He couldn’t let his precious Shizun die that easily, would he? Years turned into decades, yet he kept coming back to Shen Qingqiu’s mangled body, over and over again.
There was no gratification to be found. Shen Qingqiu’s soundless scream had long become a white noise, an empty echo. The stench of rotten blood so strong in the air: Luo Binghe had never let Shen Qingqiu wound close. Let the man drown in the filth like he deserved.
And that would be his downfall. The foul stench had leaked past the walls of the water prison. The stink had managed to reach the noses of the lesser demons with little self control, led them to the prison in search of the delectable scent.
When Luo Binghe found them, Shen Qingqiu had been granted his long undue release. Even in death, he had managed to die at the hands of lowly beasts, refusing to acknowledge Luo Binghe until the end.
In a fit of rage, Luo Binghe killed all the trespassing demons. In the middle of pooling blood, Shen Qingqiu’s remains were indistinguishable from a lump of animal carcass.
Throwing a cold glance towards the corpse, Luo Binghe flicked the blood from his blade and retreated. He ignored the lump in his throat as he walked away, the pinpricks of icy needles in his spine that grew more insistent the further he went.
That night he opened a portal and met a face identical to his own on the other side.
“It’s nothing. I just wanted to… try saying it.”
He refused to accept it.
Ignoring his injured limbs, Luo Binghe dragged himself back to the damp solace of the water prison. Everything was just as he’d left it days before. Torn flesh in ripped-up chunks. Shen Qingqiu’s empty socket stared at him in mocking.
Why you? The question sat heavy on the tip of his tongue.
“Why me?” Why was he the one who had to go through all of this? The cold woodshed, the resentful glances, the sight of something he could never have. “Why was it me?”
Did he miss something?
Was it something he didn’t do? Was it fate? Was it…
“Shizun, I can’t accept it.” The broken corpse answered him with silence. That didn’t matter.
Luo Binghe took off his stained robes: blood from the sham and his own injuries had seeped into the familiar white uniform he’d never been able to wear during his time, in his own Qing Jing peak.
He wrapped the remains with the robes, careful not to let the battered flesh fall apart even further. Mouth full of bile, he took the lump into his chamber.
The scent of bamboo and osmanthus had already long dissipated like a fleeting dream.
Piecing back Shen Qingqiu’s body proved to be quite a difficult task. The limbs had long been ground to dust, the plucked eyes and tongue thrown somewhere and rotted into nothing.
It took a year before Shen Qingqiu’s body could be fully restored. Luo Binghe kept the body fresh out of sheer willpower, ignoring his wives’ concerned remarks and few snide comments.
Ning Yingying had once looked into the coffin he kept and had refused to see him ever since. He let her be.
“ Shijie knows. ”
(Another girl with his wife’s face pushed a broom into his hand. That girl cheerfully lived on the still green mountain. Qing Jing Peak was never his home, it was hers. A clean set of robes, a smile, a shizun. He couldn’t look into her eyes right now. Because she was always kind. He could never let himself hate her.)
Shen Qingqiu slept like his counterpart did. Serene and soft, a picture of tranquility. He didn’t deserve that.
When Luo Binghe resurrect him, there will be more to pay.
Shen Qingqiu woke up choking from the dust within his unused airway. Like a thrashing fish, smacking the lid of the soul-returning coffin, his scream muffled by the jade walls. He didn’t take his resurrection kindly.
Luo Binghe, heartsore like he’d never thought he would be able to feel, only stared at the man with empty eyes.
“Perverse beast,” Shen Qingqiu spat. His limbs still hung uselessly on his sides, his nerves dulled from years of disuse. “What else are you going to do to me?”
He could…repeat all the torture and satisfy himself with the sweet echo of revenge. Never truly last, never truly heard.
Or he could beg.
Why couldn’t you be kind to me?
“Shizun.” His voice dipped low. “You’re disgusting scum.”
Shen Qingqiu kept his head high, a sneer forming on his face. A glint of madness dyed his features.
They were different men after all. This Shen Qingqiu and the one he had met on the other side.
This Shen Qingqiu was made of resentment and poison, sharp edges and corrosive spit. There was no gentleness.
This Shen Qingqiu had wept for someone else’s death, but never for him.
(Not even the other Shen Qingqiu, the one with gentle hands, had.)
“Why me?” He asks. A futile question a mortal could never answer. Shen Qingqiu’s scowl slackened into slight confusion.
“I wish you never existed.” I wish it wasn’t you.
Shen Qingqiu wouldn’t bow to swords and fire. Flesh wounds wouldn’t deter him, wouldn’t chip away his bitter walls. Luo Binghe threw him acrid words, fully aware that it would be futile.
“If only you didn’t exist, everything would be much better.” A world where he could risk his life for someone else and that person would risk their life back. “Why didn’t you die sooner, Shizun?”
Shen Qingqiu’s face went red in anger before returning to his usual cold facade. Disgusting.
“Pathetic,” Shen Qingqiu said, every syllable dripping with vicious poison. He barked an ugly laugh. “Luo Binghe, aren’t you still a pathetic mutt.”
Even without his limbs, without his lofty facade, Shen Qingqiu still stood outside his reach. A dead man, a vulgar man. This person was not human.
He reached out to grip Shen Qingqiu’s pale throat, feeling the pulse beneath the taut skin jump. Shen Qingqiu bared his fangs, lips quirked upward in a frightening grin.
“Everything Shizun touches crumbles under my hand.” Luo Binghe continued calmly, fingers pressing gently on the jugular. “Aren’t you the pathetic one, Shizun?”
The grin became a grimace. Something betrayed Shen Qingqiu’s smirk, something that felt human. A soft underbelly Luo Binghe wasted no time sinking his teeth into.
“Shizun...you should have disappeared much earlier.” He leaned forward, close enough that he could feel the rapid flutter of Shen Qingqiu’s breath, tickling his skin. “If only you had disappeared...Sect leader Yue might still be alive.”
Anger washed away the numbness in Shen Qingqiu’s limbs. He lunged forward, aiming for Luo Binghe’s eyes in his fury.
This was the monster he feared. A puny and weak monster. Why him?
He easily caught the feeble strike, twisting Shen Qingqiu’s wrist with a cold smile on his lips. “Shizun is so pitiful.”
“You sick brat.” Shen Qingqiu thrashed in his hold. “Don’t just flap your mouth then! You won’t even do that!”
His hand slid down to Shen Qingqiu’s collar, resting atop the frantically beating heart. “Do what?”
Shen Qingqiu quickly came back to himself and clamped his mouth into a tight line. Too late.
“Erase Shizun? Turn back time and redo everything without you?” A tempting thought. “Would that erase this disciple’s suffering? Does Shizun think he can escape that way?”
“Shen Qingqiu, your life is worthless.” He yanked Shen Qingqiu by his hair, digging blunt nails into the other’s scalp.
“Only with me you can repay your sins.”
Accompany me. Like a pebble sinking into my chafed sole. Like a fishbone scraping the inside of my throat.