The first time, when Shen Yuan woke up in his little nest, he only noticed that it was so much colder than on any other morning. The fire was almost out and all his fingers and toes felt like icicles, so he put more wood on the glowing embers and hoped that it would be enough to get it going again. Then with a sigh he crawled out of the small mess of pillows and furs and sneaked a glance at Luo Binghe whose bed was a bit further away.

It was already empty, which wasn’t much of a surprise, the older man was an early riser. If the fire wasn’t in danger of going out, Shen Yuan would have slept a few more hours.

But now he was awake because he woke up from the cold and there was no chance of him going back to sleep as long as their home wasn’t warm enough. Shen Yuan didn’t do well with the cold; not after everything that happened to him.

His arrival in this world, the Endless Abyss… no, Shen Yuan didn’t care for the cold.

He was in the middle of wrestling thick socks onto his feet when the door was slammed open.

Harsh winds shrieked and there was a flurry of snow as Luo Binghe shuffled inside, arms heavy with piles of wood. He wasn’t wearing much and Shen Yuan resisted the urge to wrap him up in a few blankets in place of the sweaters that he didn’t dare to knit.

Luo Binghe didn’t seem to be bothered about the cold, nor the rapidly melting snow that settled in his hair during his short walk to the woodshed. Luo Binghe usually ran hotter than anyone else Shen Yuan knew, pun intended.

“At the rate this is going, we will be snowed in shortly.” Luo Binghe said as he dropped his armfuls next to their fire. He was visibly trying not to get too much cold water on anything inside, but it was sort of inevitable. “I’m going to bring in more wood, do you want anything else, A-Yuan?”

Shen Yuan shook his head. “I’ll go with you.”

Luo Binghe lifted Shen Yuan’s chin with his knuckles. His hand was still cold and Shen Yuan shivered. “No, stay inside.”

He leaned down, pressed a kiss against Shen Yuan’s forehead before he grabbed an empty bucket to put outside to collect some of the falling snow. Shen Yuan hummed and shifted through the woodpile to find a few smaller pieces to throw on the growing fire, warming up slowly.

It was finally starting to get cozy again inside. Shen Yuan thought about breakfast, about starting on heating the water for some tea when he suddenly froze. “Did Luo Binghe just kiss me?”


 

They didn’t talk about it.

By the time Luo Binghe finished running to and from the shed to bring in enough firewood for weeks, Shen Yuan managed to get his blush under control. He also stopped himself from throwing a torrent of questions at the older man.

He didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. It was an incredibly smooth movement he had to admit, it felt natural. Like something that they did frequently.

Like any type of kissing was just another part of their daily routines.

Shen Yuan found himself oddly aware of every move the older man made, which wasn’t something new precisely, but he also did it with the knowledge of how soft Luo Binghe’s lips were. In a way, it almost felt like sacrilege that Shen Yuan knew that.

It certainly played havoc on Shen Yuan’s concentration for the next few days. Sometimes he found himself touching his forehead, trying to feel that phantom of warmth and pressure again. Sometimes he found himself watching Luo Binghe, his strong hands, his back… his lips. Sometimes he couldn’t tear his gaze away at all.

Luckily, Luo Binghe didn’t notice his housemate’s occupation with his… well, his everything. Shen Yuan was old enough to admit that his fascination with Luo Binghe went over a simple crush a long-long time ago. He just didn’t think there was any chance of his interest ever being returned.

Luo Binghe was so out of his league that Shen Yuan might as have been on another planet… or so he thought.


 

The next few days were beyond tense.

Shen Yuan wanted to ask, then he talked himself out of it, again and again. The tension between them, while they were both stuck inside the house as the blizzard raged outside, grew almost suffocating. Luo Binghe didn’t show that he was affected, but Shen Yuan managed to catch him watching him once or twice.
And there was that small seed of hope growing inside Shen Yuan that those glances meant something more.

Shen Yuan found himself watching the cultivator a lot lately, almost constantly.

The demon. The cultivator demon.

That reveal was another thing that they most likely needed to talk about before... but did they really need to talk about it? Did it matter that Luo Binghe was a demon hiding as a cultivator? It didn't change anything about how Shen Yuan saw him. It just made a few things clearer and that was it.

Shen Yuan spent most of the day knitting next to the fire, a long shawl spilling over his lap and onto the thick fur under him. Luo Binghe did some paperwork, made food, and settled in to read once there were no more chores left.

There wasn’t much left for them to do aside from that.

Shen Yuan often found himself standing near the window trying to see anything outside. Except there was only white everywhere. During the nights when the sky went dark, with the way everything was covered by layers upon layer of snow and the wind shrieked outside, Shen Yuan would be reminded of the Endless Abyss.

It was disorienting.

After a while, Luo Binghe started pressing a warm drink into his hands or asked him to help out in the kitchen. It was obviously a ploy to get him away from the window because Luo Binghe needed no help in the kitchen but Shen Yuan was grateful for it.

It seemed like the blizzard was calming down at first and then it just became more vicious.

“Do you think it will stop soon?” Shen Yuan asked when the snow piling up outside made it all-but-impossible to open the door one night. Luo Binghe ushered him closer to the fire after activating some of the spells they added when rebuilding to help with insulation and such things.

“Hopefully.” Luo Binghe’s voice was doubtful. “Help me get the bed closer to the fire, A-Yuan.”

Shen Yuan went without a question, thinking that Luo Binghe must have started feeling the cold too. They moved the frame as close as they could before Shen Yuan went to the closet to get out every spare blanket and fur they had. He piled everything up and took the bundle back only to freeze when he realized that Luo Binghe started placing Shen Yuan’s bedding on the bed too. “What… what are you doing?”

“We should converse heat and sleeping together is a good way for that.” The answer was nonchalant. Shen Yuan could see the logic in that but there was also a little voice screaming inside his mind.

Okay, it wasn’t a little voice.

He opened his mouth to answer and barely managed a squeak. Luo Binghe was fussing with the bedding while Shen Yuan was fiddling with his clothes. They were going to go to bed soon and Shen Yuan felt dread for the first time in a long while. He couldn’t think of this as just a sleepover. He would be in extremely close quarters with his… crush. A man with extremely strong senses and Shen Yuan couldn’t play it cool, not on his life.

So, he looked over his clothes and decided to layer up. If Luo Binghe found it strange that he would wear so many clothes to bed, he could just say that he was cold. He always ran colder than Luo Binghe, it wouldn’t even be a lie. Of course, the main reason this time wasn’t that but rather trying to cover up any possible reaction his body could have.

He climbed up on the bed and rolled around in the blankets until only his face was visible. Luo Binghe laughed as he climbed in on the other side away from the fire. Shen Yuan didn’t dare to wiggle around to look and he could feel Luo Binghe move around before settling down.

He thought that he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep but the warmth around him, his full belly, the merry crackling of the fire, and the faint sounds of Luo Binghe’s breathing lulled him to sleep faster than he could snap his fingers.


 

They quickly developed a routine.

Shen Yuan bathed first and went to bed earlier, but Luo Binghe followed him closely behind. They spent some time doing other things too, Shen Yuan’s needles and yarns migrated to his side after a few days while Luo Binghe always had a book or scroll at hand on his side. As the weather went way below freezing and the spells started straining to keep the warmth in fully, they started spending more and more time in bed. It was just easier to stay bundled up in there and only leave for a few things, like going to the bathroom.  

The first time Shen Yuan woke up with Luo Binghe molded to his back, he went rigid with panic. He didn’t know what woke him up earlier than Luo Binghe but he had a suspicion.

He would have sworn if he wasn’t worried that he would wake up the older man using him as some sort of a teddy bear. He could feel every inch of Luo Binghe’s body, from his arms wrapped around Shen Yuan’s waist to his legs that were entwined with his. One of Luo Binghe’s thighs was pushed between his, making it look like Shen Yuan was riding on his thigh.

The warm pressure, the strong muscles under his ass and between his legs, and Shen Yuan had a bigger growing problem than just being spooned by his old teacher.

It was exactly as he feared when they started sleeping together. He knew that this day would come.

He tried to wiggle out from under Luo Binghe’s hold on him but it was useless. Even when he was asleep and fully relaxed, Luo Binghe was much more powerful than him. The more Shen Yuan tried to move the more Luo Binghe seemed to cling to him.

Shen Yuan had wet dreams like these once upon a time… but the reality was so much better and worse at the same time. He could only hope that Luo Binghe didn’t wake up until Shen Yuan had his body a bit more under control.

The moment the thought ran through his mind, he could feel Luo Binghe stiffen behind him and the need to swear got a lot stronger. He was debating whether to pretend that he was asleep or just bite the bullet when Luo Binghe moved. It was just a minuscule movement, but something hot and hard tilted away from Shen Yuan’s body. Oh, Shen Yuan thought and blushed.

Luo Binghe’s mouth was next to Shen Yuan’s ear. “Are you awake, A-Yuan?”

He could lie, the thought ran through his mind quicker than lighting, and Shen Yuan hesitated for just a second too long. Luo Binghe started drawing back, smoothly, carefully; making sure not to wake him up and that was what decided it for Shen Yuan. He twisted around and feeling bold reached out for Luo Binghe’s hands.

“Yes.” He said and watched those beautiful eyes widen. The older man looked down at their hands, the way Shen Yuan’s clawed fingers were delicately wrapped around his though they both knew such care was unnecessary. Then Luo Binghe looked up into his eyes, flicking down to his lips just once.

There was something hungry growing in Shen Yuan’s belly and it made him daring. “May I kiss you?”

There was a very fetching dusting of red across Luo Binghe’s cheeks before he smiled. “Yes.”

Shen Yuan leaned forward, catching the corner of Luo Binghe’s lips and the older man turned his head slightly so their lips could properly meet. There wasn’t much thought in Shen Yuan’s mind after that, just heat and the overwhelming safety and love that he could feel in Luo Binghe’s every movement.

They spent the rest of the morning trading slow and lazy kisses and their hands wandering around each other’s bodies.

It was as close to perfection as they could come.


 

Their wedding – when they finally had one – was a private affair… so, of course, the entirety of Cang Qiong Sect showed up to celebrate with them.



THE END