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Shen Qingqiu had had many plans, and a few nightmares, about this moment. He was going to have to- what? Haul his begging disciple to his feet and toss him into the Abyss like a sack of potatoes? Deliver an evil monologue first to seal his own fate? For what? 

If he fucked this up, he got sent to a world where he was already dead. If he played his part, he got five years of living in fear and an indefinite purgatory as a human stick. Shitty fucking System, shitty fucking parameters. This quest wasn’t even worth doing!

Although- now he thought about it, he didn’t know if he had to include the monologue. He poked the System. 

Hey, what do I have to do to complete this quest?

<<If completion is unsuccessful, Protagonist Satisfaction Points -20000!>>

Yeah, I get it. What does “successful” mean? What happens?

<<The Protagonist must enter the Endless Abyss in order to master his demonic powers and seize his destiny. Actions that are extraneous to quest parameters may be undertaken at the user’s discretion.>>

But if that was the case… if all he had to do was make sure Binghe landed in the Abyss…

So I don’t have to push him in?

<<Actions that are extraneous to quest parameters may be undertaken at the user’s discretion.>>

I don’t have to insult him? 

<<Actions that are extraneous to quest parameters may be undertaken at the user’s discretion.>>

I can just… ask him to go? He doesn’t have to hate me?

<<Actions that are extraneous to quest parameters may be undertaken at the user’s discretion.>>

Shen Qingqiu snapped back to the present, with a sobbing protagonist at his feet. 

“Shizun, this disciple didn’t mean it, I’m sorry!” 

“Get up,” Shen Qingqiu said. “A half-demon living in the human world is-” fuck, how was he going to explain this? “-a danger to himself and everyone around him. You have incredible power and you don’t know how to control it, and to the great sects, that makes you a threat. If you stay here, even if this master defends you, you will die. Do you understand me?”

Luo Binghe blinked. “Shizun doesn’t want me to die?”

“Of course not,” Shen Qingqiu said. “But this master can’t teach demonic techniques. If Binghe goes into the Endless Abyss, his heritage won’t be discovered by the cultivation world, and he can master his powers. You’ll be safer there until you return.” 

“If… if Shizun says it’s true,” Binghe said.

They walked to the edge of the Endless Abyss together. Binghe turned to look at Shen Qingqiu, teary and nervous, but not miserable. Not broken. 

“Shizun really doesn’t hate me?” he said. “This isn’t- to get rid of me, or-” 

“There is no part of Binghe that is hateful to this master,” Shen Qingqiu said.

“And Shizun is sure there’s a way out?”

“Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu said, “you’ll make it out. You’re Qing Jing Peak’s best disciple. Work as hard as you can, learn to use the powers this master can’t teach you, and come back, do you hear me?”

Luo Binghe stood on the edge, his back to the Abyss. “Then… this disciple will see Shizun soon.” 

Shen Qingqiu watched Binghe’s face until he disappeared into the fumes, and then turned to start picking up the pieces of Zheng Yang. Binghe was going to want it fixed. 

The next few years passed… well, they passed. Binghe was alive somewhere. He was coming back sometime. Shen Qingqiu didn’t focus on the particulars of which kaiju had tried to murder Luo Binghe this afternoon, or which demoness he might have seduced to start a temporary alliance. It was fun to read about a young man improving his skills, gathering power-ups, and slaughtering his way through the Abyss, but his Binghe wouldn’t be reveling in his power like the original had. He didn’t want to think about what his little sheep was going through, or who he’d meet when Luo Binghe got back. 

Naturally, he thought about it anyway. 

Two years in, it was starting to affect his dreams. They were always hazy and didn’t last very long. He’d get an impression of the bamboo house, a freshly made meal, a taller Binghe with bright eyes and broad shoulders, and a rich, deep voice calling “Shizun! Shizun!” in the same cheerful tone he’d used as a boy.

Shen Qingqiu’s unconscious was just fixating on someone he couldn’t help. Of course he was thinking about the good times they’d had and imagining a healthy, happy grown-up Binghe who still cared for him. It was only natural.

He thought that right up until, as he was leaning over to correct Ning Yingying’s posture at the guqin, he collapsed onto the floor. 

He awoke in the bamboo house, but a cleaner, brighter version. A version not tended to by Ming Fan, who despite his best efforts never got Shen Qingqiu’s clothes starched just right, but by- ah. 

Luo Binghe was sitting in front of him. He had certainly grown up, looking a little taller and graver, but the effect was ruined by the nervous torrent of words that left his mouth.

“Shizun this disciple apologizes for disturbing him in such a manner but given the circumstances this disciple thought it warranted-” 

“What is this, Binghe?” 

“This disciple didn’t know how to contact Shizun when he got out, and I thought, well, this disciple had been trying to reach Shizun’s dreams for a while, and maybe once we were in the same world it would be easier, so. This is a dream.”

Good on Binghe if he’d leveled that power up, but. Wait. “Binghe said… you got out?”

“This disciple has brought his demonic powers under control and left the Endless Abyss,” Binghe said, beaming. “I did it, Shizun!”

Shen Qingqiu would never remember much of the trip to bring Binghe back afterwards. He remembered racing through a forest to find Luo Binghe whole and healthy, but- as expected of two years in the Abyss- completely covered in blood. He remembered Binghe cautiously clinging to his back as they sped back on Xiu Ya, and nestling in further with a contented sigh when Shen Qingqiu didn’t protest the stain on his robes. 

He remembered, also, shooing away a passel of disciples with the words, “This master’s beloved disciple has returned and he wishes to tend to his wounds in private.” 

“But his forehead’s all red!” Ming Fan protested. “His aura’s weird!”

“My disciple has gone through great trials, and was naturally wounded,” Shen Qingqiu said as he stuffed Binghe through the door of the bamboo house. “We can discuss the particulars at a later time.”

Shen Qingqiu had meant to help Luo Binghe wash off- his hair was matted with blood, and that couldn’t be comfortable- but Binghe’s protagonist aura and organizational skills had manifested a hot bath, soap, and a screen to hide behind while Shen Qingqiu was still searching Binghe’s old room for robes. 

Binghe wouldn’t have let Shen Qingqiu help him dress, either, if his sleeping robes had fit. But it was obvious from the moment Binghe sheepishly called him over that something was wrong. 

“Ah, Binghe really has grown,” Shen Qingqiu said. “The sleeves are far too short, and if you move your arms the shoulders are going to pop.”

“This disciple can find-” Binghe started to say. 

As if he was going to send Binghe to the storeroom for something this simple! He patted him consolingly on the shoulder. “Nonsense. You can borrow one of mine.” 

Binghe was packed off to bed, oddly flustered- well, not all that odd, really, considering how long it had been since he’d slept in this house. Or considering how long it had been since he’d slept in a bed. Shen Qingqiu was still torn up about it; he tossed and turned for a while, wondering if Binghe really could forgive him just like that, and sunk into a fitful sleep. 

It was a frequent nightmare of his, to see his disciple facing off against monster after monster, his robes growing bloody and tattered from strikes that he winced to see even as Binghe’s body healed. This one was unusually detailed, but he didn’t think anything of it. Not until Binghe turned around right as the Five-Headed Lion Viper was about to bite his leg off, and said in horror, “Shizun!”

Shen Qingqiu woke to the sounds of quiet panicked breathing from the next room. When he opened the door, he didn’t find Binghe looked much better. “What was that?”

Binghe’s eyes had a tragic, downtrodden air to them. “Just a dream Shizun shouldn’t have been pulled into. This disciple will endeavor to improve his control.”

What, and keep having nightmares as long as Shen Qingqiu didn’t have to know about them? Shen Qingqiu helped Binghe up. “Ridiculous. Binghe shouldn’t suffer like this.” 

“Shizun, where are we going?” Binghe said, following Shen Qingqiu into the main house. “This disciple could- cook something, if Shizun’s hungry, or-” 

“Binghe’s problem is his sleep, right? So we’re going to sleep.” Shen Qingqiu stopped, leaving them in front of his bed.

Luo Binghe’s face went so red his demonic mark almost disappeared. “Shizun.” 

“What’s the problem?” Shen Qingqiu said. “It’s not like this is the first time Binghe’s come to this master’s bed.”

“Shizun,” Luo Binghe said again. 

“Or do I have to carry you over like a maiden this time, too?”


Luo Binghe looked like a man being led to his execution, but he didn’t try to resist when Shen Qingqiu took his shoulder and pushed him onto the mattress. He laid himself flat on his side and had the good sense to let Shen Qingqiu pull the covers over him. 

He didn’t have the good sense to move any closer, though, or take Shen Qingqiu up on the covert offer of- whatever Shen Qingqiu was trying to offer here. Human contact was good for people who’d been alone! Binghe could know there was someone to keep him safe! Binghe was supposed to relax.

“Is Binghe going to be this stiff all night?” Shen Qingqiu said. 

Binghe swallowed, the sound audible in the dark. “Probably.” 

That was fine. Shen Qingqiu could be comfortable enough for both of them. He scooted over to Binghe’s back and grabbed an armful of protesting disciple. “Hush,” he said. “Binghe needs to rest.” 

It really wasn’t bad, knowing that Binghe wasn’t going to wake from a nightmare to an empty room. And if maybe he made a nice body pillow, well. Who was going to know? 

Shen Qingqiu wasn’t exactly awake. Light was shining through his eyelids, but if he didn’t open his eyes, he could just lie here. He felt better-rested than he had in months, he was perfectly warm. He just felt… nice. Really, really nice. 

Particularly nice in certain areas, and, ah, that wasn’t his own arm around his waist. Someone else was in bed with him, right. They must have shifted in the night. Binghe had gone from huddling on the edge of the bed to cuddling face-to-face, and Shen Qingqiu had been asleep, like an idiot. 

He could appreciate it now, though. Binghe looked calmer in his sleep, more comfortable. His hair was right in his face, though. That couldn’t be comfortable, and Shen Qingqiu had brought him here for the specific purpose of making him feel good. He brushed the hair away from Binghe’s face and kept. Well. At this point he was basically petting Luo Binghe’s cheek. 

It was a nice cheek! Anyone would have done it!

Binghe’s ridiculously long eyelashes fluttered open at the touch. Shen Qingqiu saw the moment he realized what they were doing- Shen Qingqiu, in his arms, touching his face- and froze. Even in shock, Binghe really was peerlessly handsome. And strong. And, well, devoted, and clever, and...

Ah. Maybe… maybe anyone wouldn’t want to pet his face. 

Maybe that was just Shen Qingqiu. 

Shen Qingqiu was, as we’ve established, not entirely awake. The little voice in the back of his head, the one prone to hissing what are you doing and this is the PROTAGONIST, was completely asleep. 

Shen Qingqiu leaned in. 

He hadn’t meant to go for tongue straight off, but Binghe’s mouth was open, and Shen Qingqiu wasn’t about to complain. Binghe's hands seemed a bit bigger than Shen Qingqiu remembered, and they were wandering everywhere.

Shen Qingqiu wasn't about to bother with ties or take his mouth off Binghe's or figure out the moderately alarming size of Binghe's cock against his hip. It was good as it was, just moving against him, learning how they fit together. Ah, Binghe really had gotten taller, he was all around him, he was- kind of terrible at kissing, to be honest, but that didn't matter-

Binghe's eyes blinked open, after he'd come, fully awake and a little worried. "Shizun?"

Shen Qingqiu leaned in and kissed Binghe again: close-mouthed, chaste. "This master is so glad you've come home."