In one world, Shen Qingqiu tried to save him and failed.
Then wept over his corpse.
Then told no one the truth. That it had been an accident. That Shen Qingqiu had tried to soothe Liu Qingge's unstable qi. That Shen Qingqiu had a qi deviation of his own.
And still, Liu Qingge had watched on, like a ghost but somehow even less there, caught somewhere between this world and the next.
Then the incorporeal, the powerless Liu Qingge watched on as all of Shen Qingqiu's mistakes and flaws caught up to him.
Watched on as he had been tortured by that former disciple of his. That half-demon who should have died long, long ago.
Watched on as the half-demon married six-hundred women--one of whom being Liu Mingyan of all people. Who should have known better!
Watched on as Cang Qiong was burned to the ground.
Watched on as Yue Qingyuan was destroyed while attempting to rescue Shen Qingqiu, not even leaving behind a body to bury.
And in that dirty, dank cell, Shen Qingqiu hung motionless, suspended from the ceiling by chains. For hours upon hours, the ruined Immortal stared at the shattered Xuan Su.
Watched on as Shen Qingqiu did nothing.
He had no limbs. No tongue. Only one eye--and that was all that mattered it seemed. That eye that never blinked, staring blankly at the ground, at those glittering shards.
Was he even still alive?
Liu Qingge willed his presence closer, to stare at Shen Qingqiu's chest, visible through the tears and rips in those rags called robes.
Yeah. Shen Qingqiu was still breathing.
And this went on
Shen Qingqiu died. He must have.
Whatever held Liu Qingge's consciousness to the other broke quietly, then all at once.
In one world, there was no happiness to be found. The world was one big fucked up tragedy for everyone involved.
Liu Qingge wakes up.
He is in the Lingxi Caves. He is still alive. He is still breathing.
He is... lying across Shen Qingqiu's lap?
Liu Qingge vomits blood all over Shen Qingqiu's pale robes before he can even stop himself.
Shen Qingqiu makes a strangled noise of disgust and removes Liu Qingge from his person. Roughly. He lets Liu Qingge's head bounce against the cave floor. "Is this truly the thanks this shixiong receives after saving your life, shidi?" he asks, sneering.
"Sh-shen," Liu Qingge manages to say around another mouthful of blood.
Shen Qingqiu wrinkles his nose and scoots further away. He removes his fan from his belt and waves it rapidly, but Liu Qingge has learned that this is just one of many ways Shen Qingqiu hides.
"What?" Shen Qingqiu says, exasperated.
"You saved me."
Shen Qingqiu clucks his tongue. "Should I have called for Mu Qingfang...?" he says quietly, more to himself than anyone else.
"No." Liu Qingge surpasses the distance between them and clutches Shen Qingqiu's hands. "I had a premonition about the future."
Shen Qingqiu raises a single brow. "Oh?"
Shen Qingqiu snorts. "Are you threatening me now?"
"Yue Qingyuan died first."
In an instant, Shen Qingqiu's entire continence changes. He grits his teeth, face grave. "Tell me exactly," he says. "What did you see?"
So Liu Qingge tells him everything.
All that he can remember. All of those years of watching, unable to speak, unable to touch.
Such simple things.
For so long, he had been little more than a shade, a wisp of something strange, something broken.
Hesitantly, Liu Qingge reaches out for Shen Qingqiu's hands. The warmth. The feel of calloused skin. How alien such a simple thing can be.
"What," Shen Qingqiu says, trembling, "do you think you are doing?"
"Seeing if this is real."
Shen Qingqiu draws away from him and then pinches him severely.
"Idiot," Shen Qingqiu says, but he is breathing heavily, as if he cannot get enough air. "It's pain that cannot find you in an illusion, not touch."
Liu Qingge grits his teeth but says nothing.
"Go and see Mu Qingfang already," Shen Qingqiu hisses at him, curled up as far away from him as possible within this cave.
"There's going to be a demon invasion," Liu Qingge says. "In four months. Luo Binghe's resentment of how you teach only grows from here on out. Do something about it."
He can still remember Yue Qingyuan's words when faced with the aftermath of Luo Binghe's torture.
"Shidi. The situation has already reached this point and you still won't ponder over your mistakes? Not even a little bit?"
It still makes him angry. And confused.
What was the point of spoiling and doting after Shen Qingqiu all those years if you could not commit to him? Why look the other way at all those rumors but believe Shen Qingqiu guilty of everything?
Why did any of this have to happen?
Shen Qingqiu scowls. "And what do you propose?" he says harshly.
"Either you or I have to kill him," Liu Qingge says.
"What?" Liu Qingge scoffs. "Would you rather he grow up to be a fully fledged Demon Lord?"
Shen Qingqiu sneers. "And then what happens when he is dead?" he says, voice low. "You said that there was a war between the realms. That he alone kept those of the human realm from being snuffed out entirely."
"Yeah. Through his harem." Liu Qingge attempts to neaten his hair but his ribbon has gone missing. "What would you propose?"
"Endear the little beast to Cang Qiong Mountain sect," Shen Qingqiu says.
"Did you hear anything I said? He kills you. And Yue Qingyuan."
Shen Qingqiu's brow twitches. "I am aware, shidi. Due to my many mistakes."
"Give him to Bai Zhan Peak."
"And why not?"
"Because," Shen Qingqiu says simply, "if he is to hate me and seek vengeance, then the relationship between Shizun and disciple is long past the point of repair. Might as well keep you around for when the realms are merged. You’d be useful then at least, wouldn’t you? With all those monsters to slay…“
Liu Qingge snorts. "Cheerful."
"You brought such delightful news, shidi. Can you truly blame me?"
They meditate side by side for several months, neither one quite acknowledging the other.
They meditate until a disciple calls for them, crying and screaming about the demon invasion.
Calmly, Shen Qingqiu says, "Don't attack until we see their leader."
Liu Qingge snorts. "Strange concerns, given what you know."
Shen Qingqiu sneers at him. "If their leader is chased off, their underlings will follow. Simple enough a plan for even you to understand, yes?"
Liu Qingge rolls his eyes but obeys.
It's obvious who the leader is, but he does not tell Shen Qingqiu this. He had seen the invasion the last time around and had been absolutely helpless to do anything about it.
This time, however, Liu Qingge finds that rotten Sha Hualing and gives her a solid thrashing, tossing her bodily away.
She lands awkwardly, something broken in her hand, and with wide, panicked eyes, she yells out, "Retreat!"
The disciples cheer, holding their swords aloft.
Liu Qingge watches the young Luo Binghe carefully.
Did the demons notice him yet or were they lucky?
Luo Binghe notices Liu Qingge's gaze and looks over, eyes wide.
He does not kill the boy, as much as he wants to get this over with.
Shen Qingqiu goes for a walk one night.
Why would he not? It's his Peak.
And on this walk, he goes past the woodshed. He can hear distinct crying from inside.
Shen Qingqiu sighs internally, mentally cursing Liu Qingge for the very specific and very unfortunate premonition.
Then Shen Qingqiu knocks on the woodshed.
Very slowly, it opens, revealing the little beast himself, eyes swollen with tears. There's bruising across one cheek, nothing too terrible. Shen Qingqiu's seen worse, had worse.
"Tell me, why is the little beast sleeping in the woodshed instead of the dorms?" Shen Qingqiu asks, almost casually.
Luo Binghe tries to order himself, but it's impossible to keep entirely neat when sleeping in a woodshed. He would know. Luo Binghe's hair is still in disarray and he hasn't quite wiped the teartracks from his pale face.
"Apologies, Shizun," Luo Binghe says.
"You have not answered the question."
Luo Binghe ducks his head. "This disciple... prefers sleeping in the woodshed."
"Oh?" Shen Qingqiu makes a show of looking inside the woodshed. The foolish boy hadn't even thought to steal blankets or pillows. It is a miracle he hadn't caught his death yet. Well. It is no miracle.
It's all thanks to his hidden bloodline that has survived so far.
"This old teacher doesn't see how this woodshed could possibly be better than the warmth of the dorms," he says dryly. "Do you not like sharing space with the other boys?"
Luo Binghe shakes his head vigorously.
Shen Qingqiu tilts his chin with his fan, examining the bruise carefully. It hadn't been there during the demon invasion. "How did the little beast obtain this injury?"
"Apologies, Shizun," Luo Binghe says again. "It was an accident."
Shen Qingqiu clucks his tongue.
An accident. Sure. And then in however many years, Luo Binghe would take revenge for every single thing that's happened to him in his sorry little life.
“What an impudent disciple I have,” Shen Qingqiu says mockingly. “Lying directly to your Shizun? Do you truly want to go to Bai Zhan Peak so desperately?”
Luo Binghe shakes his head quickly, eyes filled with tears.
Shen Qingqiu sighs. “Come along,” he says, before the little beast blubbers out anything else. He leads this little Luo Binghe to the boys dormitory and opens the door with a solid bang.
The little disciples sit up. Those who had been asleep are frightened badly. How amusing.
“It has come to this master’s attention that Luo Binghe has been sleeping in the woodshed,” Shen Qingqiu says, not missing how Luo Binghe winces. “Would anyone care to explain this?”
The disciples all launch into useless apologies—apologizing to Shen Qingqiu, of course. They throw themselves out of their beds, kneeling on the cold ground.
What a pitiful sight they make.
“Quiet.” Shen Qingqiu taps his fan against his palm. “Now then… What must I do with the lot of you?”
The disciples quiver. Some are close to tears.
Shen Qingqiu ushers Luo Binghe to an empty bed.
“Since you have nothing to say, this old teacher will assume that you did not want to share the dormitory with your shidi,” Shen Qingqiu says. “This old teacher will allow this. All of you, gather your things. You will sleep outside tonight.”
“What?” one disciple protests loudly.
“Shizun, please reconsider!”
Shen Qingqiu’s brow twitches. He allows himself a smile, one that did not reach his eyes. “Are you suggesting you know more than your Shizun?”
“No, Shizun!” the children say, all but quivering where they stand.
Shen Qingqiu jerks his chin in the direction of the door. “Then what are you waiting for? Scram!”
The disciples scram, some leaving their pillows and blankets behind. Those will have a cold night ahead, but they’ll learn from that experience.
Shen Qingqiu snorts once the dormitory is empty, save for the little beast. “Well then,” he says, flicking his sleeves. “See to it that you do not get into more trouble.”
“Yes, Shizun,” Luo Binghe says, eyes wide and slightly wet with tears.
What a bother raising him would be.
What do you do when you know how all things will end?
It’s said that the Bai Zhan War God had a change of heart. That he no longer flits about the world, looking for the next most glorious fight. That he actually stays on Bai Zhan Peak and teaches his disciples.
What those gossipmongers did not know is how terribly the Bai Zhan Peak disciples had died in that awful first life with no Shizun to protect or to guide their progress.
Instead, they had been punished a thousand times over for the times they had flown to Qing Jing Peak to cause trouble—for those times they had bothered Luo Binghe in particular.
Liu Qingge does not sigh when he breaks up a brawl in this life, though he wants to. He throws the Bai Zhan Peak disciple one way and the Qing Jing Peak disciple the other.
“What?” Liu Qingge says. “Do you not have enough to do that you’re brawling with your martial siblings?”
Both of the disciples whimper pathetically. They sport quite a few bumps and bruises, but nothing serious. The Qing Jing Peak disciple’s uniform is torn and dirtied—something Shen Qingqiu will not approve of.
“You,” Liu Qingge says, pointing at his own disciple. “Return to Bai Zhan Peak. If you want to test your abilities so badly, you’ll test your abilities against mine. One match.”
“Shizun!” the bratty disciple yelps out. “Please reconsider!”
The disciple shakes his head, now looking quite close to tears. “Please—”
The disciple bows. “This disciple accepts punishment,” he says, though he does not sound at all happy about it. The disciple flies away quickly. Maybe he’ll be smart and tell the other disciples to knock it off.
Disciples learn best through experience. This would be quite the experience.
Liu Qingge sighs at the hopeless Qing Jing Peak disciple, still sprawled inelegantly on the ground. He hauls the boy up by the back of his robes and begins the trek to the bamboo hut.
However, he meets Shen Qingqiu halfway there.
Shen Qingqiu raises a brow. “Ming Fan,” he says. “Have you gotten into a fight with your Liu-shishu?”
The boy he’d been dragging along had been Shen Qingqiu’s head disciple apparently. But he’d been so plain and so obviously behind on his cultivation, lacking in natural talent.
“N-no, Shizun,” Ming Fan says, very close to tears.
“Liu-shidi, put the boy down,” Shen Qingqiu says, fanning himself slowly. “I believe we have a matter to discuss.”
Liu Qingge lets Ming Fan fall. The boy lands on his ass and gets up after a moment, wincing badly.
Shen Qingqiu shoos the boy away before turning on his heel, leading the way to the bamboo forest of Qing Jing Peak. Once there, Shen Qingqiu turns around and scowls.
“The little beast is now sleeping within the dormitory, amongst this fellow disciples,” Shen Qingqiu says. “What else?”
“What about it?”
“Have you told your disciple that following it would kill him?”
Shen Qingqiu snorts. “Why would I tell him that?”
Liu Qingge grits his teeth. “Oi, Shen. Are you trying to get yourself killed?” And, when this does not get a response that he wants, Liu Qingge tries again. “Are you trying to get Yue Qingyuan killed?”
Shen Qingqiu inhales sharply, sneering at him as though he’s seen something distasteful. “I will not tell the little beast. The change of heart would be too suspicious. I’ve called for an inspection of all the disciples’ progress and exchanged cultivation manuals as I’ve seen fit.”
Liu Qingge lets out a thoughtful noise. “Good.”
Shen Qingqiu bristles. “I don’t need your approval.”
“No,” Liu Qingge says. “But you need my help.”
“Now,” Shen Qingqiu says carefully, his eyes rimmed with red. “What are we to do with Shang-shidi?”
In both their first life and this one, no one had believed Shen Qingqiu when he unearthed some of Shang Qinghua’s treachery. The only difference that exists is that before Shen Qingqiu stood alone.
Now he will never be alone.
“Leave it to me,” Liu Qingge says.
After all, his reputation was pristine.
The Peak Lords are meant to ascend together, to work in harmony until the end of their days.
When Liu Qingge confronts Shang Qinghua with evidence of his misdeeds at the next meeting between the Peak Lords, Shang Qinghua does not even object. Instead, with a panicked expression, he throws down a talisman.
The room fills with smoke and demonic qi.
When it clears, Shang Qinghua is gone.
The Zui Xian Peak Lord takes a measured sip of wine. “Huh,” he says. “’suppose we owe Shen-shixiong an apology then.”
When he had been dead, he had years to observe Shen Qingqiu’s behavior.
And he noticed something particular.
That Shen Qingqiu hid good intentions behind biting words and harsh, brash behavior, bordering on cruelty. And it was so strange. While he did not argue against the dirtying of his name, he did fight whenever someone insulted him.
Shen Qingqiu gave all sorts of excuses to hide his good deeds, but did not hide any of his misdeeds.
And Liu Qingge could not fully understand just why his cold, distant shixiong was like this.
Even now, even still, when Shen Qingqiu knew of the horrible fate that awaited him if things did not change, Shen Qingqiu did not change. He bristled around Yue Qingyuan, could not exchange even five sentences with that man that would one day die for him. He still called Luo Binghe a little beast, though the bullying from both disciples and Shizun had ceased.
Shen Qingqiu did not get along with any of their fellow Peak Lords.
And he would need to, if he wanted anyone to protect him from the Water Prison, should that event be inevitable.
When he mentions this to Shen Qingqiu one day, Shen Qingqiu merely raises his brows and says, “I have you, don’t I?”
The changes between them are not terribly… dramatic. They still argue, more often than not. Their disciples squabble too, though this has been organized as joint training exercises as of late.
Perhaps, when compared to all the other Peak Lords, it could be said that Shen Qingqiu tolerates Liu Qingge most.
(Shen Qingqiu does not vomit blood at the thought, but this is a near thing.)
“Qingqiu-shidi,” Yue Qingyuan says, cornering him after one of Peak Lords’ meetings, once all the others have left. He smiles, that same old placid smile that enraged him and made him despair all at once.
“What?” Shen Qingqiu snaps.
Yue Qingyuan hesitates, but only briefly. He places a hand on Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder. “I’m happy to see that you and Liu-shidi are getting along lately. I’m proud of you.”
Shen Qingqiu bats his hand away. “I didn’t do it for you,” he scoffs.
Yue Qingyuan still smiles. Foolish, awful Qi-ge. Always jumping to the worst sort of conclusions. “I’m happy nonetheless… I just hope that this change lasts.”
Shen Qingqiu flicks his sleeves and makes a very elegant escape, endlessly repeating Yue Qingyuan’s words in his head.
Unfortunately, everyone seems keen on pulling him into strange, unnecessary conversations this day. Somehow, he prefers Liu Qingge’s brand of nonsense to Yue Qingyuan’s as of late.
At least his troublesome shidi… proved useful. Until now.
Liu Qingge takes a hold of his sleeve and looks him in the eyes, gaze unflinching. It is so intense and strange that Shen Qingqiu is the first to look away, heat rising to his face.
“What,” Shen Qingqiu says weakly, “do you want?”
The sound of Liu Qingge’s swallow is very, very audible. His face grows red. “Don’t be mad at Yue Qingyuan,” he says.
Shen Qingqiu raises his brows. “Why?” he says scathingly. “Because you saw him die for me? No one asked him to do such a foolish thing.”
“Don’t… push him away,” Liu Qingge tries this time.
Shen Qingqiu sneers at him. “And why must I always be the one putting in the emotional labor?”
“You aren’t,” Liu Qingge says. How succinct. “He cares for you. You care for him. You could be… happy together.”
Shen Qingqiu shakes his head. He lets out a small sigh. And then, before he can think it through, he says: “He will be safest if he stays away from me.”
“You can’t honestly believe that,” Liu Qingge says.
Shen Qingqiu doesn’t even blink, so unimpressed with this.
“…you do.” Liu Qingge furrows his brows.
Shen Qingqiu crosses his arms over his chest, not at all liking the expression on Liu Qingge’s face. He opens his fan slowly and fans himself, if only to fill the silence.
“You push everyone away,” Liu Qingge says slowly. “Except for me.”
“How kind of Liu-shidi to notice,” says Shen Qingqiu.
Liu Qingge reaches out, taking Shen Qingqiu’s wrist in hand, stopping the movement of the fan. Again, he stares, gaze piercing. Unrelenting. So very bold. “Why?”
Ah. Shen Qingqiu had made a mistake. He had thought Liu Qingge to be smarter than this.
But Liu Qingge does not let go. His thumb strokes Shen Qingqiu’s wrist, right where his pulse can be felt. “I want you,” he says greedily. “I want to be yours. Confidant. Partner. Whatever.”
Shen Qingqiu forces a smile. His heartbeat grows faster—something that Liu Qingge would surely notice. “Oh?”
“And I wanted to know. Do you want me too?” Here, Liu Qingge looks away, the very tips of his ears reddened.
Shen Qingqiu wets his lips.
It’s this movement that catches Liu Qingge’s attention. He’s staring at his mouth.
It is within the halls of Qiong Ding Peak where the two have their first kiss. It is something clumsy, uncertain, with far too much teeth. Shen Qingqiu gasps when Liu Qingge’s arms wrap around his waist, drawing him close, until their bodies are pressed flush against one another.
Liu Qingge is warm and real and there.
Shen Qingqiu twirls a strand of the Bai Zhan War God’s hair and smiles when he steadily grows redder. “I’ll have you,” Shen Qingqiu says, voice low and husky. “But do not expect me to let go.”
Liu Qingge snorts, hugging him closer. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
In one lifetime, there was only tragedy.
In this lifetime, there would be something more.