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Thermal Equilibrium

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He wakes to cold breath puffing a slow rhythm against his neck.
It's not a new feeling, exactly. Mobei Jun has been appearing, unannounced, in his bed nearly every night since finding him again, but somehow the novelty hasn’t worn off at all. He feels his lips curl up, just a bit, and sighs. He feels… not safe, exactly. But content.

The body behind him shifts, arms tightening where they’ve curled around his waist. A low voice rumbles wordless for a moment, then, so quietly Shang Qinghua nearly misses it,

“Sleep.”

He feels cold breath against his neck, momentarily breaking its steady rhythm, and closes his eyes. Sleeping is good. If he sleeps he doesn’t have to think about what’s happening. If he sleeps, he won’t have to pull away from the cool presence at his back. If he sleeps he can wake in the morning, alone, and pretend as though he hasn’t woken every time the demon has slipped into his bed these past weeks.

He drifts for a while, in and out of consciousness, not willing to wake up, but not wanting to miss the solid chest pressed to his back, expanding and contracting slowly. He surfaces once to arms shifting from his waist to his chest, resting over his heart, and a face pressing into his shoulder. His stomach flips, and he refuses to think of why. Before he can drift off again, he feels something soft brush his shoulder, near his neck. Another gentle stream of cold air against his skin, and he can’t help the shiver that races up his spine. The body behind him stiffens, then begins to pull away. Shang Qinghua feels sharp disappointment, but lays still. The contentment of moments ago is gone, replaced with sour indecision. He could roll over and beg his king to come back, but these nights feel so delicate and strange; he’s afraid that if he speaks he’ll break whatever spell brings Mobei Jun back to his bed every night. So he lays still, and silent.
He can hear his king’s quiet steps, and then the door opens. And shuts. And then there’s silence.

————————

Morning comes, eventually. Shang Qinghua sighs and sits up as the first tittering bird songs drift through his window. They’ve been holed up at this inn for weeks. He’s not sure, but he thinks it may be run by demons. He could swear he saw a girl with sharp, very sharp, teeth grinning at him as they’d climbed the stairs. She had even winked at him! For some reason, this embarrassed him far more than it should have, and he had looked away quickly.

Now, nearly a month later, morning light is just peeking into the room; according to the routine they’ve somehow established, he has maybe half an hour before Mobei Jun returns. It’s been like this: Mobei Jun will come into his room, surly and cold, shortly after sun up. Always with a tray of breakfast in hand. He will sit at the edge of the bed, and watch him intently as he eats. When Shang Qinghua has finished the meal, Mobei Jun will move the tray, slide an arm behind his back, and help him stand and wobble across the room.

Then he’ll settle Shang Qinghua at the window seat, and pile him with paper, brushes, books, and anything else he might need to keep his mind busy. When he’s satisfied, he’ll stalk back across the room, settle at the table, and stare unwaveringly at Shang Qinghua. Attempts to get up and move around are met with anything from a sharp, “Don’t move!” to a much quieter “What do you need?”

Shang Qinghua tries not to jump at the occasionally harsh tone. It’s been weeks of close quarters, and his king hasn’t once hurt him; all his touches have been gentle. Still, old habits are hard to break. Shang Qinghua has wondered once or twice if he’d actually died in the encounter with Linguang Jun. Maybe the system threw him into some bizarre side world? The more attentive Mobei Jun is, the more likely it feels.

And his king has been more than attentive. It’s a level of care that Shang Qinghua wouldn’t have expected -- he’d even found a doctor. Mobei Jun had left for a short time on the first day, and returned with a doctor who’s smile was just a bit too wide, and teeth a little too big (not human, definitely not human) to demand treatment. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the help; his broken knee certainly hurts less than it did a month ago. It’s just that he’s...

Well, he’s confused.

What does this accomplish? He can understand gratitude. He knows what he almost gave up, back at Mobei Jun’s ice palace. It’s hard for him to wrap his head around now, in the daylight and under his king’s watchful eyes. He shudders at the ghost of panic and fear that drove him for seven nearly sleepless days and nights, the desperation to avert danger. He has visceral, tactile memories of the pain once he’d stepped outside the circle of holy fire. Hard to wrap his head around, against every survival instinct he’s relied on in his second life. The memory is real and present enough to fuel nightmares for years, he thinks grimly.

He knows what gravity these actions would carry for his king.

So, gratitude he can understand. But all of this seems to go beyond gratitude. But beyond to what? Friendship? Shang Qinghua wants that, he thinks, but he knows a lot of the good will he earned in the ice palace probably went flying out the window when he dared to walk away again. And it’s not as though Mobei Jun has gotten any friendlier; if anything, he’s quieter and more withdrawn than he ever was before, only speaking when it appears Shang Qinghua might need something, but otherwise silent. He’d tried to talk to the demon, asked where he’d gotten the books and pamphlets he shoves in Shang Qinghua’s arms every day, or if he’d like to sit in the window too? There’s plenty of room!

(There probably really isn't room, his leg pillowed and elevated and taking up most of the space. But he had tried, just the same).

All attempts have been met with grunts or, more often, silence.

He doesn’t know what to make of it. He sighs again, and tests his leg tentatively, moving it back and forth under the sheets. It no longer hurts to shift around, but he doesn’t yet dare attempt to bend it. He wishes he could see Mu Qingfang, surely he would have healed twice over by now! But he knows he can’t go to Qian Cang peak with Mobei Jun in tow, and he knows he couldn’t get there by himself anyway.

The door slides open as Shang Qinghua stares vacantly at it, startling him. Mobei Jun is early today. The demon king walks in, tray in hand and scowl on his face. Their eyes meet and Shang Qinghua remembers cold breath on his neck, and something soft against his shoulder.

Not helpful.

“G-good morning, my king!” The greeting probably sounds a little pathetic, Shang Qinghua thinks. His voice definitely wavered at the beginning. Mobei Jun doesn’t answer, but inclines his head and makes a noise.

Shang Qinghua eats in silence, so tempted to glance at his king. He's very aware of the weight of blue eyes on him. He knows from experience, he won’t be allowed to move on until the plates are all clean. He finishes the meal (edible today, at least) and Mobei Jun takes the tray, sets it aside. He lifts the blankets and pauses a moment, glowering daggers at his splinted knee. Shang Qinghua looks away. Mobei Jun’s face is so intense when he looks like that; it’s too much! Shang Qinghua can’t look at him when he’s making that face, it makes him want to run away!

The nervous energy rioting under his skin comes out of him as babble, "Haha, my king is too kind, as usual! What should I do today? I've read most of the books you brought me already, ah, not that I don't enjoy them! Maybe today I should write? What should I write about?”

He goes on, talking about everything and nothing.

Mobei Jun hums and pulls him up. Today might be the last day of this, Shang Qinghua muses.

Tomorrow the doctor will come and tell him if they can remove the splint and wrappings.

It really hits Shang Qinghua in this moment, and he stops talking abruptly. Today really might be the last day of this routine of theirs. When they make it to the window seat, he finds himself holding tighter than usual to a broad shoulder. Mobei jun settles him in his regular spot, and Shang Qinghua realizes he’s reluctant to let go. Mobei Jun glances at him when he’s slow to release his arm, but doesn’t comment. Instead, he reaches for the pile of books and papers that have accumulated over the weeks, and picks one at random, placing it in Shang Qinghua’s hands. They’re mostly written in languages Shang Qinghua doesn’t know, and seem to be about demon history, and lore, and one that might be a cookbook. Deciphering them has been an interesting challenge, and kept him busy. This one, however...

“I’ve read this one twice.” He says, and it comes out dejected, for some reason. He really doesn’t mean to whine. He’s bored! He’s been cooped up for nearly four weeks, with a silent demon who refuses to interact with him (and nights spent curled together in the dark don’t count! They don’t!) Shang Qinghua thinks he’s earned the right to push his luck. Just a little.

Mobei Jun pauses, then takes the book back, exchanging it for a red one this time, and turns away. Shang Qinghua sighs. He’s read this one twice as well.

———————-

Mobei Jun had kept his word about the noodles, and though they’re staying at a very nice inn, with what he assumes is a very good cook, Shang Qinghua suspects Mobei Jun might be making all the food he brings himself. It’s often just a little overcooked, or worse, undercooked. Or too salty. Or spicy. Nothing dangerous, but not exactly pleasant meals either. As if it was made by someone who didn’t know their way around a kitchen, rather than a professional. Of course, given that this inn is probably meant for demons, the food is most likely inedible for him anyway.

Even if Mobei Jun isn’t making the food himself, which he surely is, he still chooses to go and bring it back himself. He hasn’t let any of the inn’s staff into the room at all. In fact, he hasn’t let anyone into the room except the doctor.

Meaning, changing the bed sheets, fresh laundry, and cleaning up any messes made had to be attended to by one of the two of them. Things of this nature would have normally fallen to Shang Qinghua. Obviously, he’s immobile, which just leaves...

Today is clean sheet day. Someone knocks on the door, and Mobei Jun slides it open a crack to reach through and take the neatly folded fabric, then sharply snaps the door shut again. Shang Qinghua can’t help feeling a little bad for whoever has to bring them their laundry; he knows that glare can be nerve wracking.

Seeing the great demon king changing his bedsheets is….jarring, to say the least. Shang Qinghua can’t help watching him in these moments, fascinated. Something strange and warm bubbles up in his chest. He feels himself beginning to smile just thinking about it, and takes a breath, willing his face to a neutral expression.

Everything is so….domestic. He feels that odd feeling in his chest again, and elects to ignore it, instead watching Mobei Jun attentively. He has to be careful -- it would be terrible to make eye contact again, like this morning. But he’s so bored and wants something to do so badly, he can't help himself. There’s no helping it! Absolutely can’t be helped.

And who can blame him if he takes a moment to appreciate the planes and dips of Mobei Jun’s face? The way his eyes flash blue and catch the light, the elegance of his brow and it’s flow to his sharp nose; the way his mouth curves down as he shakes out the sheets, grunting out an annoyed breath of what Shang Qinghua knows is cold air…

Cold breaths on his neck arms around his waist something soft brushing his shoulder solid chest against his back imagining blue blue blue eyes in the night looking at him holding him-

Not helpful.

Shang Qinghua shoves his face back in his book and realizes that his fingers are trembling very slightly. He takes yet another steady breath.

———————-

Night is falling, finally. Night means sleep. There’s no reason for him to be so tired at the end of the day. What has he done? Sit in the window and read, or write, or translate. He’s happy, so happy for the chance to rest, despite it all. He ignores any other reason he might have for his happiness, lifting his arms when Mobei Jun approaches him to put him back in bed. This, too, is a part of their routine.

Mobei Jun lifts him, arm behind his back, and places him in bed. He takes a wet cloth from the nightstand, and wipes Shang Qinghua’s face, surprisingly gentle. Shang Qinghua had given up trying to do this himself after the first night, when he’d reached to take the cloth and Mobei Jun had glared at him so hard he swears the temperature in the room dropped a few degrees; now he obediently closes his eyes and waits for him to finish. When that’s done, he’s pressed to lie down, covered with the warm, thick blankets, and --

Yes. There it is. Mobei Jun pats his head twice, awkwardly, as though he has no idea what to do with his hands. As he turns away to begin lowering the lights and sweeping the room into darkness, Shang Quinghua grins happily and warmth bubbles up in his chest. He loves that. It’s so ridiculous, and as darkness begins to take the room, he feels safe to smile to himself. When he picks up the last candle, Mobei Jun pauses, looking back at Shang Qinghua,

“The doctor will come tomorrow,” he says, “to see to your leg.”

Ah. That’s right. He’d nearly forgotten. Shang Qinghua feels his mood suddenly drop, his smile faltering. The last time. This could be the last time!

Mobei Jun blows out the candle. Next, he’ll be walking to the sliding door, ostensibly to leave for the night. Shang Qinghua doesn’t know where he goes, but he suspects it isn’t far. When asked, Mobei Jun had replied, ‘Far enough to be proper, close enough to call if needed.’

Shang Qinghua desperately doesnt want him to go.

“My king!” His voice is loud in the quiet room, enough so that he even startles himself. Without thinking he sits back up, to watch Mobei Jun pause with his hand on the door.

The room is very dark now, and it takes his eyes a second to adjust enough to make out that Mobei Jun is looking back at him. His king tilts his head a little, asking a question. The ache in Shang Qinghua stutters. He scoots across the bed, so he’s close to the edge.

“...Come here…” he mutters. He holds out his arms, feels something in him sinking with every second Mobei Jun simply stares at him, until he can’t take the way his insides curl anymore.

Please, come here…” he tries. Mobei Jun continues to blink wide eyes at him and not move. Has he overstepped? He lowers his arms and his eyes, willing himself to calm down. There is no reason for him to feel such a sudden surge of panic. And so what if Mobei Jun wants to leave? It was going to be the last time anyway, he’ll just go to sleep and wake up in the morning and then the doctor will come and then….

And then.

And then what? Shang Qinghua doesn’t know. Does Mobei Jun intend to keep him around? Surely not, after the way he’d spoken to him, pinched his cheeks, left him behind. It was all just gratitude. That was all. Shang Qinghua feels his traitorous eyes grow hot, and he blinks rapidly, trying to clear the wetness away before it can spill over and he can embarrass himself. It’s not a big deal. It’s not! This wasn’t going to last anyway. To his horror, rather than clear the heat away, his rapid blinking spills hot tears down his cheeks, and he feels a sob forcing its way out of him. He’s never been above crying to get what he needs, or where he needs to go. This is different, though. He feels hot shame tightening his throat, clamps down on it as hard as he can, and clenches his eyes shut tight. A small sound still escapes.

He feels ridiculous, and very small.

He hears an intake of breath from the other side of the room, followed by hurried footsteps, and then there’s cool hands on his face, thumbs swiping away at tear tracks.

“Your leg?” Mobei Jun says quietly, confusion clear in his voice. And well, Shang Qinghua has survived this world because he is an opportunist, and an opportunity has presented itself. He doesn’t answer, but leans his face into those hands, reaches up to cover them with his own. He thinks his might be shaking again. He ignores it, keeps his eyes closed and his breathing steady.

“No…” he answers after a moment of silence and steadied breaths, “it doesn’t hurt.” He doesn’t move, focusing on the hands trapped against his face, how they soothe away the heat of a moment ago. He takes comfort for a beat, opens his eyes, and lowers his hands. Mobei Jun does not move.

“Forgive me, my king. This servant thought that,” he hesitates, “thought that tonight we might share the bed, since tomorrow....” Shang Qinghua can’t finish the sentence. Mobei Jun’s elegant brow wrinkles, and his frown deepens.

“We cannot… share the bed tonight. You are still injured.”

This gives Shang Qinghua pause. Cannot share the bed? Then what have they been doing at night? Surely he hasn’t imagined Mobei Jun holding him in the darkness. Maybe in a dream once or twice, but surely not every night for the better part of a month.

“Forgive this servant, but… has my king not already been, uh…” he can’t say it. He can’t. Not like this, looking Mobei Jun right in the eye. He shifts uncomfortably, looking away, and his king pulls his hands back so quickly that Shang Qinghua is actually thrown off balance.

They sit in uncomfortable silence. When Shang Qinghua gathers the courage to look again, he's surprised. Mobei Jun’s usual neutral expression is gone, his eyes cast down and to the side, and his mouth pulled into a tight, unhappy frown. He wants to reach out and touch. He doesn’t dare, but oh. He wants to.

“...Rest. Sleep.” Mobei Jun says quietly, pushing him to the bed again, and moving as if to leave. Shang Qinghua feels his heart leap into his throat, and he makes a grab for the hand retreating from his chest, captures it by the wrist.

“Wait! Please wait, don’t go…” he squeezes out, all in a rush. Before he loses his nerve he adds, desperate, “How can I rest like this? I want you to stay, and h- hold. I want you to hold me!”

The room is dead silent. Shang Qinghua counts his heartbeats as they slam against his ribs.

One.
Two.
Three.
Four.
Five-

Before five can pass, he finds himself enveloped in cool arms, a large hand cradling the back of his head as he stares over Mobei Jun’s shoulder. He takes a shaking breath and wraps his arms around Mobei Jun in return, buries one hand in silky hair, curls the other arm under and clings to his solid shoulder.

They lay this way for a while. Shang Qinghua thinks, distantly, that the way Mobei Jun is folded over, half sitting while also leaned over Shang Qinghua, can’t be comfortable. But the man doesn’t complain, and Shang Qinghua doesn’t point it out.

“...Who do you think all this is for? Foolish.” Mobei Jun’s voice is low, the quietest he’s ever been. He speaks directly into Shang Qinghua’s ear. Sweet, cool breath makes him shiver and cling harder. But at that shiver, Mobei Jun pulls away, and Shang Qinghua’s arms feel so, so empty. He grips Mobei Jun’s shoulders and tries to keep him from leaving.

“Rest. You will not get well like this.”

Not get well?

“I am not dying. It’s only a broken bone.” And oh, that came out a little sour. He didn’t mean for it to, but he feels his sadness turning to frustrated anger. Why is it alright for Mobei Jun to hold him in his sleep, but not when he is awake? He tightens his grip on the sleeves of Mobei Jun’s shirt, feels the fabric wrinkle under his clasped fingers. Mobei Jun shakes his head,

“This lord will not endanger you further. Rest.”

“Endanger?” He asks, his bafflement stalling out his momentary anger, “how would holding endanger this servant, my king?”

What danger could possibly exist here, in this quiet and dark place they’ve carved out over the weeks?

Mobei Jun will not look at him, casting his eyes away. He almost looks… ashamed?

What is there for him to be ashamed of?

“...You will be…...cold.”

“Cold?” Shang Qinghua echos, feeling as though he’s missing something vital. Of course he will be cold? He likes the cold. Not the cold of the ice deserts, but the cold of ice cream in summer, cold water when it’s hot outside, or something he really misses sometimes: the air conditioner. He’d always run warmer than everyone else, but when Mobei Jun holds him, he cools enough to be comfortable. He sleeps more soundly than he has in two lifetimes, with his arms around him. It’s nice.

“Humans cannot be too cold,” Mobei Jun explains, in a tone one might use with a very obtuse child, “they shiver to warm themselves. It is involuntary.” And ah, things click snugly into place. Shang Qinghua thinks of every time Mobei Jun has pulled away from him.

He wants this ridiculous man closer, right now. He feels it bubble up in his chest. Sharp and bright and so, so nice. How can it be so nice? Shang Qinghua pulls on his captured shoulders, tries to pull him down, pull him closer, but Mobei Jun is solid, immovable. Shang Qinghua knows that if his king doesn’t intend to lean back down, nothing can make him.

But, this is the last night, he won’t give up something so precious so easily! Rather than try to pull Mobei Jun down to him, Shang Qinghua arches up to wrap his arms around Mobei Jun’s neck. Mobei Jun is a man of action, not words. Shang Qinghua needs to speak in his language.

He looks into his king’s face with determination. “I am not shivering now, am I my king?” Yes, that should do it. He feels, rather than hears, Mobei Jun hum an aggravated noise against him. The vibrations feel nice, like the rumble came from his own chest.

“You-!” Mobei Jun’s face is pinched, but he doesn’t pull away. That’s a win, right?

“I am not too cold. My king… I will say so, if I am.”

Mobei Jun shifts, and for a breathless moment Shang Qinghua is afraid he’s going to pull away again. Instead, he seems to melt. His arms wrap around his waist, and he noses at Shang Qinghua’s hair, inhaling as he curls around him. Shang Qinghua’s brain shuts down, and he grasps back, tightening his arms around Mobei Jun’s neck and holding on, breathing in the surprisingly sweet, cold smell. Mobei Jun mumbles into his neck,

“Cold, only a human, injured…”

“I...like the cold…” he trails off, mumbling. Wow that’s, very embarrassing. That’s so lame! Why did he say that? Shang Qinghua feels his face grow hot, and he's painfully grateful he can hide it away in Mobei Jun’s shoulder. At least, until...

Mobei Jun adjusts, enough to look Shang Qinghua in the face. Shang Qinghua’s heart stops. Where he’d expected the same shuttered expression as usual, instead his king’s face is open, worry etched into his beautiful features. Shang Qinghua has never seen his eyes so soft.

“This king will stay here until you sleep, but no longer.” He says, and there's a tone to his voice that leaves no room for argument. Shang Qinghua will take it, happily.

“Yes! Yes please, I… this servant would like that. I am not cold.” He’s sure to mention this, will keep mentioning it, as many times as he needs to, until Mobei Jun understands. He pulls experimentally, and Mobei Jun rolls with him, mindful of his leg. They settle together, face to face and laying on the same pillow, breathing in each other’s air. Shang Qinghua cannot believe his luck, cannot believe he got this after all. He moves a little closer and closes his eyes, content. Mobei Jun curls around him protectively.

“You will tell me if you are cold.” It’s both a warning and a statement of fact. Shang Qinghua isn’t bothered by it. He’s not likely to ask the man to move, after all. Pleasant silence falls around them. It really is different, so different, from the silence before.

Time must pass, because he jerks awake when the weight next to him shifts. When had he dozed off?

“Don’t go,” he whispers, clinging pathetically to Mobei Jun. His king shakes his head, “You must rest, and it is not proper for me to stay when you sleep.”

He says it so softly, that damn breath brushes across Shang Qinghua’s face, and he tries to suppress the shiver, he really does, but with the weight of Mobei jun’s arms, and his smell, and overwhelming presence, he can’t entirely stop it. He freezes, hoping his bedmate hasn’t noticed, but-
Mobei Jun makes a scandalized noise and snaps.

“Will you not listen-?”

“I’m really not cold! I’m not cold my king, I’m just…” he falters. Why is he shivering? He’s honestly not cold at all, in fact, Mobei Jun’s coolness feels amazing. He wants to wrap up in it and never come out. He looks at Mobei Jun helplessly, unsure how to explain what he himself doesn’t understand.

“It’s really not that, it’s not.”

Mobei Jun frowns at him for a moment, then for reasons Shang Qinghua cannot fathom, his eyes widen.

“I have already said I will not share your bed tonight!”

...What? Where had that come from? What?

“What?” Shang Qinghua tries. What are they doing right now? Are they not sharing the bed? “What does my king mean? Is he not already in my bed?”
Mobei Jun’s face twists as though he wants to yell.

“You.” He starts, sounding deadly serious and tightly controlled, “are in no condition to seek such comforts. Sleep. We will lie together another night.”

In no condition? Such comforts? Lie together another night? Lie together. Another night. Lie together. As in?

Shang Qinghua feels his soul leave his body.

“That!” He splutters, “That is not what I-! I didn’t mean-! I wasn’t asking for that!”

Mobei Jun levels a look at him, calling him a liar with his eyes, and doesn’t answer. Shang Qinghua realizes belatedly that he’s breathing very hard, and is very flushed, with his arms wrapped securely around Mobei Jun, and yeah, probably looks like he wants…

He’s not a brave man, not even close. With the determination of cowards, he lays down and closes his eyes. Still, he can’t help but mutter low, one last time, “I really wasn’t, I really wasn’t asking for that.”

The two of them fall silent. It’s not quite comfortable, but it is comforting.

...Does he want that? Does Mobei Jun? He’d never written about Mobei Jun in that way, all that sort of writing focused of Luo Binghe. Sure, Mobei Jun was his ideal man; he was beautiful in all the right ways, and powerful, and graceful, and intelligent, and...

Shang Qinghua lies still for a long time, turning the question over and over in his head, chasing it around in circles until he feels dizzy. Eventually, naturally, the rhythm of slow breaths begin to lull him to sleep. Mobei Jun’s hand draws slow circles on his back in counterpoint, and as he dozes off he thinks he feels, for just a moment, something soft and soothingly cool brush his forehead. It's a nice feeling, he thinks. He’d like to feel it more.

———————-

Shang Qinghua opens his eyes, and it is suddenly bright outside. Mobei Jun isn’t in the room, and he's wrapped tightly in the blankets. There is no way he rolled this much in the night. He smiles a little, picturing Mobei Jun tucking him in tightly to fend off the cold. He sits up, and the door slides open. Mobei Jun walks in, his usual tray in hand. Their eyes meet, and Shang Qinghua smiles. He doesn’t mean to, but he can't keep a straight face.

Blue eyes in the night arms around his waist soft lips against his forehead warmth bubbling up from inside.

Shang Qinghua’s smile widens until he’s beaming.

Mobei Jun seems startled by his expression, and Shang Qinghua wonders how he knows this. It's not as though the man gives much away outwardly. Maybe if you squint, Shang Qinghua thinks, you could see his eyes shift a fraction, or his brows rise. Maybe.

The doctor is coming today, but Shang Qinghua isn’t worried anymore. Even if their precarious new routine is interrupted, what does it matter? Mobei Jun had said ‘next time’. Next time. Even if he’d misunderstood what Shang Qinghua wanted, he's still promised a next time.

———————-

The doctor removes the splint, tells him to take it easy for a while, and gets the hell away from them. Shang Qinghua can’t exactly blame him. He’d be running for the hills too, if Mobei Jun hovered over his work and scowled like that. Once they’re alone, he tentatively stands up, hand resting on the edge of the bed, and puts a small bit of weight on his leg. It holds up fine, and he shifts a little more weight over. His knee twinges, but holds him up well enough. He looks at Mobei Jun and smiles wide again. Everything feels so good today. His leg works. He’s free to walk around. Mobei Jun isn’t going to leave him, or drive him away. Mobei Jun looks him over, calculation in his eyes.

“It is well enough to walk on?” He asks, a note of something heavy in his voice. Shang Qinghua nods,

“Yes, my king! Ah, did you need someth-“

Shang Qinghua is cut off by a hand cupping his face. He goes utterly still and holds his breath.

“Shang Qinghua, I am going to kiss you now.” Mobei Jun announces. When Shang Qinghua doesn’t object, he nods and leans down. Shang Qinghua can’t find his voice, and so he shuts his eyes when cool lips close over his. Small and soft kisses across his lips, one at the corner of his mouth, one on his upper lip, one on his lower. Clumsy little pecks that turn into deeper, long kisses. Mobei Jun slides his hand from Shang Qinghua’s cheek to the back of his head, pulls him in close. Presses forward so Shang Qinghua must tilt his head back a little to keep their mouths connected. The movement pulls a gasp from him, and Mobei Jun takes his open mouth as an invitation.

He presses in, exploring curiously. His touch is quick and light, teasing him, more than kissing him. Shang Qinghua immediately responds with enthusiasm that scares him a little. He surges up, hand in his hair be damned. Mobei Jun hums a pleased noise at that, and sinks deeper into the kiss. He runs the tip of his tongue along the roof of Shang Qinghua’s mouth, pressing in and out until Shang Quighua feels his newly freed knee grow weak, and he grasps the front of Mobei Jun’s shirt, pulling at it to keep himself standing. Mobei Jun’s free hand has been sliding up and down his spine, but now it dips to the small of his back, pulling their bodies flush against each other. Shang Qinghua feels dizzy, and turns his head away to gasp for breath.

...And when he glances back Mobei Jun is smirking at him, clearly very pleased with himself. The bastard! The menace! The...

Shang Qinghua doesn’t know what to do. His lips are tingling and his body is alive with nervous energy and the hand on his back feels like it belongs there and he doesn’t know what to do. His indecision must show, because Mobei Jun’s smirk gentles into something different. That look hits him hard, and it’s all Shang Qinghua needs.

“More...my king, more.”

Mobei Jun moans low in his throat. He pulls lightly at Shang Qinghua’s hair, hardly has to pull at all, and Shang Qinghua only has to let himself submit as his neck is exposed, his mouth open on a soft gasp. However, Mobei Jun doesn’t dip inside, but gently brushes their parted lips together again and again, breath mingling between them. Almost kisses that set Shang Qinghua’s body humming. He can feel his lips trembling as Mobei Jun brushes over them again and again.

“...No,” he finally answers, lips moving against Shang Qinghua’s mouth, “I will give you more when we are home.”

Mobei Jun extracts himself from their embrace, takes his hand, and turns to the sliding door. Shang Qinghua makes an aggrieved noise, head spinning at the sudden change.

As he’s led from the room and into the hall, Shang Qinghua sees that same girl from before who is, yes, absolutely a demon, given the long snake-like tongue she waves at him as they pass. She’s holding a pile of neatly folded sheets and when he accidentally makes eye contact with her, she wiggles her brows twice and looks back and forth between Mobei Jun and him. Shang Qinghua is mortified.

Still, how can he focus on that when he’s being led by the hand away, finally away, from the little room? Mobei Jun said they were going home. Shang Qinghua wonders if he means the ice palace. It’s a long way off, and without a sword he can’t fly them there. His leg has only just healed, surely Mobei Jun can’t mean for them to walk?

He’s surprised to see the cart Mobei Jun used to carry him here, hooked to a horse. Shang Qinghua is more surprised when he’s lifted again, and settled on the cart. Maybe he’s gotten too used to being carried, through the last few weeks. Mobei Jun swings up into the cart as well, and they set off.

Shang Qinghua glances back one last time. He takes a moment, just a short breath, to mourn a little for their domestic little routine. He’s more than ready to leave, but he doesn’t know what will happen now. There was a sort of security in that place. Like clockwork, meals and books and arms sneaking around him in the night.

He’s startled out of his thoughts by Mobei Jun’s hand covering his where it rests on the wagon. Shang Qinghua looks down at it, and up at his king. He lets Mobei Jun lace their fingers together, and bring his hand up to rest against cool lips for a heartbeat.

Shang Qinghua smiles. The routine is gone, but he’s realized that maybe, he can feel secure in this anyway.