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Equivalent Exchange

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The first words out of Shen Qingqiu’s mouth are, “This is Shang Qinghua’s fault.”

Luo Binghe looks startled. He sets the tray bearing Shen Qingqiu’s breakfast down on the low table. “Shizun?”

Shen Qingqiu snaps his fan open and hides his face.

He might be overreacting. Although, when the protagonist who’s destined to turn him into a human stick is about to get news as bad as this, is there such a thing as an overreaction?

It is Airplane’s fault. Both for writing this stupid world, and then for what he’s done as the An Ding Peak Lord! And then telling Shen Qingqiu about it!

“Ah,” Shen Qingqiu says, when Binghe’s confusion begins to crease into real concern. “Forgive this master, Binghe. I have received… some troubling news this morning. Perhaps Binghe is already aware?”

A tactical error. Binghe scurries forward at once. He must trip over his own feet because he nearly goes to his knees before Shen Qingqiu seizes his elbow and steadies him.

“What is troubling you, Shizun?” Binghe asks, staring up at Shen Qingqiu with huge, liquid eyes. “Is there anything this disciple can do?”

“Sit down, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu says. “Let us eat. If you have not heard anything, this master ought not burden you with it.”

Maybe, if he’s lucky, no one will ever tell Luo Binghe about any of this. Given the general state of Shen Qingqiu’s luck, it seems about as likely as his useless System deciding the Endless Abyss plotline is optional after all, but aren’t they in a fictional universe? Less likely things happen on a regular basis! Just look at chapter 592! ‘Butterflies of secret knowledge’, indeed. Airplane was shameless.

Which, of course, makes Shen Qingqiu think of his original problem again. Which makes him flush. He keeps hiding behind his fan, even though he and Binghe are now kneeling at the table where Binghe has presented a gorgeous array of breakfast foods. A dilemma: eat the protagonist’s god-tier cooking, or keep hiding until he can control his face?

Shen Qingqiu catches a whiff of freshly steamed pork bun.

… well, eating is as good a way to control his facial expression as any, surely! 

Binghe serves Shen Qingqiu, as always, and protests when Shen Qingqiu serves him in return, as always. It’s nice to have these little rituals, even though his little white sheep is really more like a ram these days. Now, dangerously close to the Immortal Alliance Conference, Luo Binghe is very nearly taller than Shen Qingqiu, and his gangly teenage awkwardness is starting to turn into something that will one day conquer the heart of every maiden in the world. In Proud Immortal Demon Way, he was supposed to be 17 now, but Proud Immortal Demon Way had also made a point of how no one knew Binghe’s true date of birth, and how poor washerwomen in tiny riverside villages usually didn’t keep excellent records. The ambiguity had facilitated a handful of wife plots where women tried to entrap Binghe based on inaccurate information about his bazi or his star sign, and had also proven an excellent cudgel to beat people with in arguments on the fan forums for Shen Yuan, proud pedant. Unfortunately, that same ambiguity left Shen Qingqiu, whose life depended on this sort of thing, rather unsure of how to proceed. Binghe didn’t seem to object to being babied a little, but he could very well be the same age Shen Yuan had been when he transmigrated! They could practically be peers!

“Shizun has many things on his mind,” Binghe says.

Shen Qingqiu, who has been happily filling his face with Binghe’s cooking while he mulls over the many and varied failings of Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky, pauses. He doesn’t think he’s said anything out loud. Surely not, when he has a mouth full of baozi.

He finishes the mouthful before he replies. “What makes Binghe say such a thing?”

“Shizun is clearly lost in thought,” Binghe says. He looks pointedly at Shen Qingqiu’s teacup until Shen Qingqiu drinks from it, then adds, “Even if this disciple cannot assist, perhaps – perhaps Shizun’s burdens would be lessened if he spoke of them?”

“It is truly a petty matter,” Shen Qingqiu says hastily, “and not worthy of Binghe’s time. He has matters of far greater importance ahead of him.”

Binghe looks at Shen Qingqiu. His lower lip trembles faintly.

“Doesn’t Shizun know by now that nothing is more important to this disciple than his shizun’s wellbeing?”

Shen Qingqiu takes another sip of his tea to keep his face from twitching uncontrollably. Binghe! Please! Save it for your wives!

“And nothing is more important to this shizun than his disciple’s success,” he counters. “Part of that is ensuring Binghe maintains his focus on what matters, and is free of minor distractions.”

Binghe’s trembling lower lip progresses to an outright wobble. His eyes glisten.

“But,” Shen Qingqiu says hastily, “this matter… may become relevant.” 

Crisis averted; Binghe’s lip stops wobbling and his eyes stop brimming with unshed tears. He sits, back straight, every inch the attentive disciple. Anyone seeing him like this would never know what a cry-baby he can be!

Shen Qingqiu sighs. They have eaten; he has finished his tea; there really isn’t anything else he can use as a distraction. He fans himself as he turns the matter over in his thoughts.

“This master,” he says slowly, “has become aware of An Ding Peak’s…. publication service.”

The publication service – or, as Airplane likes to call it, the Zine Machine – is also the first and only moveable type printing press in existence. Trust Airplane to revolutionise the technology of his own universe and then use it to print garbage!

“This disciple is aware of Shang-shishu’s machine,” Binghe says. As perceptive as always. “Is there some issue with the process?”

Shen Qingqiu pinches the bridge of his nose. He’s really backed himself into a corner here. No way out but through.

He really is going to kill Airplane.

“Your Shang-shishu,” he says delicately, “has been allowing Cang Qiong disciples to print their own materials. It seems he has exercised inadequate supervision in this matter.” He tries to see Binghe’s reaction in his face, but it’s impossible. Shen Qingqiu’s own face is far too thin. How can he be expected to look at his disciple when discussing such a thing!

Binghe frowns. “Have disciples been trying to copy cultivation manuals again?”

If only! Shen Qingqiu remembers the time the disciples copied out cultivation manuals and tried to sell them to civilians. As far as System-mandated side quests went, it was actually pretty fun! Like a murder mystery, except that no one died or was injured at all.

“Not to this master’s knowledge.” He clears his throat. “This master understands that the machine is being used to print fiction, written by Cang Qiong disciples.” Binghe frowns, and Shen Qingqiu hastens to elaborate. “This would not ordinarily be a matter for concern, so long as An Ding was willing to bear the cost of the ink and paper. However, there have recently been…” He has to pause, struggling to think of the words. How do you explain RPF to someone in a vaguely historical xianxia setting? “Fictional accounts of the activities of various Peak Lords.”

There! Nailed it. It’s nice and neutral, and doesn’t require him to specifically describe the one where he and Liu Qingge are exposed to the pollen of a Shrinking Maiden Wall Flower and have to dual cultivate about it. Shen Qingqiu would suspect Airplane of writing it himself as a distressing prank, except that when Shen Qingqiu had confronted him, Airplane had laughed so hard three separate An Ding disciples had come running to see what was wrong.

Binghe appears to be absorbing this well. He has the face he usually wears when Shen Qingqiu is instructing him in something; a slight crease between his brows, lips faintly pursed so they look even fuller than usual. Truly, Shen Qingqiu has raised a handsome, thoughtful young man. Binghe’s future wives should thank him!

“Are they spreading rumours of misconduct?” Binghe asks.

He sounds hesitant. Shen Qingqiu raises an eyebrow at him from behind his face. Binghe flushes and looks at the table.

“I – that is—” Binghe visibly gathers himself before he speaks. “This disciple is aware that there have been false rumours about Shizun’s conduct, especially in regard to his visits to – to certain… places. Are the stories of a similar nature?”

Shen Qingqiu flutters his fan to buy himself time. That’s such a reasonable explanation for his concern! Why didn’t he think of that?

“This master is not aware of any specific accusations of misconduct,” he says finally, “but it is a potential concern.” He lowers his fan and adopts his Stern Teacher expression, fixing Luo Binghe with a steady gaze. “This master does not intend to pursue the matter. He simply wishes to assure Binghe that these stories are, indeed, stories. Works of fiction, by disciples with perhaps too much time on their hands.”

“Of course, Shizun!” Binghe chirps. “Thank you for letting me know!”

He starts to gather the empty dishes. Shen Qingqiu adopts a pose of thoughtful stillness, and tries to keep his internal relief from showing on the outside. He did it! He let Binghe feel closer to his master by alerting him to a potential problem, while also making sure Binghe wouldn’t end up reading about his master railing other Peak Lords! Two birds, one stone! He really is getting the hang of this transmigration thing.

Shen Qingqiu doesn’t notice any more trouble for a while after that. He’s hesitant to get too close to Shang Qinghua – he isn’t entirely sure where the whole “betraying the sect to demons” plotline is up to and doesn’t want to accidentally trigger it early – but he also doesn’t confiscate any more Cang Qiong RPF pamphlets, so he’s calling it a win. 

He does observe Binghe getting somewhat closer to Liu Mingyan. He sees the pair of them walking together in the bamboo grove one day, and with their heads together in the library the next, no doubt poring over cultivation manuals together. It’s not quite what he expected, when Ning Yingying is supposed to be Binghe’s first childhood love, but perhaps he’s altered more than he thought. If Binghe is more confident as a result of Shen Qingqiu’s changes, it makes sense that he might go for the more martial of his martial sisters. 

Qi Qingqi must have noticed the same thing, because every so often in their Peak Lord meetings, she gives him a narrow-eyed, evaluatory look. Really, Qi-shimei! He’s already Liu Mingyan’s shishu. It’s not as though he’ll be her father-in-law! 

Then the Immortal Alliance Conference happens, and Shen Qingqiu has other things on his mind. 

It doesn’t really come up again until after Shen Qingqiu has neatly averted every single harem plotline by marrying Binghe himself. 

Even though Binghe would probably prefer Shen Qingqiu act as some sort of idle imperial housewife, Shen Qingqiu has just enough pride to keep up his duties on Qing Jing Peak. In practice, this mostly means checking in on Ning Yingying and Ming Fan briefly, then spending some time with his martial siblings. 

“Bro,” Airplane says, when Shen Qingqiu deigns to visit. “You done goofed.”

“Good morning to you too, life-ruiner,” Shen Qingqiu says, and sits down. Shang Qinghua’s leisure house is the only place on Cang Qiong – possibly even the only place in the entire world – that has actual chairs to sit in. It’s easily ninety per cent of the appeal of visiting him. Shen Qingqiu should really recommend them to Binghe; no doubt if he so much as hinted, the entire demon realm would be furnished with comfortable chairs in a matter of hours. 

Shang Qinghua squawks. “Life-ruiner! Me! You did this to yourself, Cucumber-bro.”

Shen Qingqiu narrows his eyes. “What exactly do you think I’ve done?” 

“Oh,” Shang Qinghua says. He looks over Shen Qingqiu, eyebrows rising. “You don’t know?”

Shen Qingqiu can feel a vein in his temple throbbing. “Know what?”

“Absolutely nothing!” Shang Qinghua throws up his hands like he’s defending himself. “Not a thing! Nothing to know!”

Airplane really is far too easy to intimidate; all Shen Qingqiu has to do is snap his fan closed and he folds like wet tissue paper. 

“Ah! No!” He flails wildly and nearly upends his tea. “Not the face, bro!” 

“Stop hinting and tell me what the problem is!” Shen Qingqiu re-opens his fan and leans back in his chair. “Or is this just more of your paranoid neuroses?” 

“It’s not paranoia if a demon king really is trying to fuck you,” Shang Qinghua mutters, but he sighs and goes over to his desk. After some vague rummaging through papers – honestly, what on earth does Shang Qinghua do all day? Shen Qingqiu never has this much paperwork – he comes up with a small, printed pamphlet, which he lobs at Shen Qingqiu without ceremony. 

The pamphlet is battered and dog-eared, and starting to disintegrate along the spine. Shen Qingqiu frowns at the cover. 

The Longing of Chungui, by Liu Su Mian Hua. A gift for Chu Xue Yi Rong. 

“What is this?” 

Airplane snorts and settles back into his chair. “I thought you’d recognise the author. You’re such a fan of her other work!” 

It takes a minute for Shen Qingqiu to recall where she’s heard the name before. “This is the person who wrote The Regret of Chunshan?!” 

“The title wasn’t enough of a clue?” 

Shen Qingqiu opens the pamphlet to the middle and immediately snaps it shut again. “This is – more filth! About…” He can’t say it. He’ll expire if he has to say it out loud. 

“She’s a real go-getter, that one,” Shang Qinghua says. “I’m sure that’s not her most recent effort. But don’t you think it’s interesting that this is a gift?” 

“So this – this–” Shen Qingqiu has to smooth the pamphlet out before he can read it properly. He seems to have crushed it somewhat. “This Chu Xue Yi Rong person asked for more of her nonsense?” 

“Seriously, bro?” Airplane asks. “Chu Xue Yi Rong doesn’t seem like a name that might be, uh, familiar to you?”

“What? No.” Shen Qingqiu frowns down at the characters. “Should it?”

“Spring Snow Soon Melts? Hmm,” Airplane says bitchily. “Who do we know with an ice-themed name and a crush on someone seasonal?”

Shen Qingqiu stares at him, aghast. “Mobei-jun?”

“What? No!” Shang Qinghua flails some more. “Times like this I wish I had a fan so I could smack you for a change! It’s obviously Luo Binghe!”

Shen Qingqiu screeches so loudly that Liu Qingge comes bursting in to see if they’re under attack.

The pamphlet is old, which is reassuring. It must pre-date their marriage by at least a decade, if not more. Perhaps it’s even from the time when Luo Binghe was indisposed, which would mean it wasn’t for him after all!  

Shen Qingqiu has almost made up his mind to toss the pamphlet into the fire and forget all about it when Luo Binghe comes home while he’s holding it. 

“What do you have there, Shizun?” 

Shen Qingqiu startles so badly he almost throws the pamphlet. He wasn’t even reading it! Not really! Binghe comes over, pushing into his space with the air of a cat determined to wind around Shen Qingqiu’s ankles, leaving Shen Qingqiu with no choice but to thread a hand into his fluffy hair and pet him.

“I’m going to put a bell on you if you sneak up on me like that,” Shen Qingqiu scolds. 

“This disciple apologises,” Binghe says, and looks at the pamphlet. “Oh! I’d almost forgotten about these.” 

“Forgotten about–” Shen Qingqiu flushes. “You knew about them?” 

“Mm.” Binghe settles his weight against Shen Qingqiu’s chest. “Liu Mingyan used to write them for me.” 

Shen Qingqiu looks at Binghe’s face, so utterly amazed by the statement that he briefly forgets to be horrified. Binghe has a faint blush across the tops of his cheeks, but he’s loose and relaxed and smiling with just a trace of mischief. 

“Does it please Shizun, to know that this disciple used to think of such things?” Binghe asks. There’s that mischief again, plain in his voice. “Would Shizun like to try some of them?” 

“Binghe!” Shen Qingqiu squawks. He’d shove Binghe off, if only Binghe wasn’t so likely to pout and well up with tears at the perceived rejection. As it is, he’s firmly trapped. “This is – people read this!” 

“It’s not as though Mingyan used our real names in this one,” Binghe points out. “Besides, I wrote some for her, too. Not about us, of course. Mingyan wanted one about a pure and righteous cultivator being seduced by a fiery demon saintess, for some reason.” 

This is simply more information than Shen Qingqiu is equipped to handle. He elects to ignore it. 

“Besides, Shizun didn’t answer my question,” Binghe says playfully. He nuzzles against Shen Qingqiu’s neck, teeth grazing over the pulse point in a way that makes Shen Qingqiu go all shivery and boneless. “Did Shizun wish to try anything from the story? Perhaps… page twenty-three?” 

Binghe keeps kissing and nipping and coaxing Shen Qingqiu all the way to their bed, breathlessly whispering his favourite parts of the book into Shen Qingqiu’s ear in a low, husky voice. None of it is particularly different from their usual bedroom activities – perhaps a little slower and more emotional – so alarm bells don’t ring for Shen Qingqiu. It’s not until Binghe spreads out on his back on the bed, shamelessly naked and flushed all the way to his sternum, that Shen Qingqiu realises Binghe wants Shen Qingqiu to do those things to him.

He’d baulk, but he’s already naked, and Binghe looks up at him with huge, slightly teary eyes. 

“Why are you crying?” Shen Qingqiu asks, exasperated. 

“I’m just so happy,” Binghe says in a wavering voice, and, well, Shen Qingqiu can’t say anything to that, can he? Truly, no one can resist the protagonist!

At least Shen Qingqiu knows the theory of this, from all the times Binghe has done it to him. Binghe has improved a lot, but Shen Qingqiu feels like a fumbling beginner as he slicks up his fingers and gets between Luo Binghe’s thighs. 

Binghe moans and gasps and arches his back as soon as Shen Qingqiu even touches his chrysanthemum. Shen Qingqiu huffs. Really, Binghe! It can’t possibly be that good yet! 

When he pushes his first finger in, Binghe whimpers. Shen Qingqiu freezes. 

“Is Binghe–”

Keep going,” Binghe says, with all the command due a demonic emperor at the height of his powers. 

Shen Qingqiu keeps going. 

Binghe barely lets Shen Qingqiu get three fingers inside him before he’s imperiously demanding they progress. Shen Qingqiu hems and haws – fingers are one thing, but putting his peerless cucumber inside Binghe is a bit much, no matter how pouty Binghe gets! – but then he finds himself on his back, Binghe crouching over him like a hungry wolf over a rabbit. 

“Shizun,” Binghe says sternly, “don’t make this disciple wait.” Then he reaches behind himself and gets a firm grip on Shen Qingqiu. Shen Qingqiu opens his mouth to scold him – really, Binghe, so shameless! – but then Binghe just… sits down. On Shen Qingqiu’s cock. 

Shen Qingqiu’s brain politely informs him that it has no contribution to make at this time. 

Binghe starts moving before Shen Qingqiu can even get used to the hot, velvety clench of him. He’s tentative at first, rising and falling in slow slides, but then Shen Qingqiu puts his hands on his hips and Binghe starts to bounce like – like – Shen Qingqiu doesn’t have a metaphor for this. He tries to sit up, to take a more active role, but Binghe plants his hand in the centre of Shen Qingqiu’s chest and shoves him down. 

“Don’t move,” he instructs, and bounces faster.

Shen Qingqiu slumps back against the bed, staring up at Binghe with wide eyes. “Ah.” 

Binghe doesn’t even apologise. He just undulates on Shen Qingqiu’s cock, his abs showing in stark relief as he tenses through his core. He squeezes down hard on Shen Qingqiu, who whimpers and promptly comes like a geyser. 

When Shen Qingqiu can see again, Binghe is stroking himself with one hand, staring down at Shen Qingqiu, open-mouthed and breathing hard. 

“Shizun,” he gasps, and comes profusely, all over Shen Qingqiu’s chest. 

“I see,” Shen Qingqiu says. 

Binghe slumps forward slowly until his forehead rests on Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder. Shen Qingqiu pets his hair. His brain hasn’t quite come back online yet, and even if he was at full capacity, he has no idea what to say. 

As always, Binghe recovers first, and hurriedly fetches clothes and warm water with which to clean them up before proceeding to cuddle Shen Qingqiu like an oversized plushie. 

“Shizun is so generous,” Binghe says happily. “Perhaps Shizun would be willing to read the others?” 

Shen Qingqiu clears his throat. “O-others?” 

Binghe hums affirmatively, nuzzling against Shen Qingqiu’s jaw. “Liu-shimei and I often traded stories for special occasions. She wrote one for Qixi that I found particularly inspiring…” 

Shen Qingqiu swallows hard. 

He is going to give Airplane such a thrashing over this! 

… but maybe not until after he’s read a few more stories.