Chapter 1: Devotion? Sacrifice? Not exactly
Mu Qingfang is tired of Liu Qingge and Shen Qingqiu’s attitude. They are martial brothers, head disciples of their peaks, and the next lords of the Cang Qiong Sect. However, they still behave like enraged little children. Their fights are famous even away from the peaks and all his missions end in disaster. Mu Qingfang suspects that they boycott them to force Yue Qingyuan to separate them.
Their rivalry is as absurd as dangerous.
Mu Qingfang finds his chance during a night hunt. Of course, it is a disaster although they manage to kill the monster. Mu Qingfang witnesses their attempts to sabotage each other and how they avoid protecting their companions. It's no surprise that Liu Qingge ends up with a deep scratch on his arm or the monster's venom splashed onto Shen Qingqiu's face.
Mu Qingfang doesn't smile when he decides to lie to them. He is angry and doesn't bother to hide it.
“The two of you have been irresponsible!” He scolds them while he bandages Liu Qingge's arm. “Shen-shixiong, show me your eyes.” Mu Qingfang is deliberately slow to reply. He lengthens the time, ignoring the tension from his martial brother. His fingers brushes Shen Qingqiu's eyelids. There is nothing unusual about them, except a bit of irritated skin, but the two of them don't know that. “That’s bad.”
“What's going on?” Shen Qingqiu's voice is sharp and cold. His lack of sympathy only encourages Mu Qingfang.
“Poison has affected your eyes. If you don't follow my directions, you can lose your sight forever.”
Mu Qingfang knows how terrifyingly proud Shen Qingqiu is. Also that a scholar like him, who masters the four arts, cannot afford that loss. That’s why he will listen to his instructions and follow them meticulously.
“You will need to cover your eyes for a week. You must avoid the sun. After a week, come to Qiong Ding Peak.”
As he imagined, Shen Qingqiu doesn't protest when he blindfolded him with a black ribbon. His martial brother stands firm and proud, defiant despite his even temporary blindness.
Satisfied, Mu Qingfang turns to Liu Qingge, who has a mocked expression. He knows his martial brother is stubborn and as arrogant as Shen Qingqiu, but he is also loyal and honest.
“Shen-shixiong has been injured because of you.” He reproaches him. “You are the future lord of Bai Zhan Peak, but you have forgotten to protect your martial brother. As punishment, you will take care of him during this week.”
Their expressions turn to horror. The two of them start to protest at the same time, but Mu Qingfang stands up ignoring them.
“You can behave like Peak Lords for once or I'll have to talk to Yue Qingyuan,” he threatens them. ”I am sure it will annoy him that you have fought again during a night hunt.”
Mu Qingfang abandons them in the forest and returns whistling to Qiong Ding Peak on his sword. For the first time in many months, he has regained hope that the relationship between Liu Qingge and Shen Qingqiu will change. He is even optimistic.
Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge do not speak to each other, but rather grunt silently while keeping their distance. They are both badly injured and have yet to dismember the monster. When they finish, Liu Qingge draws Cheng Luan while Shen Qingqiu hesitantly chooses the path that leads to the village.
“What are you doing?” Liu Qingge grabs his forearm. “Cang Qiong Sect is in the opposite direction.”
“Oh, thanks Liu-shidi, I hadn't seen it,” he says ironically. Despite the blindfold, Liu Qingge knows that he has rolled his eyes. “I know exactly where I'm going. Let go.”
“You're going to hit a tree.”
Honestly, Liu Qingge would love to see it.
Shen Qingqiu growls. The blindness has made him even more annoying. He abruptly separates and takes the road back to the village. Liu Qingge values the possibility of carrying him like a sack of potatoes on his sword.
“Seriously, what are you doing?”
“Find an inn.”
“It is not too late yet, we can reach Cang Qiong Sect before dark.”
“You go. I have the least common sense not to ride a sword in this state.”
Shen Qingqiu doesn't say it, but it's understood between the lines: I'm not a brainless brute like you . And, of course, both would rather die than share the same sword.
Liu Qingge gazes at the green-clad figure, graceful despite circumstances, walking away down the road. And he growls and curses under his breath before following him. Although Shen Qingqiu tensed upon hearing his footsteps, he did not stop.
“What are you doing?”
“Mu-shixiong has told me that I have to take care of you.”
“Nonsense! I don't need anyone's help, least of all yours.”
Liu Qingge already knows that this will be an endless week. Even so, he ignores Shen Qingqiu's complaints and walks with him.
Neither says anything. They both have their own thoughts and concerns. Despite their cultivation level, the confrontation with the monster has left them badly injured and tired. Upon reaching the city, they go straight to the only inn. In front of the door, a woman is telling a group of children the legend of Houyin shooting down the suns . Liu Qingge has to grab Shen Qingqiu by the wrist to prevent him from stomping on some brat. And he's sure he would have loved it.
As if the day was not enough, inside they told them that there is only one room left.
“You are still in time to return to the sect.” Shen Qingqiu speaks in his usual tone, but it is almost a request. Of course, he is too proud to ask him to leave and avoid the humiliation of sharing a room.
And that's why Liu Qingge hates their joint missions.
“I'm not leaving. I gave my word to Mu Qingfang.”
“You will regret it.”
“I already do.”
Shen Qingqiu lets out a hiss that is almost a laugh. And the two of them go upstairs to their room. Shen Qingqiu nearly tripped on several occasions and Liu Qingge pretends not to notice. It's even fun.
His mood darkens when he discovers that the room only has one bed.
“What happened?” Shen Qingqiu can't see him, but he senses his discomfort. “Isn't this the room to your liking, Liu-shidi?”
Liu Qingge curses his honor again.
Yue Qingyuan is worried.
His shidis haven’t returned yet and the night has already covered the sky. Even if Mu Qingfang has told him the truth about the state of Shen Qingqiu's eyes, he still doesn’t calm down.
“Relax, Zhangmen-shixiong.” Mu Qingfang is drinking tea at the table. He seems relaxed for the first time in the last few years. “They will be fine.”
Yue Qingyuan disagrees.
“What if Shen-shidi falls off the sword? What if they fight again? You shouldn't have left them unsupervised.”
“They are adults.”
“Armed with swords. They can kill each other!”
“And we will have one less problem.” Mu Qingfang takes a long sip of the tea. “If you don't like this, don’t worry, I have other ideas. Like dual cultivation for medical purposes...”
Mu Qingfang, always so calm and attentive, that night smiles wickedly. Yue Qingyuan trembles as he realizes how tired he is of his martial brothers’ misbehavior. Please change your attitude, he wishes.
The problem is not sleeping with Liu Qingge, but sharing a bed with another man. Shen Qingqiu frowns before spreading his hands to trace the boundaries of that unfamiliar room. He turns his back on Liu Qingge and feigns indifference when speaking.
“Keep the bed, I'll meditate.”
Shen Qingqiu hears a disgruntled noise.
“My foundation is better than yours. You sleep, I will meditate,” Liu Qingge growls.
“I'm not so heartless to steal a wounded man his well-deserved rest, Liu-shidi!” Shen Qingqiu taunts him, putting a hand to his chest. “Your condition is worse than mine. Stay in bed.”
“I'm stronger than you. And you are blinded.”
“The last time I saw you, your arm was covered in blood and with a horrible wound.” He remembers him with a mocking voice.
Giving up the bed is acknowledging weakness, so both reject the possibility. That night, the two meditate and the bed remains empty.
Although he will never acknowledge it out loud, Liu Qingge admires Shen Qingqiu's persistence. His martial brother doesn't ask him for any help. Despite his situation, that morning Shen Qingqiu remains pristine and elegant, he doesn’t hesitate to order breakfast, and avoids him at all times. He may be a bit disheveled, but he doesn’t ask Liu Qingge for help nor does Liu Qingge offer it. His attitude is also the same as always, perhaps a little less surly.
Out of consideration, Liu Qingge decides to keep his distance and not provoke him. Although both of them have decided to ignore Mu Qingfang's order, there is a silent truce.
Or so he thought.
Despite his condition, Shen Qingqiu manages to order a carriage and leave him at the inn. Without warning. Without waiting for him.
Liu Qingge grits his teeth and draws his sword. From the sky, he follows the trail of the carriage. He could speed up and outrun him, but he doesn't dare to go to Cang Qiong Sect alone. He does respect Mu Qingfang and Yue Qingyuan.
To his surprise, the carriage suddenly stops and Shen Qingqiu abandons it. Despite the distance, he sees that he seems to be waiting for him with his arms crossed. Liu Qingge sighs and descends.
Shen Qingqiu only speaks when he hears him landing on the ground. His head turns to search for him, guided only by the noise.
“I have an idea.”
“And an apology?” He growls. “You left without warning!”
“Oh, was Liu-shidi excited to go by carriage? My apologies.” His smile is sarcastic and without a hint of heat. “As I was telling you, I have a plan for this week. You have two options: leave or accompany me.” Liu Qingge wants to protest, but his words are true. “That is your decision and it doesn’t concern me. For my part, I will return to the Cang Qiong Sect in a week.”
“A week?” He frowns.
“You are deaf? A blind man and a deaf man, what a pitiful combination!”
Shen Qingqiu is hard to ignore sometimes.
Most of the time.
“So, are you so proud that you don't want to return so they don't see you in this state?”
Liu Qingge knows the answer before asking and perhaps this is why Shen Qingqiu remains silent. Yes, it's pretty obvious: Shen Qingqiu is stupidly proud and wants this incident to be a secret that no one else will find out.
Liu Qingge considers quite admirable how a spoiled rich boy like Shen Qingqiu can take care of himself despite blindness.
“If you stay with me, let's pretend the other doesn't exist,” he continues. “There are about five cities on the way to Cang Qiong Sect. We can go to one of them every day and ask if they have any problems. I calmly recover and you are going to slaughter monsters.”
Not a bad plan, like all of Shen Qingqiu. And although Liu Qingge knows it, he is still reluctant.
They didn't get very far. Before reaching the next city, a beast hits Shen Qingqiu's carriage. Liu Qingge descends from his sword and attacks the monster without hesitation. He ignores his martial brother and concentrates on the fight. Also, he needs to get rid of all the stress from the last day.
His happiness lasts for a short time.
“What is it?” Shen Qingqiu asks, distracting him. He gets out of the carriage and stops in the middle of the road.
“It’s… big.” Liu Qingge dodges a claw. “And orange. And has claws and fangs.”
Liu Qingge hears an impatient noise.
“How do you expect me to identify it with that useless description?”
“I don’t. I will kill him.”
“Mindless brute! You always charge monsters without a plan...”
“But I win.”
Because of the conversation, the monster almost bit Liu Qingge's arm. He grits his teeth and walks away.
“Stop distracting me!”
“Fine, don't take too long.”
“Weren't you going to ignore me?”
“How if you block my way?”
The two have become distracted again. Annoyed, the monster roars and gets up on two legs. And it opens its jaws as if to scream, but it only releases a kind of green mist. Liu Qingge covers his face with a sleeve and walks away from the beast. He has had enough experiences with poisons not to risk it.
However, he forgets one detail.
Shen Qingqiu has not seen the mist.
When he realizes it is too late, Shen Qingqiu falls to the ground and the monster runs away. Liu Qingge growls but lets the creature escape and he runs towards his martial brother. He carries him in his arms. His body is frozen, but he breathes. Although Liu Qingge is not good at recognizing poisons, it seems that he is only unconscious. Still, he will take him to the doctor.
For a few seconds, he considers the possibility of taking Shen Qingqiu to Cang Qiong Sect, but he knows that Mu Qingfang will kill him if he finds out that he has been injured under his protection.
Perhaps Liu Qingge is also a bit proud.
He leads Shen Qingqiu into the carriage. His idea is to leave him lying there, but to his horror, he discovers that Shen Qingqiu has hugged him tightly. His nails dig into his robe. It's stupid. How can such a cold and lonely person be so loving asleep? Liu Qingge growls as he tries to get rid of him. He doesn't care about waking him up. What's more, he would be calmer if Shen Qingqiu wakes up.
But the poison is more powerful than him, and Shen Qingqiu remains asleep despite the jerks, shoves, and even shouts of protest.
“Fuck!” He complains after hitting his head against the roof of the carriage. He tries to move but ends up sitting with Shen Qingqiu hugging his chest. His face has rested on the crook of his neck and he is almost sitting on his lap. Liu Qingge feels trapped by a human vine.
In the end, Liu Qingge decides to wait. And he reluctantly agrees to go to the city in the carriage. Not that he has another choice.
At that moment, Liu Qingge discovers two things.
First, Mu Qingfang was right. Shen Qingqiu has been poisoned because of him. And although he can't stand him, he acknowledges his mistake. He has been careless and arrogant. Never again , he thinks.
Second, Shen Qingqiu is unexpectedly cute sleeping. Ignoring how clingy he is, asleep his features seem less aggressive, softer. Liu Qingge has never seen him so vulnerable. Shen Qingqiu is so arrogant and distant that he pushes everyone away, which is why Liu Qingge had never noticed his beauty before. Perhaps it is that black bandage, which tricks him into giving the impression that Shen Qingqiu is a different person.
Unconsciously, Liu Qingge's fingers caress Shen Qingqiu's cheekbones.
How funny. It is like those beasts that calm down asleep. He thinks. How cute.
He changes his mind a few hours later when Shen Qingqiu awakens and nearly smashes a table, a tea set, and a wall while trying to stab him with Xiu Ya.
“YOU IDIOT! THAT WAS A DREAMING TIGER.”
Chapter 3: Pornography? Not in my peak!
Liu Qingge's gay panic and a little misunderstanding.
Shen Qingqiu is ashamed for sleeping so carelessly in other’s arms. He would kill Liu Qingge if it weren't for Mu Qingfang killing him and he is interested in the doctor's help. Also because the other man is too fast and his blindfold doesn't help either. Annoyed, he sheathes Xiu Ya.
“Where are we? It looks like an inn.”
Shen Qingqiu walks to the door (or does where he thinks the door is) hiding his indecision. He is an expert in looking like someone else, acting with pride and hiding all his weaknesses from him. Perhaps his steps falter, but it does not reflect it in the way he walks.
He hears a sigh.
“Now where are you going?”
“Is soon. I'll ask them to bring food and prepare a bath. I think I'll also take a walk around town... You can do whatever you want. Maybe you have more monsters nearby.”
Shen Qingqiu leaves. He doesn't hear footsteps behind, so he assumes Liu Qingge has decided not to follow him. Better. That they are forced to travel so many days together does not mean that they cannot be separated.
After ordering food and a bath, Shen Qingqiu leaves the inn. The city is bustling, but people have the least common sense not to bump into someone who is blind. And he uses his cultivator senses to avoid people, especially those who may see him as an easy target. After a couple of turns, Shen Qingqiu finds a bookstore. And he enters.
The dependent stutters when he sees him, but luckily he doesn't say anything. Shen Qingqiu is in no mood for any more nonsense. He uses his fingers to guide himself around the shelves and brush the edge of the books. Maybe he cannot see, but the rest of his senses still function.
Shen Qingqiu stops when he locates a book that emits a dull, almost priceless aura.
“What is it?” He asks the dependent.
“A tale, my lord. The plum in the golden vase. ”
He nods and keeps looking. More books stand out from the rest, but none of them interest him. Until he discovers one with a qi so powerful that it could be a living being. He brushes it with his fingers. Interesting , he thinks.
“What is it?”
“A cultivator manual, my lord.”
Shen Qingqiu grins.
“I’ll take it.”
He returns to the inn with his new treasure. It's a shame that he has to wait a week to read it, maybe he could ask Liu Qingge? Can Liu Qingge read? Shen Qingqiu covers his face with a sleeve as he laughs to himself.
Shen Qingqiu goes upstairs without tripping. Little by little he is getting used to this new state of darkness. Upon reaching his room, he walks in and places his purchase on a table.
"Liu-shidi, are you here?" He asks.
Great. Shen Qingqiu smiles as he searches for the bathtub. The other night he avoided touching his clothes and hairstyle because he knew he would have trouble grooming himself, but because of that impromptu nap strands of hair falling down his face. He takes off his clothes slowly and carefully remembers where he puts them to find them later. Afterward, he sinks into the bathtub.
Liu Qingge was meditating.
Although his cultivation is very good, almost excellent, he is drained of fatigue and a wound that is still healing. And it's nice to have a quiet moment without Shen Qingqiu and his nasty humor and his comments and his mad cat attitude.
While he meditates, he hears nothing. He has his eyes closed and is completely absorbed.
When he finishes and gets up... Liu Qingge freezes upon seeing Shen Qingqiu bathing right in front of him.
Liu Qingge instinctively blushes. He was so lost that he didn't even hear when they went in to prepare the bath! Like the gentleman that he is, he looks away. He takes a step towards the door, ready to walk away, but Shen Qingqiu makes a noise and turns. Although he cannot see him, Liu Qingge's heart has raced with anxiety. What if he hears that there is someone else? Shame would destroy him.
Liu Qingge decides to stay completely still while thinking of a solution. And without looking, of course.
The next ten minutes were the most stressful of his life.
He doesn't even dare to breathe. His body is stiff and sore, the heat from the bath sticking his clothes to his skin. Although he has his eyes tightly closed, he can hear Shen Qingqiu's noises while bathing. Why is he taking so long? Liu Qingge knows the patience of stalking prey, not the patience of waiting. And Shen Qingqiu is not a prey, but an especially annoying martial brother.
However, the nightmare worsens when Shen Qingqiu finally gets out of the bathtub.
A few splashes reveal Shen Qingqiu. Liu Qingge turns his head because FOR NO CONCEPT IS HE GOING TO LOOK, but then he hears the complaints and the noise of the cloth and wet footsteps on the floor. And he has no choice but to open his eyes and look a little, well Shen Qingqiu is walking carelessly around the room.
Liu Qingge blinks. Scars gleam on the red, shiny skin of Shen Qingqiu's back. They are so old that they have almost disappeared, but they are also too many, and that he has not been able to erase them yet with his abilities reveal how deep they were. Liu Qingge stares blankly. He feels nauseous. Maybe that's why he never talks about his family? He theorizes. Even so, it is strange that a young master like Shen Qingqiu has so many old scars.
Liu Qingge tenses. Shen Qingqiu has turned and is walking towards him. He is leaning over the floor and muttering something about a sock. Stealthy, Liu Qingge tries to back away noiselessly to dodge him. Although they do not touch each other, Shen Qingqiu’s scent reaches him. He smells clean, like bamboo.
Shen Qingqiu sits up. He is right in front of him, so close that his hair brushes Liu Qingge's hand and tickles him. Despite the blindfold, the man frowns and turns. Even though he notices him, can't see him.
“It will be my imagination...” He murmurs.
Shen Qingqiu turns and shows him that scarred back, his hair stuck to his skin and that beautiful round butt. Liu Qingge has forgotten to close his eyes and looks at him increasingly red. He also watches as Shen Qingqiu finishes finding all of his clothes and dresses awkwardly. His movements are slow but determined. Taking advantage of the noise of the cloth and his grunting, Liu Qingge used his qi to knock on the door.
Shen Qingqiu stiffens.
“Who is there?”
His posture is tense, ready to attack. He doesn't relax even when Liu Qingge responds. He has also moved to stand in front of the door and thus pretend that he has just arrived and has not seen anything.
“Ah, Liu-shidi, how nice to notify me of your presence.”
Shen Qingqiu ignores him and continues to dress, although his movements are more awkward as if it bothers him to be seen. Liu Qingge notices that the man has turned so that he cannot see his back.
It's the perfect opportunity to back off and run away, but…
“Do you need my help?”
“It's not necessary, thanks.”
It's true. Shen Qingqiu has used talismans to dry off and has practically finished dressing. Perhaps his sleeves are wrinkled and his belt is twisted, but he can do it without help. Liu Qingge nods and turns, but stops again. Shen Qingqiu is combing his hair and despite doing it with the ease of a routine, it is evident from his tension that he is missing a mirror.
He sighs and leans closer, forcing the sound of his footsteps to warn him.
“Let me help you,” he offers, sitting behind him.
Shen Qingqiu hisses.
“You don't have to and I don’t want to.”
Liu Qingge ignores him. He takes the hair comb and, since Shen Qingqiu allows it, begins to comb it
Shen Qingqiu's hair is smooth and shiny. His fingers slide over it like silk. Liu Qingge undoes the knots and begins to braid him. Although he has always complained about how long it is (uncomfortable and counterproductive for a battle), he acknowledges that it is relaxing to comb. Although Shen Qingqiu was tense at first, he seems to calm under his touch. He remains alert but less aggressive.
“Not bad, what a surprise!” He says, mockery. “Do you often comb your hair at Bai Zhan Peak? Maybe after spar? The loser braids the others...”
Liu Qingge gives him a tug on his hair to make him shut up.
“What are you always so annoying?”
“It’s my charm.“
Liu Qingge doesn’t do any complex hairstyles. He joins the two braids into a bun thanks to a green ribbon. It's simple and practical, although he wouldn't mind playing around with Shen Qingqiu's hair a bit more.
Shen Qingqiu makes a satisfying sound and sits up. Starring in front of him, Liu Qingge notices that perhaps his clothes are much more neglected than they seemed at first. A mocking laugh escapes him.
“You are a mess,” he teases him.
Liu Qingge fixes the collar of his clothes without thinking. When his hands drop to his waist, Shen Qingqiu slaps him away.
“I told you that I don’t need your help,” he hisses.
However, Liu Qingge is not stupid. The two know that Shen Qingqiu needs his help and he refuses to ask him. Shen Qingqiu has not rejected him when he has combed him, nor now, but when he has touched his personal limits too much. Embarrassed, Liu Qingge takes a step back.
“...I’m sorry,” he growls.
Despite his many arguments with Shen Qingqiu, it is the first time that he has apologized. Shen Qingqiu looks at him in surprise, not believing him. He doesn't say anything either, he just ignores him.
Shen Qingqiu grabs onto his shoulder to avoid stumbling. As he does so, he wrinkles his nose.
“You're sweaty... What have you been doing?”
“Sparring,” he lies, his cheeks red.
Liu Qingge is going to change. As he passes in front of the table, he discovers a package that was not previously. Curious, he picks it up and discovers that it is a book.
“Have you gone shopping?” For some reason, he finds the idea funny.
“You are the only one capable of buying a book blindly.”
“And you are the only one who does not see what is in front of him despite having both eyes wide open.” Shen Qingqiu snorts. “It’s a cultivation book. I felt its power, so I bought it. It looks interesting.”
After listening to him, Liu Qingge appreciates that it is true: there is qi surrounding the book. Increasingly curious, he decides to take it out of the package to find out what kind of book it is. At first, he doesn't recognize it, but immediately he blushes.
“Shen Qingqiu!” He blurts. “Do you know what kind of book it is?”
“Yes, a cultivation manual,” he responds nonchalantly.
Liu Qingge is still blushing. Because it is a dual cultivation manual and quite explicit. There are so many illustrations so detailed that the book closes with a sharp snap. Why would he buy...? But on second thought, it makes sense. Shen Qingqiu is the same shameless person who spends time in brothels. Even so, he still doesn't understand why someone who seems so pristine and pure has such a vicious mind.
“You are very quiet, shidi. Do you have an interesting opinion?”
Liu Qingge groans not knowing what to say. It is clear that Shen Qingqiu is making fun of him for all the times he has reproached him for visiting brothels. There is nothing dishonorable in practicing dual cultivation and both know it.
“I don't endorse those cultivation techniques, but I'm glad you're back on the right path.” He mutters reluctantly. “Only... Are you aware that they are techniques that need the support and consent of another person? I don't think someone as lonely as you is capable of doing it.”
His answer seems to surprise Shen Qingqiu.
Liu Qingge waits nervously. It shouldn't be a matter to him, but dual cultivation involves a partner and Shen Qingqiu has none. Won't he be able to take advantage of Yue Qingyuan? Right? He is petty and scum, but he has some limits. RIGHT?
“I am not interested in techniques with a partner. I cultivate by myself.”
Liu Qingge remembers some of the images he has seen about... self-love.
“There are also those,” he responds, as relieved as nervous.
Shen Qingqiu's smile is neither pretty nor kind, but spooky. Liu Qingge decides to forget the book and find another topic of conversation.
“We have only one bed again...”
Shen Qingqiu grumbles.
“There is no point in the two of us meditating again,” he appoints. “We can take turns. We have several days of travel left, each night one sleeps and the other meditates, what do you think?“
Liu Qingge agrees with a grunt and Shen Qingqiu’s grins widen.
“Oh, Liu-shidi, how solicitous you are today.” He mocks him. “Stay in bed tonight, I have already slept enough.”
Chapter 4: Forbidden love? What are you talking about?
Liu Qingge: Shen Qingqiu!
Liu Qingge: SHEN QINGQIU!
After yesterday, the two of them signed a provisional peace.
Shen Qingqiu recognizes that calm is better than tension. It's ironic, but although they are not friends and never will be, Liu Qingge has become a kind of an ally in an unexpected situation. He helps him with small details and that morning he is the one who asks for his carriage. Perhaps it would not be bad for their relationship to continue like this, at least he would have one less headache.
The next town they arrive in is prosperous and has no threats to eradicate (no demons, no monsters, no ghosts) but a crowded inn.
"Sorry, daozhang. We are full. A theater company has taken up almost every room. They are going to perform Legend of White Snake tonight, you know?" Liu Qingge grunts and perhaps he makes one of his grimaces, as the man stutters instead of getting entangled talking. “At least we have one room left! It is small but neat, you will like it very much...”
The two sighs resigned. They have gotten so used to it that it doesn't surprise them anymore.
That day they ended up walking around the city.
“You don't have to follow me.” Shen Qingqiu reminds him. This time his tone is softer, without his usual arrogance. He's not upset, he doesn't really care about his decision.
Liu Qingge grunts and then adds: “I do not have anything better to do.”
They walk in silence. Unlike the other cities, this one is saturated with people. On several occasions, Liu Qingge has to grab him to avoid being pushed. At first, Shen Qingqiu stiffens, he hates being touched, but he gets used to it. Liu Qingge is unexpectedly delicate with him, does not hold him very tightly, and is quick. Most of the time his gentle strokes pull him to a concrete side.
Shen Qingqiu is upset by the artists who have occupied the entire inn, so he refuses to see the play. Instead, they kill time by wandering through various stores. In one of those streets, a woman's voice stops them.
“Distinguished cultivators, wouldn't you like to know your destiny? Come closer, come closer, this madam knows how to read the future in stones.”
Shen Qingqiu doesn't believe in such bullshit. Even so, he smiles and walks over despite Liu Qingge's reluctance. He can notice how his partner tenses, his hand brushing the hilt of the sword. Despite his blindfolds, Shen Qingqiu did not notice any demon qi. It looks like a scam, he thinks, amused.
“I've never heard of a premonition method like this, what do those stones say?”
“Shen Qingqiu...” Liu Qingge warns him.
“Oh, prestigious cultivator, I throw the stones and they whisper their secrets to me.”
“I'll be honest: I don't believe these lies. But I'm bored and your stones are the funniest thing I've found in this city.” He takes out a coin and hands it to the fortune-teller.
“Thanks! My stones will not disappoint you!”
Shen Qingqiu laughs at grabbing Liu Qingge by the arm and pulling him closer to the fortune-telling stand.
“But I want to hear his future, not mine.”
“What? You are funnier than me.”
Liu Qingge growls but doesn't stop the woman from throwing the stones. Shen Qingqiu hears a tapping on the wood. And then the hums from the fortune-teller.
“You have got very good stones, distinguished cultivator. You are fair, loyal, and brave. You have helped many and you will be rewarded with fame. However, prejudices blind you. And now you are at a crucial crossroads in your life.” The woman's voice grew harsher, turning into a warning. “There is someone you have always misunderstood and now you have the opportunity to know him better. If you don't... your path leads to death. But you also have good stones! A pure love awaits you, however, in your heart you will consider it forbidden. My advice? Be honest with your feelings.”
Shen Qingqiu brushed his lips with his fan.
“Oh, Liu-shidi is in love?” He teases him. ”What is forbidden love for you? Will they be from another sect? A normal person?”
Mischievous, Shen Qingqiu raised a hand and stroked his cheek.
“You’re red,” he hums.
“He still doesn’t know that he is falling in love, but he will soon find out,” the fortune-teller explains. “He won't want to accept it.”
“Why not?” Shen Qingqiu leaned over the stand.
“Your friend is extremely proud and the person he will fall in love with will deal a serious blow to his pride.”
“That means their social status is lower.” Shen Qingqiu guesses. “You are good at inventing futures from what you deduce.”
“Thanks, my lord.”
Shen Qingqiu backs away but stops upon hearing the noise of another coin hitting the stand. He turns to Liu Qingge.
“I want to hear his.”
Shen Qingqiu laughs. He doesn’t expect such childish revenge from that fair, loyal, and brave cultivator. Still, he accepts it and curiously awaits the fortune-teller's lies. The stones hit the wood again and the hum of the woman grows. This time, she delays his answer.
“Your path is… tortuous. You haven’t had a happy life and one of your most complicated trials has not yet arrived. Even though many years have passed, the past still haunts you and you may never be able to forget it. You are condemned to a circle, in which you will end as you started...” She clears her throat. “But you also have hope! You’ve got the heart stone, which means a pure love awaits you, however, in your heart, you will consider it forbidden. My advice? Be honest with your feelings...”
The fortune-teller is silent when she realizes that’s the same prediction that she has made to Liu Qingge. Shen Qingqiu laughs again, albeit awkward and tense from the previous words.
“You almost scared me,” he acknowledges. “You are very good with your stories, but the same premonition escaped you twice. My advice? Next time, say that your premonitions can only be heard by the right person. This way you will avoid confusion like this.”
Although that lie has touched too much truth, Shen Qingqiu decides to forget about it and says goodbye to the woman with a smile. When he turns around, he immediately hears Liu Qingge's footsteps beside him.
“Are you okay?” His partner asks him after several minutes. “Before you turned pale.”
“I’m tired.” He lies. “Do not give importance to what that woman has said. It's just a nifty scam.”
“If you think it's a scam, why have you let her read our future?”
“His voice was old. What's an old woman doing reading the future in the street instead of enjoying that famous play? Even if it's a scam, that woman needs money. Her stories were good, she deserved those coins.”
“I hadn't seen it that way.” Liu Qingge recognizes it after a pause.
The rest of the day passes quietly. They walk around town, eat at a very nice restaurant, and Shen Qingqiu makes fun of Liu Qingge's poor taste for teas. Shen Qingqiu also tries to buy a new fan, but he has to trust Liu Qingge's opinion... In the end, he prefers not to risk it. That night Shen Qingqiu undresses without help. Liu Qingge offers himself, but after so many days he already knows how to handle it alone. And he sinks into bed to sleep while his partner sits in a corner to meditate.
It should have been perfect.
Shen Qingqiu wakes up after a horrible nightmare that he does not remember, only the feeling of helplessness, the pain, the anguish at being abandoned again… It has been a long time since his last nightmare. Shen Qingqiu puts his hands on his head. It hurts. The nightmare hits the walls of his skull. It wants to return and devour his heart.
It's still late? Shen Qingqiu wants to tear off the blindfold and look at the light from the sky. It smells like night, like many hours before dawn. The man wraps himself in the sheets and tries to control his breathing. He had read that nightmares were one of the side effects of Dreaming Tiger poisoning. In exchange for wonderful dreams, then horrible nights appear. Shen Qingqiu hadn't given it any importance, as he had assumed that nothing was worse than his ancient nightmares.
He was wrong.
If he were in Cang Qiong Sect right now he would leave his bamboo house and go to the Warm Red Pavillion. However, he is in an unknown city. Shen Qingqiu sighs before pulling the sheets aside. He gets up, still not sure what to do. Maybe he could go for a walk and look for a brothel, but he's too lazy to get dressed. Or maybe he could order a tea to calm his nerves.
What he doesn't expect is to fall upon Liu Qingge.
Shen Qingqiu growls in surprise. Instead of hitting the ground, two muscular arms grab him. And he ends up landing atop the other man's chest.
“What are you doing?” He creams, trying to pull away, but he slips and hits Liu Qingge's chin with his head.
“I am meditating! What are you doing walking in the middle of the room?”
“...” Shen Qingqiu hopes the darkness is intense enough that Liu Qingge doesn't discover that he has blushed. “I'm sleepwalking.”
Liu Qingge was NOT meditating.
He has been thinking about the fortune-teller's words all day. Even though Shen Qingqiu has not given them importance, he suspects that they are true. And that worries him. He is not frightened by the threat of death, but by that vague warning that he has misunderstood Shen Qingqiu. Because the premonition refers to Shen Qingqiu, he knows that for sure.
Thus, if his prophecy was true, maybe also Shen Qingqiu's? What then did the fortune-teller have meant about the past life of his partner? Having seen the scars, Liu Qingge is not so surprised to find that Shen Qingqiu has had a cruel life. And maybe that explains his current personality.
Liu Qingge noticed that Shen Qingqiu turned pale upon hearing his prophecy (even though he later downplayed it, the fortune-teller's words had affected him). And that night he has heard his sobs and seen him wake up shaky and terrified. He is not an idiot and knows how to recognize a nightmare. Also that his partner is too proud and has lied to him.
Perhaps Liu Qingge feels a bit guilty in admitting that he knows neither Shen Qingqiu nor his demons, only his own prejudices. And if it weren't for that trip, perhaps it would never have been considered before that that distant immortal hides a wounded heart.
Liu Qingge sighs and helps Shen Qingqiu up, ignoring his protests.
“It’s late,” he says. “Try to rest.”
Shen Qingqiu grumbles but allows himself to be guided to the bed. Liu Qingge is surprised by his docility and finds him even a little adorable. Suddenly, Shen Qingqiu grabs his arm and slams him onto the mattress, taking advantage of his surprise.
“Shen Qingqiu!?” He yells. “What’s wrong with you!?”
He tries to get up, but Shen Qingqiu is on his top, pushing him against the sheets.
“I have changed my mind. You sleep, I will meditate.”
You, cheeky! He thinks, too stunned to complain. When Shen Qingqiu gets up, Liu Qingge takes revenge by grabbing his arm.
“Why do you always have to be so proud?” He growls through clenched teeth. “Why can't you recognize that you've had a nightmare and can't sleep?”
“I have no nightmares.” His voice is cold. He no longer seems the same helpless person who was trembling a few minutes ago, but he is once again the same distant and dismissive immortal who controls any situation. “Dreaming Tiger’s poison has some annoying adverse effects and I am not going to sleep. That's all.”
Although Liu Qingge releases him, that night he no longer believes his lies. I wish his personality wasn't so horrible and I could help you , he laments.
Chapter 5: Battle prowess? You?
Something is wrong if Liu Qingge is the more emotionally intelligent of the two.
“You don't have to follow me.” Liu Qingge says. It is quite ironic to dedicate his own words to Shen Qingqiu, but his partner is a cheek who just shrugs.
Rather than stay in the city, Shen Qingqiu has decided to accompany him to the nearby forest, where beasts are rumored to abound. By Yue Qingyuan's decision, the two of them have gone hunting together many times (too many). However, this is the first time that Liu Qingge has been worried about Shen Qingqiu. He remembers the Dreaming Tiger, the wound in his eyes. He remembers the words of the fortune-teller and that advice about getting to know him better.
“You should have stayed at the inn,” he growls. “Or go shopping.”
Shen Qingqiu closes his fan so tightly that a thud is heard.
“Why, Liu-shidi?” His tone is dangerous. Although his expression is flat, his voice reflects that he is angry. “Do you think I won't be able to do anything? I remind you that only my eyes are wrong, I can perfectly wield a sword and fight.”
“I didn’t mean that...”
“What is the excuse this time?” He interrupts him. His rage is icy, a sharp whisper that scratches Liu Qingge. “Why do you always hide in excuses? Acknowledge the truth: You have always underestimated me. These days and before.”
Shen Qingqiu takes a few steps forward with the firm intention of marking the distance with him.
“I don't need your help, I don't need your pity.” He speaks without turning around so that Liu Qingge can only see his back. “I can take care of myself and I can certainly also kill monsters on my own. Is it clear to you, Liu-shidi?”
If it was the past, Liu Qingge would have grunted through his teeth before abandoning him. The two would have taken different paths and avoided each other for the remainder of the day. Or they would have continued arguing loudly until they scared off all the beasts or attracted demons (as had happened many times before). But Liu Qingge wants to change his relationship with Shen Qingqiu, despite Shen Qingqiu himself making it so difficult for him.
Liu Qingge gasps for air and then walks to stand next to Shen Qingqiu. After hesitating a bit, he grabs his wrist gently, but hard enough that he doesn't ignore him.
“Yes, you need my help.” He emphasizes his words by sliding a hand through his hair to remind him that he had combed his hair again that morning. ”You are hurt and you cannot act as usual. And it was my fault, so I want to help you.”
Shen Qingqiu jerks away, but Liu Qingge holds him even tighter. Annoyed, his partner hisses at him.
“But I don't want your help...”
“I also need your help!” Maybe he yells a bit to finally get Shen Qingqiu to shut up and listen to him. “I didn't know it was a Dreaming Tiger or that it was poisonous.” Liu Qingge acknowledges with red cheeks from embarrassment. “You are not a warrior and you will never be as strong as I am, but you are intelligent and you know demons better than I do.”
Shen Qingqiu has gone very still, completely stunned. When he finally speaks, his voice no longer has its usual harshness.
“Did you just call me weakling?” He splutters. “I only forgive you because you have recognized that you are not very smart.”
Liu Qingge doesn't know whether to get angry, growl or yell at him. Why is he always so irritating? Liu Qingge takes a deep breath. He has never been characterized by neither his emotional maturity nor his social skills, but Shen Qingqiu is even worse than him.
“I'm trying to apologize.” He decides to be direct. There is no point in deviating from the topic. It is more honorable, to tell the truth, despite the shame. Fortunately, he is not stupidly proud like Shen Qingqiu. “I was wrong about you in the past and Mu Qingfang was right when he scolded me. I should have protected you. Or, at least, we shouldn't argue while we fight. I want to change that, Shen-shixiong.”
Shen Qingqiu has opened his mouth, but he remains silent, confused, and stunned. Liu Qingge frees him because he knows that he will no longer try to run away. Shen Qingqiu rubs the wrist that he had held. His movements are rhythmic and seemingly unconscious.
“Who are you?” He finally says. “You cannot be Liu Qingge. Are you a demon pretending to be him?”
“I may not be able to see, but I recognize my martial brother, and he never...”
“SHEN QINGQIU!” He splutters. “I can’t understand you! You get upset about everything and now you don't accept my apologies either? What do you want?”
“Maybe I enjoy making fun of you, Liu-shidi.” He hits Liu Qingge’s chest with the fan in time with his words. He blushes inexplicably. Why does he feel like it's starting to get hot? “Hmmm… Prove me your words.”
Shen Qingqiu is wary of Liu Qingge's change. Being suspicious of others is part of his nature. He doesn’t believe in selfless kindness, friendship, or love. The only explanation he can think of is that Liu Qingge's warrior pride feels responsible. He can understand it. However, Shen Qingqiu knows that it will be a perishable change. When he can take off the blindfold, they will fight and argue again. It is unavoidable.
Shen Qingqiu also doesn't believe in apologies. Why do people insist on apologizing? Apologies will not erase the past. Does Liu Qingge seriously believe that a sudden change in attitude will make him forget all the insults, the disparagement...?
Shen Qingqiu sometimes envies how easily others forget.
He doesn't want empty promises, he wants facts.
The two scour the area for beasts. After an hour, they find a cave inhabited by a monster. Instead of following the usual procedure, Shen Qingqiu demands that Liu Qingge describe it. He can notice his discomfort, but his partner sighs and tries to describe the creature.
His description is horrible. Short of words, so direct that Shen Qingqiu has to ask him questions to figure out the identity of the monster. It takes a lot of imagination to understand Liu Qingge. When they finally know what monster it is, Shen Qingqiu asks for another full description of the landscape. That is even more difficult. Liu Qingge describes it so badly that for a few minutes Shen Qingqiu forgets that they are in a forest. He wants to scold him or yell at him or stretch his ears, but he arms himself with patience. If Liu Qingge can swallow his pride, he will be no less.
After hours (and two fan hits to the head), Shen Qingqiu finally nods.
“Beware of flower pollen. Your description is so horrible that I don't know if they are poisonous or not. Just in case, go straight to the cave and pay attention to your surroundings as you fight.” He explains and although he hears Liu Qingge's snorts, his partner doesn’t interrupt him. “I'm also not entirely sure if it's an Evil Sharp-Toothed Lizard or a Person-eating Naughty Salamander. In both cases, you have to disable the legs. Don't be fooled by the tail, as it will use it to hit you from behind. Is it clear?”
Shen Qingqiu shivers.
“Please, don’t call me that.”
“Why not? You are my shixiong. And you always call me Liu-shidi.”
Because I know it bothers you! He thinks. But Liu Qingge doesn’t pronounce Shen-shixiong mockingly or ironically. He says it with his characteristic seriousness, although it is evident that he still hasn't gotten used to it. Shen Qingqiu hits him with the fan on the head again.
Liu Qingge grumbles. Then he hears how he gets up. The rest is a succession of grunts, blows against the wall, the hiss of a sword ripping through the air, more blows… The fight is brief, but Shen Qingqiu finds it eternal. Waiting is very boring.
He knows Liu Qingge is done because he stops hearing the monster's howls. Footsteps approach him, sure and confident. Shen Qingqiu doesn't hear rapid breathing or groans of pain, so he assumes Liu Qingge is fine. Probably he hasn’t even gotten tired.
“I know. You have followed my directions perfectly. And your movements have been as beautiful as ever, Liu-shidi. You have surprised me, I admit it. I couldn't help but see how well you fight such a fierce monster.”
Liu Qingge snorts upon discovering that he is making fun of him.
“You’re a little pest, Shen Qingqiu.”
Shen Qingqiu grins. Much better, this is my Liu Qingge.
They return to the city talking. Liu Qingge recognizes that his indications have been useful to him and Shen Qingqiu ends up asking him new questions about the fight. Without realizing it, he discovers that he has had fun. Actually, the last few days with Liu Qingge have been good, not the nightmare he expected. Shen Qingqiu squeezes his fan tightly. He notices a bitter taste in his throat as he remembers that this is a charade that will disappear when they return to Cang Qiong Sect.
Silently, Shen Qingqiu decides to make a bet with himself. If Liu Qingge continues to treat him like this when he regains his sight, he will accept his apology. Sadly, Shen Qingqiu has no faith in people and knows that it is a gamble that will end badly.
That night they arrive at an inn so small that they only have one room left. Again.
“Do you want the bed?” Liu Qingge offers him.
Shen Qingqiu shakes his head. He still doesn't dare to sleep for fear of nightmares.
Chapter 6: Separation? Finally!
The day has come and the two of them return Cang Qiong Sect, will everything go back to the way it was before?
Liu Qingge's fingers slide through Shen Qingqiu's hair. It is nice to have his hair combed, but Shen Qingqiu will never recognize it out loud. He closes his eyes and tries to forget that this will be the last day together.
Perhaps he will miss this new Liu Qingge.
The last few days have passed very quickly, without anything relevant happening. They will return to Cang Qiong Sect that morning. Although he has finished the repose week, Shen Qingqiu doesn’t dare to remove the blindfold. He has a small but intense fear that his eyes will be damaged forever. Life has hit him enough times to also turn blind.
Sometimes being himself is very tiring.
Liu Qingge indicates with a tap on the shoulder that he has finished and Shen Qingqiu hums as thanks. They leave the inn while deciding what to do. Shen Qingqiu is eager to go to Qiong Ding Peak with Mu Qingfang and Liu Qingge is bored from so much traveling, so the two agree to return to the sect.
They meet in the street when an arm grabs him around the waist. Shen Qingqiu hisses in surprise.
“What are you doing?” He protests, noticing that he is being pushed into a sword.
“It is faster.”
The sword has already raised them several meters. Or so Shen Qingqiu senses. He can't see around him and that makes him feel more nervous than usual. Liu Qingge is behind him, his arm around his waist to support him. He is a confident presence, but it is not enough for Shen Qingqiu to relax.
“Put me down!” He demands, angrily. “We decided that we wouldn’t return to Cang Qiong Sect like this!!”
Shen Qingqiu refused the first time out of pride: he won't allow others to see him helpless. During all that time he was convinced that Liu Qingge wouldn’t help him either out of disgust. What's going on? Did Liu Qingge hit his head? Is it really someone else imitating him? Shen Qingqiu shakes his head and tries to ignore those thoughts.
Suddenly, Liu Qingge's arms encircle his waist tightly and he feels the other man's chest against his back. Then his voice brushes his ear.
“Are you okay? You seem nervous.”
“Next time you fly blind and tell me what you think!” He splutters.
Perhaps he is a little restless and uncomfortable, he feels anguish in his lungs, but Shen Qingqiu knows how to hide all his insecurities behind an arrogant facade. He straightens up and tries to remain impassive as if Liu Qingge's presence is the only annoyance.
(Meanwhile, behind his back, Liu Qingge narrows his eyes. They are so close that he can hear Shen Qingqiu's heartbeat. Shen Qingqiu is a liar. He now knows it and can recognize that truth that he tries to hide).
Travel is unpleasant at first.
Shen Qingqiu acknowledges that perhaps Liu Qingge's presence is not entirely bothersome to him. Maybe he is the first man with whom he doesn’t feel threatened. Although he would prefer to keep more distance and not fly practically in his arms. I hate swords, he grumbles. When Liu Qingge speaks, too close, Shen Qingqiu shivers.
“We are arriving.”
“I hope so... Thank you for informing me,” he adds, his voice reduced to almost a whisper.
After a few minutes, they land. From the voices around them and the smell of medicinal plants, Shen Qingqiu assumes they are at Qiong Ding Peak.
“Shen-shixiong! Liu-shidi!” Mu Qingfang's voice is unexpectedly happy. It’s been a long time (years) since Shen Qingqiu listens to him so calmly as if he had enjoyed a well-deserved vacation. “I see you both very well. Come with me, Shen-shixiong, to check your eyes.”
Shen Qingqiu accepts his hand. Before entering Mu Qingfang’s house, he turns to where Liu Qingge should be.
“Thanks for the trip.” He hesitates before bowing his head. “I’ll see you later.”
“I hope everything is fine.”
Mu Qingfang guides him inside, cheerfully. He whistles and invites him to sit down and even asks if he wants tea. Shen Qingqiu is nervous and impatient but agrees to maintain the facade.
“Relax, Shen-shixiong. I have a feeling that your eyes have already healed.”
Shen Qingqiu thinks that it is unprofessional for Mu Qingfang to act so nonchalantly. He doesn’t know why he is so happy, but he doesn't want any medical errors that will harm him in the future. When the blindfold is removed, he still has his eyes closed.
Despite his fears, the medical check-up is quick and extremely positive. Mu Qingfang announces that he is cured with his happy little voice and sends him to visit Yue Qingyuan to make the report of the last weeks (of course, Liu Qingge never takes care of this. His reports are the same as his descriptions: horrible). Shen Qingqiu nods. He is a bit dazzled, with too many colors and shapes after a week of darkness, but he quickly gets used to it. And Mu Qingfang's good mood is contagious. He also smiles and thanks to him.
He is very curious to go with Liu Qingge and see if he is the same as usual, but he has other more urgent tasks first. While walking towards the Rainbow Bridge, Shen Qingqiu takes out the book that he bought during the trip.
And he freezes when he discovers the content of the manual.
“Shen-shixiong?” He hears Mu Qingfang's voice. “There’s something wrong?”
“Nothing out of the ordinary. I'm just going to kill Liu Qingge. If you forgive me...”
Instead of going to Qian Cao Peak, Shen Qingqiu rides on Xiu Ya and flies to Bai Zhan Peak. He is a raging green tornado. Shen Qingqiu has blushed and mumbles insults for Liu Qingge. He remembers their strange conversation about the book and gets even angrier. That ingrate! He has been laughing at me all this time!
Shen Qingqiu lands at the Bai Zhan Peak training ground. All the disciples look at him, some have reached for their sword hilt. Liu Qingge is talking to his teacher and turns around with surprise.
A blast of qi almost hits him, but Liu Qingge is swift and dodges it without difficulty.
“I will assume that you are fine,” he growls.
Shen Qingqiu doesn’t reply. He attacks again, fierce and furious, without his usual grace. Liu Qingge blocks all blows with the sword and they both fly from one end of the training ground to the other, surrounded by clouds of sand.
“Now what's wrong with you?!” Liu Qingge yells at him after a feint that has pushed Shen Qingqiu against a wall. He gets up and points Xiu Ya at him.
“Did you have fun?” Shen Qingqiu hisses. The sun is dazzling and he has to lower his head. “Did you laugh when I couldn't see you?”
“What are you talking about?” Liu Qingge blushes as always when they accuse him unjustly. “Maybe a little at first... But I wasn't making fun of you! Everything I told you was sincere!” And he strikes for the first time, rushing forward so swiftly that he nearly disarms Shen Qingqiu with a single blow. “Why are you so suspicious? All my apologies have been sincere!”
Cheng Luan pushes Shen Qingqiu against the wall. And even though Xiu Ya contains the other sword, Liu Qingge has crushed him without him being able to move.
“Why? And why should I trust you?” Shen Qingqiu tries to kick him in the crotch, but Liu Qingge stands between his legs and immobilizes him. “You have always been just as arrogant and superficial, Liu-shidi! You were the one who spread those rumors about brothels without checking if they were true!”
Liu Qingge reddens even more.
“Well! It's not a lie! You visit brothels a lot!”
“And there are a lot of reasons, Liu-shidi,” he spits, bitterly. “Has it occurred to you that I just enjoy their company? Maybe I just teach music lessons?”
“Why are we talking about this?!!” He looks visibly uncomfortable.
It's a shame Shen Qingqiu doesn't care.
“So, did you find it funny that I bought a dual cultivation manual by mistake?”
His words are more accurate than a punch. Liu Qingge's grip falters and Shen Qingqiu takes the opportunity to head butt him. And attack with even more force. Liu Qingge backs away, stopping his blows without being able to return them. After a trip, Shen Qingqiu pins Liu Qingge to the ground. One of his hands holds his wrist and with the other, he points the sword at him.
“I thought you knew it!” Liu Qingge growls. He seems more embarrassed than angry. His ponytail is disheveled and sweat stains his cheeks. Shen Qingqiu decides to ignore that image. “I asked you! You said you knew it was a manual!”
“About cultivation, nor dual cultivation!”
They have been screaming the whole fight and now all the disciples of Bai Zhan Peak are looking at them with wide eyes, some are whispering. They haven’t noticed it.
“You drew conclusions instead of asking the right questions, Liu-shidi.” He hisses, his eyes shining with rage.
“You didn't explain anything to me either! You weren't suspicious when I asked you questions about couples! Why, instead of getting angry with others, don't you recognize that you are a picky repellent?”
“Is that why you said that I'm lonely and no one will want to be my partner?”
“Well, I don't think anyone will want to be the cultivation partner of a brainless idiot like you who only serves to create problems!”
For a few minutes neither of them said anything, nor did they move. They stared at each other with distrust and anger, under the watchful curiosity of the other disciples.
Until a furious scream breaks the calm.
“Shen-shixiong! Liu-shidi!” Mu Qingfang swiftly walks towards them. His happiness is gone, replaced by the usual stress. His fury makes both of them turn pale. “Get up immediately!”
Embarrassed, they part ways as Mu Qingfang scolds them.
“It’s unbelievable! I can't believe that the first thing you do when you arrive is to fight again. Aren't you ever going to learn to get along?” The doctor stands in front of Shen Qingqiu and examines his face. He clicks his tongue and then shakes his head. “Your eyes are red from the fight. I'm afraid you'll have to stay blinded for another week.”
“Two if you still complaining.”
As a head disciple, Shen Qingqiu has his own room. Liu Qingge watches everything curiously as his partner growls through his teeth. Mu Qingfang has punished them to spend more time together and for some inexplicable reason, his companions from Bai Zhan Peak have forced him to accompany Shen Qingqiu that night.
Qing Jing Peak is quite different from Bai Zhan Peak. Too silent, too quiet. It smells like bamboo (it smells like Shen Qingqiu) and everyone is overly respectful. Shen Qingqiu's room is like him: elegant and refined, there is nothing out of place, and an almost maniacal order reigns. However, it is a cold room. All elements are impersonal. There are no family memories, no trace of how Shen Qingqiu really is.
Liu Qingge looks at Shen Qingqiu. Although he is still embarrassed by the incident at Bai Zhan Peak, his curiosity continues to grow.
“Are you not going to sleep tonight either?” His concern is real: Shen Qingqiu has spent the last week meditating without rest. Although his cultivation level is not bad, he needs to sleep.
“And that interest? Do you want to sleep in my bed, Liu-shidi?” Despite his attempts, Shen Qingqiu taunts him. “Get out. I don’t need you. This is my house, I can undress without problems and I have my martial brothers.”
“And you get along wonderfully well with all of them.” The irony escapes him, annoyed by his repellent cat attitude.
“There is no space in my room for a guide dog. Get lost.”
Liu Qingge ignores him. He is upset that before the discussion the two of them had started to get along better and had even developed combined strategies to hunt down demons. Maybe he had made a mistake by misinterpreting him, but it was not so bad!
Sometimes he suspected that Shen Qingqiu's personality was a spike-riddled armor with which he drove everyone away.
As he suspected, Shen Qingqiu ends up falling asleep despite his vague threats. Liu Qingge sits in a corner and watches him sleep. He is so tired that instead of meditating, he also closes his eyes and tries to relax.
Later, he awakens to hear sobs and gasps. Liu Qingge stands up, his hand brushing against Cheng Luan's hilt.
“Shen Qingqiu?” He murmurs while approaching the bed. “Are you alright?”
His partner is trapped in a nightmare. He is crying, his mouth opens in an unintelligible whisper. Liu Qingge leans over to sit on the bed, hesitating between waking him up or waiting. He is confused and a little scared. Liu Qingge hates the helplessness of being in a situation without knowing how to act.
Hesitantly, his arm brushes against Shen Qingqiu's shoulder. And he repeats his name.
Instead of waking up, Shen Qingqiu rolls between the sheets and leans his head against him. Liu Qingge acts without thinking when he strokes his head gently until the sobs begin to disappear. He also doesn’t understand why he ends up lying next to him until he covers that trembling body with a hug, which only shows weakness asleep.
It was a weird night. Shen Qingqiu doesn't remember it very well, only that it started with a nightmare and turned into a pleasant dream. Strangely, he didn’t wake up and that is why that morning he is confused and a little dizzy.
He tenses when he finds that he is not alone.
Someone sleeps with him, their arms around him in an embrace, their head resting against the crook of his neck. Shen Qingqiu sits up. His heart is racing from this mixture of panic and revulsion. Although he suspects his identity, he runs his fingers down the other man's face. He recognizes Liu Qingge's sharp nose, the high cheekbones, the always pursed lips. What are you doing? He thinks. I don't understand... I don't understand you! What are you playing? What are you looking for?
Everyone has selfish goals. There is no such thing as sudden goodness and rivalry doesn’t turn into friendship in just a few days. Liu Qingge has a hidden intention. Yesterday he thought it was making fun of him, but he's not so sure anymore.
After weighing some theories, Shen Qingqiu shakes his head and pushes Liu Qingge out of bed. He hears first a thud, then a yell.
“Where am I? We are under attack...? Wait! Shen Qingqiu!!”
“Good morning, Liu-shidi,” he purrs.
Chapter 7: Free day? What kind of title is that?
Shen Qingqiu discovers that Liu Qingge is husband material.
“Good morning, Shen-shidi.” Yue Qingyuan says when he enters the main house of Qiong Ding Peak.
Shen Qingqiu nods. He keeps thinking about Liu Qingge and what happened that night, so he subconsciously ignores Yue Qingyuan's questions about his health. There is a third presence in the room. Shen Qingqiu sighs as he recognizes the qi of another Peak Lord.
“Good morning to you too, Qi-shimei.”
His martial sister laughs at being discovered.
“You haven't lost your talent despite being blinded!”
“Did you want something?” He hears Yue Qinyuan's footsteps. His steps are measured and firm, confident, but he doesn't dare to get too close.
“How about your trip with Liu-shidi?” Qi Qingqi is as nosy as ever, and she doesn’t bother to hide her curiosity. Shen Qingqiu growls through his teeth. “What? You guys have given a lot to talk about! First, you end up badly injured. Afterward, you don't come back. And yesterday you argued again at Bai Zhan Peak...”
“I really hope your relationship with Liu-shidi improves.” Yue Qingyuan adds. “I have a feeling that it will be very helpful in healing your eyes.”
Shen Qingqiu frowns. He suspects that there is something else in his words, a warning with a double meaning, but he cannot decipher it.
“That mission is impossible, forget it. Liu-shidi is incorrigible and I don't want to know any more about him,” he growls.
He can perfectly hear Qi Qingqi's laugh. Annoyed, Shen Qingqiu turns to her.
“Is something wrong, Qi-shimei?”
“Nothing! Nothing! Just… Well, why do you consider Liu-shidi incorrigible?”
Shen Qingqiu remembers the embarrassing incidents of the previous day and snorts.
“It is none of your business.”
“Maybe I can help you, Shen-shixiong. I've heard rumors and after yesterday's show, maybe I can give you an explanation for Liu-shidi's incorrigible behavior.”
Shen Qingqiu doesn’t want to continue talking about that subject, but curiosity is an army of a thousand insects in his veins. He crosses his arms and waits.
“We think he is in love with you.”
Shen Qingqiu clicks his tongue. Her idea is so absurd that he almost laughs.
“Very funny, Qi-shimei...”
“I'm serious! Liu-shidi has always been horrible at managing his emotions. He's straightforward, but he mistakes everything with a fight. His fixation on you... maybe is romantic. And yesterday's discussion? Please, we all heard it! Obviously, he is jealous of you going to brothels!”
Shen Qingqiu opens his mouth, willing to refute her bullshit, but stops. Because maybe it's not such a crazy possibility. He remembers the delicacy with which Liu Qingge combs his hair, the way he hugged him when they flew back to Cang Qiong Sect, and that night sleeping together. He remembers the change in his attitude, his concern, and the hints if Shen Qingqiu had a cultivation partner.
To his surprise, Shen Qingqiu feels calmer. I knew he had an ulterior motive , he thinks, satisfied. Shen Qingqiu can understand (more or less) that Liu Qingge is interested in him, not that he is suddenly kind for no reason. Instead of getting angry, he feels calmer, even able to talk with Yue Qingyuan while he finishes the report.
After that morning when Shen Qingqiu left without saying goodbye, Liu Qingge doesn’t expect to see him again. However, Shen Qingqiu returns when he is training at Bai Zhan Peak. He neither says nor does anything, he waits under the shadow of a tree. If it weren't for the blindfold, he would appear to be watching him.
Liu Qingge tries to ignore him, tired of his surly demeanor. He is naive and wants an apology. In return, he would give him an explanation, but he suspects that Shen Qingqiu will not let him speak.
A few hours pass and Shen Qingqiu doesn’t move. And he doesn't seem upset either but thinking. His attitude has the arrogance to be where he should be even though that's not even his peak. Liu Qingge's partners don't dare to approach either and they end up pushing him to go talk to him.
Liu Qingge wipes the sweat before approaching. He notices his muscles stiff from training. It's better that way. He is so tired that he will surely not fall for his provocations.
“What are you doing here, Shen Qingqiu?”
“I was looking for you.”
That sounds like a lie. If he were looking for him, Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t have been thinking under a tree while he trained. It’s implausible. Shen Qingqiu is impatient and hates to be kept waiting.
Liu Qingge frowns and crosses his arms. Still, he decides not to insist. Shen Qingqiu seems in a good mood.
“So? I’m here.”
“I see. ” He says with irony. “Liu-shidi, next time you get into my bed without my permission I will castrate you.”
“WHAT?” He splits. “It has been a misunderstanding! You haven't given me time to explain myself!”
“This is how I have always felt.” He sighs. “All right, you can explain.”
Liu Qingge takes a deep breath. He is grateful that Shen Qingqiu cannot see him because at that moment he is blushing.
“You had a nightmare...” He murmurs. “I didn't mean to fall asleep, just to calm you down...”
“What a noble gesture.” His voice is mocking, but not sarcastic. “Well, you've earned the benefit of the doubt. You can come back tonight.”
Liu Qingge looks at him without understanding what he is thinking. It may be a cheat or a test, but he is determined to earn his trust. Liu Qingge accepts and Shen Qingqiu leaves.
The next week is very strange.
It begins during that night, in which he awakens Shen Qingqiu from his nightmares.
“Thanks,” he murmurs. Sleepy and tired he is more vulnerable and his voice is a murmur without malice. Shen Qingqiu turns away and lets him lie next to him on the bed. The next night, when Liu Qingge was going to his corner to meditate, Shen Qingqiu pushed him straight to the bed without warning. Although they sleep together, they stay in a different corner of the bed. They avoid touching and he can feel that Shen Qingqiu is so tense that he is slow to fall asleep. But when the nightmares return, Liu Qinnge turns and hugs him until his breathing softens.
After two nights of horrible dreams, Liu Qingge broaches the subject one morning while combing his hair (Shen Qingqiu has lost his shame and now always demands that he combs his hair. Liu Qingge doesn't mind, he finds it pleasant).
“Why don't you visit Qian Cao Peak? The poison of the Dreaming Tiger is affecting you for too long.”
“It is not poison, those nightmares were already from before.” He shrugs. “It's not important.”
Liu Qingge disagrees. He wants to know more, why he has nightmares, since when. But he remains silent, frowning and an idea on the tip of his tongue. That night, when they lie on the bed, instead of keeping his distance he hugs Shen Qingqiu until his partner rests on his chest. Immediately, he digs his nails into his arms and protests.
“What are you doing?”
“You always calm down when I hug you. If you fall asleep like this, maybe you won't have nightmares.”
“Nonsense! Release me!” Shen Qingqiu continues to try to kick him and Liu Qingge has no choice but to push him against the bed and immobilize him with his body. Shen Qingqiu's breathing is racing and tickling his neck, yet he doesn't pull away from him. “You’re so annoying… They are just nightmares! What difference does it make?”
“Do you know that you don't let me sleep either? I also do it for my mental health.”
Shen Qingqiu says nothing more and stops trying to sneak away, but he stays very still. His breathing is ragged and Liu Qingge can hear his racing heartbeat. Although nothing happens that night and there are no nightmares, the tension does not let them sleep.
The next morning, Shen Qingqiu acts weird. Not angry as Liu Qingge feared, but thoughtful. He also doesn’t keep his distance or throw him out of his room like other times. Liu Qingge is on the prowl all day, sure that he will try to get revenge. But Shen Qingqiu does nothing, what's more, the next night he decides to lie down next to him. Although they don’t hug, they sleep together. It’s calmer than the night before.
Mu Qingfang is not as happy as the other time when he removes the blindfold from his eyes. Shen Qingqiu blinks as he adjusts to the light and colors again.
“Don't fight Liu-shidi again,” he scolds him. “It’s bad for your health.”
Shen Qingqiu grins to himself. At the moment, he has no intention of fighting Liu Qingge. After discovering his feelings, he had decided to test him that week and the result didn’t displease him. To his surprise, Liu Qingge sometimes has immense patience, is attentive, and cares about him, but also growls at him when he gets upset and doesn’t shut up about what he thinks.
Time to find out how he will act now…
Although Shen Qingqiu is no longer blindfolded, Liu Qingge finds that he acts even weirder. His days are separated, but now Shen Qingqiu greets him during all the head disciples’ meetings and looks at him with great attention.
Liu Qingge has forgotten how beautiful Shen Qingqiu's eyes are.
His eyes are as sharp and cold as his voice, but they hide a warmth that seems dedicated only to him. His gaze softens when they are alone, which is more and more often.
One afternoon, Shen Qingqiu invites him to Qing Jing Peak for tea.
Another day, the two of them go together to kill a monster. Liu Qingge is hit in the stomach. It is a minor wound, but Shen Qingqiu picks him up and carries him on his sword.
“I can fly by myself!” He protests.
“Now you know what it feels, eh?.” Shen Qingqiu smirks.
Shen Qingqiu is evil.
And one night, Shen Qingqiu appears in his room.
“What are you doing!?” Liu Qingge screams when he sees that he is undressing.
Shen Qingqiu stays in his inner robes and walks to his bed. His smile is mischievous as he glides next to him.
“I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking of going down to the Warm Red Pavillion, but your bed is closer.”
“Shen Qingqiu! Shameless!” Although the room is dark, Liu Qingge's cheeks and ears glow red.
However, Shen Qingqiu ignores him. He lies down with his head on his chest and one arm hanging near his waist.
“Shut up, I want to sleep.”
Shen Qingqiu blinks. His smile is devilish when he brings his face close to his.
“Of course, what were you thinking?”
Liu Qingge blushes even more. Although they have slept together many times, it is the first time that he has felt heat in his veins.
“You’re an annoying little shit,” he splutters.
Shen Qingqiu raises an eyebrow.
“It’s that true?”
“Don't be surprised now. You are manipulative, fussy, unfriendly...”
“Humm...” Shen Qingqiu was still smiling as he laid his head back on Liu Qingge. “What do you like about me?”
Liu Qingge frows, confused.
“There must be something or you would have already kicked me out of your bed.”
He is confused. Because it's true, although no answer comes to his mind. Shen Qingqiu's defects are more numerous than his goods.
“You’re smart. And a good strategist. You look at the details and protect the underprivileged.”
Shen Qingqiu hums. He has his eyes closed and seems about to fall asleep. Liu Qingge sighs before shifting his posture to a more comfortable one. Unconsciously, he brushes his hair away from his face.
So many other strange encounters happen that Liu Qingge stops being surprised and just gets used to it. He also discovers the real Shen Qingqiu, the one who only appears when he relaxes and there is no one else.
It all ends during their last meeting as head disciples. In a few days, they will become the new Peak Lords and that is why that meeting is almost a party. The two of them are sitting together and chatting with each other. Qi Qingqi walks over with a gossipy smile.
“Since when have you been together?” She asks.
Liu Qingge frowns, stunned, yet Shen Qingqiu calmly replies.
“Around a month.”
Liu Qingge nearly choked.
Their other colleagues come over to congratulate them. Mu Qingfang cries with happiness as Yue Qingyuan gives them such a fake smile that makes Liu Qingge tremble. However, he ignores them to look at Shen Qingqiu, who has hidden behind his fan.
“What?” He babbles. “Since when?”
“I thought I would tell you when you recognized your feelings.”
Shen Qingqiu slid his fan to give him a mischievous smile. And he leans down to kiss the corner of his lips.
Liu Qingge freeze. Around them, everyone is asking for details about their relationship. Liu Qingge wants to tell them that they are wrong, that Shen Qingqiu is making fun of them. It's clearly a joke or so he thinks at first. Then he remembers the words of the fortune-teller and that love that he won't accept out of pride.
Liu Qingge is red when he cups Shen Qingqiu’s cheeks and kisses him with the intensity of a month saturated with confusing feelings.