For all that transmigrating is advertised as an adventure, an opportunity to live a life of excitement away from the mundanity of your first go at it, Shang Qinghua rather thinks he got the short end of the stick.
Into an NPC marked for a life of being a worker drone, then a pseudo villain, then six feet under, to not even being able to change...any of that, actually, to being completely overshadowed by the villain turned LOVE INTEREST, he can't say he's having the time of his life, actually, System! 1 star! Bad review! Do not recommend!
And if all of that weren't enough, his own creations don't even really seem to like him! It can't be because he's just…that unlikeable, can it? Most of the time, when his fellow Peak Lords shove their work onto him as if he's the Regional Sect Intern, his disciples look at him as if merely waiting for him to fail. Where's the Ning Yingying levels of awe and respect for their Shizun?! Not here! When he sees them, he only sees the bemusement in their eyes, as if to ask, "Is this it?"
Luo Binghe, when he deigns to acknowledge his Shishu's existence, looks at him like an ant. A lowly, ugly little ant that's crawled up the picnic table for a small bite from his sandwich, and he's just waiting to crush it beneath his thumb. Cucumber bro never lets him forget his shortcomings until he's back in middle school being picked on for his weight in gym class, as if he's a shark and can just smell the blood from his insecurities in the air. And his King, oh, how can he ever forget about his King? Mean, cold, beautiful Mobei Jun, his perfect man and his inevitable executioner. Hands strong enough to make bruises, and they often do, and a barking tone that's nearly worse in some ways (because it's the only thing between the two that can drive him to tears), Mobei Jun is the worst of the lot, for the simple fact that he knows he's going to devote himself to this demon until it kills him. And it likely will.
A transmigrator experience is meant to be about new beginnings, but he feels a lot like he's just back in his old life. No friends, a job he doesn't love and people who pile expectations onto him and complain when he meets them. A constant voice of criticism that only adds to his own, and bubbling-
Nothing. Because, he thinks, watching the ink beneath his gaze blur (and it's only now he realizes he's begun to cry), it will all lead back to Shen Qingqiu anyway, won't it? Most things these days seem to, for better or for worse.
Not that he resents Cucumber bro. There wouldn't be much of a point. His fellow transmigrator is all he has of an old life, he finds, he desperately misses. This place is nothing but the hell of his first life with new people to grind his teeth and speak to politely, and a fresh coat of paint.
He doesn't want to even be here, he wants to shout to the System, to speak it out loud with a wet voice he knows he has right now as he desperately scrubs away too salty tears, and 'here' certainly doesn't want him.
Maybe the System can hear his thoughts. Maybe he's just stumbled into some event without even knowing it, or maybe, he's just supremely unlucky, and knowing himself, it's likely the last one, but as he sits there at his desk, stifling a sob so no disciple comes to check on the noise and he furthers loses what little dignity he has left, something happens. Probably, something not so great.
With the sound of displaced air, like movement, like a sword being brought down, a thin line of black appears beyond his desk, a crack in the fabric of reality, pulsing with darkness. And as he sits there gaping as if in hope of catching flies, it changes. First, it is a line. Then, it's a man.
A tall, beautiful man. A scarily familiar man, because of course this is happening to him in particular.
It's Luo Binghe. Not white lotus Bingmei, who is undoubtedly off somewhere staring unabashedly at his own Shizun, no it's HIS Binghe. The original Heavenly Emperor Luo Binghe.
He can tell immediately, because it's his Binghe, because it's every detail he memorized down to the decal on his robes. It's Binghe in every strand of glossy black hair, in every eyelash too full to ever be found naturally without makeup though he knows the half demon wears none. It's Binghe in the confidence of his stance and the loose grip on Xin Mo that speaks of years of experience with the weapon. Experience Bingmei never got. Confidence he never gained and robes he never wore. A persona of charm to hide the ice beneath that he never truly learned. It's Airplane's Luo Binghe, and he's never been more beautiful.
The red of his eyes is the first thing Shang Qinghua, still caught up on the wave of emotion of bitter resentment and hurt, can focus on. Not to be too dramatic but he really does appreciate how pretty they are, and that one comparison he'd made once, about them being as red as the blood upon the ground that he walked on? Raw!
"Ah, the spy. Alive? I remember Mobei Jun killing you very clearly."
Shang Qinghua deflates again, and misses the twitch of an eyebrow it gains him.
"Yeah, well, as Lord Luo can see, this one is still alive in this world. Did you come to change that? Or come to visit Shen Qingqiu? He doesn't need two of you, but I'm sure he'd be delighted nonetheless!"
Luo Binghe blinks.
"Would you like some tea?" He asks, wearily, and the man seems to finally center himself after the unexpected tirade.
"No...you seem unsurprised," And Binghe pauses, as if aware of how big of an understatement that is, "Why is that?"
The Peak Lord shrugs, clumsily dropping the ruined and crumpled parchment he's accidentally gotten snot on into a small jar to be disposed of whenever his disciples deem fit to clean up. It's surprising, yes, but he's tired and upset right now and honestly, if this is how the System wants to finally kill him off so he can maybe go to a better world where he isn't disposable, it's much more appealing than "executed for treason", actually. Way more appealing.
"It'd be just my luck, right? The Heavenly Emperor shows up in front of me only to cut my head from my shoulders or something and take Cucumber bro as his next bride. Too late for that one though, you'll have competition. Uncreative on the System's part but I can't complain, right? I actually get to see you in full glory rather than the bent version. He just glares at me most of the time."
"Do you ever stop rambling about nonsense?"
Shang Qinghua feels his face heat. Right, that's why he has so, so, so...so many wives. He's not just a pretty face. He's likeable, too. If you have boobs, anyway. Usually.
This smile, though, oh, it's different, it's knowing. It's the smile of a man who's found something he thinks is interesting, like a hunting dog at the scent of prey.
The human swallows, and has the good sense to scoot back a bit, and the motion is not unnoticed.
"Oh?" Croons the half demon, stepping forward, then taking another step around the desk when his former Shishu moves back again, "Nervous in my presence now? You're a strange one. You greet me with familiarity, ramble about my dead Shizun, and act as if it's pleasant to see me anyway. And then, you get scared."
By this point, Luo Binghe has him cornered, standing over him while his back is to the wall, a snake ready to strike when it pleases and gobble up the quivering mouse before it.
He really needs to start thinking of less self deprecating comparisons.
"W-Well, my Lord, this one of course knows of you. Who doesn't? It'd be hard to miss the rise of an Emperor, r-right?!" And his voice rises with pitch at the end, as Xin Mo finally is settled away from swinging dangerously close to his leg.
Binghe nods, his expression placid but amused, a big cat playing with it's food (again, Qinghua, really?!), and says, "I'm sure, I'm sure. Except I already know the world I've finally made it back to, you know, and this one definitely doesn't have any Luo Binghe like myself. If I recall, he's much different, as is that strange Shizun of his. So how would you, Shang-Shishu, know of me?"
Shang Qinghua sweats, and does not answer. He's not supposed to reveal his real identity after all! But alarmingly? The System is silent. Help, please, you useless AI!
Silence is apparently the wrong answer, as Binghe's pleasant expression sours, and he finds himself shoving further back against the wall as if it'll give way and allow him to run to the relative safety of clutching his King's legs for disgusted but willing protection, as the Emperor crowds close, dropped to one knee, a smooth hand gripping his chin and tugging his face up harshly to lock eyes.
"It is polite to answer when asked a question by one's Lord, Shang-Shishu. I will ask you again. How do you know of me?"
The grip becomes painfully tight, and he's hit with the realization that he is as expendable to this man as his other self is, and that yes, his jaw very much IS capable of being ripped off like some horror game death animation!
"I'm not really Shang Qinghua!"
The grip loosens, but only a little. By the way the man's eyes widen, he at least wasn't expecting that particular answer.
"I'm, uh, well, haha...funny story, not really to you probably but, I uh, died? Like, as someone else? I died. And I was me, and then I woke up, and I was...someone else. This person. I was me, and then I died, and then I was Shang Qinghua. Your...your Shishu. Tada." And he does a panicked little jazz hands that has Binghe's lips quirking up with amusement, which is good! Being the court jester is better than being a head on a pike!
"My Shishu...yes," His rumbling voice is like, way more pleased than it has any right to be right now, "That's why Shen Qingqiu is different here, right? He's like you. And the Shang Qinghua from my world, the Shizun from my world, they were never replaced. That explains much."
Shang Qinghua relaxes.
"But not enough."
The grip pulls his face up once more, until he can feel the heated breath on his nose and mouth, can smell the oils from his last bath lingering on his skin and cannot seem to wriggle away no matter how many times he moves his head. The man forces eye contact, and only clicks his tongue at him when he tries otherwise, like scolding a misbehaving child.
"You died, and came back as another. But how do you know of a different version of the one that exists here?"
That's a good fucking question, and one he does not want to answer! But the grip only gets tighter, and he has always been a coward when it matters most, just as Shen Qingqiu likes to say.
"I'm from a different world and I know you because I made you, of course I know you, I know everything about you! I know that you hate the color green because you associate it with Shen Qingqiu and you still have nightmares about the first time he ever hit you, I know you commission jade jewelry on the anniversary of your mother's death because you're terrified one day you'll forget her, and I know that you've never been satisfied with any cooking even your most talented of wives makes you because it'll never come close to the meals your mother made that you can barely remember the taste of anymore! I...I know you have a fondness for cats because they would try to steal fish from you as a child and would let you hold them though only Ning Yingying knows how deep it runs, and when you were little you were scared of dogs! I know your favorite foods to eat and I know your favorite songs to hear when you spend time with that one wife that you found in a traveling caravan by complete chance. I know everything about you, Luo Binghe, because I made you!"
It's only as he is panting, his ranting over and leaving him relieved abruptly as if he's gotten something heavy off his shoulders, that he realizes the hand once crushing his jaw has slipped off entirely, and he finally thinks to look up, up into the awed face of his creation, whose mouth hangs open in a perfect O of shock.
But he is not punished. There's only the sound of his panicked breathing, and the small intake of air as the Heavenly Emperor smiles and pulls the Peak Lord into his lap, a small tug, barely using any strength, and he goes as easily as putty in the hands of a being he could hardly deny.
"A God, then, that's what you are. The God of this world, and my own. To know me as well as I know myself, if not better…" Briefly, the half demon lapses into solemn, contemplative silence, while tugging at his hair, like he is merely finding ways to get a reaction as if it amuses him, "Well, it's something. And Shen Qingqiu?"
"Uh, ow, uhm, no, he was just a...he is like me, born into an already existing body, but he didn't create you, or anything else." That's vague enough while still being a satisfying answer, right?
Decisively, the Emperor nods, looking pleased enough by his compliance, and he begins to tug at the crown holding his hair up, until the brown locks spill over Shang Qinghua's neck, framing his face in a way he can tell the man enjoys.
And the Peak Lord finally begins to think that something has turned in this conversation, to something that he is maybe going to want nothing to do with. Luo Binghe is ever so quick to snatch up something he wants for himself, and what's more appealing than a 'God' on a leash?
"What's this about…?" He questions,
though he feels like he doesn't need to ask, at this point, as Luo Binghe rises and sets him on his feet, significantly more gentle than he has been this entire interaction. It's when appraising eyes sweep over him that he jerks back and wags a finger in the man's face, much to his visible amusement.
He says, "Oh no, mister, I know that look! That's the charming 'can do no harm' look! I'm not one of your wives-" but Binghe interrupts, taking his hand and cradling it between two palms, skin suspiciously smooth considering he uses a sword all the time. Authorial decisions of his were often made based on romantics rather than logic, so sue him.
"But you could be. You could be my husband, the first one."
Even though it's expected, the confirmation makes his head feel like it's going to explode, red rushing so sharply to his cheeks that he feels faintly lightheaded. Marriage?! To Luo fucking Binghe?! The original one?! Absolutely not! That's a one way ticket to getting murdered in a wife plot, and probably BY one of the wives!
"Did you not hear me when I said I made you? I know all your tricks, don't think j-just because you're stronger than me that I'll give in! No marriage, absolutely not! I'm a lousy pick for a husband, you know, so go look somewhere else!"
And yet the man only looks more certain than ever that this is what he wants, stepping close and running a finger along the still wet skin of his cheek, where he'd stupidly actually cried over his situation. Well he never would have if he'd known it'd summon his horndog protagonist! Why is he furiously bisexual in every universe? Had he written that?!
It occurs to him that he can't remember that part anymore. Huh.
"Surely then you know that once I set my eyes upon someone I want, I so rarely do not get them," This, unfortunately, is very true, apparently even in his own world, "This Lord will treat his Shang-Shishu with respect, and never allow harm to come upon him. I'll make for a good husband, as you already know. What a pair we will make, my Qinghua, if only you'll allow me the honor of marrying you. Let me make you mine."
And he's charming, he's so easy to fall into and believe, if Shang Qinghua closes his eyes and forgets what it can be like in the harem. But he can't do that, because he made the stupid thing!
"You'll not obtain me so easily, my Lord Luo. I know how it is on your brides end, and I'll not end up hunted for my differences." But it's a rapidly growing weaker protest.
For a moment, Binghe looks perplexed, before it smooths out with eagerness, like a puppy spotting a particularly good smelling treat. Surely his knowledgeable nature isn't that attractive?! Right?
No, he grimaces, and still allows the Heavenly Emperor to pull him in by the waist, to marvel at how easily he fits in his arm, no, it must be. To be known, to be seen in such a way that surely he has not been by any wife yet, it would be like an instant shot of ecstasy. And he doesn't have to work for it, doesn't have to bare his soul and run the risk of vulnerability, because to him, Shang Qinghua has already seen every ugly little corner of his being, and has yet to find it wanting. How enticing that must be to him. How powerful the draw.
When Lord Luo runs his nose along Shang Qinghua's jaw, when his fingers tug ever so gently at the sash around his waist, the Peak Lord doesn't protest. It's the first he's felt wanted in years, isn't that sad? Under Luo Binghe's gaze he feels like a flower finally able to bloom, and when hands find the skin of his hips, his mouth forms the words long before he has the mind to convince himself otherwise.
"I'll go with you."
And he feels the smile against the bared skin of his neck before he ever sees it.
"I'll make you the happiest man in the world, Shang Qinghua."
Oh, the human doesn't doubt it. He'll probably die a horrible death from a jealous she-demon, but maybe it'll be worth it for a few nights of really great sex, right? He can't believe he's selling his soul for this, ooh, Shen Qingqiu would be SO disappointed.
And probably a bit mad he's sleeping with the original goods of his husband. That's an upside.
"Well, before your wives make me into dog food, you'll have to sit down and let me tell you about places to visit. I know of some cool spots where you can get powerful artifacts, you know!" He at least tries to sound upbeat, but Binghe's fingers teasingly pull at his cheeks until he slaps at his hands, glaring up into a face alight with childish delight. He seems so strangely relaxed right now, in a way Shang Qinghua can't remember having ever written him.
"You seem so certain this Lord will allow his wives the pleasure of your company." He murmurs it, like he doesn't quite mean to say it to anyone but himself, his tone a little different than what Shang Qinghua expects, but hey, what does he REALLY know about how Luo Binghe treats his male concubines? Maybe he's just more possessive with them! Either way, it still doesn't change the way his stomach flutters pleasantly. Stupid demon traits. Ugh.
"That's...well. You can't have me with you all the time!" He at least tries to point out, but Binghe only hums, patting his head. He takes every excuse to touch him, he notes dryly, but he isn't complaining, exactly.
"And why can't I, little Peak Lord?"
"I...It doesn't work like that?!"
Shang Qinghua groans, and buries his face into Binghe's chest. His sturdy, well built chest, that rumbles with pleased laughter. Nice.
"Ah, what a shameless fiance you are. Come, little Peak Lord, let us gather your things and depart. Then, you can tell me all about the secrets of my world, or whatever you wish. We'll have all the time in the world together, if you so want it."
And he does, he finds. It's an easy decision to make, with so little pushing. To leave behind a world that hadn't wanted him for a man who does, to shun the life his shoddy System has given him and take his destiny into his own hands...well, that's what transmigrating is meant to be about anyway, isn't it?
So when Luo Binghe holds a hand out for him to take, to seal the promise of a life, together, Shang Qinghua does not hesitate to accept.