Shen Qingqiu is at his second cup of wine of the night.
He drank the first one to catch attention and by the way Liu Qingge eyes are locked to his face he hits the mark.
They have been wandering for about two months now and if his dear shidi has no intention to go back to Cang Qiong Mountain, Shen Qingqiu will take full advantage of the situation.
See, Shen Qingqiu has a plan.
In a little more than 3 years a very powerful and pissed off demon lord will come back for his head (well, his legs and arms and tongue and eye...really, too gruesome!) and Shen Qingqiu didn't die in his original world just to die in this one as well.
So, what to do?
It appears that, by sheer dumb luck, Shen Qingqiu has saved the only person that could, probably (hopefully) fight against said pissed off demon lord without dying in the first ten seconds of battle.
Shen Qingqiu wants a bodyguard and Liu Qingge owes him his life! It's only fair that it would be him.
But you can't ask a man like Liu Qingge to be your bodyguard, he's too prideful for that. Sure, he would protect the sect, but Shen Qingqiu needs protection for himself .
Take advantage of a little secret that the Lord of Bai Zhan Peak didn't guard too well.
...okay, he did guard it well enough that even when confronted directly with it, it took Shen Qingqiu about three months to realize what really was happening at the time.
...and okay, 'take advantage' would imply he is not interested.
He is really, really interested.
Shen Qingqiu drinks the wine slowly, making a show of it, tilting his head back, feeling Liu Qingge's eyes following the way his adam's apple bobbles as he swallows the wine.
"Do you think we can be there tomorrow?" Shen Qingqiu says since Liu Qingge is too distracted to start a conversation. "If the situation is as bad as the villagers say..."
"It's never as bad as they say." Liu Qingge cuts him off. "It will probably be one water ghoul, no more."
The rumors of the water ghouls reached a small village a day of travel away, one that should not really be concerned with what happens in the nearby waters, so Shen Qingqiu is sure it is as bad as they make it sound.
"Could it be that Liu-shidi..." Shen Qingqiu brings the cup to his lips once again and gives Liu Qingge a look under his eyelashes. "is worried about the poison acting up?"
Liu Qingge snorts in response, but his eyes linger on the way Shen Qingqiu's lips move around the rim of the cup as he speaks. "It would be too humiliating for you to get killed by a water ghoul."
That is true. "So? Aren't you here exactly for this motive? And even with the poison acting up you could deal with the situation on your own. Let's just go -why be late to help?"
The food they ordered is left untouched on the low table between them; SSQ's drinking antics have monopolized the dinner so far.
Shen Qingqiu takes another sip of wine, a drop clings to the corner of his mouth and he catches it with the tip of his tongue.
Liu Qingge's brow twitches.
Shen Qingqiu secretly smiles.
"Is there something wrong, Liu-shidi?"
"Eat." Liu Qingge orders; he can't say 'stop drinking', otherwise he would expose his own interest. "We can be there tomorrow before sunset if we push the horses."
"Then I should tell you of some rumors I heard, they could be helpful." Shen Qingqiu beckons Liu Qingge with a gesture of his closed paper fan.
Liu Qingge leans just a little over the table, Shen Qingqiu is ready to lean all the way if needed. With a smile he opens his fan to shield their faces from the rest of the people in the inn.
Shen Qingqiu is still deciding if he should try his luck and make a proper move as he leans over. They are seated (to Shen Qingqiu’s request) in a rather secluded spot of the dining area -no eyes should fall on them by accident and if Shen Qingqiu angles himself just right nobody would suspect a thing. But he has no way to know how Liu Qingge would react to being kissed so shamelessly and Shen Qingqiu is not ready for that gamble.
"I heard that the village was built next to a river, connected to a lake that the people call the Thousand Cold Flames Lake and tha..." Shen Qingqiu stops mid-sentence and blinks. Something is not right. There is a weird taste in his mouth and his tongue feels too heavy.
Liu Qingge frowns at the interruption.
"Something is wr..."
Shen Qingqiu’s body becomes cold, all bones and nerves and muscles feel like they have been turned into one big mushy pulp.
He is aware of being unable to support himself any longer and falling on the table. Liu Qingge's catches him before he can hit the wooden surface.
"...ong with the wine."
"Shen Qingqiu!" A pair of hands cups his face and Shen Qingqiu doesn't know if he wants to laugh or cry. Couldn't he do this when he can appreciate it just a little bit more?
Two fingers rest on Shen Qingqiu's wrist to check his pulse and pass spiritual energy. "It's not the poison acting up. But something's not right in your vein's flow."
"It's the wine." Shen Qingqiu repeats, maybe he didn't say clearly enough before his dizzy spell. "Let's ask what they put in it."
Liu Qingge is already hauling him up before he can finish the phrase.
Shen Qingqiu's head spins as they stand, but the motion is enough to realign him for the moment being.
Liu Qingge wraps an arm around Shen Qinqiu’s waist and moves to the kitchen, ignoring the looks from the other people still having their dinner.
In the short time it takes for them to get to the back of the inn, the dizzy spell is almost gone and Shen Qingqiu could walk on his own. He could but that would mean giving up the nice weight around his waist.
The kitchen personnel never expected to see their door being kicked open; about seven people turn their head to the noise and the two figure intruding in their working space; half of them take a couple of steps back when they see the murderous look on Liu Qingge's face.
"Ah, excuse us." Shen Qingqiu smiles. With one arm around Liu Qingge's shoulder, he has only the hand holding the paper fan free and he uses it to put the paper fan against Liu Qingge's chest to stop him from doing anything rash. "We have one question, a small one. I was wondering what ingredients do you use for your wine?"
At the word "wine" everyone shares looks. So there is something in the wine, after all.
A rather young girl, the one that served them earlier, runs outside the kitchen.
"We put there the usual stuff!" The oldest woman of the group says, probably the one in charge. "Grains, rice...you know, nothing weird. Are you accusing us?!"
One of your girls just ran outside like the wind! It looks guilty to me!
"No, not at all." Shen Qingqiu keeps smiling. "Maybe I just had a strong reaction, your wine must be of too high quality."
The girl comes back; she is pale and quickly moves to the old woman's side, offering her the wine jar.
They share a look.
"Did you taste something...flowery about the wine?"
Shen Qingqiu thinks about it for a moment, but Liu Qingge beats him to the answer. "I can smell it on his breath."
Shen Qingqiu fights the instinct of putting his hand over his mouth and smell his own breath. Just barely.
"Ah, then it would be our fault. We apologize. It's a special wine, you see." the woman shakes her head, clearly feeling sorry but not worried in the slightest.
"Special how?" Shen Qingqiu asks out of curiosity; they would not sell a dangerous wine so he relaxes a bit. Liu Qingge mistakes the change of posture for another dizzy spell and holds him closer.
Liu-shidi you can be so compassionate when worried!
The woman moves to the door where they are and peeks out. She points to a group of men having dinner together.
"You see those men? They come here to dine often and when they do, they like to drink. Most of them turn violent when they drink and their wives come complaining to us! They are good customers, young Masters, we couldn't lose them! So we made a special wine for them."
"Special, how?" Shen Qingqiu asks a second time.
"There is a flower that grows not far, we grind it and add it to wine. It makes them happy drunk, not violent. Sales have gone up and the wives have been happy!"
The old woman surely is proud of her business model.
"That's it?" Shen Qingqiu can't help but be skeptical. "Just a flower that makes them good drunk husbands?"
"I swear on my life!" the old woman says. "They are still standing, aren't they? Nothing to fear young masters! You just have to sleep through it and you'll be absolutely fine in the morning! We just gave you the wrong jar."
A flower that can change a mood is weird but not too weird -sounds like something Airplane Bro would create.
Granted, he'd expect a flower able to make every person in a fifty li horny, but...sure, why not.
"Thank you for the reassurance. I'll take your advice and rest." Shen Qingqiu bows his head respectfully.
"I am sorry for the fright, Young Master. The mistake was all ours, the dinner is on us, how about that?"
Considering we barely eat it's a great bargain! And you can probably re-sell most of it anyway...
"Many thanks. Liu-shidi let’s go rest for tonight."
Liu Qingge nods and drags Shen Qingqiu away from the kitchen and up to the stairs leading to the inn’s rooms.
Really, Shen Qingqiu could walk on his own.
He leans a little bit more into Liu Qingge; the other doesn't protest and actually shoulders the weight easily.
The next morning, Shen Qingqiu wakes up expecting everything to be back to normal, but the feeling of everything inside his body being mushy is still there. At least it’s not a painful sensation, just extremely weird.
He groans and is on the verge of calling for Liu Qingge when the door of his room opens, revealing the man himself.
Convenient narrative timing! At least you have that down, Airplane Bro.
"Liu-shidi." Shen Qingqiu sounds as miserable as he can.
Liu Qingge doesn't ask the ritual questions one would ask in such circumstance, he just sits on the edge of the bed and checks Shen Qingqiu's pulse.
"Nothing changed. You were supposed to be fine by now." Liu Qingge is angry at the unchanged condition, a deep frown on his handsome face. "We should go back, and ask Mu-shixiong to check."
"Now, now." Shen Qingqiu pats the hand that Liu Qingge doesn't take away from his wrist. "We can't go and bother Mu-shidi for something like this. And we can't leave the water ghoul problem unresolved. We can, however, delay our departure and go back to the woman and find out what's really in the wine."
Liu Qingge is satisfied with the course of action -he would with any plan, as long as he can go around and do something.
When she sees them again, the old woman frowns more confused. "What's going on now?"
"Apologizes but..." Shen Qingqiu sighs. "It seems the effects of the wine have not dissipated."
"Well, that's strange! No client ever complained about hangovers or anything like that!" the old woman waves around the rag she is using to clean the surface of the kitchen's table.
"It must be due to my cultivation, some sort of reaction. Please, can you tell us the name of the flower you used and where it blooms?"
The old woman puffs her cheeks; she had had enough of questions and wasting time. "We call it the Maiden's Ignorance, it grows in a field about forty minutes east from here."
"It is...a peony like flower of a very pale pink color with darker spots?"
"That's the one! Young Master, you know of it?"
"Yes, I read about it..."
Well, Shen Yuan did. In Proud Demon Immortal Way, Luo BingHe used the Maiden's Ignorance to test the honesty of the love of one of his wives. The flower can only bloom in presence of true love, after all.
"And if I'm not mistaken...a ghost guards it."
Among the sea of green grass and bushes, a field of peony like flowers of a very pale pink color stands out.
In the middle of it a teenage girl sits; she has a cute round face, her hair is up in twin buns decorated with small wild flowers. She speaks to the flowers like she would do with intimate friends.
As they approach it, Shen Qingqiu raises a hand to stop Liu Qingge.
Liu Qingge stares at the fan blocking his way. "What are you doing?"
"Don't attack her."
"We need to talk with this ghost, why would I attack it?" Liu Qingge shakes his head, clearly offended, and keeps walking.
Shen Qingqiu hurries to follow him and surpasses him. He doesn't step inside the flower field, however.
The ghost finally notices them and stands up. "Who are you? What are you doing here? I never saw you before."
Shen Qingqiu salutes respectfully. "Meimei, I am afraid we will have to disturb you."
In Proud Demon Immortal Way, the ghost of Maiden's Ignorance was a kind spirit, her story so tragic that for days the comment section was full of people mourning her.
The story was like this: the young Maiden was in love with a boy, as many girls of her age would be, she loved him of a tender and chaste love that filled her days and her heart. The boy, however, only pretended to love her and harbored dark instincts. One night, he invited her to a field; the two embraced and kissed. Before the embrace was over, he had already killed her. She had died feeling only love, but the terrible way she died made it impossible for her to pass over and she remained to guard the flowers stained by her blood.
"We are aware that you gave your flowers to some women to make wine." Shen Qingqiu started.
"They told me they needed to keep bad men from hurting their wives so I agreed." the ghost says. "I told them how to make the wine, so they wouldn't want to hurt them anymore."
She still believes in love but some part of her knows how wicked men can be!
"Then Meimei should be happy to know it is working, the wives are much happier." Shen Qingqiu offers a bright smile.
The ghost smiles back. With a gesture of her hands, she invites the two Peak Lords inside, allowing them to enter her small territory. "I am! They love each other, they shouldn't hurt each other."
"Wise words." Shen Qingqiu steps carefully, avoiding damaging any flower. Behind him, even Liu Qingge is careful, his usual way to stomp around gone. "May I inquire how the wine works? The woman that sells it told us it makes the husbands happy instead of angry and that the effects stop the next morning."
"The woman lied to you!" the ghost leans down to pet one of the flowers, like she would do with a small cat. "Well, not entirely: it's true they make them happy, but the effects don't just stop the next morning."
Shen Qingqiu looks behind himself and shares a look with Liu Qingge.
"How does one stop the effect of the wine?" Liu Qingge asks, directly to the point.
"With a kiss!"
Shen Qingqiu blinks.
With a kiss?!?
"See, if the husbands are happy instead of angry, when they go back home their wives will kiss them welcome home and that's the sign that they have been good husbands and the wine doesn't have any effect anymore and they sober up! If their wives refuse to kiss them because maybe they have been rude, they stay drunk and happy and can't harm them! Either way the women are safe!"
"That's...the only way?" Liu Qingge asks for both of them, voice strained and uncomfortable.
Shen Qingqiu doesn't dare to look behind himself. If he looks at Liu Qingge now he will die. Or get killed.
"Meimei...what if someone that drinks the wine doesn't have a wife?"
What if they just have a terrible plan that backfired and made them too interested in someone who is too dense to get a hint and too repressed to make a move?
"Oh it doesn't have to be a wife, I guess, just someone who cares for the person."
Shen Qingqiu sighs in his heart. This should be a perfect moment, a perfect scenario, an amazing set up! Worthy of a stallion book!
And yet he can already tell it will go terribly.
"You are the closest person to me at the moment!"
When Shen Qingqiu dares to turn and look at Liu Qingge he sees exactly what he expected: Liu Qingge's whole body is stiff, the vein on the back of his hands bulging as he clenches his fists.
"Then what? Should I go back to the village and ask the old woman to kiss me?"
A faint blush spreads on Liu Qingge's face at the too quick denial. The last time Shen Qingqiu saw him remotely red in the face was during the Succubus incident, the one that put the whole plan in motion..
It really wasn't only the 'spring medicine' affecting you back then shidi, was it?
"I guess you are right, there is no love for me in that old woman. She would probably be happy to never see me again."
"Exactly." Liu Qingge seems to relax a bit now that he has been given a way out.
"I could ask the girl that served us the food."
A hand grabs his shoulder and Shen Qingqiu stares at it before raising his eyes to Liu Qingge, who looks at his own hand like it personally offended him. "No." he finally manages to say.
Shen Qingqiu sighs and gently pushes the hand away with his paper fan, before opening it to hide the lower part of his face. He gives Liu Qingge a coy look. "But then shidi I am afraid that I have no choice but to trouble you."
Liu Qingge stares at him for a moment before reaching behind his back for Cheng Luan and switching his attention to the ghost. He takes two steps towards the young ghost. "There is another way."
The teenage ghost takes two steps as well, further away from the imposing figure approaching her.
Shen Qingqiu looks in horror at the scene and hurries to grab the hand resting on Cheng Luan's hilt. "You told me you would not attack her!"
"It will solve the problem, you know it." Liu Qingge says, but he doesn't step forward and doesn't unsheathe the sword.
"You are scaring a very gentle ghost, shame on you." Shen Qingqiu scolds. "It's just a small kiss, surely it's not too much trouble. I am your shixiong, a fellow Peak Lord -what's a kiss between us?"
With a 'mmpf', Liu Qingge turns his back and walks away. If Shen Qingqiu was not aware of the true nature of his feelings he would be offended to be denied a simple cure, but he can only pity his shidi; he must be struggling with the desire of taking advantage of the situation and the noble course of action of not kissing his shixiong.
Well, if Liu Qingge needs a little push in the right direction, Shen Qingqiu will shove him there gladly.
"Meimei, can I borrow a petal from your flowers?"
"Of course!" The ghost nods her permission "They are pretty, aren't they?"
"Very pretty." Shen Qingqiu leans down to pick a rosy petal from the closest flower. The texture is silky in the lightest part, but the dark spots have a velvet feels to them -all in all is very pleasant if Shen Qingqiu doesn’t dwell too much on the dark spots symbolizing the blood shed by the poor girl.
"Liu-shidi come back! Look!" Shen Qingqiu raises the petal in front of his lips. "Our lips will not touch, your honor is saved."
Come on! I'm standing in a nice flower field, the pink flowers definitely make a nice contrast with my green clothes, I have the wind in my air, the sun is high above us. I'm the object of your desire! Of your affection! I am standing here asking you to kiss me! Aren't you a male character in a stallion novel? How can you resist?
Shen Qingqiu may be aware of the pretty picture he makes at the moment, and yet he didn't stop to think about one detail: how breathtaking Liu Qingge would be in the same scenario, a white figure moving in a sea of pink flowers walking towards him with the confidence of someone who took a very important decision.
Liu Qingge stops barely a step away from Shen Qingqiu and the intensity of his gaze almost makes Shen Qingqiu's knees go weak.
"Shidi, on a second thought...you really don't have t..." Shen Qingqiu is going to change his mind then he sees Liu Qingge's eyes lower to his lips covered with the petal and suddenly he can't speak anymore.
Liu Qingge leans; Shen Qingqiu’s heart starts to beat ferociously in his chest.
Shen Qingqiu closes his eyes, Liu Qingge's lips press on his cheek.
“There,” Liu Qingge’s whisper can’t hide a hint of irritation. “consider yourself kissed.”
Shen Qingqiu can't help but feel slightly cheated. Still, the kiss feels like a brand on his cheek, enough to make him stop thinking for a moment. Liu Qingge swiftly takes the petal from Shen Qingqiu's fingers and checks once again the condition of his spiritual veins.
Shen Qingqiu is not brave enough to look at his shidi right now, fixing his gaze somewhere behind his shoulder. He cheated! Who doesn't take advantage of such a perfect moment? Why didn't he?
Could it be that I misunderstood the whole Succubus incident?!
"You should be fine now." LGQ states, satisfied as he lets go of Shen Qingqiu's wrist.
I am not fine! I wanted you to kiss me and you didn’t!!
Shen Qingqiu keeps that thought for himself and shows nothing of his inner turmoil outside.
"Many thanks to Liu-shidi for his brave sacrifice."
The ghost *tuts* behind them "Nothing done with love can be a sacrifice!"
Now, Shen Qingqiu dares to look at Liu Qingge's expression and as expected it turns dark. "Let's go. We may still make it in time to the village to catch some water ghouls."
Shen Qingqiu nods; better run away from this field and from what happened. He turns to the ghost to salute her. "Thank you for your help."
"Anytime!" the ghost salutes back with a cute smile. Then she looks in Liu Qingge's direction "I just wished I could help a little bit more."
Shen Qingqiu turns his head in the same direction and openly sighs. "Me too, Meimei, but I am a persistent person"