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Being a cannon fodder character kind of sucked.

 

At least in Shang Qinghua's opinion.

 

Sure, he'd survived the main plot, and sure, maybe it was nice that he'd managed to stay alive through this time.

 

But still, being cannon fodder sucked.

 

Seriously, why couldn't he have transmigrated into the protagonist or something? Even the previous scum villain ended up having a better life than him. Why did this damn System send him to this worthless Shang Qinghua's body, ah?

 

Ah... at least the good-for-nothing System was quiet now. He hadn't heard from it in a long time, which was good.

 

But, alas. Still being alive meant still being head of An Ding Peak and retainer of the Northern Kingdom.

 

Honestly, he wasn't sure which was worse.

 

With An Ding being the peak of logistics and paperwork, there was never a moment for Shang Qinghua to really... relax.

 

After finishing a stack of papers, he'd turn around and find double the stack just a few seconds later. It was tiring, thankless work.

 

And the Northern Kingdom...

 

With Mobei-Jun finally gaining his full powers, it meant Shang Qinghua now had to fend off marriage proposals left and right, from various clans he'd never even heard of. He certainly didn't remembering writing about tree demons. When he asked the System about them, all he got was radio silence. Tch, who needed that damn thing anyway?

 

Either way, hundreds of letters would flock to Shang Qinghua nearly every day, all seeking to become Mobei-Jun's consort, wanting to spread their greedy hands over the Northern Kingdom and have its power for themselves.

 

But not on Shang Qinghua's watch! After the first few hundred letters, he got the hang of penning down rejections, scribbling down reasons why they were unfit before sealing it with the Mobei Clan's sigil and sending it off.

 

Of course, he wouldn't do any of this without his king's permission, but when he brought up the first few letters he'd gotten, Mobei-Jun had gotten a rather unsavory look on his face before brushing it off.

 

"You deal with it," he'd said, and Shang Qinghua had taken that to mean deny them all. It was rather fun, actually. Who did they think they were, anyway? Shang Qinghua wouldn't let any old demoness marry his favorite character!

 

Okay, if he was being honest, he was a bit selfish, too. Obviously, Mobei-Jun would have to get married eventually - for an heir - but Shang Qinghua...

 

Well, if Shang Qinghua was being honest, he wanted to stall that date to the far, far future.

 

Don't blame him, okay! He just knew that once a wife entered the scene, Shang Qinghua would get pushed to the side before eventually becoming forgotten.

 

Ah, who knew? The future consort could even kick him out! And where would he go after that? Sure, he could return to An Ding full time, but somehow... that future seemed very bleak.

 

Shang Qinghua chewed on his bottom lip, playing with his brush as he stared at the letter in front of him. Ah, daydreaming would get no work done. He dipped his brush in ink, shuffling around a few pages just as a portal opened directly in his room. Mobei-Jun stepped out, looking regal as always, and holding a...

 

Ah?!

 

"My king!" he exclaimed, his eyes darting from his face to the steaming bowl in his hands. "What-?"

 

"Noodles," Mobei-Jun interrupted, a faint scowl on his face. And was that...?

 

"My king," Shang Qinghua started, swallowing. "You have a little, um," he reached hesitantly to Mobei-Jun's face, seeing a smidge of flour on one of his cheeks. But before he could, his wrist was caught by Mobei-Jun.

 

"What are you doing," he asked flatly, bright blue eyes searching Shang Qinghua, who flushed.

 

"Ah, ah, very sorry, my king," he scrambled to say, retreating his hand. "You just have a bit of flour on your cheek. I only intended to wipe it off..." he trailed off.

 

Mobei-Jun frowned, then brushed off the white dust himself. Shang Qinghua dropped his head, staring at his fidgeting hands in awkward silence until he remembered the bowl.

 

"Oh, my king!" he said, eyes widening. "Did you really make these for me?" he asked while leaning closer to the steam rising from the bowl.

 

It smelled...

 

Delicious.

 

"En," Mobei-Jun affirmed after a beat, then crossed his arms. "Eat."

 

"O-oh," Shang Qinghua stammered. "Right now?"

 

Mobei-Jun nodded.

 

"Okay," Shang Qinghua agreed, then hesitantly reached for the chopsticks hanging from the bowl.

 

It wasn't poisoned, right?!

 

Probably not. Shang Qinghua hadn't done anything to instigate Mobei-Jun's anger, yet...

 

Plus, it smelled heavenly. And Shang Qinghua was really hungry. So he scrunched his eyes closed and took a loud slurp of noodles, but opened his eyes in surprise as he chewed on them.

 

"Wow, my king," he said between bites. "It's- it's really good." And Shang Qinghua wasn't even lying! Sure, it was a little chewy, but overall, the taste was great! Much better than the instant noodles he'd eat so often in his previous life. "Thank you." He reached into the bowl and twirled another bunch of noodles, gobbling them up with gusto. It really was a pleasant change from the usually bland food he ate at An Ding!

 

Mobei-Jun seemed pleased at that - or at least, as pleased as he could look - and without another word, he left Shang Qinghua's room through another portal. He wasn't sure what Mobei-Jun had against doors, but Shang Qinghua didn't mind. He'd gotten used to Mobei-Jun popping in through the portals nearly every day by now.

 

As he continued eating the noodles, he found his thoughts wandering to the icy demon king. He had a cold exterior, for sure, but inside, he really had a good heart. Ah, Shang Qinghua was so lucky to be able to work with the literal man of his dreams. Handsome and caring! Who else would make noodles just for him? And hand-pulled, at that!

 

Just as he was about to take another slurp, he felt something get caught in his throat. He coughed, thinking it was a stray noodle that got stuck, but it seemed like no matter how hard he coughed, it wouldn't come out. But finally, after a few seconds of coughing, something landed on his palm.

 

A small blue flower.

 

What the fuck?!

 

Shang Qinghua stared incredulously at the innocent-looking flower in his hand, feeling the petals with his fingertips and turning it over in his hand.

 

Had it really come from him?

 

System! he screeched internally. What is this?! A plot point, ah?!

 

But the System gave him no answer.

 

Then it must have been something he'd written in Proud Immortal Demon's Way, but...

 

He couldn't remember any mention of anyone... coughing up flowers.

 

But, well. If there was anyone who'd remember something like that, it was his fellow transmigrator and biggest fan, Shen Qingqiu.

 

Time to visit the bamboo house, then.


Unfortunately, he arrived just as Luo Binghe was setting lunch for his beloved shizun. Shang Qinghua awkwardly stood in the entrance, watching as the half-demon cooed over Shen Qingqiu, whose face was flushed prettily. After a while, Shang Qinghua rolled his eyes and cleared his throat, unable to watch it any longer.

 

Instantly, Luo Binghe turned from doting husband to a menacing demon lord, and Shang Qinghua winced under his glare. If glares could kill, Shang Qinghua would be very, very dead by now.

 

"Binghe," Shen Qingqiu placated, placing a calming hand on Luo Binghe's bicep. "I'm sure this will only take a moment," he said with a cutting glance to Shang Qinghua, and he nodded frantically.

 

Luo Binghe frowned but eventually nodded, crossing his arms and staring at Shang Qinghua.

 

"Eh..." Shang Qinghua started, fidgeting nervously. "Could we have some... privacy?"

 

His gaze instantly darkened, and Shang Qinghua cowered under the full weight of it. He opened his mouth, no doubt to refuse, but Shen Qingqiu interrupted before he could.

 

"Of course. Binghe...?" he said with a raised eyebrow, and Luo Binghe turned to his teacher, sticking out his bottom lip in a pout.

 

"But Shizun..." he tried, but Shen Qingqiu maintained the stare as Luo Binghe drooped. "Alright, Shizun," he agreed after a beat, before glaring at Shang Qinghua on his way out.

 

Shang Qinghua exhaled a sigh of relief, slumping into a nearby chair.

 

"He's really sticky, isn't he," Shang Qinghua remarked, and Shen Qingqiu fluttered his fan in front of his face silently.

 

"Why are you here," he deadpanned, and Shang Qinghua pressed a hand to his chest, feigning pain.

 

"Ah, I'm so hurt, Cucumber-bro!" he wailed dramatically, and Shen Qingqiu scowled.

 

"Don't call me that!" he snapped, waving his fan with more vigor.

 

"Alright, alright, fine," Shang Qinghua agreed, then crossed his arms. "I... may need your help."

 

The corner of Shen Qingqiu's lips pulled into a smirk. "Knew it. What is it, then?"

 

"Have you ever," Shang Qinghua started, trying to compile his thoughts into a coherent question. "Heard of a disease where one... coughs up flowers?"

 

Shen Qingqiu frowned, closing his fan shut with a snap and tapping it against his lips.

 

"Flowers," he muttered to himself, and Shang Qinghua could practically see the wheels turning in his head. "Ah," he said after a beat, snapping his fingers. "That sounds like.... hanahaki disease."

 

Shang Qinghua stared at him blankly.

 

"Hanahaki disease? Huatu bing?" Shen Qingqiu pressed on, then sighed when Shang Qinghua kept staring at him. "It's a... love disease, I guess," he clarified, waving his hand vaguely. "Usually comes from unrequited feelings. Flowers start growing in your lungs until they take over completely and you die. Or something. I don't know. You barely mentioned it in one chapter and dropped it soon after," Shen Qingqiu finished, and Shang Qinghua had to fight the rising horror in his gut.

 

"Ah..." he said lamely. "And, uh, what's the cure? It's not... it's not papapa, right?"

 

Shen Qingqiu pressed his lips together, but eventually shakes his head, to Shang Qinghua's relief. "It's not papapa. The only cure is to have the person you love return your feelings, which is actually a pretty easy cure compared to most of your... other ones."

 

Shang Qinghua's heart dropped.

 

"Are you sure?" he pressed. "That's the only cure?"

 

Shen Qingqiu gave him a look. "Yes, I'm sure. Why are you even asking me?"

 

Shang Qinghua swallowed. "Ah, um. No reason, no reason at all! I just, um. I have to go, bye!" he rushed out, scampering out the house before Shen Qingqiu could call him back.


Shang Qinghua simply can't believe it.

 

It's not true, right?

 

He doesn't have any... unrequited feelings for anyone.

 

Sure, maybe he had a teeny tiny crush on Mobei-Jun. But who didn't, honestly? He was strong, handsome, cool, handsome, and caring! What more could you ask for?

 

...

 

Okay, so maybe it wasn't that tiny of a crush.

 

But still! He wouldn't go as far as to call it love.

 

There was no way.

 

Maybe he'd just... imagined it! Yes, yes, maybe he'd just imagined the small blue flower. That was the only logical explanation, of course. He had not survived Proud Immortal Demon's Way just to be killed by some stupid... flower disease.

 

So he was fine!

 

Nothing to worry about at all.

 

As his feet tapped against the cold surface of the Northern Palace, he couldn't help but shiver at the temperature. Sure, he'd gotten mostly used to the cold, but every time he entered the palace, it took time for his body to adjust again. He wrapped his arms around himself to retain heat, teeth chattering slightly.

 

"Qinghua," someone called, and Shang Qinghua let out a yelp. He turned, meeting Mobei-Jun's eyes.

 

"Y-yes, my king?" he responded, trying to restrain his shivers.

 

"You're cold," he said bluntly.

 

"A-ah, well, only a little bit," Shang Qinghua quickly said. "R-really, I'll adjust soon, it's just-"

 

He was interrupted by Mobei-Jun shrugging off his own heavy cloak before draping it rather gently over Shang Qinghua's shoulders.

 

"My king?" Shang Qinghua asked, blinking with confusion even as his hands moved to clutch the cloak tighter. "What..."

 

"You were cold," the other said simply, and Shang Qinghua's eyes widened, feeling a faint tickle in his throat.

 

"Oh," he swallowed, trying to fight the cough rising in him. "T-thank you."

 

Mobei-Jun simply nodded and left the room. Shang Qinghua instantly clapped a hand over his mouth once he was out of view, quickly pedaling backward to his room. He slammed open the door before closing it as quickly as coughs wracked his body.

 

When he removed his hands from his mouth, he found them filled with cheery blue blossoms.

 

Fuck.


After that, it only got worse. Shang Qinghua would feel petals tickling his throat with just a simple glance at Mobei-Jun, which turned out to be very... inconvenient. Soon, he'd had to keep a bucket next to his desk to hold the petals, and it was filling up much quicker than Shang Qinghua liked. At this rate, he...

 

No, he couldn't think about it.

 

It was probably just a temporary thing! It would probably go away if Shang Qinghua spent some time away from the palace, so after writing a quick note to explain his departure - not the real reason, of course - Shang Qinghua fled to An Ding and spent his time there.

 

It was... strange. He'd gotten used to sleeping in the cold and found himself tossing and turning in the nights under his blankets. But hey, at least his weird flowers had slowed down?

 

It only lasted a week. Shang Qinghua found that staying away from the palace was even worse than being in it because... because, well, he missed Mobei-Jun. And any time his thoughts strayed to the icy king, a new batch of flowers would crawl up Shang Qinghua's throat.

 

So that didn't work.

 

"Where were you?" Mobei-Jun demanded when Shang Qinghua returned, gripping his shoulders. Shang Qinghua squeaked, willing the flowers in his throat to stay down at the sight of Mobei-Jun.

 

"Ah, my king, didn't you read my note?" he managed to get out over the petals. "I had to go to An Ding, for some... paperwork."

 

Mobei-Jun relaxed, accepting the flimsy excuse, but his eyes stayed on Shang Qinghua. It was too much for him to repress, and he couldn't help but cough into his hand.

 

Instantly, Mobei-Jun's eyebrows drew together. "You..." he started, but Shang Qinghua quickly waved it off.

 

"Ah, ah, it's nothing, my king! Just a small cough, really, don't worry about it!" he rushed out before skittering backward. "I really must go to my room now, my king," he called out once he was far enough, then quickly turned the corner and leaned on the wall. He exhaled shakily before unclenching the hand that held the small flower, and his heart skipped a beat.

 

The petals were tinged red.

 

He was running out of time.


And then began Shang Qinghua's frantic search for a cure. He started poring over all the texts in the Northern Realm, reading day and night for even a brief mention of the disease - what had Cucumber-bro called it? Ah, right - hanahaki disease.

 

When he'd finished going through all the documents in the palace, he started working on the scrolls that he'd snatched from An Ding, and finally, he found a document.

 

Hanhaki disease, it read. A rare disease borne of romantic feelings, specifically unrequited ones. Flowers grow in the person's lungs until they die or until the object of their affections return their feelings. No other known cure.

 

Shang Qinghua groaned, putting his head into his hands. Useless! This damn scroll was just telling him things he already knew! Stupid, stupid, stupid.

 

Shang Qinghua sighed, then glared at the bucket next to his desk, which was nearly filled.

 

Time to get another one.


As more days passed, Shang Qinghua found his cough getting worse and worse. Now, he was barely able to keep food and water down, and he'd turned much paler and thinner than usual. He rarely found himself moving out of his room, content to work on his letters in the confines of his space. Plus, he really didn't have the energy to get up and move around.

 

Unfortunately, this didn't go unnoticed by Mobei-Jun. Which was why, on a perfectly normal day, Shen Qingqiu burst into Shang Qinghua's room, startling him so bad that he sent an inkwell clattering on his desk, ruining the letter he'd been writing down - just because he'd been... sick, didn't mean he didn't have any less work!

 

"Bro!" he yelled, groaning as he lifted the soggy paper with two of his fingers. "Do you know how long I spent on..." he trailed off when he saw Shen Qingqiu's eyes traveling over the various buckets Shang Qinghua had positioned around the desk.

 

The buckets that were filled with blood-soaked petals.

 

"What are you doing here?" Shang Qinghua asked in a small voice, setting down the drenched paper.

 

Shen Qingqiu finally met Shang Qinghua's eyes, and he found something akin to pity in his gaze.

 

Shang Qinghua hated it.

 

"Mobei-Jun called me," Shen Qingqiu answered after a beat, opening his fan and fluttering it in front of his face. "He was... worried."

 

Shang Qinghua raised a surprised eyebrow. "About what?" he said over a poorly concealed cough. "I'm fine."

 

Shen Qingqiu glared at Shang Qinghua over his fan. "Did you tell him?" he snapped.

 

"Tell him... what?"

 

"This!" Shen Qingqiu retorted, snapping his fan shut and using it to point at the buckets. "You have hanahaki."

 

Shang Qinghua opened his mouth to rebuke but had to turn and cough out another flower before discarding it in one of the buckets, ignoring the way his throat rasped. Shen Qingqiu gave him a pointed glare, and Shang Qinghua scowled.

 

"I'm not telling him." It was obvious who him was referring to. "There's no point."

 

"There's no point-" Shen Qingqiu repeated with exasperation. "Have you seen the way he looks at you?"

 

Shang Qinghua blinked.

 

"What are you-" he started, then made a noise of frustration. "Look, that's not the point!"

 

"What do you mean, that's not the point?" Shen Qingqiu yelled back, gripping his fan with both hands. "You're dying!"

 

The way Shen Qingqiu said it left no room for argument, and Shang Qinghua paused.

 

"I'm not-" he started, then glanced at the nearest bucket. "I'm fine."

 

Shen Qingqiu gave him an unimpressed glare. "You have to tell him," he repeated.

 

"I'm not telling him!" Shang Qinghua snapped, slamming his hand onto the desk. "I'm handling it. He doesn't need to know."

 

Shen Qingqiu looked taken aback at Shang Qinghua's rare show of aggressiveness, but it didn't last long. "You call this handling it?" he snapped back, gesturing to the buckets around them. "You're suffering, all because you're too stubborn to tell him!"

 

"I'm not- I'm not suffering," Shang Qinghua sniffed, even as phantom roots crawled up his throat. "I'm fine," he insisted.

 

Shen Qingqiu's eyes softened, and Shang Qinghua blinked in surprise. "Doesn't it hurt?" he asked quietly.

 

"It doesn't-" he started, then wilted under the other transmigrator's knowing stare. "It... yes, it hurts a bit," he admitted softly with a shrug. "But I can manage it."

 

Shen Qingqiu let out a sigh. "If you won't tell him, I will," he said simply and started for the door.

 

Shang Qinghua's eyes widened, and he leaped from his seat, blocking the door. "You can't!"

 

Shen Qingqiu stared at him, unimpressed.

 

"You can't tell him," Shang Qinghua pleaded, pressing his back into the door. "Please."

 

"Airplane..." Shen Qingqiu started hesitantly, but he must have seen something in his eyes because he huffed out a quiet breath. "Mobei-Jun will ask what happened to you. What am I supposed to say?"

 

"Just... tell him I have a cold," Shang Qinghua responded after a beat, even though the thought of lying to his king made him physically wince. "And... that I need space."

 

Shen Qingqiu's lips twisted, but he nodded reluctantly. Shang Qinghua huffed out a breath of relief, sidling away from the door. "Thanks, Cucumber-bro."

 

Shen Qingqiu nodded again, but he didn't look happy about it. "...get better soon, Airplane," he said quietly as he left the room.

 

Shang Qinghua sighed, leaning his forehead on the door, then glanced at the pile of papers still stacked on his desk.

 

Time to get back to work, then.


It didn't get any better after Shen Qingqiu's visit. True to his word, though, Mobei-Jun seemed to be staying away from Shang Qinghua, giving him the space he'd asked for.

 

But...

 

It wasn't helping.

 

If anything, like at An Ding, it only made his sickness worse. Now, he could barely manage to get out of his bed, choosing instead to drag his ink and papers closer to him. Unfortunately, all he had the energy to work on was replying to the marriage proposals, which certainly didn't help his condition. Each time he read one of those insufferable letters, he had to fill a whole bucket with flowers and blood before being able to respond.

 

But, well. He managed.

 

After all, it wasn't like anyone else could do Shang Qinghua's job. Seriously, sometimes it felt like Shang Qinghua was the only capable worker in the Northern Palace!

 

But that was beside the point.

 

The thing was...

 

It was starting to hurt.

 

A lot.

 

He could feel the start of roots tickling his lungs, and breathing started becoming an endeavor in itself. Each breath and exhale he took was slicing at his throat, and he could barely manage to keep a few sips of water inside him. He'd been cycling through buckets and more buckets of petals, although by this time, it was more blood than it was petals. The combined smell of salty blood and the flowers' light fragrance was enough to make Shang Qinghua gag.

 

So.

 

Definitely not fun.

 

It was somewhat ironic, really. In the original novel, Shang Qinghua died at Mobei-Jun's hands, and, well. Technically speaking, Mobei-Jun was the reason he was dying right now.

 

Dying.

 

The word sounded strange and unfamiliar on his tongue - he'd never really given it any thought, after all. The main plot was done, the System had been quiet... he hadn't thought there was anything to be worried about anymore, really.

 

But, well.

 

Life never did turn out as Shang Qinghua wanted.

 

He had been content to let his quiet feelings exist in peace, but no, of course, they had to be what killed him.

 

It was sad, really.

 

He had...

 

He had liked his life.

 

Sure, maybe he was just a cannon fodder character, but...

 

It was nice.

 

It had been nice.

 

The only thing he regretted was... not having the courage to tell Mobei-Jun.

 

But, well.

 

Some things were just never meant to be.

 

Shang Qinghua shifted in his bed, reaching for a paper on the far side of the bed when he heard a sharp knock on the door.

 

He froze.

 

Shit, he cursed internally, feeling flowers bloom on his tongue. Shit, shit-

 

"Qinghua?" he heard. "Can I- come in?" Shang Qinghua inhaled sharply before frantically pushing the stray petals off his bed. He couldn't- he wasn't prepared! But he couldn't say no, either.

 

"My king," he croaked out after a cough. "What is it?"

 

There was a beat of silence before a quiet huff. "You don't sound well."

 

Shang Qinghua swallowed the petals emerging from his throat before opening his mouth to respond. "I'm- I'm fine, my king!"

 

Another beat of silence.

 

"Then I can come in." It wasn't a question.

 

Shang Qinghua knotted his hands together, staring around at the mess he'd made of his room. Buckets and buckets of red-tinged petals, the smell of blood masked only by the sickly sweet smell of the flowers themselves.

 

"I..." he started, hesitant to respond. "I don't think that's a good idea, my king."

 

But to Shang Qinghua's dismay, Mobei-Jun didn't listen. The door was thrown open, and Mobei-Jun stood in the doorway.

 

They stared at each other in silence for a moment before Shang Qinghua felt a rush of flowers crawl up his throat.

 

He started coughing, trying to cover his mouth with the back of his hand, but the coughs just weren't stopping, sending blood and blue petals all over his bed. If anything, they only increased in fervor until Shang Qinghua was crouching over on his bed, one hand over his mouth and one hand around his stomach.

 

Then he felt a hand on his back, supporting him back up to a sitting position.

 

Shang Qinghua exhaled shakily once the stream of petals slowed to a stop, then hesitantly peeked at Mobei-Jun, who was staring at him with an indecipherable face. His eyes trailed from Shang Qinghua's face to the red and blue petals scattered around them, then back to Shang Qinghua.

 

Shang Qinghua winced at the question in his eyes, then coughed once more.

 

"Ah, my king," he rasped out, his throat still raw from the onslaught of the petals. "I'm very sorry for the, uh, mess." He gestured around them.

 

Mobei-Jun still said nothing, and Shang Qinghua was getting nervous.

 

"What is this?" Mobei-Jun asked, in a dangerously quiet voice, as he picked up one of the flowers lying around them.

 

Shang Qinghua chewed his bottom lip, choosing to stare at his hands instead of facing Mobei-Jun's piercing stare.

 

"My king..." he started, interlinking his hands together. "It's just... an illness. It should, um. Be over soon." Which was technically true, right?

 

"You're dying."

 

Shang Qinghua's head snapped up to meet Mobei-Jun's gaze. He swallowed hard, dropping his gaze again.

 

"...yes, I suppose I am," he admitted quietly.

 

When he dared to take a peek at Mobei-Jun's face, he saw it had darkened at least five shades.

 

But... why?

 

Why would Mobei-Jun be so angry?

 

"The cure," Mobei-Jun said bluntly. "What is it."

 

Shang Qinghua blinked. "Oh, um..." He couldn't tell the truth. There was no way he could tell the truth. "There... there isn't a cure."

 

Something flashed over Mobei-Jun's face, but it was gone too quickly for Shang Qinghua to decipher.

 

"Stay here," Mobei-Jun snapped, as if Shang Qinghua could go anywhere in his condition. He pulled open a portal and stepped inside, leaving Shang Qinghua blinking at the space where he once was. He frowned, then shifted deeper into his bed. Maybe Mobei-Jun was getting a parting gift or something.

 

Yeah.

 

Yeah, that made sense.


It didn't take long for Mobei-Jun to return - this time, he disregarded the door altogether, choosing to enter Shang Qinghua's room directly through a portal instead. Shang Qinghua swallowed the flowers that rose at the sight of him and straightened in his bed.

 

"My king...?" he asked hesitantly at the sight of Mobei-Jun's face.

 

He...

 

He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen Mobei-Jun that angry.

 

"Why didn't you tell me," Mobei-Jun scowled, advancing towards Shang Qinghua.

 

"Tell you..." Shang Qinghua repeated, licking his chapped lips. "Tell you what?"

 

Mobei-Jun gave him a flat glare, and Shang Qinghua deflated.

 

"I... I didn't want to trouble you with... my feelings," Shang Qinghua admitted softly, playing with the blanket in his hands. "You shouldn't feel... obliged to..."

 

He didn't finish his sentence.

 

He didn't finish because he suddenly found his face cupped between two cold hands - but not... unpleasantly cold.

 

Shang Qinghua blinked repeatedly.

 

"My king...?" he whispered, as Mobei-Jun continued staring at Shang Qinghua.

 

Then he leaned in and brushed his lips against Shang Qinghua's.

 

It was a feather-light touch, and Shang Qinghua had half a mind to think he had imagined it.

 

But although it was only a light brush, the effect was instantaneous. Shang Qinghua felt the roots retracting from his lungs, and, for the first time in months, he inhaled a shuddering breath of fresh air, without it scratching against his throat.

 

But-

 

What had just happened?

 

Had-

 

Had Mobei-Jun kissed Shang Qinghua?

 

Shang Qinghua gaped at Mobei-Jun, his face still being held in Mobei-Jun's hands.

 

"My king," he scrambled to say. "I- You-? But, I-"

 

A slight frown appeared on Mobei-Jun's face. "You talk too much."

 

And with that, Mobei-Jun leaned in again, his mouth fitting neatly against Shang Qinghua's as he pressed harder.

 

Ah... what the hell. Why not? Shang Qinghua thought before throwing his arms around Mobei-Jun's neck and deepening the kiss, his forgotten blanket pooling around his waist. It wasn't like he was going to get another chance at this, so... might as well enjoy it while it lasted.

 

Finally, after what seemed like ages, they separated, and Shang Qinghua took a deep breath, eyes wide and cheeks flushed. He pressed his hands on his cheeks, resisting the urge to burrow into his bed and never come out.

 

"Ah, wow," he managed to get out. "I think I'm, ah, cured, now." Because that was all the kiss was for, right? A cure?

 

Mobei-Jun frowned again, looking as perfectly composed as always. Aiya, so unfair! How come he remained so cool while Shang Qinghua turned into a flustered puddle of goo?

 

Then he realized the frown was directed towards him.

 

Ah.

 

Had he said his last thoughts aloud?

 

He had, hadn't he.

 

Shang Qinghua tugged nervously on a strand of hair, chuckling nervously. "My king, my king," he chattered. "It's alright, really. I understand, you just need me around for paperwork and the sort, it's really fine. I won't bring this up again, I-"

 

Mobei-Jun leaned down, his face a breath away from Shang Qinghua's, and Shang Qinghua blinked. Was... was Mobei-Jun going to kiss him again?

 

But he didn't. Instead, he glared at Shang Qinghua, as if his eyes could see into Shang Qinghua's mess of a mind.

 

"Qinghua," he said, and Shang Qinghua blinked rapidly.

 

"Yes- yes, my king?"

 

Mobei-Jun closed his eyes, exhaling softly. "Why are you so dense."

 

Shang Qinghua blinked again.

 

That was not what he'd expected.

 

"What- my king!" he squawked indignantly. "I am not dense! Really, my king, I may not be the smartest apple of the bunch, but I certainly am not-"

 

"I love you."

 

Shang Qinghua stopped his rant, unable to believe his ears.

 

"You... what?"

 

"I love you," Mobei-Jun repeated patiently as Shang Qinghua gawked.

 

"But that can't be," Shang Qinghua couldn't help but blurt out, and Mobei-Jun's gaze darkened.

 

"Why not."

 

Because that's not how it was in the original novel! Shang Qinghua internally wailed. Although... seeing as what happened with Binghe...

 

"Because you're you," Shang Qinghua said instead, gripping Mobei-Jun's forearm unconsciously. "And I'm just... me. A lowly servant working here."

 

Mobei-Jun's frown deepened. Shang Qinghua couldn't remember the last time he'd seen so much... emotion playing across Mobei-Jun's face.

 

Actually, he did remember.

 

It had been...

 

Right before he'd left.

 

"You are not..." Mobei-Jun started, seemingly struggling with his words. "You are not just a servant."

 

"A right-hand, then?" Shang Qinghua asked weakly, not sure where this was going. He could hardly believe that Mobei-Jun of all people... loved him.

 

Mobei-Jun literally growled at that. "No. You... you are more important. Very important. To me."

 

Shang Qinghua stared in awe as a light, barely there flush spread across Mobei-Jun's cheeks. "I don't... like seeing you hurt," Mobei-Jun continued, glancing at the various buckets around the room before turning back to Shang Qinghua. "Do you understand now?"

 

Shang Qinghua flushed under Mobei-Jun's piercing stare. "You really love me?" he couldn't help but ask in a small voice.

 

"Mn," Mobei-Jun affirmed with a slight nod.

 

"Oh," Shang Qinghua squeaked, ducking his head in an unsuccessful attempt to hide his blush. "I, um. I... Iloveyoutoo," he rushed out.

 

Mobei-Jun simply smiled.


"Airp- Shang Qinghua! You're... cured?"

 

Shang Qinghua grinned at the relief and shock on his fellow transmigrator's face. "Aw, Cucu- Shen Qingqiu! I knew you cared about me!"

 

Shen Qingqiu scowled at Shang Qinghua's slip of the tongue, his eyes darting to Mobei-Jun next to him. "Oh, shut up," he griped, fluttering his fan faster.

 

"But yep, I'm back! Never been better," Shang Qinghua chirped, playing with the new pendant hanging from his waist - a courting gift from Mobei-Jun!

 

"Mn," Shen Qingqiu said noncommittally, his eyes on the pendant as well. "I see there are some congratulations in order."

 

Shang Qinghua's grin only widened as he rocked back on his heels. He leaned up to whisper in Mobei-Jun's ears, and he nodded. A few moments later, he'd pulled open a portal and stepped inside, leaving just Shang Qinghua and Shen Qingqiu.

 

Shen Qingqiu relaxed his shoulders, the fluttering of his fan slowing down to a calm pace.

 

"Bro, why were you so tense?" Shang Qinghua chuckled as he leaned into a chair. "It was almost like you were... scared of him."

 

Shen Qingqiu froze.

 

"No reason," he muttered, avoiding Shang Qinghua's eyes. "But anyway, congrats on the whole... recovery." Shen Qingqiu gestured to the blue pendant. "I'm... I'm glad you're okay."

 

Shang Qinghua smiled, his fingers unconsciously tracing the engravings on the pendant. It was a habit he'd recently picked up.

 

Maybe...

 

Maybe being a cannon fodder wasn't as bad Shang Qinghua thought.


Little did he know, Shen Qingqiu thought wryly as Shang Qinghua got the look on his face that he knew meant he was daydreaming.

 

Shen Qingqiu sighed, tapping his fan against the table lightly.

 

Shang Qinghua didn't react, still staring off into space with a mopey grin on his face.

 

Shen Qingqiu huffed, then allowed himself to go back in time as well.

 

"Consort Shen."

 

Shen Qingqiu raised his eyes from where he'd been reading, deftly folding the corner of the page to save his progress, then paused when he saw who it was.

 

"Mobei-Jun," Shen Qingqiu returned the greeting cautiously, wary of his intentions. He'd never really... interacted with the other demon, so he didn't know what to expect.

 

Unfortunately, Luo Binghe was out in the demon realm, brokering some sort of peace treaty or something. Shen Qingqiu hadn't wanted to come along, but seeing the dark look on Mobei-Jun's face, he was beginning to reconsider.

 

"What can I do for you?" Shen Qingqiu asked after a stretch of silence, reaching for his fan and fluttering it slowly in front of his face.

 

"Shang Qinghua," the icy demon said, his eyebrows furrowed. "He's... he's sick."

 

Shen Qingqiu's eyebrows raised slightly. "Sick?" he repeated. He thought back to their last meeting - sure, he'd been a little more... fidgety than usual, but... sick?

 

"En. He won't come out of his room anymore."

 

Shen Qingqiu felt a sinking feeling in his gut. If his hunch was right, then...

 

"I... see." Shen Qingqiu shut his fan. "I'll try talking to him."


In the end, Shen Qingqiu's guess turned out to be correct. He knew there had been something fishy about the way Shang Qinghua had asked about hanahaki, and, well...

 

Damn you, Airplane, he cursed internally. Why do you have to be so fucking dense?

 

Because, really. Even Shen Qingqiu could tell how besotted Mobei-Jun was with the other transmigrator.

 

"What is it."

 

Shen Qingqiu nearly jumped out of his skin, not having heard the demon king approach.

 

"Ah," he said, trying to regain his composure. "It's... nothing to be worried about. Just a cold. It should pass on its own." Shen Qingqiu didn't like lying, but... he'd seen the look on Shang Qinghua's face. There was a sort of desperation in there, genuine desperation.

 

Plus, it really wasn't his place to tell.

 

"He'd also like some alone time," Shen Qingqiu finished, waving his fan a little faster at Mobei-Jun's resulting frown.

 

"Mn. Thank you," Mobei-Jun said after a beat, and Shen Qingqiu nodded. Hopefully, Airplane would... figure out this whole mess.


Although, things never worked out easily with Shang Qinghua.

 

A few weeks later, Mobei-Jun stormed into the hut, slamming a hand onto the table and startling Shen Qingqiu.

 

"Mobei-Jun," Shen Qingqiu said, noting the distress pouring off of him in waves. "What is..."

 

"You lied."

 

Shen Qingqiu froze.

 

"I-"

 

"You lied about Shang Qinghua."

 

Shen Qingqiu chewed the inside of his cheek. Guess it hadn't been solved then.

 

"Is he..." Shen Qingqiu started. "Is he still sick?"

 

Mobei-Jun glowered.

 

"I'll take that as a yes," Shen Qingqiu muttered.

 

"What happened to Shang Qinghua?" Mobei-Jun demanded in a dangerously quiet voice, fisting the hand on the table. Shen Qingqiu swallowed. He really liked that table.

 

"Alright, alright, I'll tell you, just... calm down," he tried.

 

Mobei-Jun did not calm down.

 

Shen Qingqiu exhaled.

 

"It's a... disease," he started, clenching the base of his fan. "Hanahaki disease, to be precise. It's a... condition, that one gets when they think that their... love is not requited. Flowers bloom in their throat and lungs, and... they eventually..."

 

Mobei-Jun interrupted him before he could finish the sentence. "Why did you not tell me this."

 

Shen Qingqiu swallowed again, resisting the urge to hightail it out of the bamboo house and yell for Binghe. Who knew Mobei-Jun could be so... frightening?

 

"Shang Qinghua... did not want me to," he had to admit. "He... he said he had it under control."

 

Mobei-Jun didn't relax at Shen Qingqiu's words, per se, but he did look a little less hostile. "What's the cure."

 

"The one who-" Shen Qingqiu stopped. It was too confusing, being vague and such. Best to just be straightforward about it, now. "You have to return Shang Qinghua's feelings."

 

Mobei-Jun blinked.

 

"That's it?"

 

Shen Qingqiu blinked as well.

 

"Well, yes, I-"

 

Mobei-Jun was gone before he could finish.

 

Shen Qingqiu was startled back to the present by a cold breeze in the room.

 

"Shang Qinghua," Mobei-Jun said, ignoring Shen Qingqiu altogether. "It's time to go."

 

"Okay, my king!" Shang Qinghua chirped, flouncing to the open portal. "Bye, Shen Qingqiu!"

 

Shen Qingqiu waved lightly at Shang Qinghua's retreating back, and just before Mobei-Jun stepped into the portal, he turned to Shen Qingqiu, who froze.

 

But Mobei-Jun only nodded before stepping in and sealing the portal closed.

 

Shen Qingqiu let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding and slumped into his seat.

 

Well, at least his table was safe.