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Wiping away your tears

Chapter Text

Luo Binghe was cleaning the senior disciple’s clothes. The others pushed him to do their laundry, so there he was, alone in a stuffy room scrubbing the dirt off white shirts and pants. His fingers were red from the steaming hot water and soap got in his eyes sometimes, but he continued to wash and clean. As he did, he felt something slip past his shirt collar and saw the jade pendant. He noticed it dangling past his shirt and held it. A bitterness grew on his young face.

Oh how history repeats itself. Even when he ventured onto the path of cultivation, his old life still seemed to latch onto his ankles and drag him back down. There were still chores to be done, laundry that needed to be cleaned. He was like his mother in that way, mirroring her life, or perhaps continuing it with what she experienced. The soap, buckets of water, the raw fingers and blunt nails. He had his hair up, pushing it aside and wiping the sweat that dampened his forehead. He thought entering the world of cultivation would make things different, but he was still here, cleaning and being ridiculed everyday. Not much had changed.

He didn’t even have a mother to lean on this time when he felt the tears sting his eyes. No, it was quite a lonely life with peers that hated you and an important figurehead that wants you out of his sight. He often would tell himself that simply wasn’t true. He would lie and lie, hoping that Shen Qingqiu would eventually be kind, but he never was.

He hoped that he would have friends one day, many, many friends... but no. None were too kind. He did have Ning Yingying, but she always did have other friends to run off to if she liked, leaving Binghe by himself, to clean more clothes.

And they weren’t the closest they could be. He doesn’t tell her his secrets, his sorrows, and his fears. He doesn’t tell her much really. Doesn’t think she would understand. So he keeps it all bottled up inside, softly crying in little spots out of sight... hiding while cleaning wounds.

So in the meantime, he lies to himself. Telling himself things like that all of this was just Shen Qingqiu’s teachings, that he was going to shape him into a great cultivator this way. Binghe desperately hoped that this was the case. That maybe all the lying to himself will mean something one day. That it’ll all be worth it.

Binghe finished the laundry, all washed now, just needed to be hung out to dry. He sighed. He seemed pretty safe in this dark shed, but someone might search for him if he didn’t hang up these clothes. And when they’d find him, they’ll teach him a lesson or two for not completing his chores. Binghe wished that if he didn’t show his face that they wouldn’t look for him.

The boy left the room, peeking here or there if there were any nearby disciples. Thankfully there were not, so he rushed out of the room with his basket full of wet clothes and searched for a good place to hang them to dry. He was running about, trying to be as stealthy as possible. He looked around, realizing perhaps the disciples were in class right now, so he most likely wouldn’t run into anyone.

He scurried down the halls then he suddenly froze in his step. He reached a corner where voices were walking by, and recognized them immediately as Peak Lord Shen Qingqiu and Sect Leader Yue Qingyuan. Yue Qingyuan sounded sullen again today, saying, “Shen Shidi, I came to ask for your assistance.”

“If you just want assistance, you could have sent a messenger over,” Shen Qingqiu snapped. His voice always had a kick of venom to it. “I don’t need to see your face, do I?”

“I just wanted to speak with you privately,” Yue Qingyuan replied, his words sounding dejected.

“Whatever you have to say, you can say it in front of others,” Shen Qingqiu huffed in annoyance, then the two sharply turned the corner and Luo Binghe jolted, seeing their eyes land on him. He was hoping to hang onto the wall so they wouldn’t notice him, but now there was no escape. They stood there, looking down at the boy.

He trembled a bit then placed the basket of laundry on the floor, crossing his hands as he answered, “S-Shizun!”

But Shen Qingqiu clicked his teeth in disgust, reached for Binghe and grabbed his collar. He yanked him about, facing Yue Qingyuan, “If you have anything to say, say it in front of both of us right now! Come on, do it!”

Yue Qingyuan paled, freezing in place. He glanced at the frightened Luo Binghe then to Shen Qingqiu and felt something ball up in his throat. He couldn’t speak. He averted his gaze and fled, leaving the two alone. Luo Binghe shivered in Shen Qingqiu’s grasp, but when he glanced up, all he saw was anger towards Yue Qingyuan in Shen Qingqiu’s eyes. He grit his teeth, then pushed Luo Binghe aside, letting go of his collar. His lividly glared at where Yue Qingyuan was, and he growled, “Coward.”

He departed in a blind seething rage, leaving Binghe who let out a breath of relief from that intense situation. He quickly picked up the basket and escaped the area, not sticking around in case Shen Qingqiu decided to come back.

He ran away outside to go hang up some clothes.

-

Classes had ended that day and Binghe was finally enjoying some food he had to sneak out from the kitchen. It was around evening when he was sitting under a windowsill, hidden from Ming Fan and his blockheaded gang. He was grateful that not many people paid much attention to him that day, so he casually drank some soup in the shadows. It was a good spot to hide if you stayed quiet cause there were plenty of bushes around you to conceal where you were.

He was slurping down his soup when he heard disciples above him. He stopped, waiting for them to leave, but instead those jerks leaned against the window’s railing, making Binghe stiffen. He sat there, patiently hoping they’d go away soon, but then they started talking, “Man, Shizun’s more high strung lately. You think it’s cause of that little shit?”

Binghe’s hands turned into fists. They were talking about him. What? Were they going to blame him for how Shen Qingqiu feels? How despicable.

“Yeah, definitely,” the disciple laughed. “Don’t know what the kid did to set him off, but he’s way more pissed off lately. Good thing he’s just narrowing down on the brat instead of us, am I right?”

Binghe’s eyes stung. They were all cowards. All of them. He didn’t want to make friends with any of these people.

“Well, it doesn’t help that his precious little head disciple is gone,” one sighed. “Is he coming back today?”

“I think it’s tomorrow,” the other answered. “Maybe tensions will decrease somewhat afterwards.”

“Hopefully,” the other muttered. “The air is too thick lately. I’d rather not see Shizun so upset all the time. He even smacked my fingers the other day with his fan when I passed a note to my shidi. He didn’t care about that stuff before.”

“It doesn’t help that the Sect Leader is coming over every other day to appease him,” one grumbled. “He might be what’s setting him off even more.”

“What did the Sect Leader even do?”

“What did any of them do?” the kid huffed. “It’s all a big mystery. One we’ll have to deal with until we become decent cultivators. Then maybe we can get out of here.”

Another voice from far off called them, saying, “Hey guys, dinner’s ready!”

“Coming, Shijie!” one of the disciples responded, nodding for the other to come with and they finally left.

Binghe breathed through his nose in irritation. They were finally gone, gossiping about whatever they pleased. The bastards. He grabbed his bowl and drank some. It had gone cold.

-

The following morning he was chopping up wood, but got caught up by Ming Fan and a friend of his. They kicked him around and laughed as he escaped. They chased after him for a bit, but he hid well in some shrubbery, managing to get away from them for now. When they finally gave up, he slunk away, going to the river to wash up his wounds. They made him bleed, so he had to clean it up to be presentable enough when going back. If not he would be harshly scolded for looking disorderly.

He washed the grime and dirt out of the scratches. It felt better when he put cold water on the cuts, but it wouldn’t be enough. Everywhere hurt yet again and he would have to sleep in a shed for another night, riddled with injuries. He was thankful that he healed quickly, but he was beginning to think maybe he should go to Qian Cao Peak when no one would realize he was gone. He wouldn’t tell anyone there how he really got these wounds, for if he did tell them the truth, he would most likely disgrace Shen Qingqiu and then the Peak Lord would really take it out on him. That would just spell out a whole heap of trouble.

But it’s also not like they can do anything anyways. In his eight months at being in Cang Qiong Mountain, and all his time here he has never seen Yue Qingyuan, the head of all sects reprimand Shen Qingqiu for his actions. So if the head sect master can’t do it, who else could?

He groaned when he put his bare leg in the cold water, feeling that it wasn't as comforting unlike how it was for the other wounds. It was more prickly and painful. He sighed, hoping one day he’ll learn how to become a very powerful cultivator, then he could run away from this place and never have to look back. But how long would that take? Five years? Ten? More? How tiring.

He was washing a big wound when he heard a noise. His head lifted up to that sound. Not like twigs breaking or footsteps, but something soft and different. He listened a bit more and realized that it was music. Calm and gentle music which came from across the stream.

It was delicate strings, playing up ahead. He listened to it for a while, his eyes slowly closing at the kindred sounds. Binghe looked ahead, curious who was playing such a tender song. He never got to hear anyone play music on the mountain for if they spotted him they’d chase him away. Curiosity was getting the best of him, so he fixed up his shirt and carried his boots across the river.

He tried to go about it quietly, not wanting to alarm the player. He got to the beach on the other side, and put his boots back on. Venturing deeper into the woods, he peeked over brush and branch to see who it was. It took him some time to find the player, but when he did, his eyes grew.

In the forest, a young man in white played the guqin. He sat on a wide stump atop a small hill as he practiced, his dark long hair falling delicately across his gentle features. It was held neatly in a bun, tied with a green ribbon, while the rest poured over his back and shoulders. Serene eyes gazed down at the guqin, watching his hands pluck each chord. His long fingers danced across the strings, playing a lovely tune. Sunlight bloomed above from the open canopy, raining down on him. His movements were slow and careful, but calm and peaceful.

Binghe watched in awe at this stranger strumming such a graceful tune. His eyes glowed with tranquility at this undisturbed scene. He did not recognize this person, but he realized he wore their sect’s uniform, white with green entails. They looked a few years older than him.

He held his breath as he listened to their music, hidden amongst the leaves. But soon, the song died down, and in that sunlight, the person’s smile grew. One of simple pride and delight. Binghe stared at this unfamiliar young man, but he did not say anything or approach. He listened to the nice music, but it was time to go. He wouldn’t want to take up this pretty person’s time any longer.

As he was stepping back to leave, his foot snapped on a twig. His heart jumped out of his chest at the noise and the person on the stump was also startled. They gripped their guqin, standing up and yelled, “W-Who’s there?!”

Binghe flushed, completely embarrassed. He was found! How awful! Why twig? You weren’t there before!

“Come out!” the person shouted. “Come on now!”

Binghe huffed then stood up from his hiding spot, very bashful from what was happening.

The stranger blinked at him, seeming surprised that he actually did come out. He watched him begrudgingly approach as he quickly apologized, “I am very sorry! I didn’t mean to lurk… I just heard your beautiful music and wanted to know where it came from. Many apologies!”

Binghe’s face grew a cold sweat. Maybe this person will hit them over the head as punishment. He deserves it for being so creepy...

But no, the person huffed, “Beautiful…?” he looked at his guqin, “This old thing? I’d say my music is subpar at best.”

Binghe’s face looked up as he stared slack jawed. He stated, “No, no! It was a very pretty sound, if I may say so. Ugh-!” He became reserved, “F-Forgive me for my impertinence.”

The stranger gazed at him, then said, “It’s fine. You just startled me is all.”

Huh? They weren’t mad?

The young man sat back down, picking at a couple of strings, “I didn’t think anyone would find me in such a secluded spot.”

Binghe fretted a bit, curiosity getting the better of him, “If I may ask, what is this senior disciple playing here for?”

The stranger awkwardly chuckled a bit, then confessed, “I haven’t been practicing much lately. I thought maybe I’d repolish my skills a bit before heading up the mountain so not to be scolded when I play up there.”

Binghe scooted closer to him, asking, “Is Shixiong a disciple of Qing Jing Peak?”

“Mm,” he nodded, peering to Binghe. “You are too, right? New face, hm? Come here and sit. There is enough room for two on this stump.”

“I…” Binghe worried. “I shouldn’t. It’s my Shixiong’s spot.”

The stranger smiled, one kind and amused, “Shixiong says it’s alright. Now come out of the dark and sit.”

Binghe nervously rang his hands for a moment then came to do what he was told. When he stepped out of the shadows the stranger glanced up at him, his eyes widening. He stared, his smile sank then he muttered, “Why... are you covered in scrapes? Did you fall?”

Binghe felt ashamed for being seen like this, this was not the sort of presentable appearance one should give to their new shixiong, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. He nervously laughed, trying to brush it off, “Ha, ha. Yes, this one fell. I can be quite clumsy.”

“Come here,” the older boy said, concern in his voice as he gestured for Binghe to move closer. Binghe timidly sat down and the shixiong gently grasped his wrist. But at that contact Binghe suddenly pulled away, though he wasn’t sure why.

He panicked, saying, “Sorry, sorry! I-uh- I got startled.”

“That’s okay,” the older boy replied, his eyes soft and good. “I was too sudden. Here. Give me your hand.”

He opened his hand out for Binghe, waiting for him to take it. Binghe was uncertain at first, but slowly let his hand fall into it. The stranger looked over his hand and at some scratches on his arm. He carefully examined them, then turned to Binghe’s face. That’s when Binghe really became startled by this shixiong’s appearance. He had such extraordinary green eyes, and round cheeks, even though his face was long. But his eyes showed no hostility, none at all. It was odd, if his expression was meaner, he might look like Shen Qingqiu. But it was too kind looking to resemble him. Binghe ignored that thought.

He gazed over Binghe’s face, noting all the bruises and scratches, saying, “That must have been one nasty fall. But it looks like you cleaned up some of it.”

“Yes, in a nearby river,” Binghe responded.

“Good, then you can use this,” Shixiong pulled away and took something out from the sleeve of his robe. It was a small capsule that he opened to show a sort of gel. “This is a very good medicine. You can use it on your wounds.”

“I-uh,” Binghe flustered, trying to refuse it. “It’s Shixiong’s medicine.”

“I don’t need it anymore,” he answered. “You use it, you need it more than I do. I promise it works. Here.” He took some of it and smeared it on top of Binghe’s hand. It didn’t immediately heal, but Binghe felt that it was slightly warm. Shixiong said, “Give it a few hours and all injuries will subside.”

He handed him the medicine, which Binghe gratefully took, saying, “Thank you, Shixiong. Thank you very much.”

“No problem,” he smiled. Binghe blinked at that smile, it was good hearted and sweet. Binghe uncomfortably shifted about for a bit, surprised that there was such a nice shixiong on Cang Qiong Mountain. But where has he been all this time? Binghe had never seen him in all the months he had been here.

Binghe started applying the medicine on all the wounds, but kept peeking up at the strange shixiong from time and time again. When done, the elder disciple said, “It’s best to get scratches healed as soon as possible. You don’t want to get them infected. Does this shidi think there are worse injuries from the fall? Should we go see Peak Lord Mu Qingfang?”

“Ah, n-no need,” Binghe averted his gaze. “This disciple will be fine.”

“Mm,” the shixiong nodded.

They sat there, in that peaceful spot for a moment when Binghe soon asked, “I have been here for some time but I have never met you. Where was Shixiong all this time?” It would have been nice to have a kind shixiong like him in the beginning. But maybe he would have turned out like the others if he was under Shen Qingqiu’s influence. That thought began to make Binghe feel anxious for this shixiong going up the mountain.

“I was away,” he answered. “I wanted to explore some of the world and all its wonders on my own for a bit, since I had been holed up in Cang Qiong Mountain for so long. So I decided to become a little bit independent and go traveling. I got to go as far as I could, met many interesting people, and saw many unique things. I have seen wondrous sights and faced ferocious monsters. It was all quite an experience.”

Binghe’s eyes lit up. That sounded like a lot of fun, he wanted to go. Maybe if he got on good terms with this shixiong, he could tag along on his next adventure!

But then Binghe stopped himself. Those fantasies were so sudden and childish, who says he could dream of such things?

Shixiong turned and hummed, “It was all quite fun. Maybe I’ll do it again in the future. But for now I thought it’d be best to come back home. It’s been so long afterall.”

“Hm!” Binghe nodded.

“What about you?” the shixiong questioned. “Is Qing Jing Peak suiting you?”

Binge stiffened and his fists tightened. He lied, “Yes, of course.”

“That’s good,” the shixiong gave a bright smile. Binghe felt so bashful under such an expression. This shixiong was really pretty.

But then the stranger seemed to realize something and he stated, “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve properly exchanged names yet. I am Shen Yuan.”

“Shen Yuan…?” Binghe muttered. It was such a simple, nice name. Binghe liked it.

Binghe felt a little excited and introduced himself, “My name is Luo Binghe!”

Suddenly Shen Shixiong made a loud cough, startling Binghe. He lunged forward, hacking at something, quickly growing pale. It frightened the boy, but Shen Yuan held up his hand, huffing, “L-Luo Binghe?”

“Yes…” Binghe trembled. What was this response? Did Shen Qingqiu tell Shixiong about him and how terrible of a student he was? Did he already know about him?

“S-Sorry,” Shen Yuan coughed a little more. “Something got in my throat. It tickled a bit.”

He had a nervous smile about him and a little bit of sweat, so Binghe suggested, “I could go fetch you water, Shixiong!”

“Uh, yes, good idea,” Shen Yuan feverishly nodded, pointing to his left. “There is a cart over there, it should have a water pouch on the front seat.”

“Okay!” Binghe called, obediently running to get it. He quickly found the cart and the pouch, rushing back to give water to his new shixiong. He watched his shixiong flinch on his return, but he thankfully took the water pouch and drank from it. Binghe watched him, seeing some drip down his chin and neck.

“Pwah!” Shen Yuan gasped as he pulled it away. He looked to Binghe, saying with a funny half smile, “Thanks.”

Binghe’s eyes widened but he curtly nodded, “Mm.”

“Ha,” Shen Yuan sighed. “Oh my, this shixiong troubled you a bit.”

“It’s no problem,” Binghe answered. No problem at all.

Shen Yuan hummed, “What a good little disciple.”

Binghe stared, honestly starstruck on how good natured this person was. They were so calm and serene, unlike anyone else on Cang Qiong Mountain. This was probably the first cultivator that was meeting Binghe’s expectations on what a cultivator should be like. Collected, coolheaded, and noble. It was extremely appeasing.

Shen Yuan turned and said, “So you said your name was Luo Binghe?”

“Mhm!” Binghe speedily answered.

“Okay, Binghe,” Shen Yuan chuckled. “How long have you been here?”

“Eight months!” Binghe replied as quickly as possible.

Shen Yuan’s hands tightened and he turned away, averting his eyes, “I-I see. Shame, Shixiong would have liked to have shown you around.”

“Uh…” Binghe’s head lowered and he remarked, “Well… this disciple doesn’t know everything about Qing Jing Peak. I am sure that there are places I am unfamiliar with.” Especially because no one took the time to show him around. “So this one would be grateful if Shixiong took care of him.”

“Ah, um, alright,” Shen Yuan looked back at him, giving a bit of a sorrowful smile. “I will have a lot of time when we get back. I will do so.”

“Y-Yes,” Binghe muttered.

They sat there for a little bit longer, noticing a squirrel run through some bushes and up a tree. Shen Yuan eyed Binghe for a moment then unsurely said, “Is… Is Binghe learning a lot?”

Binghe shuffled about, awkward with that question, but he answered, “Yes, many shixiongs and shidis are teaching me. And so is Shizun. He is very knowledgeable and wise.”

“... I see,” Shen Yuan appeared disappointed, his eyes dipping low and his expression saddening. Binghe didn’t know why.

“But I-um, no one has taught me music,” Binghe stated.

“Hm,” Shen Yuan nodded. “It can be difficult.” He looked at Binghe, holding out his old guqin, “Would Binghe like to try?”

“Huh?!” Binghe gasped. “N-No! I can’t possibly!”

“We all have to start somewhere,” Shen Yuan told him. “Here. Just practice some.”

“I…” Shen Yuan placed the guqin on his lap and waited. Binghe fretted for a bit, becoming hesitant. He looked to Shen Yuan, but he just nodded at him the go ahead.

He breathed in then out, placing his knubby fingers on the guqin, trying to be as delicate as possible. He didn’t know many songs, but he tried to just feel out a tune; one soft and slow. He was careful and diligent, trying it out in the heart of this forest. Shen Yuan watched him as he played, slow and methodical, and when he traced his final chord, Shen Yuan clapped. Binghe whipped around, startled, but Shixiong said, “Good job. Very good. You will learn easily.”

Binghe’s gaze grew in shock and he mumbled, “I… no…”

“Why not?” Shen Yuan tilted his head. “I am not amazing at guqin. But I’ll tell you that you are very good.”

“Wah… really?”

“Yes, really!” Shen Yuan nodded. “If you have more practice, you’ll be very good one day.”

Binghe stared then felt a little pull inside. He said, “Shixiong’s words are very kind.”

“Mm,” he didn’t take the guqin away, so Binghe let himself play one more song. It was amatuer and not very good, but Shen Yuan didn’t seem to mind, so Binghe would let himself take in this peaceful moment. It wasn’t until his song was over that his stomach suddenly growled.

Binghe flushed at that and Shen Yuan’s eyes popped open, looking towards him. He chuckled, “Hungry?”

“Eh… um…”

“Come with me,” he tilted his head to the cart where Binghe followed close behind, carrying the guqin. Once there, Shen Yuan reached inside, scrambling through stuff when he pulled out a sizable bundle. He unfolded it to show a few bread buns inside. He gestured for Binghe to come closer and gave him one, “For you.”

Binghe looked at the bun, seeing it was still a bit warm, fresh, and new. It wasn’t trampled on or old. It was a nice tasty bun. Shen Yuan added, “The sun is pretty high in the sky and I didn’t have breakfast, so let’s eat.”

Binghe bit his lip, feeling like his eyes were warm. He carefully took it and then gently bit into the bun. It… It tasted good. He didn’t know why, but it made him happy.

The two hung out by the cart for a bit more, eating and chatting. Eventually they were both sitting on the cart’s seat when Shen Yuan realized it was mid afternoon.

“Eughhh,” he grumbled. “I’m really late now. Oh well, I guess it’s okay. I’ll just say the horses were acting up or something.”

“You’d… lie to Shizun like that?” Binghe muttered in amazement.

“Hmph!” Shen Yuan proudly stuck his nose up in the air. “I can get away with it.” He looked to the path ahead and said, “Would Binghe accompany me back up the mountain?”

“Ah, yes!” Binghe exclaimed, and so the two slowly rode up the path, leisurely going uphill.

As they did, Shen Yuan remarked, “Ah, such a warm summer day. Pleasantly warm though, not like… humid.”

“Mm!” Binghe agreed, starting to swing his legs here and there.

“Maybe I’ll go swimming one day…”

“Swimming?!” Binghe gaped. “You-You are allowed to go swimming, Shixiong?”

“Sure,” Shen Yuan giggled. “I can get away with a bunch of stuff. That’s the perk of being head disciple.”

Binghe stared, “So... you’re the head disciple.”

“Mhm.”

Binghe blinked; he thought Ming Fan was the head disciple. So Shen Yuan will take over Qing Jing Peak one day. Binghe thought about it a bit more than smiled. Shen Yuan would make a good Peak Lord.

Shen Yuan noticed his smile, then noted, “What’s that for?”

“N-Nothing!” Binghe stammered.

“Hmm,” Shen Yuan contemplated then asked, “Binghe? We spent quite some time together today. Don’t you have classes?”

“Uh, um, yes…” Binghe answered.

“That’s no good, you should go to your classes when you can,” Shen Yuan replied.

But if he did then he wouldn’t have gotten to meet such a kind shixiong.

Binghe secretly grinned to himself that he was happy he hadn’t missed out on this opportunity. How lucky. He’d much rather spend his time like this instead.

They traveled up the mountain, eventually reaching the entrance to Qing Jing Peak. They went a bit further, the sun making the evening sky orange as they ventured on. Shen Yuan plopped a bag of cookies in Binghe’s lap and let the kid eat everything up. Binghe didn’t remember the last time he had sugar or if he ever had sugar. He was getting excited, very excited. Sugar tasted great!

Finally they reached the top, passing by a few fellow disciples, some noticing Shen Yuan and rushing off to tell Shen Qingqiu.

They reached his quarters, informing Ming Fan first who in turn went to his master, saying, “Shizun, Head Disciple Shen Yuan has returned.”

Shen Qingqiu gave a long sigh, “Ha, finally. He took longer than I expected.” He stood up and said, “We shall give him a proper welcome.”

They walked out to the wagon where they saw Shen Yuan ride up to them. Shen Qingqiu gave a prideful smile when he watched Shen Yuan stop, ready to address him when he noticed someone was sitting next to him. His eyes widened as he realized Luo Binghe was sitting beside his head disciple. The kid had just finished the cookies and was wiping his mouth of crumbs. The Peak Lord stiffened and paled, disturbed by the scene. Ming Fan was also shocked, startled into silence.

Shen Yuan lept out of his wagon and turned to Shen Qingqiu, crossing his hands and bowing, “Shizun, I have returned.”

Shen Qingqiu’s hand tightened on his fan, but he gave a strained smile, “Welcome back, Er zi.”

Shen Yuan winced at that and Luo Binghe fell off the cart when he tried getting off. Everyone flinched at the sudden action and Shen Yuan quickly rushed to his side, asking, “Binghe, are you okay?!”

His voice was soft and worrying, but Binghe quickly pulled himself up from that embarrassing stunt. He speedily nodded, though that didn’t take away Shen Yuan’s concerned look. Luo Binghe grew white as a sheet at the moment. Because he could have sworn the sect master just called Shen Yuan his son.

But that- that- please don’t let that be.

“Ah, Shizun,” Shen Yuan cleared his throat, a flush on his cheeks. “It’s been a whole year, so I’ve come back. I hope you are well.”

“I am,” Shen Qingqiu looked at Shen Yuan and Binghe together; he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

But for Binghe it was worse. There was a soft expression- on Shen Qingqiu! HIM! It was shown straight at Shen Yuan. It made Binghe feel a chill up his spine.

And that soft expression now revealed the similarities that mirrored Shen Yuan’s soft expressions, making it so that they now looked too much alike. It was very alarming.

Shen Qingqiu cleared his throat, “This master is appeased with your return. Come, we will discuss more inside.”

“Yes, Shizun,” Shen Yuan nodded, handing the cart off to a fellow disciple. Before he left he gave Binghe a little wave goodbye, then he was off. Binghe stood struck in amazement at what unfolded, but it didn’t last long when Ming Fan came charging at him. Binghe flinched, but Ming Fan just feigned his charge, giving a horrid little chuckle before marching off to follow his Shizun.

Binghe huffed, hoping that Shen Yuan would still like him after he was done talking with Shen Qingqiu.

Chapter Text

Shen Yuan returned to the Bamboo House with Shen Qingqiu. When there, they sat down and Ming Fan served them tea. When he finished pouring, he departed with a swift bow. The two were left alone to drink together and when they realized that, Shen Qingqiu noted, “You’ve grown.”

“I have,” Shen Yuan nodded.

“How were your travels?” he asked.

“Very good,” Shen Yuan replied. “Informative, educational, and adventurous. I got to see so many new things.”

“Did…” Shen Qingqiu’s words traveled a bit, but he cleared his throat when he finally questioned, “Did you ever get hurt?”

Shen Yuan’s eyes averted as he answered, “A few scrapes here and there, but nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“I see,” Shen Qingqiu stiffened, almost trembling, and then he finally muttered through his cup that may not have been heard to the untrained ear, “Missed you.”

Shen Yuan chuckled, “Missed you too, Baba.”

Shen Qingqiu glowed at those words. He shivered, put his cup down and quickly scooted over past the table to embrace his son. He couldn’t contain his parental affection anymore as he squeezed in a nice good long hug. Shen Yuan smiled, returning the hug, patting his back, “There, there. I’m back now.”

“Er zi must stay for a long time now to make up for all the time lost,” Shen Qingqiu grumbled.

“Promise, I promise,” Shen Yuan hummed. “This son will be good and help out on the mountain.”

“Good,” he pouted. “I was…”

“Lonely?” Shen Yuan questioned.

“No,” he sharply answered.

“Mhm,” he snickered.

Shen Qingqiu pulled back, rubbing his eyes from tears of joy that certainly weren’t there and trying to escape. He sniffed, “You will help out with the disciples’ teachings.”

“Yes, I will,” Shen Yuan nodded.

“And you will take them on trips down the mountain at times.”

“Mm, will do.”

“Alright,” Shen Qingqiu muttered. “This master wants to spend time in Lingxi Caves to cultivate. In the future, I want you to take care of Qing Jing Peak while I’m gone.”

“You’ll be leaving when I just got back?” Shen Yuan pouted.

But Shen Qingqiu quickly diffused it in a panic, “No, no! I’ll do it much later.”

Shen Yuan giggled, “Alright, Ba.”

Shen Qingqiu moved back to his seat to drink more tea, and that’s when Shen Yuan said, “Your little disciple is delightful.”

Shen Qingqiu stopped, his brow furrowing as he huffed. He knew which one Shen Yuan was referring to, but he wasn’t happy about it. He decided to play dumb, “Which one?”

“That Luo Binghe,” Shen Yuan replied. “He’s a little sweetie.”

“Hmph!” Shen Qingqiu breathed through his nose. “Don’t be so deceived. That one needs to know his place. He has much to learn before he even thinks about becoming a cultivator.”

“He seems like a quick learner,” Shen Yuan urged. “I let him play my guqin earlier and he was quite the natural.”

The master almost choked on his tea but composed himself, “The guqin... I gave you for your birthday?”

“Yes, that one,” Shen Yuan then looked a bit ashamed, but didn’t tell the truth how he ignored practicing on the instrument. He may have been a bit lazy while away. “I worked on my guqin a lot while I was gone. Ba doesn’t need to worry.”

“Well I shall listen to it later,” Shen Qingqiu nodded. “Just because you were off on your own adventure, that doesn’t mean you can slack on your schoolwork.”

“Come now, Ba,” Shen Yuan smiled. “You know I’m the best disciple you’ve ever had. I have higher marks than anyone else on the mountain.”

“Even so, you are my son,” Shen Qingqiu grunted. “It is best to keep the reputation of being the brightest, even when gone for months at a time. This Shizun does not wish to lose face.”

“Ba will never lose face because of me,” Shen Yuan chuckled. “I am too smart for that.”

His father smirked, “Hmph, over confident brat. Don’t let such shameless credence undo you.”

“It’s not shameless, it’s completely founded,” Shen Yuan said. “Qing Jing is the scholarly peak. We have the smartest students right after Qian Cao Peak. And I am above them all in every subject.”

“You truly are,” Shen Qingqiu sighed. “Even to this day, I am still impressed that my son excels in any work I give you. You are a protegee.”

Shen Yuan bashfully giggled, “Enough, enough. You are starting to embarrass me.”

“Is it wrong for a father to dote on their son?”

“No, no, but you dote too much sometimes,” Shen Yuan answered.

Shen Qingqiu also gave a small amused snort, then glanced outside to see that the sun was setting, “Have you eaten yet?”

“On the ride up,” Shen Yuan replied. “Luo Binghe and I had a really late lunch.”

Shen Qingqiu irked at that name again. He was trying to scrub it off of Shen Yuan’s mind when he was doting him. Oh well, he’ll do that more so later, “You have traveled far, you must be tired. You should retire for the evening.”

“Alright, Baba,” Shen Yuan smiled. “This son will rest now.”

He stood up to go to his room and before he went off, Shen Qingqiu fretted a bit, but then sheepishly called, “Good night.”

Shen Yuan stopped, looking back, then playfully grinned, “Good night~”

He finally got to his room which he noticed didn’t have a single speck of dust. Father must have cleaned it before he returned.

Shen Yuan’s face beamed and he internally screamed.

HE HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE PROTAGONIST OF PROUD DEMON IMMORTAL WAY!!!!!!

He became super giddy and excited. He talked to Luo Binghe! He talked to him! How cool!!!! And Binghe also said his name! Wow~! How awesome!!!

Shen Yuan wanted to do a funny little dance for his enthusiasm, but he didn’t want to be too loud or Shen Qingqiu would hear him. But omg! He really met him! Not like he was a fan or anything. But this was all real! He was beginning to think he wouldn’t run into Binghe, but he actually had the chance to meet him. Shen Yuan happily smiled, but then that smile became strained and drained. His face becoming pale and a sweat dampened his head.

But dear god, he took the worst time to go on his little nomadic trip. Ugh! Idiot! If he waited a couple more months then he may have prevented those nasty beatings. Shen Yuan you dummy! But it wasn’t like he knew when Luo Binghe was going to come over at Qing Jing Peak. He thought he had more time! He thought he could go explore the world and see all the cool monsters, then come back and wait for Binghe to show up. Ughhh! What bad timing!

Now he was way too late and Luo Binghe will surely go on to the path of a blackened protag that will completely burn down all of Cang Qiong Mountain. Damn it! He started hitting his head out of frustration. He really wished he timed that better! But the damage had been done! Aghhhh! Not good! If he doesn’t appease Binghe somehow, then everyone could die and maybe him too. He could become another cannon fodder. Oh boy, that’s not good at all. What does he do? What does he do?

He was also really disappointed in Shen Qingqiu. He thought all these years he spent with him would make him into a softer person. And he did seem soft with him, but seeing Luo Binghe’s state today… It seemed that Shen Yuan failed to make his adopted father anymore kinder to other people. And it doesn’t help that Shen Yuan never found out while reading that stupid book why Shen Qingqiu hated Binghe. And all these years spending time with the peak lord, he never figured it out then either. Shen Qingqiu was so tight lipped about his past. He never wanted to tell his son anything about it, no matter how open to the idea Shen Yuan was.

Damn, he failed hard there. But he had to clean up this mess. Make things better so Luo Binghe doesn’t make Shen Qingqiu into a human stick. Cause if he does…

[You will have failed your mission and will be exterminated]

Ah, fuck. The System.

“Come on, you know I’ll be working really hard,” Shen Yuan grumbled. “Shen Qingqiu has some kindness in him. Just look how he treated me for the past decade. There is still time for him to turn over a new leaf!”

[Kindness to you doesn’t equate to kindness for everyone]

“I know but…” Shen Yuan was feeling conflicted. He had been living with Shen Qingqiu for ten years now. And living with him, he did find that the man did have a heart. And when Shen Yuan was around, he was kinder and easier to get along with. But it seems whenever he is gone, the old man becomes bitter and disgruntled. Which shows that he hasn’t made too much progress outside the realm of Shen Yuan.

He never really understood why Shen Qingqiu picked him up that day. That day when Shen Yuan was so small and vulnerable. They did look similar, so maybe he couldn’t bear to see a kid like him in such a situation. But even when Shen Yuan asked about it, Shen Qingqiu would brush it off, saying that wasn’t important. It made Shen Yuan think that his appearance triggered something in his father about his past. But it was only speculation.

Shen Yuan sat down on his bed, sighing. What to do?

If Shen Qingqiu is already beating up Luo Binghe, then Shen Yuan needs to find a way to intervene. But not in a way for him to lose points. If he just marches into their living space where Shen Qingqiu is right now and demands for him to stop beating Binghe, that would be out of character in the System’s eyes and be a violation. And it’s not like he, Shen Yuan, would technically know about it. He has been gone for a whole year. And right now he also doesn’t have any evidence for it on how he would know. If he said Binghe told him, then that might harm Binghe more because then he would just be putting words in his mouth that weren’t there. Shen Qingqiu will just deny it and note that Shen Yuan has no proof besides words. You’ll need more than that to convict a Peak Lord.

He needs to find him in the act, or he won’t be able to threaten his father’s reputation to make him stop, which was his original plan. He’ll also use his sad son tears to make his father quit it. There, that’s a start. For if he doesn’t stop this soon, they’ll all be doomed!

-

Luo Binghe was lying wide awake in the woodshed, staring up at the ceiling. He was reflecting on that day as he thought.

Shen Yuan was Shen Qingqiu’s son.

He had no idea Shen Qingqiu had a son. All he heard about was the absent head disciple. It seemed like Ming Fan took his place while he was gone. Binghe stirred in the hay, grumbling. Shen Yuan was such a kind person. How could Shen Qingqiu raise someone so nice? It didn’t make any sense. Shen Qingqiu was harsh and cold. But Shen Yuan was friendly and warm. Wouldn’t he end up like a mirror copy of his father if he was truly raised by Shen Qingqiu?

Binghe hummed. Perhaps he was adopted. That’d make more sense. But then who were his parents beforehand? And if not, who is his mother? Is she dead? Is that why Shen Qingqiu is so cruel and unforgiving? Hmmm. He was curious, but he couldn’t do much for now.

He pulled up his hand to look at it. The scratches and bruises on it and everywhere else were healed. He wasn’t in any more pain. The capsule of gel that Shen Yuan gifted him was fairly full. It should last a few weeks maybe.

Binghe smiled, his eyes lowering, conscious drifting off to sleep.

Shen Yuan was a nice person.

-

The following morning, Shen Yuan went out to greet his fellow disciples and managed to meet Yue Qingyuan along the way. Shen Yuan’s eyes widened at the sect leader, hurriedly rushed over to do a quick bow and a fun smile. He beamed, “Sect Leader!”

Yue Qingyuan also brightened up when seeing Shen Yuan and smiled, “Shen Yuan, welcome back.”

The head disciple grinned, “It’s good to see you. I wanted to tell you that I have had many good travels while away.”

Yue Qingyuan glowed, saying, “That’s good to hear. I heard of your return and wished to say hello.”

“Mm!” Shen Yuan and Yue Qingyuan started walking together, when Shen Yuan said, “I had quite a lot of fun while away, but what about Sect Leader? Have things gotten better?”

Yue Qingyuan immediately became sullen with a depressed smile, “Unfortunately no. Sect Master Shen Qingqiu has grown even more discontent with me while you were gone.”

“Aw…” Shen Yuan pouted. What the hell? He thought they were easing up to each other more. He thought that his year-long journey would be a great opportunity for them to have some alone time while he was off. He couldn’t be the third wheel forever. But it seems that they still have quite a lot of work to do. He was hoping to come home to see Shen Qingqiu and Yue Qingyuan having their issues resolved and wishing for blessings on their future marriage. Bummer.

“What did you do?”

“Ah well…” Yue Qingyuan mumbled. “I suppose it’s because I didn’t do anything, that he is unhappy.”

Hm, cryptic. This was no good, these two always circled around each other. And if Shen Qingqiu is beating Luo Binghe, then that is even more self destructive. And if Yue Qingyuan isn’t interfering like he was in the book, then this could definitely be a problem. Maybe even Shen Qingqiu wants Yue Qingyuan to interfere.

Shen Yuan sighed. He did like Yue Qingyuan, but over the years he’s noticed that he was kind of spineless when it came to Shen Qingqiu and now Shen Yuan. But he didn’t know how to resolve this spinelessness because he never told the boy where it stemmed from. How frustrating.

Yue Qingyuan fretted and said, “Well, come up to my sect whenever you wish to share a conversation and some tea.”

“Huh?” Was he leaving already? “Don’t you want to greet Master Shen Qingqiu?”

Yue Qingyuan looked nervous and instead muttered, “Perhaps next time. I am in a hurry, I will see you again.”

Shen Yuan breathed through his nose and waved off the sect master. Fine, he’ll work on him later. He should focus more on Luo Binghe for now.

He started walking off when suddenly a little lady ran into his side. He oofed and turned to see it was a smiling Ning Yingying. She was giddy as she hugged him, saying, “Shixiong~!”

“Shimei,” Shen Yuan smiled. Ah, if it wasn’t one of the protag’s little wives. She’s so small and cheeky. Even though she’s kind of a ditz and airhead, Shen Yuan and Shen Qingiqu both equally dote on her. Shen Yuan sometimes wonders if Ning Yingying is Shen Qingqiu’s favorite disciple rather than him. But oh well, she’s like a little sister to Shen Yuan.

She grabbed his hands and pulled him about, bouncing while asking, “Where has Shixiong gone to? Where did you travel?”

“Oh?” Shen Yuan giggled, letting her steadily stop her silly excitement. “I went to many places, fought many things. There is so much to tell.”

“Ooh!” she gasped. “You should tell everyone at once! Like storytelling!”

“Storytelling?” he thoughtfully smiled. “I could do that.”

“Yes! Yes!” she grinned. “Everyone will get to hear it at once! Me, A-Luo, and all the other disciples want to hear them too!”

Shen Yuan turned to her at that, playing dumb, “A-Luo? Who’s that? A new friend?”

“Mm!” she nodded. “He’s very nice and sweet! Shen Shixiong will like him!”

“Glad to hear,” Shen Yuan patted her head which made her happy. “I’ll find a way for everybody to hear my stories. There are many to tell.”

“Okay!” she smiled then bounced away, “I have studying to do. Bye bye, Shixiong!”

He waved her away, heading down the hall when he saw a disciple trip, spilling scrolls everywhere. Shen Yuan quickly went to their aid when he noticed along the way that no one else was stopping, they just whispered, giggled and passed.

Luo Binghe dropped all the scrolls. He didn’t mean to. Just one of the disciples tripped him and he couldn’t catch himself on time. But the worst part of it all was that these scrolls were part of the library and were supposed to be handled with care. When Shen Qingqiu hears that he dropped precious scrolls, he will certainly get another horrible lesson. And with all these people here, someone will surely tell on him. He started begrudgingly picking them up, feeling tears sting his eyes, threatening to come out when he saw movement up ahead. For a split second he panicked, because he thought it was an older disciple coming over to kick him for his mistake. But then he looked up and saw the person bend down to where he was, and he realized it was Shen Shixiong.

His mouth fell in surprise at the sight of him, and he watched as the elder disciple noticed who he was, gave him a quick smile, starting to pick up the scrolls. Binghe’s skin jolted and he called in confusion, “Shen Shixiong?!”

“Hello Binghe,” he replied, now carrying some of the scrolls.

“Y-You don’t have to help me with that!” Binghe panicked. If people started saying he made the head disciple pick up scrolls off the ground, and that word got to Shen Qingqiu, Binghe would be royally screwed!

Shen Yuan blinked and said, “It’s okay. This is too much for you to carry anyways. I’ll help.”

No, no, no! Shen Qingqiu’s favored son should not do such tedious tasks, “I got them!” Binghe yelped, all flustered. He grabbed Shen Yuan’s sleeve to get him to stop as he dreaded, “I dropped them! I should carry them! Shixiong doesn’t need to do such things!”

Shen Yuan then shushed him, saying, “Not so loud now.” He looked to the other disciples that were loitering nearby, watching the scene. When their eyes met, he gave them a quick glare and their faces fell, rushing out of there. He turned back to Binghe again and gave him a reassuring, comforting smile, “It’s okay. I want to help.”

He took his arm full of scroll and stood, then held out a hand. Binghe stared at it and Shen Yuan told him, “Come on now.”

Binghe gulped, then slowly, cautiously took the hand, letting Shen Yuan pull him up. When Binghe stood, Shen Yuan adjusted the scrolls, saying, “Are you taking these to the library? I’ll join you.”

Binghe flushed, then timidly muttered, “Yes… They go to the library…”

“Okay, come on then,” Shen Yuan nodded, gently leading Binghe in that direction. They carried the scrolls down the hall, being seen by so many disciples along the way. Binghe paled, anxious about what events will unfold after this situation. He took a small peek at Shen Yuan and saw someone with a very calm aura, at ease on where he stood.

Binghe grumbled, he wished he could also be as relaxed as him.

But when he glanced at his shixiong, his envy dwindled as they passed long spanding windows and the morning light caressed his face, dancing through his hair. He couldn’t help but stare.

Shen Yuan suddenly asked, “Did the medicine help?”

Binghe was caught off guard but quickly answered, “Y-Yes, Shixiong!”

“That’s good,” he nodded, his smile soft. “I’m happy.”

Binghe’s chest stirred with something foreign in him. He didn’t know what to expect from this shixiong, but he was glad he was still properly talking to him. Shen Qingqiu mustn’t have said anything bad about him which made Binghe relieved. But he could still say something in the future that would deter Shen Yuan.

They reached the library and carefully put the scrolls back. Shen Yuan hummed, “You sure do read a lot.”

“Mm,” Binghe responded, though that wasn’t true. He was made to bring the scrolls back when his fellow peers were finished with them. They are supposed to bring them back themselves, but they pushed Binghe to do it instead. There was an upside to this thankfully, for he never immediately took them back to the library, but hid and read them as quickly and constructively as possible, then brought them back.

“Here,” Shen Yuan picked up a few books and gave them to Binghe in surprise. “These are good starter books, it helps new disciples like yourself.”

Binghe stared at the books then at Shen Yuan, saying, “But Shizun doesn’t want new disciples checking out books.”

“Huh?” Shen Yuan questioned. “When did that rule get placed?”

Binghe looked down. If Shen Yuan didn’t know about the rule, then it was probably put in place around the time Binghe came here. He blindly believed it because Shen Qingqiu and all the other disciples agreed that that was the truth. He didn’t ask Ning Yingying cause she was so ignorant to things that he knew she would complain to Shen Qingqiu, then he wouldn’t take away the rule but enforce it on everyone and not just Binghe. Then everyone would retaliate on Binghe for it affecting all of them.

That’s what Shen Yuan knew what was going on in Binghe’s head. Shen Qingqiu made up that rule that he didn’t enforce on the other new disciples, just Binghe. To make him suffer in every possible way, even academically.

Shen Yuan’s expression soured but he shook it off, telling Binghe, “Well, I can check out those books and you can just hold on to them.”

Binghe blinked, amazement in his eyes, “Really, Shixiong?”

“Mhm,” Shen Yuan smiled, feeling pretty proud of himself. No one should be stripped away of their education, so Shen Yuan thought it’d be best to give the protag a helping hand in that department too. “This shixiong wants everyone to get good marks. Also, if you are confused by any parts, just ask. I’m used to tutoring the disciples on Qing Jing Peak.”

Binghe’s hands tightened around the books, his heart and face swelling with warmth as he abruptly bowed, “THANK YOU, SHIXIONG!”

Shen Yuan flinched, going over to him, saying, “Come, come, lift your head. And no need to raise your voice in a library. Your fellow peers are studying.”

“I’m sorry,” Binghe mumbled, but glanced up at Shen Yuan, feeling nothing but gratitude for him.

“Okay, good,” Shen Yuan chuckled. “I’ve got to go now. I’ll see you later.”

“Yes,” Binghe nodded. Shen Yuan hummed, and walked off with a wave. Binghe was glowing at their interaction, but then a thought blipped in his mind. He thought Shen Yuan was coming to the library to study or check out a book. Why did he leave empty handed?

-

That night, in a large room, Shen Yuan was telling stories to any disciple on Qing Jing Peak that wanted to listen, which may have been over a hundred. It wasn’t just Qing Jing Peak, apparently there were a few innocent party crashers from other peaks that joined the session. Shen Qingqiu was also there, quietly and modestly encouraging his son’s stories. Binghe and Ning Yingying were sitting in front as they watched Shen Yuan animatedly tell his adventures.

He had gone on about a deadly 50 foot long serpent in a forest who ate all travelers that dared to come inside. He narrowly avoided the monster and tricked it to fall down a ravine, killing the beast. He got rid of resentful ghosts that haunted an old residence who’s wails could be heard for miles. And also fell into a Spider Head’s nest that he escaped thanks to an ember talisman which he was using to stoke flames for a campfire. It burned away the webs and snuffed out all the small fry demons, helping him survive.

He showcased various objects from his adventures, some were like the ember talismans, but others were an ivory pendant, gifted to him from a monk he traveled with briefly and saved from a three headed demon. One was a small vase that once held the curse of the Faraway King who was cut up into bits and scattered across the land. It was filled with so much resentment that it caused chaos to any town that possessed one. But Shen Yuan got rid of the remains in this one and any spirit that resided inside.

He also described a forest of glowing trees. That on a certain night of the year, the trees would shine white at midnight. It was quite the spectacle. Then there was the River of Lost Worlds, which legend says if a lost soul enters and looks down, they will see a reflection of themselves, but differently. Someone who is them, but has lived a different life in a different place.

One disciple called, “What did you see?!”

Shen Qingqiu snipped and shushed them, but Shen Yuan was happy to answer, “What did I see? Well it’s the strangest thing. When I looked down, I had no reflection!”

Everyone in the room gasped with amazement, truly enthralled by his stories. Shen Qingqiu blinked with a hint of confusion. He quietly became thoughtful.

“Then there was the Echo Pit,” Shen Yuan stated. “A hole in the ground that has a strange phenomenon. You talk into it and it replies back with your voice in words you are supposed to say in the future!”

Everybody ooed and awed, Ning Yingying unable to control her excitement, asking, “What did it say?! What did it say?!”

Shen Yuan straightened up and with a menacing gleem he said, “I spoke into it. My words exactly this: ‘Can you talk to me? I wish to speak with you. I’ve heard about you.’ It then responded with my voice, ‘Look at them. Look at the fireflies. Isn’t this beautiful?’”

They all blinked, clearly confused yet intrigued.

“What does it mean?” Ning Yingying questioned.

“I don’t know,” Shen Yuan responded. “It’s just something I’m bound to say in the future supposedly.”

One other disciple called, “But since you now know the words and you said them now. So maybe this is the future you were supposed to say them in.”

“Perhaps,” Shen Yuan speculated. “But I did tell this story to others as well. Maybe since those words have been deemed as important, I will just subconsciously think that they mean something great when I actually say them genuinely.”

They murmured between each other, curious on what it all meant.

“The locals said that when their futures came to pass that they did say those exact words,” Shen Yuan explained. “That they didn’t even realize at the time they were saying those important words until days later. So I’m not sure, but it sounds interesting.”

“Did you say anything else?” Ming Fan loudly called from the back, getting a scolded look from Shen Qingqiu.

“Yes actually,” he answered. “I said, ‘What do you mean? What fireflies? Is it something important? Should I be worried?” He cleared his throat, continuing, “And it responded, ‘It’s okay. You’ll be okay. I… I’m sorry. So sorry.’”

Shen Qingqiu’s back straightened at those words, perplexed by such a statement.

Shen Yuan described, “When it mimicked my voice it sounded tired. So I suppose there is someone that I will have to apologize to in the future.”

“They almost sound sad,” Ning Yingying muttered.

Shen Yuan shrugged, “I’m sure it’s nothing. I talked to it more, but I just got a bunch of nonsense. So nevermind.” He looked outside and saw that it was rather dark out there, “Hm, there’s so much to say, but these stories have been going on for long enough.”

Shen Qingqiu also glanced out to see how late it was and cleared his throat for everyone to hear, “Head Disciple is correct. Everyone has studies in the morning.”

They all childishly groaned, getting up to make way to leave. Everyone started filtering out, even Shen Qingqiu retired early, telling his son good night. Shen Yuan nodded, getting papers and artifacts that he gathered as souvenirs from his adventures back into a satchel. But amongst the crowd, there was a straggler who gazed at Shen Yuan with wide eyes that shone in admiration. Binghe’s attention was completely enraptured by Shen Yuan’s stories and he was dying to ask more about it.

In the meantime, while Shen Yuan was packing up his stuff, he found that he was rather pleased with himself. He felt like he could gloat for days about how his stories were far better than anything Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky could make. He should have been the one to write Proud Demon Immortal Way instead of that hack!

He was absentmindedly humming to himself when he glanced up to see that everyone was gone, except for the fidgeting Luo Binghe. His eyes widened at that, but then he straightened himself up, asking, “Luo Binghe? You’re still here. It’s rather late, don’t you think?”

Binghe fretted but then steeled his nerves, “I- um, I liked your stories!”

Shen Yuan blinked and felt his inner self screaming with delight! Haha! Take that you stupid author, even your own creation likes my stories better! OMG Luo Binghe likes my stories better! Ahhhhhhhhhh!

Wait- he’s not fangirling. That’d be ridiculous. He knew Binghe was a good character, but there was no need to get overly excited over something like this. That’d be silly!

He cleared his throat and decided to give off his smile he uses quite often, “Thank you, Binghe.”

The little disciple approached him, saying, “I especially like the ones where you fought or tricked monsters from far off lands. That was really cool!”

“Cool even,” Shen Yuan chuckled, feeling a bit bashful from praise of the soon to be stallion protagonist.

“Mhm!” Binghe nodded. “The Spider Head one was the most intense. It sounded really scary.”

“Well,” Shen Yuan decided to embark on some wisdom on this young mc. “If you just keep a level head and a cool calm, then you can prepare for even the scariest of situations.”

Binghe immediately bookmarked that in his head, favoring the words of advice that this kind shixiong willingly gave him. He got to the table that Shen Yuan was behind and said, “I want to go on such adventures like that one day.”

Shen Yuan’s lips tugged at the sides and he gently brushed Binghe’s nose, “Well you have to grow older and stronger to go out like that alone. Those places can be quite dangerous, so one needs to be prepared.”

“But how old is Shixiong?” Binghe questioned. “I’m thirteen, but Shixiong seems a few years older than me. You are young but you are allowed to go on such adventures.”

“Yes well I practically begged Shizun to let me go,” Shen Yuan answered. “My insistence made him cave in to eventually giving me some independence. But it was also thanks to being a prodigal disciple, that I gained his trust that I’d be safe enough out there.” Actually that was like- half true. Shen Qingqiu thinks that Shen Yuan is a prodigy and mature for his age, but the truth is that Shen Yuan was a transmigrator who was born in this world and gained consciousness of his past self when he was around three or four, when he began living alone. So when Shen Qingqiu found him, he was a twenty something soul in a six year old body. And also, even though he was certainly learning new things by being a disciple, he already had a lot of beforehand knowledge since he read the book. So he kind of had a cheat, but Shen Qingqiu just thought he was naturally gifted, which helped a lot in the long run because he trusted Shen Yuan just knew what he was doing, which he does!

Shen Yuan then answered, “But this shixiong is sixteen going on seventeen in a month or so.”

Binghe thought about it then said, “What if I work really hard, and when I grow up more, I can also go on adventures?”

Shen Yuan amusingly hummed, but deep down was saddened with the thought that Shen Qingqiu might not let Luo Binghe freely walk around like that. Considering how much he has abused the boy. He’d want to get rid of him by throwing him down the Abyss. And since his attitude towards Binghe hadn’t changed even with Shen Yuan’s influence, then it was still very likely that Shen Qingqiu would make him go down there. Shen Yuan had to feign ignorance, feeling bad for the kid, “Hm, maybe?”

“If-If I do,” Binghe reservely muttered. “And if Shen Shixiong wants to go on a trip, could I accompany you?!”

WHOA! Shen Yuan blinked, not expecting that? Binghe wanted to go traveling with him? Why? They hardly know each other? But he didn’t want to diminish the little guy’s spirits. He must already be depressed from being treated so harshly on Qing Jing Peak so he said, “You wish to accompany me? Well, I don’t mind, but we’ll have to see in the future. I might take another adventure then, but it’s unforeseen for now.”

“But it’s still possible?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Shen Yuan answered. “But maybe Binghe wouldn’t want to go on a trip with me by then.”

Binghe contemplated, then shook his head, saying, “No, I think I would.”

Hm, okay? Was his stories really that moving that Binghe couldn’t wait to release his adventurous spirit? He supposed Binghe did battle a lot of things in the original novel… but this just felt a bit off.

Shen Yuan then had a lightbulb in his head and he realized of course Binghe would want an excuse to leave! He’s being beaten up so much on this peak that he must be looking for a way out. Well now Shen Yuan had to think of a way to make another trip, though Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t be letting him go anytime soon. But it might also be a good idea to get Binghe off the mountain cause then if Shen Yuan somehow convinces him to not come back then he won’t fall into the Abyss because he won’t be participating in the Immortal Alliance Conference! Oh Shen Yuan, you’re so smart! And then this way Shen Qingiqu also won’t become a human stick and Shen Yuan won’t get eliminated by the System. High five!

[No]

Huh? What do you mean no? This is so smart. The story can still take another turn, Binghe doesn’t have to go through the absurd and depressing suffering that the Abyss would put him through. Like it was so ridiculous how Airplane Shooting Towards the Sky would make this kid hurt that much just so he can blacken him. Pwah, not all that absurdity is needed.

[Then who will be his antagonist when he blackens in this obscured way that you are suggesting]

He didn’t know! There are plenty of terrible people in the world, just have Binghe fight one of those cannon fodders!

[Binghe must fall into the Abyss or you will be deducted 100,000 points]

Shen Yuan’s face paled.

100… 000 points…? That’s-That’s impossible…

[Luo Binghe must fall into the Abyss]

Shen Yuan glared at the System. Even if they went on a trip and just happened to be too late to the Immortal Alliance Conference? He didn’t need to do it that year. He’ll only be seventeen!

But the System was adamant and said in its most serious voice [Luo Binghe must fall into the Abyss]

Shen Yuan’s face averted away, upset at what this stupid System was suggesting.

“Shen Shixiong…?” he blinked and saw Luo Binghe looking up at him, trying to get his attention. “Are you feeling well?”

Shen Yuan looked away and just laughed it off, “Um, yes, this shixiong was just thinking of things, I apologize.”

Binghe stared then said, “Shen Shixiong must also be tired. Forgive this disciple from keeping you awake.”

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” he assured. “Let’s go rest now.” He grabbed his satchel, him and Binghe separated, leaving Shen Yuan with his own thoughts to deal with.

Chapter Text

There were blurry images all around him. His stomach was twisted in knots from hunger and he was tired. There was dirt all over his clothes and body. His skin was dry and irritated, his hair was a mess. He sat there on the wall of the street, watching people walk by. He was so sleepy, he just wanted to close his eyes. As they were drifting, in the blur he saw a pale silhouette. It slowly approached him, calling, “Child… Child… Look at me…”

Shen Yuan’s eyes fluttered open. He woke up in the darkness of his room, it was still too early in the morning, black outside. He grumbled and rolled around, feeling the exhaustion creep in, carefully taking him back to sleep.

-

The following morning, Shen Yuan sat up, stretching with a large yawn. He hummed, hair strands all over the place. He groggily opened his eyes and looked out of his room to see birds singing. He smiled, a pleasant tune poured into his ear that he played on his lips. He softly nodded and stood up from his bed, stretching and feeling rather rejuvenated. Shen Yuan went to his night dresser for a brush to fix up his hair and freshen up a bit.

He dressed in his disciple attire and pulled up his hair with a green ribbon. He smiled at his reflection in a mirror and was pleased with what he saw. He noticed a long time ago that his face resembles Shen Qingqiu’s a lot, but still had some similar features to his first face. It was pretty, but even until this very day he never knew why the System gave him such a face. He did speculate of course, like when seeing this face for the first time that Shen Qingqiu got insecure about seeing a kid that looked so much like him out on the streets, but was that really the only reason?

Shen Yuan sighed, it will be tough having a face like this in the future because if he was kind to Binghe while Shen Qingqiu was cruel, that might mix things up in a weird way for the poor kid. And whenever he achieves immortality, he’ll basically be around the same age as Shen Qingqiu which’ll be odd, but it probably won’t be too bad.

Shen Yuan shrugged and left the room as he saw that Shen Qingqiu was already out for that day. Hm, so if there wasn’t much else to do, Shen Yuan thought it’d be best to go visit Yue Qingyuan for that spot of tea he promised. But first, he wanted to get something to eat.

He left the house, peacefully walking to the kitchen. He traversed through the thickets of bamboo groves and soft morning sunlight. Along the way, he thought about Luo Binghe.

To make it so that Shen Qingqiu doesn’t become a human stick and that Shen Yuan got terminated by the System, he had to make it so that Binghe didn’t become too hateful. One way to fix that problem is to obviously make it so he doesn’t live in the woodshed anymore. But Shen Yuan didn’t know where to put the kid. He probably shouldn’t be sleeping in the same dorms as Ming Fan, then the brat would just be able to torment him even easier. Maybe he could live in the bamboo house. Shen Yuan thought about that and shook his head. No, that’s even worse. No way would Binghe want to live near Shen Qingqiu, and no way would Shen Qingqiu allow Binghe to sleep under the same roof as him. What to do? What to do? Shen Yuan was unsure.

In all honesty, the best solution was to just build him a new place to live. But he didn’t know how to construct a building.

Then a thought popped into his head and he wondered maybe Binghe should just leave Qing Jing Peak altogether and perhaps go under Liu Qingge’s tutelage. If he goes there, he will become strong and such. And he won’t be bothered by Qing Jing Peak anymore. That would be good. Good idea!

Shen Yuan made his way to the kitchen when he saw that it was fairly empty except for some clattering. He couldn’t tell where the noise was coming from this early in the morning but believed that it was behind the counter.

“Hello?”

There was an eek and someone hit their head on the bottom of the counter. They pulled themselves up and both of them made eye contact. Speak of the devil, it was Luo Binghe.

“Ah, Shen Shixiong!” Binghe gasped.

Shen Yuan blinked then called, “Binghe? Whatcha doing?”

“I- uh!” he flustered then pulled himself up, eyes spinning as he slammed a bowl on the counter with franticness. “I was going to make congee!”

“I-oh?” Shen Yuan muttered. No way! Luo Binghe’s legendary cooking. Wow~! It would be cool to try some, but Shen Yuan wasn’t going to ask for food from his younger disciple. He nodded then said, “Well this disciple is just here to just grab something quick to eat.” What would be quick? Maybe he could make some congee too. Though sometimes disciples pick lychee downhill, perhaps they left a bowl somewhere.

Binghe looked around then said, “Uh I could make you a bowl too!”

Shen Yuan’s head whipped around as fast as lightning, but then he quickly composed himself, trying not to look too eager. Wahhh, will he get the opportunity to try the protagonist’s famous congee, oh whoa!

He replied, “I don’t want to take up your time.”

“It won’t take too long,” Binghe remarked, quickly fetching the ingredients. Shen Yuan stood there, unsure whether to wait or come back later. But when he saw Binghe’s serious furrowed brow as he started prepping the congee and getting down to business, Shen Yuan couldn’t help but watch and smile. He leaned on the counter, gazing at him as Binghe rushed as fast as he could to make the congee and to do it right. He was running around everywhere, focusing super hard as he added ingredient after ingredient, but then he heard a giggle. He whipped his head up and saw Shen Yuan leaning over the table, looking down at the bowl of congee and then at the boy.

He cooed, eyes green like meadows on a summer day, “You work so hard.”

Binghe’s hands tightened, gaze averted and he muttered, “Shixiong must be hungry, so I must.”

Shen Yuan hummed and raised his hand. He gently brushed away a loose strand of hair off of Binghe’s face, catching the disciple off guard. He quickly looked at Shen Yuan, seeing an expression of kindness and the shixiong said, “This one is fine.”

Binghe’s heart swelled, uncertainty tugging at every feature. Words slipped out before he could stop them, “Why is Shixiong so kind?”

He shut his mouth, afraid he ruined whatever was going on between them but Shen Yuan actually looked surprised, “Huh? Me, kind?”

What? He didn’t realize? Binghe couldn’t believe it.

As for Shen Yuan, he assumed Binghe would think Ning Yingying was kinder than him.

“Yes, kinder than anyone else on this peak,” Binghe affirmed.

Shen Yuan’s brow raised and he knew Binghe was getting beaten up by others and would resent everyone else besides Ning Yingying, but Binghe was a white lotus. Wouldn’t he constantly be wary of everyone and thinking the worst of them? Shen Yuan muttered, “I can’t be the kindest…”

“You are, truly!”

Ah- how naive. This must just be the innocence of a child to be so trusting. Binghe, they’ve only known each other for a couple of days, what if Shen Yuan was just secretly being manipulative? You should keep those options open too!

Shen Yuan thought for a moment then said, “I am like this with everyone. I suppose it is just who I am.”

Binghe’s eyes widened and a bitterness stirred in his chest. He looked away, causing Shen Yuan to think Binghe must have come to those assumptions. He plans to be kind to Binghe, but won’t Binghe be untrusting of all-male disciples by the time he is blackened? Maybe he should have been reborn as a girl to help him survive in the future, but then that would immediately put him into Binghe’s harem and he was not about that hot dumpster fire of a life. Plus, being reborn as a girl would be really weird and he is not one to want to face the giant sky pillar!!!

Binghe huffed. So Shen Yuan was like this with everybody? He felt that it was slightly unfair and he sensed a sort of irritation scratching inside him.

Shen Yuan looked at the young shidi, calling, “Binghe? Binghe?”

Binghe blinked, facing Shen Yuan’s expression that was one of genuine worry. Thin eyebrows knitted in concern, lips in a delicate frown. Binghe couldn’t help but be entranced. He answered, “I’m fine. This congee is almost done.”

They waited for a few moments longer and soon it was ready. Two steaming bowls of congee. Luo Binghe looked up at Shen Yuan with anticipation and the shixiong slowly brought the spoon to his lips. His first thought was;

Oh my god.

Holy shit, it’s so good. This is incredible! Oh god, he tried the hero’s cooking! It tastes so good~! Mhmmmmmm!!! He loved it! Whoooo-hoooo!!!!

He beamed from the flavor and texture. And oh gosh, the smell was delectable! Geez, it was amazing~~~

Binghe saw his open expression and gave a large smile. He had to ask, though he could tell that he was enjoying it, “Does Shixiong like it?”

“Mm,” Shen Yuan nodded. “The flavor is very nice. It is very good, Binghe.”

Binghe glowed from such praise and seeing Shixiong clearly savoring the taste, it made him explicitly happy!

Shen Yuan encouraged, “You’ll surely make someone very happy with this one day.” Eluding to his four hundred wives.

Binghe thought then turned away, stating as he gazed into the bowl, “I’m content on making someone happy today instead.”

Shen Yuan lifted a brow. What could he mean by that?

-

After breakfast, Shen Yuan went to visit Yue Qingyuan and Binghe was chopping up firewood with Ning Yingying on the side. They were alone, but he was too busy fulfilling his chores to pay much attention to her. She was chatting about something, mostly to herself until he heard, “And it’s nice to have Shen Shixiong back!”

Binghe turned around and asked, “You know Shen Shixiong as well?”

“Yeah!” she grinned. “Shixiong is kind and helps with studies. I’m fairly smart myself, so my marks aren’t bad one bit, but sometimes I do ask Shixiong for help. Especially when it comes to music and swordsmanship!”

Binghe stared; Shixiong was quite skillful in all fields.

She hummed, “He’s the best tutor on Qing Jing Peak, and he is so calm, kind, and patient with everybody that he became super beloved!”

Binghe looked away, wondering if he had to be the best at everything to be loved.

… Or did he just have to be Shen Qingqiu’s son?

He questioned, “So who is his mother?”

“Hm?”

“I heard Shizun call Shen Shixiong his son,” Binghe replied. “They’re father and son, so who is his mother?”

“Oh, Shixiong doesn’t have a mother,” Ning Yingying shook her head.

Huh? Did he- Did he lose his mother too?

“Shixiong was adopted by Shizun,” Ning Yingying answered.

Binghe’s eyes widened, “Huh?! But they look so much alike?!”

She giggled, “Right~? They look blood-related? Maybe that’s why Shizun adopted him. No, what Shen Shixiong told me was that he was orphaned at a young age, maybe around three or something. Lived on the streets for a few years until Shizun found him and took him in.”

Binghe’s brows furrowed. So it wasn’t even like Shen Qingqiu was taking responsibility for a woman he was with. He just found a child and adopted him. And Shen Yuan seemed raised up well, so was there no ill intentions?

That’s when a cold chill ran down his spine and he became pale. C-Could Shen Qingqiu be doing the same thing to Shen Yuan that he was doing to Binghe?! Was that why he left for a year?! To escape his father?

Binghe gasped. That could be it! And that’s why Shen Qingqiu then turned to him for punishment because Shen Yuan was gone. His grip tightened on his ax and his eyes became viscous with cruel imaginations. Ning Yingying saw his expression and quietly asked, “A-Luo?”

He turned to her and questioned in a cold voice, “What is Shen Shixiong and Shizun’s relationship like? Is it good? Are they a happy father and son?”

Ning Yingying was thrown off by the question, but responded, “Yes, of course! As long as I have known them. Shizun practically dotes on him all the time.”

Binghe stared down at the chopped wood, thinking perhaps that is the face Shen Qingqiu is willing to show in public. Ning Yingying was always naive to Shizun’s punishments, she probably wouldn’t know if Shen Qingqiu was giving Shen Yuan his own wicked teachings as well.

-

Shen Yuan was humming down those halls he calls home, that he was familiar with for over a decade. And as he walked, he took a slow pace, admiring the sway of bamboo shoots, the steady creaks of looming trees, and the brush of green grass. He watched young and older disciples rush to their studies, stopping once and a while to wave if they knew each other well or bow to show signs of respect. He chuckled, it was so calm, he couldn’t dream of this place being burned down.

His eyes solemnly lowered. The idea that this place would not exist anymore, that the people here will all be gone, truly made him ache inside. He just had to play his cards right without bringing up too many suspicions. To make everyone happy... he had to make everyone happy…

He sighed, rolling his hand against the old oak that made up these walls, daydreaming of soft wind and gentle sunlight. He breathed in the smell of Qing Jing Peak, the fresh air of the mountain, the tranquility of nature. He chewed on the inside of his mouth, thinking he wanted to try playing his guqin again.

Then he saw someone approach him and recognized his father. Shen Yuan straightened and bowed, “Shizun.”

Shen Qingqiu waved him off and without really looking at him, he said, “You were not around this morning. Where did you go?”

Shen Yuan smiled, his father was always so doting, the worrywart. After spending so many years with him, he found that the Proud Immortal Demon Way’s unreachable and wicked villain actually had a heart deep down inside. Shen Yuan always felt grateful and almost honored that it was him that Shen Qingqiu revealed these kind feelings to. This disciple never imagined he would be adopted by such a person, let alone get along with him. It was rather fascinating.

Shen Yuan answered, “I visited the Sect Leader and had some tea.”

Shen Qingqiu clicked his tongue then grumbled, “Why would you go to that no good ingrate? Don’t waste your time on such an audacious fool.”

The young man awkwardly chuckled, “I was just paying my respects to the Sect Leader. We had a delightful conversation, maybe next time Shizun would accompany me?”

“Next time?” Shen Qingqiu scoffed. “What next time? Listen to this Shizun, you don’t need to respect that man. He is not worth it. You have better things to spend your breath on. Also, this Shizun will never waste my time on someone like him.”

“I see....” Shen Yuan’s brows nervously knitted. The two must have gotten off on really bad foot after he left. Before, Shen Qingqiu would at least tolerate Yue Qingyuan when Shen Yuan was there before his trip. He did shoot him a nasty glare once in a while, and when they thought Shen Yuan was gone they would maybe get into arguments with Shen Qingqiu storming off, but right now there was a lot of animosity.

“Also,” Shen Qingqiu huffed. “I came to tell you not to get involved with that bast… disciple Luo Binghe.” Shen Yuan raised a brow which the Peak Lord didn’t notice; was he just gonna call Luo Binghe bastard? “He is a troublemaker and a bad influence on everyone. It’s best not to get involved and let him focus on his studies.”

Shen Yuan felt irked by this. He was feeling very bothered that Shen Qingqiu was just straight-up lying to him, but technically that’s what he does. He just hoped he wouldn’t do it to him. Besides, Luo Binghe was no delinquent, he was a small innocent kid who was trying to survive. And was this how this master wanted to treat the situation? To make everyone look away from the abuse? It hurt Shen Yuan’s heart. Why did he have to do this? What was he bottling up that he had to lash out on such a young kid? He didn’t know, all he knew that it was sad.

His face fell, solemn and depressed from such thoughts and Shen Qingqiu noticed, disturbed by his expression. He peeked at Shen Yuan’s face, trying to catch his eye, asking, “What’s wrong? Did that Yue Qingyuan say anything upsetting to you? Should I teach him a lesson?”

Shen Yuan winced at that. Why did he have to call them lessons? Why did he have to make it sound like he’s not in the wrong? It really bothered him. But maybe, somehow he can make a breakthrough.

Shen Yuan shook his head and said, “Baba?”

Shen Qingqiu perked up at that, really honing in to listen. Shen Yuan hardly called Shen Qingqiu Baba when they were outside the Bamboo House or in public. He’d get embarrassed, so Shen Qingqiu was wondering what this seriousness in his words was.

He was hesitant, but Shen Yuan asked, “When I was gone… was there something that troubled you? Is something on your mind… that you want to talk about?”

Shen Qingqiu blinked, unsure what his son was getting at. But he knew that Shen Yuan was very observant with his father, so much at times that it could be frightening, but it was always well-intentioned. Even when…

The Peak Lord averted his gaze, questioning, “What makes you think something is wrong with this Shizun? Did Yue Qingyuan say something?”

Shen Yuan was careful and he answered, “I didn’t say that there was something wrong with you, just something on your mind. And yes, the Sect Leader mentioned that you were more upset than usual. So… I wanted to know if there was something bothering you?”

Shen Qingqiu stiffened, but then shortly replied, “I just…” His eyes kept darting away, but he kept his composure, “This master just missed his son of course. No other reasons.”

“No other reasons?” Shen Yuan wondered.

“Clearly,” Shen Qingqiu sharply responded.

“Then…” Shen Yuan knew this was naive, but he wished to be hopeful. “Will Shizun be happier now that I have returned?”

There was a slight twitch in his eye and Shen Qingqiu lied, “Of course.”

Shen Yuan paused, stepped forward, taking his father’s hand, saying, “Ba can talk to me. He knows he can talk to me and I won’t judge him. You’ll talk to me if there is something wrong, right Baba?”

Shen Qingqiu stared and nodded.

Chapter Text

Shen Yuan left his father, rather disgruntled and disappointed by him from that experience. He was fingers crossed that Shen Qingqiu would be like ‘Of course my dearest child! I will change my ways and make amends!’ But no, that would be too wishful thinking.

He sighed. Bummer.

He kind of didn’t want to catch him in the act of beating Binghe, but it was looking more and more like he’ll have to. But when would be the right time and place for that? Shen Qingqiu can be awfully sneaky when he wants to hide things. He might be thinking Shen Yuan’ll be on to him, so he’ll do it discreetly. Fuck.

Shen Yuan was contemplating when he lightly bumped into somebody. He blinked, turning to them, saying, “Oh sorry!”

But then he looked to see who the person was and found it to be Ming Fan who wore a disgruntled expression. He cracked a strained smile as he politely bowed, “No, I apologize, Shixiong. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.”

Shen Yuan stared, but then also bowed back, “I was also careless, excuse this disciple.”

“Mm,” Ming Fan nodded, his eye twitching. He stood up straight, with a forced laughter, “So Shen Shixiong is back! That’s good. That’s good. That’s good.”

Shen Yuan raised a brow. Was it really that good? You look fairly constipated about that Ming Fan.

“Yes, back from my journeys,” he stated.

“I listened to your stories last night,” Ming Fan remarked. “They were all very interesting.”

“Yes, well,” Shen Yuan smiled. “All good things must come to an end.”

Ming Fan’s face fell. A bitterness could be seen. He breathed through his nose and said, “So… I can assume Shen Shixiong will be taking his place back as head disciple?”

Ah. That’s what this was about. Shen Yuan nodded, Ming Fan wanted to continue being head disciple. Figures, it was his position in original works. Shen Yuan noted that he has basically usurped his position. But it was probably for the best, no need for the kid to become cannon fodder.

He responded, “Yes, I will be reassuming those duties. I am told I will be helping more with tutoring. Has Ming Fan done the same?”

“Ah…” Ming Fan scratched behind his head. “Sure! I taught some disciples here and there. Some definitely need to be taught some good… lessons.” Shen Yuan’s brows furrowed at that. Oh, he was sure that you helped them. Helped beat them to a pulp. The nerve on this kid. “I have also been helping Shizun immensely. He relies on me greatly.”

Shen Yuan’s expression wrinkled and he said, “With what exactly?”

“Oh… you know,” Ming Fan muttered. “Here and there. Tea, scheduling, things like that.”

“Hm, odd,” Shen Yuan gave him a look. “We never did much of that before. Shizun usually does his own scheduling…” He thought maybe he’d get under Ming Fan’s skin a bit, though again, maybe he already was, “And he usually pours me tea.”

Ming Fan flustered and Shen Yuan couldn’t help having a sly face. The disciple huffed, “Shizun sure dotes on you.”

Shen Yuan twirled his hair, “It’s common knowledge.” He didn’t know why, but he was feeling a bit competitive.

Ming Fan grunted, “Will Shixiong fulfill such duties now that he is back?”

“Hmm,” Shen Yuan put on a show of thinking hard, then answered, “I think this disciple would rather focus on his studies. But you can keep pouring him tea if that makes you happy.”

Ming Fan became flushed and involuntarily stomped his foot. He nodded, “Excuse me!”

“Eh? Ming Shidi?” Shen Yuan called after him. “Where are you going?”

“To blow off some steam!” he yelled back, trudging away.

Shen Yuan didn’t think he was picking at him that hard, maybe Ming Fan had sensitive skin. He shrugged, supposing he’ll practice some guqin in the meantime, not realizing what he had just done.

-

Binghe fell on the ground, falling in the mud, scratching up his arms on rough rocks.

“Ming Shixiong stop!” Ning Yingying yelped.

“He was being disrespectful, Ning Shimei,” Ming Fan said, his cronies chuckling under their breath.

“A-Luo wasn’t trying to,” Ning Yingying countered. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to tell Shizun!”

Binghe was dizzy, groaning. That wouldn’t help.

“Sorry for that, Shimei,” Ming Fan tried to soothe her. “It’s just this younger disciple needs to learn to respect his elders. He is too wild.”

“Liars…” Binghe growled. He struggled to pull himself up, shakily standing on his two legs. He glared, roughly rubbing off the blood from his split lip. His eyes were livid and he felt the anger boil inside, “You guys… are liars…”

“Excuse me?” Ming Fan huffed, standing in front of the worried Ning Yingying. “I am your Shixiong. What I speak is the truth. You are the youngest, what you say is little and well…” He tilted his head, his lips flat, “Insignificant.”

“You!” Binghe snapped.

“What?!” Ming Fan barked. “Are you going to raise a hand against this shixiong? Are you going to be insolent instead of taking your lesson like a good little runt!” He leapt forward and threw a kick. Binghe was too slow to block it, and was hit in his waist. He gasped as he was slammed back into the ground.

“A-Luo!” Ning Yingying called, truly stuck on what to do. To run off and get Shizun, to keep telling Ming Fan to stop, or fight? She wasn’t confident in her physical abilities to get Ming Fan to stop, but she really wanted to. She tightly grabbed his arm, shaking her head, “Stop it, Ming Shixiong! You’re hurting him too much!”

Ming Fan looked to where she was holding and slightly blushed. He stuttered, “A-Alright, this shixiong will stop for-”

Something hard hit the back of his head. He yelped, feeling a searing pain and touched a large bump. He glanced to the ground to see a rock tumbling on the dirt and turned towards Binghe with his arm still outstretched from when he threw it. Ming Fan immediately blew up, yelling, “Oh?! You like throwing rocks do you?!”

He picked it up and threw it, at first missing Binghe who managed to dodge this time.

“Ming Shixiong!” Ning Yingying yelled, but he wasn’t listening to her.

“Here! Take this! And this!” he kept finding rocks to throw at Binghe, his cronies following suit. They all started aiming his way, Binghe able to duck and swerve from most of them, but still getting nicked and hit here and there. Ming Fan shouted, “Why don’t you stay still?!”

He threw it, but this one slipped from his hands going a lot farther to the back. It passed through bushes and trees, so no one paid much attention to it. Not until they suddenly heard a pained cry and a drop of something heavy, the sound of cords shuddered. They heard someone fall and stopped what they were doing, rushing over to see who it was. The group of disciples moved past the bushes and leaves to see Shen Yuan on the ground, his guqin lying next to him, he was holding his eye.

He whined in shock, “M-My eye!”

Binghe and Ning Yingying immediately reached his side with Ming Fan and his cronies hanging back, their faces white with dread.

Ning Yingying got to him first, saying, “Shixiong, does it hurt? Let me see.”

Binghe came to his other side, fretting on what to do, but then he saw blood leaking past Shen Yuan’s palm that held his eye. He whipped around, barking at Ming Fan, “There’s blood!”

Ming Fan looked like he was about to be sick.

Shen Yuan was groaning from pain, his eyes closed tightly as he held it. Binghe turned to Shen Yuan, gently soothing, “Let us see. Let us see.”

“No, I…” Binghe softly reached out, taking his hand and Shen Yuan winced. But he was slow and carefully removed his hand, Shen Yuan letting him. He didn’t open his eyes as he mewled, “Does it look really bad?”

It was a big black eye. Swollen and discolored. It darkened his pretty pale face and around the eye were a few cuts from the rock, dripping with blood. Binghe pursed his lips then said, “We’ll get you to the infirmary.”

“Ugh…” Shen Yuan whimpered, slowly trying to open his other eye. When he finally managed to stop the stinging tears, he saw who was holding his hand, “B-Binghe…?”

He blinked then when his vision got more in focus, he noticed all the bruises and scratches. He loudly gasped, “W-What happened to you?! You look worse than I do!”

Binghe bit his lip, unsure how to answer that, but Ning Yingying did it for him, “It’s horrible, Shixiong! A-Luo was being bullied again!”

“B-Bullied…?” his vision blurred for a second time, but then he saw Ming Fan and his cronies there. “You?!”

“N-No!” Ming Fan defended. “We were just rough housing! Ning Shimei is exaggerating!”

Ning Yingying gasped in offense, “Exaggerating?!” She stood up, angry, “If you never bothered A-Luo, Shixiong would never have been hit by that rock! That is the truth! Or do you think I’m exaggerating?!”

Ming Fan shrunk down, frightened, but quickly countered, “That brat was the one who started throwing rocks!”

“You were THROWING ROCKS?!” Shen Yuan’s mouth fell open in disbelief. What is with kids these days?! Do they only know violence?!

“I wanted to stop!” Ming Fan argued. “I never meant to-”

“Hit Shixiong?” Ning Yingying questioned, puffing up her chest. “Well maybe now Shizun will put more effort into putting all of you in line, since you hit Shixiong!”

Ming Fan felt very faint, he might as well kiss his education goodbye.

Binghe frowned and said, “Enough. We need to take Shixiong to the infirmary first.”

“B-But Binghe!” Shen Yuan called, patting the boy down. “You’re hurt too!”

“I’ll…” Binghe gave a forced smile. “Use that medicine you gave me the other day.”

“No!” Shen Yuan disagreed, startling Binghe. “You will also get treated at the infirmary. Let’s go.” He quickly stood up, but then felt woozy. Ning Yingying and Binghe both caught and supported him, with him dizzily saying, “I guess I did just get hit in the head.”

“Mm! We’ll help you, Shixiong!” she turned to Ming Fan. “The guqin!”

He jolted and quickly went to grab the instrument, everyone helping Shen Yuan get to the infirmary.

-

Shen Qingqiu was not happy. He was actually completely livid, but he stood still, composed with a heinous glare, one that could cut throats. He sat before them, holding his fan in his right hand and aggresively smacking it into his left palm. He stared the five disciples down whose heads were dipped low to the ground, none wishing to face him. There was Ming Fan and his two cronies, Binghe, and Ning Yingying, all accumulating a great deal of sweat on their foreheads.

They waited in silence, the only sound was that fan hitting his palm. He glowered at them, finally breaking that still moment by saying through gritted teeth, “So…” Everyone trembled at that one word. “There was a fight.”

They all paled, feeling sick to their stomachs. Oh how sweet release of death would feel much better than this long and excruciating moment.

“And my A-Yuan…” he growled, “Somehow… his face was damaged. It was…” Wind hissed through his teeth, “Hit.” The fan smacked his palm at the exact moment, making everyone flinch. “His young and good face… was hit.” He glared at the disciples, none were talking.

He suddenly stood up, catching them all off guard, jolting from the intimidation. He muttered, “Who did it?” His eyes like daggers, “Who hit MY son’s face? Which one of you dares?”

Ning Yingying was shivering but finally choked out, “S-Shizun.”

He sharply looked at her, not even sparing her from his wicked stare.

She spouted, “It was Ming Shixiong!”

“That’s not true!” Ming Fan shouted back.

“It is!”

“No!”

“SILENCE!” Shen Qingqiu howled, making them all drop their heads again. He glared them down, then slowly approached the disciples. He steadily walked along their line, but then stopped. He stopped in front of Luo Binghe. He lifted his fan, Binghe shaking from the sight of it, but he only raised it high enough to tilt Binghe’s chin up. He made Binghe face him, eyes laced with devilish rage as he hissed, “This disciple has been quiet. Does he have something to say?”

Binghe’s hands were gripped into fists, trembling from the fear and hate as he said, “Ning Shijie speaks the truth.”

Shen Qingqiu snarled, “Is that so?”

“She has never lied, Shizun,” Binghe muttered, his voice quivering. “She will never lie. Not to you.”

Shen Qingqiu’s eyes were horrible, but he pulled his fan away, saying, “Safe words.”

Binghe let out a breath of air that he didn’t know he was holding in. Shen Qingqiu was truly not holding back on how he felt about the situation, but he was certainly holding back his hand.

He turned to Ming Fan and said, “Is it true, Ming Fan?”

The eldest disciple squirmed and he tried to make the circumstances favor him, “Yes and no, Shizun.”

Shen Qingqiu narrowed his eyes at him, “What do you mean?”

“I did throw the rock, but no one knew Shen Shixiong was there, not even me,” Ming Fan stated. “I had no knowledge that he’d be there and when I threw the rock I thought I just missed. I didn’t know it would hit Shen Shixiong. But!” He straightened up, giving Luo Binghe a cruel glance, “I was not the one who threw the first stone. That was Luo Binghe!”

Shen Qingqiu’s eyes widened and Binghe was left aghast.

“He threw the first rock, Shizun,” Ming Fan remarked. “He started the fight!”

“You started the fight!” Binghe yelled, quickly being cut off by Shen Qingqiu’s fan. He gave him a glare but his attention was mostly on Ming Fan now.

Ming Fan flustered at that, saying, “I-I was teaching the younger disciple some discipline, Shizun. If you were there you’d see he needed to learn some respect for his elder disciples.”

“... I'm sure you’re right,” Shen Qingqiu almost lazily agreed, making it easy to side with Ming Fan.

Binghe’s face fell; this was going to make him into the bad guy. Was he going to be beaten within an inch of his life… or just kicked off the Peak in general? He didn’t want to find out, but Ming Fan just kept on talking.

“I was going to listen to Ning Shimei and stop, but then Luo Binghe threw that stone right at my head here,” he lightly touched the back of it, making an almost whimpering sound. “It still hurts…”

Shen Qingqiu huffed then turned to Ning Yingying, “Is that true?”

“Uh… yes…” Ning Yingying regretfully answered.

“I see…” Shen Qingqiu faced Binghe. “Then we see who is at fault here.”

Binghe paled and-

“Shizun!” They all whipped around to see Shen Yuan at the entrance of the hall, his eye covered with a bandage. Shen Yuan smiled, “I’m here.”

Binghe’s gaze widened, feeling a sense of shock and disbelief at his sudden appearance.

Shen Qingqiu panicked and quickly rushed to his side, fretting, “Why are you up? You should be lying down.”

Shen Yuan stepped forward, looking out at the disciples, seeing Binghe, “There you are!” He rushed to Binghe’s side, taking his arm to pull him up, “I was wondering why you weren’t in the infirmary after Mu Qingfang checked my eye.”

Shen Qingqiu’s glare grew heavy and angered at the sight of Shen Yuan holding Binghe’s arm, but he didn’t release much besides some quick words, “I called him to come and explain the situation.”

“With my eye?” Shen Yuan questioned. “That’s hardly necessary right now. What Binghe needs is medical attention.”

Shen Qingqiu’s stare narrowed and he said, “How can you treat him well? He could have been the one to hit you.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Shen Yuan sighed. “He looks worse off than I do.”

“But your eye-”

“Shizun,” Shen Yuan firmly voiced. “These disciples don’t need to be interrogated right now. It can be saved for later. What they need now is medicine and rest, especially since some are really hurting.”

Shen Qingqiu’s eyes darted from his son to his disciples and before he could counter, Shen Yuan spoke, “Unless… Shizun is suggesting that he doesn’t care about his disciples' welfare. But that’d be ridiculous.”

The Peak Lord stiffened and cleared his throat, dryly stating, “Of course not. I just feared the possibility of you losing an eye and wanted this dilemma to be cleared up as soon as possible.”

“I see Shizun has good intentions, but don’t worry,” Shen Yuan smiled. “This disciple is sturdy and sound.”

Shen Qingqiu managed, “I will not tolerate disciples starting rock fights.”

Shen Yuan stared then added, “Then it also shouldn’t be tolerated for older disciples to encourage those rock fights and participate.” He glanced at Ming Fan with a flat smile, “They should be more mature and responsible than that. We can’t be setting a bad example for Qing Jing Peak, now can we?” Ming Fan gulped, Shen Qingqiu seethed, and Shen Yuan turned to Binghe, saying, “Let’s go now, huh?”

Binghe stared then quickly nodded, completely amazed that Shixiong would come back all the way here to get Binghe. Shen Yuan led him out with Binghe glancing back at the frustrated Shen Qingqiu. He supposed he wouldn’t get punished that day.

Chapter Text

Shen Yuan’s eye was only bandaged for a few days thanks to the amazing powers of cultivation that helped mend it. After resting for a day to determine he didn’t have any more pain in his head, he was free to move around and go wherever he pleased. And where he pleased was coming over every day to check on Binghe to see how he was doing.

Binghe never experienced someone committing to his welfare like this besides his mother. Most of the world ignored his injuries, but Shen Yuan was diligent with what needed to be tended. Some days he would come with small cookies snuck out from the kitchen and other times he would bring board games like checkers. Though Binghe had never played such games, Shen Yuan taught him.

It was small gentle days with Shen Yuan that put Binghe’s mind at ease. He was soft, warm, and welcoming, never scolding Binghe for starting that rock fight. One day when Shen Yuan brought a couple books for Binghe to read in his spare time, Binghe asked, “Shen Shixiong?”

“Yes?” Shen Yuan said, pulling up a cushion to sit on.

Binghe shifted, then questioned, “When… will I be receiving my punishment from Shizun?” Shen Yuan blankly blinked. “And if I may ask… what will it be?”

“Punishment?” Shen Yuan wondered.

“Yes…” Binghe muttered. “I started the fight. I should be punished.”

Shen Yuan’s brows lowered and he said, “Binghe. You’ve already been punished.” He lifted his hand and brushed away some loose strands of Binghe’s hair from his face. “And unfairly at that.”

Binghe stared.

He-He thought it was unfair?! To Binghe, he assumed how people saw how he was treated in this life was just deserved.

“Three against one is no good,” Shen Yuan replied. “And Ming Fan refuses to go into detail on what ‘lessons’ he has been teaching you as your elder peer nor has he truly explained why you needed to be punished in the first place. So to me, even though I disagree with fighting, I don’t disagree with self-defense and retaliation from being…” he glanced down at Binghe’s battered body, “Bullied.”

Binghe’s eyes widened.

He was stunned to hear that Shen Yuan believed he was being bullied. He didn’t brush it under the rug or put the blame on him. It was amazing.

“You believe me?1” Binghe’s gaze was big and hopeful.

“Ning Yingying said so and she’s not one for lying,” Shen Yuan answered. “If Binghe is being bullied, then he is being bullied. And so the best option is to keep the disciples separated until there is no more fighting, right?”

“R-Right,” Binghe mumbled. Shen Yuan believed him.

Shen Yuan pulled up a book, changing the subject, “Here now, this is a good one. It’ll keep your attention so you won’t get bored. It’s about a legend of a sleeping tiger who dreams of a moon goddess and falls in love. It’s cute.”

“I see,” Binghe nodded, then sighed, “I wish I also had my cultivation manual.”

“Huh? You don’t have it on you?”

“I uh…” Binghe’s face flushed, telling him, “I left it in my room.”

Shen Yuan’s face fell at that. You don’t have a room, Luo Binghe.

He looked to the disciple, seeing his eyes averted with shame, and knew not to pry. Don’t worry, Binghe! He’ll find you a better place to sleep sometime soon.

“Then I can lend you mine,” Shen Yuan stated, pulling it out of his sleeve for this very occasion!

“Wha- I can’t take Shixiong’s!” Binghe panicked.

“It’s alright,” Shen Yuan said. “I’ve read it a million times, practically got it memorized by now. Besides, I can always get another. So you can have this one, I hardly need it anymore.”

Binghe stared at the manual and slowly took it, bowing his head as he held it close to his swelling heart, “Thank you, Shixiong.”

“Mm, no problem,” Shen Yuan nodded. “I hope you take good care of it.”

“I will,” Binghe agreed and looked at the book. He lightly brushed his hand across the cover then carefully opened it. He started briefly reading, just to get a closer look, but then quickly realized something, “Huh?”

Shen Yuan’s brow raised, “Hm, yes, what is it?”

“It’s… different from mine,” Binghe muttered, flipping the pages to see that it was unlike his book all throughout. “It’s completely different. Every page says something else.”

Shen Yuan sighed deep down inside. For Shen Qingqiu to put in that much work and make a whole new manual just so Binghe wouldn’t get his proper education, he must have really hated him a lot. But Shen Yuan was ready for this situation too, he couldn’t have Binghe hate Shen Qingqiu even more, or he’ll turn into a human stick and Shen Yuan will die! He cleared his throat and suggested, “Oh, it’s probably one of the older misprinted copies. That was a problem some time ago. There must have been a spare one left and it was accidentally distributed to you. Those ones are no good, so it’s alright to throw it away.”

Binghe listened and nodded. That made sense. So he was behind because he had an old, no good copy. He sighed some relief to himself, he thought he was just no good, thankfully Shixiong was here to clear things up.

Binghe smiled and said, “Thank you again, Shixiong.”

Shen Yuan smiled, “Ah, it’s no problem, really.”

“No, really, thank you,” Binghe gazed at Shen Yuan and stated, “I… I haven’t really been fitting in at Qing Jing Peak all too well, but you… you’ve been so kind to me. I’m really grateful.” His eyes were teary with happiness as his smile trembled, “Thank you… Thank you so much.”

Shen Yuan’s heart swayed at that, cursing that nonsensical author for always putting Binghe through the wringer even at this age.

“I just- I don’t understand it,” Binghe realized. “Why are you so kind to me? You don’t have to be.”

Shen Yuan’s hands tightened and he answered, “Sure, no one has to be kind to anyone. But I want to be kind.”

“But… why?”

“Because…” Shen Yuan tried to convey his most benevolent expression, “Because people deserve to be kind to, sometimes even when they don’t think they’ve earned it.” Shen Yuan reached up and Binghe flinched from his hand. Shen Yuan almost retracted his but wanted to keep that solid certainty intact and gently patted Binghe’s head. He said, “You are a kind kid, Binghe. You haven’t been mean to me, so why would I be mean to you?”

Binghe’s heart was beating fast and loudly in his ears. He didn’t know what this feeling was, but he didn’t hate it.

Shen Yuan pulled his hand away and asked, “Does that make sense?”

Binghe stared at him and replied, “Mm.”

-

Shen Yuan left feeling more self-assured and when he got outside of Qian Cao Peak he stopped and mentally screamed.

FUCK! He got so caught up with halo protag sunshine Luo Binghe’s pitiful expressions he didn’t take the blatant opportunity to suggest for the kid to be transferred to Bai Zhan Peak, FUCK!

He breathed in and out. It’s okay. It’s okay. The conversation about Binghe not fitting in showed up once, so it’ll probably happen again. He just had to be patient. Just you wait, Binghe! Shen Yuan will suggest it to you and you can go to Bai Zhan Peak or any other peak and receive better treatment and education.

But even so, Shen Yuan was delightfully patting himself on the back for his Big Bro move. He was so brotherly to Luo Binghe, he basically nailed it. It’s decided, he’ll be a brother figure for him and make sure he can get through his childhood as safely as possible! Yes!

-

Luo Binghe was lying there in that bed as he stared up at the ceiling. His head was swarming with memories of Shen Yuan’s kindness. It was such a lovely thing and he wanted to experience it more and more again. He was so sweet and nice, looking after Binghe whenever he could. He was thankful, so thankful his cheeks burned and his heartfelt so strange.

He rolled around, face warm from every image of Shen Yuan’s smile that passed his mind. So gentle and soft, lips full and pink. Emerald eyes gazing down at him with a genuine heart. Oh, how Binghe was overwhelmed with such a honeyed voice and welcoming words.

After all this time being looked down upon, to be spat on and kicked, that there was really someone out there like him. It made Binghe feel bizarre inside. That someone was willing to listen to him, to care for him, to take him away. Binghe wanted him to keep going. Shield him from all the terrible things, protect him, make sure he was safe. He wanted Shen Yuan to cover him from all the bad in the world and tell him that he’ll be okay with his voice like a song in a forest. Whispering that… that he can be happy.

Binghe hummed, nodding off to sleep with Shen Yuan’s books in his arms, dreaming the best he has in months.

-

Ming Fan did get punished actually. He did throw the stone afterall and Shen Yuan would make a show in front of Shen Qingqiu about how much it hurt and it was hard to see with one eye, so Shen Qingqiu enforced three punishments. Though they weren’t nearly as bad as if it was Binghe who threw the stone that hit Shen Yuan in the face.

Ming Fan was made to work as the laundry boy which was humiliating for him, but the second punishment was even more embarrassing because he had to do all the sanitation work. Meaning he was cleaning all the shit in toilets and horse stalls for a month. Lastly, he would be whipped, but when Shen Qingqiu suggested that, Shen Yuan intervened, saying that wasn’t necessary. He explained that he believed the first two chores were enough because even though Ming Fan was cannon fodder, Shen Yuan couldn’t bear for him to be whipped too. Such violent punishments were needed on Qing Jing Peak anymore and he wanted to keep his father away from such malicious acts.

Though Shen Qingqiu insisted that Ming Fan deserved some sort of third punishment, so Shen Yuan suggested something light like he would polish every disciples’ sword. There, good enough!

By the time the few days ended, his swollen black eye was brought down to just dark marks that Mu Qingfang said can heal naturally over time. Shen Qingqiu was adamant that it be healed immediately, but Mu Qingfang just brushed him off in annoyance.

Shen Qingqiu glared at the practitioner, but Shen Yuan peeked from behind him, saying, “Baba, it’s alright. It’ll heal just fine.”

Shen Qingqiu turned to his son with a torn expression, gently caressing his marked cheek with his sleeve, “I didn’t ever want to see your face bruised.”

Shen Yuan looked down and nodded, “It’s okay. I’ll get into fights in the future with a great many monsters, I’ll get plenty of bruises and cool battle scars. No way one rock can keep me down for the count.”

The Peak Lord proudly smiled, “Let’s hope in your lifetime you’ll never need to get into such fights.”

“You can’t coddle me forever,” Shen Yuan sighed. “I’ll become a great cultivator. You’ll see.”

Shen Qingqiu nodded, “I can’t wait.”

-

Shen Yuan began tutoring in the library again. It had been a while, but it was something quick and easy to get into when Binghe was away. At this one moment, he was teaching a younger disciple on the rift between the human and demon realm.

“Abyss,” the child muttered. “Has… Has any human gone there?”

Shen Yuan hummed, “None to live and tell the tale. There is supposed to be the most dastardly of wild demons down there, artifacts of such volatile power it could level whole human cities, and resentful ghosts whose wails can be heard for miles. It is the rift between our two worlds and will be on the test in three days.”

The disciple nodded, quickly writing all of that down. When done, he asked, “So what artifacts are down there?”

“Well… legend has it that a great demon sword resides down there,” he explained. “It is called Xin Mo and its power is beyond reason. It is filled with evil energy but is far down in the Abyss, lodged in stone and without an owner.”

“If it is full of evil energy, how will someone wield it?” the disciple questioned.

“It’d have to be someone extremely powerful,” Shen Yuan said. “More powerful than all the sect masters combined, the true ruler of the Demon Realm, someone truly…” He glanced up, eyes meeting the lone Luo Binghe who stood at the entrance of the library, “Demonic…”

They stared at each other, but then Shen Yuan caught himself and he cleared his throat, “Anyways, these books will be necessary for the test, I already made you a quick study guide here. Ask me more questions later, excuse me.”

He stood up and approached Luo Binghe, concerned he whispered, “Luo Binghe, aren’t you out too early? Have your wounds healed that fast?”

“Yes, Shixiong,” Binghe hummed, smiling up to him rather brightly. Shen Yuan was a bit blinded by his smile but also was amazed yet again at the protag’s healing abilities. Truly one that deserved its applause even before he became a Blackened MC.

Shen Yuan stated, “Okay, but you should rest more if anything still hurts.”

Binghe’s smile only shone even more from that, feeling nothing but gratitude and adoration from his kind Shixiong. He nodded, “I will do so!”

“Good, good,” Shen Yuan chuckled from his enthusiasm. “Now,” they both walked further into the library, “What are you doing here? Coming to study?”

“Well…” Binghe softly gazed up at him. “I was hoping Shen Shixiong could tutor me. I am far behind thanks to that old manual, so maybe Shixiong can help me.” He lowered his eyes, “Also I’m more behind from being at Qian Cao Peak. I don’t want to upset Shizun with bad marks, so I’d like to learn better and faster.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right shixiong,” Shen Yuan lightly patted his head and led him to one of the tables. They sat down and he said, “So, you’re manual?”

“Yes!” Binghe brought out the precious manual that Shen Yuan gave him and opened it up. They started off with the chapters they would need for the test by the end of the week and began working from there. The whole time Shen Yuan tutored him, it gave Binghe the opportunity to listen attentively and to gaze up longingly at his pretty face.

-

Shen Yuan was walking in the bright morning, chatting with disciples that were about a year younger than him until one stared at him with an odd expression. Shen Yuan looked at him, seeing such bothered features, and watched them ask, “Shen Shixiong?”

“Hm, yes?” Shen Yuan replied.

“Uh, you’re eye… how is it?”

He reflexively touched it and answered, “Much better, it hardly hurts anymore.”

“Yeah…” they muttered then said, “We heard how it happened.”

Shen Yuan looked down and exasperatedly sighed, “That little shidi is certainly a handful.”

The disciples concernedly glanced, “So it was that mischievous Luo Binghe that hit you after all…”

Shen Yuan was stunned, he gaped and countered, “No, no, no! You got it all mixed up! Even though Binghe did participate in the fight, he wasn’t the one who hit me.”

“Huh?”

“Then who did?”

“Ah, well…” Shen Yuan grumbled. “If I am to confess it was Ming Shidi.”

“Ming Fan?!” they gasped. “But I heard he tried to stop the fight!”

“No, no,” Shen Yuan mumbled. “Here let me explain.” He recounted the details of what happened to him and all the truths.

The disciples listened and nodded, replying, “This is much different than what I heard.”

“Yeah, the word is going around that it is Luo Binghe that hit you,” the other said.

“Well that rumor is completely wrong,” Shen Yuan huffed. “And before it spreads anymore, you can tell others what I have told you.” He excused himself in an irritating miff and contemplated the rumors. It must have been Ming Fan to spread such rumors. Maybe on the behalf of Shen Qingqiu or for his own personal vendetta. He definitely wanted to get back at Binghe and this was probably how to do it. Shen Qingqiu will probably also turn a blind eye and allow the false rumors to spread. He had to do something that would show everyone that the rumors are lies and that he and Binghe are on good terms.

He was thinking until he saw Binghe, just in time for someone to shove him with their shoulder as they walked by. Oh dear, he supposed being the kindest Shixiong on the Peak has its disadvantages. Everyone will bully the one that they think hit him. Binghe stumbled, his face sour from hearing the rumors that were going around. Now everyone will hate him for sure.

He sighed then glanced up to see Shen Yuan was rushing to him. He froze in place and Shen Yuan approached Binghe, suggesting, “Hello Binghe, would you like to go on a walk throughout the peak today?”

Binghe blinked at the surprising proposal but found himself nodding to it.

“Okay!” Shen Yuan scooped up Binghe’s arm and started leading the walk.

Binghe’s eyes swirled in confusion. What was happening?

Before he could ask, Shen Yuan turned to him, whispering, “I heard about those false rumors spreading around the peak. This shixiong will fix it this way. They won’t think we are against each other if we are together.”

Binghe stared then flushed. Why did Shixiong have to phrase it like that?

Shen Yuan noticed and looked over Binghe’s red face, “Huh? Is it no good?”

“No! Uh!” Binghe quickly shook his head and said, “This disciple appreciates it. But where are we going?”

“Anywhere where there are a lot of people,” Shen Yuan nodded. “Let’s go.”

They took a walk around the peak, around classrooms and training grounds. The two made sure to be seen together and that they were content with one and another’s company. By the end of the day those rumors changed from Binghe harming Qing Jing Peak’s most precious disciple to Binghe was greatly favored by Qing Jing Peak’s most precious disciple.

Then news spread to Shen Qingqiu and he quietly seethed.

Chapter Text

Lately, Luo Binghe started following Shen Yuan around like a little duckling. He was always at the base of his heels and they kept going here and there together. Everyone gawked at the pair as they went about their day, going to the kitchen, then to the library, to the training grounds, and more. The two were practically joined at the hip. They were the talk of the peak; Shen Qingqiu’s most favored disciple and his least.

Shen Yuan was actually rather grateful for this arrangement because if Binghe stuck with him, then just being in his presence will steer away all the bullies and Shen Qingqiu will think twice before messing with him. Also, the little white lotus protagonist was so sweet and endearing, he just had that blinding halo whenever he smiled and Shen Yuan thought it was so cute. He almost wanted to make him into his little brother, he was so adorable!

As for Binghe, he quickly realized there were benefits to hanging out with Shen Yuan. No one was bothering him, not even Shizun even though could feel his hateful glares from afar. It wasn’t his intention at first, but he wasn’t going to refuse the protection when he could get it. And Shen Yuan didn’t seem to mind either, in fact, he actually welcomed Binghe into his space which only furthered the young disciple’s affections for him. You see, his main intention was to just get close to Shen Yuan for he was so kind and Binghe felt like he was getting addicted to his soft, playful voice and gentle head pats. In his heart, he was whimpering and pouting on where this shixiong had been all along. But he was grateful to have him now.

As for Shen Qingqiu, he was practically frothing at the mouth. His expression was getting more and more bitter every day. He was furious that his beloved son was spending so much time with that foul little beast. And no matter what excuse he could think of to keep them apart, he knew it was futile. He could say that Shen Yuan needs to spend more time to improve his marks, but his son has nothing but the best marks on the whole mountain. He could say the same excuse for Luo Binghe, but then Shen Yuan would just offer to tutor him more which he was already wasting his time doing!

Studies were not a good excuse, and any errand he would ask Shen Yuan to do, the little brat would follow. And he didn’t want to ask Luo Binghe to do any errands because he would worry that Shen Yuan would whine that those chores were too much for a disciple his age, which was the point.

He also tried to tell Shen Yuan that Luo Binghe was a troublemaker but his son wasn’t having it. He was always a really good judge of character, even though father and son had definitely had their own differences of opinions in the past. And Luo Binghe wasn’t acting out of hand, so Shen Qingqiu couldn’t put blame on him. He couldn’t get Ming Fan involved because Shen Yuan was already wary of him from the rock fight incident.

He was constantly grumbling on what to do, having to watch this pathetic mut steal his son away. It annoyed him to no end, but he tried his best to hide those negative feelings from Shen Yuan. He wouldn’t dare show his son any of his horrendous sides. That would be ridiculous, Shen Yuan would definitely leave him if he did. No, he had to be conniving and sneaky about this. He wanted to separate them so badly, hating how his son smiled at that runt. Luo Binghe was completely undeserving of Shen Yuan!

-

The two of them have been spending a good deal of time together for a couple of weeks. At the moment, they were laying on a grassy hill to the side of the sword training field, not doing much of anything that early morning. The sun was a serene hazy blue as they both lazied about. There were birds whistling in the trees and some disciples on the field, but they just sat there, not reading, not doing much of anything, much to Shen Yuan’s enjoyment. Oh, how he liked doing nothing. It was fun to be the uppity pristine head disciple where you garnered everyone’s respect, but some days he just wants to sleep on the grass with wind lightly blowing in his hair.

But Binghe didn’t know what to do with himself. He was always doing something. Either training, studies, or chores with bullying in between. He never really took time to relax and wasn’t used to it. And as a social arrangement, he made sure to give his complete attention, but just laying there, it was almost uncomfortable. He always felt like he needed to do things, to keep moving. Move or you die. He was jittery, leg shaking as he waited there.

Shen Yuan peeked at him and he said, “Need to go somewhere?”

“Huh?” Binghe blinked but then when he comprehended his question, he replied, “Oh, no. I’m fine.”

“You sure? You’re shaking over there like a little rabbit.”

Binghe thought for a moment then conveyed, “I guess I’m just not one for staying still. Like I should be doing something right now. Like training or studying.”

Shen Yuan stared at him then sat up, took Binghe’s shoulder, and guided his back to lay on the ground. When Binghe was there, Shen Yuan hummed with closed eyes, “I’ll give you something to do.” He gestured to the sky, “Up there. The clouds, tell me what they look like to you.”

Binghe stared at him then turned to the clouds, puffy and full. He looked out and said, “One looks like a beatle.”

“Mm,” Shen Yuan noised, resting his head in the feathering grass.

“That other one looks like…” Binghe had to think for a bit and then finally answered, “A man… with a shield!”

“I see, I see,” Shen Yuan responded, eyes still closed.

Binghe lay there, then pondered. He quietly turned to Shen Yuan, who still looked rather peaceful, head in the clouds and eyes neatly closed shut. Binghe didn’t look back at the clouds, but instead gazed at his shixiong, telling him as he secretly admired every feature of his face, “That one looks like a cat and another looks like…” He made sure to draw his thought process out some more, as an excuse to continue staring at Shen Yuan, “Like… well now it looks like a turtle.”

“That’s nice,” Shen Yuan murmured, eyes still resting.

Binghe kept going off, saying what could be up there, but in all actuality, he was cherishing the moment to watch Shen Yuan soundlessly snooze.

He soon stopped talking about the clouds and that’s when he finally felt relaxed. His bones and body were at ease, nothing to bother or worry him. He lay there almost about to fall asleep when he heard loud chattering of disciples across the field, disturbing his rest. He shook himself awake and then looked back at the head disciple, asking him, “Shen Shixiong?”

“Hm?”

“Why are we resting out here?”

Shen Yuan will admit in his head that he wanted to be lazy, but his answer was, “Didn’t sleep much. This shixiong is tired.”

Binghe stared then said, “Well, if Shixiong would like to regain his strength, I have something for that.” Binghe sat up and Shen Yuan peeked one eye open to see what he was doing. Binghe pulled up a small box from his other side that was neatly wrapped in a cloth. He told Shen Yuan, “I’ve noticed that Shen Shixiong doesn’t eat much. Why is that?”

Shen Yuan thought then confessed, “Let’s just say I’ve had some bad experiences with food poisoning.”

Binghe nodded then stated, “Then this should help Shixiong.”

He removed the fabric and opened the box to show what was inside. It was the stallion protagonist’s world-class cooking, and it was pancakes to boost! Shen Yuan stared at the box, aware enough to not drool when he admired it. Oh gosh, there were just so many yummy things inside he didn’t know where to start!

Steamed mantou buns! Steamed and sauteed vegetables! ALMOND BISCUITS!

Oh so many good-looking little things, he couldn’t decide. And not only did they look good, the presentation! Could almost be mistaken to have been made by a master chef! How in the world could a fourteen-year-old make something look so amazing, smell so nice, and just have the best flavor ever?! It was unscientific, but hey, Shen Yuan wasn’t complaining, free food!

He kept himself composed, questioning, “Binghe made this for me?”

“Mm,” Binghe answered, looking down at the box of food. “Shen Shixiong has helped me so much. Maybe you don’t realize it, but I wanted to show my appreciation somehow.” He turned up, facing Shen Yuan, “So since Shen Shixiong liked my food last time… maybe you will like it this time too.”

Shen Yuan gazed down at him, watching him fidgeting and squirming. He finally said, hoping to calm his nerves, “As I mentioned before, it’s truly nothing. It’s the older disciple’s duty to look after the younger. But… I see where you are coming from.” He glanced at the food then nodded, “If this is for thanks, I will accept it. Especially since you put so much time and effort into it.”

Binghe stared then smiled with a quick nod, “Many thanks, Shixiong.”

Shen Yuan hummed and slowly took a bite of pancake.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh….. It’s so good~! Oh, it’s too good. Mhmmmmmhmmmmm! It was delicious. Like the heavens were blessing his mouth right now~!

Binghe waited for him to swallow then asked, “How- How is it?”

The head disciple turned to him with a wide grin, “It is very decadent, Binghe. Probably the best I’ve ever had.”

Binghe’s eyes lit up like fireworks and he grew the biggest smile. He was completely enamored with that compliment and countered it with, “If Shixiong likes it, then I can make something for you every day!”

Shen Yuan had something in his mouth at that time and almost choked on it. Binghe fretted from his sudden coughing fit, but he held up his hand with reassurance, huffing, “Wrong pipe.”

Ugh Jeez… warn a guy before you start saying something like that. He knew the novel was working with new material ever since Shen Yuan showed up, but at least update that line so it didn’t sound like the one he would tell his harem of wives all the time in the original.

Though it was weirdly phrased, Shen Yuan wasn’t going to miss out on having his meals made every day. Especially by the halo protagonist. So he replied, “I would love that, Binghe.”

Binghe’s face flushed and he quickly nodded, all too happy.

-

That night Shen Yuan was combing his hair in front of a mirror, lost in thought. He was humming to himself as he reflected on the past couple of weeks. It was nice to have little Binghe by his side, he could see that he had successfully grasped the opportunity to start and become good friends with him. And another good thing is that he hasn’t been seeing any obvious bruises on Luo Binghe and no limping or wincing from touch. So Shen Yuan could determine that no one was able to grab Binghe and beat him up when they were separated. Shen Yuan nodded; good, good.

But then he rested his comb in his lap and his face drained. Was it really good…? Is this really an improvement? Now he was just waiting for Binghe to break off and get taken by some disciples. What if they decide to beat him up at night when everyone is sleeping? They wouldn’t do that, right? Did they ever do that in the book? But then again he is new so whatever happens, is due to a butterfly’s wings flapping. He needed to figure out a way for Binghe to be in a safe position for good, but he couldn’t just break off from character and bark at Shen Qingqiu. The stupid System wouldn’t allow it.

He needed to figure out a way to transfer him over to Bai Zhan Peak. Maybe he could talk to Liu Qingge, though he would probably say, ‘If the kid wants to come over then he can decide that for himself.’

Shen Yuan sighed. In a way, Liu Qingge was quite the pushover. But then if that assumption was correct, he would just have to naturally bring it up in conversation, and boom! Binghe is now a disciple of Liu Qingge and all is right in the world! Shen Yuan will miss his little duckling, but all good things must come to an end.

He breathed through his nose and was going to get some water from one of the stored jugs. He stepped out of his room and saw Shen Qingqiu in the living space in his nightly attire, his hair down. Even at this time of night and in those robes, he looked regal and proud. He glanced at Shen Yuan who was out and about, and asked, “What are you doing up so late?”

“Uh, water,” Shen Yuan answered, going off to get some.

When he did and was heading back to his room, Shen Qingqiu stopped him by saying, “I see you’ve been spending a great deal with that young disciple.”

Shen Yuan halted in his step, his features straining, “You mean Binghe?”

Shen Qingqiu’s eye twitched and he huffed, “Yes, him.”

“Yeah,” Shen Yuan firmly said. “He’s a good kid. Lots of potential.”

Shen Qingqiu’s gaze narrowed, then he suggested, “But… wouldn’t you want to socialize with disciples more your age? Those will be the people that you can partner with best on cultivation missions.”

“Binghe is a fast learner,” Shen Yuan assured. “He will get better at cultivation in no time, and when we go on missions, he will certainly be reliable.”

“Hmph!” Shen Qingqiu breathed through his nose.

“I mean, I also think that I make a pretty good teacher,” Shen Yuan replied, switching to shoot Shen Qingqiu with, “Like you!”

Shen Qingqiu’s face dropped and it felt like he had been stabbed in his heart. His son was too sweet and adorable, but he couldn't sacrifice him to that no good sprout.

Shen Yuan discreetly rolled his eyes. Yeah right you make a good teacher, is what he thought.

“But you shouldn’t let others drag you down,” Shen Qingqiu cleared his throat. “You are too young to take on the responsibility to raise up people like him, you should be focusing on your own education and training. You should be focusing on yourself.”

Shen Yuan sighed inside. Oh Shen Qingqiu, he was completely focusing on his son. It was sweet, but Shen Yuan didn’t want to die again after all. He turned, smiling to his father, “It’s alright, Baba. I can handle anything on this mountain. I am your most capable student after all.”

Shen Qingqiu’s brows softened and he huffed, “Hmph, fine for now. It is late now.”

The disciple nodded, ready to head back to his room when the Peak Lord called, “By the way, in a few days we’ll be traveling off the mountain to take care of a case. It should only take a couple of days and then afterward we’ll celebrate your birthday.”

Shen Yuan preened and responded, “Alright, good night then.”

“Good night.”

Chapter Text

They were riding down the mountain to take care of a job. The mission was to eliminate a dangerous killer and to put everyone at ease. Shen Qingqiu took a group of his disciples including Ming Fan, Ning Yingying, Luo Binghe, and Shen Yuan. At the moment, Shen Yuan was riding on horseback down a slope, complaining in his head that they as cultivators should be using swords to fly, but noooo, Airplane had always made his characters ride horses and carriages everywhere. It was as nonsensical as it was unscientific. At least on his year-long journey, he had the sense to fly everywhere. He was a little scared at first when he started learning to ride on swords, but Shen Qingqiu taught him and that became a pleasant memory. He remembered he couldn’t control it so well and kept floating higher and higher. He soon bawled that he couldn’t get down like a cat in a tree. His father thankfully quickly helped get him down.

Shen Yuan rode alongside Shen Qingqiu’s carriage with the Peak Lord peeking out, asking, “Do you have everything prepared for this mission?”

“Yes, Shizun,” Shen Yuan proudly nodded. “We just need to meet up with the lord of the town first.”

“Mm.”

Shen Yuan hummed, gazing around when he noticed that he couldn’t find Binghe. He looked back and saw Ning Yingying ride up with a worried expression, whining, “Shen Shixiong, Shizun! A-Luo is being bullied!”

Shen Yuan blinked, looking back to see in his absolute amazement and horror that Binghe wasn’t on a horse. They were making him walk with a whole bunch of luggage on his back. Shen Yuan swore that he got a horse before they left, did those disciples tell him to get off and to go on foot the moment he turned his back? How awful.

And what was the worst about it was that those same disciples were riding their horses in circles around Binghe, laughing and kicking up dirt in his face. Shen Yuan watched him suffer as he coughed up dust.

Shen Qingqiu shortly responded, “He’s not the one complaining, he must want to walk.”

Shen Yuan’s mouth fell. Shen Qingqiu knew fully well that Binghe will never speak up for himself, so he is using this as an advantage to harass Luo Binghe from afar. He cleared his throat, stating, “Shen Yuan, tell those disciples to quit their pathetic actions and focus on the trip ahead. We have no time to waste on such trivial things. One must spend it on the mission.”

Shen Yuan knew he was saying this to calm Ning Yingying’s nerves, but telling those disciples off will do no good. Shen Yuan huffed in annoyance and pulled his horse to head back. Ning Yingying and Shen Qingqiu watched him turn back, darting his horse to break off the circle of bullying. He broke through their alignment, stopping them all as he glared, “Keep moving.”

The disciples paled under their shixiong’s disapproval and they quickly skirted away. Binghe stood there, covered in dust and smudge. He looked dejected and small. Shen Yuan’s heart swayed and he moved the horse to get closer.

Binghe tiredly looked up to his shixiong and watched him stop at his side, then held out a hand for him. Binghe stared at the hand then up at his shixiong as he watched Shen Yuan exclaim, “Come on. Ride with me.”

Binghe gaped at that, in shock, gazing up at Shen Yuan. In that particular angle, the shixiong glowed in that calm morning light. His eyes resolute and his voice soft. He was hesitant, but steadily took Shen Yuan’s hand. He pulled Binghe up and the disciple sat behind Shen Yuan, attaching his luggage to the rear of the saddle. Shen Yuan then told Binghe, “Hold on tight.”

The disciple did as he was told and held onto Shen Yuan. He wrapped his arms around Shen Yuan’s waist and rested his cheek on his shixiong’s back. He couldn’t believe what he was doing, to embrace Shen Shixiong this way completely surpassed his imagination. To ride horseback as he latched on tightly; felt like a dream. He softly smiled, resting his head, happily closing his eyes. Shen Yuan was so warm and strong, he smelled like twilight dew on blades of grass. He was steady as an oak tree, supporting Binghe in every instance. It was like a dream, making this child so happy.

The two rode together, with the other disciples palling in disbelief and Shen Qingqiu looking on in shock and disgust. His livid eyes didn’t betray him, he glowered at the small Binghe, coiling around Shen Yuan so innocently and intimately. It made the heart of this father seethe with absolute hate.

-

When they got into town, they met with the gross lord and his mistress Butterfly, everyone then split off in different directions. Shen Qingqiu would stay at the lord’s house, Ming Fan was sent to investigate the trail of resentful energy, and Shen Yuan’s job was to check out the actual crime scenes.

During that time, Ning Yingying took Luo Binghe out on the town and they got to explore it for the rest of the day. When evening came around, the two were in the market and they saw Shen Yuan at the entrance of an alleyway. The two young disciples approached him, “Good evening, Shen Shixiong!”

Shen Yuan turned around and smiled at the pair, “Good evening, exploring the market?”

“Mm!” Ning Yingying nodded. “And what’s Shen Shixiong doing?”

“Oh, finishing up with the last crime scene,” he answered.

The two paled and cautiously looked behind him, but to their surprise, there wasn’t any blood or signs of dastardly things. Shen Yuan laughed at their confusion, stating, “This was one of the first places the Skinner struck. All the blood and such has been wiped away long ago. I’m just trying to find if any clues were overlooked.”

“Oh!” Ning Yingying wondered, “Did Shixiong find anything?”

“Mm, a little,” Shen Yuan explained. “Lots of the areas have rogue smeared around it. At first, I thought it was blood, but saw it was powdered.”

“Huh?” Ning Yingying thought. “Why would the monster use rogue?”

“Hm, don’t know,” he replied. “Perhaps it is female. But it could strike again.” He looked to the sky and saw how late it was, “You two should head back. I’ve been getting a lot of information that the Skinner struck during the evening or at night. It’s bold, so-”

There was a scream. They turned to see a black mist, a shadowy figure was up on the edge of the roof above them. It loomed and then leaped down, claws reaching out at them. Shen Yuan acted quickly and blocked their claws, colliding into and slashing it. Ning Yingying and Binghe escaped back, eyes wide at seeing their shixiong go blade to hand with the Skinner.

The crowd in the market screeched and fled, fleeing in all directions. It caused absolute chaos, confusion going left and right. Binghe held Ning Yingying’s wrist, trying not to get separated, but uncertain on where to go. Through the wind of people, they saw Shen Yuan duel the Skinner. Being fairly matched, the sword nicked the monster at certain points. It shrieked and hissed, but grew a cruel smile that soon laughed. Shen Yuan chased it, but then the beast smashed into spice vendors, creating shrapnel and dust, fogging up the air.

Shen Yuan shielded his eyes from the dust, but honed in at the Skinner’s movements. He listened to it past him and rushed towards the disciples. He watched as Binghe and Ning Yingying tried to flee with the crowd, but someone ran into Ning Yingying, knocking her down with Binghe trying to help her back up. Shen Yuan gasped and darted after it, yelling at the two, “Look out! Get away!”

Binghe and Ning Yingying were caught off guard, looking up, frozen in fear as the Skinner lunged at them. Thankfully, Shen Yuan was faster and sliced the demon’s arm. It howled, slashing at Shen Yuan’s blade a few times until there was a quick movement that disarmed him, his sword was flung out of his hands. It then spun, its aim directed at the vulnerable disciples. Binghe and Ning Yingying’s eyes widened at the oppressing black mist that came to envelop them, but they were instead pushed.

The two fell back to the ground and opened their eyes to watch Shen Yuan be engulfed by the mist.

Binghe yelled, “SHEN SHIXIONG!”

The mist flew into the sky, landing back on the roof, an unconscious Shen Yuan in its arms. The demon laughed and fled the scene, leaving chaos in its wake.

-

The two informed their Shizun about what happened in the marketplace. They gave him Shen Yuan’s sword as evidence of what went down. His expression was cold, unreadable, as he replied to Ning Yingying, “Go tell Ming Fan what you have told me, he should be returning shortly. Then guide him to the scene of the crime. I shall follow you soon after.”

A disciple on the side fretted and nervously stated, “Shizun, shouldn’t Ning Yingying stay behind since the Skinner often targets women?”

Shen Qingqiu’s eyes hardened and he replied with a swift glare, “Its M.O. doesn’t matter anymore. It has proven that it will take any gender since it has stolen my son.”

He gestured to Ning Yingying, “Go, off with you.”

“Yes, Shizun!” Ning Yingying nodded, rushing out of the room.

Shen Qingqiu gestured for the other disciples to follow her and Binghe was about to go when he called, “No. Not you.”

Luo Binghe froze, every ounce of his body felt the chill of those weighted words. His hands tightened into fists, his teeth clenched and his shoulders stiffened. But he turned around, facing Shen Qingqiu who approached him, his fan open, covering his face. Their eyes met, Shen Qingqiu’s showing signs of malice and loathing.

Binghe stared at that cruel gaze and was then hit on the cheek. He yelped, falling to the ground. It was hard and punctured something in his mouth. He felt a drizzle of blood pour out, but didn’t move to wipe it. He just looked up at the Peak Lord with the most bitter eyes. Shen Qingqiu glared down at him and spat, “Useless.”

He left the room, but on his way out he growled, “I’m not finished with you.”

Then he was gone and Luo Binghe was left alone in a room betwixt with a sunset’s orange light. He carefully pulled himself up, sniffed, and wiped the blood from his mouth. His hit was quite powerful, he must have used spiritual energy for that blow since he was in a hurry. Binghe didn’t make the effort to leave the room, feeling rather sullen and lost.

He couldn’t do anything. He didn’t do anything and that helped Shen Yuan get captured. Binghe didn’t know what was going to happen to him. But it had been some time since he saw Shixiong in that demon’s arms. His eyes tightly shut as he came to the grieving conclusion that by now, Shen Yuan was probably dead.

He stared at the ground, rubbing his eyes from any tears threatening to escape. He truly messed up. Shen Yuan was probably dead and he couldn’t do anything about it. He was just a weak and pathetic disciple that didn’t deserve the path of cultivation. Shen Qingqiu was right… he was a complete failure.

Binghe muffled a cry when he suddenly heard a click. He turned to where the noise was coming from and saw Shen Yuan’s sword. It was shaking.

-

Shen Yuan’s eyes felt heavy and his head hurt. Swift memories of the events that unfolded bombarded his mind and he weakly groaned. Everything was spinning, the disciples, the Skinner, the market, his sword, the rogue. His eyes fluttered open and he realized that he smelled rogue in the air. It was a strong perfume that stifled his senses and soon his vision grew better on where he was. He glanced around and saw that he was in some sort of dark storeroom. He was puzzled by that but then felt very cold. The disciple glanced down and his face bloomed red when he realized he was shirtless!

He internally screamed. Where were his clothes?! All he had on were his pants, everything else was stripped off. He became completely embarrassed and ashamed all at once. Why was he shirtless?! This was fucking ridiculous!

He hastily looked about, thankful that no one was around him at the moment to see the sorry state he was in. He groaned, depressingly debating on how in the world this happened. Before he could come up with much of a thought, his arms nudged and he felt a tight prickle on his skin. Shen Yuan’s eyes opened at the sensation that he was bound by his wrists behind his back and around this large wooden pole. He was completely subdued and he had nothing nearby to get him out. The disciple then remembered that he even dropped his sword at the market, so that was far away too.

But he could still call it to him. He made a discreet gesture, calling his sword, hoping that it wasn’t stuck somewhere and could make a clean shot directly to him. As he was fumbling to beckon his sword to him, he heard a light-hearted chuckle. He sharply looked up at the ceiling beams above his head and saw a shadowy robed figure, nonchalantly sprawling on top of it. He could see in their darkness were pale gleaming teeth that formed into a sadistic smile, the figure cooing, “Is the head disciple struggling~?”

He remained stoic, showing that he was undeterred by the Skinner. They chuckled, pulled themselves from the beam, and lept off, softly landing on the floor. The Skinner smirked, “Are you comfortable? For you see, that skin looks so accommodating, I didn’t think you needed to wear anything to burden it.”

Shen Yuan shot her a glare, deep down begging in his head for his sword to show up. He thought he put this mission on easy mode, why was he in such a predicament?! To be illogically stripped and be a target for the Skinner. It was too weird!

He scoffed, “Why take me? I’m not a woman.”

They laughed, “I was aiming for that younger lady disciple from before, but when I got a closer look, saw how pretty you were and strong, well, I just couldn’t help myself.”

Shen Yuan huffed, so their target was Ning Yingying. Then that only leaves one person.

The Skinner giggled, “Are you scared? Frightened out of your wits? Taken by the mysterious Skinner?”

Shen Yuan rolled his eyes, “Mysterious. Hardly.”

“Oh~?” the Skinner said with amusement. “Then have you guessed who I could be already?”

Shen Yuan almost felt bored answering this, “You’re Butterfly, obviously.”

The Skinner stiffened, seeming to actually be surprised that he guessed correctly, but really, who else could she be if not a character that was already introduced. And it was easy to deduce she was a woman with all that rogue. It probably covered up her decaying smell. Yuck.

Now that she is searching for a new skin, she probably wanted to choose one to infiltrate Cang Qiong Mountain. One with a decent enough power and skill in cultivation. So she upped the ante and picked him. But he still thought it was weird that he got captured in a situation like this.

And typical for a villain to play with their victim, trying to spook and creep them out. Is she gonna give him a dumb long monologue? Just rip his skin off already and get it over with, you two-bit villain.

Her smile dropped and she pulled off her hood, glaring at Shen Yuan. She loomed over him, flexing her claws his way, saying, “How did you know?”

He felt a little cocky and goaded, “I’m the head disciple. I’m smart.”

She clicked her teeth and then slammed her hand hard against the pillar he was tied to, cracking into it. He wasn’t all that impressed.

But it looked like she was desperate, probably concerned how someone figured her out so quickly. He was only there for less than a day after all. She growled, “Tell me, or I’ll kill you.”

“You’re going to kill me anyway,” Shen Yuan scoffed, trying to buy some time at least. It was best to keep her talking until he was able to figure out a good plan or if his sword miraculously showed up. It’s good not to tell her everything or she’ll just outright murder him.

“Overconfident brat,” she hissed. “Tell me now, or I’ll rip your eyes out.”

She wavered her claws near his eyes and he reflexed a gulp. He guessed he’d have to tell her something. Bah.

“Well… you see it was a few things…”

“Like what?”

“The rogue for one,” he tried to talk slowly, but not too noticeably. Pretending that he was trying to think of the reasons or that he was scared. Well, he was a little bit scared now. “You used it to mask your rotting scent, yes?”

She frowned, “Yes…”

“I figured, you had to do something with those skins, so you might wear them,” he says, realizing this might be a rip off of Silence of the Lambs; Airplane you scummy con. “You’d tear the skin off the women, making them look discernable and no one could tell who they were. But you’d have the only thing that could identify them, so you’d wear the skin in their place and would go on with your day. But that skin rots after a while, no matter how much demonic energy you put into preserving it. So you wore rogue to cover it up, meaning you’d be dressing up as a woman to conceal yourself and to put those skins to use.”

She huffed, “Great deduction skills, kid. But how did you know it was me?”

Shen Yuan shuffled a bit, really hoping that sword would show up now cause nothing was really coming to mind for a plan. He said, “You seemed to have targeted the lord’s concubine, only Butterfly was left. She was the last skin left, the last preserved. If not them, you would have been another concubine member, and I would be left uncertain which skin you stole.”

She stood up straight, sagely nodding, seemingly impressed. Shen Yuan breathed a sigh of relief, at least he was able to pull that out of his ass.

Butterfly deviously smiled, “You are pretty smart. Too bad I can’t take your brain too and attach it to my mind.” But then she thought for a bit and realized, “Though I could eat it.”

Oh god. In some demon spaces, they believe that eating someone’s brain will give you their intelligence. There was nothing to prove that, but in this world, it might as well be true.

She licked her lips and said, “Well, thanks for telling me. I for one… can’t wait to tear this skin apart…” she gently caressed his cheek which he tried to pull away from. “You’ve been very obedient, I’ll even be merciful and make it swift. Okay~?”

Shen Yuan gave a detesting glare, grumbling, “Fine.”

She giggled, her hands rearing up, the veins on her knuckles bulging. Shen Yuan nervously glanced at them, then shut his eyes, feeling the fright finally trickle inside.

The door to the room slammed open, startling both Shen Yuan and Butterfly. They whipped their heads around to a small disciple that stood in the center who looked just as frightened and confused. Shen Yuan yelped, “BINGHE?!”

Binghe didn’t know what to expect on the other side of the door and really didn’t think it would swing out so hard. He was also in shock at the scene before him with a demonic version of Butterfly and a… a… a!

A STRIPPED SHEN YUAN!

He gasped at the sight of him, his face blooming into a bright red, words caught in his throat.

Shen Yuan looked to the bewildered disciple, but then saw he was holding his sword and he called out, “Binghe! My sword!”

Binghe jolted from his stupor and held the sheath to Shen Yuan which had the blade slipping out of the sheath immediately. The weapon responded quickly, rearing towards Butterfly who attempted to swat it away as it swayed midair for a challenge. It got in between her and Shen Yuan, fending her off as Binghe quickly ran to his shixiong’s side, trying to untie him. He tried to loosen the rope with his hands to no avail, so the boy went to cut it with his own sword. He stabbed at the rope, peeling away some of the strands, but then he heard a shriek. Butterfly evaded Shen Yuan’s sword, coming to angrily swipe at Binghe. The disciple dodged, trying his best to block some of her swings with his own blade.

He gazed out at her wild movements and loud screams, trying to stay clear of them. Shen Yuan called his sword back to himself and used it to cut away the rest of the ropes. He was freed and took his blade, charging at Butterfly. He thrust his sword forward at her, but she evaded and fell back deeper into the room. Seeing that her hostage had escaped and that there was a new disciple, the best she could do was to use a great deal of her demonic energy to ward them off. She channeled it through and charged at Binghe.

The younger disciple was startled that she was coming after him first, but Shen Yuan got in between the two, using his sword to take the brunt of the impact. Demonic energy seared past him and slashed about, nicking some of his exposed skin, but he was able to push her back. She growled, going at it again, but he blocked her a second time, keeping Binghe safely behind him. She then started maniacally laughing, power searing through her. It was lashing out, breaking so much in the storeroom. Shen Yuan held her back, but some of that power slammed into a ceiling beam up above. Cracked and broken, falling towards them. He pushed Binghe out of the way and it fell on top of him.

“SHEN SHIXIONG!” Binghe cried, dust clouding his vision. When it cleared he saw Shen Yuan was on the ground, still conscious, but his leg was pinned. The beam pressed against it, but the shixiong wasn’t reactive to the pain yet. All he knew was that they were in a heap of trouble and his adrenaline was running through the roof.

He suddenly remembered that Binghe had a protagonist halo to protect him from not dying, but Shen Yuan just kept reflexively saving him. He cursed himself for these foolish actions. What was he? Stupid?! Binghe would be fine! Why did he have to get in the crosshairs?! Maybe it was his pride as a head disciple, or to hug the main character’s golden thigh, or something else, but now his leg was trapped under this beam and the Skinner was coming right for him.

She had a twisted expression on her face, rearing up to claw him. He panicked, going for his sword, but not finding it in his hands. What? Did he drop it again?!

He then realized that it was lodged under the beam too. Shit.

Shen Yuan whipped around, just in time to see her about to land a swing on him. He shielded his face, awaiting a fatal blow. But then he heard a loud cry. His eyes opened to witness Binghe jump over him, swinging his sword down at Butterfly. She was caught by surprise and felt it slice into her arm. She hissed, backed away with a surprise, and felt the blood seep past that cut skin suit.

Binghe stood in front of Shen Yuan, now protecting him. He glared daggers at the Skinner, ready to forfeit his life for his shixiong even if he would live just a little longer.

Butterfly growled and charged, ready to rip the poor boy’s head off when a loud boom occurred and a white light scorched the air. It flew past Binghe and directly hit Butterfly square in the chest, sending her flying into the wall.

The disciples turned and saw Shen Qingqiu at the door, breathless with frayed hair. His arm was raised from where he shot out that ball of energy and he conjured up another, ready to throw it at her again. As the power crackled in his hand, he surveyed the scene to see Binghe first, bloodied sword in his hands, standing in front of someone on the ground. His eyes widened to see his son trapped under a wooden beam, with some scratches and bruises, but worst of all, Shen Qingqiu saw he was stripped of his clothes and dignity. A fury bloomed in the Peak Lord’s heart, believing that this bitch of a monster dared try to lay their hands on his son. A rage threatening to explode from the mere thought that his son was harmed and at the mercy of this beast… He’d skin the damn thing himself!

She grumbled and groaned, pulling herself up, her head spinning. Butterfly looked to see Qing Jing’s Peak Lord and his group of disciples behind him. Her face paled and she tried to shrink back but Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t allow it. He threw that ball of power and it bashed right into her shoulder, making her scream. He then threw another and another, none of them strong enough to wipe her off this face of the earth, but enough to make her feel excruciating pain. He wanted her to suffer, to make her feel like she had no escape. For she dare harmed his beloved son, and for that she must feel the pain of a thousand deaths so help him.

The room shook with the powerful blasts, him coming closer as he unleashed ball after ball. It ripped apart her skin piece by piece, revealing the fleshy-looking beast underneath. She wailed from the agonizing energy that tore open what was left of Butterfly’s shell, leaving the monster exposed and cold.

He was then finally before her, her tears bursting forth from the scalding burns. He coldly snarled, “Look at me.”

She whimpered, slowly pulling her head up and he glared down at her. He steadily unsheathed Xia Ya, holding it before her, saying, “It ends here... foul creature.”

Butterfly made a small pitiful sob, but Shen Qingqiu raised the sword and sliced it down. Her cry was cut off as a blast of light vanquished her and then she was no more.

Binghe stared out at this deadly man, who he could see had every ounce of rage coursing through his old soul. He turned back to them, seeing everyone watching him, but he paid none of them any concern. He looked at Binghe and Shen Yuan, their tired young eyes gazing up at him. He saw the recognition on the younger disciple’s face and the boy quickly turned to Shen Yuan, calling, “Shen Shixiong!”

Shen Yuan was snapped out of that trance but then felt pain from his leg. He finally winced at it, muffling any groans that threatened to escape. Binghe fretted, but steeled himself, trying to pull off the heavy beam. The other disciples wanted to come and join him, but Shen Qingqiu made a gesture to stop them and approached the two on the ground. Binghe was struggling with the beam but he turned and saw Shen Qingqiu hover over them. He placed one hand on the beam and gently like silk, pushed it off his son’s leg.

Binghe curiously watched him but then turned to his shixiong, “Ar-Are you okay?!”

“I’m fine, Binghe,” Shen Yuan coughed a bit. “Just a few scratches.” Though at the moment, he was contemplating if his leg was broken or not.

Shen Qingqiu spoke, a chill in his voice, “Luo Binghe.”

The child froze, looked back at the Peak Lord, and then quickly retreated out of his way. Shen Qingqiu stared at him, but then turned to his son, removing his outermost robe, covering Shen Yuan’s shoulders. His expression was complicated and he said, “We will get you treated right away.”

“I’m alright, Shizun,” Shen Yuan tried to give a reassuring smile, but Shen Qingqiu wasn’t buying it.

His expression twisted and he muttered, eyes peering down at the bloodied leg, “All this for…” he didn’t finish his sentence, but said, “This master… apologizes.”

Every disciple’s eyes widened, but Shen Yuan’s gaze lowered, his head softly nodding, “Shizun doesn’t need to apologize. I wasn’t skilled enough to defeat her. No need to coddle me with regrets. I’m not a child.”

“No,” Shen Qingqiu answered, his hands reaching up and holding Shen Yuan’s face. His heart ached and he pulled his son’s head into his shoulder, holding him tightly into an embrace, “You are mine.”

Shen Yuan’s stare grew, but then it wrinkled as he shut his eyes, letting his weight sink into the safety of his father’s arms. He didn’t know why it made him so emotional to have a father look after him, even if it was the book’s villain. For some reason, he never hated it.

He was becoming tired and the pain was starting to grow. He didn’t think he’d be able to walk on that leg for a while.

Shen Qingqiu whispered, so no one would hear, “I swear on this life of mine. I will protect you, even if that means ripping apart every monster in this world.”

Shen Yuan stayed and nodded, believing his father’s words.

Ning Yingying came close, approaching them, carefully saying, “Shizun, let’s bring Shen Shixiong to a place to lie down so we can treat his leg.”

Shen Qingqiu nodded, assisting Shen Yuan up, supporting his son on his busted leg. Shen Yuan’s face was pale with sweat, but he soon opened his eyes to see Luo Binghe standing far away and that’s when he remembered, “Ah, Binghe,” he tried reaching out to him, but Binghe kept his distance with Shen Qingqiu there. But it didn’t stop Shen Yuan from saying, “T-Thank you.”

Binghe’s eyes widened, surprised at such gratitude.

Shen Qingqiu quizzically looked at his son, but Shen Yuan weakly stated, “He… He saved me. Without him, I’d be dead today.”

Shen Qingqiu’s hands tightened on Shen Yuan’s shoulders, but he said no more. He just nodded then shot Binghe a vicious stare and removed his son from the room.

Chapter Text

They returned to Qing Jing Peak and for the rest of the week, Shen Yuan was showered with get well presents and then eventually birthday presents. He had no idea why he was receiving so many gifts all at once, but disciple after disciple would come to give out presents to get better, but the worst perpetrator was Shen Qingqiu himself who practically suffocated Shen Yuan with gifts. The poor disciple didn’t know what to do with all these material things, so at the time he just let himself be buried in them.

He was a bit disappointed though, because even with all of these presents, not once did Luo Binghe come to see him. He’d try to get up to see him, but Shen Qingqiu or another disciple would immediately usher him to lay back down and get some rest. It was sweet at first, but by the third day it was getting a bit annoying. He wasn’t a baby! He had crutches! He could take a walk by himself! But he didn’t yell those things, just remained in a huff until his birthday where he received the bulk of his presents, but the whole time he wondered where Binghe was. He wanted to go check where he could be, but he never had a moment to himself.

Shen Yuan hoped with all the gift-giving that Binghe would show up to give his own then he could talk to him. But then Shen Yuan realized that Binghe wouldn’t even have anything to give him, so he quickly threw that idea out the window.

Shen Qingqiu noticed his son was a bit depressed and soon asked, “What’s the matter? Are these gifts not to your liking?”

Shen Yuan almost snorted through his nose. Shen Qingqiu really liked spoiling him, to the point that it was ridiculous. It was amusing that the cold and aloof villain became such an adoring father. He never had anyone pay this much attention to him in his past life.

He sighed, “No… All these gifts are very nice.”

“Then what’s wrong?” Shen Qingqiu questioned.

Shen Yuan carefully replied, “This disciple is just very cooped up. I would appreciate things better if I could get some proper fresh air.”

Shen Qingqiu listened and was convinced. He helped Shen Yuan get up with his crutches and led him outside. Shen Yuan looked back at the Peak Lord and said, “You’re coming with me?”

Shen Qingqiu blinked then nodded, “I’ll go. It is your birthday, you can ask for whatever you want.”

Cool, he wanted to see Binghe. But he knew if he said that in front of this particular Peak Lord that him being upset would be an underestimate. He’d believe his father would do it, but it’d PRETTY awkward. He’ll have to break off from his father somehow, maybe there’ll be a good distraction along the way.

He wobbled out there, smelling the warmth of an afternoon glow. It was a soft day and he was pleased for it to be his birthday. They slowly made their way up the stone path, taking their time on a delightful walk, just the quiet between them. Shen Yuan hummed, the calm simplicities of life were truly the best sometimes.

They made their way uphill and that’s when it started getting a bit more populated with disciples bravely coming over and giving Shen Yuan their quick hellos and how are yous, for they weren’t too courageous to stick around the steely eye of Shen Qingqiu. He held up a rather serious face the whole time, enough to make Shen Yuan laugh. The master blinked, turning to his son and questioned, “What are you laughing at?”

Shen Yuan snorted and answered, “It’s just-” he reached out and poked the side of Shen Qingqiu’s mouth. “You’re so serious. All the time. When do you smile exactly?”

“I smile,” Shen Qingqiu frowned.

“Oh really?” Shen Yuan chuckled. “What time of the month is it? Can you give me the hour you do it? Or is it more like minutes?”

Shen Qingqiu huffed, “Obnoxious child. Learn some respect.”

“Not until you learn to smile,” Shen Yuan grinned. He showed his two index fingers that he pointed at both ends of his own smile and said, “See? Not too hard.”

“I know how,” the Peak Lord sighed. “I smile often. Around you.”

Shen Yuan pulled back and muttered, “Me?”

“Yes, are you blind?” he scoffed. “I smile around you often because you are my diligent son.” He went and patted his head, something Shen Yuan didn’t expect. When his hand was removed, Shen Yuan went over and held the spot that he patted. It was strange, he gave plenty of pats to people he thought were adorable in his past life, like his sister, but he always felt odd receiving one of his own.

He shook it off and stated, “Okay, you smile around me. But what about others?”

“Hmph, I don’t need to smile around them,” he miffed.

“Oh come on,” Shen Yuan nudged. “You frighten away every disciple with that hard, cold expression. You should just try it, for my birthday.”

Shen Qingqiu narrowed his eyes and mumbled, “I’ve given you so many gifts for your birthday.”

“One more~,” he mewed. “Pwease.”

Shen Qingqiu looked bothered, but that was a funny face to Shen Yuan too. He grunted, “I’ll make an embarrassment out of myself.”

“No you won’t,” Shen Yuan assured. “If you are good at smiling with me then you can do it.”

Shen Qingqiu’s gaze lowered as he thought, but then Ming Fan, Ning Yingying, and a group of disciples strolled by, chatting about something, but then saw the two and immediately stopped to do a decent bow.

Ming Fan said first, “Shizun. Shixiong.”

“Ming Fan,” Shen Qingqiu nodded.

The disciple did some quick conversing, “Us disciples were taking a leisurely break before studying more. We’ll return to our studies shortly.”

“Just a few more minutes!” Ning Yingying sweetly smiled.

Shen Qingqiu saw that and with a small encouraging nudge from Shen Yuan, he gave his best smile possible, trying not to look too strained. The disciples saw this and with that one smile, it was like all of existence just exploded. Those lips curling up was like being hit by a giant cannonball and being shot across the globe. It was the most surprising thing they have ever witnessed in all their lives. Their faces became dumb and their mouths were slack-jawed as they gawked at the expression.

Shen Qingqiu immediately felt humiliated by showing such a face, but suddenly Shen Yuan locked arms with him and grinned, “What a good smile!”

The disciples blinked, as if their souls were being sucked back into their bodies and realization dawned on them. They speedily took in the sudden understanding and Ning Yingying was the first to call, almost in a panic if she was being honest, “SHIZUN SMILE PRETTY!”

The others quickly jumped on it, saying, “Yes! Very nice, Shizun!”

“We’ll keep working hard!”

“We’ll study our best!”

“Mhm!”

“It was very nice, Shizun!”

“Uh-huh!”

“Okay, bye!” they darted off, their faces flushed with how weirdly pretty that smile was.

Shen Qingqiu stood there; confused, aghast, weirded out, embarrassed, and every other feeling under the moon. He sharply turned to Shen Yuan who proudly nodded. He said, “Good job!”

“G-Good job?!” Shen Qingqiu made a face.

“Yeah.”

“They just ran away!”

“They just aren’t used to you smiling is all.”

“They probably think I’ve lost my mind!”

“Nah, they looked more happy than anything.”

“HAPPY?!” Shen Qingqiu scoffed. “Why would they be happy? Who would be happy seeing this weird face smile?”

“First off… me,” Shen Yuan sharply replied. “Second off, my father has a good face. That’s not a lie because I have a good face. We look very similar. So if my face is okay smiling, so is yours.”

Shen Qingqiu was having difficulty wrapping his head around such reasoning but then someone else appeared on the path. He was a little ahead and Shen Yuan gasped, “Perfect!”

“What’s perfect? Wh-?” but then he looked ahead and paled. “No, no, no, no, no.”

“Come on, Baba~” the crippled son dragged his father down the path which led to Yue Qingyuan. The head sect master was going to come and bring a birthday gift to A-Yuan like his other get well gifts from days before, but he was struck with surprise when both son and father rushed up to him. He blinked, rather befuddled, but had the composure to greet them, “Shen Shidi, Shen Yuan.”

Shen Qingqiu huffed, crossing his arms, and looked away, dissatisfied. But Shen Yuan gave a big grin, replying, “Good afternoon, Sect Leader!”

Yue Qingyuan softened at him, holding out a small wrapped box, and said, “I’ve come to give you this on your birthday. It may not be much, but I hope you enjoy it.”

Shen Yuan peered at it and nodded, “Thank you, Sect Leader.” He gently received the gift and said, “I will open it later.”

Yue Qingyuan hummed, “That’s good to hear.”

“Yes, yes,” Shen Yuan tucked the small gift into his robes and stated, “Sect Leader, I was hoping you could do me a favor.”

He blinked and asked, “What would A-Yuan like?” Shen Qingqiu rolled his eyes; he never appreciated Yue Qingyuan addressing his son like that. Pissed him off.

But he was startled when Shen Yuan came up and whispered, “Here is some good practice. Make sure you do well?”

“Huh?”

“Sect Leader, can you take care of my father today?” the two’s skin jumped in a start, immediately flustered.

Yue Qingyuan muttered, “Ah… A-Yuan, I...uh…”

“Absolutely not!” Shen Qingqiu snapped. “I thought we were going on a walk! Why must I spend time with him?!”

Shen Yuan shortly answered, “Smiling practice.”

“W-What?!”

“Come on, Baba,” Shen Yuan pouted. “Just spend ten minutes with him and have a proper conversation.”

“Ten minutes?” Shen Qingqiu grunted. “No, never.”

“For my birthday?” Shen Yuan feigned whimpering. “Pwease?”

“I thought that back there was the last thing,” the Peak Lord grumbled.

“Agh,” Shen Yuan faked, putting on a show as he whined, “My leg… It hurts. It hurts so much, Baba. The only thing that can help is a nice chat between two peak lords. Aahh.”

Shen Qingqiu gawked at him and scoffed, “Shameless.”

“It’s not my fault you two adults act like children when next to each other,” Shen Yuan teased. He pulled away, up the hill as he called, “Ten minutes! See you later! I better hear good things about it later!”

“You-!” Shen Qingqiu’s fists tightened but then he looked to the unsure Yue Qingyuan and thought his son was quite the handful.

Shen Yuan himself had gladly escaped and thought ten minutes was a good enough time for their conversation limit, so he could get some distance between him and his father to find Binghe.

But where was he?! Shen Yuan was searching, searching for a while, and the kid was nowhere! What the hell?!

He looked in the kitchen, in the dorms, the classrooms, on the training grounds, he even took a small peek into the woodshed. And yet, nothing! Niltched!

Where was that kid? Was he cleaning laundry, chopping wood? Why wasn’t he around? He hardly got to even see him after the Skinner incident cause Shen Qingqiu was smothering him. So where did he go?

But a thought he didn’t like one bit popped into his head. Did-Did Shen Qingqiu kick him out of Qing Jing Peak while he was recovering? No… he wouldn’t do that. Right? Right. No. He even asked the System, but they just uselessly shrugged at him.

Why wasn’t Binghe around? It was his birthday that he made up when he met Shen Qingqiu, he should at least visit him once. He was out in the open, show up, Binghe!

But no amount of searching made him be found, and all the disciples went back to studying so he didn’t want to bother them and ask. Besides, it would be weird if he told them he was searching high and low for only one person. They’d get the wrong idea.

He sat down, tired from looking around, and just rested there, disappointed. He was hoping to see him. Hoping he wasn’t being bullied too much. Hoping he wasn’t too frightened by the Skinner. He was hoping to thank him again for that. Even though he was a young, innocent disciple, he really went out of his way to protect him. The protagonist’s sense of justice and duty were showing through. Too bad it doesn’t stay like that.

He sighed, feeling a tad bit lonely.

He mumbled, “Ah... where are you?”

But then he heard panting and footsteps, turning to see the little white lotus himself. Shen Yuan’s eyes widened as he saw the kid completely out of breath, but he was holding a bowl with a lid on, steam trying to escape. He looked at Shen Yuan and practically yelled out, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

Shen Yuan stared at him, completely caught by surprise. Binghe approached him, panting as he brought the bowl to his shixiong, “I-,” he finally winded himself, “I made you something!”

He blinked as Binghe carried the bowl over, and asked, “You… where were you?”

“Sorry, Shixiong,” Binghe huffed. “I had to find a quiet place to study for a little bit on the test for next week, but I heard you were out of the house, so I rushed to the kitchen and made you something.”

Oh, they just missed each other. Shen Yuan gazed then smiled. So he was still here, to be worried by such intrusive thoughts was complete nonsense. But… it still would be for the best.

Binghe sat on the big stone that Shen Yuan was on and said, “It should still be hot. I hope Shen Shixiong will like it.”

He opened the bowl and inside was a giant longevity noodle. Shen Yuan saw it and gave a small chortle. Binghe’s eyes whipped up to him, concerned that he thought this was more amusing than endearing. But Shen Yuan quickly brushed away those worries when he stated, “It looks delicious, Binghe.”

Binghe’s expression softened and he gifted Shen Yuan the bowl for him to eat. The shixiong took the chopsticks and began to gobble it down. It really was good, like everything that Binghe made. His little wives will truly enjoy his cooking, no doubt about it.

“Has-?!” Binghe called, but then quieted himself, “Has Shen Shixiong been eating well?”

Shen Yuan sighed, “Well enough. But B- Shizun is no cook, so usually a disciple comes and prepares something. But not all the time.”

Binghe’s face turned down, deep down wanting to make Shen Yuan food every day, but he didn’t want to routinely encounter his father.

“How about Binghe?” Shen Yuan asked. “I wanted to check on you after the Skinner Incident, but Shizun kept coddling me and demanded I rest. So how are you? Your first mission wasn’t too frightening, was it?”

“No,” Binghe answered. “I’m not scared.”

“Hm,” the shixiong nodded. “It’s good to be brave, but you are new to cultivation and the world of demons. If it is too much sometimes, just say so.”

“O-Okay,” the little disciple replied.

“Also, I want to thank you again,” Shen Yuan said, making Binghe have a confused expression. “If it wasn’t for you, I would have been skinned apart by that demon. It would have taken my skin and infiltrated Cang Qiong Mountain, causing even more chaos. So thank you for finding me and bringing my sword.”

“That’s how I did it though,” Binghe responded. “Your sword was moving so I just let it pull me to where you were.”

“I notice,” Shen Yuan smiled. “Very clever.”

That comment caused Binghe’s cheeks to glow and he grew a large proud grin.

“Also, when that beam fell on my leg,” Shen Yuan gestured to his broken bone. “Thank you for defending me when I couldn’t move.”

Binghe thought it would sound too prideful and conceited to say you’re welcome, so he instead answered with, “I couldn’t let Shixiong die.”

Shen Yuan’s eyes widened and he noted, “To put yourself, a new disciple against a powerful demon, you would do that for this shixiong?”

“I’d do it again right now,” Binghe said. “Again and again and again. Shixiong is too kind to die from such a malicious and wretched spirit.”

Shen Yuan gazed at him and replied, “Luo Binghe is very kind too… and brave.”

Binghe’s heart pattered and he felt a blush crawl up his neck. To be praised by his gentle shixiong was something else.

“I also have to thank Shixiong,” Binghe muttered. “You- You saved me and Ning-Shijie from the Skinner. You shielded us even when you were disarmed and you protected me when I found you. I have to thank you for that too.”

Shen Yuan’s eyes softened. He could counter that with, of course, I am your shixiong after all. But Binghe has already had many bad shixiongs. So instead he just said, “No problem.”

-

Binghe and Shen Yuan walked together for a while, trying to catch up. Shen Yuan was kind of surprised that Shen Qingqiu didn’t barge in and cut them off earlier, for they were talking for hours. Perhaps something came up.

Night had fallen and the two got up a hill when they stopped and saw Shen Qingqiu and Yue Qingyuan. Shen Yuan’s eyes widened. HUH?! They were still talking?! He stopped Binghe so they could spy on them from afar and watched as they quietly conversed, unheard from anyone else. Shen Qingqiu himself had a softer expression to him than when Shen Yuan left them to talk earlier. And Yue Qingyuan seemed to be pleased.

Shen Yuan smiled and didn’t want to interrupt. He guided Binghe down the hill and they left the two under the moonlight.

Chapter Text

“All the disciples’ files are in order,” Shen Qingqiu said. “Also all the assignments for the next two weeks have already been distributed to them. The following papers are safely stored in the record room.”

“Yes, yes,” Shen Yuan nodded. Shen Qingqiu kept telling him over and over again what to do, but he’d be just fine with teaching for a few months.

“Don’t let those disciples skip a day out of sword training,” he huffed. “And plan the trips down the mountain accordingly. Make sure you have enough supplies and money on you. Also if that no good Sect Leader shows up, tell him-”

“That your moonlight date was wonderful?” Shen Yuan dangerously teased.

Shen Qingqiu flushed and whipped around, “NO! It wasn’t anything like that!”

“You’re right, I saw absolutely wrong,” Shen Yuan nodded. “I couldn’t have seen my father gazing longingly at his dearest sweetheart in the most genuine and affectionate way. My eyes deceived me.”

Shen Qingqiu glared, “Your eyes and hands will be used to rewrite the code of manners on this peak if you keep that up.”

“Sorry, sorry!” Shen Yuan hastily apologized, even though there was a small chuckle thrown in there for the mix. This was progress! He’ll get the QiJiu ship sailing just yet! He never would admit to liking any of the romances in PDIW before, but he had to admit, this one was a little more special. Hits a little closer to home and if he pushed a little harder, hey, he might have two gay dads! Unexpected, but not unwelcome. Especially if that meant it would calm Shen Qingqiu down a little bit if whatever they had going on would be resolved. The rate that this is going, maybe five more years he could get them to hold hands! Yes, success is on the horizon!

“Anyways!” Shen Qingqiu called. “I leave Qing Jing Peak to you…” He took Shen Yuan’s hands, saying, “My most dutiful,” Shen Yuan brightly beamed, “And obnoxious son.” His face fell.

Shen Yuan decided to get back at him for that, “I promise I will, my most loving and constipated father.”

Shen Qingqiu’s eyelid twitched and he huffed, “Well, I’m off. See you in a few months.”

“See you then,” Shen Yuan waved as Shen Qingqiu left the house. When he was out of sight Shen Yuan made a fun giggle. He didn’t know if it was him deaging so much in this next life, but even though he had the soul of an old man, he had the heart of a teenager, which meant he got excited when he was home alone. He knew he had to be the responsible shixiong, but he was giddy on the ideas of what more he could get away with now that Shen Qingqiu wasn’t home.

In fact, he was quite like a child when he was a child. Even though he would never admit it, Shen Qingqiu could tell. Shen Yuan always tried to be very mature for his age, he did taxes in his previous life, damn it! But there were just instances, even when he could read volumes of books and produced a very sound mind, he acted quite like a kid. Perhaps returning to such a youth involuntarily made him act like a child, whether it was subconscious or he thought he needed to act the part sometimes. Or better yet, if he thought he could get what he wanted by acting like it.

Shen Yuan cooed. The times he threw a tantrum between ages six and ten or let himself get spoiled were more than he’d confess to. And to be able to act out the characteristics of a teenager was actually quite fun to experience again.

In fact, he recalled one time as a child, Shen Qingqiu was having nightmares and didn’t tend to sleep at the Peak much. He would always leave off somewhere, though Shen Yuan knew back then he was going to brothels. He didn’t know why Shen Qingqiu had to go to them, so with the little information he had, and trying to make him feel better, Shen Yuan would cry in his sleep. He feigned it of course, but he got really good at acting and put on a show of wailing big tears so that Shen Qingqiu would be a god damn parent, and not leave a kid alone in a big house at night.

It stopped him from going to brothels so much, but it didn’t help him sleep better, so Shen Yuan thought maybe he just needed someone to sleep beside him. So one stormy night he concocted a brilliant plan!

-

Shen Qingqiu was restlessly turning about in his bed as a thunderstorm raged on outside. His eyes were dreary and the bed felt uncomfortable. He couldn’t sleep again. And he couldn’t go out to the brothels to sleep in the same rooms as women, especially not in this weather. But even more so that Shen Yuan would have nightmares and wake up crying. He couldn’t just leave a kid here alone and he certainly couldn’t take him to the brothels.

He would have to forfeit a pleasant night’s sleep for the young boy, even though the lack of shut-eye was making him more irritable in the mornings. He sighed, he really did want to sleep, but how can one sleep on this mountain with so many men? It felt too dangerous in his heart and he couldn’t get over it. He tried really hard, using remedies and meditating before sleeping, but nothing worked.

Shen Qingqiu sighed, he just wanted to get some sleep.

Suddenly, he heard a door creak and his head whipped up in a start at who the intruder could be. His eyes fell on a little Shen Yuan with a blanket in his arms as he called, “Um… Baba… I can’t sleep.”

Shen Qingqiu stared and something stirred inside of him. He understood now. It wasn’t just him that couldn’t sleep.

He patted the side of his bed and said, “Come here. We’ll rest together tonight.”

Shen Yuan perked up and his small feet pattered over to his bedside as he gasped, “It’s okay?”

Shen Qingqiu softly closed his eyes and nodded, “It’s okay. Come and we will share these blankets.”

Shen Yuan beamed and crawled onto the bed, clearly excited and ready to share it. He snuggled in and smiled, “Thank you, Baba.”

“Sleep,” Shen Qingqiu sighed, placing a hand on Shen Yuan’s head to place him on the pillow. He rested his own head and for some reason, his gaze grew heavy. He peered at the boy who already closed his eyes and he gingerly blinked a few times until he dozed off.

The following morning he snorted awake to a bird singing. He rubbed his eyes and yawned, glancing to his side to see Shen Yuan was curled up, still sleeping soundly. Shen Qingqiu turned to the window to see that the sun was high in the sky and that he had been sleeping soundly for hours. What the hell?!

He looked over at the dozing boy and became surprised that he could at least sleep peacefully in his presence.

-

Shen Yuan stretched then clapped. Alright! Number one rule as head shixiong: no one bullies Luo Binghe! He’d make that clear in that day’s lecture.

He’d exit the Bamboo House with a new goal in mind: he had to check the dorms. Gotta find Luo Binghe a decent place to sleep, he can’t have him resting in that woodshed forever. He walked up to the dorms and entered with a few friendly waves to other disciples who were oblivious to his actions. He started glancing around, taking note of where all the disciples who bully Binghe sleep and what rooms were free. There were a couple, one in the middle and another at the end. He scratched his head, maybe he can discreetly relocate a disciple who lives near the entrance to one of those free ones. This way Binghe will have a quick easy escape and none of the bullies could corner him.

Shen Yuan would also be making good but nonviolent disciplines to encourage disciples to get into fights less and balance it with trying to convince Binghe to transfer to Bai Zhan Peak. He nodded, good, good. He was off to a good start. Before exiting the dorms, he ran into Ming Fan who’s brow quizzically quirked at him. His footing shuffled oddly and he gave a quick bow, “Shixiong. What are you doing here? You don’t usually come to the dorms.”

Not one to beat around the bushes huh? Shen Yuan sighed inside, “I was just checking up on some things.”

“Hm?” Ming Fan tilted his head. “Like what? Is something amidst in the dorms?”

Shen Yuan didn’t know if it was bad if he lied, so he selectively told the truth, “Well… there are some things that I have concerns with that I believe will affect certain disciples' attention that reside in the dorms. So I am debating on whether there should be a relocation in rooms.”

“Relocation?!” Ming Fan’s brows were thrown up. “What could the disciples have done that they need to be relocated?!”

What have they not done? Shen Yuan internally scoffed. He smiled, “I’m just saying it’s up for debate. I haven’t made a decision yet. There is no need to worry about anything like that at the moment.”

Ming Fan flared, it sure sounded like he already made a decision if he was checking out the dorms! And was this even passed by Shizun yet?! This underhanded brat just thinks he can do whatever he wants the moment Shizun leaves!

Shen Yuan gave him a look and noted how pissed Ming Fan appeared. Oh jeez, Ming Fan. That’s not the most charming expression. Tut tut.

He said, “I better be off now. I have many things to attend to now.”

He rushed off with a mischievous giggle, leaving the distraught Ming Fan behind. He didn’t have much else to do that day, just to look over the following week’s assignments. He started walking on the stone paths and through tree canopies when he saw a friendly face appear from the next corner.

Binghe showed up and the moment he saw Shen Yuan, his expression brightened. He happily ran over to the head disciple and called, “Shixiong!”

“Hello Binghe,” Shen Yuan smiled.

The child stopped very close and asked, “How is Shixiong today?”

“Hm, a little busy,” Shen Yuan exclaimed. “But I have some time now.”

Binghe gazed up at him and stated, “I heard from Ning Shijie that you’ll be teaching for the next few months.”

“Yes, Shizun is going into seclusion for a while,” Shen Yuan answered. “So I’ll be taking over.”

“You can really do that?” Binghe questioned and then caught himself, “Ah! Not that I don’t think you can!”

Shen Yuan pleasantly chuckled, “It does seem presumptuous that someone as young as me will be teaching many of you younger disciples. But no worries, I’m capable. And if I need any help, there are plenty of other older disciples that can tap in for a day or so, say if I come down with a cold or something.”

“But…” Binghe looked down at his leg. “Will you be able to do it with that?”

Shen Yuan glanced down at the bandaged leg. It was no longer in a caste and he didn’t need crutches anymore. He said, “It’s a bit sprained, but it’s mostly healed now. I hardly recognize the pain anymore.”

 

“That’s good,” Binghe nodded but then noticed something in Shen Yuan’s hair and questioned, “What’s that?”

Shen Yuan blinked at where Binghe was pointing and reached for an emerald hairpin that held up his hair. It had green glass beads and silver patterns across the neck of the piece. He smiled, “Ah. This was a gift from A-Di- I mean Sect Leader.” His face flushed. Oops, way to go and embarrass yourself, A-Yuan. Right in front of the protag too, how lame. He shook it off, “Sect Leader gave it to me as a present for my birthday. Do you like it?”

Binghe stared at it. It did look pretty on Shen Shixiong, he just wished he could give him something better. But he had no money. Though Shen Yuan seemed happy with it adorning his hair and it made him look a bit fancy. It must be nice having two father figures to love you.

He made a light nod and decided to contain his envy. It was best to draw attention away from the hairpin, “What does Shixiong have planned?”

“Ah, Shizun stored many assignments for future classes so we’ll be working on those materials,” Shen Yuan replied. “I’ll of course make my own assignments for you guys to work on in the future. I also intend to assist everyone in sword training and to take everybody on trips.”

“Like missions?” Binghe wondered.

“No, not missions,” Shen Yuan shook his head. “It’d be best if we have someone like a Peak Lord with us on missions because even though I can defend myself just fine from demons, I wouldn’t say I’m at the level yet to protect all you disciples at once. So we aren’t doing any missions.”

“I see,” Binghe responded. He supposed that would be for the best. It would be good if Shixiong didn’t get hurt while protecting him again.

“Instead we’ll be doing very basic trips,” Shen Yuan explained. “Researching and studying various flora and fauna that have certain spiritual properties. It’ll be nice and safe and will take the disciples out of the classroom.”

Binghe gazed up at his shixiong in awe; he really did have it all figured out. He was so smart for someone so young. He gave a heartwarming grin and Shen Yuan glanced down at him, returning an unsure smile back, “W… What?”

“It’s just…” Binghe hummed. “I think Shixiong will make a great Peak Lord one day.”

Shen Yuan blinked then shyly scratched the back of his head with a timid laugh, “You really think so?”

“Mhm,” Binghe nodded. “Shixiong is very smart and kind. He will do a great job, I’m sure of it.”

Shen Yuan felt a silly smile ride up to his lips. It is kind of odd being praised by the protagonist. But it was also sad that he may burn Qing Jing Peak one day, but if Shen Yuan was going to be the predecessor and Binghe trusts him, maybe he won’t attack this place.

“What will…?” Binghe's voice trailed off for a bit. “What else would Shixiong do, once he becomes Peak Lord?”

“What do you mean?” Shen Yuan questioned.

“Um… I suppose, how will you discipline your disciples?”

Shen Yuan blinked then answered, “Same as how I will discipline them now,” Binghe felt a bit nervous, but then he stated, “The lesser punishments will be writing up Qing Jing’s formal manners and rules a thousand times and for the harsher punishments, those disciples will have to clean the stables for a week at least.”

Binghe blinked, surprised that such punishments weren’t as violent as he anticipated they’d be. But Shen Yuan wasn’t Shen Qingqiu, he did appear to have a more merciful heart.

“The stables…?”

“Uh-huh,” Shen Yuan hummed. “Any troublemakers will have to pick up horse poop for an allotted amount of time.”

Binghe made a face and realized that was one of the new punishments that Shen Qingqiu used on Ming Fan when he threw that rock. He recalled Ming Fan discreetly crying and whining to himself the whole time. But it was a more tame punishment than anything Binghe had been put through. It wouldn’t hurt, but it would be a nasty job to do. Yes, he liked the thought of Shen Yuan as a peak lord much better.

“Well,” Shen Yuan sighed. “I suppose I should spend the rest of the evening looking over those papers.” He walked ahead, waving, “See you later, Binghe.”

Binghe waved back, shortly whispering, “Bye bye.”

-

Shen Yuan returned back home with those papers and before he started addressing them, he saw something resting on a dresser. He blinked and noticed his father’s fan. Oh, he must have forgotten it in his hurry this morning. That was so unlike him. Shen Yuan snickered, maybe that night out with Yue Qingyuan was more lovely than originally thought. He chuckled at that and grasped it. He’ll just sneak into Lingxi Caves real quick and give it back to his dad. In and out, and he’ll have plenty of time to read over the next day's assignments.

He took the fan up the hill, flying on his sword as he made a quick way to the caves. No one would get too mad if he entered without permission for a minute. It would take no time at all. He hopped inside with a little hum, unafraid that he’ll urk Shen Qingqiu’s meditation. It had barely been a day, Shen Yuan bet he hardly even started.

He walked in, peeking here and there then turned a corner. His eyes widened at the sight of a large gash in the cave walls. Huh? What’s this? Why is there a mark like this-?

“SHEN YUAN!!!”

Shen Yuan jolted at a voice that suddenly screamed his name and whipped around to see a shadow engulf his vision. He could hardly make a sound as a figure reached out to him with a bloodied hand. Shen Yuan wasn’t quick enough to react but watched a sword flew between him and the figure, cutting the person’s arm. The man reacted to the pain and toppled to the ground past Shen Yuan.

Shen Yuan quickly went to flee back until he saw Shen Qingqiu rush to his side, sword returning to his grasp, but not fast enough as the wild person abruptly raised his head, revealing a qi deviated Liu Qingge. Shen Yuan startled at that, but the crazed Peak Lord was still faster than this head disciple by a long shot even if he lost all sense, and went to slash at him again.

He reached to claw at the boy, but his father got in between the two. And faster than Shen Yuan could comprehend, he watched two swords collide. Liu Qingge’s came out of nowhere, knocking into Xia Ya. And Liu Qingge was on the move again, like a rabid animal. Shen Qingqiu shielded his son with his sword and powers.

Shen Yuan glanced at his father’s face, seeing a livid desire to survive. One with a glare of deadly desperation, a fear overriding his senses, and Shen Yuan soon realized what this was. Liu Qingge lunged at them, slicing and bashing into Shen Qingqiu’s sword. The Peak Lord blocked every hit, then he went on the offense. Removing himself from his son, he charged at the maddened sect master, ready to swing his blade at his neck when he heard Shen Yuan’s voice pierce into the air.

“DON’T KILL HIM!”

Shen Qingqiu’s eyes snapped open and his body wavered. He changed the movement of his sword to hit Liu Qingge with the blunt of the metal, sending the man flying. He crashed into the wall, gasping for air and coughing up blood. His arms became weak and he had difficulty moving. He kneeled, unable to find any more strength to raise back up. Shen Qingqiu panted with a strained breath, about to subdue the hysterical peak lord when he saw his son run past him.

He called, “Wha-What?! Shen Yuan?!”

Shen Yuan ignored his father’s yells and went straight to Liu Qingge’s side. He was still dizzy from the hit, so Shen Yuan crouched down and quickly placed two hands on his back; hastily sending him spiritual energy. He had to fix the damaged cultivation system before he died from his qi deviation.

Shen Qingqiu watched his son perform such an act and decided to drop his guard, approach Liu Qingge and also place his hands on him to channel more soothing energy to fix the distribution in his core. He lowered himself to their level, watching the glow emanate from their hands.

The Bai Zhan Peak Lord’s vision was wavering and he felt exceedingly dizzy, eventually passing out, to both of their surprises, onto Shen Qingqiu’s lap. The Peak Lord indignantly squawked, going to move him, but Shen Yuan said, “Don’t, you’ll hurt him even more.”

Shen Qingqiu made a twisted face and sighed, submitting that this will just have to be at the moment. They didn’t move for a while, just healing Liu Qingge. Shen Yuan was pretty relieved at the moment. He actually changed the plot. He could do it, it was possible! He prevented Liu Qingge from being killed by Shen Qingqiu! He didn’t think he could, but he is pretty satisfied that he did. He’d be really sad about it if he couldn’t.

If he was going to be honest, he was so busy focusing on Binghe and becoming a substitute teacher that he forgot all about this part. Thankfully fate was generous and he was able to stop Shen Qingqiu from killing him. Hell yeah! He gave a relieved sigh and Shen Qingqiu’s eyes flickered up to him, then he asked, “Why are you here?”

“Huh?” Shen Yuan snapped out of his train of thought. “W-What?”

“Why are you here?” Shen Qingqiu questioned. “What’re you doing here?”

“Ah!” Shen Yuan was a bit awkward about this but pulled out Shen Qingqiu’s fan, saying, “I was bringing you this. You never go anywhere without it, so I thought you’d want it.”

Shen Qingqiu gazed down at the fan and gently took it, replying, “Thank you.” He then peered at his son and told him, “Be more careful entering the caves next time. Now that you know what can happen inside.”

“Yes, Shizun,” Shen Yuan obediently nodded.

Shen Qingqiu chewed his bottom lip for a second, his eyes revealing a bothered expression as he stated, “Also… thank you.”

Again? Shen Yuan stared, “F-For what?”

The father sighed, “For stopping me just now. I was about to…” He never finished his words but Shen Yuan knew.

He looked up at him then reached out to hold his shoulder, saying, “It’s okay now.”

Shen Qingqiu snorted with a hint of amusement, but then suddenly the Bai Zhan Peak Lord stirred. They turned down to see him uncomfortably roll about and slowly open his eyes. He gazed up at the two faces that formed in his vision and recognized it as Shen Qingqiu and Shen Yuan.

He startled but groaned from the pain, unable to get up just yet, his head still dizzy. Shen Yuan spoke in a soft voice, “Is Shishu alright?”

“Ahh…?” Liu Qingge murmured, sweat on his forehead. “What’s going on…?”

Shen Yuan wiped his sweaty brow with his sleeve as he exclaimed, “Shishu went through a qi deviation. It’s alright, you’re okay now.”

“Hah…?” Liu Qingge’s eyes rolled a bit until they landed on the disturbed Shen Qingqiu who was stressed and drained from the whole ordeal. He looked up at him, trying to understand what he was seeing until he felt a softness on the back of his head. He lifted his arm and pressed to feel it, which at that Shen Qingqiu stiffened with a shrill embarrassed shriek. He swatted Liu Qingge’s bewildered hand away, and that’s when the Peak Lord realized what his head was laying on. He threw himself off and looked to see the pissed-off Shen Qingqiu.

He snapped at him, “Where were you touching?!”

“Why was my head on your lap?!” Liu Qingge barked.

Shen Yuan got in between, “You were tired and needed to rest! Shizun let you rest on the lap you fell in! Please don’t be angry!”

Liu Qingge groaned. This kid! He was good but seemed to always get involved in such ridiculous situations. How could he think it was alright to let his head rest on Shen Qingqiu’s lap of all people?! He was shaking with rage but seeing Shen Yuan’s troubled expression had a memory flash in his mind of his frightened expression from earlier. He recalled how he almost lashed out at this poor disciple, threatening to kill him in that madden state, and felt remorse. He sighed, scratching the back of his head. He supposed after what he just made them go through, he should be grateful that they didn’t let him rest his head on a pile of rocks. He was just really alarmed that Shen Qingqiu’s thighs were that soft.

He faced the Peak Lord who appeared ready for another fight if Liu Qingge was about to have another outburst, but instead, Bai Zhan sect’s master gave a bow, startling them both. He pulled up, saying, “Thank you for taking care of me, you two. I was disrespectful. I apologize.”

Shen Qingqiu’s eyes widened at that. Liu Qingge had never apologized for any of his behavior before. Liu Qingge glanced at Shen Qingqiu, looking like he wanted to give him a glare, but decided against that for the people who just helped him not die from a qi deviation. He added, “I will repay you in the future for saving my life.”

The two stared then Shen Yuan smiled with a nod, “Mm!”

Chapter Text

Shen Yuan was exhausted from the previous events, but had enough energy to give the assignments a one over. It was pretty late, but he wasn’t gonna slack on the first day of teaching. Shen Qingqiu entrusted him with the position of head disciple, he’ll do a damn good job so help him!

-

Shen Yuan slept for four hours… but he could still teach! He studied over the assignments and got some shut-eye. He’ll just take a nap after classes, they weren’t that long after all. He washed his face and persevered to the rooms.

All the disciples were already there, waiting patiently for their shixiong. They fidgeted about, whispering amongst each other on what this was going to be like. Binghe himself made sure he could be in the center of the front row and was practically beaming with excitement. He could hardly get a wink of sleep last night with the idea that Shixiong will be leading their classes. Even better was that there would be no Shen Jiu for a few months, meaning he’d be briefly free from his tutelage.

That fair morning, Shixiong entered and all the disciples fell quiet. They waited in anticipation on how events would soon unfold. Shen Yuan stood before the class, his hair neatly swooped behind his ears and his robes aligned. He tilted his head and shown a sweet smile as he chimed, “Good morning~”

Somehow, some way, there was a sense of release, and shoulders became loose with relief. He always had a very welcoming demeanor, and him exhibiting that at the start of class was very nice to see. Many would be pleased to find that he wouldn’t change how he acted from being shixiong to shizun.

He started with roll call, then began outlining the next month’s criteria. Binghe was intently listening while also half-listening. He was spending his time just gazing up at his shixiong, delighted that he had a reasonable excuse to stare at him all he wanted under the guise of learning. He’ll have to savor it as long as it lasts.

Shen Shixiong began handing papers out and began instructing the disciples to go over guides. As he taught, Luo Binghe was pleasantly surprised at how good of a teacher he was. He knew he was good at tutoring, but being a teacher in front of a whole class sounded like it added a lot more pressure. But Shen Yuan was taking it in stride.

And gosh he was pretty doing so. The mid-morning sun that danced across his cheeks, the light wind that seeped through the open windows gently blew against his robes, his shadow flickering on the wooden floor. His soft features reading with ease, his silky yet youthful voice reading out loud the text. The small knits in his eyebrow, his long lashes that glistened with light, his green eyes that captured Binghe’s daydreaming mind. Those eyes shed a glint and shimmered his gaze towards him. His voice humming in Binghe’s ears, almost imagining that he was saying his name.

“Binghe? Binghe? Binghe?!”

Binghe snapped out of his daydream rather abruptly and the whole class laughed. Binghe sat before them and became flushed at the realization that yes Shixiong was looking directly at him and yes he wasn’t paying attention to a single thing he was saying. He covered his burning cheeks with his hands and nervously looked up at Shixiong who held a smile with a sigh, but he just gently spoke, “Can Binghe read the next passage?”

“P-Passage?!” Binghe was flustered, skimming through the pages.

“Third page, first paragraph,” Shen Shixiong helped.

Binghe was grateful through his embarrassment. If it was Shen Qingqiu up there and this happened, he would just wait an excruciatingly long time for Binghe to find the part. He got it and started reading out loud, trying to shake off that shameful moment.

As he read along, Shen Yuan was a bit worried that maybe he was reading too monotone and that’s why Binghe lost track and would rather daydream instead. He felt a little bummed after that, but continued to teach none the same.

-

Shen Yuan also taught swordsmanship.

It was the afternoon the following day when Shen Shixiong took everyone to the training grounds. There they would spend two hours on proper sword formation and handling, making sure that each disciple was following the manual's instructions on how to wield their blade. They were all in a line as he went from disciple to disciple to check their form and posture. He balanced their awkward and amateur stance, lifting up limp hands and straightening out backs.

When he got to Binghe he noted, “Mm, good posture, Binghe. But make sure to keep your legs bent and your shoulders align.” He came over, guiding up Binghe’s sword arm with his gentle hands, stating, “In this position, you want to thrust the sword out properly. If not, you will feel a strain in your shoulders and elbows later.” He situated Binghe’s arms and nudged his back up more to be straight. “When thrusting forward, bend the arm at this angle.” Binghe flushed as his soft hands created the gesture, running down his arm. His velvet voice caressing his ears as he spoke, “And spear ahead.” He left with Binghe feeling like his cheeks were burning.

It was hard for the young disciple to get his shixiong’s touch out of his head and his eyes would wander to Shen Yuan who traveled on to each and other disciples.

Shen Yuan was very thorough with his teachings, making sure that the students knew the proper sword movements before actually sparring. He had them scheduled to practice and exercise this activity for the next few weeks before they got to combating each other. It was helpful that Shen Jiu was also his Shizun because then he got the correct teachings so he didn’t have to bullshit any of this thankfully. Being here on Qing Jing Peak, he really got the orthodox method on how to be a genuine cultivator and now he can bestow that knowledge on these younger shijie and shidis.

He had a proud smile to himself that beamed under the afternoon sky. This was great practice to become a decent shizun when he inherits Qing Jing Peak. He plans to do an excellent job, but also he did quite find it surprising that he thought this way. For Shen Yuan, he never imagined being a teacher of any sorts in his past life. Back then he didn’t have much in the way of aspirations, but now he was filled with determination! He was looking forward to the teaching position. He knew he could make Qing Jing the best peak and then his father can retire, him and Yue Qingyuan can develop their relationship better, get married, Luo Binghe won’t kill them all, him and Shen Yuan will be best friends, and live happily ever after! Yes, Shen Yuan had it all figured out. He was rather pleased with himself.

“Shen Shixiong~,” he turned to see Ning Yingying approach with a smile and said, “Will we have a break soon?”

He glanced at the position of the sun and nodded, “Mm, we’ve been working on this for quite some time. A few hours it seems. Let us take a break.” They all put a pause on their activities and began to eat their lunches outside. It was a nice day, cloudless with a gentle breeze traveling across the training grounds. Binghe and Ning Yingying sat on both sides of Shen Yuan as they ate.

Ning Yingying blinked and saw how fancy Shen Shixiong’s lunch was and called, “Wow! That looks tasty! Did you make that yourself, Shixiong?”

Shen Yuan peered down at the meal and admitted, “No, no. Binghe made it for me.”

Binghe preened at the acknowledgment, but Ning Yingying whined, “Aw, A-Luo, why don’t you make me something like that?”

Shen Yuan became startled at such information. Huh?! Ning Yingying hadn’t received Luo Binghe’s cooking yet? But by the 30th chapter he did make her some meals, what happened?

Binghe muttered, “You have your own meal.”

“But I want to eat something yummy like that! No fair!” she pouted.

Binghe huffed and said, “Shen Shixiong is working really hard as our Shizun. He doesn’t have time to make his own meals.”

Whoa, whoa, Binghe, no need to put words in his mouth.

Shen Yuan quickly deflected, he didn’t want people thinking that he was taking advantage of Binghe, “Ah um, Binghe was just being generous. I can make my own food.”

Binghe was a bit wounded by that choice of words, “Is Shixiong saying he doesn’t want my cooking?”

Huh?! Binghe, what made you come to that conclusion?

“No, no,” Shen Yuan unsurely chuckled, “I just don’t wish for any misunderstandings.”

Binghe’s brow furrowed but Ning Yingying grumbled, “Hmph. Okay, well Shen Shixiong is kind so he deserves tasty things.”

Eh? Ning Yingying wasn’t going to fight for it more? He thought she’d at least throw a tantrum.

Then Ming Fan slunk over, saying, “Ning Shijie… I can make you something.”

She pointed her nose upwards and scoffed, “Why would I want the food of a horse dung scooper who is also a bully?”

DAMN!

Ming Fan’s little heart broke and he slipped away, defeated. Shen Yuan internally sighed. Ming Fan, if you want to win this girl’s heart, you’re going to need to shape up some.

-

Except for weekends, one day would be teaching in the class then the next day would be outside training. There was a lot of studying to do and many tests that followed after. Shen Yuan’s favorite teaching sessions were when he would teach the anatomy of demons. It was a very fun and exciting topic to delve into and Binghe found it very noticeable that his shixiong was very adamant about the subject. His gestures would be more animated and enthusiastic when talking about monsters and Binghe loved watching these lively moments.

A more passionate teacher also kept the students more focused and they learned far more than expected. There were a few tests on monsters but now the disciples knew that if they brought up this subject with their shixiong he would gladly go on and on about it. Binghe would do it as best as he could, enjoying watching Shen Yuan ramble. One afternoon, he got him to go on about such creatures, “And the lightning dragon’s offspring are very energetic but can be very violent without proper supervision. They’re like scorpions, how the younger or smaller ones’ powers can be far more volatile and dangerous. But once they become older, they start developing a proper conscience and can even communicate telepathically with humans and demons. But dragons are considered a very neutral species, so they don’t usually take sides on things unless they have imprinted on someone from one of these specific races. They are very rare creatures and when mature, choose not to involve much on earthly matters. When they become elderly, they are known to fly up high into the sky and are never seen again.”

“What happens to them?” Binghe chimed in.

“No one knows,” Shen Yuan shook his head. “But there are stories that they travel very far, all the way to the heavens and sleep among the clouds, forever creating rain and lightning for the rest of their immortal existence.”

Binghe gazed at his shixiong in awe of his eagerness to keep teaching them even after classes were over. It looked like he was having a lot of fun.

-

Another amusing thing that they would do, was every Friday they would have an art session in the afternoon. That meant going outside and either painting or making poetry. Binghe liked painting even though he wasn’t very good at it, but he quickly learned that maybe he should keep all his poems to himself. He has found that even though Shen Yuan is very kind while teaching, he is an absolute beast when it comes to grading and critiquing. He seemed to be giving Binghe a break with the understanding that he was still behind a bit thanks to that no-good manual, but Binghe nervously shuffled as he watched Shen Yuan rip into his fellow shijie and shidi when it came to assignments.

There were so many markups, so many do overs. It made Binghe’s stomach turn with anxiety to see the disciples cautiously hand their papers in to an inevitable grading fiend. He supposed that Shen Shixiong adopted this malicious habit of harshly grading from his father, one of the few similarities besides his appearance he supposed.

But during this poetry session, even though it was peaceful, there was this tension in the air. By the end of the day, the disciples came over and timidly handed Shen Yuan the papers. Binghe was in the back of the line, slowly making his way to the shixiong with that obnoxious weight on his head. Soon he was the last one in line and Shen Yuan turned to him with a smile, but upon seeing his pale face, he asked with concern, “Binghe? What’s wrong? Do you not feel good?”

“Um… I…” Binghe was anxiously shuffling about, sweat dripping on his face. All the other disciples were waiting to head back and all their eyes were on him which made him even more nervous. He croaked, “Is… Is Shixiong grading this too?”

“Hm? Yes, of course,” Shen Yuan replied but found that this unfortunately made Binghe even more grief-stricken.

“Oh…” his legs wavered. “I see…” His hands trembled, shakily handing the poetry to Shen Yuan that curiously took it.

“What is it?”

Binghe’s face flushed, maybe he shouldn’t have written that poem. It wasn’t amazing, but hopefully it was vague enough. He didn’t move, his legs froze in place, anxiously staring at Shen Yuan.

The shixiong didn’t know what to do so he glanced down at the poem and read;

‘Bamboo in the wind’

‘His green eyes a sin’

‘To the heart’

‘Could fall apart’

‘From one stare’

‘It’s unfair’

‘Calm as rain’

‘My soul in chains’

‘I am captured’

‘Mind raptured’

‘Voice stolen’

‘Throat swollen’

‘From words unsaid’

‘Your arms spread’

‘As your chest rise’’

‘Your breathing my lullabies’

Binghe’s face was blooming red. He just absentmindedly wrote from the heart on this peaceful day. But when he reread it, he realized what he had done. He had written a love poem. And now he was giving it to the brutal critic of a shixiong to mark it up to oblivion and back. He just hoped it was bad enough that Shen Yuan wouldn’t get it.

Shen Yuan read it, staring at it for a long time then cleared his throat, saying, “Room for adjustment. I’ll grade it with the rest.”

Binghe blinked. Huh? Oh, he didn’t understand it. Thank goodness! If he did and announced it in front of the class, everyone would surely laugh and point and Binghe would die of embarrassment. He would look like the lowest of the low in Shen Shixiong’s eyes!

Binghe breathed out from relief and Shen Yuan called off class for the day. He waved his goodbyes, headed back to the Bamboo House, and collapsed on the floor.

He mentally screamed as he kicked and thrashed, then pulled up Binghe’s poem in horrid panic, shrieking inside his head, ‘DEAR GOD! IS THIS ABOUT SHIZUN?! IS THIS POEM TALKING ABOUT HOW BINGHE WANTS TO KILL MY FATHER?!’

He rolled around some more until he fell out of breath and just slunk there. He turned to the poem with a drained face, muttering, “Green eyes? Who else has green eyes on this peak beside Baba that Binghe is familiar with?! Oh no, so is this vague poem bleeding with hate? Oh god. Oh fuck!”

‘My soul in a chain? Words unsaid? I am captured? Voice stolen? The heart could fall apart?!’ Is this foreshadowing of how Binghe feels? Like he is trapped and can’t say anything? That he is cornered without a voice? How terrible. How awfully sad.

Shen Yuan flopped his face on the floor, becoming very depressed.

Chapter Text

Binghe was walking alongside Shen Yuan on one of those peaceful days and he sensed something was amidst. He sharply darted his head back and forth, searching for something. He sniffed the air, smelling something suspicious. Shen Yuan blinked at this behavior, almost liking it to a dog, and asked, “Is something wrong, Binghe?”

Binghe glanced around one more time and with a frown, said, “It’s nothing.”

“You sure?”

“Mm,” Binghe nodded. Shen Yuan just shrugged it off and they went on their merry way. But far behind them, past a corner was a starry-eyed young disciple who was admiring Shen Yuan from afar.

-

Shen Yuan was teaching that afternoon about some of the flowers in this world to be wary of, especially the papapa ones. He was focused on his teaching, but Binghe was sitting there with a perpetual frown. Shen Yuan spotted it, but didn’t know what was bothering the boy. It didn’t look like the sad pitiful frowns he wore when the other disciples bullied him. It appeared like an irritated scowl; that he was angry with someone. But to Shen Yuan’s knowledge, it didn’t seem to be him.

He wondered who could have angered the little tyke this early in the morning. Binghe was with him most of the day like most days, so who even walked up and upset him. Did they say something offensive? Shen Yuan didn’t know.

But Binghe knew. He was also confused why he was all grumbly today, but then started noticing a certain younger disciple. They were in the same class and he didn’t know their name, but this disciple had nothing but eyes for Shen Yuan. Binghe glared at the boy, red in his eyes, but didn’t seem to get their attention yet.

Shen Yuan’s voice was ringing through the class and Binghe could see the boy have the audacity to melancholy sigh as Shixiong! The moment he did, Binghe was holding his brush’s ink glass jar at the time and crushed it in his hand.

The class startled at the noise and Shen Yuan looked up to see the broken ink jar in Binghe’s hand. Binghe was also startled by his actions and looked down to see that the glass had impeded into his skin and all the ink had splattered onto him and everything else in a two-foot radius. His hand started bleeding and his face grew pale. Not only had he interrupted class, but he also made a mess.

Shen Yuan panicked for a second, startled by what just occurred, but soon realized that Binghe was bleeding. He rushed over and quickly grabbed Binghe’s wrist, much to Binghe’s surprise. He saw that there were many shards in his palm and called to the rest of the disciples, “Class is dismissed early today. Ning Yingying, come help me with this.”

“Ah- Yes, Shixiong!” she quickly stood up and went for the first aid kit.

As she went to get it, Binghe muttered, “I’m sorry, Shixiong. I didn’t mean it.”

“No, no, no, it’s okay,” Shen Yuan said. Looked over the hand to spot several shards inside. “Did any land elsewhere?”

“Nhm,” Binghe shook his head.

“Then we’ll need to remove these,” Shen Yuan stated. “We need a proper place to clean this. Up.” Binghe raised up with Shen Yuan and the three dashed out of the class together.

-

After the glass was removed, the cuts were clean with water and alcohol. The bleeding stopped, Binghe could return to classes with his bandaged hand. On the way, he passed that disciple in the halls and finally managed to catch his eye. He stopped in his step and venomously glowered at the disciple. They were startled by his behavior and froze, but then watched Binghe lift his hand, not breaking eye contact. He glared that disciple down and kissed into his bandaged pam, his eyes threatening and dominating. The disciple quaked a bit and scurried off, witnessing the submissive Luo Binghe reveal a heinous gesture of jealousy.

That disciple never made eyes at Shen Yuan again for that was only allowed for Binghe.

-

Shen Yuan some days would visit Yue Qingyuan and they would have tea. He would get advice from the old sect leader and Yue Qingyuan would have the delight of having Shen Yuan come to visit without Shen Qingqiu badgering either of them about it. It was a peaceful afternoon when the two conversed, “Teaching isn’t so hard. I feel like I really have a knack for it! And even though it does get busy sometimes, I am able to keep up with grading and assignments.”

“That’s good, A-Yuan,” Yue Qingyuan nodded.

“Mhm and one of these days, I plan to take them further down the mountain,” he said. “There, we will go search for herbs that can ward off evil spirits.”

“That’s a nice idea,” Yue Qingyuan hummed.

Shen Yuan smiled and took a sip of his tea. He liked chatting with Yue Qingyuan. He was such a calm presence, so soft-spoken and level-headed. He taught a lot of things to Shen Yuan behind Shen Qingqiu’s back. Like how to be patient with disciples, what’s the right thing to do on how to diffuse a situation, and that Baba secretly has a sweet tooth.

Very very useful things indeed. But through his calm and poise, Shen Yuan still felt like he didn’t completely understand Yue Qingyuan. He didn’t understand his meekness and why he wasn’t more forward with Shen Qingqiu. He didn’t know what he did to offend his father so deeply and wished he could help.

He knew he was weak to Shen Qingqiu and with those eyes, even a blind man could see that he was in love. But… one of Shen Yuan’s main questions was… why didn’t you stop Shen Qingqiu from hurting Luo Binghe? He’s literally the Sect Leader. He can do whatever he wants and say whatever he pleases and it gets done! So why? Why did he not stop Shen Qingqiu?

Couldn’t he see that it was doing neither of them any good? So what was his reason for keeping his mouth shut?

With that in mind, Shen Yuan felt like riling him up a bit, “One of my little shidis is doing exceptionally well.”

“Mm, is he?” Yue Qingyuan hummed, oblivious to what was about to be dropped.

“Yes, he’s very diligent,” Shen Yuan said. “Very kind, smart, and strong. He will grow into a great cultivator one day, I’m sure.”

“Ah?” Yue Qingyuan noised with intrigue, “Which one is this?”

“His name is Luo Binghe,” Shen Yuan answered, almost cold and flat.

With that name, Yue Qingyuan choked a bit on his tea, with Shen Yuan watching him. He cleared his throat and dabbed his mouth with a handkerchief, “I-Is he?”

“Does Sect Leader know that name?” Shen Yuan inquired.

“I um… I’ve heard of him,” Yue Qingyuan admitted.

Shen Yuan stared a bit longer, but he noticed the Head Sect Master appeared somewhat uncomfortable under those eyes, so he pulled back, “Yes, he’s grown quite fond of me. Like a little duckling. I’d be quite sad if he was sad. When he’s pitiful, those sorrowful eyes are almost contagious.”

“Ah… you sound like you really dote this boy,” Yue Qingyuan mumbled.

“Mm,” Shen Yuan breathed through his nose. “He is a kind child and I’d HATE it if anything bad ever happened to him.”

“... You would?” Yue Qingyuan muttered, his face pale.

“Mhm,” Shen Yuan sighed. “He was bullied there for a bit, but I was able to resolve some of that tension, thankfully.” His eyes sneakily peeked at Yue Qingyuan, “Oddly enough though, a little shijie of mine told me that no matter how many times she went to Shizun about this matter, it would never get resolved. So odd, don’t you think? That’s quite unlike my Baba.”

Yue Qingyuan was quiet, a bead of sweat dripping down his cheek. But suddenly he awkwardly laughed, “Haha, that is odd. Well, thankfully it has been resolved now.”

Shen Yuan stared, but then slowly nodded, “Ah yes, thankfully.”

-

Shen Yuan had a grumpy expression the day after. He didn’t show a pleasant expression, just furrowed brows and a pouting lip. The disciples whispered amongst themselves on what happened. Many muttered that something must have happened. Others remarked that with that perpetual scowl that he looked more like Shizun. When Binghe heard that statement, his ears peeked and his face drained.

He looked to Shen Yuan and yes, Shixiong resembled his father a lot more this day than most. It made him somewhat anxious, wondering what Shen Yuan was like with a temper, but then he thought… Why does Shen Yuan have a temper right now? He was pleasantly happy yesterday, but now he had a constant frown that was causing worries all around. What had happened?

But he didn’t seem to be the approachable head shixiong at the moment, but someone who was fighting his thoughts. Something was ticking in his mind, making him more irritated and huffy. But he did not lash out at the disciples though everyone expected him to. They all were waiting for him to hiss and snap like Shizun, but he kept his fury to himself. He didn’t badger anybody, but he didn’t smile which was making Binghe a tad upset in turn.

Even though it was just this day, he didn’t like seeing Shen Yuan unhappy; he wished to see his smile again.

That afternoon, they were practicing their sword and stepping balance. Handling the blade while balancing properly and approaching the opponent. The opponent being Shen Yuan. Each disciple would practice their moves on him and be allowed to take one swing, while the others in line were to watch and wait for their turn. He was very confident that none would hit him and he could evade easily, and he was right. No disciple managed to lift a scratch on him and he would make quick hand movements to disarm them.

Many disciples fumbled the movements before they could even swing at him. He would then make a comment that they must all take note of where the others had made a mistake and then bring up the next disciple in line. Most of them weren’t doing too well, the only one who did the best was the star student Ning Yingying. She did the right movements but didn’t manage a hit as expected, but he congratulated her and patted her on the head.

Eventually, it was Binghe’s turn. He stood before the rest of the class, sword in hand and sweat dripping on his brow. He looked towards Shen Yuan to see unwavering eyes. He was poised and his stance was like stone. Binghe felt a bit intimidated by him. His shoulders tightened, his back lowered, knees bent, then he charged. He ran forward, yelling as he went to swing his sword. He was swinging it from below, trying to absorb all the previous teachings.

Binghe faced Shen Yuan, seeing his inevitable hand gestures ready to disarm the boy. But Binghe still dashed towards him, ready to slash upwards. He charged and the moment he was on Shen Shixiong, his foot stepped, toe lifted and it snagged on a random rock that just barely peeked out of the ground. It caught his foot and his eyes widened in surprise. He lost his balance and tripped. He fell, with only a couple feet between Shen Yuan and him.

The shixiong saw the shift in his face, realizing that Binghe was falling, he involuntarily reached out to try and catch him. But even though he thoughtlessly tried to reach out to grab and stable them, Binghe’s weight still collided roughly into him. His leg bent weirdly and they were tumbling to the ground. The young disciple released one hand to try and catch himself somewhere, but it wasn’t enough as his face slammed into Shen Yuan’s chest.

They crashed to the ground into a heap with groans and grumbled. Binghe’s shut eyes fluttered open, his head spinning until he realized that he just collided into Shen Shixiong! And right now, he was laying on his chest, his face just briefly tucked into there.

He blushed and paled at the same time, believing that he had now greatly humiliated Shen Yuan in front of the entire class. His shixiong was already upset before, but surely this will make him snap! Binghe cursed his recklessness, woeing why he had to be the one to make Shen Yuan become even more upset.

He was trembling, knowing what he did wrong as a dead silence filled the air. The tension ripened and ready for the plucking.

There was a noise. A snort. Then a loud laugh that snapped the air like a whip. Binghe looked at Shen Yuan to see him burst out into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. He giggled and snorted, unable to hold back his amusement. Binghe thought he had finally lost it, but then he pulled up a bit, sitting upright as he peered down at Binghe with a charmed gaze. He chuckled, “That’s a bit of a different tactic.” Binghe’s face showed confusion, so Shen Yuan added, “I’m going to assume plowing into me was part of the plan, eh?”

“I-I-I-!” Binghe stuttered, unable to release a single coherent thought.

Shen Yuan snickered, roughing up Binghe’s hair, “Hey, unorthodox, but it worked!”

Binghe stared seeing Shen Yuan’s smile shine back on his face again and widely grinned. He was lifted back up and eventually sent to the back of the line as Shen Yuan worked with the next disciple. Binghe’s head was in the clouds as he applauded himself for being the one to get Shen Yuan to smile again. Everyone thought it’d be best to pretend like they didn’t see anything and Shen Yuan was shaking his head in amusement at how funny that little white lotus was.

-

After that, the next week was very busy. Grading assignment after assignment, test after test. Shen Yuan was exhausted. His eyes became heavy as night fell by his desk. He was nodding off, gaze slowly closing as his vision of the classroom blurred. Steadily, they shut and his head had gently sunk down to the desk. He rested there, snoozing the hours away.

Who knows how long he stayed there, but someone came in who had forgotten his new ink jar. Binghe stopped in his step and saw Shen Yuan peacefully sleeping at the desk, completely passed out. He quizzically approached and saw all the papers and brushes scattered everywhere. He had ink smudged on his fingers and cheek. But he slept quietly in the nest of the disciple's assignments and Binghe amusingly chuckled at his serene face. He leaned on the desk, watching Shen Yuan sleep. His back slowly rising up and down, his soft breath lightly blowing against loose strands of hair. He had small dark circles under his eyes. Binghe could see that Shen Shixiong was working very hard.

He softly hummed, gazing at him for a bit more then briefly left the classroom and came back with a blanket. He gently laid it across his shixiong’s shoulders and delicately removed the brush from his hand. Binghe didn’t want to disturb his sleep, but he also didn’t want him to get cold. He’d let him sleep.

Binghe eventually left the room and sometime later, Shen Yuan groggily woke up. He lazily blinked and found where he was. He rubbed his eyes and yawned, amazed at how late it was. He was about to head out when he found a large blanket wrapped around his shoulders. He curiously looked at it, remembering it wasn’t there before. He wondered who put it there.

Chapter Text

The evening was fading as Shen Yuan rushed over to Qiong Ding Peak to give Yue Qingyuan the monthly report. Each peak lord or whoever was left in charge had to personally hand over a report about the welfare, upkeep, and progress on their respective peaks. The month was finally over and Shen Yuan was able to properly fill out the form. One month down, three more to go!

He traveled up to Yue Qingyuan’s office, being allowed access immediately because come on: he’s Shen Yuan. And when he entered he saw the Peak Lord at his desk with a content smile, ready to receive the head disciple’s report. Shen Yuan approached him with a bow, “Sect Leader!”

“Good evening, A-Yuan,” Yue Qingyuan smiled, standing briefly to return a curt bow before sitting back down. “Your report is in order, I see.”

“Mm, everything is properly up to date,” he replied.

“That’s good to hear,” the sect leader nodded. “Shen Qingqiu has raised you up to be a capable inheritor for future Peak Lord.”

“Many thanks, Sect Leader,” Shen Yuan responded. He stepped closer with the form and asked, “Did everyone else hand in their report?”

“Not quite yet,” he sighed. “Shang Qinghua forgot to and Liu Qingge didn’t give anyone instructions to fill out the form. Unfortunately for Bai Zhan Peak, we may not have any reports for a few months.”

“Ah that shishu,” Shen Yuan shook his head. “He really needs to pick out a head disciple to fill out these things at least. He doesn’t like writing so he can do that, right?”

“Yes, well, I’ll bring it up to him again after he’s finished his seclusion,” Yue Qingyuan noted.

“Whelp, here is the file, sir,” Shen Yuan handed it in and the Sect Leader graciously took it. Shen Yuan was about to take his leave when he just remembered something, “Ah!”

“Yes?” Yue Qingyuan questioned.

The head disciple turned back around with a sly smirk to himself and swayed a bit, “Sect Leader.”

“Yes, A-Yuan?” he wondered.

“I forgot last time we had tea together, but… there’s a question I’ve been dying to ask you.”

“And what’s that?”

“What did you and Shizun talk about on the lovely moonlit night of my birthday~?” Shen Yuan sneakily snickered.

Yue Qingyuan stiffened and his face became red, “Ah... That day. Yes.”

“Yeah, yeah?’ Shen Yuan’s heels bounced a bit. “What did you two talk about that lasted that long? Give me the deets!”

“The deets?” Yue Qingyuan questioned with pathetic confusion.

“The details!” the boy begged. “Tell me, what did you say? I have never seen you and Shizun talk that long before! You must have struck gold.”

“So you saw all of that,” his face was a bit sweaty.

“I sure did,” Shen Yuan smirked.

“Well uh… I don’t know,” Yue Qingyuan tried to run away. “Maybe you should ask your father.”

“He’s too tight-lipped,” the disciple sighed, then grew a devilish grin, “But I know with some prodding, you might cave in.”

“A-Yuan,” Yue Qingyuan failed to scold, “This is highly inappropriate.”

“Is it?” Shen Yuan muttered, innocently averting his eyes. “Did you guys talk about something naughty?”

The Sect Leader’s face exploded into a bright crimson, “No, no, no! What is with you children and having such presumptuous thoughts these days?!”

“Oh come on,” he chuckled. “I have eyes. I see how you and Shizun look at each other. When are you going to make your vows already?”

“V-V-Vows?!” Yue Qingyuan buried his embarrassed face into his hands. “T-That ca-can’t be!”

“Sure it is,” Shen Yuan teasingly shoved his shoulder a bit. “Open your eyes and man up some, Sect Leader! My Shizun has been waiting for you for-ev-er!”

Yue Qingyuan peeked at such words, “W-Waiting for me?”

“If it wasn’t obvious,” he rolled his eyes.

“But… no, you must be mistaken,” Yue Qingyuan muttered.

Shen Yuan sighed, “Sect Leader, Sect Leader, Sect Leader. You two have been doing this dance longer than I’ve been here. What in the world is stopping you?”

Yue Qingyuan stiffened and his eyes fell downcast. He appeared depressed and tired, but he said, “A-Yuan wishes to hear what we discussed that night?”

The boy perked up, “Yes, yes. I’ve been dying from curiosity!”

“If I tell you then A-Yuan must not pursue asking me about the past again, alright?” Yue Qingyuan stated, having a flat smile.

Shen Yuan blinked at his weird expression, but agreed, “Alright, I won’t.” For now.

The Sect Master huffed and replied, “That night… we talked about you.”

“Huh?” he became confused. “Me?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Conversation brought on about you is usually the safest, so we talked about you all night.”

Huh? HUH?! What?! Sect Leader you moron! You’re supposed to talk about each other and why his eyes look so pretty in the moonlight or something! Not about A-Yuan! Dummy!

“But-But why?” Shen Yuan scoffed.

“It’s something he likes talking about since he’s so proud of you,” Yue Qingyuan stated. “At first I asked how your leg was doing, then I asked how the mission went, and how was your birthday, and then how your grades have been fairing, and-” he kept going on and on. Etc and etc per se. They really… just talked about Shen Yuan all night. Geesh, how embarrassing. Why couldn’t they think of anything else?! Goodness, are these old men hopeless or what? Shen Yuan wanted to facepalm right now.

Yue Qingyuan rambled for a bit more and eventually when he was done, the disciple had his fill. He awkwardly laughed, “Ah um well, at least you got to talk to him for that long.”

The Sect Leader blinked then his gaze softened to something ridiculously lovey-dovey. Ugh, hopeless old men.

Shen Yuan finally got to wave good night, internally sighing how oblivious these two fools were. Ahh! Someone just yell into their faces that they love each other already! He’s gonna lose his mind!

-

Late that night, Binghe was sleeping in the shed when he felt something touch his cheek. His eyes snapped open in alarm to see a hazy shape and he then recognized a familiar face. He gaped in surprise to see Shen Shixiong gazing at him in the darkness of the shed.

The boy paled, figuring out that Shen Yuan finally knows that he sleeps in a dirty woodshed. He felt a wash of shame sweep over him and before he could pitifully croak out anything, he felt a finger be lightly placed on his lips. He blinked, seeing Shen Shixiong gently holding his mouth shut as he whispered, “Shh...”

Binghe realized he had strange eyes. Ones teeming with an emotion he had never seen on Shixiong’s face. They peered down at him with an innate and hungry interest, a playful smile brewing on his lips. He giggled with a tease in his voice, “Binghe~”

“S-Shixiong?” Binghe stared at him, unsure what was going on. For some reason, he felt restless in Shen Yuan’s presence.

His shixiong slowly pulled his hand away from Binghe’s mouth and coolly asked, “Did you have nice dreams?”

“Uh…” Binghe didn’t know how to respond but saw Shen Yuan move closer, their surroundings getting a little blurry.

Shen Yuan hummed, “I had a dream. A dream about you.”

“Eh- Me?!” Binghe squeaked, but then the shixiong abruptly leaned down into his space.

“Sh... not so loud,” he cooed. “We don’t want anyone waking up and finding us.”

“Finding…?” then Shen Yuan gently took Binghe’s hand, held it close to his face, and delicately kissed its palm. Binghe’s eyes widened as Shen Yuan showed a frisky smile.

“Mm, they can’t find us...” Shen Yuan moved upward, crawling on top of Binghe as he rested himself on the boy’s lap. “Not in this position.”

Binghe’s face was burning at what he was seeing. His body felt hot and he was just in pure amazement at what he was seeing. S-Shen Shixiong! He was on top of him! He was sitting on- He’s rubbing!

Shen Yuan lightly grinded on Binghe’s special little place and murmured, “Would this… make Binghe happy?”

“I-um-I!” Binghe threw his hands over his face, completely embarrassed. Down there was all hot and being abused by Shen Shixiong. He was pushing and pressing on that spot, making Binghe feel far too warm. His breath was becoming ragged as he felt the rotation of his shixiong’s hips.

Then suddenly, Shen Yuan leaned down, his face close to Binghe’s, whispering, “Because… all I want to do… is make Binghe happy.”

“Shix-,” he didn’t have time to say anything because Shen Yuan locked lips with him. Binghe’s whole body jolted at that, his hips bucking up into his shixiong.

His lips were so hot… so wet. They tasted amazing, as Shen Yuan opened his mouth to dig deeper inside. He assaulted Binghe’s senses with his flavor, his smell was overtaking him. Binghe’s mind was melting from Shen Shixiong’s perverted affections. Everything felt like it was burning, but also like it was dripping away. Every time Shen Yuan touched him, it felt like his hands were scorching Binghe’s skin. It was so incredible. His taste, his scent. Binghe wanted more.

He suddenly grabbed Shixiong's hips with a strength he didn’t know he had and flipped him over. Binghe was on top and started touching Shen Yuan as much as he wanted to. It was all a blur, but he could hear his shixiong moaning, feel his fingers latch and dig deeply into Binghe’s back. Their clothes were being torn apart, ripping and tearing off in a hungered craze. Shen Yuan’s exposed rising chest bloomed pink with blush and melted with sweat. He could hear his breathless begging as overjoyed tears streamed down his face. His red cheeks and messily wet lips. His hair was toppled everywhere, becoming entangled with Binghe. Everything was hot, everything was burning. His lips were delicious. Binghe- He was- he was-

He heard an abrupt sound and suddenly his eyes snapped awake. The morning was suddenly here and sunshine poured in. Binghe immediately sat up and checked everywhere to find his clothes were still intact and there was no Shen Shixiong anywhere. He breathed a sigh of relief, but then suddenly became very disappointed. That-That was all a dream?! NO FAIR!

But then he realized he just had a very passionate dream with Shen Yuan and his face became a powerful scarlet. He-He dreamt of sleeping with Shen Shixiong! How can he be so indulgent?! So egotistical and perverted! Oh no! He’s a pervert! He’s not even fourteen yet, and he’s so perverted! Oh no!

He hesitantly got ready for the rest of the day and slowly, cautiously exited the shed. He held his face in shame

-

Later in that day, Shen Yuan was teaching and he realized whenever he called on Binghe for an answer, that he'd give a curt short answer then look away. Shen Yuan’s brow raised at that. Finding his behavior to be odd. It wasn’t as enthusiastic as before and he seemed to be very aloof.

After class, Shen Yuan tried to approach Binghe, but the white lotus was one of the first ones to leave the class. He was in a great hurry too. And soon after, anytime Shen Yuan tried to talk to Binghe, the boy would turn his face and run away. He was constantly avoiding Shen Yuan and he was beginning to quickly realize that it was only him that Binghe was running from.

Sitting at home, grading, the thoughts invaded his mind on why Binghe didn’t want to even look at him anymore. This had been going on for a few days now and Shen Yuan was getting a bit disheartened from being ignored. The constant question of why Binghe avoided him kept circling through his head and one intrusive thought entered, saying, ‘He may just hate you now.’

Shen Yuan’s eyes widened at such a statement but quickly shook his head. Why would Binghe hate him? He’s been nothing but good to the boy, right? He wouldn’t suddenly hate him… would he?

The shixiong tried to think of hundreds of things he could have done, trying to guess what was the bad thing he accidentally did or said to Binghe. But not a single thing came up. He was worried and saddened that maybe his little friend didn’t like him anymore.

-

“A-Luo?” Ning Yingying whispered. Her and Binghe were in the library studying. He turned to her and she asked, “A-Luo, did Shixiong do something wrong?”

Binghe’s eyes averted as a light pink tinge seared his cheeks, “S-Shen Shixiong?”

“Yeah!” she quietly said. “I’ve noticed you’ve been avoiding him like crazy, did he do something wrong?”

“No…” Binghe muttered, eyes falling on the boring passages of his books.

Ning Yingying’s cheeks puffed up as she lightly smacked Binghe over the head with a scroll, “Then why are you avoiding him?! Don’t you see how sad and dejected he is?!”

Binghe’s gaze widened and he turned to her, “S-Sad?!”

“He’s been pouting all over the place because you’ve ignored him,” she scolded. “Shen Shixiong is very nice. If he didn’t do anything wrong then A-Luo should stop being so mean to him!”

“Mean to him?!” Binghe gasped. “I would never be mean to him!”

Someone shushed them but they just sent that disciple death glares. Then they looked back at each other.

“You are!” she squirmed. “By ignoring him, you’re gonna make him cry.”

Binghe’s mouth fell as the horrid idea struck him. Shixiong crying?! Because he was ignoring him?! H-He didn’t think of that. H-He didn’t think anything like that would-

He had not looked at Shen Shixiong’s face recently. He had been too busy avoiding it. Was it really brimming with sorrow?

Binghe’s stomach turned. Oh no… what has he done?!

-

Shen Yuan was sulking away from the public eye, trying his best to speedily go through hallways to return old scrolls. He had a downcast gaze and a woeful quivering bottom lip. For so long he was bombarded with the incessant nagging that Binghe hated him now. He didn’t know why and he couldn’t ask Binghe since he always ran off. It caused a drag in his step every time those heavy thoughts encircled his head. He wished to sweep them away, but they kept coming back, making him distracted.

He really tried his hardest to be kind to Binghe, but were his efforts in vain? What… What did he do wrong…?

His head sunk at such sadness and many disciples on the side watched the head shixiong look like tears would fill his eyes any second. He eventually trudged his way to the storage room, putting away scrolls, and then when he exited, he saw a familiar face.

Yue Qingyuan stood outside the hall, seeming surprised to see Shen Yuan and even more surprised to see Shen Yuan in such low spirits. The Head Sect Master greeted, “Hello A-Yuan.”

Shen Yuan solemnly nodded, “Hello, Sect Leader.”

“I… How are you doing today?” he couldn’t help but ask.

The shixiong averted his gaze and lightly kicked the ground, “Oh you know… good.”

“A-Yuan seems a bit downcasted today,” he noted.

“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Shen Yuan muttered. He peered up at Yue Qingyuan and reaffirmed harder, “I’m fine.”

Yue Qingyuan blinked then gave a kind smile, “This master is willing to lend an ear if one wishes. Perhaps, the task of being the teacher is becoming overbearing for A-Yuan?”

“No that’s... fine,” he sighed. “Replacing Shen Qingqiu isn’t that hard. I’ve been prepared to do it for a while, after all…”

Yue Qingyuan gave a sympathetic shoulder pat, “Then what is troubling A-Yuan?”

Shen Yuan stared into the floor, his shoulders trembling, but then he sighed, releasing any stiffness. He said, “It’s nothing too serious. I can handle it.”

“Mhm,” he hummed.

“I’m the head disciple,” he stated. “I can handle anything that comes my way.”

“Indeed,” Yue Qingyuan patted.

“I… I just…” Shen Yuan’s brows softened. “I just don’t get it.”

“Get what?” Yue Qingyuan pushed on. The two started walking down the hall.

“I… I have this little shidi, his name is Binghe,” he stated. “I’ve told you about him.”

Yue Qingyuan averted his guilty eyes briefly, “Yes, you have.”

“Well… we have become really good friends, but lately he’s been avoiding me,” Shen Yuan muttered. “And I don’t know why.”

“He won’t tell you?” they sat down together at a small bench,

“No, he keeps running away before I can ask him,” Shen Yuan pouted. “He must not like me anymore though I don’t know what I did. I don’t know what I did wrong… and he just won’t tell me.”

Bad thoughts were storming in Shen Yuan’s mind and he was far too distracted to see the conflicted and solemn expression on Yue Qingyuan’s face. His features were reflecting and pondering then he said, “It sounds like he’s scared of something.”

“Of what?” Shen Yuan muttered. “I don’t remember anything that I did wrong. I just wish he’d tell me. Tell me so we can go back to how things used to be.”

Yue Qingyuan’s eyes widened and a sharp inhale breathed through his teeth.

Shen Yuan blinked and turned to that noise, “Sect Leader?”

He noticed the sad expression on the peak lord’s face. His eyes soft but somber. He smiled, something nostalgic but gloomy, “No… To me, the young boy sounds scared, perhaps ashamed of something. Maybe be patient with him and he will come around.”

“But for how long?” Shen Yuan questioned. “How long should I wait?”

Yue Qingyuan’s gaze twisted and he turned to the floor, unable to look at Shen Yuan’s face, “Not much longer… and I suppose you have a right to be angry if he doesn’t speak up.”

“But I’m not angry,” Shen Yuan said. “Just troubled, I guess.”

“This boy…” Yue Qingyuan glanced at the disciple, “He is your friend, yes?”

“Mm,” he nodded.

“Then he will come around,” Yue Qingyuan sighed. “He doesn’t mean to be mean. He sounds afraid to me.”

“But afraid of what?” Shen Yuan asked. He wasn’t scary, was he?

“This Sect Leader would guess… afraid of rejection,” he hummed. Shen Yuan stared at him, feeling confused at Yue Qingyuan’s expression, but before he could question it, the Sect Leader said, “I should go now. I have many important things to attend to. It was nice seeing you today, A-Yuan. And I hope you two work things out.”

They stood and bowed goodbye to each other, departing on an odd note.

-

Binghe was feeling very guilty, so unbelievably guilty. He was making Shixiong sad? No, that’s the last thing he wanted to do. He wasn’t trying to be rude or selfish, but he supposed he was being cruel to what Shixiong wanted.

He peeked around the corner, not trying to hide from Shen Yuan, but to see him first so he can muster up the courage to talk to him. He just needed a moment before approaching Shen Shixiong or his heart might explode. He was taking a peek here and there, but then finally spotted Shen Yuan sitting on a bench.

Ah, good, there he is- he-

Binghe halted in his step. Shen Yuan’s face… it seemed… so lonely. His eyes downcast and his lips dripped. Binghe’s gaze widened at that, he had never seen his shixiong so solemn. Was this because of him? Did… Did he do this?

He stared from afar, watching Shen Yuan sit there stiff and motionless. He had a small pout to him, but then Binghe’s heart dropped when he heard a sniff and his shixiong lifted his sleeve and rubbed his eye.

Binghe of course felt like he was hit over the head with a hammer at the thought that he might be causing tears to form in Shen Yuan’s eyes. But in reality, even though Shen Yuan was sad, he just had a loose eyelash in his eye.

The white lotus quickly emerged from his corner, yelling, “Shixiong!”

Shen Yuan’s shoulders jumped at that sudden noise and he turned to Binghe who was running from his corner. His eyes were teary and his nose was stuffy as he collapsed by Shen Yuan’s feet. Huh? What was going on?

“B-Binghe?” Shen Yuan leaned down, confused.

The boy raised himself up, whining with a sadness in his voice, “I-I’m sorry!”

“Eh? Binghe?” Shen Yuan blinked with bewilderment.

“I’ve been avoiding you! I’m so sorry! This disciple apologizes a million trillion times!” he groveled, feeling like the world was ending. How dare he squander Shen Shixiong’s kindness and make him cry. He should throw himself off a cliff for his arrogance!

Shen Yuan didn’t know what was going on, but honestly, he didn’t know what was going on the past few days either.

“I didn’t mean to avoid you!” Binghe sobbed. “I really didn’t! I’m so sorry!”

“B-Binghe, Binghe,” Shen Yuan tried to reassure, placing his hands on his shoulder and atop his head. What had gotten into this boy?! “Please, calm down some. It’s okay. It’s okay.”

Binghe shook his head, “No, I was cruel.”

“You… You weren’t cruel,” the shixiong sighed. He tried lifting Binghe’s head to get his attention, “I just… Why don’t you tell me why you’ve been avoiding me? And we can just clear things up.”

Binghe’s eyes widened, cheeks turned red, and he gasped, “No… I can’t possibly! It’s far too embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing?” that’s when Shen Yuan recalled Yue Qingyuan’s advice that it’s perhaps all about shame. He patiently replied, “It’s okay. Whatever it is. It can’t be too bad, can it?”

Binghe disagreed, “No… It is very bad. I am terrible. Please, don’t ask this disciple. I will never avoid you again, so please don’t ask.”

Shen Yuan sighed. This boy was being quite the handful. What could be so embarrassing that he avoided his shixiong for so many days? The curiosity was kind of intense.

“Can’t you tell this shixiong a little bit?” Shen Yuan wondered. “I’ve been very confused the past few days. Won’t you please?”

Binghe fidgeted, his face blooming a hot sweat. He supposed… he can tell Shen Shixiong a little. BUT he shouldn’t tell him everything, “I… I um…” it was like someone pulling at his tongue to get the words, “I uh um… had… a weird dream the other night. It was… embarrassing.”

“A dream?” Shen Yuan pondered, then he recalled what book this was. Oh. Oh oh oh oh oh oooohhhhh!!!! Heehee. Oh, that’s what this is.

~Binghe had his first spring dream~

Oh my, who could it have been with? Shen Yuan was giggling to himself. It must have been with Ning Yingying. Or maybe it’s another shijie that he hasn’t seen with Binghe. So our dear flowering protagonist had his first spring dream, eh? Well, this is a harem story after all. That’s the first logical thing it can be.

Shen Yuan nodded and smiled, “There, there, Binghe.” He gently patted his head. “That’s nothing to be embarrassed over. In fact, it’s quite healthy for a boy your age. No need to be ashamed.”

Binghe blinked and looked up. Shen Yuan had a nice expression to him, but Binghe was thinking that maybe Shen Shixiong hadn’t properly guessed what his dream was about. Which was FINE with him!

“You don’t have to run away from something like that,” Shen Yuan said. “It’s perfectly normal.” My, he really was just the most innocent lamb. But how silly, there was no need to avoid this shixiong all this time for something like that. He’d tell Binghe it was normal a million times if that meant he won’t run away again. Because it kind of sucked that Binghe ignored him for so long.

“Shixiong… is okay with it?” Binghe unsurely muttered.

“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Shen Shixiong nodded. “Now, can we be friends again?”

Binghe gazed out and nodded. He wasn’t going to screw this up again. He didn’t want to lose Shen Yuan’s kindness.

Chapter Text

The following day, they went down the mountain. It was a warm, calm day as the class ventured downhill, going to a secluded spot amongst the bamboo and trees to pick herbs. There was plenty of cheerful chatter between the disciples as they ventured down slopes and through groves.

They were tasked with finding an array of plants, sort of like a treasure hunt. They were all harmless but had their own properties. But the rarest of all the plants was called the ‘Eye of the South’. It was an indiginous plant that had found its way up here and you can find small patches of it scattered around the mountain if you know where to look. If you found that plant you would receive a prize of going down the mountain on a day you selected and Shen Yuan would be there too, supervising you. All classes would be off so Shen Yuan would allow such a reward. Many were eager to win this prize because it meant a chance to have a day off outside of the peak, but none were more eager than Luo Binghe.

He didn’t really care too much if he was on or off the peak, but this time it would be with Shen Yuan and he wouldn’t skip out on that for the world. He really beamed at the idea of him and Shen Yuan having a day to themselves, away from all the school work and the others. Just them~!

He couldn’t wait! He had no idea what they’d do, but as long as it’s with Shen Yuan, does it even matter? They started exploring, knowing that the big one could be found somewhere underneath the roots of dying trees. They explored up and down, finding the easy ones along the way. Some were dandelions that’s pollen cures the sniffles, and others were mushrooms that you can store cultivation energy inside.

Ning Yingying herself found a rose with multi-colored petals that would light up even when plucked in the darkest of places. Ming Fan found one that was a tulip that had spouted out a huge puff of pollen and when sprayed in your face you would be covered in purple powder for the rest of the evening. But the scent makes a good bug repellent. Shen Yuan told him to wipe it off with soap when they got back.

Everyone was having a delightful time exploring. Looking through nooks and crannies all over the place, but no one had found the ‘Eye of the South’. It was supposed to be this red bulbous flower that’s health benefit would be that it’d give you a surplus amount of qi if you were cornered and low on that stuff. It’s great in a pinch to send you a surplus of energy so you can last longer against an enemy and have a large significance of spiritual power.

While going about, Shen Yuan was sitting on a rock amidst his tiny peers, looking over a sheet of paper. His face was rather perturbed since he was looking over the map of the dorm rooms and the notes he put down. He couldn’t believe it; every single male disciple on this list has bullied Binghe at one point or another on this list. They were all names in the book though he was surprised that Airplane made the time to name out every single cannon fodder in this story. Oof.

They were all such rotten little boys and they have all successfully ostracized Binghe. How in the world could that hack author make it a rule that every male character has to treat Binghe badly? Shen Yuan knew these disciples and spoke to them on a regular basis, but somehow they are all bullies now? All of them?! He even heard Binghe mumble a few curses under his breath at random disciples that Shen Yuan thought were the pillar of virtue. They really are all no good? It was almost seeming better to shove Binghe in the girl’s dorm. At least there he wouldn’t be bothered.

He thought about it then shook his head. Gut instinct was telling him that being subjected to his full-throttle harem at this age would probably be bad for his health too. What to do? What to do?

“Shixiong?” Shen Yuan jolted to attention in his seat and turned to see Luo Binghe at his side.

“A-Ah, yes?”

“This area’s been cleared out,” Binghe stated. “Us disciples are ready to move onto the next.”

Shen Yuan blinked then smiled with a nod, “Alright, then let’s go.” They moved onto the next spot with Binghe walking right besides Shixiong. Shen Yuan peeked over at him: he was such a diligent and helpful little shidi. He had no idea why his father hated him so much. As for Shen Yuan, he had found Binghe to be a very considerate disciple, always there to help if he could.

He turned away and then Binghe looked up at him. He gazed at his soft and beautiful Shixiong, wondering what was going on in his head. But then his eyes trailed to what was in his shixiong’s hands and asked, “What’s that?”

Shen Yuan glanced down at the map in his hands then at Binghe. He brought it up to his mouth to hide his smile, but his eyes showed so much teeming delight that it was hard to conceal, “Oh, this is a secret.”

“A secret?” Binghe perked up, interested.

“Mm,” Shen Yuan chuckled. “For much later. You can’t look.”

Binghe became even more intrigued. Shixiong was hiding something, but it didn’t look bad. More like it was for a pleasant surprise later. Binghe felt a little jittery because part of him thought that it might have to do with him. If it was something good from Shixiong then he couldn’t wait!

They eventually found themselves in a swamp-like area and the disciples started covering ground. Most of the herbs were collected by this point except for ‘the one’ and every disciple was scrambling to find it. They even jumped into the mucky thick water to check the underside of the trees. But no luck for anybody. Shen Yuan told them if it wasn’t found then there would be no day off at all, so everyone was really motivated to find it. If they couldn’t go down the peak, they could at least sleep in a little more, right?

It was mid-afternoon, close to evening with no results. If nobody found it by dark, they’d be screwed. Binghe checked every crevice, every place as best as he could. He climbed through muck, over trees, and clawed his way through filth to find this damn plant. Come on, he really wanted to spend a day with Shixiong! Let him spend a day!

He searched and searched, but nothing. Ning Yingying pushed through the muck to him, drenched in sweat and messy hair, and asked, “Did you find anything yet, A-Luo?”

“No…” he begrudgingly mumbled.

“It’s got to be around here somewhere,” she sighed. “Shen Shixiong wouldn’t have us look if we couldn’t find it.” She pouted, “I bet he knows exactly where it is. And he’ll show us the moment we lose.”

Binghe nodded. He really will. And man, will it be humiliating for everyone involved. They didn’t have much time left either.

He scratched his head and tried to remember all the key things about this plant. They knew what it looked like. It grew under the roots of dying trees. But this was a swamp. There were countless dying trees here and Shen Yuan said it didn’t matter what type of tree it was. It just had to be dying.

Binghe scanned all over the swamp. There were plenty of skeletal trees, ones that his fellow peers were looking at. They were basically pretty dead. But maybe the tree had to be super dead. Burnt? No, how could a tree be burnt here. There were plenty diseased by some fungus, but not too dead. Others drowned. Others had fallen over.

He blinked. He looked at a fallen tree, saw it was snapped in half, part of it still connected to the base. He straightened up and looked to more fallen trees until his eyes landed on a vacant stump. His gaze widened and he rushed over to it. None paid attention to him as he crawled through the sludge, none but an observant Shen Yuan.

The boy pushed through the muck and filth, slipping on mud and root. He eventually reached the wide stump and dug in between its roots. Its dirt then fell through revealing a hollow opening underneath. He peeked in and saw it. The red bulbous plant, ‘Eye of the South’. It was thick, teeming with energy. He reached in and plucked it. Pulling it out of the stump, he yelled over the rest of the disciples, “I FOUND IT!”

He felt a wave of relief and all his peers turned to him in awe, ready with the belief that they’d never find this plant. But there it was, sitting in Binghe’s hand. They all gasped and dashed to him, crowding around to check out the rare and elusive plant. Many were just so exhausted from the whole ordeal and just amazed that it existed that they went and patted Binghe’s back, telling him congrats.

Binghe himself was beaming. He got it! He gets to go on a date with Shixiong!

He turned to Shen Yuan with a bright grin and saw his shixiong with a proud smile. He was about to call out to him when something hissed. The disciples turned to see under the stump, where Binghe just dug his the Eye of the South, a rat demon emerged. It had multiple eyes and was as big as a dog, crawling its way out of the ground and through the hole. The disciples panicked and fled, the demon bursting out, viciously snarling.

Binghe went to flee with the others, but his uniform got snagged on some branch underneath the mud. He was struggling but knew the foul monster was going to target him. It aimed and darted towards him, leaping in the air. Binghe was able to unsheathe his sword and deflect its first attack. But the second one he missed and it jumped on top of him. It growled, trying to bite him as it pushed the boy further into the thick mud. Binghe was truly struggling not to be pushed under and drowned until he felt the thing be pulled off, watching Shen Shixiong kick it. It flew over the muck of the swamp, crashing into a tree. He flew his blade over to it, landed in the mud and hit it with his sword. It only took a few times to swipe at the monster to kill it, but it was eventually dead.

The disciples watched Shen Yuan drag the rat body back, tossing it to the side as he went to check Binghe.

“Are you okay?” he asked, helping Binghe out. “Did it bite you?”

“No, I’m alright,” Binghe glowed, thankful yet again for Shixiong saving him.

Ming Fan poked the carcass with his sword and called, “Shixiong, this looks like a spy rat from the demon realm.”

Shen Yuan peeked at that and the two went to Ming Fan’s side, looking the beast over. He nodded in agreement, “It sure does. The Head Sect Master will need a report on this.”

Ming Fan brightened up, “I-I can go and tell him!”

Shen Yuan looked him up and down, “You’re a bit unpresentable for that. We’ll quickly clean off and if you are volunteering, then you may go.”

Ming Fan grinned, ready to be of some use, but he definitely needed to clean up first.

Shen Yuan led all the disciples to a river up the mountain and they would rinse off their clothes there. He had already hung a basket of soap in anticipation of this, telling his disciples, “We’ll just clean up some. Face, hair, arms, and legs. Then everyone should bathe and do their laundry. Ning Yingying.” He called her over and a couple of other girl disciples, “When done, can you bring all the herbs we collected to Mu Qingfang? I believe he’ll be most appreciative.”

The girls smiled with Ning Yingying answering, “Of course, Shixiong!”

Everyone then entered the cool water, trying to loosen the dirt off their clothes and scrub their faces. There was laughter and water being splashed. It was a calm, easy rest of the day after that incident.

Binghe was rubbing the muck off his cheeks when he saw Shen Yuan approach him. The shixiong said, “Congratulations, Binghe. You get to go down the mountain any day you choose and I’ll pay.”

Binghe blushed a little and nodded. It felt and sounded like it was Shen Yuan treating him to a date. Oh, how he felt lucky. And he was thankful that no one else got the prize but himself. But right now… seeing Shen Yuan’s soft features dripping wet with water, how his see-through clothes stuck to his body in the river, it was mesmerizing. Binghe couldn’t wait to have him all to himself.