Yue Qingyuan, unsurprisingly, invited Liu Qingge to spar when they'd returned from the mission. Liu Qingge knew he had read the report, and talked with Shen Qingqiu. But sparring with Yue Qingyuan was always enjoyable, so Liu Qingge didn't mind being probed for information at the same time.
"It went well. Actually, he and Shang Qinghua are getting along. He was even--" Liu Qingge shook his head. "Even teasing him a little, I think."
Yue Qingyuan blew out a breath in relief. "Thank you, shidi."
"Ruan Qingruan and Duan Qingze like him, too," Liu Qingge offered. "Qi Qingqi does, of course. But she isn't intimidated by much."
Yue Qingyuan nodded, rolling his shoulders. "I'm glad he's found more support with our junior martial siblings."
Liu Qingge knew what he was about to do was a little risky, but...
"He's even been coming to our open spar, recently." He wasn't looking at Yue Qingyuan, but he could feel the sudden focus of his friend's attention. Qiong Ding disciples rarely participated, and he knew Duan Qingze and Ruan Qingruan had tacitly decided not to mention Shen Qingqiu's occasional appearances to their shixiong.
"Oh, he has," Yue Qingyuan said, leaving a carefully crafted blank space ready to be filled.
"Not every session, but maybe every other one. He's fitting in alright. And the younger Qing Jing disciples have started showing up, too." He frowned. "Which is good, because apparently they're taught defense and evasion exclusively."
"It's nice that those who want more in depth combat training have the option," Yue Qingyuan said easily. "They probably feel more comfortable joining in, now that you two are on better terms."
Liu Qingge nodded, acknowledging the point. He hadn't thought about it quite that way, but it was probably true. He had only seen the Qing Jing juniors neglecting their martial training, and hadn't thought about why. Yue Qingyuan was superb at getting other people to see how going along with his plans would advance their own interests.
His sortie got a result at the very next session; Yue Qingyuan showed up early, wearing training clothes and carrying a practice sword.
"Aw, someone told him," one Bai Zhan junior grumbled.
"More opponents is better," a senior disagreed.
As luck would have it, Shen Qingqiu showed up to this one as well; his attendance was still hit or miss.
After warm-ups, Liu Qingge and Yue Qingyuan were urged to a match by their juniors. It was an exhilarating fight. They sparred together regularly, but Liu Qingge should have expected Yue Qingyuan to show off for Shen Qingqiu.
Shen Qingqiu was part of the rapt audience from the beginning. Liu Qingge had been forced early on into his combat-focused tunnel-vision, so he wasn't sure exactly where the scholar was in the growing audience. He could intuit his location, though, by the angles which Yue Qingyuan was most likely to show off for.
That was giving him, fortunately, a razor thin advantage; he could relax at least a little when Shen Qingqiu's view was blocked by one of their bodies. Yue Qingyuan had begun to conserve his energy, too, rather than pressing for an advantage at every point. If Liu Qingge could push forward, come in at an oblique angle, and give an unexpected surge of power, he might--
--He might have been maneuvered into an area of turf they'd already torn up in the training ring, losing stability on his right side at a critical moment, leading Yue Qingyuan to shove his leading shoulder up, back, then down in a tricky hooking movement. And Liu Qingge was suddenly on the ground, pinned, breathing hard, glad both that he had an excuse to stay down for awhile and for the concealing drape of his robes.
Yue Qingyuan was also breathing heavily. "Yield?" he managed.
Liu Qingge nodded and tapped out as a formality, before Yue Qingyuan helped him to sit up. It was mostly a token gesture; Yue Qingyuan was exhausted, too.
Now that his combat focus was receding, Liu Qingge could hear the riotous cheers from the observing Bai Zhan disciples--and see the torn up training ring they'd left behind them. Luckily, when pushed to this spar, they'd picked one of the big ones, hardened for use by the most senior teachers. They may have gone... a little too far.
Yue Qingyuan's eyes had found Shen Qingqiu, who... was not where Liu Qingge had thought he was, and who looked as amazed as the rest of the onlookers. It was still a surprise to see him make expressions other than icy disdain.
Feng Anhu was in the crowd as well, beaming. He waved his eager disciples back and moved in to check on both of them. He gave Yue Qingyuan a pat on the shoulder and an approving nod, then, surprisingly, checked on Liu Qingge's meridians. Liu Qingge sat still under the examination. When finished, his teacher nodded, smiled, and gave him a fond pat on the head.
Feng Anhu waved for them to stay down, then moved to the side to listen to one of the senior hallmasters who had been watching the match from the start.
"Ready to get up?" Liu Qingge asked Yue Qingyuan. Nie Zhuang and Shen Qingqiu had entered the ring and were approaching them; the juniors stayed back at the direction of the training hallmasters.
"Maybe with a little help." Yue Qingyuan looked up at Shen Qingqiu. "Qingqiu-shidi, could this shixiong trouble you--"
With the help of two strong Featherlight charms from Shen Qingqiu, they got vertical. Leaning on each other, and supported by Shen Qingqiu and Nie Zhuang on either side, they made their unwieldy way to a bench. That was the unspoken signal for a stampede of admiring disciples to descend. They abandoned the pretense of sparring nearby, and rushed over to offer water, praise, and offers to look after their training swords.
"Okay, enough," Liu Qingge said, after letting them enthuse for awhile. "Open spar is over in a shichen. Make good use of your time."
The disciples scattered to return to their training, talking excitedly amongst themselves.
"Liu-shidi is a good influence on his juniors," Shen Qingqiu said approvingly. Liu Qingge felt an unexpected warmth spark in his stomach at this compliment from such an unlikely source. He wasn't alone; while he digested that, Yue Qingyuan and Nie Zhuang were regarding Shen Qingqiu with varying degrees of astonishment--Yue Qingyuan with an added edge of growing elation, despite his fatigue. "What, it's true," Shen Qingqiu said defensively.
"It is true," Yue Qingyuan said; that warmth intensified. Yue Qingyuan gave Shen Qingqiu a hopeful look.
"And it's a good leader who can prompt their people to improve," Shen Qingqiu continued. Yue Qingyuan glowed, predictably.
"This is amazing," Nie Zhuang murmured, watching with rapt fascination. Liu Qingge dredged up enough energy to smack his arm.
A senior hallmaster appeared to give Liu Qingge an approving nod and a note from his teacher. It held firm instructions to rest for the remainder of the day and see Feng Anhu in the morning.
"What's that about?" Liu Qingge frowned. Surely he'd be recovered by the pre-dinner sparring session.
"Liu-shidi's cultivation advanced a level during the spar," Shen Qingqiu said. "You didn't notice?"
"I was busy," Liu Qingge said dryly. Though he had noticed a kind of surge at the end, now that Shen Qingqiu mentioned it. He was already close to his limits at that point.
"When that gets out, everyone will want to spar with Yue-shixiong." Shen Qingqiu gave Yue Qingyuan the closest thing to an admiring glance Liu Qingge had ever seen from him--it would be very mild approval from anyone else.
Yue Qingyuan preened despite his fatigue. He was ridiculous. "Liu-shidi has been training very hard." He laughed, still exhilarated from the fight. "I'll be sore tomorrow. A few days off for me, too, I think."
Liu Qingge looked at the note again, a bit dismayed. Now that he was recovering, he could feel he'd gotten stronger. He couldn't wait to test it out.
He looked up. Yue Qingyuan and Shen Qingqiu were giving him near-identical judgmental looks, as if they could sense what he was thinking.
"Pace yourself, Liu-shidi," Yue Qingyuan said. "You know you've improved. Pushing ahead after your teacher's cautions will only lead to trouble." Shen Qingqiu, at his side, was literally biting his lip with the effort of withholding speech. Liu Qingge wished he could see Yue Qingyuan's reaction to that image, but Shen Qingqiu was just out of his friend's field of vision.
Nie Zhuang, who had also been angling for a spar if Liu Qingge knew him well, changed tacks seamlessly. "Yes, Liu-shidi should listen to Shizun's instructions and not push himself," he said, like a liar. Liu Qingge gave him a narrow-eyed look, but Nie Zhuang was already basking in Yue Qingyuan's approving nod.