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Fate Line. A Crescent Moon. A Swallow

Chapter Text

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 .

The plan?

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."

Maiden's Ignorance?

"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.

"Liu-shidi..."

"No."

"You are the closest person to me at the moment!"

"Absolutely not."

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?"

"No!"

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"

Chapter Text

In the end, due to the delay caused by the visit to the Maiden Ghost and Liu Qingge's unwillingness to push the horses too much, they don't reach the village by sunset, but once the moon is high in the sky.

The next day they gather all the information they can about the situation at hand: for a little over a month now, a lot of the people, using the rivers to travel and fish, have spotted dark figures in the water and four people have been attacked. One died.

A visit to the survivors of the attack doesn't reveal much more -everyone is already sure it's water ghouls and, from the description they gave, Shen Qingqiu has to agree. If their descriptions are objective and they are not just convincing themselves that what they saw was that exact creature.

The most important piece of information they find is that the attacks only happened in the nearby lake, the Thousand Cold Flames Lake that Shen Qingqiu heard about before. The lake is encircled by a thick forest and high mountains, making the river the only way to reach it.

After the investigation, Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge borrow a boat from a local fisherman and sail for the lake.

Of course, Shen Qingqiu has no intention of even touching the paddle, leaving the manual labor to his more suited companion.

If it wasn't for Liu Qingge paddling like he's trying to stab the water and resisting any attempt from Shen Qingqiu to try and relax, it could be a very enjoyable trip.

It could have been romantic!

The two of them alone on a slow moving boat, sitting close, enjoying each other's company… Another perfect scenario simply wasted!

He must still feel aggravated for the flower incident. I should be the one aggravated! He has barely looked at me today!

Shen Qingqiu, however, has been ogling openly at the man at the other hand of the small boat. The warm light of the sunset gives him a soft golden glow and makes absolute wonders to that handsome face, making it even more handsome.

Really, Airplane Bro you could have not given such a look to someone slightly more easy to deal with?

Liu Qingge seems to be unable to deal with the staring anymore and sends a look in Shen Qingqiu's direction.

Shen Qingqiu simply smiles, innocently.


The ghouls don't seem interested in the boat that entered their (supposedly) territory; the sun sets behind the mountains and the moon rises without anything happening..

The reflection of the stars above paints the surface of the lake with thousands of small lights that seem even more luminous due to the pitch black darkness of the forest and the mountains around. It’s not hard to understand why the lake got its name.

There must be dozens of lakes like this in this world, there were probably in Shen Yuan's world too but he never paid too much attention. It's really a sight to behold.

Shen Qingqiu is suddenly glad he decided to travel and explore the world.

He sneaks a look at Liu Qingge who is again refusing to look in his direction. He is still glad he is not alone.

Shen Qingqiu kneels on the boat and leans over to the water to get a better look at the lights.

Two eyes stare back at him from underwater.

A thin ghastly hand shoots up and grabs SSQ. he nails of the creature find purchase deep into the meat of Shen Qingqiu's left shoulder and the creature pulls the man underwater.

Everything happens too quickly; Shen Qingqiu drinks a mouthful of water and is immediately out of breath. In front of him a pair of glassy and dead eyes, big on a bloated face, stare at him.

Two more creatures swim closer.

The only reason why Shen Qingqiu doesn’t get dragged completely in the water is another pair of hands pulling him in the other direction.

The water ghoul can't hope to compete with the strength of Bai Zhan Lord Peak, unfortunately the creature is not aware of it and tries to hold on; in the end it's Shen Qingqiu who sufferers the most from the brief tug-of-war: the nails that pierced his shoulder cuts even deeper.

However, the relief of being able to breathe is enough to take his mind off from the bolt of pain.

That, and realizing that he is currently in Liu Qingge’s arms with his back pressed against the other’s chest.

He counts to seven before Liu Qingge puts some distance between them and helps him sti up properly.

"We are catching water ghouls and you play with the water? Are you going insane?" Liu Qingge scolds.

Shen Qingqiu has really no way to rebuke the statement; it wasn't exactly the smartest course of action and he paid for it. Thankfully, the wound is deep but not too worrisome; he is honestly more saddened by the state of his robe, now torns apart and bloodied.

"It is not only one ghoul." Shen Qingqiu informs way too smugly for someone who is still out of breath.

Liu Qingge shoots him an annoyed look, but whatever comment he was going to say is put on hold when he spots three pairs of hands grabbing the edge of the left side of the boat.

A clean swipe of Cheng Luan takes care of the three ghouls easily enough.

Too easily.

A sudden force pushes the boat from the right side, almost toppling it. Shen Qingqiu unsheathes Xiu Ya and mounts his sword in one fluid movement, hovering in the air just out of reach.

Liu Qingge on the other hand has a different idea and jumps into the water without hesitation.

He just scolded me for playing with the water and he is gone fishing for ghouls ?!

A shrieking pale and bloated creature is thrown into the boat about twenty seconds later.

The boat stops rocking when another ghoul is added to the pile.

With the boat once again stable, Shen Qingqiu dismounts the sword and suppresses the two ghouls easily.

A third ghoul is thrown into the boat a minute later.

Five minutes later, once all the creatures are accounted for, Liu Qingge swims back to the boat. When Shen Qingqiu sees him put one hand on the edge, ready to haul himself back up, he moves slightly away from that side

"..." Liu Qingge stops his movements, sending a curious and partially offended look in Shen Qingqiu's direction

"Last time you were in the water you dragged me with you." Shen Qingqiu explains unfazed as he sit down on his side of the boat. He realizes only too late that speaking of the Succubus incident may not be a good idea.

Liu Qingge doesn't seem to get angry or embarrassed, keeping a very neutral expression. "You pushed me. You got what you deserved."

Shen Qingqiu wants to reply 'I helped you', but knowing what he knows he bites back that answer. Poor Liu Qingge must have considered him just cruel back then.

With a smooth movement, Liu Qingge jumps back into the boat but he wears an unsatisfied look on his face.

This is not the kind of battle that the Lord of Bai Zhan Peak can even consider worthy of his time. Yes, Liu Qingge still got the chance to beat up some ghouls, but how can that be enough? If he had to face a hundred ghouls maybe...

Shen Qingqiu knows it, and knows that he is here only because Shen Qingqiu asked to take care of this problem.

It's a heartwarming thought.

Liu Qingge kneels next to Shen Qingqiu, taking bandages and medicine from a qiankun pouch. "Your shoulder."

Shen Qingqiu obediently slides down the side of his robes revealing three deep gashes on his shoulder. Also revealing more skin than necessary, exposing the left side of his chest.

Oops.

Shen Qingqiu watches as Liu Qingge’s eyes automatically follow the movement of the robe, catching a glimpse of his pale chest. Shen Qingqiu also watches as Liu Qingge restrain his gaze almost immediately, fixing his attention on the wound. The displeasure on Liu Qingge's face at the sight of the wound is clear as day, even in the small light.

Silently, Liu Qingge applies the medicine and the bandage; he may not have the same level of expertise of Mu Qingfang but he is clearly used to tending wounds. His own, most likely.

"This is when you tell me to come back to the Mountain." Shen Qingqiu says gently before Liu Qingge can even open his mouth. "You ask it at least once a day"

"And you say no every time."

"You could go back, but you keep following me."

"You stopped trying to send me away."

So you noticed! How nice of you. Did you also notice my attempt to seduce you in the past two months?

"Of course I did." Shen Qingqiu says, "I do enjoy your company, Liu-shidi."

Liu Qingge's brow furrows, his eyes stay fixed on the bandage, but his movements halts for a second. "Do you?"

He sounds so wary that Shen Qingqiu wants to smack him with his fan. Instead he uses the fan to raise Liu Qingge's chin so they can look eye to eye.

"Yes." Best to keep things simple, no risk for twisting or misunderstanding.

Ah, forget it. He would not get the hint even like this.

He leans forward, slowly repeating "Yes."

Liu Qingge stares at him, not moving, not stopping him. Waiting.

There are still water drops in his eyelashes, Shen Qingqiu notices getting closer.

No, wait, wait! I am not ready! Not ready! I can’t do this!

Changing his mind at the last second, Shen Qingqiu's lips find the corner of Liu Qingge's mouth.

Liu Qingge grabs Shen Qingqiu's good shoulder and pushes him away. Shen Qingqiu doesn't know what to make of the look on his face; he is still clearly wary but there is something else there...it’s gone too soon for Shen Qingqiu to decipher it.

They look at each other for a long moment.

"Now we are even." Shen Qingqiu blurts out, straightening his back and putting some more distance between them. "You kissed me, I kissed you. We are even, stop thinking of the wine incident."

"Why would I be thinking about that?." Liu Qingge shakes his head and moves back to the other side of the boat to grab the paddle. “Let’s go find a place to start a fire and dry.”

I know you are!

...I hope you are? I really really don't want to have misunderstood the Succubus incident.

It took me so long to figure it out, surely...

...I am not as dumb as every other character made by Airplane bro, right?

 

Chapter Text

So, the plan.

The plan has gone to hell.

Between the wine incident and the water incident (how many fucking incident can they have anyway? and why is it always because they almost kissed?) Liu Qingge's endurance of Shen Qingqiu's terrible seducing attempts has reached an historical low.

Not that Shen Qingqiu knows what he is doing. He has never seduced anyone and the only reason why he tried with Liu Qingge was the advantage of the other party already showing interest.

Where is that interest gone, then?

It was supposed to be easy!

Show Liu Qingge that the interest is mutual and gain the best protection possible against a demon lord.

Instead, the more Shen Qingqiu is obvious, the more Liu Qingge ignores him.

And it's...frustrating.

Because Shen Qingqiu likes the guy.

Since the stupid wine incident he has this notion in his brain that he really, really wants to kiss Liu Qingge.

Who knows where that thought came from.

Yes, of course he was always aware that seduction would lead to something physical, but...one thing is to accept it, one thing is to want it.

One thing is to prepare mentally to do what is necessary to ensure his safety, even if he never, not even once in his life, thought about men in that way.

One thing is to stand in front of the doors of the rooms they rented for the night and feel the impulse to reach out for the other man and kiss him goodnight.

Why are they even renting two rooms still?

The only time Shen Qingqiu has tried to suggest they stop wasting Yue Qingyuan’'s money, Liu Qingge shut the idea down faster than he can slay a demon.

Heartless!

So, the plan backfired and is not working.

At this point, Shen Qingqiu is pretty sure Liu Qingge would kill him on the spot if he tries to do anything more than giving a suggestive look.

Yet...

Yet Liu Qingge stays by his side and life goes on like that.

 


 

Another month, another village; the roads are clean and full of people,children happily play and run around, the air carries the scent of the various food sold on the stalls by the streets' corners.

It's a nice village, the buildings are simple but just looking at them gives one a welcoming feeling.

"Drink a cup of tea and let the leaves tell your fortune!" a man calls trying to catch the passerby's attention.

He catches Shen Qingqiu's ears, for sure.

At this point...a little bit of guidance can't hurt.

Shen Qingqiu tries very sneakily to change course and get closer to where the voice comes from. Liu Qingge follows, either none the wiser or simply not caring.

A man is standing in front of the open door of what looks like a very small shop gesturing for people to come inside. By the simple brown clothes he is wearing he is not very well off, but he has a friendly face with small eyes that doesn't set any alarm bells in Shen Qingqiu's mind.

"Ah, Young Masters! Would you like to have a cup of tea?" The man smiles even more once he realizes someone is interested.

"You can really read fortune from tea? I know it's not an easy art to master." Shen Qingqiu asks stopping in front of the man.

"Of course, of course! It's an honorable tradition of my family." the man smiles even more. "We have been mastering it for generations."

"And you go around selling it like this?" Liu Qingge asks, looking inside the empty room. The look, Shen Qingqiu knows, it's not a judgmental one; he is only checking for anything strange about the place.

"What else am I supposed to do?" the man frowns confused. "It's a decent living. I still sell tea, mind you."

Shen Qingqiu waves his fan to quickly stop the conversation before it can turn sour. "Would you be free for a reading, then?"

The man smiles once again, his small eyes shining. "Of course, of course! Young Masters come in!"

The man gets inside the room, Shen Qingqiu has one foot inside the threshold of the room when Liu Qingge's voice comes from behind him. "Are we doing this again?"

Shen Qingqiu turns. "We? I clearly remember being the only one having his fortune read last time. Unless you want to join me, this time?"

Liu Qingge's scorn is a loud answer. "It's rubbish anyway. Not wasting my time."

"Well, I think this man is honest." Shen Qingqiu says, "It can't hurt and we don't have anything better to do. Are you coming?"

After a moment of hesitation, Liu Qingge states "...I am."

"Are you going to behave? Absolutely no breaking tables, Liu-shidi."

The 'it was one time' is well clear on Liu Qingge's face. He doesn't dignify Shen Qingqiu of a response before entering the room.

The place is small, just one room with three low tables and no second floor. The only source of light is the open front door, the smell of incense is strong but not overwhelming.

"Have you ever had your fortune read with tea leaves?" The man asks amicably.

"I didn't have the occasion," Shen Qingqiu answers as amicably.

In his world, Shen Yuan didn't even believe in any kind of fortune reading. He doesn't say it, of course.

This is a different place, he knows divination is effective.It all depends on who is reading the fortune. Even if the man really can’t read tea leaves it will still be an interesting experience.

The man's eyes light up even more. "Oh, what a honor, what a honor! Let me show you, then!"

With gentle shoves, the man helps them take a seat at one of the tables. Then he disappears behind a door, probably to go and get the necessary.

"He's scamming you out of your money." Liu Qingge informs.

"I thought you would worry I would get accidentally poisoned again." Shen Qingqiu jokes lightly.

Liu Qingge's jaw clenches and Shen Qingqiu regrets his words.

It doesn't matter if Liu Qingge is thinking about the Without A Cure or the wine incident -both are really not pleasant memories and, worse, it only helps remind Liu Qingge what a walking disaster Shen Qingqiu can be.

"Anyway, I don't think it's dangerous: he would not keep the shop open if people got sick after being here."

"And you thought this before or after entering?"

"Before, of course."

Liu Qingge doesn’t seem to believe that, but doesn’t add anything else.

The fortune teller comes back with a tray with a teapot, two small white teacups and a square pot containing the tea leaves.

“Here we are.” The man smiles again and arranges the table. He puts the leaves in the cup and pour the hot water in it. “It’s best when the cup is a light color, less chance for misunderstanding the leaves this way.”

Shen Qingqiu nods while Liu Qingge declines the cup offered to him.

The man doesn’t stop smiling. “Now you just drink and enjoy your tea, Young Master; when there is a spoonful of liquid left you need to turn the cup three times to mix the leaves, then inverts it on the saucer.”

It seems like a waste of tea, but instructions are instructions so Shen Qinqiu nods.

“Since I am the one doing the reading you will have to tell me the question you are asking.” The man offers the small cup to Shen Qingqiu. "While you drink, think about your question, focus on it."

Shen Qingqiu takes the cup with a bow and thinks about what question he wants to be answered. He sneaks a look at Liu Qingge, who is watching with absolutely zero interest.

The first question that comes to his mind is so so so stupid that Shen Qingqiu would do better asking it while picking petals from a flower one by one.

No, no, this is about the plan, not about the man.

Will my plan be successful? “Will I achieve the result I'm pursuing?”

There, that has nothing to do with the man sitting on his left.

Shen Qingqiu raises the cup to his lips and he has never been so self-conscious about drinking in his whole life; his movements are precise and he knows he is overthinking it, but he doesn't want to accidentally remind Liu Qingge of the wine incident.

The tea is fragrant but terribly bland and the lack of taste makes his heart ache for Qing Jing Peak. For the first time he realizes for how long he has been away from the place that has become his home and how much he misses it.

Shen Qingqiu looks again at Liu Qingge; they both have been away for four months at this point. Nothing out of the ordinary for the Bai Zhan Peak Lord, but he has not gone back as usual either.

He really decided to stay by his side...

Right, the question! He needs to focus on the question!

When there is a spoonful of liquid left, as instructed, Shen Qingqiu moves the cup with his hands three times, making the liquid inside swirl gently, then he inverts the cup on the saucer.

The minute that passes before the man takes the cup back is filled with awkward silence.

"Mmm." the man inverts the cup once again and takes a look at the disposition of the tea leaves inside.

Shen Qingqiu leans to take a look as well; what he sees is a shapeless mass of wet tea leaves stuck around the white porcelain.

"Mmm." the man says with the addition of a small nod.

The man's expression is as impossible to read as the bunch of tea leaves are; he is not smiling but he just seems focused on making an interpretation.

Shen Qingqiu can't tell if the interpretation is good or bad.

He sneaks a look at Liu Qingge who, exactly as last time, is doing a poor job of conceal his curiosity.

"It seems...ah, yes yes without a doubt." The man nods again, satisfied. "You are very lucky, my friend! I never saw so many good signs in a cup! The moon is very clear, no doubts you will be successful! The fate line suggests that you will need to travel to reach your goal, so be patient. I also see a sword on the rim, you will face an argument with your loved one very soon, however I wouldn't worry too much, this is clearly a horseshoe, you chose a good companion that will not leave after the argument."

"..."

Who asked about loved ones and companions?!

"As long as I am successful..." Shen Qingqiu clears his throat and doesn't look at Liu Qingge.

He still feels Liu Qingge's eyes on him, judging him.

"Oh yes yes you will!" the man smiles once again. "Really, what a good luck young master! Fear not, what you are pursuing is in your reach!"

Yes it's sitting to my left, definitely in my reach and yet distant as if he never left Bai Zhan Peak.

When Shen Qingqiu finishes that thought he realizes his eyes found Liu Qingge and that the other is looking back at him, in his eyes the same intensity shown the morning in the flower field.

Shen Qingqiu is rooted on the spot by that look and at the same time he wants to hide from it. The best thing he can do is hide his blushing face behind the fan.

"Good man I must thank you." Shen Qingqiu finally snaps out of his embarrassment. "I was really worried lately, you put my mind at ease."

"You can trust me, young master, I never read a cup wrong in my life!'' The man's voice is full of pride as he grabs Shen Qingqiu's free hand and squeezes.

Liu Qingge stands up and leaves.

Shen Qingqiu sighs and stands up as well. He leaves more than enough coins for the man’s service


"You should have drank some too." Shen Qingqiu says once they are back in the streets. After the quick stay in the dark room, the sun feels even brighter and he raises his fan to shield his eyes from the light.

"I don't have a question to ask." Liu Qingge says simply. He picks a direction and walks, aimlessly. They have been doing this for so long that it's natural. They have nowhere to go.

Sometimes it feels like they are going in circles, all the places looking the same and

"Really? Nothing at all? You were not curious about your love life, you are not curious about your future...what are you curious about?"

"Why are all your fortunes reading about love?"

Liu-shidi you can't really be curious about that!

"I really did not ask about my romantic life. I only wanted to know if I will reach my goal." Shen Qingqiu tries to sound as casual as possible. It's the truth, anyway.

"Then your goal must be romantic." Liu Qingge insists "Do you...intend to court someone?" he asks it like he's pulling out one of his teeth.

What is Shen Qingqiu supposed to answer? If he answers yes Liu Qingge will probably get the wrong idea and start to wonder who the person may be, if he says no the lie will destroy the fragile situation between them.

Shen Qingqiu stalls, searching for the right words, standing still in the street.

In the end, Liu Qingge can't take the silence anymore and hastens his pace. "Nevermind, forget I asked that."

Shen Qingqiu is left behind looking at Liu Qingge's back, wondering if he imagined the self-mocking tone.

Why didn't I simply say 'Yes, you' ?

Why is he not taking all the opportunities that are presenting themselves to him?

The day in the field, the night on the boat...

He had dozens of opportunities and let them all pass.

Why?

Because the plan has gone wrong now and the idea of Liu Qingge rejecting him is too scary?

No, it can’t be that. I’m just...getting used to the idea. It takes time...

"Liu-shidi!" Shen Qingqiu calls back. "Where are you going? Wait for me, will you?"

Chapter Text

The tea leaves said to travel, and so they do.

 

Two weeks later they are in another village. It looks exactly like the dozens and dozens they visited in the months they have been travelling together.

 

The days are getting shorter and colder, but today the weather is still nice enough to allow them to walk around freely and experience the life of the village after the days spent on the road.

They are passing stalls and shops when a sea of colorful fabrics catches Shen Qingqiu's attention. An idea takes form in his head.

Liu Qingge stops too, as soon as he sees the other stop, always aware if Shen Qingqiu is still by his side or not. “What are you doing?”

“Buying a present.” Shen Qingqiu answers, his attention focused on examining a pearl white fabric before dismissing it.

 

The owner of the shop is a woman engaged in a conversation with a customer, hearing this she sends a look in their way, ready to switch her attention to them if needed.

“For whom?” Liu Qingge watches as Shen Qingqiu moves from fabric to fabric. He seems to know exactly what he is looking for because he dismisses most of them very quickly.

 

“Your sister, actually.” Shen Qingqiu walks a step to the right, picking another fabric to examine.

What?” Liu Qingge exclaims. “Why are you buying a present for my sister?!”

Given the reputation of the original Shen Qingqiu, it's no surprise that Liu Qingge's reaction is one of surprise and worry.

 

“Because,” Shen Qingqiu turns to the other with a very accusatory look. “you aren't!”

“What?” Liu Qingge repeats again. "Why would I bu-"

 

"What kind of brother leaves for months and doesn't bring a present back to his little sister?" Shen Qingqiu shakes his head and sighs.

 

He misses his sister so much.

 

“This one, obviously.” Liu Qingge seems to have regained some composure. “She doesn't expect me to either.”

“Very well, then the present will be from me.” Shen Qingqiu picks a new fabric, a pale gray organza and hands it in Liu Qingge's direction. “To apologize for keeping you away for so long.”

“Nobody is 'keeping me away', you are not the only one allowed to leave the Mountain for months.” Liu Qingge picks the fabric because he really doesn't know what else to do. “Qi Qingqi will not let you see her even if you bring a present, so forget whatever...idea you have.”

 

The idea I have right now is to bribe your sister so that she will like me and say nice things about me to you! I am in need of an ally.

Shen Qingqiu picks another fabric of a snowy white color, silky to the touch and puts that in Liu Qingge's arms as well. “I just want to buy her something nice.”

 

“And you are buying her fabrics for a new veil?”

“Why not? I am not familiar with her so personal gifts are not an option.”

 

“This is very personal.” Liu Qingge warns with a stern look.

“Yes, but her veil is also something she uses daily.” Shen Qingqiu keeps picking fabrics and shoving them into the other's arms. “It's a practical gift.”

 

Despite Shen Qingqiu's most noble intentions, Liu Qingge doesn't seem convinced. “If this is an elaborate plan to get a peek of her face…”

“Why would I?” Shen Qingqiu lies with a calm voice. He does want to look at Liu Mingyan, who doesn't in this world? She is a legendary beauty. But right now he needs her to get into her brother's grace. Maybe as a sister-in-law one day she will let him see her face. “I see you everyday.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?”

 

“She is your sister, you two must look very similar.” Shen Qingqiu picks a black organza and raises it to cover the lower half of Liu Qingge's face “Maybe we should start hiding your beauty too, Liu shidi?”

As if Shen Qingqiu didn't notice all the stares Liu Qingge gets by girls when they are in a village! Most of the time the girls end up looking away in fear, but they do look.

And who could blame them?

Liu Qingge's hand closes around the organza and pulls it from Shen Qingqiu's hand. “Stop joking. If you want to buy Mingyan a present do it without mocking me.”

"I wasn't..." Shen Qingqiu frowns. He takes a step closer cornering Liu Qingge to the stall. "Liu Qingge...has nobody ever told you that you are beautiful?"

 

Judging by the way Liu Qingge's ears turn pink, his mouth presses into a thin line and his hand clutches the fabric almost ripping it, the answer is clearly a no.

Really? I know I'm not the first that noticed him. It's kind of strange to tell a man he's beautiful, but there must have been some brave girl in the past!

"Well..." Shen Qingqiu gently pries the organza from Liu Qingge's hands with a candid smile on his face. "I will have to keep reminding you, then."

 

"No you don't have to." Liu Qingge says simply.

 

Shen Qingqiu doesn't push the conversation further, for his own sake.

 

In the end they leave with a moderate sized bundle full of new veils for Liu Mingyan and with the blessing of the shop's owner.


 

They have a sort of routine; when they find a village they stay at an inn and if they happen to hear of any problems around the area, they help in any way they can.

Liu Qingge gets to fight now and then and Shen Qingqiu collects precious information and even samples from all kinds of creatures.

 

When they are on the road they ride their horses until twilight and then they find a place to camp. Liu Qingge usually hunts down something while Shen Qingqiu lights up a fire.

For the success of the plan, the days on the road are better.

So far, Shen Qingqiu convinced Liu Qingge to allow him to comb and style his hair in the morning -not every day of course, but it’s a good bonding exercise and once he even convinced his shidi to comb his hair in return.

With the colder nights they are sitting closer to the fire and closer to each other for warmth -shoulder against shoulder, Without too many eyes around it's simply easier.

It’s all about establishing familiarity and affection through small actions.


 

Without a Cure picks a night that they are camping by the road to flare up; usually it would not be a situation too hard to deal with, but an unfamiliar pain wakes Shen Qingqiu up and for the first seconds he is awake he doesn't know what happened, his sleepy brain only providing the information that he is pain.

 

He jolts awake, groaning in pain and holding his right hand to his chest, where his heart is beating harshly while his body still tries to figure out what's going on.

What he does immediately is crawl on his knees to where he knows Liu Qingge set down when they went to sleep.

 

By the time Shen Qingqiu realizes it's just the poison (and how sad that he is at a point in his life where poison is just poison???), Liu Qingge is already half awake, his senses warning him that something is approaching.

 

“What's wrong?” Liu Qingge asks when he recognized Shen Qingqiu's silhouette in the dark.

“I- it's the poi-”

Shen Qingqiu doesn't need to finish that sentence, Liu Qingge's right hand rests in the center of Shen Qingqiu's back while the left hand finds his wrist in the dark, closes around it, and tugs.

In a fluid movement Shen Qingqiu finds himself lying down next to Liu Qingge, his head resting on the other man's chest while spiritual energy flows from his back. The relief from the pain is immediate and Shen Qingqiu sighs, closing his eyes.

“It's not supposed to be this painful.” Liu Qingge says after some time, definitely awake now. “Did something like this happen while you were travelling alone?”

 

Shen Qingqiu doesn't have the energy to answer and that's the last thing he hears before he falls asleep.

When he wakes up the next morning, a hand is still secured around his wrist while the hand on his back has moved to his waist.

 

It's intimate and comforting.

 

It's shocking.

 

Shen Qingqiu doesn't dare to breathe or move a muscle; he doesn't want to wake up Liu Qingge and ruin the blissful moment just yet.

 

The sky is a very pretty shade of pale blue, the sun is rising somewhere in the east but still has not reached the portion of sky that Shen Qingqiu can see from the tree's canopy.

 

The air is chilly and fresh, the forest around them is waking up slowly with chirps and rusting of bushes.

Even as he experiences it, Shen Qingqiu is aware that this particular moment is impressed in his long term memory.

“How are you feeling?” Liu Qingge asks, his voice low but clear. No trace of sleep in it.

 

Did he stay up all night to keep an eye on me?

 

“...” Shen Qingqiu waits about fifteen seconds; when Liu Qingge doesn't move to throw him away, he answers. “I'm fine. Thank you Liu-shidi.”

“Good.” relief colors Liu Qingge's voice. “We are not in a hurry, you can rest a little bit more. Sleep.”

 

Now the situation is just confusing.

Is Shen Qingqiu just supposed to lay there, pretending this is normal? Pretending that the hand on his waist is not driving him mad?!

Pretending that they are at a point in their (non-existent) relationship to have a moment like this?!

But Shen Qingqiu will not throw away an occasion like this, so he closes his eyes and lets Liu Qingge's heartbeat lull him to sleep again.

 

Except he can't sleep.

Because it looks like Liu Qingge stayed up all night to keep an eye on him.

For his plan, it's really good that Liu Qingge is willing to spend a sleepless night to take care of him.

But in front of such earnest worry and care, Shen Qingqiu can't help but feel bad for coming up with the plan in the first place.


 

It's been almost four months, so when Liu Qingge says “Do you even want to go back to the sect?” Shen Qingqiu is not surprised.

 

Liu Qingge has been trying to bring him back since the first day they started travelling together; but the way he asks the question is different than the usual.

“Of course I want to go back.” Shen Qingqiu says watching the dark clouds on the horizon. They stopped for a break and he is sitting under the cover of a tree; they should reach another village in the afternoon and be able to avoid the rain and sleep with a roof over their heads.

“Are you sure?” Liu Qingge feeds an apple to each of their horses -a job that befell him when it was clear that Shen Qingqiu would spoil both animals if given the chance.

 

“I have a gift to bring back, don't I?” Shen Qingqiu uses that excuse as hard evidence.

Except, Liu Qingge sends him a very not convinced look. “You should bring gifts for your disciples as well. You remember them, don't you? The kids waiting for their Shizun.”

 

“Liu shidi are you implying I neglected my disciples?” Shen Qingqiu asks.

“I am not implying, you are neglecting them.” Liu Qingge is direct and brutal as always. “It's been almost half a year since they last saw you.”

Shen Qingqiu averts his gaze, guilty as charged. “If I am neglecting my disciples, so are you.”

 

Liu Qingge laughs. “That's different, that's how it always worked at Bai Zhan Peak. Your disciples, however, need you. They are not used to being left alone this long.”

There is something different about this conversation; not even once Liu Qingge has mentioned the disciples before, he only ever suggested going back. It was always about Shen Qingqiu or, at best, the two of them.

 

Shen Qingqiu frowns. “Why are you bringing them up now?”

Liu Qingge has a complicated expression on his face, his hand pats his horse's head a couple of times as he stalls for time and finds the right words. “I know the loss of Luo Binghe has been...hard to deal with.”

Wait, wait, wait! Luo BingHe?

 

“But it's not a good excuse to run away.”

Shen Qingqiu blinks, completely taken by surprise by the accusation. “You...think I'm running away?”

 

“I am not the only one.” Liu Qingge informs simply.

Shen Qingqiu doesn't have to ask who else, he already knows the answer. Who else would care enough about him to misunderstand his wanderlust in such a way?

 

Liu Qingge knows that there is no need to name names. “He's worried. Even Qi Qingqi is worried about you.”

“But…” Shen Qingqiu frowns. “I am just travelling.”

 

“Are you?” Liu Qingge's question is genuine. He gives Shen Qingqiu's horse a pat on the head too, a gentler one.

“You have been with me for four months, what do you think?”

“I don't know what to think when it comes to you.” Liu Qingge admits looking at Shen Qingqiu.

Looking at Shen Qingqiu like he's trying to figure him out right here right now.

 

The honesty of the answer paired with that looks makes Shen Qingqiu shiver.

 

“You changed so much in the last years…” Liu Qingge shakes his head -they already had this conversation. “We can't really tell what's going on. Luo Binghe died and you are travelling far and wide, barely showing your face at Qing Jing Peak.”

Shen Qingqiu stands up and pats his robes to dust them off. He takes a deep breath and stares at Liu Qingge. "Did Zhangmen-shixiong send you to keep an eye on me?"

 

Liu Qingge silence is enough of an answer and Shen Qingqiu feels his heart become a heavy stone in his chest.

 

And I thought you wanted to spend time with me…

"What is he afraid I would do? Follow BingHe in the Abyss? Wander until my soul dissipates?" Shen Qingqiu is angry. Angry at Yue Qingyuan for not giving him the benefit of the doubt. Angry at Liu Qingge for being by his side only because someone else asked. "Wait until you would not find my absence strange anymore and let myself die?!"

ow did you end up thinking I would kill myself! I'm doing everything I can to avoid it! Once was enough, thank you very much.

“It doesn't matter.” Shen Qingqiu cuts his own rambling off. “Just go back and tell our shixiong that I am perfectly fine. I will come back before mid-autumn.”

 

“Tell him yourself. I am not your messenger.”

"You are not my guardian either."

 

Shen Qingqiu approaches his horse. He is done with this conversation and the clear lack of trust his martial brothers displayed. He was actually planning to go back: he wanted to enjoy a day or two in town and then wake up Liu Qingge early one morning and ask him to bring him back to the Mountain using the best puppy eyes he could muster.

Then Liu Qingge would have been happy and pleased with him, they would have spent the way back in a more relaxed fashion and Shen Qingqiu was planning to go back to teasing.

Well, fuck the plan. It wasn't working anyway and it only made him more confused about what he feels..

 

Maybe Liu-shidi is right and I should not listen to fortune tellers so much.

Shen Qingqiu retrieves a package wrapped in soft fabric and presents it to Liu Qingge, keeping his hands on either side of it. “Give this to your sister.”

 

Liu Qingge grabs Shen Qingqiu's hands to stop him. “Come back with me and give it yourself.”

 

Shen Qingqiu frees his hands from Liu Qingge's grasp and presents the package again. “It's better if you precede me and put in a good word for me and excuse my behaviour.” Shen Qingqiu tries to not sound too annoyed. He fails.

This time Liu Qingge accepts it with a thoughtful expression. "I thought you enjoyed my company."

 

"I do." Shen Qingqiu says. This time it's his hands that rests on Liu Qingge's. "I do."

 

An echo of a conversation happened not too long ago, under a starry sky and in the darkness of the night.

 

This time Shen Qingqiu doesn't have the urge to kiss Liu Qingge. He would rather smack him in the head with his fan and leave in the most diva fashion.

But even he knows that it would be too OOC.

Liu Qingge stares at Shen Qingqiu for a long moment before taking the package. “I'm not staying if you don't want me to stay.”

 

'You stopped trying to send me away’ - Liu Qingge's words from the same night echoes as well.

 

Liu Qingge is leaving the choice to him, like he has been doing since the first day. And Shen Qingqiu has no doubt that Liu Qingge will comply with whatever decision he makes.

Shen Qingqiu would like to know what Liu Qingge wants, for once. He opens his mouth ready to ask it, but changes his mind.

 

I should have asked him if he enjoyed my company...instead I just assumed he did.

He doesn't think he could deal with a rejection right now. Better be safe, assume the worst and have a conversation later, with a clear mind.

 

Shen Qingqiu gets on his horse. “Please make sure Qi Qingqi knows that the veils are an innocent present.”

Liu Qingge looks at him for a long moment before nodding.

 

Before Shen Qingqiu can get a hold on the reins, Liu Qingge's grab his wrist. “Before mid-autumn.”

 

Shen Qingqiu looks down at the other man and he resists the urge to laugh. Finally Liu Qingge is putting his feet down and giving him an ultimatum!

 

“Before mid-autumn.” Shen Qingqiu answers back with solemnity.

 

They stare at each other a moment longer, then Liu Qingge lets go off the reins and Shen Qingqiu rides away.


 

The absence makes the heart grow fonder -and whoever says that is unfortunately right.

 

A week after they said goodbye, Shen Qingqiu realizes that he got used to having Liu Qingge by his side and that travelling is not that fun alone.

He also realizes he really didn't have to send Liu Qingge away like that. It doesn't help the plan and doesn't help his own feelings.

Or Liu Qingge's feelings.

A week after they said goodbye, Shen Qingqiu makes his way back to the sect.

Chapter Text

The Shizun greeted by his disciples is the perfect image of a well adjusted man who is happy to be back and simply had a relaxing vacation.

He even brings gifts: interesting books, fine brushes, well crafted instruments, sweets and candies.

(He can admit it's only because Liu Qingge suggested it and a part of him wants him to know he didn't forget his disciples.)

The day Shen Qingqiu is back is a cheerful one but, after the conversation with Liu Qingge, he is able to notice that even if his disciples are happy they still move around him with care, as if he would disappear again.

Shen Qingqiu does his best to act naturally, and yet the teary look of Ning YingYing suggests that they think it's only a tough act for them.

Shen Qingqiu pats Ning YingYing heads. "Everything is fine, don't make that face."

 


 

Mu Qingfang comes to visit him for a medical check up the next day. Shen Qingqiu welcomes him and serves him a cup of tea.

"Liu Qingge told me you experienced a flare of the poison with unusual pain?" Mu Qingfang says once formalities are over.

“I did, but it happened only once."

"Did you get in contact with anything strange that impaired your spiritual powers?"

"No..." Shen Qingqiu answers but soon he corrects himself. "Well, there was this wine made with a ghost flower that I drank by accident, but the effects were gone the day after."

Mu Qingfang stares at the other man, not voicing the obvious question of how that exactly happened. "Is there a chance the effects were not cleared?"

"No." Shen Qingqiu replies with confidence. "Liu Qingge checked himself."

"His medical knowledge doesn't go beyond the bare minimum to keep people alive on a battlefield." Mu Qingfang shakes his head placing the tea cup back on the table "Let me check again."

Shen Qingqiu can't do much but let Mu Qingfang conduct a more thorough examination -luckily none of the scary instruments are needed.

"Did the effects disappear on their own?"

"..." Shen Qingqiu really doesn't want to answer truthfully. He can't answer that -it's a matter of honor for him and Liu Qingge. "Yes, they disappear after one day by design."

"There is some obstruction in your spiritual flow, there is a chance the residue reacted with the poison causing you pain. I will need any information you have on the flower"

"Of course. I am sure I can find some books with informations about it." Shen Qingqiu stands up with the intention of looking right now. He is pretty sure that he should have one book mentioning the flower...if not, he can always tell Mu Qingfang what he knows.

Mu Qingfang nods in agreement. "Good. Hopefully Liu Qingge will come back with the herb I asked him before the next flare of the poison -but if it happens come to me."

Shen Qingqiu frowns and stops in his track. "Come back?"

"We received word of an attack so he was sent to take care of it. There are some rare herbs in the region so I asked him to fetch some." Mu Qingfang takes another sip of tea.

Rationally, Shen Qingqiu should focus on the problem at hand: he really doesn't want the poison to hurt on top of making him next to useless, but his mind fixates on a different matter.

A week! Shen Qingqiu is only one week late and Liu Qingge is already gone?

"When did he leave?"

"Three days ago." Mu Qingfang's stare stops him from formulating thoughts such as 'I thought he would wait for me.'

Shen Qingqiu definitely does not think that.

"He should be back in about ten days or so." Mu Qingfang adds.

Shen Qingqiu nods trying to look disinterested in the piece of information and the weird knowing look Mu Qingfang sends in his direction.

They have duties; he is not feeling slightly wronged just because Liu Qingge is doing his job.

Mu Qingfang keeps staring.

 


 

Qi Qingqi’s way to show exactly how much she was worried about him is to drag him and his disciple in another practice hunt.

"If you insist on going down the Mountain at least do something useful." she said -and that's how Shen Qingqiu finds himself walking before the brick of dawn in a meadow following the tracks of a demon beast with his disciples.

The girl approaching him, however, is not Ning YingYing: Shen Qingqiu has to do a double take when he spots Liu Mingyan.

With the sky still dark and the veil covering her whole face, her appearance is completely hidden.

Shen Qingqiu can’t help thinking of a familiar face that can't be too different from the one he can't see.

"Liu Mingyan." Shen Qingqiu's voice betrays none of his surprise to see her or his longing for her brother.

"Shen-shishu." Liu Mingyan's voice is low enough that it will not project too far, keeping the conversation between them. "I wanted to thank you for your gifts."

Shen Qingqiu smiles gently, wishing he knew what exactly Liu Qingge told her. He is perfectly aware of Qi Qingqi keeping her eyes on them. "I hope I did not offend you. I kept your brother away for so long that I thought it was the least I could do."

Nevermind that Liu Qingge and Liu Mingyan are used to not seeing each other very often.

"How could a gift offend me?" Liu Mingyan replies politely. After a moment her tone becomes more serious and uncertain "Shen-shishu I was wondering...did something happen?"

The question takes Shen Qingqiu by surprise and he can't help but look at the disciple with a confused look on his face.

"When brother brought the gift he was..." Liu Mingyan searches for the correct word for a couple of seconds. "He was not in a good mood. He acted as if something was bothering him deeply. When I asked him if something was wrong he did not answer me."

"Ah." Shen Qingqiu says fully aware that he was the one bothering Liu Qingge. Of course he can't tell Liu Mingyan the real reason. "That would be my fault...he was sent to bring me back to the Mountain but I ended up delaying our return for months."

"Sent?" Qi Qingqi approaches them. "Liu Qingge is the one that decided to go and fetch you, as soon as the sect leader showed a sign of concern he volunteered himself and left before we could say anything."

He volunteered?

Why didn't he say so?!?

"Well, even if that's the case...it's still my fault." Shen Qingqiu admits. "I was not very kind to him when we parted."

Shen Qingqiu really wishes he could get a look at Liu Mingyan's face because she is staring at him and he has no idea of what expression she is making.

He still wants to have her on his good side.

For the plan, of course.

"It was simply a misunderstanding." Shen Qingqiu states calmly. "I will clarify with your brother when he will be back. Please, do not be worried about this matter."

"If Shen-shishu says so, I will not." Liu Mingyan bows her head before stepping away to join the rest of Xian Zhu Peak’s disciples

Qi Qingqi stays by Shen Qingqiu's side, giving him a look that somehow reminds him of the way Mu Qingfang looked at him.

Shen Qingqiu can't be bothered to deal with that right now; even if he keeps his calm exterior inside he is screaming a string of long profanities at his shidi.

Volunteered!

And he did not say a thing! I threw a tantrum and he didn't say a word!

“Whatever is going on between you two,” Qi Qingqi says, “you better deal with it. He was insufferable when you weren’t here and it was even worse when he came back.”

“I can assure you that I would have already done it.” Shen Qingqiu wants to sigh. He really didn’t mean to make things so complicated. “As I said, once he is back I will take care of it.”

 


 

Finally -finally- Liu Qingge shows up one evening at the bamboo house, unannounced but followed by a panicked Ming Fan who clearly tried his best to run inside before the Lord of Bai Zhan Peak to announce his arrival. "...Shizun!"

Shen Qingqiu ignores the erratic beat of his heart at the sight of the man in white and gives his disciple a nod. "It's okay Ming Fan, go back to the others."

Ming Fan bows to both Lords and exits the house, leaving the two men alone.

They stare at each other for a long moment, then Liu Qingge says "You came back sooner than I expected."

On his way back to the Mountain, Shen Qingqiu already decided that he was going to be honest and stop his machinations. Then Liu Qingge disappeared so he is not going to waste any time making things right.

For the plan, of course.

"I should have come back with you, it was immature of me to leave that way."

Liu Qingge makes a noise in agreement, but doesn't elaborate on it.

"And I should have not sent you away like that, Liu-shidi." Shen Qingqiu adds. "But it's also your fault, why didn't you tell me it was your idea to keep an eye on me? You let me be angry at you for no reason."

Liu Qingge pretends to fix his sleeves to have an excuse to look away from Shen Qingqiu. "It doesn't matter, it was better to part ways."

No need to ask the reason why. From Liu Qingge's perspective the months spent together must have been an absolutely confusing mess. He probably needed some time to try and figure out what was going on.

"I am sorry." Shen Qingqiu says honestly. "I was a terrible travelling companion."

He can't say 'I am sorry for teasing you and planning to take advantage of your feelings' -so Shen Qingqiu sets for the second best option.

"You were, for the most part." Liu Qingge states, but there is no bite in his tone. It's almost teasing. "But not everything was...that terrible."

The corners of Shen Qingqiu's curve upwards, but he quickly hides the smile and averts his gaze.

It looks like the time spent apart did not put a nail in the coffin of his relationship with his shidi.

"I appreciate the late night visit..." Shen Qingqiu starts with just a hint of ambiguity that he regrets almost immediately. "But you don't do social visits, shidi. Why are you here?"

“I brought back some herbs to Mu Qingfang and he told me to give you this tonic." Liu Qingge retrieves something from his sleeve and tosses it to Shen Qingqiu. "It should clear any remaining residue of the wine."

Shen Qingqiu catches the object easily; it's a small polished jade bottle. "He finished it?" Shen Qingqiu rolls the bottle in his hands, fascinated. Mu Qingfang is really one of the best!

Of course, there is no way Mu Qingfang actually asked Liu Qingge to bring him the tonic, that's something he would have done in person; Shen Qingqiu is sure that Liu Qingge insisted to be the one delivering the tonic just to have an excuse to come and see him.

He doesn't want to antagonize Liu Qingge so he will not unmask his ploy.

“Thank you, Liu-shidi.” Shen Qingqiu raises his gaze to the other man. “But you probably just came back, you could have waited tomorrow morning.”

"Mu Qingfang said the pain of the last flare of the poison was related to the flower, the sooner you get rid of the problem the better."Liu Qingge's voice betrays no emotion, but his eyes that stare back at Shen Qingqiu show a clear hint of worry.

Shen Qingqiu's expression softens at the display of care.

"He thinks the effect wasn't completely cleared and the poison reacted to it." Shen Qingqiu explains as his expression turns serious. "If you had just kissed me properly I would have not been in pain."

He'd like to pat himself on the back for sounding absolutely casual and keeping his calm façade while his heart is a drum in his chest.

Liu Qingge's eyes narrow and after a moment of silence -which Shen Qingqiu decides means he is accepting the blame- he says "You can't blame me. You changed your mind, you asked me not to kiss you."

He did...didn't he?

He panicked! Of course he wasn't ready to be kissed! But that was months ago!

(And he changed his mind again and again...)

"Out of respect for you." Shen Qingqiu lies quickly to save his face. "You were clearly uncomfortable."

"Not for the reason you think." Liu Qingge shakes his head. "You really don't..."

Liu Qingge doesn't end the phrase, frowning and thinking about something. With quick steps he arrives in front of Shen Qingqiu, stopping shy of pressing their bodies together. He grabs the hand holding the bottle.

"I can still kiss you, or you can drink the tonic. Your choice."

Shen Qingqiu doesn't dare to look away from Liu Qingge's eyes, doesn't dare to take a step back and gain his personal space back or free his wrist from Liu Qingge’s hold. He's stunned by the direct approach.

So this is where the separation led them to? To a point where neither of them can keep up the charade anymore? Maybe it really was better to stay away from each other for a while.

The choice is really simple and Shen Qingqiu opens his mouth ready to answer.

"You can't change your mind this time." Liu Qingge adds before the other can answer. "So think about it."

I've been thinking about it for months! Shen Qingqiu pushes down his irritation; Liu Qingge is in front of him displaying his own feelings as openly as he will ever allow himself to do and he can't be insensitive.

He pushes the jade bottle toward Liu Qingge.

That should be a clear answer -it must be, because there is no way he is going to say the words out loud this time.

Liu Qingge stares at the bottle for a moment before bringing his eyes back to Shen Qingqiu. He takes the tonic and puts it back in his sleeve.

He still hesitates and it doesn't take a genius to understand that Liu Qingge is waiting for Shen Qingqiu to change his mind once again, so Shen Qingqiu says "I will not change my mind."

Liu Qingge kisses exactly like one would expect, like it's just another battle to win -he acts with the same fervor and passion- like he needs to conquer.

This is not a battle Shen Qingqiu is remotely interested in fighting; he surrenders as soon as their lips touch.

This is what he wants, why should he fight it?

And to his surprise...he doesn't hate it.

He doesn't hate the lips moving against his own, doesn't hate the tongue invading his mouth, doesn't hate the hands on his hips, doesn't hate the feel of the muscular shoulders under his hands, doesn't hate the way their bodies press together.

He doesn't even mind that Liu Qingge is kissing him like this is the only occasion they will ever get and he decided to make the kiss last until they are both dizzy with the lack of oxygen.

He is still thinking how it doesn’t sound such a bad idea to do this for the next couple of years when he hears Liu Qingge’s call his name.

Shen Qingqiu opens his eyes to find Liu Qingge staring at him. The reality of what just happened hits him and he can't help but feel embarrassed. He takes two steps back to put just a little bit of distance between them and quickly looks away from his shidi.

Liu Qingge remains in place, but his hold on Shen Qingqiu's waist loosens as soon as he moves away, letting him go. His voice is tight when he says:"If my affection is unwanted you must tell me now."

"How could it be?“ LGQ affection is exactly what Shen Qingqiu has been pursuing for months, it is the end goal.

Shen Qingqiu looks at Liu Qingge again and pushes aside his embarrassment; his hold on Liu Qingge's shoulder tightens. "Don't tell me my efforts in the past months have gone unnoticed."

"So all of that was on purpose?" Liu Qingge says, a doubt finally resolved. "I wasn't sure you knew what you were doing."

Shen Qingqiu can't really defend himself because it is partially true. "And I wasn’t sure of your affection, or your reaction to mine, I needed to use caution.”

“And you couldn’t just ask me, like I asked you?” Liu Qingge raises an eyebrow. “I would have answered, not like someone else...”

Shen Qingqiu brings a hand to his mouth and fakes a cough. He doesn’t even try to come up with a reasoning for the whole mess he made. He retakes the steps and gets closer to his shidi. “Well,now you asked and I answered -isn’t that enough?”

If Liu Qingge says no Shen Qingqiu is ready to throw away some dignity. They have come this far, he is not letting this matter go.

Liu Qingge’s hands find their place again on Shen Qingqiu’s hips as he studies the face in front of him. After a long moment of scrutiny he simply says. “Drink the tonic.”

Eh?!? Isn’t a rather abrupt change of subject?

Shen Qingqiu frowns at the words and frowns even more when Liu Qingge presents the jade bottle to him once again.

“You kissed me.” Shen Qingqiu points out. “The effects should be cleared.”

When Shen Qingqiu doesn’t move to take the bottle, Liu Qingge sighs and forcefully puts it in Shen Qingqiu’s right hand. “And I would like to do it again. Do you want to tell Mu Qingfang you didn’t drink the tonic he specifically made for you?”

The consequences of such action would be only worse medicine. “I would never be this ingrate.”

And so Shen Qingqiu drinks the tonic, fully aware that at this point it’s absolutely useless and meaningless to do so.

The taste is strong and incredibly bitter, but the kisses he gets afterward are sweet.

The next day, in the late afternoon, Mu Qingfang finally has time to check on Shen Qingqiu. He approaches the bamboo house but stops at the sound of two very familiar voices.

As expected, one of the voices belongs to Shen Qingqiu, who is enthusiastically speaking about demons, lairs and locations. The other voice surprises Mu Qingfang, forcing him to stay put and listen for a while. Liu Qingge offers some clarifications here and there about weaknesses and habits of said demons.

When Liu Qingge basically stole the tonic from him the previous night he didn’t expect to find him still here the next day.

Before any conjectures can take shape in his mind, Mu Qingfang enters the bamboo house.

Inside, Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge are sitting at the table and on the table there are various books and scrolls, most of them opened, showing texts and representation of ghosts and demonic creatures.

“Is this a good time?” Mu Qingfang asks. The two are clearly busy.

“Ah, Mu shidi!” Shen Qingqiu greets in a very good mood. “Of course it’s a good time. We were just discussing the validity of some information in our books. I noticed that some are not precise or just incomplete. It’s really of no use for us. I am thinking of checking some of them personally.”

Mu Qingfang nods -it seems a reasonable thing to do. “Does it mean you intend to go down the Mountain again?”

“The Sect Leader forbade him from leaving until the new year.” Liu Qingge informs casually.

That is, unfortunately, true and Shen Qingqiu has no desire to go against Yue Qingyuan’s directive. He has no desire to travel in the coldest months anyway.

“And after the new year?” Mu Qingfang joins them at the table. He adds another book to the pile, the one that Shen Qingqiu lent him with the information about the ghost flower.

“I will go gather informations.” Shen Qingqiu answers with confidence.

“So you are going down the Mountain.” Mu Qingfang points out. “It’s a good thing you told me, I can probably make some stronger medicine that can help you with the flare of Without a Cure so that you don’t have to come back.”

“No need.” Liu Qingge interrupts. “I’m going with him.”

Shen Qingqiu sends a look in Liu Qingge direction, hiding his surprise.

In the days he waited for Liu Qingge to come back, Shen Qingqiu came up with the idea but he only had the opportunity to share with Liu Qingge his plan in the morning. There was no discussion about doing this together, and yet Liu Qingge took the initiative to invite himself to the expedition.

It’s a nice feeling.

Mu Qingfang and Liu Qingge look at each other in silence. A whole conversation seems to take place in the span of a couple of seconds.

Mu Qingfang can’t stop the conjectures anymore.

“That’s good.” Mu Qingfang concedes. “Did you deliver the tonic like I asked you, yesterday?”

“He did.” Shen Qingqiu replies. “I am impressed with Mu shidi’s efficiency as always, I didn’t expect you to be able to make it so quickly.”

“Let’s see if it worked first.” Mu Qingfang rejects the praise calmly.

It’s an awkward predicament; Shen Qingqiu is aware that checking is only a waste of Mu Qingfang’s time, but he can’t tell him why.

Of course the results are that there are no more residues of the wine.

Shen Qingqiu almost smacks Liu Qingge on the head with his fan when Liu Qingge has the audacity to look satisfied at Mu Qingfang’s diagnosis.

What are you looking smug about! It took you months to kiss me!

“Please,” Mu Qingfang says standing up and smoothing any crease on his clothes. “When you go down the mountain don’t drink or eat anything you are not completely sure it’s safe.”

“...”

Is he a child that needs parental supervision now?!?

“It was a mistake of the waitress, it’s not his fault.” Liu Qingge comes to the rescue. “It was supposed to be a normal wine.”

“Still, be careful.” Mu Qingfang advises. “I’ll take my leave now.”

Shen Qingqiu stands up as well. “I’ll see you out.”

“No need.” Mu Qingfang raises his hand to stop him. “You two are busy and I am as well.”

Like that, Shen Qingqiu and Liu Qingge are once again alone in the bamboo house. Shen Qingqiu sighs in relief now that the wine situation is completely dealt with and he will not have to lie to his doctor again.

Really, he doesn’t want to get on Mu Qingfang’s bad side.

“I thought I was a bad travelling companion.” Shen Qingqiu says sitting down again and casually picking a scroll to read. “And now you want to travel with me again?”

“I figured you can’t get worse.” Liu Qingge replies. “And you almost did drown hunting water ghouls. You’ll need help.”

Ignoring the jab at his pride, Shen Qingqiu keeps reading the scroll. “So it’s not an excuse to spend time with me?”

“Do I need one?” Liu Qingge asks seriously. Testing the boundaries of the new situation between them.

“If you want to accompany me just say so. I told you, I do enjoy your company.”

A firm hand curls around his jaw and Shen Qingqiu easily follows when his head is gently turned to the side, coming face to face with Liu Qingge.

“And I enjoy yours.”

It’s an encore of the moment on the boat, with the difference that neither of them change their mind at the last second.

 


 

The air is still cold and the sky is still covered in clouds; yet Shen Qingqiu still enjoys the cup of tea he is sharing with Shang Qinghua outside the tea house.

"Careful with those crates!" Shang Qinghua calls to his disciples. "You don't want to make another trip, do you?"

The disciples of An Ding Peak are unloading a cargo on a cart, while the two Peak Lords keep a watchful eye.

At least Shang Qinghua is; Shen Qingqiu just tagged along since he was supposed to get down the Mountain anyway and he is more interested in the clear satisfaction that Shang Qinghua feels in not being the one doing the heavy work.

Perks of being a Peak Lord.

"How long are you intending to stay away this time?" Shang Qinghua moves his attention to his companion.

"I am not sure." Shen Qingqiu replies. "A couple of months minimum. There is still time before Luo Binghe comes back and I want to make the most out of it."

Shang Qinghua pats Shen Qingqiu on the shoulder. "You have a great escape plan, Cucumber Bro, you will be fine -don't talk like you are a dead man walking!"

"Easy for you to say! You are not the one facing possible torture and death in the future." Shen Qingqiu takes a sip of his tea.

"I am not the one going on a honeymoon paid by their shixiong either." Shang Qinghua adds innocently and with just a little bit of envy.

"What honeymoon!" Shen Qingqiu exclaims, horrified. He is not going on a honeymoon with anyone! He is not even married! And he will not marry anyone!

"You can hide from the others but not from me!" Shang Qinghua points his finger at Shen Qingqiu's face. "I am practically Liu Qingge's father! I know him better than anyone else and the way he has been acting around you is crystal clear!"

Shen Qingqiu chokes on the tea. "Please, never say that you are Liu Qingge's father ever again. That's terrifying!"

Shang Qinghua sits there waiting for Shen Qingqiu to regain his composure. "So you don't deny it?"

"What is there to deny?!" Shen Qingqiu pats his chest trying to clear his lungs from the tea. "It's not true!"

"You should have asked for my permission first." Shang Qinghua shakes his head clearly disappointed. "You can't just start shagging my characters without telling me."

"Airplane bro...stop.."

"I'll stop if you stop denying the truth. Cucumber bro, it's really flattering that you fell for one of my characters, why are you so nervous?"

Maybe because you keep reminding me that he is a fictional creation ?!? I don't need to focus on that right now!

"I will not judge your preferences." Shang Qinghua continues with a comforting tone. "As long as you make him happy and you are not just using him because he's the only one that can fight against Luo Binghe..."

Shen Qingqiu starts to nervously laugh. "That's...silly, why would I...why would you think that?"

Fuck! How can Airplane bro call me out like that ?!

"Why would I not think that?" Shang Qinghua retorts. "Writing is all about coming up with thousands of ideas and then carefully picking only those that work together. Do you know how many ideas I had to scrap? Of course I thought that Shen Qingqiu could take advantage of Liu Qingge’s feelings to protect himself from Luo Binghe. I scrapped that idea because gay coding the villain was going to only bring me problems with the fanbase."

At the words 'gay coding', Shen Qingqiu's mind goes blank. Does Airplane Bro means that...that what he did was actually IC ?!

There must be a reason why the System chose this role for him, but Shen Qingqiu never expected to share this much with the original creaton.

"I am not...It's not like that…”

As Shen Qingqiu tries to come up with an excuse, he spots Liu Qingge approaching the tea house. He holds the reins of two horses saddled and ready for the journey ahead.

“Not anymore, okay?” Shen Qingqiu can’t take his eyes off Liu Qingge. “I did want to, I had this whole plan, but…”

Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t go as far as saying that he would rather follow the original Shen Qingqiu’s destiny than seeing Liu Qingge at Luo Binghe’s mercy, but he surely wouldn’t shamelessly use him as shield anymore.

“I guess the plan worked too well?” Shang Qinghua offers, sounding way too smug for someone in punching distance.

“Yes.” Shen Qingqiu admits, but there is no trace of regret in his voice.

“..." Shang Qinghua ponders for a moment. "So you admit you like him."

It's really a lost battle with Airplane bro.

"Who is it that you like?"

Both Shang Qinghua and Shen Qingqiu shut their mouths and turn their attention to the source of the voice.

Liu Qingge is standing in front of the tea house, looking at them with a blank expression.

"No one!" Shen Qingqiu quickly stands up and approaches his shidi. He is confident Liu Qingge would not appreciate him gossiping about their relationship with someone else. Not yet at least.

Of course Liu Qingge is aware of the lie, but decides to not push the matter. He still gives Shen Qingqiu a poignant look to let him know that he is not fooled.

“If you are ready we can go."

"Please." Shen Qingqiu says in a whisper. Anything to escape the conversation with Airplane Bro.

Liu Qingge hands one of the reins to Shen Qingqiu and gives Shang Qinghua a questioning look, but Shang Qinghua simply waves a hand. “Stay safe.”

“We will!” Shen Qingqiu answers back. He almost grabs Liu Qingge’s sleeve to drag him away as fast as they can.

It’s only when they are alone on the road, the nearest house long gone behind them, that Liu Qingge asks: “What’s wrong?”

Of course, Shen Qingqiu can’t tell the truth, but luckily he has been improvising since he arrived in this world and he is quickly to come up with something. “Nothing. I was just thinking that we should pay a visit to that fortune teller. He was shockingly accurate in his prediction.”