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The rumours first started when a Qiong Ding disciple found a poem on the rainbow bridge, early in the morning.

 

It read:

My love of the clear autumn

Oh how my heart aches for him

How I marvel his beautiful face

And his figure, pale and slim

 

The branches of the autumn tree stretch

Far and wide, towards the sky

But alas, for I have wronged

They do not reach me, nor do they pass by

 

For my love of the clear autumn

I would do anything

And yet he refuses to look at me

And leaves scars of rage and mocking

 

The clear autumn has been taken by the hot summer

And here I lie, forever to suffer

 

The Qiong Ding disciple quickly showed this poem to his friends, and together they deciphered the hidden meanings within.

 

Firstly, ‘clear autumn’ had to refer to Shen Qingqiu, the peak lord of Qing Jing, for his name literally meant ‘clear autumn’.

 

Secondly, the poem spoke of an unrequited love between the writer and Shen Qingqiu.

 

Thirdly, Shen Qingqiu was supposedly in a relationship with someone else, who was referred to as ‘hot summer’.

 

So, in conclusion, Shen Qingqiu had an ex, and was dating someone!

 

They were a bit too loud in their discussion, and a Xian Shu disciple overheard them. Squealing with sparkling eyes, Liu Mingyan ran back to her peak, spreading the news to her fellow disciples, before grabbing a brush and writing furiously. This… this inspiration! I have been enlightened!

 

Her shizun had heard her excited chatter with the other disciples, and almost dropped her teacup in shock. Shen Qingqiu has and had a lover?! Immediately, she flew over to where the Qiong Ding disciples were, demanding to see the poem. Once she read it, she was in disbelief.

 

How can this be? she thought to herself as she went back to her peak, deep in thought. It almost sounds like a plot in my favourite romance novels… She looked over to her head disciple, who was madly writing as if her life was on the line. She nodded approvingly. Yes, Mingyan! Whenever there’s drama, you must get the most out of it!

 

The other Xian Shu disciples who had heard from Liu Mingyan naturally told their friends in and out of their peak. And soon, the rumours spread like wildfire, and everyone was gossiping.

 

Who was Shen Qingqiu’s ex? 

 

Could it be Liu Qingge, the man he fought with everyday with scathing remarks and life threatening blows? Maybe they had a bad breakup, and it caused them to hate each other with a passion. But Liu Qingge felt remorse, and wrote a horrible poem to express his sorrows to Shen Qingqiu…

 

Can Liu Qingge even write a poem? Nevermind a horrible one, him writing is already impossible!

 

Could it be Qi Qingqi, who always accused Shen Qingqiu of being a lecher and had even banned him from entering her peak? Maybe they had once been together, but Shen Qingqiu had cheated on her with the brothel women, and that had led to their current relationship?

 

At first, it was a possibility… until Qi Qingqi gave a death glare to a group of disciples who had accidentally mentioned it too loudly. “I like women ,” she had hissed, before unsheathing her sword. After a shichen of prostrating and begging, Qi Qingqi finally sheathed her sword and the idea of her and Shen Qingqiu being exes was immediately crossed out.

 

Who was Shen Qingqiu’s current lover, then?

 

Could it be Mu Qingfang, one of the only people in the entire sect who seemed to have a peaceful relationship with Shen Qingqiu? Although it was true that Shen Qingqiu did not glare or sneer at the healer, it was probably due to the fact that Mu Qingfang was, well, a healer, and naturally a good relationship was necessary for professionalism.

 

Could it be Shang Qinghua, the other person who didn’t openly show his disdain for Shen Qingqiu unlike his bolder martial siblings? Maybe Shen Qingqiu had forced him into a relationship, knowing Shang Qinghua’s weak personality. Then again, the poem mentioned ‘hot summer’.

 

Nevermind a season, Shang Qinghua is just a quivering leaf!

 

And then, Yue Qingyuan unexpectedly called for a peak lord meeting.

 

Qi Qingqi headed out of her peak for the second time that day. Is Zhangmen-shixiong calling for a meeting regarding the rumours? She suddenly realised that the meeting would be the perfect opportunity for her to observe Shen Qingqiu’s relationship with their martial siblings. 

 

As she sat in her chair, she discreetly looked at Shen Qingqiu. First, the possibility of Liu Qingge. Coincidentally, Shen Qingqiu had just entered the meeting room with Liu Qingge. He was saying angrily, “If it weren’t for the stupid rumours and the fact that you- ugh, stop bothering me, and go sit at your seat.” Liu Qingge seemed to want to protest, but shut his mouth begrudgingly and stomped towards his seat. He then fixedly stared at Shen Qingqiu, who was looking elsewhere. 

 

Sounds like a lovers’ quarrel , Qi Qingqi noted. Then she noticed that Shen Qingqiu was currently conversing with someone. She looked next to him, and found that his conversation partner was Mu Qingfang. Oh? She listened in, but disappointedly found out that they were talking about medicinal topics. Shen Qingqiu’s face was emotionless, and Mu Qingfang had his ‘healer’s smile’, which basically could be emotionless as well.

 

Qi Qingqi sighed. At that moment, Shang Qinghua ran into the room, tripped, and fell around Shen Qingqiu, in a way that his arms were on either side of the latter’s chair, and that he was leaning over the latter’s head. Qi Qingqi noted his immediate stepping back and apologising, as well as Shen Qingqiu’s dismissive wave and eye twitch. Hmm…  

 

Then the meeting started, and she found that, although the topic wasn’t Shen Qingqiu’s new rumours, it was about something completely unimportant. The entire meeting was a waste of time. Qi Qingqi hadn’t considered Yue Qingyuan before due to her respect for the man, but now…

 

When the meaningless meeting ended, she looked at her zhangmen-shixiong, who was staring (longingly?) at Shen Qingqiu. His hand went up, wanting to touch Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder, but the latter abruptly stood up and left the meeting room without even a glance. Liu Qingge ran after him, and Yue Qingyuan looked so pained as if he had a fatal wound. Qi Qingqi’s eyebrows shot up.

 

Well, well, well. What do we have here?

 

She snorted to herself. If it hadn’t been for the rumours, she wouldn’t have noticed anything amiss. Then, she too got up to leave the meeting room. I must discuss this with my head disciple. These are, of course, matters of great importance to the sect.

The night was cool and quiet, and the bamboo forest next to the bamboo hut created the perfect calm atmosphere. Perfect for Shen Qingqiu and his lovers to rest in.

 

Yes, lovers .

 

Shen Qingqiu sat on the floor next to his bed, humming a soft tune as he stroked Shang Qinghua’s head that was on his lap, his hair being combed gently but skillfully by Liu Qingge, and his mouth occasionally opening to accept the (herbal) sweets that Mu Qingfang fed him.

 

How comfortable this is , mused Shen Qingqiu. So comfortable that I can almost forget the fact that the rest of the world is going to find out about our relationship tomorrow.

 

He tilted his head back to glare at the one to blame. Liu Qingge sighed, and turned his head away with slight guilt.

 

Mu Qingfang tsked slightly when he saw their exchange. “A-Jiu, have you not yet forgiven Qingge?” he asked.

 

Shen Qingqiu humphed, but smirked slightly to Mu Qingfang where Liu Qingge couldn’t see, and Mu Qingfang immediately knew that the man was just pretending to be mad. Probably to ask for favours , he thought to himself, and shook his head with fond exasperation.

 

Sure enough, Liu Qingge couldn’t bear Shen Qingqiu’s ‘anger’ towards him, and huffed. “You- Shen-shixiong , what do you want this shidi to do for you, then?”

 

Shang Qinghua, lying on Shen Qingqiu’s lap, shivered. “Liu Qingge, don’t ever say ‘Shen-shixiong’ again. I just got goosebumps,” he said, opening his eyes to give a slightly judgmental, slightly disgusted look to Liu Qingge, before closing them again and snuggling into Shen Qingqiu’s robes. 

 

Liu Qingge flushed, fingers itching to pull his hair in frustration. Mu Qingfang sipped tea as he observed one shixiong at his wit’s end, and his other shixiong trying not to laugh at the situation. (And the third shixiong who didn’t seem to care about anything but the lap he was currently lying on, to Mu Qingfang’s slight jealousy.)

 

Shen Qingqiu finally relented, and turned to face Liu Qingge. “Fine. tomorrow, you will take me down the mountain and buy whatever I want. Then we will go visit the brothel.”

 

Liu Qingge was nodding, until he heard the word ‘brothel’. His eyes widened, and he stuttered, “D-do we really need to go there…”

 

“Yes, I miss them, because I’ve been busy lately. And tomorrow I’ll finally have an excuse to go. What, are you afraid of them just because they tease you?” Shen Qingqiu scoffed. Liu Qingge turned even more red. Shen Qingqiu smirked devilishly. “It’s final, unless you wish to disappoint this shixiong , Liu-shidi ?”

 

Shang Qinghua listened with closed eyes. Wow, as expected of Jiu-ge! Killing three birds with one stone; going on a date with Liu Qingge, satisfying his sweet tooth without Qingfang to stop him, and getting to tease Liu Qingge with the brothel jie-jie! Maybe I should suggest to Qingfang about spying on them…

 

The other three ignored Liu Qingge’s internal predicament (they knew he would give in to Shen Qingqiu’s demands anyway), and Shang Qinghua reluctantly got up from his comfortable position to start the well needed conversation.

 

“So, how are we going to reveal our relationship?”

 

2 days ago, Yue Qingyuan accidentally saw some… red marks on Liu Qingge’s collarbone when the latter carelessly left his robes loose. It wouldn’t have been a problem, if Liu Qingge hadn’t been sparring with Shen Qingqiu at the time and tore the latter’s robes, revealing red marks on his neck as well. Of course, Yue Qingyuan had immediately assumed that they had, ahem , dual cultivated with each other (which to be fair wasn’t too far off, just not enough people *cough*), and had probably gone and written that ‘awful’ poem (Shen Qingqiu’s words) in a drunk state.

 

The next day, the poem had been found, and the rumours had spread about Shen Qingqiu having an ex lover, because it was ‘annoyingly’ obvious (again, Shen Qingqiu’s words) that the poem was referring to Shen Qingqiu, but not obvious who the writer was, other than that they were bad at poetry.

 

None of the speculations had been accurate, as Shen Qingqiu had never had an ex lover (Qiu Haitang didn’t count) and certainly no one would ever guess that the four of them were in a relationship.

 

But rumours were rumours, whether they were accurate or not. And Shen Qingqiu knew how vicious rumours could get when left unattended for too long. Of course, the problem could be solved for Shen Qingqiu if he openly stated that he had never dated anyone before. Everyone would believe it easily, thinking ‘who would ever want to date Shen Qingqiu?’ (they didn’t say this out loud though). But eventually someone would figure out that Yue Qingyuan was the writer of the poem, with how he stared at Shen Qingqiu longingly and ‘looked like a kicked dog’ (Shang Qinghua’s words) whenever Shen Qingqiu stood near Liu Qingge. They suspected that Qi Qingqi, with her hawk eyes, had already started to figure out what was going on (they, of course, noticed her very not conspicuous analysing of Shen Qingqiu). If word got out that Yue Qingyuan held unrequited feelings of love for Shen Qingqiu, the former could say goodbye to his reputation.

 

So, doing their Zhangmen-shixiong a favour, they decided to reveal their relationship before things got out of hand.

 

Now the only question was how .

 

Liu Qingge had finally calmed down, and stated, “We should announce it after tomorrow’s peak lord meeting.”

 

Shen Qingqiu raised an eyebrow. “And how do you know that there’s going to be a meeting tomorrow?”

 

Liu Qingge rolled his eyes. “Even I can figure that out. Yue Qingyuan will probably call for one for no reason, just to keep you in his sight.”

 

Mu Qingfang smiled a little slyly. “Yes, that does seem to be likely. I wonder what his face will look like, when he realises that ‘his’ Xiao Jiu had been taken by not one, but three people?”

 

Shen Qingqiu snorted. “How possessive of you, Qingfang.”

 

Mu Qingfang smiled wider. “Oh, I can’t help but be possessive when it comes to you, A-Jiu.” And with that, he lay on Shen Qingqiu’s lap that he had been coveting ever since he saw Shang Qinghua lying on it. 

 

Shang Qinghua saw this, and yelled, “Hey! Mu Qingfang, how dare you steal my lap privileges! Get off!”

 

Mu Qingfang said nothing, and simply imitated Shang Qinghua’s earlier action of burying his head into Shen Qingqiu’s robes.

 

Shen Qingqiu ignored Shang Qinghua’s protests, and looked over to Liu Qingge. “Jealous?” he whispered to him. Liu Qingge didn’t reply, but his ears turned red and he looked away. Shen Qingqiu smiled. “I’ll let you lie on my lap tomorrow. In. The. Brothel.”

 

Liu Qingge hid his head in Shen Qingqiu’s pillow, silently screaming.

 

Shen Qingqiu closed his eyes and mused to himself. He wasn’t particularly looking forward to having to reveal their relationship. There was, of course, a reason why they had kept it a secret. Liu Qingge and Mu Qingfang both had pristine reputations, whereas Shang Qinghua was regarded to be the weakest peak lord of all time, and Shen Qingqiu was simply regarded as scum. He knew that others would try to get between them, probably believing that Liu Qingge and Mu Qingfang were too good for the other two, or that the three of them were too good for Shen Qingqiu alone.

 

In fact, Shen Qingqiu had only recently gotten out of that mindset after a year of persistent and gentle persuading from the other three. He smiled slightly to himself. The process was long and painful, but the things he felt afterwards was so damn worth it. He felt wanted, needed, respected, deserved, and most importantly, loved .

 

“Stay here,” he murmured softly, but it was loud enough for the other three to hear.

 

And so, after Shang Qinghua took out a bed from his qiankun pouch (god knows why he had one inside in the first place), they slept on the joined beds, a mess of arms and legs, but warm and comfortable.

 

And Shen Qingqiu slept peacefully that night, as he had for many nights with his lovers, knowing that he was safe, and cherished.

 

The ‘I love you’ went unsaid, but words were unnecessary when their hearts were connected with the love they held for each other.

 

And it would stay that way, no matter what.