“But right now, besides me, his Shizun, who else can protect ━ or should I say, will protect Luo Binghe?”
Shen Qingqiu buried the boy he loved eight years ago.
There was no body to bury, only the remains of the blade his child worked hard to master. Shen Qingqiu took the sword shards and made a grave behind his bamboo house, erected a marker and carved his child’s name with all the elegance and precision of Qing Jing Peak’s Lord.
Pristine robes muddied at the knees, nails split open and cuticles covered in dirt, Shen Qingqiu buried his feelings, too.
The boy he loved, the boy he raised, the boy Shen Qingqiu came to see as his own ━ his child was dead, killed by his own hand.
Shen Qingqiu would never again see his child’s beautiful face, his sweet smile, his bright, clear eyes, full of worship and love for his ‘Shizun.’
How could Shen Qingqiu dare call himself his master? He raised his child with a soft, tender heart and stabbed his own sword right through it. He did his child no better than a butcher, raising a lamb for the slaughter.
The weight of his conscience bore down on him, an albatross around his neck, its weight in the scales equal to the trust of the child who’d once loved him. The trust Shen Qingqiu shattered as easily as Zheng Yang had shattered.
He could not bear to look at his reflection, see the guilt of his sins stare back at him and cast judgement. His child’s anguished face, his pain stark and open like a ragged wound, the heartbreak in his voice when he called for Shen Qingqiu’s reassurance, to believe in him as Shen Qingqiu once did, to trust him ━
Like a coward, Shen Qingqiu ran. He gathered his love, the memories of two people, locked the treasures in a box, and buried his heart in an empty grave.
The boy he buried, the boy he loved, he and Shen Qingqiu were never destined to cross paths a second time.
Two souls roaming the world, having met once, what reason was there for them to know each other?
Shen Qingqiu’s child died. He was never coming back.
And even if he did, if such a world could exist, if miracles truly were real, his child would not look at Shen Qingqiu with love and tenderness.
Shen Qingqiu’s biggest fear was his reality. The child he (once) loved grown to hate him, abhor the very sight of him, the memories they’d made together. This was the truth. This was the only path available to them.
The torments of love, the pain that came with giving away a part of yourself, Shen Qingqiu was not strong enough to carry their weight. It was easier to run away.
He never expected to be wrong.
He never thought such a world could exist.
He never imagined the boy he buried was still alive, crying out for him, begging Shen Qingqiu to stop and look back at him.
His disciple, his child, his beloved Binghe.
Abandoned by all, completely alone, not even acknowledged by the father that sired him, he truly was an unloved child. Not even his own shizun accepted him.
Out of all the wrongs done to him, Shen Qingqiu hurt him worst of all. Shen Qingqiu turned him into a shade of the grand, all-powerful Demon King Luo Binghe was meant to become. He reduced him to a man pining for the impossible, chasing after the image of someone who never existed.
What lofty immortal? What great master? Shen Qingqiu was an impostor wearing a dead man’s face, ruining the life of innocents. The only lessons he taught Luo Binghe were those of betrayal, of pain, of broken trust.
Restoring the original goods’ ruined meridians bit by bit over the course of five long years, even going so far as to preserve the Moon and Sun Dew Grass body until it inevitably withered ━ how strong must the boy's love be, to endure for so long, to remain steadfast and true even in the face of Shen Qingqiu's cruel ignorance.
It shamed him. Shen Qingqiu had no face to look at him.
How many times did this child try to defend himself? How many times did he try to speak with Shen Qingqiu and clear his name? How many times did Shen Qingqiu refuse him? Reject him, push him away, hurt him? It did not bear thinking. Shen Qingqiu did not want to think about it.
Shen Qingqiu’s thoughts were in turmoil, on the precipice of understanding something important; something that, once acknowledged, he could never turn his back to. His emotions were chaotic, overwhelming, a noose closing around his throat.
But he was sure -- absolutely sure, -- of one of thing.
He could not abandon Luo Binghe.
This pitiful, unloved child … who else would love him but his shizun?
Shen Qingqiu had hurt him deeply, again and again, without caring for his feelings, never taking care with Luo Binghe’s fragile heart.
He could not keep running away. He could not keep cowering, ashamed, unwilling to take the first step forward and meet Luo Binghe halfway. Luo Binghe had tried so hard, done so much, went to great lengths to make their second meeting a possibility.
His child had walked through a hell of his own making to return to his shizun. Time and time again, Luo Binghe saved him. All along, and Shen Qingqiu had been blind to his feelings, unable - no, unwilling, to see him for who he really was.
Brushing a thumb over the crease of Luo Binghe’s brow, Shen Qingqiu pushed several waves of spiritual energy to him through the hand on his back.
Locked together in the tight space of the stone coffin, pressed chest to chest, Shen Qingqiu could no longer run away from Luo Binghe.
Nor did he want to.
“I’ll wait,” he whispered into Luo Binghe’s crown, lips brushing over the bump on his head. “Just like Binghe waited for all those years by himself, I’ll wait for Binghe to wake up.”
No matter how long it took, be it hours, days, weeks, months, years -- Shen Qingqiu would not abandon him.
“This master is willing.”
There was no exit out of the Mausoleum, no feasible way to defeat their enemies, not unless Shen Qingqiu forced Luo Binghe to wake and threw him to his death. He could save his own skin if he used Luo Binghe as a shield.
Shen Qingqiu couldn’t.
He couldn't hurt him. He couldn’t keep hurting him.
With shaking hands, he brought Luo Binghe closer to him, pressing the boy’s face to his chest.
The Jinlan City Sowers incident was never part of Luo Binghe’s nefarious trap, just like most likely, the Huan Hua Palace fiasco was never Luo Binghe’s doing. There was never even a trap to begin with. It was only Shen Qingqiu’s foolish and prejudiced imagination. Shen Qingqiu blindly piled crime upon crime on top of Luo Binghe’s head, finding him guilty, refusing to let him get a word edgewise that could convince Shen Qingqiu otherwise.
Shen Qingqiu’s own refusal to see caused his child such great pain.
From the very beginning, Shen Qingqiu hurt him.
Heat seeped into Shen Qingqiu’s eyes, a burning sensation he tried in vain to blink away.
I’m sorry, he couldn’t say. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t meant it. I never meant any of it.
If only I’d known sooner.
If only I’d done things differently.
I never meant to hurt you.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Your Shizun doesn’t hate you.
Gathering Luo Binghe in his arms, he closed the lid on the stone coffin and settled down to wait.
He didn’t need to eat, or drink, he could sustain himself off his cultivation alone, and help Luo Binghe through Xin Mo’s backlashes. Luo Binghe did not stir in his sleep, his fever gradually lowering, healthy color returning to his face. With tender cheeks and his face softened by sleep, he resembled his younger self so much Shen Qingqiu’s heart ached sweetly.
Though his outer appearance changed, inside he remained the same. Staunchly loyal, the type of person that would repay one single kindness a thousand times over. Shen Qingqiu only had to feed him a meagre amount of sweetness to win his affections forever.
Luo Binghe truly was a good child.
Time slipped through his fingers, Shen Qingqiu not bothering to keep track.
Holding Luo Binghe close to his chest, as a mother would their child, Shen Qingqiu whispered in his ear retellings of their past, of the three years they spent together before Shen Qingqiu’s mistakes tore them apart.
Revisiting their memories, finally strong enough to look back upon those days, Shen Qingqiu’s heart ached more and more, a low, sweet pain that left him him breathless and with dried tracks on his face.
He wondered if this is how Luo Binghe felt, waiting alone for an empty corpse to come back to life.
Not. It was different.
Luo Binghe never had any guarantee that Shen Qingqiu would come back to him.
Shen Qingqiu knew without a shadow of a doubt Luo Binghe would fight to return to him.
Brushing the tips of his fingers over Luo Binghe’s demon mark, he closed his eyes and joined his child in sleep.
“Don’t cry, ah. Shizun is here.”
Luo Binghe woke up gradually, head cushioned on the hollow of Shen Qingqiu’s shoulder.
Shen Qingqiu felt his breath quicken, the beat of his heart jumping. Luo Binghe’s lashes fluttered against his rosy cheeks several times before opening, dark eyes unfocused, slowly blinking into awareness.
Shen Qingqiu continued to brush his fingers through Luo Binghe’s hair, soothing him.
Fingers snapped close around his wrist, careful not to bruise.
Pitch black eyes looked him, a maelstrom of emotions flashing through their depths: surprise, joy, fear, and finally, a bone-weary resignation.
Eyes dimming, an unbearable sadness marred Lup Binghe’s beautiful face.
Expecting rejection, Luo Binghe made no motion to move, or speak, waiting, always waiting, for Shen Qingqiu to make the first move.
“Welcome back, Binghe,” Shen Qingqiu said, smiling softly.
He tugged his hand free, traced his fingers down Luo Binghe’s face to cup his cheek.
Luo Binghe melted into his touch.
“I hope you had a good rest.”