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Nothing to Me, Nothing to You

Chapter Text

 

 Punishment happened first thing in the morning. 

 

 Shang Qinghua got the feeling that someone wanted to make clear to the River Sect that, while this was obviously just some teenage disagreement that got a little out of hand, no big deal, they were taking this offence very seriously. The Cloud Sect wanted to make it super clear that their disciples going around attacking people for no good reason was totally out of the ordinary and they definitely disapproved of it. This was a serious offense and they were taking it very seriously! Promise! Still no big deal, though! 

 

 Someone in the Cloud Recesses was probably drafting a letter to the River Sect Leader, sweating with the effort of trying to explain the incident while making it sound like nothing to worry about or take offense from. Someone other than Shang Qinghua for once! Probably Little Uncle. 

 

 The worst part of it involved a formal apology to Shen Qingqiu beforehand, who curtly accepted the apology and then strutted out like someone fleeing the scene while trying to pretend they weren’t fleeing the scene. “Yeah, you better run, bro!” Shang Qinghua thought. “Run away before anyone figures out what kind of shit you were saying that got you punched in the face! Don’t let the door hit your big black eye on the way out, asshole!” 

 

 Honestly, that wasn’t the worst part at all. He told himself it was, but Shang Qinghua had made meaningless apologies to assholes before and he would probably make meaningless apologies to assholes again. Getting to see the black eye he gave that future scum villain was worth it. 

 

 The worst part was the pain. Tedious and grueling described most of the punishments at the Cloud Recesses, if not all of them, because tedium and drudgery was supposedly good for the soul. In Shang Qinghua’s unpopular opinion, there was very little that grated on the soul like being in a lot of pain, constant pain, and being really fucking bored of it. 

 

 He didn’t try to be stoic about any of it. Who did he have to impress? If he had to be uncomfortable, then he was going to make everyone around him uncomfortable watching him moan and groan and tear up a little. 

 

 The punishment sucked ass - starting far too early, eating up his morning, making it so that his knees would probably never work right again, and for sure everyone in the Cloud Recesses knew about it already - but at least Shang Qinghua wasn’t supposed to go back to work immediately afterwards. Little Uncle had said he didn’t expect to see Shang Qinghua on the An Ding side of the Cloud Recesses for at least three days. 

 

 Officially, this was also a punishment. Shang Qinghua was supposed to continue his reflection in solitude or something. He only intended for his face to reflect at length on the softness on his bed, thanks, and he was pretty sure that Little Uncle knew that. 

 

 It didn’t feel like a break. 

 

 It was so boring. 

 

  “Pain, pain, pain,” he thought. “Pain, pain, pain, pain, pain.” 

 

 He wanted to remind someone that this kind of punishment mostly led to a lot of resentment, rather than any kind of correction or betterment. In novels, it often led to revenge! Honestly, this "improving" punishment mostly just made Shang Qinghua want to do drugs. His kingdom for some fucking painkillers. 

 

 Yue Qingyuan checked in with him around lunchtime. Early afternoon-ish? Shang Qinghua didn’t remember the interaction very well, besides waving vaguely in Yue Qingyuan’s general direction, while staying facedown on his bed. Yue Qingyuan promised to check in on him again later, probably partly out of guilt, and Shang Qinghua would have milked it to at least have his adoptive cousin bring food if his appetite hadn’t apparently turned inside out on him. 

 

 After that, Shang Qinghua had a nap, or maybe the nap had him. He didn’t seem to have any say in the nap. Not in when it started, not in when it ended, and not in waking up a bunch of times throughout because he couldn’t find a comfortable position. 

 

 Despite thinking about it for half the day, and all the night before, Shang Qinghua completely forgot to give Yue Qingyuan the note for Mobei-Jun. He hadn’t even seen Chen Riling today to enlist her help. He conveniently remembered this shortly after being thrust out of the nap he’d had no say in taking - or maybe it was the reminder surfacing from his consciousness that scared him out of a restless sleep. Who could say which came first? The chicken or the egg?

 

 It was now… Shang Qinghua squinted in the direction of the window… late afternoon now? Maybe? Probably? For all he knew, he’d slept straight through to the next day! 

 

 “Fuck,” he said. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” 

 

 In his panic, Shang Qinghua failed to notice that he had also been robbed of the knowledge of where his legs ended and where his feet began. Jumping out of bed was more like the flailing of a flightless bird. His crash-landing was loud, embarrassing, and extremely painful. 

 

 He was still tangled in the trappings of his bed after landing, so the obvious solution was to slowly roll across the floor, hitting every single bump and bruise along the way, until he was free and his head felt like it was prepared to negotiate on standing up. He hit the wall before that happened. 

 

 “Ow,” he said. 

 


 

 Going to the library was definitely a mistake. 

 

  “It’s not such a long walk! I have nothing else to do with my day!” he had thought to himself! This was wrong. It was, he decided halfway there, the wrongest anyone had ever been about anything. He could have better spent his time facedown on the floor, instead of limping along the back paths to go see some asshole who wouldn’t even be grateful about it. 

 

 “Why the fuck am I doing this?” Shang Qinghua muttered. “Fuck, fuck, fuck! Fuck!” 

 

 It wouldn’t be that bad if he just stood Mobei-Jun up. Mobei-Jun was a big boy who could take care of himself! Maybe being stood up for once would be good for him! If he’d heard the gossip and done the critical thinking, then Mobei-Jun probably already knew to take a break from tutoring today. 

 

 Even though that would require Mobei-Jun either talking to people or staying awake during class, both of which seemed kind of iffy to Shang Qinghua, and both of which also required Mobei-Jun’s hearing not being drowned out by the anger of Shang Qinghua ditching him the day before, which seemed totally possible. Even if he’d heard the gossip, Mobei-Jun probably still expected Shang Qinghua to explain himself and all the dramatic bullshit personally, because he was a spoiled brat like that. 

 

 So, obviously Shang Qinghua had to go clear things up and beg for his life, rather than hang out at his house in partial seclusion, waiting to either pass out again or die. Stretching his legs a little hopefully had benefits of some kind. 

 

 Unfortunately, his great effort revealed to him that Mobei-Jun wasn’t in the Cloud Recesses library. There was no one at their table. The guest disciples’ classes had ended some time ago, the usual meeting time had passed, and Mobei-Jun, if he’d shown up at all, hadn’t stuck around to see if Shang Qinghua would return. It was unsurprising. 

 

 If his heart was sinking a little, it was for a totally different reason than disappointment. 

 

 Relief, probably. Yeah, definitely relief. 

 

 Shang Qinghua eased himself into his usual seat so he could put his head down on the table for a little while. (Staying for the next ten to twelve hours sounded good. He was going by feel.) What was surprising was that there was something resting in his usual seat. 

 

 It was a jar of wine. 

 

 Shang Qinghua pulled the jar out from under his ass, before he could accidentally break it, and inspected it, which meant that he mostly just stared at it, wondering what the fuck this was supposed to mean. It was local stuff, from the village down the mountain. Shang Qinghua really didn’t deal with alcohol much, but he was pretty sure this kind wasn’t cheap. Mobei-Jun's mind truly was an incomprehensible place.

 

 “A gift…?” he murmured. “Or another not-apology…?” 

 

 He put the jar down in front of him, then crossed his arms on the table to cushion his chin. 

 

 “...This is worse than the candy,” he decided. 

 

 He didn’t understand how Mobei-Jun had gotten a jar of wine. Maybe this was from a personal stash that had been collected before Mobei-Jun had decided not to drink in the Cloud Recesses again? Had Madam Yan made a sale when Shang Qinghua hadn’t been looking? Mobei-Jun must have heard the gossip to make a gesture like, but Shang Qinghua couldn’t fathom the decision-making process here, unless it had been something like, “What’s the best thing to give the average person who just had to deal with Shen fucking Qingqiu? Oh, I know: a way to get so shit-faced they don't remember interacting with Shen Qingqiu! 

 

 There were options here. 

 

 Shang Qinghua could pretend that he had never found it. 

 

 He could hand it off to one of the librarians or another adult of the sect. 

 

 He could hide it up his sleeve to gift it to someone else at a later date or sell it to a guest disciple. 

 

 He could make a show of returning it to Mobei-Jun, saying, “Hey, bro, you forgot this. Ha ha, can you imagine if you’d tried to leave that as a bribe or a pity gift? Anyway, don’t make me haul your drunk ass across the sect again!” 

 

 He could continue to sit here and stare at it, while his body throbbed with hurt every heartbeat. 

 

 “...Fuck it,” Shang Qinghua said, and broke the seal on the jar. 

 

 He may have been a lightweight in this lifetime, but there was a trick to drinking for cultivators, and Shang Qinghua had made sure to learn it. Firstly, it had seemed useful. Secondly, it was just a cool thing to know and made a person look super cool, too. Thirdly, unlike stricter Cloud Sect healers, Mu Qingfang was a big believer in preventative measures, rather than the “if disciples aren’t going against the rules and drinking, then they won’t need to know any foul tricks to burn away the effects, which will surely only encourage them to drink more” approach, and he had insisted. 

 

 “Thank you, Mu Qingfang,” Shang Qinghua toasted, and then took a sip. 

 

 He couldn’t say that the wine was good. He didn’t have much of a taste for it in this lifetime, but it was probably fine enough. The aftertaste wasn’t good at all, though. There was a thrill that came with drinking in the Cloud Recesses library, but this was a secluded corner, so it was more peaceful than anything else. No one really expected Shang Qinghua to be drinking in the Cloud Recesses’ library, so no one peeked in looking for it. 

 

 Also, he kept the jar up his sleeve between sips. He only had a handful of sips, anyway, staying for only ten daring minutes or so, taking just a little liquid courage and strength to get him back to his house and his bed. 

 

 He stood up. 

 

 He tried to stand up. 

 

 Unfolding his legs had to happen first, apparently, so he did that. 

 

 The alcohol was hitting him already. It was hitting him repeatedly. Continuously. 

 

 Shit.

 

 He had forgotten just how ridiculous his tolerance was in this lifetime, but his head was already fuzzing. The world was fuzz and blurs and pins and needles, already. When Mu Qingfang had made him and Yue Qingyuan take a spoonful of alcohol to practice the trick, it had hit Shang Qinghua quickly and Yue Qingyuan not at all (so fucking unfair), but this seemed like stronger stuff. Much stronger stuff. 

 

 Standing up worked this time. Staying upright was the hard part, but Shang Qinghua managed that with sufficient determination, being very firm with the floor and its mischief. He walked towards the back way out of the library, the long way out of the library, and caught himself on the asshole doorway that jumped in his way. The impact knocked through all his bumps and bruises. 

 

 He leaned against the doorway and kept the jar of wine from falling out of his sleeve. 

 

 Shang Qinghua was using the trick. He knew the trick and he knew that he was using the trick. The trick didn’t seem to be working well this time with this super strong stuff. His hands were moving slowly. His mouth was filled with glue. It was moving slowly. 

 

 His brain was moving slowly too. Too slowly. Almost stuck. 

 

 Stuck. 

 

 Stuck, stuck, stuck. 

 

 St-uck. 

 

 Fuck. 

 

 A hand landed on Shang Qinghua’s shoulder. It was warm and steadying, but the weight of the touch was unfamiliar, unexpected, and unwanted. Too much. Too suddenly. 

 

 He turned his head and came face to face with a wide smile. Curved, laughing eyes. Wavy, dark brown hair. A mark on his forehead, the mark of a Sun Sect family, painted in white. The hand on his shoulder reached around his neck, putting new weight on him. 

 

 “How are you still conscious?” Bai Jianming asked him. 

 

 Shang Qinghua blinked at him. 

 

 The jar of wine fell out of his sleeve, rolling across the floor. 

 

 “Drugged,” Shang Qinghua said, and his words were slurred. “It’s drugged.” 

 

 Bai Jianming shrugged. “It’s not personal.” 

 

 That was… Shang Qinghua couldn’t remember the word. It was not good. 

 

 This was not good. 

 

 Shit.

 

 “What is your name?” Bai Jianming asked, tilting his head. “Ah, it doesn’t matter.” 

 

 Offensive! That was the word. 

 

 Hurtful. 

 

 Terrifying. 

 

 “Fuck,” Shang Qinghua slurred. 

 

 Bai Jianming laughed. 

 

 “Did you just-? I see why Mobei likes you,” he said. "You're a strange one."

 

 The arm around Shang Qinghua’s shoulders tightened, pulling him away from the doorway. 

 

 Shang Qinghua resisted. He didn’t want this arm touching him. 

 

 “Come on,” Bai Jianming coaxed. “I'm a good time! You won’t even remember this in the morning...” 

 

 The drinking trick wasn’t working. Not completely. Not correctly. 

 

 But he had other tricks. 

 

 Shang Qinghua pushed off the doorway and fell clumsily against Bai Jianming, who caught him ungently with his other hand, the other arm still around his shoulders, leaving his stomach wide open for Shang Qinghua to punch with a fistful of spiritual energy. 

 

 The punch was clumsy, but it connected. 

 

 Bai Jianming made a sound that was more confusion and amusement than pain. 

 

 And then Shang Qinghua finished the trick and Bai Jianming made another noise, before shoving him away. Shang Qinghua missed grabbing for the doorway and slammed into it, dazedly grabbing it before he could slide all the way to the floor. He watched Bai Jianming stumble, then fall to his knees, a violent twitch going through his entire body. 

 

 “You fucking-” 

 

 Bai Jianming threw up. 

 

 Shang Qinghua’s heart was going too fast to feel any satisfaction. 

 

 Now the Sun Sect disciple was angry with him. 

 

 And Shang Qinghua couldn’t run. 

 

 If he couldn't run, then...

 

 Bai Jianming finished throwing up and turned to face him, just in time for Shang Qinghua’s clumsy, desperate kick to connect with his forehead. His eyes rolled to the back of his head. He collapsed to the floor, into the puddle of his own vomit, and didn’t move. 

 

 Shang Qinghua slid the rest of the way to the floor. 

 

 The wine had been drugged.

 

 It hadn’t been from Mobei-Jun and it had been drugged.

 

 The drinking trick wasn’t working right against the drugged wine, but he needed it out. 

 

 He raised his fist, summoned spiritual energy to his hand, and essentially punched himself in the stomach. It hurt. Everything inside him queased and shook and, as the trick finished, pushed up to get out his throat. Shang Qinghua fell forward onto his free hand and threw up. 

 

 It was disgusting. 

 

 His eyes filled with tears. His head squeezed. He threw up again and again, until he didn’t have anything left to throw up except his own stomach and lungs and maybe his heart, which were definitely trying to come out. He retched and coughed and spat bile off his lips. 

 

 And then he realized he’d thrown up partly on the person sprawled in front of him. 

 

 Bai Jianming still wasn’t moving. 

 

 He looked dead. 

 

 "Fuck," Shang Qinghua said.

 

 Then he crawled to unsteady feet and fled the scene. 

 


 

 He didn’t know where he was going. 

 

 He was going away. 

 

 He couldn’t think. His head was still squeezing, sluggish, spaced out of his reach. 

 

 He needed someone. He needed to leave. He needed help. He needed to hide. He had been attacked. He had attacked someone. He needed to tell everyone, but he couldn’t let anyone find out. He had fucked up so fucking badly there was no coming back from it this time. 

 

 Where was he going? 

 

 Qian Cao. Healers. Mu Qingfang. 

 

 Except Mu Qingfang would tell everyone and that couldn’t happen. 

 

 But Shang Qinghua’s heart was still going too fast, too light, and he couldn’t breathe.

 

 The trick wasn’t working correctly.

 

 It felt like he was dying. He didn’t want to die. 

 

 His breath hitched. 

 

 He didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to die. 

 

 He couldn’t go back to his house. What if he died there? He didn’t want to die alone again. 

 

 Shang Qinghua stopped, putting a hand to his head, trying to help the drinking trick along, even though it wasn’t built for this. He didn’t know what this body being such an absurd lightweight meant for poisons. He needed to think.  He needed the trick to work, but t he world was still blurred in some places and too sharp in others. It hurt.

 

 He needed to hide the body. 

 

 “Shang Qinghua.” 

 

 He wanted this to have never happened. 

 

  “Shang Qinghua.” 

 

 A hand landed on Shang Qinghua’s shoulder. It was warm and steadying. 

 

 Shang Qinghua lashed out with a fist. He was too slow and missed, losing his balance, falling to the hard stone path. He landed on his hands and knees. It hurt. 

 

 Someone crouched next to him. He looked up. 

 

 “What’s wrong with you?” 

 

 Oh, it was the right face this time. A long face, with striking features, frowning down at him from a great height. The mark on the forehead was blue. Where had this face been before? 

 

 Mobei-Jun’s frown deepened, and he said, “I have been looking for you.” 

 

 “Don’t be angry,” Shang Qinghua begged. 

 

 He tried to make a respectful position, maybe even a kowtow. His limbs weren’t cooperating. He didn't want to be murdered.

 

 “Don’t kill me!” he said. 

 

 “What?” 

 

 “Please, please, please…” 

 

 A hand slowly reached out under his chin and lifted Shang Qinghua’s swimming head. Mobei-Jun was still frowning at him. Shang Qinghua wavered, but Mobei-Jun’s hand stayed under his chin, stopping him from looking down again. 

 

 “What happened?” 

 

 “I didn’t mean to- mean to kill him!” 

 

 “What?!” 

 

 It was important that Mobei-Jun know that Shang Qinghua hadn’t meant to kill his shithead friend if he was dead. People took blows in this world that could kill a normal person. People weren’t like characters. They died so much more easily. Sometimes all it took was one shock to the system and that was the end. 

 

 “I never- I never wanted anyone to die because of me…” 

 

 Mobei-Jun’s hand was gripping his chin now, tightly, as he demanded, “Who?” 

 

 “Who?” Shang Qinghua repeated.  

 

 “Who’s dead?” 

 

 He didn’t know if the Sun Sect disciple was dead, so he said, “I don’t know.” 

 

 “How-? A stranger?” 

 

 “No, it’s… it’s… the guy who laughs too much. Your shithead friend-” 

 

 “Bai Jianming?” 

 

 “Oh, yes.” 

 

 “You killed him?!” 

 

 “I don’t know!” Shang Qinghua wailed. “I didn’t mean to hit him like that!” 

 

 Mobei-Jun stared at him. 

 

 Shang Qinghua tried to pull his chin free of Mobei-Jun’s hand, but he wouldn’t let go. 

 

 “Why did you hit him?” Mobei-Jun demanded. 

 

 “The drink… the drink I…”  

 

 “What drink?” 

 

 “The wine. It was drugged. The trick wasn’t working.” 

 

 “...He gave you drugged wine.” 

 

 “No.” 

 

 “No?” 

 

 “He left it,” Shang Qinghua explained. “I thought you left it.” 

 

 “In… the library?” Mobei-Jun asked. 

 

 “I shouldn’t drink it- shouldn’t have drank it.” 

 

 “Why would you drink it?!” 

 

 “I thought you did it!” 

 

 “No. You drank drugged wine. Then what?” 

 

 “He touched me.” 

 

 “He what?” 

 

 Shang Qinghua reached out and put his hand on Mobei-Jun’s shoulder. 

 

 He missed the first time. 

 

 Mobei-Jun stared at the hand and then looked back at him. “...Then what?” 

 

 “He threw up.” 

 

 “What?” 

 

 “And I kicked him and then I threw up on him.” 

 

 “You threw up on him?” 

 

 “I had to get it out. The drinking trick isn’t working.” 

 

 “...Where is he now?” 

 

 “I don’t know.” 

 

 “Did this happen in the library?” 

 

 “Yes.” 

 

 “Did you leave him there?” 

 

 Shang Qinghua nodded, but it was hard with Mobei-Jun’s hand holding his chin up so tightly. The rest of the world was breaking apart, falling up and down around them, but Mobei-Jun couldn’t be moved. That hand was the only solid thing in the world.

 

 “Don’t tell anyone. I don’t know if he’s dead. Don’t tell.” 

 

 “He’ll wish to be,” Mobei-Jun promised him. 

 

 “...What?” 

 

 “I’ll take care of it.” 

 

 “Really?” 

 

 Mobei-Jun finally released his chin, leaning back. 

 

 It felt like going into freefall. 

 

 Shang Qinghua quickly leaned forward and said, “You can’t!” 

 

 “What?” 

 

 Shang Qinghua fell forward and the side of his head landed on Mobei-Jun’s thigh. He clung to it. One of his teary eyes was pressed against Mobei-Jun’s white guest disciple robes. 

 

 “You can’t leave me here!” 

 

 He didn’t know where he was or where he was going. He didn’t want to be alone. 

 

 “Get off!” 

 

 “You owe me!” 

 

 Hands settled on Shang Qinghua’s shoulders, but he shrugged them off, fingers digging into the robes. He hugged Mobei-Jun’s thighs even tighter. The hands pulled harder. 

 

 “Nooooo!” 

 

 “Sit up!” 

 

 One of the hands grabbed Shang Qinghua’s wrists, forcibly detaching his clinging fingers, and the other forcibly yanked him up. The sudden shift in position made him see stars. Shang Qinghua blinked into Mobei-Jun’s scowling face. Oh, these were Mobei-Jun's hands. That made more sense.

 

 “I’m not leaving you!” Mobei-Jun snapped. “Get up. I’ll take you back to your house.” 

 

 “O-oh.” 

 

 That sounded good. 

 

 Shang Qinghua apparently didn’t have much of a choice in the matter, as Mobei-Jun pulled them both up, but he didn’t try to struggle. Standing was hard. He almost floated away, but Mobei-Jun was very strong. The grip on his wrists was too tight. 

 

 Mobei-Jun tried to make them walk. It worked a little. 

 

 His head was squeezing again, though. 

 

 He didn’t know how far they got before Mobei-Jun gave up on him. Mobei-Jun wasn’t a very patient person sometimes. He still yelped in surprise as Mobei-Jun cursed and then threw him over his shoulder. The shoulder was hard. It hurt a lot. 

 

 Shang Qinghua retched. It was good he didn’t have anything left to throw up. 

 

 “Stop kicking!” Mobei-Jun snapped. “Qinghua! Stop kicking!” 

 

 “Oh.” 

 

 He hadn’t realized Mobei-Jun had been talking to him. Had he been kicking? 

 

 The walk went by a lot faster like that. The ground went whoosh. 

 

 Mobei-Jun’s legs were very long. 

 

 Shang Qinghua was supposed to be doing something, but he couldn’t remember what. He was too busy clinging to Mobei-Jun for dear life as the ground whizzed by. He could feel Mobei-Jun’s shoulder and shoulder blades moving under him. He felt along Mobei-Jun’s back with his hands as it moved. It was a very muscular back. Very nice. 

 

 “Stop that,” Mobei-Jun said. 

 

 So cruel! 

 

 He wasn’t even touching that much. It was just to keep his balance. Mobei-Jun was so tough that he shouldn’t even notice Shang Qinghua’s hands doing a little exploration. 

 

 “Qinghua, stop that.” 

 

 “It wasn’t me!” 

 

 Mobei-Jun stopped and looked around, before he kept walking. It was very dizzying. 

 

 “Who else would it be?” he demanded. 

 

 “I don’t know!” Shang Qinghua lied. “I didn’t see them!” 

 

 “Stop trying to undo my belt.” 

 

 “I wasn’t!” 

 

 Had he been doing that? 

 

 A little while later, Shang Qinghua said, “Throw up.” 

 

 “What?” 

 

 “I wanna throw up.” 

 

 The world whirled as Shang Qinghua was yanked off the shoulder very quickly. By the time his vision cleared, he was leaning in front of some bushes, being held up by the back of his robes. He retched, but nothing came up. He wished something would. He thought throwing up would have made him feel a little better, getting the bad stuff out. 

 

 “The drinking trick,” he mumbled. “That’s what I was supposed- I was doing.” 

 

 “Do not drink anything more,” Mobei-Jun told him. 

 

 “Oh, my house! I love my house.” 

 

 Shang Qinghua tried to take a step towards his house, but the hand on the back of his robes was stopping him. The hand let go and Shang Qinghua went forward! He fell immediately. 

 

 “Ow.” 

 

 Mobei-Jun picked him off the ground and carried him into his house. It was a different carry this time. A bridal carry. A damsel-in-distress carry. A princess carry. Shang Qinghua could see Mobei-Jun’s handsome features this way, which was nice, even though the back view had also been pretty good. He decided it was very nice, before Mobei-Jun cruelly and unceremoniously dropped him onto his bed. He was such an asshole.

 

 He was lucky Shang Qinghua liked him so much.

 

 Shang Qinghua pushed himself up just in time for his blankets to hit him in the face. They had apparently been on the floor. How had they gotten on the floor? He pulled them off his face so that he could breathe, frowning up at Mobei-Jun. 

 

 “What?” Mobei-Jun demanded. 

 

 “You’re not good at this,” Shang Qinghua said. “No bedside manner at alllll.” 

 

 Mobei-Jun frowned back. “What am I supposed to do?” 

 

 “...I can’t remember. But you’re taller and you hated me, and I helped.” 

 

 “Yes. You did.” 

 

 “Oh!” 

 

 “What?” 

 

 “You need to get me water.” 

 

 “...Where?” 

 

 “Over… over there! Qingyuan left it there. Don't worry! I’ll get it.” 

 

 “Sit down,” Mobei-Jun snapped, and then went to get water.  

 

 Shang Qinghua sat back down in bed. As he pushed the blankets aside, he noticed the state of his robes, brown splotches around his knees. He couldn’t be in bed like this! He got out of his bed and started stripping off his outer robes. He didn’t want to have to do more laundry. 

 

 “What are you doing?!” 

 

 Shang Qinghua looked at Mobei-Jun and patiently explained, “I threw up.” 

 

 Then he dropped his outer robes on the floor, in the general direction of a corner, at least nowhere near his poor bed. It didn’t need any vomit on it. 

 

 Mobei-Jun came over with some water and ordered, “Drink.” 

 

 Water had never tasted so good in any lifetime. 

 

 It kind of made Shang Qinghua want to throw up again. 

 

 “I hate this,” he confessed. 

 

 “Drink your water,” Mobei-Jun snapped. 

 

 Shang Qinghua drank his water, kicked his dirtied clothes a little more into the corner, and made Mobei-Jun get him his snacks. People were allowed to be a little spoiled when they were sick, right? He really, really wanted noodles. But when he told Mobei-Jun that he should make noodles from scratch, for a yummy soup, Mobei-Jun threw the snacks at his face and said, “I’m not doing that.” 

 

 “Oh, you probably can’t,” Shang Qinghua realized, and ate his snacks. 

 

 He generously offered some to Mobei-Jun, who was sitting beside him on his bed. 

 

 “No,” Mobei-Jun said. “What happened yesterday?” 

 

 “Yesterday?” 

 

 “You ran off after Yue Qingyuan’s fiancée and fought a River Sect disciple.” 

 

 “That was yesterday?” 

 

 “Yes.” 

 

 It felt a lot, lot longer than that. 

 

 “Oh, I didn’t come back! Fuck, I meant to come back.” 

 

 “You didn’t.” 

 

 The good “maybe I won’t die” feeling that had been building evaporated immediately. 

 

 “Don’t be mad! Please, don’t kill me!” 

 

 “I’m n-” Mobei-Jun took a deep breath, then grit out, “I’m not mad.” 

 

 Shang Qinghua relaxed again. “Oh, good.” 

 

 Phew! That had been close! 

 

 “I wrote a note?” Shang Qinghua tried to remember. 

 

 “What happened to the note?” 

 

 “I fell asleep.” 

 

 “...I see,” Mobei-Jun said. 

 

 “Shen Qingqiu is an asshole,” Shang Qinghua informed him. 

 

 “...Yes.” 

 

 “So are you, but he’s so much worse. I don’t like him.” 

 

 It wasn’t Yue Qingyuan’s fault that they had such a shitty backstory. It was that rat bastard Airplane Shooting Towards The Sky’s fault. That didn’t mean that Shen Qingqiu had to be such an asshole about everything, though, especially when he didn’t write these scenes. He didn't write any of this. It wasn't his fault.

 

 Shang Qinghua listed to the side and landed against something solid like a wall. 

 

 The wall moved, gently pushing Shang Qinghua upright again. 

 

 Oh, the wall was Mobei-Jun. 

 

 “...Why do you help me?” Mobei-Jun asked. 

 

 Shang Qinghua couldn’t follow these conversations at all. Why did Mobei-Jun have to be so confusing all the time?

 

 “Help?” he repeated. 

 

 “Why do you help me if you don’t like me?” Mobei-Jun asked. 

 

 “I like you!” Shang Qinghua protested. “You’re my favorite! I don’t want you to die.” 

 

 Mobei-Jun blinked at him. 

 

 Shang Qinghua leaned forward again, though not on purpose. 

 

 “You’re not allowed to die,” he said. 

 

 It would be so uncool if Mobei-Jun died! It would also be uncool if Mobei-Jun killed him someday, but he still didn’t want his favorite character to die because of some lowly trick from a shitty uncle or a shitty friend. Who would be the protagonist’s right-hand man? 

 

 “...Why do you care?” Mobei-Jun said. 

 

 “What? I can’t have my favorites?” Shang Qinghua said defensively. 

 

 He didn’t need to explain himself to everyone! He didn’t need to explain himself to anyone! Definitely not the Cloud Sect and all its fucking rules. First rule of everything was not to give a shit what the reviewers said. Sometimes people were allowed to be human! Fuck off! 

 

 Mobei-Jun kept frowning at him. 

 

 He was lucky that his face looked good that way, if it ever got stuck someday. 

 

 Shang Qinghua liked Mobei-Jun’s face even more for the zit on his forehead, the scar on the edge of his cheek, the stubble on his jaw, and all the other details that made him real. He liked the way it moved. He liked the way that Mobei-Jun’s brow furrowed in concentration when he was listening to Shang Qinghua ramble on about anything and everything, the way that his eyes tracked Shang Qinghua’s hand gestures even when they didn’t have meaning, and the way his lips twitched when he was amused and trying not to show it. 

 

 Shang Qinghua reached out to touch that face again, unable to remember why he shouldn’t. 

 

 Mobei-Jun let him do it, watching him carefully. 

 

 “Ugh, you’re so handsome,” Shang Qinghua complained, running a thumb over Mobei-Jun’s cheek. “It’s not fair. Who gave you this face? I didn’t give you this face.” 

 

 “...I wouldn’t take a face from you,” Mobei-Jun said. 

 

 Shang Qinghua scrunched up his expression. He wouldn’t take a face from him either. 

 

 “You’re mean,” he complained. 

 

 “Yes.” 

 

 “But I like you anyway,” Shang Qinghua assured him. “Sometimes, it’s just really funny. I shouldn't like it, but I do. Sometimes, it’s just mean, though! You’re such a fucking brat. Why can’t you just say sorry? You said sorry for pushing me in the river. Say sorry.” 

 

 Mobei-Jun scowled at him. “What am I supposed to be sorry for?” 

 

 “You called me pathetic," Shang Qinghua said mournfully. "Why did you have to be right like that?"

 

 Mobei-Jun looked away. 

 

 Shang Qinghua tried to drag his eyes back, physically turning Mobei-Jun’s head. 

 

 “You can’t make it up to me with candy! That’s so pathetic! That's not good enough!” 

 

  “What do you want from me?” Mobei-Jun snapped. 

 

 He was so handsome. 

 

 It wasn’t fair. 

 

 Shang Qinghua leaned forward, pulling Mobei-Jun’s face down, and kissed him. 

 

 Mobei-Jun went still. 

 

 It wasn’t a good kiss. It was just lips pressed together. It was kind of a letdown after not kissing anyone in about twenty years.

 

 He hadn’t imagined it like this. 

 

 Shang Qinghua drew back and licked his lips. 

 

 Mobei-Jun stared at him, eyes wide. 

 

 “Wait. Wait, wait, wait,” Shang Qinghua said, leaning his forehead against Mobei-Jun's. “I can do better than that.” 

 

 And he kissed Mobei-Jun again. 

 

 It was better this time. Slower. Softer. He’d wanted to do this for so long. Eventually, Mobei-Jun’s lips moved on their own, instead of just being moved, mirroring Shang Qinghua’s efforts. That was much better. Now, it was good. Now, they were really making progress. 

 

 And then Mobei-Jun shoved him away. 

 

 Shang Qinghua landed on his back, sprawled out on his bed, and it set off all the bumps and bruises he’d been ignoring. That was a lot. He pushed himself up onto his elbows with a pitiful groan, opening his eyes to Mobei-Jun getting to his feet, breathing heavily. 

 

 That was actually kind of like how Shang Qinghua had sometimes imagined it. 

 

 This was the part where he died. 

 

 Mobei-Jun pointed a warning finger at him. “Don’t move.” 

 

 “Not moving!” Shang Qinghua agreed fearfully. 

 

 He tried to sit up. 

 

 “Don’t move!” 

 

 Shang Qinghua flopped back down. All of his bumps and bruises went off again. 

 

 “Ow.” 

 

 His eyes teared up a little. 

 

 “I feel like a teenager,” he complained, “and a dirty old man. I hate it. I can’t have anything.”   

 

 “Shut up!” 

 

 It wasn’t a surprise that Mobei-Jun didn’t like him. Most people didn’t. Most of the time, Shang Qinghua didn’t like himself very much. He didn’t like his character, either. 

 

 Absolutely everything was ruined now. 

 

 Mobei-Jun paced the room and Shang Qinghua watched him. 

 

 He rubbed at his eyes and sniffled. 

 

 Mobei-Jun’s head snapped around, probably to kill him for existing too loudly, but then his scowl faded. When Mobei-Jun didn’t lunge forward with killing intent, Shang Qinghua slowly relaxed out of his defensive pose, and then just laid himself down entirely. His head was squeezing again. All of his pain was moving back to the front of his mind. 

 

 He had too many thoughts and only room for one at a time. But now all the thoughts were trying to push forward for the space, and almost nothing was making it through. 

 

 After a while, he felt the bed shift under the weight of someone sitting down at the end. 

 

 He didn’t look. 

 

 He wanted to throw up again. 

 

 Instead, breath by breath, ache by ache, Shang Qinghua passed out. 

 


 

 Everything hurt. 

 

 Shang Qinghua woke up and immediately regretted it. He groaned. 

 

 Footsteps crossed the room towards him. “Qinghua!” 

 

 Opening his eyes was a mistake, but he did it anyway, squinting towards a familiar blur, which turned into a familiar concerned face hovering over him. Yue Qingyuan carefully, but firmly, helped him sit up. Then he offered him a cup of something that smelled like shit. 

 

 “Qingfang left this. Plug your nose,” Yue Qingyuan ordered. 

 

 Yue Qingyuan was too OP! He wrestled Shang Qinghua fully upright, made him pinch his own nose, and then poured a cup of some foul potion down his throat. It tasted even worse than it smelled. Shang Qinghua gagged. Yue Qingyuan made him drink water next, and only afterwards released him to collapse back onto the bed. 

 

 “Holy shit,” Shang Qinghua gasped. 

 

 Yue Qingyuan frowned down at him, but didn’t keep torturing him. 

 

 Shang Qinghua put a hand to his head and licked his teeth like that would make his mouth feel clean again. Injuries across his body flared as he noticed them, but his memories might as well have been at the bottom of a black pit, so who fucking knew how they’d gotten there. 

 

 “...What happened?” 

 

 “What’s the last thing you remember?” Yue Qingyuan asked him. 

 

 Shang Qinghua squinted at him, then said hoarsely, “Shit. That’s really bad, isn’t it? No one asks that question if anything good happened.” 

 

 The abyss stirred, spitting up a jumbled mess that hurt to look at and might as well have been a dream. He couldn’t sort through it. He winced as he forced himself to sit up a little. 

 

 Yue Qingyuan sat down on the bed beside him. 

 

 Shang Qinghua tasted his mouth again. “Did I… Am I hungover?” 

 

 “That’s… part of it.” 

 

 “Part of-?! Fuck. Part of it?!” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan had the expression of someone who didn’t know where to start. Slowly, he began, “Early yesterday evening, Bai Jianming was found unconscious in the library, lying in his own vomit, with an open jar of wine spilled on the floor beside him.” 

 

 The ghost of a hand settled on Shang Qinghua’s shoulder and he shuddered.

 

 The feeling tugged at the black pit of his memories, giving him the flash of a smile and a stomach full of dread. 

 

 Yue Qingyuan frowned, but continued, “The disciple was rushed to Qian Cao, where it was discovered that he was not drunk, and not injured besides a large bump on the head. He claimed not to remember what had happened. An investigation started. I came to check on you and discovered Mobei Yi watching over you.” 

 

 This time, Shang Qinghua remembered being caught, being carried, being… shoved away. 

 

 “He said that Bai Jianming had given you drugged wine and then attacked you, and that he had found you wandering the Cloud Recesses after you had fought off the attack,” Yue Qingyuan explained. “Qingfang tested the wine and confirmed that it was drugged, and that you were intoxicated. The investigation would have continued, but…” 

 

 Shang Qinghua didn’t like that. He didn’t like any of this. 

 

 Morbid curiosity compelled him forward. 

 

 “But?” 

 

 “Mobei Yi went to Qian Cao and attacked Bai Jianming.” 

 

 “What?!” 

 

 “Three of his limbs are broken. The fourth is sprained. There were many other injuries, but Qingfang didn’t care to list all of them for me, beyond to say that Bai Jianming could have been beaten to death,” Yue Qingyuan said. “Mobei Yi was also injured, but not seriously. The Master of Qian Cao Peak had to intervene. There was significant damage to that healing hall. Mobei Yi and Bai Jianming have been separated and treated, but the sect leader and his brother- your uncles agreed that the only course of action was to expel them both from the Cloud Recesses at once.” 

 

 “What?!” 

 

 “Bai Jianming will remain here until the Sun Sect can arrange transport, but Mobei Yi has been asked to leave before the end of the day.” 

 

 “But he didn’t do-” 

 

 “He nearly killed a member of his own sect,” Yue Qingyuan reiterated solemnly. Though he then added darkly, “Even if Bai Jianming apparently well-deserved it. Qinghua, do you remember… any of this? I know you have no tolerance for alcohol.” 

 

 “I… some of it?” 

 

 His head hurt even more with the effort of trying to remember. He couldn’t separate his memories from what could have been fucked-up dreams or his imagination trying to make something up. He was pretty sure that the memory of Mobei-Jun carrying him over one shoulder was real. There was no fucking way that he had kissed Mobei-Jun and lived, though, only getting shoved away for the audacity. That one had to be nothing more than wishful thinking, a fantasy screwed over by his own pessimism. 

 

 Mobei-Jun definitely would have killed him if that had happened. It couldn’t be real. 

 

 Yue Qingyuan wouldn’t let him out of bed until Shang Qinghua recounted some of his jumbled memories (he did not mention any kissing) and told him where all his worst hurts were. He barely remembered seeing Bai Jianming. How was he supposed to know what fucked-up thing that shithead had meant to do? Shang Qinghua’s worst injuries were still, by far, from his punishment yesterday morning.

 

 Yesterday morning! Where had yesterday gone? 

 

 Only after Shang Qinghua had assured and reassured Yue Qingyuan that he was probably fine enough, after Shang Qinghua had begged and pleaded with him, threatening to cry and also sneak away to go without him, did Yue Qingyuan agree to take him to see Mobei-Jun before he left. Yue Qingyuan agreed that it was good that Mobei-Jun had helped Shang Qinghua, and Yue Qingyuan agreed that he wasn’t sorry Bai Jianming had gotten the shit kicked out of him, but Yue Qingyuan apparently still didn’t want to let Shang Qinghua anywhere near anyone so violent, or anyone from the Sun Sect, really. 

 

 “I’d like to see you try to get around me,” Yue Qingyuan said mildly. 

 

 But he did help Shang Qinghua up, into new clothes,  and out the door. 

 

 He was a bro like that sometimes. 

 

 It might have been the fact that Shang Qinghua had said, desperate, “I’d do it for you.” 

 


 

 It didn’t feel real. Nothing felt real. 

 

 His mind was reeling, which made his aching head feel even more like shit. Mu Qingfang’s medicine was slowly starting to kick in, though, so Shang Qinghua gritted his teeth and pushed forward with Yue Qingyuan’s help. Yue Qingyuan had said that Mobei-Jun had already started the process of leaving and could be gone any hour. 

 

 Shang Qinghua needed to see him and say, “Hey, what the FUCK?!” 

 

 He needed people to jump out of the bushes of this path and shout, “It’s a prank, bro! We totally got you, didn’t we?!”

 

 Except shit like that didn’t happen in the Cloud Recesses. Ever. 

 

 They found Mobei-Jun in one of the courtyards by the dormitories given to the Sun Sect. His bags were already packed around him and set onto a nearby bench. It looked like a couple of other Sun Sect disciples were going to follow Mobei-Jun out of the guest lectures, either belonging to the same clan or to a subsidiary clan or who fucking knew what was up with it. The likes of Mobei-Jun and Bai Jianming apparently couldn’t get kicked out of the Cloud Recesses without taking at least a small entourage with them. 

 

 Mobei-Jun turned to look at them approaching and his eyes widened. Shang Qinghua saw him snap at one of the other Sun Sect disciples, before striding over to meet them. 

 

 He was already out of the white uniform, instead wearing rich blue and black robes with the icy patterns of his family. They looked so expensive. They also suited him really, really well. It didn’t make sense, though, that these robes would come with a dark bruise on Mobei-Jun’s jaw, a bandage on his forehead, and bandages around both of his hands. That must have been from the fight. 

 

 “Young Master Mobei,” Yue Qingyuan greeted. 

 

 “...Young Master Yue,” Mobei-Jun managed, before looking towards Shang Qinghua. 

 

 “Could we… have a moment?” Shang Qinghua asked Yue Qingyuan. 

 

 “No,” Yue Qingyuan said. 

 

 “...What do you mean ‘no’?!” 

 

 “I mean: no,” Yue Qingyuan said, with pleasant firmness. 

 

 The final thing that Shang Qinghua had said, while begging Yue Qingyuan to bring him here, was, “I’d do it for you!” Which had been true, probably. Yue Qingyuan hadn't been able to deny it. Shang Qinghua would support Yue Qingyuan in some dumbass endeavor to visit Shen Qingqiu, but after… after the last encounter with Shen Qingqiu, he couldn’t say he liked the idea of Yue Qingyuan facing him alone. 

 

 “You’re still injured, Qinghua,” Yue Qingyuan reminded him. 

 

 “Really? I hadn’t noticed.” 

 

 “And I’m not leaving you here,” Yue Qingyuan said, smiling towards the other Sun Sect disciples looking their way, who all quickly made themselves look very busy. “Your uncles wouldn’t be pleased.” 

 

 “Fuck them,” Shang Qinghua muttered. 

 

 But this wasn’t a fight that he could win and he knew it. He didn’t have the resources, or the strength, especially not any time. So he focused on Mobei-Jun, like that would make all his memories neatly fall into place and start making any sense. Mobei-Jun stared back. 

 

 “So, ah, you’re leaving,” Shang Qinghua said. 

 

 “Yes.” 

 

 “Well, I guess that won’t change the amount of classwork you were doing…?” 

 

 “...No.” 

 

  “What happened?!” Shang Qinghua wanted to shriek. “Why did you do that?! Are you going to be in shit with your father now?! There’s no way you’re not into deep shit with Bai Jianming’s family now! I can’t remember what happened last night, but please tell me I didn’t spend a ridiculous amount of time touching your face! Did that really happen?! I’d want to remember that!” 

 

 Instead, he said, “Thanks for, uh, helping me back to my house?” 

 

 Mobei-Jun nodded. 

 

 “I, ha, I wish I remembered that. It’s all kind of a blur…” 

 

 There wasn’t much that they could say. Not like this. Before Shang Qinghua knew it, the only thing left to awkwardly spit out was a goodbye, even though he was desperate to find a way to prolong the conversation, like that would stop Mobei-Jun from being expelled from the Cloud Recesses. This was it? This was really it?! This was how it all ended?! Like there was nothing worth talking about between them?!

 

 And then Mobei-Jun handed him a letter. 

 

 “What’s-?” 

 

 “Don’t read it here,” Mobei-Jun snapped. 

 

 “Oh, of course.” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan pulled Shang Qinghua one direction. The other Sun Sect disciples beckoned Mobei-Jun in the other direction, clearly not brave enough to actually touch him. More senior Cloud Sect cultivators were apparently on their way to oversee their expulsion, possibly included the Cloud Sect Leader himself, and avoiding the sect leader’s attention was always the best course of action for Yue Qingyuan and Shang Qinghua. 

 

 He didn’t even get to see Mobei-Jun leave. 

 

 He went back to his house and later, Yue Qingyuan told him Mobei-Jun had gone. 

 


 

 Shang Qinghua didn’t open the letter until he was back at his house and alone again, mostly. Yue Qingyuan was still in the other room. Mu Qingfang, Chen Riling, and Little Uncle had all been through. Even Shang Yuxi had been by to express concern, though he hadn’t been able to tell by her expression, and Shang Qinghua got the impression that she mostly dropped by to deliver some well wishes on behalf of her friend, Ding Lanfen. 

 

 Even now he was mostly alone, a part of him didn’t want to open the letter. Maybe the letter was all about how pathetic Mobei-Jun thought he was! Maybe the letter was Mobei-Jun blaming him for everything that had happened! Maybe if he didn’t read the letter, Shang Qinghua could pretend that everything hadn’t been fucked up in less than a day, and that Mobei-Jun hadn’t been whisked away in a shitty, sudden goodbye that had been so awkward and so quick that it still didn’t feel real. He opened the letter anyway, before the curiosity could kill him. He'd never be able to sleep again if he didn't read it.

 

 The writing inside was painstakingly neat. It was also slightly stilted, but Shang Qinghua recognized the handwriting and the style from dozens upon dozens of afternoons watching Mobei-Jun transfer his thoughts to paper. Afternoon after afternoon spent smoothing out sentences like these. He knew exactly how much work had gone into this letter. 

 

  “Shang Qinghua,” the letter said. 

 

  “I am grateful for your help. Better armed, I will continue this work. Do not send letters to my sect or they will be read. We will only meet again if you are not a coward, so do not be a coward.

 

 “I am sorry.” 

 

 It wasn’t signed. 

 

 Shang Qinghua checked the back, just in case, but there was nothing else. He supposed that he was lucky that he didn’t get only a single character from a man of so few words. He flipped the letter right-side-up again and stared at it, quickly putting it down when he realized that his grip was threatening to crease it… or stain it with sweat. 

 

 “You had to be mean one last time, huh?” Shang Qinghua muttered. “Asshole.” 

 

 But his eyes drifted away from the part calling him a coward - not wrongly, which was the worst fucking past - to the bits that said, “I am grateful for your help,” and “I am sorry.” 

 

 “...Did that hurt you to write?” Shang Qinghua wondered. “Good!” 

 

 “Qinghua, are you saying something?” 

 

 “No!” 

 

 “Do you need something?” 

 

 “No, I don’t!” 

 

 “I’m coming back in,” Yue Qingyuan said, and then followed through on his threat. 

 

 Shang Qinghua quickly sat up, away from where he’d stashed the letter, and Yue Qingyuan looked at him like he was more transparent than glass. It sucked. Yue Qingyuan was a bro sometimes, though, and he didn’t call Shang Qinghua on his bullshit or take the letter from him to read it. 

 

 “Are you all right?” 

 

 Shang Qinghua waved his arm a few times. “I’m fine! I’m fine! Ow, I just tugged something I shouldn’t have, shit, why are there so many bruises?!” He hissed and tried to stretch out his traitorous, aching everything. “I’m fine!” 

 

 “Clearly,” Yue Qingyuan agreed. 

 

He didn’t go anywhere as Shang Qinghua finished willing life back into his limb. 

 

 “...What?” 

 

 “Your second uncle has managed to keep your involvement in the expulsion of two Sun Sect disciples out of the gossip,” Yue Qingyuan informed him. “The only people who know are him, the sect leader, Qingfang, and the Master of Qian Cao. It was assumed that you would prefer people not to know what happened.” 

 

 “Oh… yeah.” 

 

 “It wouldn’t have changed the sect leader’s decision.” 

 

 “My existence never does!” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan grimaced. “It was a… well-meant act… but the violence of it…” 

 

 “Too scary to keep around here,” Shang Qinghua finished. “It’s fine. It’s cool. It’s fine.” 

 

 “...Bai Jianming is still being held on Qian Cao, until the Sun Sect can collect him, so don’t go there until further notice,” Yue Qingyuan ordered. “If you need something, send someone for Qingfang immediately. I’ve made it clear - and so has your uncle and Qingfang - that your orders aren’t to be disregarded.” 

 

 “Ha ha, fun. I get to boss people around.” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan huffed. “It’s a great power. Use it wisely.” 

 

 “I’m already forming wicked plans.” 

 

  “Do use it if you need anything, Qinghua.” 

 

 Shang Qinghua tried to meet Yue Qingyuan’s look, somewhere between scolding and sincere, but it was too intense. “I’ll be the most spoiled brat in the sect,” he promised, totally lying, because people would definitely resent him if he started existing too loudly. “Everyone will get sick of how spoiled I’m going to be.” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan looked politely unconvinced. 

 

  “You have no room to fucking talk, bro,” Shang Qinghua thought. 

 

 “Your ‘reflection’ has been extended to give you time to heal,” Yue Qingyuan said next. “So don’t get up and try to go about work as usual until Qingfang gives you the go-ahead.” 

 

 “Oh, that order I’m definitely going to follow.” 

 

 “Qingfang will be so glad to hear it.” 

 

 Shang Qinghua didn’t have another joke to make. The empty space came up where he was supposed to put one, but this time, he had nothing. He and Yue Qingyuan enjoyed comfortable silences sometimes, but this wasn’t one of them, especially not when Yue Qingyuan was staring at him like he had the last time they’d had a heart-to-heart here. 

 

 Yue Qingyuan crouched down beside the bed. “I can’t say I understood the friendship you formed with him…” 

 

 “Are you enjoying being on the other side of this? You are, aren’t you?” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan huffed. “...but you’ll see him again.” 

 

 “I know,” Shang Qinghua said. 

 

 “There will be conferences soon.” 

 

  “Yeah, and wars someday,” Shang Qinghua thought. “What’s your fucking point?” 

 

 The cultivation conferences would be filled with prying eyes and strict obligations, with humiliating competitions and cutthroat bullshit, if Proud Immortal Demonic Way was to be believed. If the enemies Shang Qinghua had probably just made was anything to go by. There probably wouldn’t be anything like the meetings in the Cloud Recesses library ever again. No more peaceful and quiet afternoons. It was, most likely, all downhill from here. 

 

 It made Shang Qinghua want to run away right fucking now. But where to? The next big event might be Yue Qingyuan’s wedding and the idea of skipping that already made him feel like shit. It wasn't so far away now, but if he stuck around for that, there was a possibility that he might never have the guts to leave. 

 

 “...I didn’t think it would end like this,” Shang Qinghua said, pathetically. 

 

 “I think a lot of endings aren’t expected,” Yue Qingyuan replied. 

 

 “It felt like things were just getting started.” 

 

 “Time shouldn't be wasted.” 

 

 "It's bullshit. Why does everything have to happen all at once like that?"

 

 "I wish I knew."

 

 “Ha, he probably won’t remember me by the time we see each other again.” 

 

 “Qinghua…” Yue Qingyuan said, concerned. 

 

 “I’m kidding! I’m kidding!” Shang Qinghua said quickly. “At least you still have time to make good with the asshole who’s apparently upset you didn’t actually die for him. He’s still got a few months left to cough up an apology. Maybe he can do it one syllable at a time.” 

 

 “...I think he might choke on it,” Yue Qingyuan offered. 

 

 “Ha! Yeah, probably.” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan sat down beside Shang Qinghua’s bed, and the silence this time was more comfortable, for all it hung over them like a ton of bricks. A person could get used to that shit hanging over their head. They just had to get really fucking good at not looking up. A person could almost forget it was there like that. Sure, it was going to fall eventually, but it wasn't going to fall right this minute. There was time.

 

 Less time than he thought, though.

 

 “The wedding is going to be a shitshow,” Shang Qinghua said. “Sorry.” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan sighed. “It’ll be interesting.” 

 

 “That means bad.” 

 

 “No, it doesn’t. It just means interesting.” 

 

 “Sure,” Shang Qinghua said, already thinking ahead to other shitshows meant to come. 

 

  Proud Immortal Demonic Way had been a stallion novel, a shameless one, and so the protagonist had married women from every sect. Some more significant and memorable than others, before it had devolved into even more shameless bullshit. From the River Sect, the most important had been Luo Binghe’s sweet childhood sweetheart, Ning Yingying. From the Mountain Sect, it had been Liu Qingge’s younger sister, Liu Mingyan, an elegant beauty out to avenge her brother. From the Sun Sect, it had been the deadly and ambitious Sha Hualing. From the Flower Sect, it had been the haughty Little Palace Mistress, Chen Danyang. 

 

 And from the Cloud Sect… 

 

 “Qingyuan, how do you feel about daughters?” Shang Qinghua asked. 

 

 “...Why?” Yue Qingyuan asked. 

 

 “That’s the point of getting married, isn’t it? Children?” 

 

 “...Usually the goal is sons.” 

 

 “Ha ha, did I say daughters? I meant children in general! Slip of the tongue!” 

 

 Yue Qingyuan thought about it. “I wouldn’t mind daughters.” 

 

  “Good, bro, because you’re getting two of them,” Shang Qinghua thought. Actually, now that he was thinking about it, a lot of people would be having daughters in the next generation, in order to accommodate the gender distribution of a stallion novel. “Oh, shit, people are probably going to be kind of shitty about that. Sucks for them.” 

 

 “You could call them the ‘Twin Jades’, if you had two of them, I mean! Ha ha! People already call Yuxi the Jade of the Cloud Sect, so her daughters would definitely also be jades.” 

 

 “I think it’s a little early to be giving babies that don’t exist titles like that.” 

 

 “Ha ha, oh, yes. Just… just thinking.” 

 

 Shang Qinghua had always kind of wanted to see them, just like he'd always kind of wanted to see the protagonist, who also wasn't here yet.

 

 Yue Qingyuan hummed. “If you’re distracting me, can you choose a different topic?” 

 

 “Ah, sure, who wants to think about the future? The future isn’t that great, anyway. Neither is the present, actually. The past is… ehhh… that’s bad too. It's all bad. Let’s talk about… oh, let’s talk about how you didn’t bring me better food? How could you? Who does that?” 

 

 “People who were given trays directly by a healer.” 

 

 “Qingfang doesn’t have to know.” 

 

 “People who don’t want to risk an overtired healer’s wrath. People who have had no opportunity to leave the sect in the past few days due to all the trouble caused.” 

 

 “That doesn’t sound like my problem,” Shang Qinghua said. 

 

 Yue Qingyuan laughed. 

 

 "Shit," Shang Qinghua thought. "I'm never going to leave, am I?"

 

 He was already a part of Proud Immortal Demonic Way whether he liked it or not. He hoped this one would have a better ending, but looking around, most of the time, it was hard to see what about this world was different... or could be different. At this rate, the story would be on them before he knew it.