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Dear future husband

Chapter Text

When Shen Yuan had first woken up in this world, he had no idea what had happened or where he was. Pulling himself up from where he lay underneath a dense canopy of diverse trees, he had a hysterical outburst thinking he had been kidnapped once again, and may have been dumped in the woods to die.

The long curtain of hair that fell over his face as he sat up made his hysterical thoughts grind to a halt as he grabbed at the absurdly luxurious strands that seemed to come straight out of a woman's hair care commercial. Pulling on the ink-black stands made him wince, and he tugged once more and stared at the hair that was indeed attached to his head. Standing proved to be difficult, his legs wobbled when he misjudged every step. Was he taller?

Shen Yuan stood up straight, steadying himself as he lifted his arms and nearly died when he realized he was naked. The long knee length hair that shrouded his body offered him some dignity as he hugged it tightly to himself. Looking around, shivering as his skin began to cool at its exposure to the cold air, all he could see was a silent and dense forest.

Where was he? A new hysteria bubbled up, gaining strength with each turn of his head. He took a deep breath and looked down, and wiggled his toes in the soft moist moss below him, the color of his skin now was much too pale to be his own, and there was not one of his freckles to be found, nor was there any blemishes. It was eerily unnatural how perfect the skin he found himself wearing was.

Was he reborn? Transmigrated? Shen Yuan had read far too many web novels to not consider the possibility, and the new body was an obvious clue to his situation. Not kidnapped then...Wait...Was he dead?

He continued to hug his new, leanly muscled arms around himself as he stepped out from the mossy circle enclosed by the large roots of the tree above him. Straining his memory to try and recall what happened before brought flashes of feeling hot, vomiting, and phantom aches that added to the discomfort of his already cold and shivering body.

“Oww!” Shen Yuan hissed as something stabbed into his foot. He instinctively recoiled from whatever stabbed him and grabbed for the bleeding wound on his foot before tripping and falling on his butt with an “oof,” clutching his injured foot.

Something gleaned as it caught the light, and then the cold steel of a blade pressed against his throat. “Who are you?” Someone asked as they moved to stand in front of him and blocked out the brightening light of the rising sun.

Squinting up at the backlit man, Shen Yuan had to forcibly stop himself from fanboying over how cool the man dressed in authentic looking Xianxia garb looked in his blue robes. “Shen,” he began to say before the man pressed the sword more firmly against his skin and lifted his chin with the blade. He swallowed, looking into the strangers green eyes as the man raised an eyebrow. “Yuan,” he mumbled.

“Truly, a remarkable coincidence,” The man snorted with a sneer on his lips. Green eyes looked Shen Yuan up and down, before tsking and pulling his blade away. “Here,” he quickly shucked off one of the numerous layers of clothes he was wearing and offered it to Shen Yuan.

Well, at least he isn’t a bad guy. Shen Yuan stood up and accepted the blue robe, pulling it on gratefully and sighed in relief when his skin warmed. Some kind of magic? “Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me just yet,” his maybe savior snapped, a slight scowl making his lips look as if he were pouting instead of angry. “What happened to you? What are you doing out here? Am I supposed to believe your,” the man looked him up and down again, “presence is just pure happenstance?”

The rapid-fire questions made Shen Yuan blink. Paranoid much?

“I…” What was he supposed to say? Any attempt to explain would probably sound insane or worse. “...have no idea.” He tugged the blue cloth tighter around himself, “I...I don’t know where I am. The last I remember I was at home, too sick to go anywhere."

The man sighed, a reluctant and annoyed sound, before stepping forward and swiping the hair out of Shen Yuan's face. His feather soft fingertips tracing across Shen Yuan's cheek as he moved, pushing the strands away and looking him directly in the eyes again. “You don’t even know who you're speaking to right now do you?”

Wow, he’s tall Shen Yuan blinked up at the strange, bi polar man. He had to be at least half a foot taller than himself. “No,” he shook his head.

“Shen Jiu,” the man, Shen Jiu, finally introduced himself.

Chapter Text

That’s...An odd coincidence, to be sure, but not out of the realm of possibility. It's not like Shen Yuan’s family name was all that uncommon or something

“Where are you from?” Shen Jiu asked as he adjusted the robe Shen Yuan was wearing, a long cloth ribbon appearing in his hands at a flick of his wrist.

...Crap. Shen Yuan floundered for a moment, watching as the summoned ribbon became an improvised belt when Shen Jiu wrapped it around him and began looping the two ends together.

The cloth around Shen Yuan’s waist suddenly pulled tight with a strong tug, the cloth making a zipping like sound at the abuse. “Well?” Shen Jiu looked at Shen Yuan from under his lashes, not giving the task of finishing the knot of the belt much of his attention.

“I...Where?”

“No,” Shen Jiu tsked, chiding Shen Yuan like a mother would a naughty child while his face was otherwise blank, and unreadable. “I asked you a question, and you will answer it first. I will not feed you any answers for you to use as fodder for whatever tricks you are considering attempting on me.”

Well, that’s just great. How did he manage to land the world's most unhelpful hero in what was supposed to be Shen Yuan’s web novel adventure? He had dreamed of this happening, a million different scenarios thought up, but he had never accounted for the possibility of landing as some OC in an unknown world with an unhelpful guide. “Beijing,” he said, resisting the urge to mumble like some petulant toddler as his good foot twitched with the desire to scuff it against the ground.

The blank and perfect poker face Shen Jiu had on right now was the stuff any gambler would kill to have.“Beijing.” Shen Jiu said, his voice cool, without any inflection, and as unreadable as his face. He grabbed Shen Yuan’s wrist, his fingertips tracing the underside along the blue lines of his veins. “Any sect, or family?”

A warm tingling sensation trickled through Shen Yuan’s body originating from where Shen Jiu pressed his fingers against his wrist. “Sect?...As in martial arts or cultivation? You have those here!” ...And crap, Shen Yuan mentally face palmed, his fanboy self leaked out of his mouth faster than his brain could register what he was saying. At least he sounded normal, and he didn’t squeal or get overexcited.

“Indeed,” Shen Jiu said, his blank face holding despite the hint of dubious disbelief Shen Yuan managed to catch in his tone. “I’ll take that as a no then. What about your family? Based on your current level of cultivation, and the,” he paused to look Shen Yuan up and down again, “condition of your body, I would hazard a guess that you are a young master from some wealthy cultivation family.”

Condition of his body? Shen Yuan looked down at himself, as far as he could tell his new body was leagues healthier than his own, and it was on par with some of leaner athletes he had seen depicted in the media.

Wait. Cultivation? As in Xianxia immortality and magic and stuff? Shen Yuan took a slow breath to calm his rising excitement.

“Yes,” Shen Yuan nodded, “My family is involved in international trade and real estate. My eldest brother inherited the family business after our father passed, and my second eldest brother just passed his exams…” How did he explain that his brother was a surgeon? Did they even have those in this world?

“The third son?” Shen Jiu hummed, and then let go of Shen Yuan’s wrist. “So there would be no reason for one of your brothers to want rid of you.” He said more to himself than to Shen Yuan.

“Rid of me?” Shen Yuan asked, taking a step forward and hissing when he put weight onto his injured foot.

Bending down soundlessly, Shen Jiu reached for Shen Yuan’s foot, but paused to motion at him. “Let me see,” Shen Jiu said when Shen Yuan took too long as he stared down at the kneeling man without moving.

Hesitantly, Shen Yuan lifted his foot, and allowed Shen Jiu to grab it and look it over. “Such fuss over such a little thing,” he said as his hand glowed, if not for the sensation of his wound stitching itself back together Shen Yuan would have thought it was just a trick of the light.

Was that more magic? Did he heal his wound? Shen Yuan inspected the spot the wound had just been, holding his foot tilted mid air, as he balanced on one foot while Shen Jiu stood back up. The wound was completely gone. There wasn’t even a scar!

“Such a pampered little thing you are,” Shen Jiu said cooly. “Can’t even handle a scratch.”

Rude! Shen Yuan winced at the sting of being reminded at how sheltered his life had been. It wasn’t his fault he was born ill and with a fragile body with an even weaker immune system.

A hand grabbed Shen Yuan’s chin, tilting it up and down, and side to side as Shen Jiu looked him over. “What about your age?”

“I’ll be twenty this fall,” Shen Yuan mumbled, and definitely did not pout. Here stands the coolest dude Shen Yuan had ever had the pleasure of meeting, and he went and made himself look like a wimp.

“Come on,” Shen Jiu sighed before letting go of Shen Yuan’s chin, and the icy blankness of Shen Jiu’s face finally cracked as his eyes softened “I’ll take you into town and fetch you some proper clothes.”

Chapter Text

How could such a small building hold so much cloth? Shen Yuan's eyes traced over the walls and shelves piled high with brightly colored bolts of fabric, pausing at each new color that popped out from among the bunch.

 

He ran a finger over one of the green colored fabrics as he walked passed it, not paying much attention to the quiet conversation Shen Jiu and the shopkeeper where having. The pair had been speaking in hushed voices for so long now, that he had grown bored and disinterested in trying to discreetly eavesdrop on their conversation.

 

“One would think you had never been to a seamstress before with the way you are gawking about," Shen Jiu's voice came from close behind him.

 

Shen Yuan startled, nearly knocking over the pile of fabric next to him when he turned around. Shen Jiu stood inches away, having snuck up behind Shen Yuan like a cat its prey.

 

“What shop did you get your robes from in the past?” Shen Jiu asked as his hand reached around Shen Yuan to thumb and pluck at the green silk cloth Shen Yuan had been looking at.

 

“I...I don’t know,” Shen Yuan said, internally wincing at the slight twitch of an eyebrow Shen Jiu gave him as his eyes moved away from examining the fabric to look into Shen Yuan’s own. “My eldest brother always arranged to have clothing delivered to me.”

 

And food too, Shen Yuan's brother had always known when he had skipped a meal, and as if by magic, a delivery person would show up and drop off some healthy meal, or even groceries. No matter how many times he had checked, he never could find any cameras or bugs in his new apartment that would explain his brother's clairvoyance. His brother was not subtle in his reminders for him to eat or care for himself and made no effort to hide his disdain at Shen Yuan's choice in clothing when he went out of his way to destroy any clothing he found wanting.

 

Light shuffling footsteps came from their side when the shopkeeper approached them holding a bundle of cloth, exiting out of a side room they had disappeared to. “This is the best I could do on such short notice,” the woman said. Shen Yuan noticed She was taller than him by a head as she shook out the robes in her hands and laid it out on an empty table.

 

Pink?

 

No, the layers with the most color in them were more orange than pink, but it was still a shade of pink. Shen Yuan tried really hard not to show his displeasure at the shade while Shen Jiu picked up the light peach colored silk and held it near his face. An odd expression flicked across the man's face, and his mouth parted slightly and a minute tremor went through his hand, the twitch in his fingers there and gone in a blink of an eye.

 

“This will do,” Shen Jiu said as he turned to the shopkeeper.

 

The woman looked back and forth between the men, “I’ll need to take the young master for a fitting in the back then.”

 

“And measurements,” Shen Jiu said, pushing lightly at Shen Yuan's back before waving him on to follow the shopkeeper who had scooped the slightly oversized robes back up and was now headed to the back.

 

Shen Yuan went without a fuss, looking over his shoulder one last time before passing into what was obviously a fitting area to see Shen Jiu examining the rows upon rows of fabric bolts.

 

The next hour or so had to be the most uncomfortable experience of Shen Yuan's life. He could not make heads nor tails of the multi layered outfit he had been asked to put on.

 

Seeing Shen Yuan's confusion the shopkeeper didn’t hesitate in dressing him, she didn’t even comment on it as she dressed him swiftly as if he were a toddler, and proceeded to adjust and pin the clothing.

 

He held his arms up awkwardly while she worked, the oversized white sleeves hanging oddly from his arms, and the peach colored top layer draped loosely from his shoulder. At least the undershirt and pants had already finished being adjusted after much poking, prodding, and stitching. After a while, his mind went blissfully blank as he let the woman do her work, dressing and undressing him as she worked the cloth to fit him properly.

 

“All done!” The woman clapped her hands together, snapping Shen Yuan out of his daze. “Would you like to see?” Even though she asked him that, she didn’t wait for his answer before pulling out a long mirror on wheels.

 

A modern mirror? What kind of hack puts a modern shopping mall like mirror into a setting like this?

 

Shen Yuan’s thoughts, and the need to tear apart whatever being saw fit to corrupt this world, came to a halt as he got the first glimpse of himself since he woke up in this place.

 

Except for the long hair that was several shades darker than he was used to, he looked remarkably like himself at first blush, but a closer inspection revealed many differences. His skin was pale and gone where any freckles, not even a beauty mark to be found.

 

The eyes staring back at Shen Yuan through the mirror where much lighter as well. They were a bright amber that resembled honey and filled up most of his irises, mixing with a greenish blue at the edges. He frowned when he got to his lips, the almost unnatural soft pinkness and shine of them made him lick his lips to make sure he wasn’t actually wearing lipstick or something.

 

Not lipstick, he concluded when he tasted nothing and his lips remained the same color.

 

“Oh, the poor dear,” someone new gasped as they walked in with Shen Jiu from the main room. Shen Jiu seemed to have been chatting with this older woman about something or other before they entered the fitting room.

 

Shen Jiu paused, looking Shen Yuan up and down from where he stood on the raised stool like platform the seamstress had put him on. “You wouldn’t happen to have a comb I might borrow would you?” Shen Jiu turned to the older woman and gave her a small polite smile.

 

The woman who Shen Yuan had thought was the shopkeeper hurriedly searched through some nearby drawers, swiftly opening and closing them before finding and pulling out a wooden comb. She handed the simple comb to Shen Jiu before both women left the room.

 

A hand appeared in Shen yuan's line of sight and was held out in front of him while Shen Jiu looked at him expectantly.

 

Was he meant to take it? Shen Yuan wondered as he stared at the upturned hand, then looked at Shen Jiu who stood eye to eye with him thanks to the stool, before looking back down at the hand again. Without thinking, Shen Yuan took it, his brain catching up with the action too late when Shen Jiu helped him hop down from the raised stool.

 

“Thank you,” Shen yuan started to mumble before clearing his throat and speaking normally and he slowly slipped his hand from Shen Jiu’s hold.

The burning in Shen Yuan's cheeks made him tilt his head down in the hope that the angle and his hair would hide his blush. Shen Jiu huffed out a small laugh before the sensation of a comb brushing through his hair started.

 

Peaking through the fringes of his hair, Shen Yuan could see the taller man standing behind him (towering behind him more like it) in the mirror that still stood where the seamstress had left it in front of him. A white colored crown and matching pin appeared with a minute flick of Shen Jiu's wrist as he moved to gather some of the hair at the top of Shen Yuan’s head.

 

Looking in the mirror while Shen Jiu arranged Shen Yuan's hair and slid the hair pieces into place, he noticed something on Shen Jiu’s finger.

 

An interspatial ring?

 

With the way Shen Jiu, a cultivator who looked like he had walked straight off a movie set, kept magicking things out of thin air he had to have some sort of storage item.

 

“As I thought,” Shen Jiu said apropos of nothing, slipping the pin into place and then running his fingers through the tangle free hair.

Chapter Text

As he thought?

 

Shen Yuan blinked at the man standing behind him reflected in the mirror.

 

What did he think?

 

“What?” Shen Yuan turned to look behind him, and up at Shen Jiu.

 

“You,” Shen Jiu said as he played with the hair draping down Shen Yuan’s back. “Didn’t think anything of me putting your hair up for you.”

 

So? It was an absurd amount of hair, and Shen Yuan certainly had no idea how to style it. What crazy person would turn down freely offered help in this situation?

 

Shen Yuan stared at Shen Jiu, not saying a word as he tried to puzzle out his meaning. The taller man’s face revealed nothing and was placid save for a small smile that somehow made his otherwise icy face look kind.

 

“Shoes,” Shen Jiu remarked, but did not explain himself. He lifted the hem of the many layers of cloth that hid Shen Yuan’s feet from view and stared at his naked toes. “You will need shoes before we can leave. We can not have those delicate feet scuffed about on these rough streets now can we.”

 

Delicate! He’s not...

 

Now that he thinks about it, this body was so soft it was almost like a newborn. The scratch he had gotten earlier should not have hurt nearly as much as it had. He had had routine shots more painful than that before. Not to mention the constant aches and pains of his old body he was blissfully free from now. And the way the cold air he had been exposed to felt like ice against his skin, and then the way his skin burned uncomfortably in the sun as it approached high noon, It was as if this body was entirely unused to any form of stimuli.

 

“Unless, of course,” Shen Jiu said before let go of the cloth that was in his hand, “you would prefer I carry you again?” The flat tone of voice and the raised eyebrow made it hard for Shen Yuan to tell if Shen Jiu was serious or not.

 

The remainder of the prolonged princess carry Shen Yuan had to endure during the long flight out of the wilderness and into this small town stung.

 

“No!” Shen Yuan’s head shot up to stare into Shen Jiu’s eyes. “No, thank you.” His shout quieted into a mumble when he looked back down at the ground and kicked one of his feet against the smooth wooden floor.

 

This had to be the worst opening to a game, and character design Shen Yuan had ever experienced. He was stuck in a body that was taller than his own, but he was beginning to suspect it was still similarly short compared to the people of this world.

 

What good were an extra six inches in height if everyone else got eight? Stupid world, stupid game. At least his guide was cool.

 

“Very well,” Shen Jiu said, not quiet laughing as amusement laced his words.

 

Shen Jiu picked up the discarded cloth of the robe he had lent him and set about redressing himself before leaving the back room. He paused in the doorway to motion Shen Yuan to follow him and waited for him to catch up before approaching the front desk where the elderly woman waited. She was leaned over a book of some sort, taking notes of some sort.

 

“You wouldn’t happen to have any shoe already made would you?” Shen Jiu asked when the woman handed him a slip of paper.

 

“No, I’m terribly sorry but we don’t,” The shopkeeper said genuinely distressed before she glanced down at Shen Yuan’s feet with a sad frown. “But I can have my boy run down to the shoemaker's shop for you.”

 

Rummaging around in his sleeve, Shen Jiu pulled out a bag and dumped several pretty looking stones in his hand. “I would be most grateful if you could do that, thank you.” He set the stones down into the older woman's outstretched hand.

 

“What are those?” Shen Yuan could no longer resist asking. He peaked around Shen Jiu's side to try and get a better look at the contents of the open bag sitting in the taller man’s palm. No luck, Shen Jiu held it out of his line of sight before pulling the strings tight and closing the bag.

 

Both the shopkeeper and Shen Jiu gave Shen Yuan dumbfounded looks.

 

Shen Jiu raised his hand up to stop the woman when she tried to say something. “How did you purchase things before?”

 

“A credit card,” Shen Yuan answered, not even trying to suss out a plausible lie. Any attempts at lying where caught and immediately shut down by Shen Jiu. There was no point in him even trying anymore.

 

“And how does a...credit card work exactly?” Shen Jiu crossed his arms and gave Shen Yuan his full attention, going so far as to even ignore the young boy the shopkeeper had called over.

 

“Ummm...The…” How was Shen Yuan supposed to explain online ordering and credit cards to someone in an ancient Chinese setting? “Merchants? Take the card number and my signature when I place an order and the bank arranges their payment.”

 

“A token of some sort? I see,” Shen Jiu brought his hand up to his chin, an intense look of interest building the longer he stared at him like that. “So you have never handled any currency directly.”

 

Not that Shen Yuan can recall, he shook his head. Outside of the occasional convention, he bought everything he wanted online, or his family procured it for him. He got scolded many times in recent months for forgetting to buy necessary things and spending so much on web novels, merchandise, and electronics. The lack of appetite made it hard to remember he needed to eat, and he was used to the family chef cooking everything and dropping it off at his room.

 

The front door to the shop banged open, an overexcited boy running in carrying a pair of simple boots typical of this world’s setting.

 

Well, that was quick. Shen Yuan hadn’t even noticed the boy leave and he was already back.

 

Shen Yuan gasped when he was suddenly hoisted in the air by Shen Jiu and was made to sit on the empty table in the middle of the room. A boot was slipped onto his foot before he could protest, Shen Jiu removing it after wiggling Shen Yuan's foot around while he inspected his blind purchase and then began slipping socks on to both of Shen Yuan's feet. The tugging made Shen Yuan fall forward, his hands catching against Shen Jiu’s shoulders for support as Shen Jiu swiftly pulled the socks and then shoes into place.

 

With his face burning as hot as it was Shen Yuan could practically feel it glow red. He opened his mouth to say something, voice cracking but nothing came out when Shen Jiu looked up at him from where he squatted between his feet.

 

“You will receive the rest of your payment once my order arrives at the address I gave you,” Shen Jiu said to the shopkeeper as he stood up and hoisted Shen Yuan off the table as if he weighed nothing and set him back on the ground.

 

Mortified, Shen Yuan followed silently after his guide and benefactor as they exited the shop and walked through the bustling streets, their destination unknown to him.

 

“Master Shen!” A man called when Shen Jiu walked into a lightly packed, and richly decorated building that seemed to be a restaurant. “You don’t normally bring guests,” He commented as he looked Shen Yuan up and down.

 

This man's judging stare made Shen Yuan uncomfortable, and he shifted further behind Shen Jiu in an obvious attempt to hide behind the taller man. Whoever this dude was, he was giving him white van guy vibes and he wanted nothing to do with him, thank you very much.

 

“I’ll arrange a table for two this time then.” The creepy man said when no response came from Shen Jiu.

Chapter Text

As promised, they were led to a sectioned off space meant for two. Shen Jiu ordering for them when Shen Yuan fumbled over what to get. There wasn’t even a menu? How was he supposed to figure out what he wanted? Just the listing of the different teas and alcohol the creepy man had shot out while looking down at him was overwhelming. How did anyone keep track of a list like that without writing it down? The few times he had ever eaten out they just served the tea, sometimes it was already fresh and at the table before the server would even take their drink orders if they wanted something else.

Picking at the hems of the robes he now wore, and still avidly ignoring their color, he looked around the space they were tucked away in. The booth like table with its plush seats and the hanging cloth and bead curtains mixed together in an odd amalgam of European and modern Chinese decor that looked like it was trying, and failing, to pass for what was usually depicted in cultivations settings.

What kind of hack made this place! He kicked at the fuzzy carpet below, and tried to burn a hole in it with his eyes. Who would ruin such beautiful wood floors with such an ugly mop of a carpet? Such a bizarre game this was.

“That is certainly an odd request, but it will be no trouble to oblige our most valued customer.” The man (who Shen Yuan was quickly growing to hate) said as he stood back up from the hunched over posture he had been in while Shen Jiu spoke quietly to him before leaving with a polite bow.

“Did the floor do something to offend you?” Shen Jiu asked, a hint of amusement melting through his icy exterior.

Shen Yuan looked up from glaring at the floor to truly take in his new friend who sat across from him and looked the part of an untouchable immortal in every way. So cool! If only he could even be half as cool and aloof as this man was, he mentally sighed in admiration.

“No, it’s just...To hide such beautiful wood under this ugly thing is such a waste.” He scuffed at the carpet and frowned at it again, poor wood was probably completely ruined with whatever they did to hold the carpet down. And without vacuums...He flinched, raising his feet slightly off the ground and rested them against the side of the booth. How filthy where these carpets? What if there were bugs, or even fleas! “Not to mention the filth it must attract.” He tried to imitate Shen Jiu’s normal reflectionless tone, but failed to hide his rising horror.

Laughter broke out, the small little chuckles sounding all the more loudly because they were coming from Shen Jiu. “It's self cleaning.” He said, flicking a fan open quicker than Shen Yuan’s eyes could follow before it hid Shen Jiu’s smile from view.

Magical cleaning carpet? Useful he supposed, but seems kind of wasteful. Did they have clothes that were self cleaning?

Beads rattled about when a woman parted the curtains wider as she carried in a tray filled with little snack bowls and a tea set that she deposited on the table. She was gorgeous, her clothing ripped from the pages of a fantasy fashion magazine. One of her bangles jiggled when she moved to serve the tea for them, but pouted her painted lips when Shen Jiu stopped her and waved her away.

When he looked back from watching the dazzling woman leave, he found a cup of tea already set in front of him. Unsure of what else to do with himself, he picked up the cup and did his best to ignore the intense stare Shen Jiu gave him as he watched him take a sip.

It was sweet. Shen Yuan took a small, but larger sip of the unusual tea. It was so sweet, like a modern beverage, even without any sugar or honey. He needs to find out what it is later so he can buy it for himself...Once he gets his own money that is.

“You like it?” Shen Jiu asked before taking a sip from his own cup.

They ended up speaking of their shared love of sweet things as they sipped at their tea, and picked at the little bowls of treats. There were nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Some familiar and some not, though he did have a nagging feeling he had seen the strangest of the seeds and fruits somewhere before.

He mindlessly picked from a bowl of what looked like trail mix, popping a few pieces into his mouth before choking. An intensely bitter taste unique to the darkest of chocolate assaulted his tongue and brought their pleasant chatting to an immediate halt. He forced himself to swallow the grainy texture of the small nugget of chocolate he had unwittingly consumed. It was, somehow, impossibly worse than any dark chocolate he had tasted, the grittiness, making the whole experience so much worse.

Shen Jiu gave him an odd look, confusion maring his face as his eyebrows furrowed. “What is the matter, did you not just say you like sweets?”

That, that had not been sweet. “I do, but that was very bitter,” Shen Yuan explained, pausing to take another sip of his drink. “I’m used to milk and white chocolate...” He can’t talk about brands can he? He doubts they have anything comparable to brand name candy. “From Godiva.” Let Shen Jiu make of that what he will, but it wasn’t a lie. “Which is much smoother and sweeter, and usually has a variety of fillings. This chocolate is very...raw and unprocessed.” Even the most unappealing of dark chocolate from his favorite brand was leagues better than whatever this chocolate dirt had been.

“Really,” Shen Jiu said. The look he gave Shen Yuan over the brim of his cup as he took another sip made him feel like he was an interesting bug under Shen Jiu’s microscope. “I should like to try some one day. How often do you eat such chocolates did you say?”

He didn’t. He would eat them every day, but his brother restricted him to one or two at a time. Not only did his brother think they were unhealthy, but if Shen Yuan ate too many he would throw up. “Only a few, usually after lunch. I couldn’t eat too many or I would get sick.”

A group of women appeared, the musical chimes of their jewelry and the hanging beads announced their arrival. All of them were carrying trays that they dropped the contents of off on the table, each one giving Shen Jiu sweet smiles before they swiftly made their exit.

That is a lot of food. Shen Yuan blinked at the overfull table stuffed with small dishes. At least it was the variety that was large, and not the amount, but there was no way they would be eating all of it.

One final woman came in, dropping of ornate bowls filled with soup in front of each of them. She leaned over to whisper something in Shen Jiu’s ear when she placed his bowl down. Shen Jiu snapped up his fan and flicked it open, hiding the pair from Shen Yuan’s view as they spoke to one another.

The fan shut with an audible click once they were done speaking, the woman reaching out to pat Shen Yuan’s head before leaving. She was so pretty that he didn’t know if he should be insulted by the attention she just gave him or not, and ended up just blinking dazedly after her.

“Eat,” Shen Jiu said, clearing the fog from his dazed mind. “I’m certain you are famished, help yourself to whatever you like.” He waved one of his hands to gesture at the buffet for two before returning it to his bowl and lifted a spoonful of his soup to his lips.

Shen Yuan copied him, sipping from the lightly flavored soup. Birds nest? He forced himself not to think about it. The primary ingredient may be gross to think about, but the soup was good, and oddly sweet compared to the soup his family made him eat as a regular staple of his diet.

He knew Shen Jiu was paying close attention to his food choices. Why the man felt the need to do so? He had no idea. So he ignored it and carried on chatting with Shen Jiu about whatever came to mind, and picked from the dishes he thought looked good or were familiar enough to trust.

Chapter Text

When night fell Shen Yuan found himself stuffed into a room full of beautiful women as Shen Jiu chatted with his friend near the door.

“It will only be a week,” he managed to hear Shen Jiu say as he and his friend spoke in hushed tones. The woman, who had been introduced to him earlier as Zhou Lifen crossed her arms.

“I can not take him with me,” Shen Jiu said as he slipped his hands into either sleeve before tilting his head closer to hers to speak even quieter than he already was. “And leaving him alone by himself in an inn is out of the question. The pampered thing has never even seen any form of currency before today.”

As painful as it was to admit, Shen Jiu was right. Knowing his luck he would unknowingly get fleeced on his first day in this new world he found himself in, The brief glance of the stones and coins he saw used today made no logical sense to him. The stones looked more akin to gemstones than the spirit stones he had seen in shows of the same genre as this world, and the coins were odd, unlike anything he might have compared them to. It was like someone had smashed together ancient Roman, Chinese, and video game coins into one horrible chimera, the hole in the person's face imprinted onto the glittering coin making up their mouth.

“It’s not like A-Jiu to...” A woman near in height to him popped into his line of sight and blocked his view, her grey eyes, similar in hue to his mothers, were bright with cheer. “Hello!” Her voice drowned out his eavesdropping targets.

So pretty.

“H..Hi, hello,” Shen Yuan stuttered out. She could outshine any pop or movie star of his own world, no contest. Her skin nearly perfect save for a tastefully placed beauty mark or two, the one on the underside of her wrist catching his eye when she moved a dangling hair ornament out of her face. He was almost tempted to ask for her autograph.

“Would young master like to join us?” She waved a hand in the direction of a circle of women sitting around a table. They were all plucking at or examining different instruments he had seen them playing off and on earlier that day. Not the best players he has ever heard, but they were decent enough musicians.

Lost for words Shen Yuan Just nodded and sat in one of the empty spaces between two of the gathered women. He looked in Shen Jiu’s direction before he sat, he and his friend were still arguing by the looks of things. Turning away from the fighting that did an amazing job of pretending at being a polite discussion, Shen Yuan spotted an instrument he was familiar with and knew he could play. A qin. He had begged his parents for lessons during the time he had thought Lan Wangji (of his then-favorite drama The Untamed) was the coolest character to ever exist and had wished so badly to emulate him.

“Would it be alright if this one borrowed auntie’s instrument?” He blurted out when he noticed the woman holding the qin staring back at him. Hopefully, she hadn’t thought he was perving on her like a dirty old man, mistaking his interest in her qin as him staring at her assets with a lecherous gaze.

She looked him in the eye, her beautiful face leaning towards the cold beauty side of the spectrum as her burgundy brown eyes narrowed, and specs of red shone in her irises where it was touched by the light. “Cus...Young master wishes to play?” Painted lips pulled into a flat line before she hesitantly offered him her instrument. It was smaller and lighter than he expected it to be, and was more modern in look and feel as well.

Setting it down he began to pluck tentatively at the strings, feeling it out as the woman he borrowed the instrument from watched him closely. He slipped into old habits and soon the music from his favorite show he practiced so frequently filled the room.

The noise from the women around him stopped, the idle chatting dropping off into silence the longer he played.

Chapter Text

After no sound but the musical plucking of strings could be heard Shen Yuan looked up, his hands gliding into a full stop and the last note drifted away.

Everyone in the room was staring at him and it made him deeply uncomfortable. Had he done something wrong? He turned to Shen Jiu hoping for guidance or some clue as to what was happening, but the man just looked right back at him with his lips slightly parted.

“Why did you stop? keep playing,” Zhou Lifen said close to his ear, somehow materializing next to him when he wasn’t looking and placing her hands on both his shoulders. She waved a hand, silently shooing the woman sitting next to Shen Yuan that he had yet to speak to out of her seat and quickly taking her spot. “Go on.” A dainty well manicured hand toyed with a lock of his hair that was draped over his shoulder, fiddling with the strands between each finger before slowly pulling the hair over his shoulder to join its brethren at his back.

Averting his eyes and ducking his head he attempted to hide the flush he could feel spreading across his face under her attention. He snuck a quick peek at Shen Jiu from under his lashes, before looking back down at the instrument and plucking a single note.

It was a hesitant start, all the attention being directed on him slowing his playing until he could feel himself falling back into the rhythm of the music. Soon the room and the people in it became inconsequential, not gone, but easily ignored in favor of each upcoming note that moved from his mind and into his fingers before it filled the air with nothing but it’s sound.

His eyes flicked up when Shen Jiu sat across the table from him, but he did not pause in his playing, each pluck or slide of his fingers chasing away the anxiety that tried to rise up. His guide was so cool, a scholarly, seemingly aloof, immortal that was everything he admired in men depicted in fantasy worlds like this one. An intense, indescribable need to impress Shen Jiu built up in him and steadied his hands that had threatened to shake under the scrutiny of so many people.

“I assume him staying is no longer an issue,” Shen Jiu said once the last note finished echoing, a small, but smug grin tugged at the side of his lips as he spoke.

“Of course little A-Yuan can stay.” Zhou Lifen pinched gently at Shen Yuan’s cheek. “Tell auntie honestly, where did you learn how to play? Was that your own composition? I’ve never heard any of those songs before.”

Shen Yuan leaned away from the sudden attention, “My parents hired a tutor to teach me.” He murmured his response, looking to Shen Jiu once more, meeting his green eyes before bringing his attention back to the woman who had begun playing with his hair again. “No,” he shook his head, “those songs were not my own.” He had yet to dabble in composing any original work, making adaptations of his favorite shows songs had eaten up most of his attention when it came to music.

“No matter, no matter.” Delicate fingers brushed against his brow, Zhou Lifen’s touch reminding him vaguely of when his mother would do the same. An old ache pinched at his heart, he missed her so much. “Would A-Yuan be so kind as to play another song for us?”

Nodding his head, he ignored the stinging at the corner of his eyes and directed his attention back to the instrument resting under his hands. The longing pouring forth into the strings to become the familiar notes of inquiry that he had practiced so often. Memories of his mother danced at the back of his mind as he played, the good days and the bad. He had inherited his ill health from her, fortunately, he was the only one and all of his siblings took after their father. Hopefully, they don’t mourn his passing the way they had when their mother and soon after their father died. His father loved his wife so much that he could not survive long without her, and it was like his heart had wished to stop beating with her last breath.

So immersed was he in his memories and in his playing that the hands that unexpectedly grabbed his own and forced him to stop playing made him jerk back. Shen Yuan blinked up at Shen Jiu, the other man leaned across the table in a way that looked uncomfortable as he squeezed painfully at his hands. Dishes were scattered and fell every which way, a teacup, and its lid clicking and spinning like a child's toy on the floor below.

Chapter Text

The clicking of the spinning cups whirled slowly to a stop as everyone stared at Shen Jiu. The man still draped over the table and clutching Shen Yuan’s hands after lunging so suddenly and knocking the contents on the table all over the place.

“A-Jiu!” Zhou Lifen’s affronted gasp broke then silence.

“My apologies madame,” Shen Jiu said, squeezing Shen Yuan’s hands one last time before letting go. “But this is no place to be playing a cultivation song such as inquiry.” A stern look given to him by Shen Jiu made it clear just how badly he may have just messed up.

Did he almost summon or talk to a spirit? Shen Yuan wondered as he blinked at Shen Jiu before lowering his eyes to avoid the other man’s reprimanding glare.

How was he supposed to know that songs from one of his tv shows in his world would somehow work in this world? Just because cultivation appears to be real here, that didn’t in any way indicate that his favorite songs would be real cultivation music. That wasn’t supposed to be how these transmigration things worked! Magic or skills from entirely different fictional worlds being compatible, whoever heard of such a thing?

Would all of them work? He needed to test things out before falling into any more mistakes like the one he had just made.

Zhou Lifen wordlessly ordered for the mess around them to be cleaned up, luckily it didn’t appear that anything was broken, the only casualties being the food and drink that the dishes had contained. “Oh, is A-Yuan a cultivator like our A-Jiu?”

Not really.

“Yes,” Shen Jiu answered before he could say anything.

Was he? Shen Jiu had said as much before, but with his new body being so weak he couldn’t help but doubt the other man’s assessment. Maybe he just needed to level up more. Shen Yuan picked at the strings under his fingers, listening to the pair discussing music cultivation and its supposed rarity. Why did these things sound so familiar?

“Does A-Yuan know any other songs from Gusu,” Zhou Lifen turned from her conversation with Shen Jiu to ask him.

...Gusu Lan sect was real in this world! Did he luck out and fall into a version of one of his all-time favorite tv shows?

“Mmm,” He nodded, doing his best imitation of Lan Wangji. “I know all of them.” The urge to brag and fanboy was hard to squash down, but he managed it, and only a single small twitch at the edge of his mouth betrayed him.

“All of them?” Shen Jiu frowned at him. The look of doubt on his face stung, and the need to impress crawled up Shen Yuan’s chest to burn at his throat.

Looking Shen Jiu in the eyes he began to play again, this time the notes for tranquility poured forth. Played right this song should be harmless enough to prove his point. “I know other songs,” he said looking down at his hands as he continued to tease music out of the instrument’s strings. “But I don’t think the rest can be safely played here, and one of them can even cause Qi deviation.“ He shuddered at the memory of what happened to such an honorable character, to be murdered like that by someone he trusted.

The way everyone in the room relaxed made him smile, the music he was playing having an obvious effect on his listeners. Even Shen Jiu visibly relaxed. The scholarly cultivator sinking just a little into his seat as his shoulders lost their tension.

“Who taught you all this?” Shen Jiu asked, blinking away the dazed look in his eyes.

...Saying he copied them from a tv show wasn’t a viable option here, was it? His fingers stopped in their movements as he thought of a good answer that Shen Jiu wouldn’t catch as a lie. Stupid human lie detector. Why did his otherwise amazing guide have to be so op, wasn't everyone but the protagonist and the main villain supposed to have low IQ?

“Lan Qiren,” he spat out the first name that came to mind. With how much he had to listen to that character prattle on in his lessons, it had almost been like he had been in the classroom suffering along with poor Wei Ying. Was it too late to say Lan Wangji instead? Such a missed opportunity, he lamented, and it would have been more accurate.

Chapter Text

“Lan...hmm.” Shen Jiu shifted, flicking his fan open and gently waving it near his face as he resumed the stiff posture he preferred.

“Why don’t my girls show you where you will be staying while Auntie and A-Jiu discuss some important matters.” Zhou Lifen smiled, he voice candy sweet as she lightly flicked her wrist and indicated for them to go.

Was it time to sleep already? Shen Yuan wondered as he followed the woman he had borrowed the qin from. While he followed after her, up the stare and through a maze of hallways, he entertained the thought that he would fall asleep and time would skip in an instant as it did in any game that let you rest.

When they reached a set of doors, he belatedly realized as she opened them that he didn’t know her name. Would it be weird to ask now? He should of asked her earlier, and now it’s far too late. He looked down at the ground, wiggling his toes inside his boots as he resisted the urge to shift and rock back on the soles of his feet.

He quickly lifted his head back up to meet the woman's mahogany eyes, his newly acquired hair flailing about with the movement and some stands fell in an annoying way around his face. “What's your name?” He asked, riding a wave of stubborn determination that rose up to give him a much needed boost of courage. He swiped a small lock of hair out of his face when he felt them clinging to his lip in an irritating way, and nearly got a mouthful of them when he had spoken.

A pale hand, its fingers long like a pianist's with beautifully manicured nails, came up to cover the woman's lips as she let out a small, barely there chuckle. “Su Ning,” She answered as she pulled her fingers away from her mouth to offer him a tiny amused smile that helped warm her cold beauty facade into a more friendly, but regal look.

She could be a princess, or even a queen, worthy of a leading role in any drama. Shen Yuan blinked away his awe, and fought against his need to barrage the poor woman with his real world related questions. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He fought valiantly against his instinct to call her a fair lady and kiss her hand as if he were some noble knight. This is a cultivation world, not a western fantasy! He spent the next few moments berating himself and trying to remind himself to stay in character. These transmigration things always required that you keep up appropriate appearances...Why didn't he have a system?

“This is your room, you will be staying here for the rest of the week,” Su Ning said as she gently shoved him through the doorway with a hand at his back. Either she was deceptively strong, or he was just that weak that she could so easily manhandle him like this. Being level one sucked, he needed to figure out how to level up asap.

“What are you doing!” He pulled away from Su Nings reaching hands that had begun tugging at the tie of his robes.

“Assisting you in changing into your nightclothes,” Su Ning said, frowning at him in confusion, and acted like Shen Yuan was the crazy one and instead of her. ”Immortal master Shen said that the young master required such service and that he was used to such diligent care.”

While he did need help, how was it ok for a woman to help him like this. “Girls don’t assist boys like that.” He tugged his belt back into place as he backed away from Su Ning's hovering hands.

The hands hovered in the air for a moment as Su Ning blinked in confusion before she brought one to pinch her chin as she tilted her head, her other arm wrapping around her waist. “Young master is used to male servants?”

Why did she ask that so weirdly? Shen Yuan’s skin crawled with the knowledge that he was missing some implication or other. “Only married couples should see the opposite sex naked,” he said, deliberately ignoring her question. His eldest brother had always helped him with such things. There had been male nurses hired to provide for his daily care when his health problems would flare up, but out of all the people who helped him change or bathe when he was unable to do so himself, none of them had been female. It just wasn’t proper.

Su Ning let out a little coo from behind her hand, looking at Shen Yuan as if he were a sweet puppy who had just done something especially adorable.

Chapter Text

Face hurting with the intensity of his blush, Shen yuan turned away from Su Ning with a tsk. He knew that his ideals were considered naive, or even sweet, but he truly did not wish to be with anyone he did not love. What was the point of having someone's body if you did not have their heart and they yours?

Besides, looking at naked women had never stirred anything in him but awkwardness. He knew it couldn’t be because he was gay, looking at naked men didn’t do anything for him either. He had one or two flares of passing, low burning crushes that faded when life took him elsewhere. Nothing more than puppy love for a female classmate, with none of that urgent and burning passion he read about in so many novels. Honesty, he had no idea what the big deal was and often felt that he was defective in some way when it came to such things.

“I can dress myself thank you,” Shen Yuan said even though he knew full well that he had no idea what he was doing. “If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to be left alone.” He offered Su Ning a smile, keeping his tone polite. She was just trying to do her job, it wasn’t her fault he was uncomfortable.

Su Ning bowed, somehow curtsying at the same time before leaving while not so discreetly hiding an amused smile behind her hand. This place was starting to give him a migraine, Su Ning was clearly a character of Chinese origin but then she goes and does something like curtseying. Why did that sound familiar?

Mentally shrugging, Shen Yuan turned to his bed and examined the nightclothes that had been placed there. He picked up the layers of cloth and rubbed the topmost layer between his fingers. Frowning at the thick rough texture, he decided against wearing such an uncomfortable thing and peeled it away from the rest of the layers before dumping it on a nearby chair. The nightgown, for it really did look like a gown considering there were no pants to be seen and was only layers of robes was plenty thick enough that one layer shouldn’t be amiss.

Undressing was easy enough, tugging the complicated knot being the hardest task. He pealed off the layers of white and peach cloth, and dropped them one by one on top of the scratchy night robe, his undershirt and trousers joining soon after. Pulling on the robes was simple, not any harder than putting on a bathrobe but with extra steps.

The innermost layers were thin and soft, a nearly translucent white, but after the second layer it began to feel uncomfortable. Frowning down at the layers of cloth still waiting for him, Shen Yuan chucked them to join the pile of clothes on the chair behind him. “Who sleeps in this many layers of clothes?”

Shen Yuan turned, looking around the room until he spotted a mirror and the vanity it sat on. He made his way over and pulled out the chair there so he could sit and look into the mirror. Staring at the hair on top of his head he contemplated how to take it down and how he was to care for it. Brushing should be simple, but his little sister always swore that hair care was so much more than washing and brushing. The amount she spent on special products and almond oil matched what Shen Yuan spent on web novels and merch combined.

Three light knocks at his door rang out, making him turn towards the noise just as the door opened and Shen Jiu came in. He shut the door behind him, a tiny frown on his face as he looked about Shen Yuan’s temporary abode. When his sharp, judging eyes fell on where Shen Yuan sat Shen Jiu took in an audible breath, holding it for some odd minutes as he stared at him with the low light of the room making his pupils go wide.

“Where are the rest of your clothes?” Shen Jiu demanded, the hitch in his voice making him seem angry . The only other time Shen Yuan had heard anything similar was when one of his parents was on the verge of lecturing him for doing somthing stupid.

“They were uncomfortable,” Shen Yuan said as he watched Shen Jiu turn to the pile of clothing and fuss over the many layers of robes draped across the chair.

Shen Jiu raised an eyebrow at him, sorting the discarded nigh clothes away from the new robe he had purchased. “Uncomfortable how?” He rubbed the top layers of the nightgown in his hands as he waited for Shen Yuan’s answer.

What to say? He was used to single layer pajamas as the most he ever slept in and that he preferred to sleep in only boxers most nights? Somehow he doubts that would go over well. “They were too heavy,” Shen Yuan said. It was true, the layers he already had on felt smothering, anymore he wouldn’t be able to sleep at all.

“Too heavy,” Shen Jiu repeated blandly before setting the organized and neatly folded clothing into one of the drawers of a small dresser that set near the bed. “Alright...It isn't necessary that you wear them but I must warn you against wandering around outside your room dressed like that.”

Why? Not like he had been planning on doing so or anything but now he was curious.

Shen Yuan turned back to the mirror when Shen Jiu approached him and watched him through it as he came up behind him. “Brush,” Shen Jiu gestured to the plain wooden comb sitting on top of the vanity before removing the crown and pin he had placed in Shen Yuan’s hair earlier in one single move. Watching through the mirror, Shen Yuan saw as his hair fell around his face and tried his best not to feel ungrateful for this new body. The way his hair framed his soft and effeminate features made him seem pretty rather than handsome, the larger anime like eyes doing him no favors and neither did their bright shade.

If he wore a dress no one would even doubt he was a girl. Shen Yuan mentally cried, his face in the mirror remaining blank as he soundlessly handed Shen Jiu the comb. He felt the fluttering ache of what he decided must be envy in his stomach when he looked at Shen Jiu. The man was reasonably tall, his features, while beautiful, where still masculine and his long hair complimented his looks rather than softening them like Shen Yuan’s slightly lighter hair did to his own. The green eyes, despite their bright shade, made Shen Jiu look more sharp and cunning. It was so unfair.

Blinking, Shen Yuan mentally shook off his whining and turned his focus on Shen Jiu who had begun explaining and demonstrating how to comb his hair. He also got a lecture on allowing the women of this place to do their job, which apparently including bathing clients. Learning that this place was a brothel only made his skin burn hotter than it already had been, any hotter and he feared he burst into flames. How was the fact that the women were prostitutes supposed to make him feel better about them helping him bathe and dress? And how was it more appropriate for them to help him instead of a male servant?

“Where is the restroom,” Shen Yuan interrupted Shen Jiu’s lecture in the hopes of delaying him having to think about the topic as long as he could. He needed to go before bed and it seemed as good of a distraction as any.

The comb stopped moving, Shen Jiu’s movement freezing as he looked at Shen Yuan as if he were crazy. “Rest...Room? What nonsense are you talking about?”

“You know,” Shen Yuan waved his hand, shaking it side to side in the air in front of him, hoping to communicate his needs without having to actually say them. Seeing no understanding on Shen Jiu’s face he resigned himself, “Where one goes to...You know...Go.”

The incredulousness replacing Shen Jiu’s confusion did not bode well. “You mean to say you had an entire room dedicated to relieving yourself?”

Chapter Text

So, doing any and all business in a porcelain bowl was his life now. Shen Yuan stared at the innocent, glimmering clean and stupidly decorated bowl that had been stashed under his bed. He really had to go, but he had no idea how he was supposed to do anything other than pee in this thing, how was he supposed to….How did girls manage to do anything with this atrocity? Didn’t girls have to sit? How even?

Suffice it to say he figured it out and was never thinking about it again until his body betrayed him and demanded a repeat of the humiliating event. He wasn’t even going to let his mind wonder what was done with the evidence, or who cleaned it when he woke up in the middle of the night and found it pristine again. What a horrible job, he felt bad for whoever had the misfortune of having that as a chore.

“A-Yuan.” Zhou Lifen let herself into his room with hardly a knock.

Shen Yuan lazily sat up from his warm nest of blankets with a yawn, his hand snagging on his bed ruffled hair that draped limply over each of his shoulders when he raised it to politely hide his mouth. Ignoring the hair stuck in his fingers, he cracked his eyes open to watch as Zhou Lifen, and then Su Ning, approached him.

“Good morning,” he mumbled, frowning at his entangled hand when a few strands of hair got in his mouth.

“Up, up,” Zhou Lifen coaxed in a bossy motherly tone. Su Ning gently grabbed Shen Yuan’s hands and detangled his hand before pulling him out of bed. “Our A-Yuan has a very busy day today and needs to be properly prepared.”

Shen Yuan blinked the sleep from his eyes as he reluctantly stepped out of bed and stood, already morning the loss of his warm cocoon. More people flooding in, women he didn’t know who were all dressed in simple gowns woke him up the rest of the way as they encircled him.

What was happening? He froze mid swat, only just stopping himself from smacking the...Brothel... women's hands away. The wooden tub that was then quickly filled with buckets of steaming water did not bode well.

Wasn’t this a cultivation world? This...establishment had self cleaning rugs but still used laborious bathing methods? They didn’t even use any form of magic to heat the water.

“Thank you,” Shen Yuan mumbled a few times, desperately trying to suppress his full body flush as he was stripped and directed into the tub. His head turned every which way as the women surrounded him, and he wrapped his arms around his vulnerable and naked middle, closing his legs tightly as he bent them up in a near sitting fetal position.

“Don’t be shy,” one of the new girls said as if she were comforting a scared child or cornered animal. “It’s nothing we have not seen before, there’s no need to feel ashamed.”

Who’s ashamed? He just didn’t much care for this at all.

Numerous hands deftly scrubbed at his skin, washing every bit of his body they could. One of the women, pulled him back, tilting his head so they could pour water over his head without getting it in his eyes. When he looked up, he met Su Ning's eyes as she poured another ladle full of water on his head. Her smile and warm eyes that had turned a carmine shade by some trick of the light made her seem soft and unjudging, setting him at ease and he relaxed into her hold.

They dressed him in borrowed robes after they finished washing him, all of them laughing in delight when he managed to successfully use his newly acquired qi to dry himself. Accidently making his hair fluff out was not what he had intended but was easily tamed and fixed by Su Ning’s hands. Despite giving into this worlds unabashed dressing habits, he did not feel comfortable allowing the unknown women touching his hair.

“Can we trade melodies?” The girl (she was only sixteen!) he had borrowed the qin the day before from begged when he sat down in the private room that had breakfast served for all the workers here. The morning was spent teaching and learning in equal parts. He taught them some of the more appropriate non-cultivation music he could think of, demonstrating the tunes on different instruments. The aunties at seeing his interest in their dancing tried teaching him some fan dancing. Apparently this body was a clutz, he tripped and stumbled more often that day than he ever had in his whole life. It had to be the new height, it would just take some getting used to.

When night came around, Zhou Lifen had him dress up in layers of soft and richly colored clothes. It took more than a little persuading before he would let them put makeup and hair ornaments on him. It wouldn’t be good for him if the audience could recognize him latter they had reasoned. He ended up playing a qin center stage in a steadily growing packed house, playing the occasional request made by the aunties and marveling at their Improvisation dance skills.

The second day started the same as the first, but a desire to explore took root and prompted him to try and leave the building. Before he could even step outside the door he was stopped by Zhou Lifen.

“It’s not safe for A-Yuan to go out by himself, please be patient and wait for A-Jiu’s return.” Zhou Lifen said as she guided him back inside with her arm hooked in the crux of his own.

Bored, Shen Yuan mentally head desked on the third day. He was so bored. Learning dance with the nice aunties could only stave off his growing curiosity and wanderlust so much. Watching a dude get chucked out of the building when he tried to grab Shen Yuan off from his stage was the highlight of his day. The guard, bouncer or whatever the tall muscular man who never spoke was, literally yeeted the fat man out of the building as if he weighed nothing, tossing him through the air like a basketball aimed for a net.

If that’s how strong a lowly brothel guard was he can understand why Zhou Lifen and the aunties didn’t want him out and about alone. As much as he hated it, he was tiny compared to all the men he had seen so far.

“Ning Jie, do you know any martial arts?” Shen Yuan turned and asked Su Ning as they finished eating their night time meals.

Su Ning blinked, chewed and swallowed the bit of her food in her mouth then daintily dabbed a handkerchief to her mouth before finally speaking. “The little master wants to spar?” She asked with a mischievous grin. “This... Jie Jie would be happy to indulge A-Yuan.”

It turned out Su Ning was a secret badass. Shen Yuan blinked up in awe at Su Ning as she offered him a hand up. She proceeded to knock him flat on his ass many times that night and the nights that followed.

“A-Yuan keeps misjudging his steps, has he had a growth spurt recently?” Su Ning tapped a polished finger to her lips as he looked down at him.

It was that obvious? “Yes,” he nodded. “About six inches.”

Helping him up to his feet Su Ning hummed thoughtfully. “That is...quite a lot. A-Yuan has a good foundation, he just needs to get used to his new body. Maybe doing some routine sets would be helpful.”

Dance lessons increased, and became a mandatory part of his day, along with him going through the self defense martial arts routines he knew, and the music performances in the evening. The full, and physically demanding schedule meant he slept even harder at night, it was admittedly some of the best sleep he had ever gotten.

Trunks of clothing being dropped off into his room broke up his routine. All the women who weren't working crowded in and helped him pull it all out to look at it. Giggling filled his rooms as the girls held up this or that piece of clothing or accessory to show him.

“A-Jiu never buys anything like this for us.” One of the youngest girls sulked as she picked at the silken cloth draped across her lap.

“We told you many times Ling’er, A-Jiu will never marry you no matter how kind he is to you and how much you wish it.” Su Ning sighed, taking the cloth from the girl and draping it carefully across Shen Yuan’s bed. “Besides, I think we all know now that A-Jiu would never marry any of us women, his tastes lay elsewhere.”

The room went silent, and all the women present turned to look at Shen Yuan. “What?” He asked once the silence became unbearable. Did he do something wrong? The laughter that followed his question was worrisome, but any concern he felt was washed away when the women insisted they wanted him to try on his new things. He felt like a life-sized Barbie doll that they were playing dress up with.

Shen Jiu returned a day later than expected, arriving during the night performances on the eighth day.

“Is A-Jiu certain there is nothing I could do to convince him to let A-Yuan stay?” Zhou Lifen said as she served Shen Jiu and Shen Yuan tea in a private room. “My girls have grown so attached, I’m afraid they will cry once A-Yuan is gone.”

“I think, madam means to say her pocketbook will weep when he is gone.” Shen Jiu laughed at his friends scowling pout before taking a small sip of his tea.

They really did cry when it came time to say goodbye. Su Ning giving him a fierce hug, squeezing him tightly while demanding he visit her often. A horse drawn carriage waited outside at the side of the building away from prying eyes when they left, Shen Jiu offering his hand and helping him up and into the surprisingly spacious, well lit and comfortable ride. Little glowing marbles acted as the light source inside the cabin.

Watching out the window through the curtains, Shen Yuan took in as much of the outside world as he could make out in the darkness. “Where are we going?” Was it time to move on with the narrative, what part of this game was he in? It felt like he was still stuck in the tutorial and hadn’t even begun the main storyline yet.

“My estate,” She Jiu answered. The sound of wood moving around and the rustling of fabric drew Shen Yuan’s attention from the window, his hand dropping into his lap and the curtain dropping with it.

Seeing Shen Yuan’s interest, Shen Jiu offered him a smile as he untucked the loosely packed cloth in the box and revealed a gleaming, well polished black surface.“This is a proper cultivation Instrument.” The instrument, a simple but elegant guqin was pulled free from its packaging and placed carefully into his lap. “I thought it would serve you better than that cheap toy the Flower Pavilion lent you.”

For him? It was his to keep? Shen Yuan’s chest warmed as he clutched the instrument safely in his lap. The little voice in his head desperately begging him to name it Wangji went ignored.

Under Shen Jiu’s prompting, he played, sticking to the proven safe tranquility for the ride. Playing this was somehow better than any of the instruments he tried at the brothel, tickling his finger pleasantly and warming his body as he played each note.

Shen Jiu heaved a deep contented sigh, his shoulders sagging as he leaned back heavily into the cushioned seat. He must have been very stressed to have that kind of undeniable relief. Was Shen Jiu struggling with his qi or having cultivation troubles?

Chapter Text

Light from the pending sunrise teased at the darkened sky when they arrived at their destination. High walls greeted them as they approached after a long trek through forests and farmland, the small city Shen Yuan had stayed in was far behind them. The doors, or gates opened with no prompting from anyone as if by magic.

Once the carriage came to a stop Shen Jiu opened the door and they were greeted by several people. The servants set about unpacking the carriage as Shen Jiu got out and offered Shen Yuan his hand.

“You must be tired,” Shen Jiu said when Shen Yuan ducked out of the carriage door and took the offered hand.

A yawn gave Shen Yuan’s answer for him, it came on so suddenly he wasn’t able to cover it with his hand in time. Shen Jiu’s chuckle would have made him blush if he wasn’t so dead on his feet. This was the time of day where he should be waking up in an hour or two not going to bed. “Mmm,” he nodded as he dropped his hand, his other hand still in Shen Jiu’s grip. “Very tired.”

Shen Jiu steadied Shen Yuan when he wobbled, the combination of exhaustion and sitting in the carriage for hours making him unsteady.

He was so tired that he didn’t know how he got from there to sitting on a plush bed in the next blink. Shen Jiu hovering over him as he removed every accessory in Shen Yuan’s hair, the task taking a long time as the aunties had gone a little overboard that day. He raised a hand and hid a yawn behind the back of his wrist as a comb slid through his hair.

Waking up with the bright daylight streaming into his room, Shen Yuan slowly sat up and rubbed his forehead. A throbbing headache assaulting him and knocking against his skull unpleasantly. He blinked the sleep away, clearing away the blurry vision and took in his surroundings.

The bed he lay on sat in the middle of a raised side room, two other such raised rooms all connected to the main entryway. There was an odd canopy hanging overhead supported by seemingly nothing. When he got out of bed he was still pleasantly warm, looking down at himself he realized he never changed into his robes that he used in place of pajamas.

Wiggling his bare toes, he played with the velvety, fur-like rug underneath, it was a giant, colorful thing that sat near his bed. There were rows of shelving, dressers, boxes, and drawers all along the walls. A vanity made of dark wood and matching chair was across from him, his image reflected in the three mirrors that sat atop it. That god awful peach color was everywhere, a wide range of apricots, oranges and pinks were in anything that was made of fabric inside the room he woke up in. The eye catching color even dropped down from the ceilings and walls as fabric draped all over them, their purpose unknown to him except for the shorter fabric blowing loosely in front of the bedroom window.

Curious, and with his headache now gone he walked out of the only door he could find, not bothering to put on shoes, or put up his hair. A large garden greeted him from where he stood on a covered patio, the small space and its steps made of pleasantly cool stone. He wandered the garden, enjoying the feeling of grass and stone alike under his feet as he examined every plant and future. The pond full of colorful fish was his favorite, but the flowering tree full of pink flowers was lovely and the smell from its blossoms added a pleasant perfume to the space.

Thud.

The sound drew Shen Yuan’s attention to an entryway into the closed off garden where a plainly dressed man stood, staring at him with wide horrified eyes. “S...So, S S Sorry,” the man squeaked, an empty bucket rolling away from him as he turned and ran away.

Shen Jiu arrived not a moment later, a small gasp escaping his parted lips. “Where....” Shen Jiu said as he walked over and looked down at Shen Yuan’s feet, and then green eyes traced their way up his body before stopping to stare at his hair. Licking his lips, Shen Jiu cleared his throat before speaking again, “Are you… Are you aware, that you are not appropriately attired?”

Shen Yuan blinked before looking down at his clothing. Everything seemed in order, if a bit sleep ruffled. It’s not like he is naked or something. “No.” He admitted, giving up trying to puzzle out what was wrong with his clothing. “This one confesses, the clothing of this… Land, confounds me. Would cultivator... Lord? Shen enlighten this one as to what is wrong with what he is wearing?”

The normally cold blank face Shen Jiu sported cracked, one of his eyebrows raising as he gave Shen Yuan a dubious look. “You truly do not know.” Shen Jiu mumbled thoughtfully, bringing a closed folding fan up to his mouth to tap the guard against his lips. “This," A pause brought with it a small smile, Shen Jiu's lips quirking as if he were amused by something, "This Lord, will explain once we are inside.” One of Shen Jiu's hands waved towards the rooms Shen Yuan had woken up in.

When the door shut behind them Shen Jiu made a beeline straight for the dressers, opening and closing them quickly as he searched for something. “First of all,” Shen Jiu said as he found what he was looking for, “never wear the same robes two days in a row.” He paused to look back at Shen Yuan, “what color would you prefer to wear?”

Flashes of his favorite drama went through his head, Wei Wuxian’s favored black, and the Jin sects trademark gold. “White,” he said as one of Lan Wangji’s fight scenes danced across his mind. He already has a guqin spiritual instrument. Why not go all the way and dress like one of his favorite characters? Even though his favorite color was actually the same shade of green as Shen Jiu’s eyes.

“White?” Shen Jiu asked with a hint of interest in his otherwise cool tone. “Are you in mourning?”

Oh, right. He had forgotten that the Lan sect robes were often confused with mourning clothes. “No,” Shen Yuan fought not to mumble. “White with, blue.” Maybe he could embroider some clouds himself? He knows he is skilled in that craft, it was one of the few things his mother taught him to do to pass the time he was stuck at home, no longer able to go to school. There where many cultivation skills and tricks he unintentionally memorized from other dramas and books that he is eager to test out, embroidery being one of them.

Long swaths of fabric were pulled out of one of the open drawers, the neatly stacked pile falling loose as Shen Jiu shook them out and revealed the cloth to be a set of robes.

Blue trim. The relief Shen Yuan felt at seeing the color and the blissful lack of any of that accursed peach made him ashamed. How ungrateful of him, turning his nose up at a desperately needed gift. At least he never let on to his distaste, judging by the amount of the hated color that decorates his room.

“Only commoners wear their clothing multiple times between washes,” Shen jiu said, pausing to set the robes down and indicating for Shen Yuan to turn around before tugging his belt free. “and we,” the words turned sure and scolding as Shen Jiu helped Shen Yuan slide his arms out of the first of many layers of robes, before finishing his sentence near Shen Yuan’s ear, “ are not commoners.”

Shuddering at the brush of hot air against his ear Shen Yuan wondered just what kind of foreshadowing just happened. Was his character and his guide important in this world? If Shen Yuan is the protagonist of this game then, based on what Shen Jiu just said, it was almost certain he had some sort of linage that would be kept secret from him, the player, until he was further into the plot.

Shen Jiu huffed out a small laugh when Shen Yuan stayed silent, unsure how to respond to such a statement. “Second,” Shen Jiu said as he helped put on the wonderfully white robes, “It is improper for anyone who is not close to you to see you with your hair loose, and you should never go out in public with it completely down.”

“Really?” Shen Yuan tried to turn to look at Shen Jiu but his view was blocked by another layer of cloth being added to his clothing. This time it was a see through type of fabric littered with delicate embroidery and reminded him of the Irish lace his mother favored in her dresses. Not putting your hair up seemed like such a weird thing to be modest about, as a modern person it was unusual for him to see people with long hair not letting it flow freely outside of formal events.

“How often did you wear your hair up before you found yourself here?” Shen Jiu asked as he smoothed down the clothing, tugging at this or that until everything was to his satisfaction.

With how short his hair had always been there had never been an opportunity for him to put it up, but with how long his hair currently is he doubts that answer would make any logical sense. “Never,” he answered honestly, leaving out any unnecessary details and allowing Shen Jiu to fill in the missing information with his imagination.

Standing in front of him, Shen Jiu looked down at him with an odd look on his face that made it seem as if he was concerned about something. “Truly?” Shen Jiu sighed, before turning to rummage through one of the many rows of drawers that lined the walls of the room.

Curious, Shen Yuan tilted sideways to watch, looking inside each drawer as Shen Jiu opened and closed them. Jewelry of all types seemed to fill each drawer in an organized manner, sorted as if every single one where a display at a jewelry store before the line broke into hair ornaments. There where simplistic looking crowns and pins made of different colored stone that grew in complexity with each new drawer Shen Jiu opened until they suddenly changed to drawers that held sets of ornaments Shen Yuan had only seen the like of in ancient dramas and only ever on women. Those too, started out simple before slowly changing into more and more complicated sets that had more and more pieces, starting with a little chain diadem with a simple stone that had matching pins and earrings.

No way was he ever wearing those! Only girls wore that kind of stuff and he was a man, he doesn’t care how gorgeous they are. And, oh were they gorgeous. He sighed as he watched Shen Jiu look through them, a sense of longing tugging at him that he ruthlessly ignored. A simple but elegant silver and blue set caught his eye the most, while Shen Jiu seemed to favor a complex orange set riddled with feathers and stones. “I prefer my hair down,” he said, hoping to avoid as many unnecessary accessories as possible.

Pausing in his rifling, Shen Jiu looked at him, “When you are in the privacy of this estate you can do as you like, but I strongly advise against you going out in public with unbound hair.”

That seemed reasonable. As much as he didn’t understand the ideals of this world on morals and decorum, he didn’t exactly relish the idea of unknowingly running around as if he were as good as nude. He shuddered at the horror of landing himself in such an embarrassing situation.

“I’d also advise that you make sure to wear shoes outside of your bedroom,” Shen Jiu shot a pointed look at Shen Yuan’s bare feet before looking back up into his eyes.

…..Was this a foot fetish world! Shen Yuan, now conscious of his naked feet, pulled them under the safety of his robes as he felt his face start to heat up. Why did that sound familiar? He could swear he read something about such and out of place detail before...but then again, an obsession with feet was a historical fact. Maybe this world just distorted those facts and made it apply to all feet?

“I, see...Thank you for your advice,” Shen Yuan mumbled, turning away from Shen Jiu in an attempt to hide his growing embarrassment.

“Which one would you prefer to wear,” Shen Jiu said when Shen Yuan finally turned back to him, indicating to the many drawers he had left open.

Immediately, without his intention, Shen Yuan’s eyes shot to the silver and blue set. His gaze settled on it a moment before he snapped his eyes away to look at what he would consider the more masculine items.

A laugh startled Shen Yuan out of his browsing, Shen Jiu’s sudden bark of laughter fading into a chuckle as he retrieved the set that had first caught his interest. “I should have guessed you would want to pick this one, it’s a good choice and matches your robes nicely.”

They did match wonderfully, Shen yuan’s traitorous mind agreed.

Shouldn’t a servant be doing this? Shen Yuan wondered as he sat in front of the vanity and watched Shen Jiu work on his hair. He knows his kind host was some sort of lord...Who was also an immortal cultivator? Why was he lowering himself to help a stranger he found wandering in the woods like this. Just taking him to the brothel, providing him with clothing, food, shelter, and a job (the madame made it clear he would always have stable work as a musician with her if ever he wanted it) was more than generous.

“Why are you helping me?” Shen Yuan wondered aloud, unable to suppress his rising curiosity and confusion. Everything felt off somehow. Not quite right. Shen Jiu had to be benefiting from this situation in some way. No one was this nice and this generous out of the goodness of their heart, especially in video games and web novels.

Shen Jiu sighed as he finished wrapping some of Shen Yuan’s hair around the silver chain of the diadem and slid a pin with blue accents into the hair to hold it in place. “You…Remind me of my...Little sister. The resemblance you share, in both appearance and personality...Defies belief.”

Chapter Text

Being left to his own devices for the first time since Shen Yuan had unwittingly entered this world, left him rather bored.

Shen Jiu had some important business to attend to with the king of this area, and had left for the day, giving Shen Yuan a curt nod goodbye before urging his horse forward and departing. After he left the servants skittered away, off to do whatever it was they did and leaving him alone standing in front of the closed gates of the estate.

Despite how big Shen Jiu’s home was, it only took maybe an hour to explore its inner grounds. He found the kitchens to be of interest but had been shooed away by the flustered cooks inside, reassurances that his mid morning meal would be ready on time spilled hurriedly from them as he left.

The gardens he found where all lovely, and a small aviary in one of them had been filled with birds that chittered out human words. The first unexpected “hello,” they gave him had startled him so badly he had stumbled on his own feet. The creatures were so intelligent that his appreciative cooing had been repeated back at him near instantly and now all the birds were saying things like, “who’s a pretty bird?” Or “You’re so cute.” While they preened their shiny feathers.

The conversation Shen Yuan had shared with Shen Jiu about their little sisters left a tinge of melancholy in his heart that he tried to ignore. His own baby sister had been just about to start her first year of high school, the days before he woke up here she had spent excitedly shopping with her closest friends. Something at the back of his mind told him he would never again see her or his brothers again, and that this experience wouldn’t come to an end with him back in his room, waking up warm and safe in his own bed.

Out of sheer boredom and curiosity, Shen Yuan returned to his room and checked the contents of all the storage within. Inside the raised room across from his bedroom, there was a large assortment of paper, ink, and brushes, as well as a low sitting desk that invited him to make use of it. He sunk into the welcome distraction of searching through his memories, drawing every seal or array he could recall, and music notes ended up littering the floor around him alongside notes of different things he hoped to try out once he began grinding to level up.

It was a struggle to not get ink on his robes, but he managed and somehow only the first few attempts at writing had to be binned. His calligraphy easily returning to the perfection his father had rigorously instilled in him once he adjusted the trailing fabric of his sleeves getting in the way.

One of the transportation arrays he tried actually worked, lighting up with a spectacular display before the little cup he had placed inside it disappeared...He failed to think that plan through. He had no idea where the lost cup had gone. Hopefully, it wasn’t valuable.

“What are you doing in here,” Shen Jiu’s voice came from the door. The man appearing around the corner soon with an amused look on his face as he looked around at the mess of papers scattered all around Shen Yuan. “Whatever you just did lit up your rooms so brightly it was as if they had become an oversized lantern.”

Shen Yuan blinked up innocently at Shen Jiu from where he sat on the ground, leaning over the little intricate array drawn onto a small slip of paper. “I..May have sent one of your teacups into the void...I think.” Hopefully, it didn’t end up scaring the daylights out of someone...Or worse, inside of someone.

A look of mild interest washed over Shen Jiu’s face after a brief widening of his eyes. “Is it possible for you to do it again? I would be interested in seeing such a trick first hand.”

"Maybe,” Shen Yuan scratched at his nose as he looked down at his work. “It wasn’t supposed to do that, it was supposed to transport something from one place to another but I guess...there were no other arrays for it to connect to.” As he had no idea how to adapt what he had taken from his fanish researching, he could not adjust to send anything to a specific place, and could only make an interconnected network. He could work with that.

“Then how about we make another? We can set each one of your arrays on different tables so we can watch and see if they work.” Shen Jiu suggested as he came to join Shen Yuan on the floor, snatching up a brush and paper as he moved. “If these arrays of yours do as you say they are supposed to do, it has the potential to save people a tremendous amount of time. I imagine you could even make a good bit of money for such a service.”

So that answered that question, whatever world Shen Yuan had landed himself in, it seemed to be an undeveloped low fantasy world. No magical transportation networks available, everyone seemed to be limited to sword, carriage or horse to get anywhere. But so far, many of the cultivation skills from other worlds have worked just fine. Was he in some sort of world builder game? His goal being to level up this place, adding to their knowledge and building up this civilization one coin at a time...Money he would need money, and to grind up his skills. All civilization games had bandits and such, and this was a cultivation world to boot.

“Fascinating,” Shen Jiu commented from where he sat beside Shen Yuan, his eyes following along every movement of Shen Yuan’s brush. “I have never seen anything of the like before. Where did you say you learned this skill?”

...There was no way he was going to mention the heavenly origins of this particular array, even if it was just a novel. He had no idea how to bullshit his way into answering honestly in a way that didn’t seem like a terrible idea. Usually, he said he learned from the likes of Lan Qiren, and avoided any reference to the fact that such people and places were pure fiction. But that wouldn’t be true in any shape or form here, and Shen Jiu would be able to tell in an instant.

Silence! When in doubt, say nothing.

“Can you place this on the table over there?” Shen Yuan asked, ignoring the question entirely as he held up the paper he had been working on.

Chapter Text

“Amazing,” Shen Jiu said breathlessly, “these arrays of yours truly do what you said they would.” He picked up the cup after the light died down, the copy Shen Yuan made successfully transferring the cup from one table to the next in a flash.

“I recognize some of these symbols but the others...” Shen Jiu said, putting the cup down and picking up one of the papers. “And the way they are interwoven,” he traced a finger along the dried ink, “it isn’t like anything I have ever seen before...How does it work?”

…Shen Yuan had no idea. As far as the artist or animators were concerned they were just pretty or cool designs to represent something a written work had described. There was no seals or arrays 101 back home, and fans usually only had the finished product to see with little to no explanation on how they might work.

“I...I don’t know,” Shen Yuan stuttered, staring down at the paper in front of him. “I only memorized them, I don’t know how they work.”

“You memorized them?” Shen Jiu asked, his voice incredulous. “You must have an impressive recall ability,” his voice grew pleasant, if he doubted Shen Yuan’s claims anymore he couldn’t tell. Shen Jiu sat down next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder before leaning forward to try and look into Shen Yuan's downcast eyes.“Did you happen to memorize anything else?”

Yes! He memorized just about everything he found interesting that he could get his hands on. He gobbled up every stray detail of his favorite worlds that were made available, no matter how mundane. Warmth filled his cheeks as he peeked up to look into Shen Jiu’s eyes before he gave a small nod.

“I had access to a great many…” He couldn’t say websites, but he did buy plenty of art books, “books with detailed pictures of all kinds that were filled with cultivation seals, and arrays, but they did not explain what went into making them or the mechanics of how they work.”

“Knowledge without any substance,” Shen Jiu sighed, “no matter, I can help fill in the gaps in your education. What other things did…” he paused, running a hand through Shen Yuan’s hair. “A-Yuan learn from his books.”

Other things was kind of vague. Did he mean overall knowledge or just what pertains to cultivation? Shen Yuan’s face heated even more when he registered what his benefactor had just called him. A warm feeling gathered in his middle, and his stomach twisted strangely. Was he sick? He placed a hand to his stomach to try and soothe the odd sensation.

“I don’t know if they will work as I have never tried, but I learned many recipes for pill making, and memorized the designs for making different kinds of cultivation tools. I also memorized many bestiaries and studied books about plants and their uses.” Shen Yuan listed off quickly before looking back down at his lap and fiddling with his hands.

The questions came to an end, and Shen Jiu transitioned into dissecting the transportation array on the table in front of Shen Yuan. He explained a bit of what he understood, and speculated on what he didn’t before pulling over a stack of blank paper. Shen Jiu spent the rest of the night teaching him the very basics of seal making, something he insisted should have been taught to him as a young child while bad mouthing whoever had been responsible for Shen Yuan’s education.

“They were wasting your potential, turning you into a human encyclopedia, a pretty bird repeating things it has no real understanding of.” Shen Jiu huffed, nearly sneering.

Shen Yuan didn’t know if he should feel flattered or insulted.

Pretty? His mind decided to focus on. His face burned hot, heating even his ears with the intensity of his blush. Shen Jiu thought he was pretty.

Looking over at his irate friend who was offended on Shen Yuan’s behalf for what he perceived as him being severely neglected and wronged, he couldn’t help thinking Shen Jiu was the beautiful one. His emerald green eyes shone like the precious jewels they were with the intensity of his righteous anger, and his hair, the perfect shade of black, was groomed to a luscious perfection. In comparison, Shen Yuan’s eyes were bland, and his own hair was duller and less smooth, always insisting on fluffing up throughout the day and forming little unwanted waves and curls.

Shen Yuan’s eyes traveled to Shen Jiu’s lips, watching as the moved before darting away to stare at his neck which was not better. The older man’s skin was perfectly pale, a healthy shade like that of polished jade rather than the sickly shade his own skin held.

Shen Jiu was a classic example of masculine beauty and had everything Shen Yuan admired in a person. He should want to be this person, and yet, Shen Yuan swallowed as he looked back up into Shen Jiu’s eyes, he didn’t think it was a simple case of admiration he was dealing with.

Chapter Text

Watching as Shen Jiu painstakingly painted out a large scale version of the transportation array Shen Yuan had shown him, he had to force his eyes not to wonder over the handsome man’s kneeling form. Every time Shen Jiu leaned forward, stretching out his arm as he traced bloodied painted lines artfully about, it brought attention to his well portioned back and thighs...And other things. Shen Yuan’s face heated up as he turned away, refusing to acknowledge he had looked at Shen Jiu’s behind.

“It will take a few days before I return. If all goes well I should appear here around sundown on the third day.” Shen Jiu said, sitting up with a satisfied smile and a dripping brush, the drops falling into his cupped hand to prevent it from ruining his hard work.

“Do you have to leave,” Shen Yuan did not whine. He hated being left alone here with no one but the skittish servants for company.

The hours Shen Jiu spent away doing whatever it was he did for this places local king where torture. Shen Yuan did what he could to stave off his boredom and rising melancholy, doing his best to not feel like a little wife waiting forlornly for her love to return home while practicing the martial arts forms Su Ning had taught him. He tried swordplay, but it simply was not for him, basic forms and the beginnings of flight were all he managed to accomplish so far. He had better luck using a fan, a cultivation tool or possibly weapon Shen Jiu had gifted him. He didn’t understand why Shen Jiu had been so shocked when he walked in on him using his fan and qi to tease the wind and water as he danced in his little courtyard, carefully imitating what he had seen done in a few of his favorite dramas and donghua’s. Using the Qin and the music cheats he obtained by watching and listening to The Untamed and related works came easy to him, and he practiced the cool battle songs by blowing up a few vases before one of the servants, alerted by the noise, came and scolded him.

Shen Jiu sighed as he stood up, wiping his hands on a cloth before dropping it aside, he was somehow nimble and graceful despite the hours he spent kneeling as he painstakingly worked to make the array nothing short of perfect. “Unfortunately I do, my... co workers will notice my absence if I do not return to my primary duties soon, and I can not have that.” Shen Jiu said as he approached Shen Yuan with a tired smile. “It’s only three days.” A hand cupped Shen Yuan’s cheek, lifting his downturned face to look into his eyes as he spoke in a soothing tone of voice.

Unable to help himself, Shen Yuan pressed his cheek into the warmth of Shen Jiu’s palm and placed his own hand on top of Shen Jiu’s. Shameful. Something at the back of his mind screamed at him before it’s muted slurs where buried under the gentle warmth he felt in his heart as his stomach twisted pleasantly.

“Is it really so terrible?” Shen Jiu asked, rubbing his thumb back and forth as he gave Shen Yuan an odd contemplative look. “Missing someone like myself?”

One of the saddest realizations Shen Yuan had ever had was when he figured out how poorly Shen Jiu viewed himself. His benefactor, his...His Jiu-Ge, had such low self esteem it hurt to hear him speak of himself in any capacity outside of the scholarly arts. Even his view on his own cultivation was poor, he always found himself wanting in one way or another.

“En,” Shen Yuan answered, ridding the wave of warmth, of affection he was feeling before he lost his nerve. Afterward, he tried to turn away when his face grew so hot it felt like it would melt right off, another hand cupping his other cheek stopped his retreat.

A confused look of softness, considering eyes and parted lips came over Shen Jiu’s face before he leaned forward. He paused a breath away, staring into Shen Yuan’s eyes while gently holding his face caught between his hands. “Is this alright?” He asked.

Was what alright? Shen Yuan's brain swam in confusion while he stared into Shen Jiu's green irises before looking down at his lips. “Yes.” He answered anyway, lost in a burning daze.

The sensation of a sweet, butterfly press kiss of lips registered in his mind, his eyes going cross eyed before he closed them tightly and gripped both of Shen Jiu’s hands. It was his first kiss, and it was with a guy. Everything he had ever been told said that as a man he should hate this, and yet, and yet, it felt wonderful. He really did like Shen Jiu in a way he had never liked anyone before. Noticed the sweet, gentle, and gorgeous man, in a way he had never noticed anyone before.

Chapter Text

He was drowning, and he didn’t care. Shen Yuan squeezed his eyes tightly as he timidly moved his lips, and flushed even harder at his clumsy attempts at deepening Shen Jiu’s kiss. He let out a breath, definitely not a squeak, when one of the hands left his face before Shen Jiu’s arm wrapped around his waist and pulled him flush against the taller man.

Being short sucked Shen yuan decided when he had to lift himself up on his bare toes to gain better access to Shen Jiu who was already bending over him. They stayed that way for a while, lips moving slow and timid, doing nothing more than essentially mashing their faces together before Shen Jiu let out a laugh.

A whine of complaint left Shen Yuan’s mouth when Shen Jiu straightened and pulled away to look down at him. Shen Yuan panted, slightly out of breath as he stared up into Shen Jiu’s amused face with blurry eyes. Something, a thumb, swiped against his bottom lip, slow and deliberate.

“A-Yuan has terrible tastes,” Shen Jiu said, his thumb dipping into Shen Yuan’s parted lips before it resumed running along his bottom lip. The normally emerald eyes were nearly black with how wide Shen Jiu’s pupils had become as his eyes traced his fingers movement.

Frowning, Shen Yuan lifted the hand that wasn’t still holding onto Shen Jiu’s to the taller mans face. “I...I...Jiu-Ge is not terrible.” He squeezed Shen Jiu’s hand, and the arm at his waist squeezed tighter in response.

Shen Jiu sighed before offering Shen Yuan a small self deprecating smile. “A-Yuan only says that because he does not know any better, he does not know me or what I have done,” Shen Jiu said before placing a peck to Shen Yuan’s cheek. His hair fell over his shoulder as he moved, cascading down and tickling Shen Yuan’s arm.

“What does that matter?” Shen Yuan asked softly. He wouldn’t hold something someone did long before he ever met them against them, and Shen Jiu was the only real thing he had in this world. How terrible could the person who picked up a shivering lost boy in the woods who was naked as the day he was born and gave that boy everything he could need without ever asking for anything in return actually be? Shen Yuan could bet his life that whatever his Jiu-Ge had done, he had been pushed into it. “It’s the past. The Shen Jiu I know is good, and kind, and I...”

Another wave of heat attacked Shen Yuan’s face at his near confession. Love, he had almost said he loved Shen Jiu. Did he love him? Or was it just attraction? How was he supposed to know the difference, he has never been attracted to anyone before and he certainly never had any romantic feelings for anyone either. He thought maybe he might. It felt different, but not unlike the love and affection he felt for his family. It burned brighter and was tainted with flashes of want, but it was Love.

Well...Shit. If this was truly a dream, he never wanted to wake up.

Lifting himself back up on his toes once more, Shen Yuan pressed his mouth to Shen Jiu’s before the man could say whatever it was he was struggling to say.

“Jiu-Ge huh,” Shen Jiu huffed when Shen Yuan pulled away to look into Shen Jiu’s eyes. “If A-Yuan desires a courtship, then who am I to say no.” He smiled before pulling away, taking a step back and placing his arms in the opposite sleeves, crossing them at his chest.

Courtship? As in ancient style dating. There his face goes, burning away yet again before he turned to the side to stare at the floor. His eyes traced along the drying pattern on the floor for something to distract and center himself. “I...A-Yuan does.” Shen Yuan said nervously, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as he grabbed at his arm in a facsimile of a hug.

Shen Jiu produced an amused hum, the noise sounding like it had come from deep in his chest. “Very well, we can discuss more on the topic once I have returned.”

Still leaving? Shen Yuan’s heart gave a single pulsing ache before it finally registered what he had done. Was Shen Jiu his boyfriend now? His head shot up to stare at Shen Jiu with growing hope. Wait...courtship...Didn’t courtship mean marriage...Oh no.

Chapter Text

Well this was a terrible idea, Shen Yuan lamented from where he sat high in the branches of a large tree. A reptilian cat like monster paced at the trunk of the tree, scratching and pawing at the tree as it growled in frustration while it tried to puzzle out how to get it’s trapped pray down.

“Bad kitty,” Shen Yuan said, lifting his foot out of reach when the lizard cat nearly caught it with one of it's razor sharp claws. Just how high could this thing jump? Just to be safe, he leveraged the larger tree branches to reach the higher, but less sturdy limbs. He was dainty and petite, as much as he hated that fact it would serve him well right now.

Like an idiot, he had decided to go off by himself into the woods near the Shen estate. They looked inviting and safe enough to have his first solo adventure, how was he supposed to know the enemies it contained were too OP for his level one character. Boredom and missing Shen Jiu must have melted his brain and lowered his IQ.

He looked down just in time to see a blur of while breeze by, and then the monster that had sought to turn him into his lunch suddenly split apart, spraying blood everywhere just like what happened in cheesy cartoons. Very unrealistic, but so very satisfying.

“Are you alright?” A voice came from above him at the same time the branch that he was sitting on dipped slightly.

Shen Yuan felt his whole body jerk before he looked up into what had to be the prettiest face he had ever seen. A man in white stylized battle robes stood next to him, holding out a hand to him while the other held a blade that had blood dripping from its tip. Why was this badass dude so goddamn pretty? His mind short circuited for a second before he took the offered hand.

Wait....Was this guy going to be a new companion for him? Was that why this level seemed so impossible? He was meant to meet this person first?

“Many thanks for saving this Shen Yuan…” Shen Yuan said, looking his potential companion up and down. Was this man a cultivator like Shen Jiu? Had to be. “Might.... Immortal cultivator give this one the honor of knowing his savior's name?” It took all he had not to stumble like a fool over his words, trying his best to sound cool and in character for the setting of this world.

The pretty badasses eyebrow twitched as he helped Shen Yuan up. “Liu Qingge,” he answered before hoisting Shen Yuan up into his arms and jumping down from the tree. The movement was so quick that Shen Yuan’s feet were back on solid ground before he even had a chance to gasp.

“You seem to have plenty of spiritual energy, why are you so weak?” The man who had identified himself as Liu Qingge asked, his voice almost blank. If Shen Yuan did not have as much experience reading closed off people he wouldn’t have picked up on the genuine concern hidden within Liu Qingge’s words... Why did this man’s name sound familiar?

“Well met Lord Liu,” Shen Yuan said while patting down his robes to free it from the filth it had picked up when he had clambered up the tree. “This one practices music cultivation, not…” He paused to take in Liu Qingge’s appearance. Was he a martial artist, a swordsman, or a generic hero type? “A...Physical cultivator.” This man shared a name from a terribly wronged character from the early chapters of one of the stallion novels he had been reading, but...His appearance was all wrong. Far too pretty, that face was better suited on some perilous female lead than a man who otherwise exudes the masculine energy of a lean tiger. That Liu Qingge had been described as the war god that was the epitome of a righteous Xianxia cultivator who would not have been out of place as a protagonist of his own novel.

Liu Qingge crossed his arms, shifting his weight onto one foot while giving Shen Yuan an unimpressed look. “That's no excuse,” he huffed.

“Would…” Shen Yuan shuffled nervously, flicking his sleeves about. He hadn’t changed out of the clothing Shen Jiu had helped him into that morning and still wore the numerous little trinkets his...His maybe boyfriend had so lovingly put into place. Today saw him wearing a primarily white ensemble with blue and orange layers underneath. A white chiffon like fabric that was just shy of opaque made up one of the topmost layers and its sleeves were lined with delicate, but colorful embroidery. Shen Jiu had cajoled him with gentle words and soft reassurances into wearing the orange and gold jewelry he seemed to favor so much. Being called pretty and reassured over and over by his Jiu-Ge that he found him lovely should not have worked into getting him into these clothes, and yet it had.

The fringe of one of the feathered accents tickled his brow with every tease of today's breeze making him swipe lightly at it with his fingers before brushing a stray strand of hair back into place. “Would...Lord Liu be so kind as to let this one tag along with him today?” Shen Yuan asked shifting on his feet and wincing at the way the soft comfortable slippers failed to do much to shield him from the forest floor. He didn’t care for these shoes, not that he much cared for any shoes really, but they were little delicate things that were covered in shining jewels, beads and embroidery that made him feel terrible for wearing them. He would just ruin the poor things, but he had let Shen Jiu slip them onto his feet without so much as a peep.

Liu Qingge raised an eyebrow before staring at him with his dark eyes, his judging gaze looking Shen Yuan up and down. A heaving sigh left the taller man, his hand going to the hilt of his sword that now rested securely in place at his hip. Shen Yuan hadn’t even seen him put it away. “I suppose it is my duty to protect delicate maidans such as yourself,” Liu Qingge said. The amused smile twitching at the edge of his lips indicated that he knew damn well Shen Yuan was not a woman.

Flushing, Shen Yuan turned away before crossing his arms around his middle in such a way that his sleeves shielded his body mostly from view.

Chapter Text

When Liu Qingge offered Shen Yuan his arm as his he really were a woman he flushed so hard his face hurt.

“This one is not a maiden Lord Liu,” Shen Yuan huffed in indignation as he scuffed his foot against the ground. Looking at the ground he watched in fascination as the dirt refused to stick to his slippers, sliding off the precious shoe like water and leaving them just as pristine as they had been when Shen Jiu had presented them in a box to him that morning.

“Is that a no then?” Liu Qingge asked, a barely tracible chuckle in his breath as he spoke. “Do you no longer want to spend your day with me?”

Liu Qingge almost sounded disappointed at the end there.

Shen Yuan peaked up, the tip of an orange feather obscuring his view of Liu Qingge’s face so all he could see was the man’s lips twitch downwards into a small frown. He took the Liu Qingge offered elbow before he could think better of it, his idiotic heart bleeding at the sadness that tried to make its home on his rescuer’s face.

"I do!" Shen Yuan said, rushing to soothe his new friends hurt feelings as he was unable to bare the sad look on the proud man's face. Poor guy was a badass swordsman, but he seemed the kind that lacked any social grace and was awkward rather than the cool guy type.

“Alright then, I’ll take you somewhere where you can train,” Liu Qingge nodded to himself before walking off.

Shen Yuan stumbled after him, his legs shorter than Liu Qingge’s and unable to keep up with his strides as he held on Liu Qingge’s arm.

Was this it? Was it time for him to go on a fighting tutorial and set off on grinding up his level?

Yes! It was a good thing he had brought his guqin that he lovingly named Wangxian after his favorite melody by Lan Wangji. Shen Jiu had made a weird face when he told him before asking if he would mind playing another round of tranquility for him before he left claiming the melody brought him much needed peace.

Shen Jiu definitely had something going on with his cultivation. Shen Yuan was only starting to grasp qi and other cultivation things Shen Jiu had been showing him and he could already see how it would grow restless in the man’s very veins if he went longer than a few days without Shen Yuan and his Wangxian’s intervention.

“There,’ Liu Qingge pulled Shen Yuan from his thoughts as he pointed at something in the distance. “You should be able to handle fighting a creature like that.”

A three eyed demon pig snuffled at the ground in front of them, unaware of their presence as it dug at the earth and munched at what it found.

Lame, Shen Yuan mentally complained. This was a weak beginner's enemy from one of his favorite mobile games...What on earth was this place, was this game based on all his favorite things in life?

He really was just a noob right now wasn’t he? Shen Yuan sighed as he pulled Wangxian off his back where he had placed it in imitation of his favorite character and after a deep breath he stung out a quick attack at the practice enemy in front of him on the release of his breath.

A revolting sound rang out, the pig not even squealing as the invisible strike pulverized it in one go, its remains scattering and painting the forest around it red.

With a startled gasp, Shen Yuan took a step back just in time to avoid getting gore on his robes as red blotches splattered onto the ground in front of him.

“Not so weak after all,” Liu Qingge hummed staring at the mess in interest.

Shen Yuan beamed at the praise, smiling up at the taller cultivator. Liu Qingge was a little bit taller than his Jiu-ge and was thus too tall in Shen Yuan’s opinion.

It was just a tutorial monster, it wasn’t surprising it was defeated so easily. Those kinds of monsters where always one hit and done fights.

“Can we fight a stronger monster next?” Shen Yuan asked excitedly, his fingers twitching against Wangxian’s strings as he itched to try out more attacks.

“Mmn,” Liu Qingge nodded, looking down at Shen Yuan with a calm, and unreadable look as he unintentionally did a perfect Lan Wangji imitation

Shen Yuan hid a laugh behind his sleeve before fallowing after Liu Qingge when he walked off, leading the way to the promised fights with stronger opponents.

They spent the afternoon fighting things, mostly easy monsters ShenYuan recognized from the first levels of many popular games he had played. The few times he stumbled or had trouble Liu Qingge was there, stepping in to shield him from an oncoming attack before kicking the monster away. Liu Qingge never killed any of the beasts, leaving them for Shen Yuan to practice on while he watched on.

Liu Qingge had to be the best tutorial guide Shen Yuan had ever had and he hoped he got to keep his new friend as a party member in the future.

When the afternoon faded and supper approached Liu Qingge bid him farewell, dropping Shen Yuan off at the gates of the Shen estate before leaving with a promise to return next week.

Next week. Shen Yuan had to wait a whole week to see his new friend again. He really needed to find another party member who was able to hang out more often.

Chapter Text

The next forest excursion Shen Yuan went on by himself the following day went smoothly. Every low-level beast he came across perished easily under his attacks. He hated that he couldn't properly utilize his sword to kill the beasts like an actual cool cultivator like Liu Qingge, but he was happy that his Lan Wangji plagiarized attacks did the trick just as well.

 

Shen Yuan spent the afternoon plucking plants he recognized and placing them into a lazily embroidered spatial pouch he had made. It was small and kind of lame but he would make a better one later. Many of the plants, and wild herbs were ripped right from the screens of popular tv shows and games, even some of the berries looked like the ones from the pokemon games. An idiotic urge to taste them was stomped down as soon as the moronic thought rose up as he plucked the colorful berries off their stems.

 

Grinding and gathering loot was all he did that day, and only when hunger pains began to gnaw at his gut did he go home. He had filled his poor tiny bag full to bursting and it could hold no more beast parts, plants, or odd little treasure he had picked up.

 

“Welcome back A-Yuan,” Shen Jiu’s voice greeted him as he leaped over the wall to his gardens on his way home.

 

Shen Yuan startled, tripping on his own feet before Shen Jiu’s arm caught him and saved him from face planting into the stones beneath their feet.

 

“Jiu-ge,” Shen Yuan gasped as he flailed before his hands found purchase in the front of Shen Jiu’s robes. “You’re back...It worked!” Excitement, relief, and pure joy danced around and had a party in his heart while his head spun making him smile until his cheeks ached with the size of it.

 

If the transportation array succeeded then he wouldn’t have to part with his...With Shen Jiu for so long ever again, and would get to spend every night and every morning with him.

 

“Indeed, I returned this afternoon,” Shen Jiu said, sounding sour as he helped Shen Yuan right himself with a small but tense smile on his lips. “You weren't here when I arrived and none of the servants knew where you had gone.”

 

The stern line Shen Jiu’s mouth became as he spoke, his tone hinting at a chide as his hands clenched on Shen Yuan’s shoulders before gently patting at him as if checking him for an injury made a sense of guilt rise up Shen Yuan’s throat. He hadn’t told anyone where he was going had he? Shen Jiu must have had a fright to find he could not find Shen Yuan anywhere within the estate's grounds.

 

“I..I’m sorry, I went exploring in the woods and didn’t think to tell anyone.” Shen Yuan looked down at his feet before kicking lightly at one of the pebbles away. One of the most important rules in his family was to always let someone know where you were going, that way if anything happened they would know where to find him...Or if he were kidnapped again they would know where he was last compared to the time he snuck out and opportunistic enemies of his brother snagged him.

 

“Hmm, No matter,” Shen Jiu hummed gently, his eyes softening as he patted Shen Yuan’s shoulders one last time before rubbing his thumbs in a soothing motion against either side of his neck. “All is well that ends well, did A-Yuan find anything of note during his exploration?”

 

Shen Yuan perked up, excitement and enthusiasm chasing away the guilt he had been wallowing in. “Yes!” He nodded, shifting his feet before bouncing slightly on his heels. “There were all sorts of low-level beasts, and a great many useful or interesting plants. I had to make a spatial pouch to carry everything I found.”

 

Reaching around, Shen Yuan untied the hastily embroidered bag he had made and presented the sad little thing to Shen Jiu with a bright smile. He couldn’t wait to try out some of the things he could remember and see if they would work.

 

“You made this?” Shen Jiu blinked before taking the bag with a laugh and inspected the embroidery on it. He ran his fingers over the pattern Shen Yuan had stitched into it, turning the bag to and fro before pulling the bag open and peering inside.

 

Heat bruised Shen Yuan’s cheeks as he looked down before he twined his fingers together and twisted his hands and picked at his skin without rhyme or reason. “It’s poorly made I know, it was rushed and,” Shen Yuan mumbled before looking back up and meeting Shen Jiu’s beautiful eyes, “I plan on making a proper one later tonight.” He ended lamely before reaching for the little bag.

 

“Poorly made,” Shen Jiu huffed before giving Shen Yuan a smile when he handed the embroidered bag back to Shen Yuan. “Rushed, you said? How long did you spend making it?”

 

Poking through the contents of the bag, looking for something specific he wanted to present to Shen Jiu, Shen Yuan didn’t pay Shen Jiu much attention as he spoke. “I don’t know,” he shrugged, “I made it just before heading out this morning.”

 

Ahh! There they were. Shen Yuan mentally celebrated as he fished out the little gems he had plucked from a patch of some crystalline flowers he had found growing, the little buds had looked so much like tiny jewels he couldn’t resist picking a pair.

 

When Shen Yuan looked up Shen Jiu had an odd look on his face, he looked as if he was unsure and on the verge of saying something but whatever it was went unsaid. Shen Yuan happily presented the jewels he was so proud of, the setting sun catching on the crystals and making them shine like a pair of captured rainbows.

 

“For me?” Shen Jiu asked as he accepted the small flower bud crystals, the pair rolling in his palm before falling still as he looked at them. “A rare find,” he complimented with a pleased sigh, “thank you.” Shen Jiu’s hand closed around the flower bud gems, a slight tremble in his wrist as he squeezed his hand shut before he smiled at Shen Yuan again.

 

“A-Yuan was serious when he said he wanted a courtship it seems,” Shen Jiu said before leaning forward and placing a lingering but chaste kiss to Shen Yuan’s lips.

Chapter Text

That night they spent going over Shen Jiu’s findings with him showing Shen Yuan all the tweaks he had made to the transportation arrays. The gleam in Shen Jiu’s eyes and the slight curve to his lips made Shen Yuan’s heart flutter in his chest.

 

Shen Yuan found himself distracted by Shen Jiu’s repressed excitement, and watched the man’s lips move without actually hearing what he was saying.

 

He liked his Jiu Ge like this, like a relaxed scholar contently lecturing about his latest discovery to an interested colleague. The spark of something that made Shen Jiu’s eyes shine, and the way the lines of stress melted away and made his gaze handsomely soft was something Shen Yuan wished he could hold on to forever.

 

To bask in this moment for the rest of time, it would be heaven.

 

“A-Yuan, are you listening?” Shen Jiu asked, the movement of his lips drawing Shen Yuan’s eyes once more.

 

Shen Jiu's pale skin and soft green robes made the lush pink of his lips pop, the light color standing out like a beacon. Those lips called to Shen Yuan, always begging for his attention of late. A dark as night lock of hair rested attractively against Shen Jiu's cheek, framing his face. A stand of hair hung a scant few millimeters from Shen Jiu's mouth and made the gentle color of the man's reddening lips shine even brighter because of the contrast.

 

Ever since their first kiss Shen Yuan kept being distracted by Shen Jiu’s mouth and the new exhilarating thrill of desire that would pool inside him. He wanted to kiss Shen Jiu again, the realization made him flush with a frustrating mixture of shame and desire. The insides of his stomach fluttered, butterflies dancing out the attraction he now knew for what it was in his gut and beat at his heart making it skip a beat.

 

He had never felt desire for someone before, and now he found himself with no defenses against it, not even the clamoring of voices, voices like his father, who claimed men loving men was abhorrent.

 

Yet another thing for his father and Er Ge to fight about. Their father had nearly disinherited Er Ge when he had so boldly brought his boyfriend home one day and introduced him as such without a hint of shame.

 

What would his late father have to say if he could see Shen Yuan now?

 

A hand cupped Shen Yuan’s cheek and pulled him from his spiraling thoughts. "A-Yuan,” Shen Jiu said sweet and soft when he met Shen Jiu’s eyes.

 

The pleasantly soft look Shen Jiu had worn moments before was ruined, marred with lines of concern. The spark that had made Shen Jiu’s green eyes shine like the finest of jade had also disappeared. Shen Yuan never could hold onto any of his precious moments, time with his loved ones slipping through his hands like water that he could never catch and get back.

 

Would he ever go home again? Was he never to see his always fretting Da Ge again, or his stubborn Er Ge? How was his MeiMei doing in school without Shen Yuan there to make sure she kept up on her assignments?

 

Did he even want to go home? Shen Yuan stared into Shen Jiu’s gorgeous eyes, and focused on the thumb rubbing against his cheek. Would staying here with his Jiu Ge really be so terrible? Shen Yuan's heart ached, pulled in two directions and unable to make a move. His heart struggled under the squeezing pressure, and pain stabbed deep in his chest.

 

“So it’s possible that if there are more than two arrays you can choose which one to send someone, or something, to?” Shen Yuan asked, returning to their conversation with enthusiasm while waving the uncomfortable thoughts away.

 

The potential implications of fast travel, and the public use of them was an exciting prospect. Just the ability to warp from place to place was a boon for any gamer, but the ability to help speed up commerce, and the profit from creating a transportation service was of more interest to him. This project of theirs seemed a promising way to help fast track the upgrade of this world into the high magic dream he wished to obtain. The profit this joint endeavor would surely make them would be useful for many things he wished to do as well.

 

“So it would seem,” Shen Jiu said before sighing. His hand dropped from Shen Yuan’s cheek after he stared at Shen Yuan for a long while, looking for something before finally giving up. “I see you are too tired for any further intellectual strain on your mind.”

 

Shen Yuan made to protest, shifting in his seat kneeling on a plush cushion in front of their work table. Guilt knotted up in a lump in his throat and he struggled to swallow down, he truly had been enjoying their session.

 

The sudden attack of memories from his family came on unexpectedly, almost from nothing and ruined both their moods. How Shen jiu was able to tell that his mood had become distracted and melancholic was yet another mystery. His Jiu Ge was very nearly a mind reader sometimes.

 

Shen Jiu held up his hand before Shen Yuan could do more than open his mouth, halting Shen Yuan’s words of denial in their tracks. “A relaxing music session before we retire for the night would be of benefit to us both, don’t you think?" Shen Jiu asked, tilting his head slightly as he dropped his hand back down and his hair fell, sliding with his movements. "I know that both myself and A-Yuan are under no small amount of stress of late.”

 

Stress?

 

Shen Yuan deflated, dropping his hands to his lap and watching as he fiddled with the white and blue fabric of his ink stained robes with his equally stained fingers. He knew Shen Jiu was stressed, he played tranquility often enough for him.

 

He could almost taste when his Jiu Ge’s qi started wavering around and pushing against its confines like too much water rushing through a pipe. Shen Jiu’s qi tingled on his tongue like ozone on a plane or in the air before a lightning storm right before Shen Jiu’s qi would start shivering in his body. The energy would ripple like water, each new drop of something inside of Shen Jiu building up and adding to the chaotic overfull flow in his veins.

 

Had Shen Yuan also been stressed?

 

Any time Shen Yuan tried to concentrate on it his mind struggled to think, to remember. Even the memories of his family and the desperate longing and grief he felt just moments before were being quickly blanketed under a slowly growing fog. He supposed he might be stressed.

 

Nodding, Shen yuan offered Shen Jiu a smile. “That sounds wonderful.”

 

“Ahh...” Shen Jiu stopped Shen Yuan before he could rise out of his seat. “Not so quick... let us wash up and change into our sleeping robes first.” A pointed look was directed at Shen Yuan’s fingers that were held carefully trapped in Shen Jiu’s grip. “It would be such a shame to soil your...WangXian...with your dirty fingers.”

 

Despite the tsk Shen Jiu made, and his chiding tone, the gentleness in his gaze gave him away.
Shen Jiu hated filth, but from what Shen Yuan could tell he enjoyed doting on him in any way possible.

 

Shen Yuan felt a blush tinge his cheeks when he looked down at the ink spattering across his hand. While his writing was as perfect as his mother had drilled into him, the brushes were difficult to use and his clumsiness ended up painted all over his hands and robes rather than his papers.

Chapter Text

Why does resizing a pic on AO3 have to be so hard (ー△ー;)

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This fic is going to be on Hiatus for a while, but Thessaliad (who asked me permission) is coming out with a related work to this and it is so awesome. I encourage fans of this work to read Thessaliad's version when it becomes available o(^▽^)o